Inherited: One Child(9)

By: Day Leclaire



“I’m staying,” she said quietly, confirming his conjecture.

For the first time Jack felt a stab of genuine hope. So far, so good. “Thank you, Annalise.”

Once his PI had gone over her background and given the all clear, Jack would move his marriage project to the next stage. In the meantime, if Annalise became emotionally connected to Isabella, so much the better. It might make her more amenable to his proposal. All he had to do was find the right buttons to push to convince her to cooperate, something he hoped the investigation might assist in uncovering.

The ride to his home was accomplished in blissful silence. Isabella went into her booster seat without a word—or rather, sound—of complaint. He wished it signaled an improvement, but he suspected she was merely resting up for the next round.

Heading into the South of Broad neighborhood of Charleston, Jack turned onto Battery and hit the remote control for the electric gates. Beside him, Annalise reacted to her first glimpse of Lover’s Folly with a soft gasp. “Home sweet home,” he murmured. “Hope you like it.”

Whatever facade she’d managed to don over the past few hours crumbled. “You live here? This is your home?”

Even he had to admit the four-story, nearly eleven-thousand-foot residence created quite an impact. Meticulously renovated over the past several decades, it boasted views of Charleston Harbor and James Island, and was listed as an exceptional example of historic architecture.

“It’s called Lover’s Folly, and I inherited it from my paternal grandmother, much to my father’s annoyance. He assumed he was next in line to own the place. It’s been in the family since the mid-nineteenth century, a decade or so before the War Between the States. My ancestors bought it from the original owner.”

“Why is it called Lover’s Folly?”

He pulled his Jaguar into the two-story brick carriage house, the structure large enough to house a half dozen vehicles, if he were given to that sort of excess. His housekeeper, Sara, shared the two bedroom apartment above the garage with her husband, Brett, who was employed as the gardener and general handyman.

“It was constructed as an apology to the man’s wife—” He spared a quick glance toward the backseat. To his relief, Isabella was sound asleep, no doubt worn out from her morning exertions. He lowered his voice. “When his wife found out he’d been keeping a mistress in high style, she demanded recompense. He had this house built to make up for his folly.”

A smile trembled on Annalise’s mouth. “For his folly for taking a mistress or for getting caught?”

Jack grinned. “No one’s quite certain, though there’s been endless speculation about that.” He exited the car and gently extracted Isabella from the backseat. She murmured groggily before burrowing against him and nodding off again. It was rare moments like this that convinced him he’d done the right thing, that this poor little mite needed him. “She’s exhausted, which means she’ll nap for a while. Enjoy it while it lasts.”

“I gather it doesn’t last long?”

“No.”

That single, terse word said it all. He led the way into the kitchen and introduced Annalise to Sara. The housekeeper offered a warm smile before turning a wary eye on Isabella. “Little Madam is worn out, I see. But it must have gone well, considering you managed to hire another nanny.”

Jack slanted Annalise a quick, encouraging look. “One who plans to stay, I hope.” He inclined his head toward the steps at the far end of the kitchen. “I’ll be up in the nursery if you need me.”

He ascended the back staircase, climbing to the second floor. The nursery wing occupied the right-hand side of the U-shaped mansion. It had been designed in the days of large families and live-in servants, and consisted of four bedrooms, plus the nanny’s quarters, and a huge playroom. He carried Isabella into the room she’d chosen for herself. It overlooked a large patio and yard, and was enclosed by a towering stone wall. After settling his niece in her bed, he picked up the baby monitor and hooked it to his belt. Then he motioned to Annalise and escorted her to the playroom, where they could talk without disturbing Isabella.

The instant they entered the room, Annalise spun around to face him. She did her best to hide it, but she was seriously rattled. A deep flush sculpted her sweeping cheekbones, while her eyes rivaled the sun in their intensity. Though she stood without moving, the ringlets which had escaped her control trembled in agitation.

She took a deep breath, drawing his attention downward to where the vee of her jacket clung to the attractive swell of her breasts and traced the outline of her narrow waist and the womanly flare of her hips. For some reason the nondescript black suit didn’t seem so nondescript anymore. Not when he examined all it concealed.

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