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The toughest tycoon in Texas.
That's how Melanie Grandy's prospective employer had been described, to one extent or another, in nearly every article she'd read on the Internet before her quick trip down here.
Thing was, those articles had also painted Zane Foley as a slightly mysterious man who didn't talk about his personal life to the press, even if he led such a public existence otherwise.
But if anyone understood secrets, it was Melanie.
Sitting at one end of a long mahogany table, she watched the head of Foley Industries saunter over the hardwood living room floor of his luxurious Dallas townhouse while he flipped through her personal portfolio, which showed her creative side.
Lordy, it was hard to keep her eyes off of him, although she knew she should.
Well, she couldn't help but notice the details. His dark hair was obviously cut at a pricey salon, but in spite of its neatness, some of the ends flipped up ever so slightly near his nape. It made her suspect that he hadn't caught the deviation, and as soon as he did, those ends would be right back in place.
He was also very tall, with broad shoulders stretching a fine white shirt he probably had made to order. His chest was wide, his torso tapering down to a honed waist, his legs long. She didn't know much about his hobbies, but she could imagine him getting fit while horseback riding, could see him sitting tall in a saddle, just as easily as he no doubt commanded a boardroom.
During his scan of her portfoliohe'd seen it during their initial interview two days ago, so was he only perusing it to make her squirm?Melanie took the opportunity to read between the lines of his silence.
And,boy, did he ever enjoy his silence.
He'd stopped at the other end of the room in front of a stained-glass window, the subdued early May colors bathing him as he glanced over at her. Dark leather furniture surrounded him with a Gothic stillness, each piece angled just so.
Caught checking him out, Melanie's stomach flip-flopped, but she nonetheless sat straight in her chair, under the intense scan of his hazel eyes.
Probably, it was a bad idea to let her could-be boss know that she'd been assessing him, yet she didn't want him to think she was the type to look away or back down. She was here to get this job, taking care of his six-year-old daughter, Olivia, whom she'd met briefly during the previous interview.
And Melanie was going to win him over, just as his daughter had thoroughly won her at first sight.
Calming her fluttering nerves, she watched as he coolly refocused on her file, as if he'd only glanced her way to take her measure when she'd least expected it.
But was there some satisfaction in his expression?
Had she passed the pop quiz?
"Oklahoma," he said, apropos of nothing. But he'd done it in a low, rich voice that smoothed over her skin just as if he'd bent real close and whispered in her ear.
Melanie made sure her own tone didn't betray that she'd been affected. "I was born and raised just on the outskirts of Tulsa."
They'd covered these basics during their first meeting, and she knew he'd combed through the dossier she'd presented to him, as well. Over these past couple of days, he'd no doubt checked her references, which she knew would speak for themselves. After all, she'd been recommended to him by a business associate he trusted, and that was most likely the only reason she'd gotten her discount-rack shoes in the front door.
Why did she have the feeling that he was going over her information again, just to see if she'd trip up?
Or maybe she was being paranoid. That tended to happen to folks who might have something to hide .
He wasn't saying anything, so she continued talking, supplying more personal details than she had the other day. "It was just me and my mom at first. She put me through day care by keeping the books at a small business, and the minute I was old enough, I dealt with the household after school hours."
Melanie didn't add that those books her mom had kept were located in the back room of the greasy spoon where Leigh Grandy primarily waited on tables between double shifts and numerous dates with the "nice men" she brought home for "sleepovers." In fact, Melanie wasn't even sure which date was her father in the first place; she just knew that he hadn't stuck around.
Now Zane Foley moved toward the long table where Melanie sat, nearing the other end, which seemed a mile away. It lent enough distance for her to risk another lingering glance at him while he closed her portfolio, placed it on the table, then picked up her dossier.
Darn, he's handsome, she thought before forcing herself to get back into interview mode. But the notion wouldn't go away, brushing through her belly and warming her in areas that should have come with "off-limits" signs.
She would be the nanny, he would be the boss. End of story, if she should be so lucky as to be hired.
"Your information," he said, his gaze still on the papers, "indicates that you started a child-care career early. I'd like to know a little more about your brothers and sisters and how they led to your choice of profession."
"Actually, they were my stepbrothers and stepsisters."
"I stand corrected."
She smiled, avoiding any hardball, but still not standing down.
He didn't smile at all, yet she was getting used to that.
"My mom married the man she called her 'true love'
when I was fifteen." It was wonder enough that her mother had finally settled down, but it was even more amazing that her marriage was still intact today. "He had four children. Two of them were much younger than I waslittle girlsso I watched over them, in addition to other work. The older two were twin boys, but they weren't around much, because they liked their sports."
Zane Foley cocked a dark eyebrow as he leveled a look at her. "'Were' younger? 'Were' twin boys?"
Melanie tightened her fingers where they were clasped on the table.
He sat in the leather armchair at the other end, perfectly comfortable with being the inquisitor.
Please let me get through this, she thought. She'd spent nearly every last penny in her bank account to get here, traveling to Dallas for these interviews, in the hope that her lucky stars would shine and she'd secure this new job, this new direction.
"You keep using the past tense when you talk about your stepsiblings, Ms. Grandy," Zane Foley said.
"My mistake." She was determined to keep smiling. "We all still keep tabs on each other, even though we're adults." If you counted the odd e-mail as healthy familial relations.
But since she'd left her brood back in Oklahoma, they were the past to Melanie. She was the same to them, too, except for her mom, who called quite often for loans.
When her mother remarried, Melanie had ended up in the valley of a no-man's land. Her stepfather had preferred his own kids to her, making no secret about his feelings, either. To him, she was his wife's "bastard issue," and instead of taking out his frustrations about that on Leigh, he'd put it all on Melanie.
Of course, Melanie had approached her mom about this, actually thinking that it would help if Leigh were to address it. Silly her. Her mother had only accused Melanie of trying to sabotage the happiness she'd finally found.
It'd been a stunning moment of betrayalan instant in which Melanie had realized that her mother would always prefer her guys to her daughter, who'd worked so, so hard to matter more than any of those "nice men."
"When I was a teen," she added, directing the interview back to the more positive aspects of her life, "I took courses at the YMCA for babysitting, and you could say I managed a cottage industry early on. I was booked every weekend, and even during the week, if I could handle it with my studies."
"Evidently, you could, because you aced your classes in school. You graduated with honors, in fact."
"I knew I'd never get anywhere without a good education."
She'd supplied her school records for him, and she was sure someone on his staff had already double-checked those, as well as her employment history.
She only hoped that the one job she'd left off her résumé wouldn't come back to dog hera gig that had gotten her through college. A paycheck-earner that she preferred to leave behind with the rest of her past.
Her time as a showgirl in what she now considered to be a seedy off-Strip casino in Vegas.
She blew out a breath, continuing, praying she wouldn't give herself away. "Besides babysitting, I took up waiting tables at a burger joint after classes. But I was known as the go-to babysitter of the neighborhood, and that got me more and more jobs. SoI gravitated toward that, since I think I was good at it." She laughed a little. "Besides, I could charge more than I made in a restaurant that catered to teens, where the tips were lacking."
"Industrious," he said, but she couldn't tell if it was just a random comment, or if he was truly impressed.
After all, the Foleys were known far and wide for rolling up their shirtsleeves and working for their fortune. They were self-made men, and Melanie was hoping he would want that in the nanny who was raising his child, too.
"I saved every dollar," she added, "splurging only on my dancing lessons. Lots of them. I couldn't go without."
"We all need an outlet," he said, but he sounded distracted as he looked at the dossier again.
At his next question, she knew they'd entered the most dangerous part of the interview.
"Why did you head toward Vegas right after graduating high school?"
Nerves prickled her skin. "I'd heard the economy was booming at the time, and the opportunity seemed ripe for the taking. The waitress job I got in a local café paid far more in tips than I'd ever made before."
He didn't answer, as if expecting more.
She smiled again, giving as good as she was getting. "Didn't you also gravitate there for the same general reason, Mr. Foley? You've developed several projects in the area."
Maybe it was her chutzpah, but a slight grin tilted his mouth.
That was his only answer, and it disappeared before Melanie could be sure she'd even seen it. Then he was right back in boss-man mode, scribbling some notes on the cover of her dossier.
Was he thinking that she was naïve for dropping everything and heading to Vegas, just as thousands of dreamers without his kind of money had done before her? Get rich quick. Double your income with the right gambles.
And gamble she had, just not with money.
She'd been "discovered" one night when she went out dancing with some fellow students from community college. A talent coordinator from The Grand Illusion casino had given her his business card, inviting her to an audition.
At first, she'd denied him, thinking that her waitress job would hold her. Then her mom had started to write her, asking for loans, and in spite of how Melanie had wanted to escape Oklahoma, she couldn't say no to helping out the family.
And that's when she'd decided to audition. The Grand Illusion had a small, fairly cheesy revue that was half bawdy magic and half sexy musical, although nothing distasteful. Heck, no one even took off their sequined tops. She told herself she probably wouldn't make it anyway. Yet, much to her surprise, she'd breezed through the process, with them offering her a modest wage and, more importantly, the promise of open days during which she could keep going to school and wait a few tables.
It was an ideal setup, and it wasn't as if she was doing any exotic dancing. Just as soon as she had her degree, she'd be done with it anyway.
When she had the degree under her belt, she quit dancing, just as she'd promised herself, and she'd signed on for her first nanny job, thanks to a glowing recommendation from her advisor to his personal friend.
Her employer had been an affluent single mom, a prominent business developer who was in dire need of a helper; and it'd been the perfect job for years, until Melanie's boss got married and decided to become a stay-at-home mother.
And that's how Melanie had come to Dallas at the age of twenty-eightbecause her first employer had worked with Zane Foley on the development of a Vegas mega apartment-village complex, and when the businesswoman heard that his latest nanny had quit and he needed to hire another one pronto, she'd given him Melanie's name.
He nudged the dossier away from him and, for a heavy moment, Melanie wondered if Zane Foley, a man who seemed to cover every base, had dug deep enough into her life to expose her crowded double-wide-trailer beginnings and dancing days.
Was he going to spring it on her now?
"As you've heard from Andrea Sandoval," he finally said, referring to Melanie's first nanny employer, "I'm eager to get someone in place to care for my daughter. And you almost seem too good to be true, Ms. Grandy, dropping into my lap like this."
She felt heat creeping over her face, mainly because she could just imagine what it might be like to drop into his lapLord have mercyyet also because she didn't want to panic at what he might've uncovered.
"No one's perfect, Mr. Foley," she said, hoping he would agree.
He didn't, so she kept talking, seeing if she could maybe use a little flattery as backup.
"Although," she said, "your family seems to come close enough to perfect as it gets."
He remained distant, over on his side of the table. "We're hardly perfect."
"Then you should tell your PR people to stop selling that image," she said lightly. "The media seems to think that the Foleys are the epitome of what's good about our country."
His tone grew taut. "You've been looking into my family, have you?"
How could she deny it? News about the business doings of the Foleys, whose holdings had started from a few oil rigs to an empire based on prime real estate and media interests, was legion. Then there were all their charitable causes, behind-the-scenes political power plays and even the social adventures of Zane's brother, Jason. Hard to ignore, when the mediaand the nationwas fascinated with them, even if Zane, himself, tended to avoid the limelight.
"I only did my research," she said, "because I need to make sure you're the right family for me, just as you're making sure I'm right for you."