The Nanny and the Millionaire. Линда Гуднайт

The Nanny and the Millionaire - Линда Гуднайт

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McMaster was used to a great deal of female attention.

      Had he gone for evening strolls with the previous governesses? she wondered. If so no wonder they got wild ideas into their heads. Had he and Lois taken nightly walks beneath the glorious Outback stars? Poor desperately angry and hurt, Lois. Had Lois been led down the metaphoric garden path? Were they, in fact, lovers? A man like that with such a powerful sexual aura, was hardly likely to have remained celibate after his divorce. Were there other lovers tucked away? Quite likely. But weren’t men always going on about a male heir? He would remarry. Running a vast cattle station was a man’s job in a man’s world.

      ‘Do we keep to the path?’ Her voice sounded composed, but her nerves were jingling.

      ‘Absolutely! The straight and narrow,’ he confirmed.

      ‘Did you ask my predecessors to take an after-dinner stroll?’ The words left her mouth before she had time to call them back.

      He looked down his dead straight nose at her. ‘Just because I asked you doesn’t mean I’ve asked others, Ms Devlin.’

      ‘I’m sorry. Should I be flattered, Mr McMaster?’

      ‘You’re not supposed to be anything!’ he told her crisply. ‘Just enjoy the stars and the night air. By the way you can drop the Mr McMaster.’

      ‘So soon?’ How the man loosened her tongue!

      ‘You know, Ms Devlin, I’m concerned at the way you’re starting to question what I say.’

      The truth of that jolted her. She attempted an explanation. ‘It’s only because you go out of your way to make me feel uncomfortable.’

      ‘How?’ He moved a long sweeping frond away from her face.

      ‘I don’t really know my position.’

      ‘More or less governess,’ he said. ‘I’ll always try to think of you that way. I can’t answer for my grandmother. You did tell her you’d read to her?’

      ‘Of course I will!’ She stared up at him, seeing him clearly in the glow from the exterior lights. ‘I’d be delighted to. I don’t say things I don’t mean.’

      ‘How I wish I could say the same of myself,’ he said dryly, taking hold of her elbow momentarily while he steered her onto a branching path. ‘I’m taking Lois back with me tomorrow. We’ll leave right after an early breakfast. I’m not asking you to run down and join us. I’ll be gone for several days, probably a week.’

      ‘I take it I’m in charge of the schoolroom?’ Her leaping nerves had gone haywire when he touched her. How could just the touch of a hand do that?

      ‘I could scarcely put you in charge of anything else. Gran told me you ride? I’d appreciate your being absolutely honest about this. You ride, or you can just about manage to stay on a very quiet horse?’

      She had to move closer to him as the branching foliage reached for her. ‘I love the way you put things. I suppose I could say in all modesty I’m a good rider. My father bought me my first pony when I was five. He—’ She stopped abruptly, her memories clinging to her like a second skin.

      ‘And I hate it when you do that,’ he said. ‘Go on.’

      ‘I’ve said enough.’ She shook her head. ‘I’ve answered the question. Riley can ride, as well. Both of us are what you call naturals. We love horses.’

      ‘Well, of course! We inherit our tastes. Georgy you will find has a fear of horses. She had a bad experience when she was quite small. Much the same thing happened at the pool. She fears the water.’

      ‘That’s sad.’ Was it possible he had thrown the child in at the deep end? She had heard of a few fathers who did that, genuinely believing their child would somehow miraculously swim. She couldn’t see Holt McMaster doing it—certainly not to a little girl—though she wished he would reach out more to his child. He seemed more like a laid-back, affectionate uncle than a father. ‘A few things have occurred to me that might cure that. I promise I would take things slowly. I understand children’s fears. Riley will be a big help. Like me he’s a good swimmer.’

      ‘Did you teach him?’

      She pushed her windswept hair away from her face. ‘No, I didn’t.’

      He glanced down at her. She was wearing a silvery little blouse she must have had tucked away somewhere in her travellight luggage. It looked expensive. It suited her. Oddly he had an idea he had seen it before. If it did turn out she was a single mother on the run she still managed to retain a look of exclusivity. Ms Marissa Devlin had a story to tell. One, he found, he badly wanted to hear. He knew he could have her background checked in a minute, but something in him shied away from that. He wanted to hear it from her own lips.

      ‘So who did?’ he asked finally.

      ‘My father.’ Marissa started to retreat automatically, but found herself adding. ‘He taught Riley lots of things.’

      ‘He did well. Riley’s a great little guy.’

      ‘I think so.’

      The enchanted indigo-blue night and the brilliance of the stars should have soothed her, but however hard she tried, she had to accept she was succumbing to this man’s black magic. And it was magic. Like so many others before her, she was falling for it.

      ‘You haven’t asked me anything about my teaching methods?’ she said. ‘Or told me if there’s any subject in particular you want me to work on with Georgy?’

      There was a torched pause. ‘Best of all, Ms Devlin, I’d like you to work on her day-to-day behaviour although I have to say whatever system you have in place it’s having great results. You did allow me to see your excellent reference from the worthy Doctor Bell, wasn’t it?’

      ‘Yes, my friend and my mentor. She did everything she could to make life easier. At school at least.’

      ‘What exactly was wrong with your home life?’

      ‘Nothing was really wrong. It was just that I was looking for love.’

      ‘Aren’t we all?’

      His answer surprised her. Why? Because he appeared so utterly self-contained? ‘Forgive me if I’m out of line but your divorce must have been very painful. For you and for Georgy.’

      He glanced down at her, his tone sardonic. ‘When you say you’re out of line, you are, Ms Devlin.’

      ‘But you can ask me anything you like?’

      ‘Now don’t sound miffed. That’s different, isn’t it?’

      ‘Sorry.’ She forced her breath to stay even. They were moving through an avenue of shrubs freighted with fragrant blossom, but it was darker here, more mysterious, the only light that pouring out of the starry sky.

      ‘I suppose the best way I could describe my divorce was, a tremendous relief,‘ he said. ‘The truth, I believe, is always best.’

      Was that another dig at her? ‘You’d fallen totally out of love?’ She couldn’t keep a little lick of reproof out of her voice.

      ‘I think we might start with your big love affair?’ he countered suavely. ‘Unless you prefer not to discuss it?’

      ‘Do you know I’ve never had a big love affair.’

      ‘That’s hard to believe,’ he said.

      ‘Riley is not my child.’

      He stopped on the path, and turned her towards him. ‘So you say, but he plays your son to perfection.’

      ‘Is that so unusual in a little boy who …’

      She knew she had a real problem talking about this, even to save herself and her reputation. She couldn’t bring herself to talk about her brilliant

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