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Marco's Convenient Wife
By Penny Jordan
Thorndike PressCopyright © 2003 Penny Jordan
All right reserved.
Chapter One"Good luck with your interview. You're bound to get the job, though-no one could find a better nanny than you, Alice. Your only fault is that you love children too much!"
As she returned her elder sister's warm hug Alice tried to smile. Even though it was over a month since she had left her previous job she still missed her two young charges. She did not, however, miss their father, who had made her last few months in the employ of his wife so uncomfortable, with his sexual come-ons towards her.
Even without his unwanted attentions, Alice knew she would not have accepted his wife's invitation to work for them in New York, where she had been relocated.
Her former employer was in many ways typical of some career women, who whilst needing to employ a nanny to look after their children, often resented and even deliberately undermined their nanny's role within the household.
But that was the price one paid for the job she had chosen to do, and now she was about to fly to Florence to be interviewed for a new post, that of looking after a very young baby-a motherless six-month-old baby.
"And thanks for agreeing to take Louise with you," her sister, Connie, was saying. "I know she's going to love Florence, especially with her artistic talents. Life hasn't been very easy for herlately, so I'm hoping that this trip will help her."
Privately Alice felt that Louise, her sister's stepdaughter, was determined to express her own misery and insecurity by making her new stepmother, Connie, and her father feel guilty about their marriage, and that she was determined that nothing they did was going to please her and that included the gift of a four-day trip to Florence. Alice had agreed to accompany her by flying out to Italy four days ahead of her interview with the awesomely patrician-sounding Conte di Vincenti, who had advertised for an Italian-speaking English nanny for "a six-month-old child."
It had been that "a six-month-old child" that had not just caught Alice's eye, but more importantly had tugged at her all too vulnerable heartstrings. It had sounded so cold and distancing, as though somehow the imperious conte was devoid of any kind of emotional attachment to the baby, and that had immediately aroused all Alice's considerable protective instincts.
After children, languages were her second love; she was fluent in not just Italian but French and German as well-a considerable advantage in a nanny, as her agency had approvingly told her.
The last time she had visited Florence had been when she had been eight and her elder sister fifteen and she had very happy memories of that trip, so why was she feeling so apprehensive at the thought of going back?
Because she would be accompanying and be responsible for Louise, who was currently manifesting almost all of the traits of teenagedom that made her parents despair, or because there was something about the very sound of her potential new employer that sent a cold little trickle of atavistic antipathy down her spine?
Alice didn't know, but what she did know was that over and above her own feelings were the needs of a motherless six-month-old baby.
* * *
Florence was having a heatwave and the weather was even hotter than Alice had been prepared for. Whilst Louise slept in her hotel bed, bad-temperedly refusing to join her, Alice had taken advantage of her solitude to explore the early morning city on her own. Having just seen an elegantly dressed young mother emerging from a shop with her children, all triumphantly carrying tubs of ice cream, Alice couldn't resist the temptation of indulging in the same treat herself.
After all, according to her guidebook Florence was famous for its ice cream.
Carefully she started to make her way across the busy street, not really paying much attention to the vehicle that was blocking the road, although she was aware of a bright red and very expensive-looking sports car that was bearing down on both her and the parked vehicle. Just beyond her, the street ended in a set of lights, and as they were on red she determinedly chose to ignore the angry blare of the car's horn.
However, she was conscious of its delayed and engine throbbing presence behind her at the traffic lights as she gave and received her order for a tiramisu ice cream - her favourite Italian sweet. The young male assistant serving her made a boldly flirtatious comment as he handed her her change - bold enough to make her face flush bright pink, and loud enough, she realised as she turned away, for the man behind the wheel of the scarlet open-topped mechanical monster still waiting for both the obstruction to be moved and the lights to change, to have heard.
To have heard and to be thoroughly contemptuous of, she recognised as she saw the way he looked down the length of his aquiline nose at her, his mouth curling in open disdain.
Totally mortified, Alice could feel her face burning even hotter, her enjoyment of her ice cream completely destroyed by her recognition of his contempt of her. No doubt he thought she was some silly Northern European tourist looking for a cheap holiday fling, she fumed as she gave him a look intended to be as corrosive as the one he had just given her. Unfortunately, though, she had not allowed for the effect of the extremely hot sun on her ice cream and as she turned to glower at him, in what she had planned to be a rebuffing and ladylike manner, she realised that her ice was dripping onto her top.
And that of course was the reason why her nipples should suddenly choose that totally inauspicious moment to peak openly and flauntingly with maddening wilfulness. And all the while she had to stand there waiting to cross the road, with his gaze pinned with deliberate emphasis and insulting thoroughness on the swell of her breasts.
Horrible, horrid man, she designated him under her breath, but she knew as she did so that he was also just about the most sensually magnetic and dangerous man she had ever set eyes on.
Just the merest link between her own bemused, shocked eyes and the hooded, mesmeric topaz intensity of his would have been enough to melt a full glacier, never mind her ice cream, she reflected shakily once he had driven past her.
And that was without him trying. Heaven alone knew what he could do if he really tried to turn a deliberately sensual look on a woman! Not that she was ever likely to know or want to know. Of course not! No. Never. Definitely not!
And as for that open-topped car-in this heat-well, that was obviously a deliberate pose, meant to underline his macho masculinity. She despised men like that! Men who needed to reinforce their machismo. Not that he had looked as though his needed much reinforcing-and no doubt that thick head of dark, dark brown but not quite jet-black hair would ensure that his scalp would never need protecting from strong sunlight.
Excerpted from Marco's Convenient Wife by Penny Jordan Copyright © 2003 by Penny Jordan. Excerpted by permission.
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