The Nanny and the Millionaire. Линда Гуднайт

The Nanny and the Millionaire - Линда Гуднайт

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sideboard even longer than the table held tea and coffee and the various offerings Olly set out for breakfast at which times they helped themselves. The room’s close proximity to the kitchen made Olly’s work very much easier although she had many a helping hand in the form of the house girls who moved about quiet as shadows. Marissa had attempted conversation but so far their responses had been confined to muffled giggles and shy smiles.

      Lois was taking her time answering, staring down into her half empty wineglass as though at the bottom lay her answer. ‘It sounds like you want to get rid of me.’ she said finally, a throb in her voice.

      It was Catherine who answered, looking distressed. ‘No, no, Lois. That’s not it at all. You’ve been so good giving Georgia your time and attention, but you must be missing city life. I’m sure your friends are missing you.’

      Lois blinked rapidly, perhaps fighting back tears. ‘You’re very kind, Mrs McMaster, but I feel like I have to go. In fact I feel like I’ll never be invited to this house again.’

      ‘Oh, for God’s sake, Lois!’ Holt showed his impatience with histrionics. Clearly he had seen too much of it. ‘I swear I will invite you. Have no fear. I didn’t realise you found Outback life so fascinating. You never have in the past.’

      ‘Tara never wanted me here,’ she said.

       Because she knew you were in love with her husband.

      Marissa looked away, hating to be caught in the middle of this. Couldn’t Lois have waited to speak to Holt privately?

      ‘Tara, I believe, is overseas. Is that right?’ he asked, his expression sufficient for anyone to change the subject.

      Lois nodded slowly. ‘She’ll be home soon. She’s in Dubai at the moment. Loves it!’

      ‘Probably catching up on her shopping,’ Holt said suavely. ‘Don’t you want to see her? She’s most likely brought you back something you don’t want.’

      Lois threw down her napkin. ‘I hate you, Holt,’ she cried, her tongue loosened by the wine.

      ‘Well, it’s better than loving me,’ he said.

      ‘Holt!’ Catherine shot her beloved grandson, a swift, reproving glance.

      ‘Look I don’t want to upset you, Lois,’ he responded to that glance with a much more conciliatory tone, ‘but I think we’ve reached a point where you’d be happier back home. I assure you we are looking forward to having you back at Christmas.’

      ‘Oh, shut up!’ Lois wailed, jumping to her feet. ‘It’s all this one’s fault, isn’t it?’ She stabbed an accusing finger at the mortified Marissa. ‘I’ve worked so hard, done so much but I haven’t been appreciated. Mark my words this one will turn out to be worse than the other two.’

      ‘This one’s name is Marissa,’ Holt stressed. ‘And I’m determined to give her a fighting chance. You’re upsetting Gran, Lois. I won’t have that. I was enjoying having her company at dinner.’

      Lois looked like she’d been slapped across the face. ‘I’m so sorry, Mrs McMaster,’ she apologised hastily. ‘I don’t know what’s got into me.’

      ‘You’re very uptight, Lois,’ Catherine said quietly. ‘Sometimes the isolation can strain one’s nerves. And there’s no denying Georgy has been quite a handful. We very much appreciate what you’ve tried to do. Please, sit down again, dear. I don’t like to see you upset. But you mustn’t upset Marissa, either. She doesn’t deserve it.’

      Incredibly Lois gave way to a gale of bitter laughter. ‘You’re not getting any of this, are you?’

      ‘Yes, I am, Lois,’ Catherine said, for a fraction of a second showing her anger. ‘We will excuse you if you would like.’

      Lois thrust her chair back, heading for the door. She was almost there, when she turned. ‘How can you trust her?’ she demanded of Holt looking directly at him. ‘Do you really need a person like that to teach Georgia, to live in your house? Have you even bothered to check out her background? I bet she’s got plenty to hide.’

      The strain of Lois’s antagonism finally caught up with Marissa. She closed her eyes, then opened them quickly. ‘I don’t have a police record, Ms Aldridge,’ she said. ‘I’ve done nothing unlawful in my life. I’ve presented Mr McMaster with my references. They’re excellent. I’m well qualified to teach your niece.’

      ‘And there’s more!’ Holt leaned back in his chair. ‘She could probably teach you a thing or two, Lois.’

      Lois wasn’t about to let that go by. ‘Nothing I’d want to learn!’ she hurled at him, before stalking off.

      There was a long pause while they all waited for the clack of Lois’s high heels on the marble tiles to fade away.

      ‘Oh, dear, oh, dear, oh, dear,’ Catherine softly moaned. ‘When was the last time Lois put on a turn like that? It must be what, two or three years?’

      ‘I believe it was around the time of the divorce,’ Holt said his handsome face as unyielding as rock.

      ‘She does have her nose out of joint,’ Catherine said, fully realising Lois felt threatened by the presence of a beautiful young woman at Wungalla. ‘Did you really have to goad her, my darling?’

      ‘Goad her?’ Holt’s fine white teeth clenched. ‘Good God, Gran, she was out on the attack. She didn’t give a damn if she upset you, or Marissa. In fact I think she was aching to get it off her chest.’

      ‘Would you like me to leave?’ Marissa asked quickly, looking first at Catherine, then Holt.

      ‘Why should you?’ he countered, impatiently. ‘You haven’t finished your meal. Neither have I. Gran has, no problem there.’

      ‘Stay, dear,’ Catherine urged Marissa, giving a little shake of her hand. ‘I suppose there’s no point in going after Lois?’ she asked of no one in particular.

      ‘No point at all,’ Holt confirmed shortly. ‘She’ll cool off by morning. Did she upset you?’ He looked at his grandmother keenly.

      ‘Not really, darling,’ Catherine answered a little too quickly. ‘But I do think I might retire now. I was so enjoying being with you right up to the moment you suggested flying Lois home. Though I’m sure it’s the right thing.’

      ‘It is from where I’m standing,’ Holt said, getting to his feet. ‘Come on now, sweetheart, I’ll take you upstairs.’

      Marissa had never thought to hear him speak so tenderly. He was such a complicated man, very difficult to get used to.

      ‘Thank you, darling.’ Catherine’s hazel eyes met Marissa’s. ‘Try to excuse Lois, my dear. Sad to say, you’ve awakened the not so nice side of her. Lois can be charming and she has tried with Georgy.’

      ‘Or we’re going to pretend she did,’ Holt said. ‘Want me to carry you?’

      ‘Your grandfather used to,’ Catherine said, looking way up at him with twinkling eyes.

      ‘And I’m not the man to run away from a challenge, either!’ He swept his doll-like grandmother off her feet, pausing only to tell Marissa to stay put.

      A moment or two later, Olly who had obviously heard raised voices—perhaps even listened in?—came through the kitchen door.

      ‘What was that all about?’ she asked in a conspiratorial whisper. It was obvious right from the beginning she felt free to ask questions of Marissa.

      Marissa took a deep breath. Lois mightn’t be thrilled about her presence on Wungalla, but Olly was treating her as if she were a bona fide member of the family and not the new governess. ‘Holt offered to fly Lois back to Sydney.’


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