When he unearths a disturbing secret from Michelle’s past, Erik must choose between his loyalty to a dead woman and the love burning in his heart for one who is very much alive.More info →
Erik frowned as a young woman hopped out of the cab that had just pulled into his driveway. His frown deepened when she hauled a suitcase out behind her, raised her hand to shade her eyes against the noonday sun, and gazed speculatively up at his house.
“They’ve got to be kidding me,” he muttered. He’d distinctly requested an older woman—no younger than fifty, who had experience taking care of young children.
Someone from the agency had called to say that the scheduled candidate had canceled due to a family emergency, and that a Michelle Carter would be coming instead. Was it okay if she brought her credentials with her?
Although the agencies conducted investigations, Erik ran his own background checks before interviewing potential employees. He could never be too careful when it came to the welfare of his only child. Today, he’d trusted Ready Nanny Agency because there was no time to check, and look what they sent him—a girl barely out of her teens.
Her hair was cut too short for a woman. She was too skinny and too tall. Her jeans were too tight, and the seductive sway of her hips was unequivocally too provocative. Despite his objections, and the fact that he handled women’s naked bodies on a daily basis, Erik felt a poignant stir in his loins.
After ten years as a gynecologist, he’d learned to channel his sexual energy elsewhere when he walked into an examination room to see a patient. It was all professional. The woman walking up his driveway wasn’t his patient, and the images running through his head were anything but professional. They involved tangled sheets, soft sighs, harsh moans, and musky odor rising from damp smooth skin…
Shaking the libidinous thoughts from his head, Erik tightened his jaws and moved away from the window. He’d been without a woman for too long. Yes, that was definitely his problem. It had been two years since his wife’s death, and since that fateful night, he hadn’t looked at any woman twice, much less bedded one.
At the chime of the doorbell, Erik stepped into the hallway and caught up with his housekeeper. “Mrs. Hayes, tell the young lady that I was called to the hospital, and—um—that I will contact the agency with a new date for an interview.”
“Yes, Doctor.” Mrs. Hayes threw him a speculative stare at the blatant lie.
Erik marched down the hall to his study. He closed the door, dropped into the chair behind his desk, and stared at the painting of his wife hanging above the fireplace.
As usual, he tried to shift his sexual interest in other women to memories of lovemaking with her, but as hard as he tried, there was no shifting for him today. As he stared into his wife’s brown eyes, the only images Erik saw were those of the young girl sashaying up his driveway.
“Come in,” he responded to the knock on the door. “Is she gone?” he asked, when it opened behind him.
“No. She isn’t gone. She’s still here.”
Erik swiveled around at the sultry voice. His heart did a triple take, and lust like he’d never experienced crawled through his belly and settled into his groin. At a loss for words, he took a hard, close-up look at the vibrant embodiment of temptation heading his way.
Her facial bones were delicately carved under her dark brown velvety skin. Her short crop of raven hair glittered like strands of black silk in the slivers of afternoon sun streaming through the glass door. Long lashes accentuated a pair of fiery, obsidian eyes, and her lips, full and provocative under a thin layer of gloss, looked as if they’d just been thoroughly kissed.
She was the most enchanting woman Erik had ever seen.
Unwittingly, his gaze fell to the ripe swell of her breasts pushing against the stretchy material of her blouse. Was she even wearing a bra? His gut wrenched at the thought.
“You must be Dr. LaCrosse,” she said, breaking the silence and offering him a tantalizing smile.
Her unfamiliar, yet highly stimulating perfume wrapped around him. He grew harder. Restless.
She was probably about five feet, ten inches tall, he thought, suddenly feeling uncomfortable sitting in her presence. But if he dared stand up, she would have a full view of his unsolicited arousal. He cleared his throat. “Yes, I’m Dr. LaCrosse, and you are—”
“Michelle. Michelle Carter.” She held out her hand.
Her wrist was delicate, her fingers long and slender, the nails red. Channel. Channel your thoughts. Erik’s hands curled around the arms of his chair. “Apparently my housekeeper neglected to relay my message to you, Ms. Carter.”
She dropped her hand. “Actually, she did relay your message, but I’d already seen you through the window when my cab pulled up.”
He held her gaze, not knowing whether to smile or scowl at her pursed lips. It obviously gave her great satisfaction to have caught him in a lie. “Ms. Carter,” he began in an attempt to repair the self-inflicted damage to his character, “the minute I saw you step out of the cab, I knew you were wrong for the job. For one thing, you’re far too young. I specifically requested someone older who has experience taking care of young children.”
Feeling the tension in his groin loosen a bit, Erik stood up and stepped from behind the desk. He stared down at her, still appalled that she’d come to an interview dressed so unprofessionally. “You,” he continued, “definitely do not fit that description.”
With considerable effort, Michelle suppressed the sensual jitters the deep sexy voice of the extremely tall man was causing inside her. Dressed in no smaller than size fifteen loafers, tan slacks, and a white Polo shirt, his olive-toned body was lean, hard, and athletic. He was classically handsome, with a nice straight nose and a rich crop of curly dark-brown hair. His smoky gray eyes, speckled with an array of golden hues, were as sharp as they were eccentric.
McDreamy and McSteamy rolled up into one. Move over boys. This doctor was so fine, he made her leak.
Michelle licked her lips as an inexplicable sense of fear washed over her. She’d had to deal with a few arrogant men in her past, but this one made her feel quite susceptible. If she were smart, she would walk out of this room, out of this cold luxurious country mansion and whistle her cab back to Manchester.
But she wasn’t smart. She was desperate. She needed this job. She needed a roof over her head and a fresh start.
“Well, have you nothing to say, Ms. Carter? You barged into my study after you were asked to leave. I explain why you don’t qualify for the job, and all you can do is stand there gawking at me?”
From the way he assessed her with his eyes, Michelle knew he disapproved of her attire as much as her age. Ready Nanny Agency had warned her that the fastidious widower had requested someone much older. Since they were fresh out of antiquated nannies and would probably lose him as a client anyway, they wanted to know if she was up to trying her luck.
Heck, yes. She had nothing to lose.
Michelle took a deep breath. When the agency had called her as a backup, she was in a laundromat in downtown Manchester. With a ninety-minute window of time, she barely had enough to finish the last wash, pull the half-dried load from the dryer, catch the city bus back to her apartment, throw her clothes and a few other personal items into a suitcase—since she was determined to land this job and move in tonight—and catch a cab to 204 Jefferson Drive in the upscale town of Amherst, New Hampshire.
If she told him all that, he would know she was desperate. That wasn’t happening. Not today, and definitely not after the way he was looking down his nose at her. She clutched the folder with her credentials to her chest. “Dr. LaCrosse, if I were you and saw me walking up my driveway dressed like this to interview for a nanny position for my seven-year-old daughter, I would have the same reaction.”
“Is that so, Ms. Carter? Then perhaps you can explain your attire?” His eyes lingered on her chest then wandered down to her waistline before he looked away.
Michelle didn’t miss the faint twitch of his jaws or the quick sparkle of interest in his eyes. Beneath that grim exterior, when all was said and done, he was after all, just a man. He found her attractive, maybe even sexy, but Dr. Rich Boy would shoot himself in the groin before admitting he wanted her, a girl from the wrong side of the river.
The moment she walked into the room, Michelle had figured out his type from the painting of the curvy, longhaired redhead over the marble fireplace.
Truth is, she intended to wear her white cotton jacket over her blouse, but in her haste to get here, she’d forgotten it hanging on her bedroom door. Everything else in her suitcase was wrinkled or damp. This was the best she could do.
She had twelve dollars and a penny in her pocket, and she could really use a home-cooked meal tonight. From the aromas coming from the kitchen when she walked through the elaborate foyer, she predicted it would be delicious.
But as desperate as she was, his arrogance was ticking her off. Since he’d blatantly lied about being at home for the interview, Michelle didn’t think he deserved the truth.
“Ms. Carter.” The impatient edge in his voice pulled her back on track.
“Dr. LaCrosse, I’ll assume you were expecting a model of Mrs. Doubtfire or Nanny McPhee, but quite seriously, sir, those kinds of nannies don’t exist anymore. They are long defunct. Like… gone,” she said with a flourishing swipe of her wrist. “I could have arrived, dressed like a matron from the middle ages just to appease your visual palate, but tomorrow morning, I would have rolled out of bed, pulled on my jeans and tank top then we’d be right back to square one.”
He grimaced. “Just as I predicted, Ms. Carter. You’re young, inexperienced, and unmistakably uncouth.”
“Just because I’m young doesn’t mean I’m inexperienced, Doctor.” She wasn’t touching uncouth. “I assure you, I am highly qualified for the job. I may not be as old as you wish, but I have lots of experience with young children. My credentials will attest to that.” She held the folder out to him.
His eyes narrowed to amber slits as he continued to stare her down, obviously trying to intimidate her. But Michelle wasn’t easily intimidated. She’d grown up in the toughest part of Manchester. She had to learn to hold her ground at an early age, and so she held his gaze and the folder out until he took it from her.
He walked to the sliders and stood with his back to her. As he flipped through the pages, Michelle took the opportunity to admire his broad shoulders, narrow waistline and trim hips. She salivated at the thought of running her fingers down his naked body, cupping his delectable buns in her hands…
Michelle gave herself a mental slap in the head. She and the doctor were from two different worlds, and she doubted he’d ever cross that social line. The man had refused to shake her hand. And he’d called her uncouth. Besides, a man as handsome and sexy as Dr. Erik LaCrosse wouldn’t be unattached. She was sure he had some lucky couth babe to slake his noble passion. Anyway, she wasn’t his type, and he certainly wasn’t hers. Uh-uh. Too uptight.
He turned. “You’ve done a lot of babysitting, Ms. Carter, and your current involvement with the youth center in Manchester is quite impressive. But caring for children on a full-time basis is very different from spending a few hours at a time with them. It’s a huge responsibility. You’re always on call.”
Was that a maybe? “I understand.” Michelle spoke hastily, hoping to eradicate all his doubts about her capabilities to take care of his daughter. “I love kids, Dr. LaCrosse. Mostly what they need is love. I give them all I have, and for some reason they love me back,” she added humbly, thinking of the kids who flock to her when she walked through the doors of the youth center. “If you give me a chance, I bet you that black shiny Jaguar in the driveway I’d be the best thing that ever happened to your daughter.”
He tilted his head and continued to stare at her, his expression shrouded, unreadable. Finally, he strolled to his desk and set the folder down. “Excuse my manners. Please have a seat.” He gestured toward the sofa behind her. His face still gave no clue as to whether she was in or out.
Eyeing him skeptically, Michelle slid unto the smooth leather sofa.
“Make yourself comfortable, Ms. Carter. I will be back momentarily.”
Erik headed for the kitchen. Mrs. Hayes always carried out his requests, as dubious as they may seem to her. She was loyal, dependable, and more like a member of the family than a housekeeper. Nobody got past her without permission. So why had she let Michelle Carter into the house when he’d asked her to send her away?
She was standing at the island in the kitchen, rolling dough for the bread she would be serving with a beef stew for dinner. “I though I asked you to get rid of her, Mrs. Hayes,” he said in a diplomatic tone he knew was wasted on her.
Mrs. Hayes didn’t even look up from her kneading. “Oh, Dr., Michelle’s as harmless as—”
“You know her?”
“Since the day she was born.”
“You know her.” This was more a confirmation than a question.
Mrs. Hayes set down her rolling pin and peeked up at him, an affectionate smile on her face. “We lived on the same street in Manchester. Michelle’s mother died while giving birth to her. Life hadn’t been too good for her and her older brother when they were little, but according to Michelle, Robert now has a successful orthodontist practice.” Mrs. Hayes shook her head and sighed. “I reckon Michelle is here because she hasn’t quite found her way yet. Who knows, maybe she’ll find it in this big lonely house.”
“Did you know she was coming for the interview today?” he asked, holding her gaze.
She hesitated before answering. “No. I did not know Michelle was coming for the interview today.” She took a pinch of salt from a bowl and sprinkled it over the dough before resuming her kneading.
Erik leaned against the island. The fact that Michelle had grown up without a mother gave her something in common with Precious. She might be able to connect with his daughter in a way Holly hadn’t, he speculated, seeing Michelle in a different light now that Mrs. Hayes, his trusted housekeeper, actually knew her and had vouched for her.
In his book, a personal recommendation outweighed an impressive resume any day. Michelle had both. She’d earned a four-year degree in three years with a double major in Human Resources and Business Administration. She’d worked in customer relations until she lost her job due to the downturn in the economy. According to her resume, she’d moved to South Carolina where she worked as a temp for about a year before returning to the area.
Times were tough. She quite clearly needed a break as Mrs. Hayes had pointed out. The girl was desperate, but even so, she had managed to preserve her dignity when faced with his arrogance and skepticism. He liked her tenacity. It showed character.
“But she’s so young,” he voiced his thoughts aloud. “Too young.”
Mrs. Hayes rolled up the dough and placed it into a greased bowl. She turned the ball of dough once then covered it with a piece of plastic wrap. Her task complete, she gazed up at him. “If you’ll pardon my frankness, Sir, Michelle is just what that sweet child needs to perk up her little spirit. Little Precious doesn’t need an old woman huffing and puffing over her. She needs a young girl with life in her bones. Don’t make them pay for Holly’s happiness.” She reached up and touched a cool hand to Erik’s cheek. “Give Michelle a chance. If she doesn’t work out, I’ll give her the boot, myself.” She walked over to the stove and began stirring her pot of stew.
Erik raked his fingers through his hair. He was either a glutton for punishment or he was simply insane to consider hiring Michelle Carter. She wasn’t the kind of woman a man could easily ignore. He’d spent a mere fifteen minutes with the girl and she was already wreaking havoc on his world. No woman had ever had that kind of effect on him. Not even his wife.
But, he had to consider his daughter’s wellbeing.
Her former nanny had been wonderful in helping Precious cope with her mother’s death for the past fifteen months. Then a month ago, Holly married and moved away to start her own family, taking Precious’ smile and spirit with her.
Erik longed to see his daughter’s eyes light up with laughter again. He longed to hear her squeals of delight ringing through the house and her feet clambering up and down the stairs. All she’d been doing lately was sulking in her room as if she’d lost her mother all over again. He was tired of the endless barrage of applicants coming to his house, only to be disappointed when Precious gave them the cold shoulder, time and time again.
Mrs. Hayes thought Michelle would make an excellent replacement. Perhaps he should listen to the old lady and give the girl a chance. If Michelle could work a miracle in his daughter’s life, he would be eternally grateful to her. She had a sparkling candidness that he liked—even admired in a surprising sort of way, he thought, recalling the satisfaction in her black eyes when she’d pointed out his lie.
“Very well then,” he said as Mrs. Hayes covered her pot of stew. “I’ll give her a chance since you insist.”
Mrs. Hayes smiled at him. “That’s all anyone can ask for, Dr.”