Inherited: One Child(2)

By: Day Leclaire



“Then you have a real shot at retaining custody, assuming the Locke woman believes the marriage is genuine. I strongly recommend you choose a bride who has experience dealing with special-needs children. A teacher or a social worker. A do-gooder type who will devote all her time to Isabella’s welfare.”

“Just like that? Find a do-gooder and marry her.” Jack folded his arms across his chest. “And how do you propose I accomplish such an amazing feat?”

“I recommend you find her the same way you found your nannies. You advertise.”

Jack stared in disbelief. “You want me to advertise for a wife?”

“No, I want you to advertise for a nanny and then marry her. You find a woman you can live with until CPS signs off on the case, and I’ll draw up an ironclad prenup.”

Jack had never considered himself slow on the uptake. But this left him totally at sea. “How the blue blazes am I supposed to convince the woman to marry me? Lie to her? Trick her? Pretend I’m madly in love with her?”

Derek shrugged. “If you want. Personally, I’d recommend a far simpler method.”

“Which is?”

“Hell, Jack. How many billions do you have moldering away in various financial institutions? Even I’ve lost track. Take a healthy chunk of it and buy the damn woman.”





One




Jack Mason knew he was in trouble the minute he saw her.

He didn’t know why she snagged his attention, considering she sat in a room crowded with nanny applicants of all shapes, colors and ages, none of whom possessed a clue about his true intentions—choosing one of them for his wife. This woman dressed in a somber black pantsuit that wasn’t the least eye-catching, so perhaps his reaction had something to do with the way she sat reading a paperback novel…perfectly composed and preternaturally still, an expression of absolute patience on a face more striking than beautiful.

Jack examined her with greater care. Interesting. Everything about her appeared quiet and understated. She’d pulled her hair into ruthless obedience, anchoring the ebony mass into a tight knot at her nape. In addition, she’d used a restrained hand with her makeup, just a hint of color on her cheeks and lips. A light brush of taupe across her eyelids drew attention to a startling pair of deep-set eyes that wavered somewhere between honey and gold and were framed by lush black lashes. She looked impossibly young, and yet one glimpse of those eyes warned of someone who’d been through the pits of hell and back again. They overflowed with ancient wisdom and intense vulnerability.

Was that why he’d keyed in on her from all those crowding the room? And what, in particular, about her appearance aroused such intense interest? It was something subtle. Something that stirred instincts he’d honed during his years surviving in the shark-infested waters of the business world. Those instincts warned that this woman, while appearing so calm and controlled on the outside, seethed with secret passion. It was almost as though he sensed the ebb and flow of those restless seas and reacted on a visceral level to a call only he could hear.

If they’d met anywhere else, he’d have moved in on her and cut her from the crowd. He’d have found a way to break through that carefully cultivated self-control and release the inner passion. It had always been that way with him. He’d always responded to the essence of the woman swirling beneath the surface and felt the burning need to strip her down, layer by layer, to that passionate inner core.

This woman would have many layers, fascinating layers. Layers he could explore intellectually and physically. And he wanted to develop—wanted with an intensity he hadn’t experienced in years.

One of his prospective “wives” coughed, snapping Jack’s concentration. Awareness of time and place returned, along with an irritation that he’d allowed such pointless speculation to distract him. He forced his attention back to the business at hand—securing a woman who could act the part of both nanny and wife. On the verge of calling the next name on the list, the door to the outer office flew open and his niece burst in.

Her short, curly hair stood out from her head in matted golden-brown spikes that had yet to see a brush that morning, and he could tell what she’d eaten for breakfast with a single look at her shirt. She’d worked a hole into each knee of her new jeans—with a pair of scissors, by the look of it. And she’d used her watercolor paints to turn her face into a startling mask of red and black swirls.

Isabella scanned the room in frantic anger, her olive green eyes narrowed to slits. Taking a stance dead center in the room, she balled her hands into fists and then opened her mouth, letting out a scream loud and shrill enough to cause the windowpanes in his office to shiver in protest. For a split second, everyone in the outer room froze. Jack considered taking control of the situation, but then decided to wait and see how his nanny applicants reacted.

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