Inherited: One Child(4)

By: Day Leclaire

He scanned it quickly to refresh his memory. Right, right. He remembered this one. He’d almost rejected her out of hand because she had so little practical experience. What had tipped the scales in her favor was the fact that she’d received her teaching certificate in early childhood and elementary education, as well as in special ed, and that she’d possessed glowing recommendations. They were right in line with the qualifications Derek recommended in his future bride.

“I assume my assistant explained why I’m in need of a nanny?”

“Yes, she did. I also read about the tragedy in the newspapers, Mr. Mason. I’m very sorry for your loss.”

He inclined his head, relieved that he didn’t have to go into lengthy explanations. The papers had been quite thorough in that regard. “I’m afraid you had the pleasure of meeting my niece, Isabella, a few minutes ago.”

Annalise offered a quick smile, one that transformed her face, lifting it from striking to luminescent. “So I gathered.”

“As you can see, she’s having a difficult time making the transition.” He held out his hands. “And who can blame her? Not only did she lose her parents three months ago, but she’s been uprooted from her home in Colorado.”

Sympathy radiated off Annalise and her eyes glittered with a wealth of emotion. “That explains a lot about her current behavior.”

Jack inclined his head. “When she first came to live with me, I contacted an agency to hire a qualified daytime caregiver. I went through their entire portfolio the first month. The longest stayed a week. The shortest clocked in at just under an hour. Since then, I’ve decided to take matters into my own hands and hire someone myself. Which brings me to your application, Ms. Stefano.”

“Please call me Annalise.”

“Fine. Annalise it is.” He paused on the first page of her application. “You’re qualified to teach elementary school. Why have you applied for a position as a nanny?”

She didn’t hesitate, clearly anticipating the question. “I’m interested in attaining my master’s before taking on a teaching job. This position will provide me with more flexibility than teaching and fewer hours of preparation while I pursue that goal.”

He tilted his head to one side. That would fit in with his own plans. She could pursue her master’s program—a program he’d be only too happy to pay for—while playing the role of devoted wife and mother. “Would you be willing to commit to an employment contract of two full years? And would you be willing to homeschool Isabella, if needed?”

She folded her hands in her lap and met his gaze dead-on. “It will take me two years to complete my master’s program, so that aspect isn’t a problem. Since it’s the end of the school year right now, your niece and I will have the summer to work out a comfortable routine before fall classes begin. If you want to initiate a schooling program for her at that point, I’ll have the next few months to put together a curriculum that meets with your approval. Then I can implement Isabella’s lessons while I begin evening classes toward my master’s.”

Despite her outer calm, he sensed a certain level of nervousness—almost anxiety—and couldn’t help but wonder what caused it. He allowed the silence to drag while he considered the various reasons for her turmoil. She could be nervous because she was lying to him about something, in which case he’d find a way to get to the truth. The irony of that fact didn’t escape him, considering this entire interview was a huge fraud. Even so, he needed to trust his future wife, which meant all the cards on the table. Of course, she could be nervous because she didn’t handle interviews well. One other possibility occurred to him, one that caused his gut to tighten and an unwanted hunger to gnaw at him.

Maybe he made her uneasy. Maybe she’d experienced the same odd awareness that he had. She didn’t break the lengthy silence with a rush of nervous explanations the way many would have. That fact alone impressed the hell out of him.

“Let me be frank, Annalise. I’m concerned that you may change your mind midsummer and take a teaching position, leaving me to go through this process all over again. Isabella’s had enough trauma and loss in her life without experiencing another so soon.”

“That won’t happen.”

Instinct told him that she spoke with absolute sincerity. Even so, he sensed an intense emotional current that continued to ripple just beneath the surface, though he still couldn’t quite pinpoint the reason for it. Perhaps it was a simple case of interview jitters. He glanced down at her file.

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