The Nanny and the Millionaire. Линда Гуднайт
too difficult in the city. A good friend of mine was raised on the land. She had a governess. She was the one who suggested I try governessing for a year or two. Riley was devastated when our father died. He needs me close by for a while.’
‘So you’re going to persist with your story?’ Lois asked, her nostrils pinched. This was all a bad dream—a nightmare really—this girl coming here. Lois could see Trouble written all over her.
‘No story, Ms Aldridge, it’s true.’ Marissa was quite aware of Lois’s silent fears. They shocked her. ‘I must go back to the children.’
‘You don’t appear to be doing a good job so far,’ Lois snapped in satisfaction.
‘Actually things are going a lot better than I anticipated. I’m immensely grateful. Do please excuse me.’
But Lois was in a foul temper, an unfortunate trait that appeared to run in the family. ‘I suggest you don’t go after Holt. Georgia has a beautiful room of her own. I was the one who refurbished it. Leave well alone.’
Please, God, help! Marissa stopped, then turned around. ‘I’m sure you’ve been a very good aunt to Georgia, Ms Aldridge, but I answer to Mr McMaster. He is my employer.’ She had to stand her ground, even in the light of Lois’s aggression. ‘I may have needed the job, but I would never have taken it if I wasn’t going to have a free hand.’
‘Free hand!’ Lois gave her a furious look. ‘Okay, have it your own way! But make an enemy of me and my sister and you’ll be sorry.’
That sounded like a threat. Marissa retraced her steps so she was standing only a foot away from Lois. ‘I wonder if you’re not overestimating your own power?’ she asked quietly, dismayed at inciting so much dislike. She could have pointed out Holt McMaster had already told Lois not to interfere, but she simply didn’t have the heart. Everything about Lois screamed here was a woman tearing herself to pieces over a forbidden man. Marissa wasn’t even sure if one could marry one’s sister’s ex-husband? Probably. Lots of things had changed.
Lois’s cheeks went from pink to crimson. ‘You’re certainly different from the other governesses we’ve had.’ Her voice shook with outrage. ‘How dare you speak to me like that. I’m family. You’re an employee. And not for long, I can assure you of that. I’m a tabby cat compared to my sister. She’s a tigress.’
Marissa didn’t doubt that for a moment. Holt McMaster wouldn’t have married a tabby cat. ‘Is that why she didn’t like the desert?’ she asked, before going on her way.
Marissa sought Olly’s advice before leaving the house. She found her in the kitchen, writing up menus.
‘Georgy wants to change bedrooms,’ she said, coming right to the point. ‘She wants to shift down to our wing. She appears to have taken a great fancy to Riley, praise the Lord!’
‘I’m not surprised,’ Olly said. ‘Take a seat. He’s a beautiful sunny-natured child, a great credit to you, Marissa.’
‘Thank you.’ Marissa felt besieged by mistaken assumptions, even from Olly. ‘What do you think?’ She slipped into a chair, studying Olly’s slightly worried expression.
‘Lois put a lot of money and time into refurbishing Georgy’s bedroom,’ Olly pointed out, looking at Marissa over the top of her glasses. ‘Very extravagant and much too grown-up for a little girl, if you ask me, but of course she didn’t. I don’t think she knows any other way. Tara was the same.’
‘Tara being the ex-Mrs McMaster?’
‘One and the same,’ Olly said, brushing away a bothersome insect. ‘It makes sense the child wanting to be near you. Certainly you can keep a better eye on her. She hasn’t for a while, but she used to sleepwalk.’
Sleepwalk? Marissa found herself drooping a bit. ‘Oh, that must have been a worry?’ She waited for Olly to say more.
‘It was, but that phase seems to be over.’
‘Thank God for that, but she would still need watching. I was planning on asking Mr McMaster for his permission, but I wanted to consult you first. If you don’t think it’s a good idea I won’t go ahead. Ms Aldridge—I haven’t been invited to call her Lois—’
‘And I don’t think you ever will be,’ Olly cut in, dryly.
Marissa nodded her agreement. ‘Ms Aldridge is very much against the idea.’
‘Well, she would be, wouldn’t she, love? By the way, in case you’ve missed it, Miss Lois is very fond of Holt.’
‘I have gathered that along the way,’ Marissa said, without expression. ‘She told me—warned me might be closer—not to do anything that would upset her sister.’
Olly made a clicking sound with her tongue. ‘Tara is the dominant one of the two,’ she confided. ‘Lois is a pale shadow of her older sister. In fact I don’t think I’d be exaggerating in saying she goes in awe of Tara, though she’s nearly thirty years old.’
Marissa propped her chin on her hand. ‘That’s sad. I did, however, receive a clear message. If I did anything to anger Georgy’s mother I’d be out of here like a shot.’
‘Hey, now!’ Olly moved her head closer to Marissa’s. ‘The ex-Mrs McMaster carries no clout around here, love. Don’t let Lois fool you. She wouldn’t be so angry if you were on the plain side. But let’s face it, love, you’re not! That’s what’s putting her nose out of joint. You turn up here, out of nowhere, looking like the Rose of Tralee. I suppose it’s natural for Lois to feel threatened.’
Marissa gave a moan of dismay. ‘Oh, Olly, I’m here as Georgy’s governess. That’s the only way I should be regarded. I’m no threat to anyone, I assure you. I’ve got quite enough on my plate.’
‘Sure you have!’ Olly agreed. ‘But there’s no denying beauty wields a lot of power. Besides, the fact you’ve got so much on your plate, is exactly why a rich husband wouldn’t go astray.’
‘I’m not even tempted, Olly,’ Marissa said, aghast at what Olly might be implying.
‘Righto!’ Olly answered.
‘The last governess fell in love with Mr McMaster, didn’t she?’
‘And the one before that! Both of them, head over heels. Holt is in no hurry to remarry—who could blame him—but he could have his pick of a dozen eligible young women this very day. And those are just the ones I know about.’
Probably the rest could form a queue to Alice Springs. ‘How did he meet Tara?’ Marissa dared to ask. ‘Are the Aldridges a landed family?’
Olly shook a head covered in short, soft grey curls. ‘Things might have worked out if they were. No, Holt met Tara at some big society party in Sydney, where the family live. The father is a prominent businessman. He always makes The Rich List anyway. The wedding was huge! By the time Holt got back from the honeymoon in Europe I think he was having second thoughts.’
‘Lordy!’ Marissa exclaimed. Might it not then be a good idea to have a trial run? ‘He doesn’t seem the sort of man to make mistakes?’ And having made one, live comfortably with it.
‘We all make mistakes, love.’ Olly reached over and patted Marissa’s hand consolingly.
She had a long way to go before she could convince anyone Riley wasn’t her love child.
The utility rattled across the open plains that ran out to the horizons, flat as a board. No wonder the countryside was inundated in times of flood, Marissa thought. She drove with her arm out of the window, enjoying the breeze and the amazing spectacle of thousands of birds taking flight as the ute approached; the many coloured mulga parrots, the cheeky white cockatoos, big pale grey galahs with their purplish-pink breasts and to her intense delight one of the great sights of the Outback she had heard