Authors: Karen Erickson
“I’ll need you to sign a contract.” He pushed the three pieces of paper stapled together across the desk toward her. “All stipulations, your pay, what we expect of you, is in there. In mind-numbing detail.”
Paige leaned forward and picked up the contract, her scent reaching him, enveloping him in a cloud of dark sensuality. Such a contradiction, with the sweet, innocent look of her. A contradiction he found intriguing, despite knowing he shouldn’t.
He watched her, arousal coursing through his veins when she sunk her teeth into the succulent flesh of her lower lip as she scanned the legal document, a little frown line appearing between those dark auburn brows.
“You can read it later,” he said gruffly, earning her attention. He didn’t think he could stand watching her nibble on that lip much longer. Else he’d turned into a pervert like her previous boss and jump her where she sat. “You don’t have to sign it at this moment. And if you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to ask.”
Her gaze lifted from the contract, meeting his. “Thank you. I’ll read it later tonight, after Matty goes to bed.”
“Perfect,” he murmured.
Four weeks. One month. Paige had worked for Matteo Renaldi for one entire month and he was driving her wild with strange, complicated feelings she didn’t even understand, they were so crazy.
She thought of him throughout the day, saw glimpses of him in his young son. The similar hair and eye color, certain expressions on Matty’s face that were the embodiment of his father. When her employer came home for work early enough, Matty would run to him, hug his legs, yelp with glee when Matteo would haul him up into his arms and tickle him, their laughter ringing throughout the house.
It was the sweetest thing she’d ever witnessed. Matteo was so gentle, so loving toward his son. The reverent look in his eyes when he would stare into Matty’s face as his son babbled on, telling a story of his day. The appreciative glance he would shoot her direction every evening, usually just before she put Matty into a bath. As if he was so incredibly thankful for her and what she did for his son.
She did it for Matty—she’d grown to love the little booger. But she also did it for his gorgeous, sexy, charismatic daddy.
He hadn’t a clue, of course. Matteo Renaldi seemed oblivious to her beyond being his son’s nanny, for the most part. Oh, he acknowledged her. Asked how her day with Matty went every evening. Made sure she was pleased with her working arrangements, was accommodating enough in that cool, solicitous manner she found outrageously appealing.
Never in her life had she felt such…longing for a man. Looking at him made her feel ravenous. Just talking to him, however briefly, had that raw hunger gnawing at her belly. And when he smiled…she felt it from the top of her head to the tips of her toes, and everywhere else in between.
She’d dated. She wasn’t a nun. Had a few boyfriends, though not since she arrived in New York. But they’d been young, brash, immature. Selfish and never caring much for her feelings beyond if she wanted a drink or if she wanted to stay over.
She’d very rarely stayed over.
Comparing Matteo to the previous men in her life was a joke. He was older, sophisticated, smart and accomplished. Gorgeous with that slightly overgrown hair the color of a raven’s wing, those dark chocolate eyes and a mouth made for absolute sin. A mouth she wanted to kiss, wanted to feel sliding all over her skin…
He wore immaculate, perfectly tailored suits Monday through Friday, sometimes even the weekend if he had to go into the office. Suits that made her heart stop every single time she saw him in them, always accompanied by an expensive, colorful silk tie. She imagined herself more than once tugging on the end of the tie, drawing his mouth close to hers before he stole her breath with a devouring kiss.
Her fantasies were futile. He didn’t notice her beyond being his son’s nanny. And that was fine. Why she had such lustful feelings for the man when she’d been fired for the exact opposite showed just how much she’d lost her mind. Risky behavior had never been a part of her personality. That she’d wished to go to New York after she earned her college degree in early childhood development had shocked her parents silent.
So she knew how to take the occasional risk, but never one completely detrimental to her wellbeing. Taking a risk and telling Matteo she had feelings for him?
She could never do it.
Instead, she suffered in silence. Watched him from afar. Or nearby.
Wherever she could.
He worked too much. Though she supposed that was why he was so successful. Putting in long hours, coming home late sometimes and missing Matty’s bedtime. Those dark circles under his eyes worried her. Made her want to nurture him, soothe him. He took care of everyone else, but who took care of Matteo?
Paige wished she could.
It was a Friday night and Matty was already in bed, having fallen asleep on the couch watching TV before eight o’clock. He’d had a full day. She’d taken him to the zoo and the park, Claudia accompanying them. She would leave for Italy first thing in the morning and was trying to spend as much time with her only grandchild as she could before she left.
“I am reassured my Matty is in capable hands,” Claudia said to her as she moved about the guest bedroom, packing her things.
“Thank you, Claudia,” Paige said softly as she curled her legs beneath her on the overstuffed chair she sat in. “It means so much to me, you feeling that way. Having faith in me.”
“It’s been difficult, finding someone to care for him. It felt almost like a chance of fate, that we would run into each other at that charming little café.” Claudia folded a stack of light sweaters then placed them in her suitcase. She frowned at the mess of items and clothing still scattered all over the bed. “Bah. I hate packing.”
“I’m sure someone on staff could help you.” The discreet household staff Matteo kept on hand was beyond accommodating. “Or I could…”
“Nonsense. Stay right where you are. I can pack my own bag.” She puttered around, graceful in trouser jeans and an oversized black sweater, a long pendant necklace swinging from her elegant neck with her every movement. Even in casual dress the woman was refined. Beautiful.
Paige felt sloppy, still in her faded jeans and old college sweatshirt, her wild hair in a ponytail. She was tired, achy and contemplated taking a bath. “I’ll miss you when you leave.”
She would. Claudia had grown to become her friend. The penthouse would feel empty without her presence, and she knew Matty would miss his grandmother terribly.
“I’ll miss you too,
But you’ll be fine. Matty will keep you busy. Perhaps Matteo will too.” The look on Claudia’s face was indescribable.
As in, Paige had no idea what she referred to.
Stretching her arms above her head, Paige stood, glancing about the room. “I’ll leave you to your packing. Make sure you wake me before you go in the morning.”
“Come here,” Claudia urged and Paige went to her, hugging her tight,ly closing her eyes as she breathed in Claudia’s comforting scent. She’d become a sort of surrogate mother to her for the short time they were together. “Take care, Paige. I am sure I will see you again soon. I know Matteo has plans to return to Italy.”
Excitement bubbled inside Paige, but she batted it down. “Why would he take me?”
Claudia drew back, her hands curled about Paige’s shoulders. “He would need someone to care for Matty, no?”
Paige shrugged. The opportunity to go to Italy sounded amazing, but she wasn’t pinning all her hopes on it. She’d learned after working for the Leonards to not get excited about much of anything. It could all be taken away in a millisecond.
“You seem tired.” Claudia gave her shoulders a shake.
Paige refocused, smiling sleepily. “I am. Matty ran me ragged today.”
“You should take a nice, long bath.”
“Funny you should say that. I was considering one not even five minutes ago.” She yawned, covered her mouth as quickly as she could. “I don’t know if I have the energy for one, though.”
“You should use Matteo’s bathroom,” Claudia suggested, moving away from Paige so she could resume her packing.
Paige’s eyebrows rose. “I would never dare consider it.”
“Why not? He’s not here. He never uses that glorious bathtub anyway. Such a waste. What with the jets and that magnificent view…”
She’d glimpsed the bathroom once and it was interior decorating magazine-worthy. Wall to ceiling windows, heated marble floors, a sunken bathtub that sat directly in front of those windows with an amazing view of the city…it was beautiful. Beyond anything she’d ever seen in her life. “It’s his private sanctuary, I’m sure.”
“Men do not treat their bathrooms as private sanctuaries,
That’s for us women to do. I say use it.”
“What if he comes home?” The thought made her nervous—and a little excited. What if he walked in on her while she was naked in the tub?
She frowned. What if he fired her for using his bathroom without permission?
“I will still be up, I’m sure. All of this packing I have left will take me a while,” she said wryly. “Now go on with you. Go use that tub and soak your weary bones. I’ll make sure to let Matteo know you’re in there to ensure your privacy.”
Paige nibbled on her lower lip, unease slipping through her. “Are you sure? What if he’s angry that I used it?”
“He can’t. I gave you permission. If he’s mad with anyone, it will be me.” Claudia smiled softly. “Go. Before I march you in there myself, strip you and push you into the water.”
With a laugh, Paige escaped the room, suddenly feeling carefree. Giddy with excitement. The bathroom had one of the best views of Manhattan that money could buy. That she had the opportunity to soak in the tub for even an hour like a spoiled princess, well…
She wasn’t about to pass it up.
The tub seemed to take forever to fill since it was so large, which left Paige with too much time on her hands. Curiosity filling her, she wandered the large bathroom, drinking in everything, knowing that despite Claudia’s reassurances, she felt as if she were invading Matteo’s private space.
It didn’t stop her from looking at everything. Running her hands over the plush, soft-as-a-cloud towels. Picking up the bar of soap that sat in a dish beside the tub and inhaling it, immediately recognizing the smell as part of Matteo’s unique scent. Spraying the men’s cologne sitting on the counter onto her wrists, her eyes nearly crossing at the delicious, spicy smell.
If she could, she would bathe in it. The scent was so masculine, so Matteo…
Putting the cologne down, she saw a pair of cufflinks in a shallow dish on the counter. Picking them up, she turned them this way and that, admiring the glint and sparkle of them beneath the light. Sleek and square, black onyx trimmed with silver or platinum—she wasn’t sure—they fit the man who wore them.
She set the cufflinks down and withdrew the small tube of lotion she’d brought to slather her skin with after her bath, placing it by the sink. Undoing the sash on her robe, she shrugged out of it, draping the thick white terrycloth fabric over the counter. She’d stripped in her room, deciding it easier to change into her pajamas back in her bedroom when she finished.
Glancing toward the mirror, she caught sight of her form and turned. Faced the mirror head on. She wrinkled her nose, studying herself. Average height, average weight, average…everything. Her breasts were high but small, her pale pink nipples soft. Her chest had a sprinkling of freckles on it, as did her shoulders, much like the bridge of her nose.
Her hair drove her crazy, a tumbling, riotous mass of fiery red curls she was forever trying to tame. The scant hair between her legs was just as red, and she wondered if she should have it waxed completely, though she really wasn’t into that look.
The color of her hair had always embarrassed her.
She wondered if Matteo could ever, in a million years, be interested in her. She wasn’t glamorous. She wasn’t beautiful. And she most certainly wasn’t sophisticated or mysterious.
If she thought about it too much, she’d end up in a depressed funk.
Sticking her tongue out at her reflection, she turned and went to the tub, trailed her fingers in the steaming hot water. Bubbles frothed where the water streamed in, and she smiled, deciding the tub was full enough for her to slide in.
Gasping at the water’s luxurious warm embrace, she sunk in and pushed the button to her right, the jets rumbling to life. The water swirled around her, frothing the already tall bubbles into an absolute mountain, and she giggled, captured a pile of light as air bubbles into the palm of her hand and sank her fingers into it.
Claudia was right. The tub was magnificent, the view of the city at night breathtaking. Leaning back against the tub’s edge, she closed her eyes, shifting her body beneath the bubbles, murmuring with pleasure at the sensation of the warm water sliding over her skin, like a lover’s caress. Her nipples hardened. Between her legs, desire flared, slick and hot.
Biting her lower lip, she let her hands wander. Cupping her breasts, she flicked her thumbs across her nipples, biting back the soft gasp that wanted to escape. She slid her hands down her ribs, across the subtle rise of her belly and lower, her fingertips tangling with her pubic hair.