Authors: Karen Erickson
Would I really want her back?
The thought was so terrible, so forbidden, he shoved it into the deepest, darkest recesses of his mind, grabbed his briefcase and his phone and exited his office.
Paige settled into the luxuriously soft couch with Matty on her lap. He couldn’t stop moving, his soft hair brushing against her chin as he squirmed. Unable to settle down while she read him a story, but she didn’t mind. She still couldn’t believe her good fortune, meeting Claudia Renaldi and connecting with her and Matty. Connecting so well that Claudia had offered her the nanny position on the spot.
It seemed her bad luck had finally turned.
Claudia had someone employed by her son—Matty’s father—pick up Paige’s luggage, which still sat in the dismal little hostel room she’d found after she lost her previous job. She’d also given the man money to settle Paige’s bill. When she’d protested, Claudia had shaken her head, then agreed that the amount would be taken out of Paige’s first paycheck.
And this home they were in. Paige had never seen anything like it. She’d thought the Leonards were wealthy, but they were paupers compared to the understated elegance and immense wealth that permeated the entire penthouse apartment the Renaldis lived in.
Once Claudia had explained what sort of business her family was in, Paige understood. Fine luxury accessories, mostly jewelry, though they also sold leather goods. She’d vaguely remembered a family scandal involving the Renaldi daughter.
Not that she was rude enough to mention it to Claudia. But she wouldn’t mind doing a little Google research later if she somehow obtained access to a computer. She was curious.
The sound of a slamming door came from the foyer, and Matty leaped from her lap, his body practically vibrating with excitement. “Daddy’s home!”
Before Paige could answer him, he’d taken off, his little feet loud on the tiled hallway as he ran to greet his father. She could hear Matty chattering away, then the deeper, rumbling answers from his father. Nerves clamored in her stomach, and she stood, wiped her damp hands on the front of her jeans as she waited for Matteo Renaldi to enter the living room.
“Come meet her, Daddy! She’s pretty and smart and she reads me stories.”
Paige wrung her hands. What if he hated her on sight? What if he fired her? God, she didn’t think she could take another moment like that.
“Here she is.” Matty ran into the living room first, beaming up at Paige before he turned and stood by her side, waiting for his father to enter the room.
Matteo Renaldi strode into the living room, seeming to eat up all the oxygen with his presence. Her lungs burned at first sight of him, and she swallowed past the dryness in her throat, her greedy gaze drinking him in.
He wore a suit, black with faint pinstripes running through the fine wool fabric, a classic, crisp white shirt and perfectly knotted red tie. He appeared to have walked straight out of a magazine. Not a wrinkle in sight, not a smidgeon of imperfection. His black hair had a slight wave to it and was a bit long, curling appealingly at his nape. Velvety brown eyes the same shade as his son’s settled upon her, his sensuous mouth curving into a tight, closed-lip smile. “I assume you’re the infamous Paige?”
With heated cheeks, she nodded mutely, took his hand when he offered it. The shock that swept through her at first touch weakened her knees, rendered her completely stupid, and she hoped he didn’t notice her sweaty palm.
“This is my father,” Matty said solemnly, suddenly a serious little man. “His name is Matteo Renaldi. Just like mine.”
“I—it’s very nice to meet you, Mr. Renaldi,” she rasped, then coughed to clear her throat.
God. She’d thought he might be intimidating. Perhaps a little cold, since his mother hadn’t painted him in the most affectionate light. But she hadn’t expected him to be so devastatingly handsome.
“Nice to meet you as well, Paige…do you have a last name?” He cocked a dark brow, the expression on his face brutally intent.
“Stewart.” She realized she hadn’t released his hand, and she sprang away from him. “Paige Stewart.”
“A pleasure to meet you, Paige Stewart. I hear my son thinks you’re the most perfect nanny ever created.” The amusement in his voice was clear. But did he believe her a joke? How many nannies had they already gone through? Claudia had mentioned it was a long list.
“I’ve only been here for…” She checked the clock that hung on the wall behind where stood. “Five hours. He might change his mind after a few days, I’m afraid.” She didn’t want to appear a complete pushover. She knew how to guide with a soft heart and a strict routine.
“Matty likes to form his opinions rather quickly. We’ve been through many nannies this last year.” His dark gaze met hers, his mouth curved into a slight frown. “I hope you stick, Miss Stewart.”
At least three dozen butterflies busily flapped their wings in her belly, making her dizzy. Breathing deep, she offered her new boss a faint smile. “I hope I do too, Mr. Renaldi.”
“Paige, Matty, it’s almost time for dinner.” Claudia stopped short when she entered the living room. “Oh. Matteo, you’re home.” She sounded surprised. Did he rarely make it home for the dinner hour? It was the most important meal to share with your children.
“I am.” He went to his mother, dropped a quick kiss to her cheek. “Did you make dinner this evening?”
“I did, you lucky devil.” She smiled, patted his cheek with motherly affection. “That is, if you’re dining with us tonight.”
“Well, aren’t we all fortunate to have you grace us with your presence? Usually you’re out on a Friday night.”
His expression clouded, eyes going narrow. “I’m spending the weekend at home. With Matty.”
Paige pressed her fingers to her chest. “Oh.” All three of them turned to her when she spoke. “Perhaps…perhaps I’m not needed this weekend, since Mr. Renaldi is spending it with his son.”
“Nonsense.” Claudia waved her hand. “As Matty’s nanny, part of your pay is room and board.”
“Hush, Matteo. Don’t intimidate the poor girl with your blustery glowering. You scared that one nanny, remember? You made her cry.”
Paige could only imagine what might’ve happened to make that poor long-ago nanny cry.
“I probably scared all the nannies.” The pointed look he sent her rang clear. He wanted to scare her too. But why?
He likes to pretend he’s a big bad wolf, but it’s only because he’s very protective,” Claudia reassured her.
A shiver moved through Paige, but she tried to ignore it. Could only imagine what it would be like to have Matteo Renaldi protective of her…
“After dinner, I would like to meet with you in my study.” He’d somehow stepped closer, his voice low, his gaze locked on her face. “There are some things I’d like to discuss.”
She nodded jerkily. “Of course.”
Without another word, he turned, grabbed hold of Matty and slung him over his shoulder as if he were a sack of potatoes. Matty screamed and laughed in protest, but Paige could tell he enjoyed playing and roughhousing with his father.
It was the sweetest thing she’d ever seen.
“Don’t let my son scare you,” Claudia murmured after father and son left, reminding Paige she was still in the room.
“What do you mean?” She turned to face her.
The smile on Claudia’s face was kind. Her eyes gentle. “He’s had a—rough time of it. Much family scandal, and then with the loss of his wife…”
“Oh.” Her heart dropped into her toes. So he mourned. Of course, he would. His wife must’ve been a great beauty. Elegant and refined, sophisticated and glamorous, where Paige was a plain, silly and naïve girl, foolish to even compare herself mentally to the woman Matteo Renaldi had undoubtedly loved. “I didn’t realize.”
“He can be rather—short. Impatient. Though with Matty, he never is. He loves his son very much, so as I said, he’s rather protective of what belongs to him.”
“I understand.” Her parents loved her. Wanted to protect her from harm, she knew that without a doubt.
But what would it be like, to have a strong, gorgeous, powerful man watch out for her? Want to protect her? Declare to her that she
to him and no one else?
Someday, somehow, she hoped she would find out.
The scent of her was beyond description. Somewhere between heaven and bliss, Matteo tried his best to inhale her as he sat behind his desk. Paige Stewart sat in the chair opposite him, her hands curled around each other in her lap, her head slightly bent. Giving him the complete advantage to study her unabashedly.
Her hair captivated him. A deep rich auburn spun with gold, curling waves that fell far beyond her slender shoulders. Creamy pale skin, a button nose dotted with freckles and a lush, ripe mouth that was a deep shade of pink.
She lifted her head, her turbulent gaze meeting his. Blue and green swirled together, her eyes reminded him of the Mediterranean Sea. “What is it you wanted to ask me, Mr. Renaldi?”
He remained silent for a moment, resting his elbows on the desk and interlocking his fingers together. He didn’t want to frighten her. She already looked like a scared little rabbit. Nothing at all like the hatchet-faced, battle axe nanny they’d had last time. That woman hadn’t a kind bone in her body. The reasoning behind his easily given dismissal and her immediate bailout. They hadn’t seen eye-to-eye as to how Matty should be raised.
From what he’d observed at dinner, Paige was almost too kind. Smiling fondly at Matty, chatting pleasantly with his mother, sending him furtive looks that he’d noticed every single time. Though he feigned nonchalance, as if she didn’t matter, as if she were yet another nanny in their long string of nannies, he most definitely saw her.
She made an impression on him in a—sexual manner, which he found rather disturbing. His skin grew tight and hot with every stolen glance he caught, and his cock twitched in renewed interest. Mostly because of that damnable scent of hers. Floral with a dark, sensual note, it lingered in the air—he could smell her right now.
Jesus. He needed to get a grip.
“It sounds as if my mother hired you under rather unusual circumstances,” he started.
The worry in her gaze was unmistakable. “I know your mother most likely hired me too quickly for your tastes, sir, but I promise I won’t let you down. I already adore Matty.” The smile that flitted across her face was beautiful in its simplicity.
It panged at his heart, which was fucking ridiculous because she was the nanny, for God’s sake. “It appears to me that Matty adores you as well.”
“He’s very sweet.”
His son was a terror when he wanted to be. That he was so docile and well behaved in Paige’s presence spoke volumes. “He seems to have attached himself to you very quickly. And that’s why I’m inclined to let you stay.”
Her entire body sagged with relief. “Thank you. I promise I won’t disappoint you.”
He couldn’t imagine her disappointing him. No, the images drifting through his mind had her pleasing him quite efficiently. Naked. On her knees, sprawled across his bed…
“But it will be a temporary arrangement,” he added, needing her to know where she stood. The job hadn’t completely fallen into her lap so effortlessly. “A trial run, so to speak.”
Her expression remained neutral, though he saw the quick tinge of panic in her gaze. “Of course.”
“My mother mentioned you have previous nanny experience. Do you have references? I’d like to speak to your former employers.”
Panic flared in her gaze once again but was quickly extinguished. “Um, that might not be a good idea.”
Matteo frowned. “Why not?” This didn’t bode well.
“They let me go. It wasn’t the best of circumstances.” Her voice wavering, her gaze turned glassy. She appeared close to crumpling completely. “What happened shouldn’t reflect on my qualifications, though. I swear.”
“What happened?” Curiosity filled him.
“I—I’d rather not talk about it.” She dropped her head, her gaze fixing on the floor.
“Paige.” He paused, waited until she met his gaze once more. “If you are to work for me, we must have complete and utter honesty. When it comes to what you do for me—and that is take care of my son—there will be no secrets between us.”
She released a shuddering sigh. “My former employer pushed himself upon me, and I refused. His wife fired me the next day. Claimed I was too much of a distraction and temptation for her husband.”
Anger boiled through his blood, though he could imagine what sort of temptation Paige Stewart might present. She’d been in his house not even twenty-four hours and he was already tempted. “He sounds like a pig.”
“He was. At the end. I worked for them for over a year. I’m not quite sure what made him turn.”
“Well.” He shuffled papers around his desk, his voice brusque. Wishing to sweep away her lingering sadness and astonishment at losing a job it appeared she’d enjoyed. “You won’t have to worry about any sort of nefarious behavior with me.”
She smiled tremulously. “I appreciate the reassurance.”