Taming Her Italian Boss (Harlequin Romance Series #4429)

Overview

"So, Miss Lange with an e, will you take the job?"

Ruby Lange might be unconventional, but her struggle to find the ideal career isn't from lack of trying! Now the latest option is "traveling nanny"—so she takes a deep breath, packs her vintage suitcase and heads for Italy.

Ruby's new boss, architect Max Martin, may be utterly gorgeous, but he's far too buttoned up for her liking! Yet traveling around Venice together, Ruby discovers that the man who took a risk on her is masking...

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Taming Her Italian Boss (Harlequin Romance Series #4429)

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Overview

"So, Miss Lange with an e, will you take the job?"

Ruby Lange might be unconventional, but her struggle to find the ideal career isn't from lack of trying! Now the latest option is "traveling nanny"—so she takes a deep breath, packs her vintage suitcase and heads for Italy.

Ruby's new boss, architect Max Martin, may be utterly gorgeous, but he's far too buttoned up for her liking! Yet traveling around Venice together, Ruby discovers that the man who took a risk on her is masking a huge heart—he just needs a reason to trust it again….

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780373742943
  • Publisher: Harlequin
  • Publication date: 6/3/2014
  • Series: Harlequin Romance Series, #4429
  • Format: Mass Market Paperback
  • Edition description: Larger Pri
  • Pages: 256
  • Product dimensions: 4.10 (w) x 6.60 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

Coming from two generations of journalists, writing was in Fiona Harper’s genes. As a child she was constantly teased for having her nose in a book and living in a dream world. Things haven't changed much since then, but at least in writing she's found a use for her runaway imagination! She loves dancing, cooking, reading and watching a good romance. Fiona lives in London with her family. Visit her website at: www.fionaharper.com

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Read an Excerpt

'You want me to give you a job?'

The woman staring across the desk at Ruby didn't look convinced. The London traffic rumbled outside the first-floor office as the woman looked her up and down. Her gaze swept down over Ruby's patchwork corduroy jacket, miniskirt with brightly coloured leggings peeking out from underneath, and ended at the canvas shoes that were almost the right shade of purple to match the streaks in her short hair.

Ruby nodded. 'Yes.'

'Humph,' the woman said.

Ruby couldn't help noticing her flawlessly cut black suit and equally flawlessly cut hair. She'd bet that the famous Thalia Benson of the Benson Agency hadn't come about her latest style after she'd got fed up with the long stringy bits dangling in her breakfast cereal and convinced her flatmate to take scissors to it.

'And Layla Babbington recommended you try here?'

Ruby nodded again. Layla had been one of her best friends at boarding school. When she'd heard that Ruby was looking for a job—and one that preferably took her out of the country ASAP—she'd suggested the top-class nannying agency. 'Don't let old Benson fool you for a moment,' she'd told Ruby. 'Thalia's a pussycat underneath, and she likes someone with a bit of gumption. The two of you will get along famously.'

Now that she was sitting on the far side of Thalia Benson's desk, under scrutiny as if she were a rogue germ on a high-chair tray, Ruby wasn't so sure.

'Such a pity she had to go and marry that baronet she was working for,' Benson muttered. 'Lost one of my best girls and a plum contract.'

She looked up quickly at Ruby, as if she'd realised she'd said that out loud. Ruby looked back at her, expression open and calm. She didn't care what the nanny provider to the rich and famous thought about her clients. She just wanted a job that got her out of London. Fast.

'So…' Ms Benson said in one long drawn-out syllable while she shuffled a few papers on her desk. 'What qualifications do you have?'

'For nannying?' Ruby asked, resisting the urge to fidget.

Benson didn't answer, but her eyebrows lifted in a what-do-you-think? kind of gesture.

Ruby took a deep breath. 'Well…Fve always been very good with kids, and I'm practical and creative and hard-working—'

The other woman cut her off by holding up a hand. She was looking wearier by the second. 'I mean professional qualifications. Diploma in Child-care and Education, BTEC… Montessori training?'

Ruby let the rest of that big breath out. She'd been preparing to keep talking for as long as possible, and she'd only used up a third of her lung capacity before Benson had interrupted her. Not a good start. She took another, smaller breath, giving herself a chance to compose a different reply.

'Not exactly.'

No one had said it was going to be a great reply.

Thalia Benson gave her a frosty look. 'Either one has qualifications or one hasn't. It tends to be a blackor-white kind of thing.'

Ruby swallowed. 'I know I haven't got any traditional childcare qualifications, but I was hoping I could enlist with your new travelling nanny service. Short-term placements. What I lack in letters after my name I make up for in organisation, flexibility and common sense.'

Benson's ears pricked up at the mention of common sense. She obviously liked those words. Ruby decided to press home her main advantage. 'And I've travelled all over the world since I was a small child. There aren't many places I haven't been to. I also speak four languages—French, Spanish, Italian and a bit of Malagasy.'

Ms Benson tipped her head slightly. 'You've spent time in Madagascar?' The look of disbelief on her face suggested she thought Ruby had gone a bit too far in padding out her CV.

'My parents and I lived there for three years when I was a child.'

Benson's eyes narrowed. 'Inona voavoa?' she suddenly said, surprising Ruby.

The reply came back automatically. How was she? 'Tsara be.'

Benson's eyes widened, and for the first time since Ruby had walked through the office door and sat down she looked interested. She picked up the blank form sitting in front of her and started writing. 'Ruby Long, wasn't it?'

'Lange,' Ruby replied. 'With an e.'

Benson looked up. 'Like Patrick Lange?'

Ruby nodded. 'Exactly like that.' She didn't normally like mentioning her connection to the globetrotting TV presenter whose nature documentaries were the jewel in the crown of British television, but she could see more than a glimmer of interest in Thalia Benson's eyes, and she really, really wanted to be out of the country when good old Dad got back from The Cook Islands in two days' time. 'He's my father,' she added.

The other woman stopped messing around with the form, put it squarely down on the desk and folded her hands on top of it. 'Well, Ms Lange, I don't usually hire nannies without qualifications, not even for short-term positions, but maybe there's something you could do round the office over the summer. Our intern has just disappeared off to go backpacking.'

Ruby blinked. Once again, someone had heard the name 'Lange' and the real person opposite them had become invisible. Once again, mentioning her father had opened a door only for it to be slammed shut again. When would she ever learn?

'That's very generous, Ms Benson, but I wasn't really looking for a clerical position.'

Thalia nodded, but Ruby knew she hadn't taken her seriously at all. From the smile on the other woman's face, she could tell Thalia was wondering how much cachet it would bring her business if she could wheel Ruby out at the annual garden party to impress her clientele, maybe even get national treasure Patrick Lange to show up.

That wasn't Ruby's style at all. She'd been offered plenty of jobs where she could cash in on her father's status by doing something vastly overpaid for not a lot of effort, and she'd turned every one of them down. All she wanted was for someone to see her potential for once, to need her for herself, not just what her family connections could bring. Surely that wasn't too much to ask. Unfortunately, Ruby suspected Ms Thalia Benson wasn't that rare individual. She rose from her side of the desk, opened the office door and indicated Ruby should return to the waiting area. 'Why don't you take a seat outside, and I'll see what I can do?'

Ruby smiled back and nodded, rising from her chair. She'd give Thalia Benson fifteen minutes, and if she hadn't come up with something solid by then, she was out of here. Life was too short to hang around when something wasn't working. Onwards and upwards, that was her motto.

Everything in the waiting area was shades of stone and heather and aubergine. The furniture screamed understated—and overpriced—elegance. The only clue that the Benson Agency had anything to do with children was a pot of crayons and some drawing paper on the low coffee table between two sectional sofas. When Thalia's office door closed, Ruby shrugged then sat down. She'd always loved drawing. She picked up a bright red crayon and started doodling on a blank sheet. Maybe she'd go for fire engine-red streaks in her hair next time they needed touching up….

She spent the next five minutes doing a pretty passable cartoon of Thalia Benson while she waited. In the picture, Thalia dripped sophistication and charm, but she was dressed up like the Child Catcher from the famous movie, locking a scared boy in a cage.

As the minutes ticked by Ruby became more and more sure this was a waste of her time. The only thing she needed to decide before she left was whether to fold the drawing up and discreetly stick it in her pocket, or if she should prop it on the console table against the far wall so it was the first thing prospective clients saw when they walked in the door.

She was holding the paper in her hands, dithering about whether to crease it in half or smooth it out flat, when the door crashed open and a tall and rather determined-looking man strode in. Ruby only noticed the small, dark-haired girl he had in tow when he was halfway to Thalia Benson's office. The child was wailing loudly, her eyes squeezed shut and her mouth wide open, and the only reason she didn't bump into any of the furniture was because she was being propelled along at speed in her father's wake, protected by his bulk.

The receptionist bobbed around him, trying to tell him he needed to make an appointment, but he didn't alter his trajectory in the slightest. Ruby put her cartoon down on the table and watched with interest.

'I need to see the person in charge and I need to see them now,' he told the receptionist, entirely unmoved by her expression of complete horror or her rapid arm gestures.

Ruby bit back a smile. She might just stick around to see how this played out.

'If you'll just give me a second, Mr…er… I'll see whether Ms Benson is available.'

The man finally gave the receptionist about 5 per cent of his attention. He glanced at her, and as he did so the little girl stopped crying for a second and looked in Ruby's direction. She started up again almost immediately, but it was half-hearted this time, more for show than from distress.

'Mr Martin,' he announced, looking down at the receptionist. He stepped forward again. Ruby wasn't sure how it happened—whether he let go of the girl's hand or whether she did that tricksy, slippery-palm thing that all toddlers seemed to know—but suddenly father and child were disconnected.

The receptionist beat Mr Tall and Determined to Thalia's door, knocking on it a mere split second before he reached for the handle, and she just about saved face as she blurted out his name. He marched into the room and slammed the door behind him.

Once he was inside, the little girl sniffed and fell silent. She and Ruby regarded each other for a moment, then Ruby smiled and offered her a bright yellow crayon.

*
• *

Max looked at the woman behind the desk. She was staring at him and her mouth was hanging open. Just a little. 'I need one of your travelling nannies as soon as possible.'

The woman—Benson, was it?—closed her jaw silently and with one quick, almost unnoticeable appraising glance she took in his handmade suit and Italian shoes and decided to play nice. Most people did.

'Of course, Mr Martin.' She smiled at him. 'I just need to get a few details from you and then I'll go through my staff list. We should be able to start interviewing soon.' She looked down at a big diary on her desk and started flipping through it. 'How about Thursday?' she asked, looking back up at him.

Max stared back at her. He thought he'd been pretty clear. What part of 'as soon as possible' did she not understand? 'I need someone today.'

'Today?' she croaked. Her gaze flew to the clock on the wall.

Max knew what it said—three-thirty.

The day had started off fairly normally, but then his sister had shown up at his office just before ten and, as things often did when the women in his family were concerned, it had got steadily more chaotic since then.

'Preferably within the next half hour,' he added. 'I have to be at the airport by five.'

'B-but how old is the child? How long do you need someone for? What kind of expertise do you require?'

He ignored her questions and pulled a folded computer printout from his suit pocket. There was no point wasting time on details if she wasn't going to be able to help him. 'I came to you because your website says you provide a speedy and efficient service—travelling nannies for every occasion. I need to know whether that's true.'

She drew herself up ramrod straight in her chair and looked him in the eye. 'Listen, Mr Martin, I don't know what sort of establishment you think I run here, but—'

He held up a hand, cutting her off. He knew he was steamrollering over all the pleasantries, but that couldn't be helped. 'The best nanny agency in London, I'd heard. Which is why I came to you in an emergency. Have you got someone? If not, I won't waste any more of your time.'

She pursed her lips, but her expression softened. He hadn't been flattering her—not really his style—but a few timely truths hadn't hurt his case. 'I can help.' She sighed and Max relaxed just a little. She'd much rather have told him it was impossible, he guessed, but the kind of fee she was measuring him up for with her beady little eyes was hard to say no to. 'At the very least, let me know the sex and age of the charge,' she added.

Max shrugged. 'Girl,' he said. 'Older than one and younger than school age. Other than that I'm not quite sure. Why don't you take a look and see what you think?'

The woman's eyes almost popped out of her head. 'She's here?'

Max nodded. Where the hell else did the woman think she'd be?

'And you left her outside? Alone?'

He frowned. He hadn't thought about that for one second. Which was exactly why he needed to hire someone who would. Anyway, he hadn't left Sofia completely alone. There had been the flappy woman…

Ms Benson sprang from the desk, threw the door open and rushed into the waiting area beyond her office. There, colouring in with the tip of her tongue caught at one side of her mouth, was Sofia. Max suddenly noticed something: the noise had stopped. That horrible wailing, like an air-raid siren. It had driven him to distraction all day.

'Here…try purple for the flower,' a young woman, kneeling next to Sofia, was saying. Sofia, instead of acting like a child possessed with the spirit of a banshee, just calmly accepted the crayon from the woman and carried on scribbling. After a few moments, both woman and child stopped what they were doing and lifted their heads to look at the two adults towering over them. The identical expression of mild curiosity they both wore was rather disconcerting.

Max turned to the agency owner. 'I want her,' he said, nodding at the kneeling woman who, he was just starting to notice, had odd-coloured bits in her hair.

Benson gave out a nervous laugh. 'I'm afraid she doesn't work here.'

Max raised his eyebrows.

'Not yet,' she added quickly. 'But I'm sure you'd be better off with one of our other nannies who—'

He turned away and looked at the strange pixielike woman and the little girl again. For the first time in what seemed like weeks, although it had probably only been hours, Sofia was quiet and calm and acting like the normal child he vaguely remembered. 'No. I want her.'

Something deep down in his gut told him this woman had what he needed. To be honest, he really didn't care what it was. It was twenty-five to four and he had to get going. 'What do you say?' he asked the her directly.

The woman finished colouring in a pink rose on the sheet of paper she and Sofia were sharing before she answered. She flicked a glance at the agency owner. 'She's right. I don't even work here.'

'I don't care about that,' he told her. 'You have all the skills I want. It's you I need.'

She blinked and looked at him hard, as if she was trying to work out whether he was serious or not. Normally people didn't have to think about that.

'What if the job isn't what I need?' she asked. 'I don't think I should accept without hearing the terms.'

Max checked his watch again. 'Fine, fine,' he said wearily. 'Have it your way. We'll interview in the car. But hurry up! We've got a plane to catch.' And then he marched from the offices of the Benson Agency leaving its proprietor standing open-mouthed behind him.

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