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This was not good.
As a former defensive center, MVP and team captain for the New York Scorpions, Cooper Landon was one of the city's most beloved sports heroes. His hockey career had never been anything but an asset.
He looked out the conference room window in the Manhattan office of his attorney, where he had been parked for the past ninety minutes, hands wedged in the pockets of his jeans, watching the late afternoon traffic crawl along Park Avenue. The early June sun reflected with a blinding intensity off the windows of the building across the street and the sidewalks were clogged with people going about their daily routine. Businessmen catching cabs, mothers pushing strollers. Three weeks ago he'd been one of them, walking through life oblivious to how quickly his world could be turned completely upside down.
One senseless accident had robbed him of the only family he had. Now his brother, Ash, and sister-in-law, Susan, were dead, and his twin infant nieces were orphans.
He clenched his fists, fighting back the anger and injustice of it, when what he wanted to do was slam them through the tinted glass.
He still had his nieces, he reminded himself. Though they had been adopted, Ash and Susan couldn't have loved them more if they were their own flesh and blood. Now they were Coop's responsibility, and he was determined to do right by them, give them the sort of life his brother wanted them to have. He owed Ash.
"So, what did you think of that last one?" Ben Hearst, his attorney, asked him. He sat at the conference table sorting through the applications and taking notes on the nanny candidates they had seen that afternoon.
Coop turned to him, unable to mask his frustration. "I wouldn't trust her to watch a hamster."
Like the three other women they had interviewed that day, the latest applicant had been more interested in his hockey career than talking about the twins. He'd met her type a million times before. In her short skirt and low-cut blouse, she was looking to land herself a famous husband. Though in the past he would have enjoyed the attention and, yeah, he probably would have taken advantage of it, now he found it annoying. He wasn't seen as the guardian of two precious girls who lost their parents, but as a piece of meat. He'd lost his brother two weeks ago and not a single nanny candidate had thought to offer their condolences.
After two days and a dozen equally unproductive interviews, he was beginning to think he would never find the right nanny.
His housekeeper, who had been grudgingly helping him with the twins and was about twenty years past her child-rearing prime, had threatened to quit if he didn't find someone else to care for them.
"I'm really sorry," Ben said. "I guess we should have anticipated this happening."
Maybe Coop should have taken Ben's advice and used a service. He just didn't feel that a bunch of strangers would be qualified to choose the person who would be best to care for the twins.
"I think you're going to like this next one," Ben told him.
"Is she qualified?"
"Overqualified, actually." He handed Coop the file. "You could say that I was saving the best for last."
Sierra Evans, twenty-six. She had graduated from college with a degree in nursing, and it listed her current occupation as a pediatric nurse. Coop blinked, then looked at Ben. "Is this right?"
He smiled and nodded. "I was surprised, too."
She was single and childless with a clean record. She didn't have so much as a parking ticket. On paper she looked perfect. Although in his experience, if something seemed too good to be true, it usually was. "What's the catch?"
Ben shrugged. "Maybe there isn't one. She's waiting in the lobby. You ready to meet her?"
"Let's do it," he said, feeling hopeful for the first time since this whole mess started. Maybe this one would be as good as she sounded.
Using the intercom, Ben asked the receptionist, "Would you send Miss Evans in please?"
A minute later the door opened and a woman walked in. Immediately Coop could see that she was different from the others. She was dressed in scrubsdark-blue pants and a white top with Sesame Street characters all over itand comfortable-looking shoes. Not typical attire for a job interview but a decided improvement over the clingy, revealing choices of her predecessors. She was average height, average build very unremarkable. But her face, that was anything but average.
Her eyes were so dark brown they looked black and a slight tilt in the corners gave her an Asian appearance. Her mouth was wide, lips full and sensual, and though she didn't wear a stitch of makeup, she didn't need any. Her black hair was long and glossy and pulled back in a slightly lopsided ponytail.
One thing was clear. This woman was no groupie.
"Miss Evans," Ben said, rising to shake her hand. "I'm Ben Hearst, and this is Cooper Landon."
Coop gave her a nod but stayed put in his place by the window.
"I apologize for the scrubs," she said in a voice that was on the husky side. "I came straight from work."
"It's not a problem," Ben assured her, gesturing to a chair. "Please, have a seat."
She sat, placing her pursea nondesigner bag that had seen better dayson the table beside her and folded her hands in her lap. Coop stood silently observing as Ben launched into the litany of questions he'd asked every candidate. She dutifully answered every one of them, darting glances Coop's way every so often but keeping her attention on Ben. The others had asked Coop questions, tried to engage him in conversation.
But from Miss Evans there was no starry-eyed gazing, no flirting or innuendo. No smoldering smiles and suggestions that she would do anything for the job. In fact, she avoided his gaze, as if his presence made her nervous.
"You understand that this is a live-in position. You will be responsible for the twins 24/7. 11:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. on Sundays, and every fourth weekend from Saturday at 8:00 a.m. to Sunday at 8:00 p.m., is yours to spend as you wish," Ben said.
She nodded. "I understand."
Ben turned to Coop. "Do you have anything to add?"
"Yeah, I do." He addressed Miss Evans directly. "Why would you give up a job as a pediatric nurse to be a nanny?"
"I love working with kids obviously," she said with a shy smilea pretty smile. "But working in the neonatal intensive care unit is a very high-stress job. It's emotionally draining. I need a change of pace. And I can't deny that the live-in situation is alluring."
A red flag began to wave furiously. "Why is that?"
"My dad is ill and unable to care for himself. The salary you're offering, along with not having to pay rent, would make it possible for me to put him in a top-notch facility. In fact, there's a place in Jersey that has a spot opening up this week, so the timing would be perfect."
That was the last thing he had expected her to say, and for a second he was speechless. He didn't know of many people, especially someone in her tax bracket, who would sacrifice such a large chunk of their salary for the care of a parent. Even Ben looked a little surprised.
He shot Coop a look that asked, What do you think?
As things stood, Coop couldn't come up with a single reason not to hire her on the spot, but he didn't want to act rashly. This was about the girls, not his personal convenience.
"I'd like you to come by and meet my nieces tomorrow," he told her.
She regarded him hopefully. "Does that mean I have the job?"
"I'd like to see you interact with them before I make the final decision, but I'll be honest, you're by far the most qualified candidate we've seen so far."
"Tomorrow is my day off so I can come anytime."
"Why don't we say 1:00 p.m., after the girls' lunch. I'm a novice at this parenting thing, so it usually takes me until then to get them bathed, dressed and fed."
She smiled. "One is fine."
"I'm on the Upper East Side. Ben will give you the address."
Ben jotted down Coop's address and handed it to her. She took the slip of paper and tucked it into her purse.
Ben stood, and Miss Evans rose to her feet. She grabbed her purse and slung it over her shoulder.
"One more thing, Miss Evans," Coop said. "Are you a hockey fan?"
She hesitated. "Um is it a prerequisite for the job?"
He felt a smile tugging at the corner of his mouth. "Of course not."
"Then, no, not really. I've never much been into sports. Although I was in a bowling league in college. Until recently my dad was a pretty big hockey fan, though."
"So you know who I am?"
"Is there anyone in New York who doesn't?"
Probably not, and only recently had that fact become a liability. "That isn't going to be an issue?"
She cocked her head slightly. "I'm not sure what you mean."
Her confusion made him feel like an idiot for even asking. Was he so used to women fawning over him that he'd come to expect it? Maybe he wasn't her type, or maybe she had a boyfriend. "Never mind."
She turned to leave, then paused and turned back to him.
"I wanted to say, I was so sorry to hear about your brother and his wife. I know how hard it is to lose someone you love."
The sympathy in her dark eyes made him want to squirm, and that familiar knot lodged somewhere in the vicinity of his Adam's apple. It annoyed him when the others hadn't mentioned it, but when she did, it made him uncomfortable. Maybe because she seemed as though she really meant it.
"Thank you," he said. He'd certainly had his share of loss. First his parents when he was twelve, and now Ash and Susan. Maybe that was the price he had to pay for fame and success.
He would give it all up, sell his soul if that was what it took to get his brother back.
After she left Ben asked him, "So, you really think she's the one?"
"She's definitely qualified, and it sounds as though she needs the job. As long as the girls like her, I'll offer her the position."
"Easy on the eyes, too."
He shot Ben a look. "If I manage to find a nanny worth hiring, do you honestly think I would risk screwing it up by getting physically involved?"
Ben smirked. "Honestly?"
Okay, a month ago maybe. But everything had changed since then.
"I prefer blondes," he told Ben. "The kind with no expectations and questionable morals."
Besides, taking care of the girls, seeing that they were raised in the manner Ash and Susan would want, was his top priority. Coop owed his brother that much. When their parents died, Ash had only been eighteen, but he'd put his own life on hold to raise Coop. And Coop hadn't made it easy at first. He'd been hurt and confused and had lashed out. He was out of control and fast on his way to becoming a full-fledged juvenile delinquent when the school psychologist told Ash that Coop needed a constructive outlet for his anger. She suggested a physical sport, so Ash had signed him up for hockey.
Coop had never been very athletic or interested in sports, but he took to the game instantly, and though he was on a team with kids who had been playing since they were old enough to balance on skates, he rapidly surpassed their skills. Within two years he was playing in a travel league and became the star player. At nineteen he was picked up by the New York Scorpions.
A knee injury two years ago had cut his career short, but smart investmentsagain thanks to the urging of his brotherhad left him wealthy beyond his wildest dreams. Without Ash, and the sacrifices he made, it never would have been possible. Now Coop had the chance to repay him. But he couldn't do it alone. He was ill-equipped. He knew nothing about caring for an infant, much less two at once. Hell, until two weeks ago he'd never so much as changed a diaper. Without his housekeeper to help, he would be lost.
If Miss Evans turned out to be the right person for the joband he had the feeling she washe would never risk screwing it up by sleeping with her.
She was off-limits.