Inherited: One Child(10)By: Day Leclaire
His nanny was a knockout.
“Color me officially overwhelmed,” she announced.
“I have every confidence that you’ll acclimate,” he replied.
Worry dug a small line between her brows. “I’m not so sure. I’ve only seen the smallest fraction of this place and I’m already blown away.”
“Relax, Ms. Stefano. One of the reasons I hired you was your impressive self-control.”
“No, the reason you hired me was because all the other rats had deserted the sinking ship.” She paced off a small measure of her agitation, giving him an excellent view of her endless legs and gloriously rounded backside. She spun around to face him. “Is this the sort of home Isabella came from?” she asked. “Was she accustomed to this sort of grandeur? To living among so many antiques?”
Jack forced himself to ignore the tantalizing view and focus on the business at hand. “No, Joanne and her husband, Paul, lived a far more simple life.”
Annalise’s expression grew troubled. “So many changes, poor baby,” she murmured. “It must be even more overwhelming for her than it is for me.”
“This is where and how I live. In time, my niece will become accustomed to it. She won’t have any choice.” He lifted an eyebrow. “Unless you expect me to sell a home that’s been in my family for over a hundred and fifty years?”
She waved that aside. “No, of course not.” She regarded him in momentary silence and he could see her marshaling and organizing her thoughts and impressions. “May I ask a personal question?”
Not a road he wanted to head down. Nonetheless, he inclined his head. “Feel free.”
“How did you gain custody of Isabella? Did your sister request you as guardian in her will?”
“It would have simplified matters if she had. Unfortunately, she didn’t.”
“So, you simply took your niece in? There was no one else?”
Anger flashed through him. He planted his fists on his hips and faced her down. “You say that as though you don’t consider me an appropriate guardian.”
She hesitated. “That’s not the word I’d use. You have a…a magnificent home. You’re a successful businessman. You’re well-intentioned—”
She frowned. “Weren’t there any other family members willing to take her? Someone who has more time to devote to her care?”
“No. Paul has a sister. She flat out refused.”
“Flat out? But, why?”
“Because Isabella isn’t blood kin. Joanne and Paul adopted Isabella when she was only a few days old. For some reason, that let Paul’s sister off the hook.”
“And put you on it?” Annalise had adopted an expressionless mask again. But he’d begun to realize that the less emotion she showed, the more she felt. “Is that why you took her in? Because no one else stepped up?”
He gave her the look that would have most men in his rarified world trembling in their Berluti loafers. “Ms. Stefano, I hired you as Isabella’s nanny, not as my personal pop psychologist. My reasons for assuming guardianship of Isabella have nothing to do with you or the job you are to perform. A job for which I’m paying you quite a lot of money.”
To his amazement, she didn’t back down. In fact, she took a step closer. “Have I hit a hot button, Mr. Mason? Did you feel obligated to take her in? Are you protecting your image? Concerned with media scrutiny? Is that why Isabella’s here, so your personal and business image don’t take a hit?”
Fury vied with a primal awareness, one with a raw, sexual edge. Or perhaps the fury exacerbated the awareness he’d experienced the first moment he’d set eyes on her. “You are walking a very thin line, Ms. Stefano. If I had anyone who could take your place, I’d fire you on the spot.”
“For asking tough questions? Or do my questions hit a little too close to home?”
Her questions were identical to those Mrs. Locke had asked. That alone gave him pause. He was a private man who kept his personal life as far from the high beams of the media headlights as possible. He also kept his emotions under tight control, even tighter than Annalise did. Another lesson he’d learned at his father’s knee. As much as he hated the idea, he needed this woman. Isabella needed her. She might be the only person capable of keeping his tiny family intact.
He forced himself to answer her. “Other than Paul, Isabella was the most important person in my sister’s life.” He swallowed past the tightness constricting his words. “At one point, Joanne was the most important person in mine. Isabella is part of my sister, all that’s left of her. My niece is hurting and I have no idea how to help her.”