The Nanny and the Millionaire. Линда Гуднайт
Marissa tilted his chin so she could see his eyes.
‘No.’ Riley shook his head. ‘Daddy found a new place to live. He said he was going to pull himself together. Every day he told me how much he loved me. I never missed Keile. She wouldn’t let me call her Mum. She was an angry person, Ma. If I did anything wrong she flew into a rage. After she hit me I used to curl into a ball and wait for Daddy to come home.’
‘Oh, my God!’ Marissa moaned, anguishing for his troubled past.
‘Daddy said it was all his fault. He used to try so hard not to have a drink. He called it “the horrors.” We were best mates.’
‘I’m sure you were,’ Marissa said, swallowing hard on the lump in her throat. ‘He was a wonderful father to me before my mother died. We both loved her so much. It was the way my mother died in a car accident with Dad driving that started him drinking. He never used to. He was seeking forgetfulness.’
Both of them were so engrossed in their conversation they hadn’t noticed that someone had followed them out of the café, until a man dressed like a station hand, caught up to them as they entered the park.
‘Howdy!’ he called cheerfully, touching a hand to his wide brimmed akubra.
‘Morning,’ Riley piped up, ever ready to be friendly.
‘Mornin’, young ‘un.’ The man’s gaze flicked briefly over the child before returning to Marissa, a certain glint in his eyes; around thirty, muscular, elaborate tattoos over both arms, good-looking in a slightly brutal way, strangely lifeless grey eyes. ‘Out for a stroll with Mum?’
‘My brother,‘ Marissa said, keeping her tone pleasant.
‘Have it your own way.’ He grinned at her, but his expression wasn’t pretty. ‘Mind if I join you?’
Marissa took a calming breath, glad of the fact quite a few townspeople were now out on the street. ‘Riley and I want to spend some private time together if you don’t mind,’ she said, feeling increasingly wary. She didn’t like the look of this man. She especially didn’t like the way the lifeless eyes were jittering over her.
‘Really?’ He mimed a double-take. ‘You’re remarkably well spoken for a little drifter with a kid. Beautiful, too. A raven-haired beauty with violet eyes. A bit like Liz Taylor when she was young. What brings you to Ransom if I may ask? Name’s Wade Pearson by the way.’ He thrust out a callused hand but Marissa unable to mask her distaste moved back, tightly clutching Riley’s shoulder, dismayed to find it was trembling.
‘Oh, dear, oh, dear, not good enough for yah, eh?’ Pearson sneered. ‘Uppity little broad, aren’t yah?’ His eyes continued to run insolently up and down over her body. She was wearing a fresh white shirt with just above the knee length khaki shorts that still managed to showcase her long slender legs.
‘Excuse me, I don’t want trouble.’ Marissa was already turning away, aware his eyes were boring a hole in her back. Where, oh, where was Dusty, guard dog of renown?
Pearson sauntered after her, his grin brazen. ‘And you won’t be getting any if you just relax and act friendly.’ Despite the grin he was injecting a sense of threat into his voice.
‘But I have no interest in getting friendly, Mr Pearson.’ Marissa rounded on him, hoping he couldn’t catch the anxiety coming off her. ‘Please don’t bother us.’
‘Hell, girl, I’m only speakin’ to you,’ he protested, all innocence. ‘Don’t walk off now.’
‘You heard Ma,’ Riley suddenly shouted, his blue eyes glowing hotly. ‘Go away. You don’t want me to whistle up my dog, do you?’
‘You serious, little fella?’ Wade Pearson lowered his eyes to Riley shaking his head in amazement. ‘Take more than you two and your dog to stand up to me. Don’t get scared. All I want is to have a little chat with your ma. I’ve got a coupla ideas I’d like to kick around with her. We don’t see a woman as beautiful as your ma every day.’
Marissa had a sense no one would ever believe she wasn’t Riley’s mother. ‘I told you. Riley is my brother.’
His reaction was a coarse laugh. ‘A likely story! Hell, you must’ve been just a kid when some dude got to yah?’ He moved in closer, lifting his broad shoulders and expanding his chest, obviously believing it had an intimidating effect.
Marissa could see Riley’s lip quivering. That made her stronger. ‘You’re in our way, Mr Pearson. Move!’ she said sharply.
For answer he crossed his arms over his muscular chest. ‘Spunky as hell, aren’t yah? I like that in a woman. Makes me wonder how much you’d fight me?’
Riley put himself between Pearson and his sister. ‘Go away. Ma and I don’t like you.’
Pearson leaned down and pulled Riley’s ear. ‘Well, I happen to like your ma.’ His face was a leering mask. ‘I think you should keep out of this, little fella.’
‘You don’t frighten me,’ Riley said bravely, pushing back against his sister.
‘It’s all right, Riley.’ She calmed him, drawing him closer. Her eyes had locked on to an impressively tall man who had just entered the park. No question about it, he was coming their way. Very purposefully, she thought.
The cavalry had arrived! If so, he was the officer in charge.
Even at a distance he gave the appearance of the sort of man who would command attention anywhere. Dressed much like Pearson, there was a remarkable difference. While Pearson looked rough and ready, this man had perfected the image of the glamorous cattle baron. In all probability he was! The aura he gave off held such authority it had the power to render her instantly calmer.
‘Back up’s on the way!’ She gave Pearson a challenging look.
He wasn’t impressed enough to turn around to check. ‘You can’t trick me.’ He moved closer so she could smell his stale sweat. ‘You don’t want me to hurt the kid, do yah?’
Marissa eyed him with contempt. ‘Try it and you’ll wish you hadn’t!’
‘You’re a creep and a bully!’ Riley shouted, his breath starting to come hard.
‘Looks like your kid needs teachin’ a lesson.’ Pearson grabbed at Riley’s frail arm.
At the same time as Marissa pulled Riley back, a steely voice cracked out, ‘Let the boy go, Pearson!’
Instantly Pearson was thrown into a panic. He dropped Riley’s arm like a shot, whirling about, bravado shaken. ‘Whoa, boss!’ he called. ‘I was just askin’ this young lady if there’s anything I could do to help her.’
Riley found his vocal chords again. ‘Liar!’
Pearson’s boss reached them in a couple of long strides, his mouth held in a tight line. ‘It didn’t look to me like she was interested in your offer. Get out of here. Now. You’ve got five minutes to grab those spare parts from the garage and head back to the station. We’ll talk then.’
‘I swear it was nuthin’, boss.’ Pearson held to the role of injured party. ‘She looked like she needed help.’
‘Maybe you didn’t hear me. I said, go!’ The newcomer stabbed a bronzed finger at Pearson’s chest.
‘Sure, boss.’ Pearson didn’t wait a second longer. ‘See you later, Riley!’ He waved a pseudo-friendly hand.
‘No, you won’t!’ Riley croaked after him, sounding like he was having trouble getting his breath.
‘What was he saying to you?’ The man looked at Marissa, waiting intently on her answer.
Now she got the full force of brilliant dark eyes; so deep they gave her the unnerving sensation of drowning.