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Savannah Williams rolled over on her right side and pulled the covers over her head. It was morning, she could tell by the bright sunlight flooding her bedroom. But she was not ready to get up. She'd arrived home late last night after the airplane trip from hell. It had routed her all over the United States and got her to New York long after midnight when she'd been up before dawn on the west coast to make that first flight.
The apartment was quiet. Her sister was on assignment. She relaxed and tried to fall back asleep. Why hadn't she put a blackout shade on the window? She just wanted a few more hours of rest.
The ring of the phone jarred.
"Oh, for heaven's sake!" She threw back the sheet and stalked to the living room where the apartment phone was ringing. She'd turned off her cell, so naturally this phone had to ring.
"It better be good," she snapped into the receiver when she snatched it up.
"Good morning, Savannah. It's Stephanie. Did you have a good trip?" The cheerful voice was not what Savannah wanted to hear this early.
"The cruise was okay except it snowed two days. So much for lying on the deck while the children napped. And the two darling dears of Dr. and Mrs. Lightower were not the angels the parents purported them to be. I was never so thankful to end an assignment. Talk about spoiled brats! The flight homeor should I say the flights homewere horrible. I was routed from Alaska to LA to Dallas then Chicago, then I swear I thought I was going to be sent through Atlanta, but fortunately bad weather kept that airport off the schedule, so I got sent to Boston before ending up in New York at two o'clock in the morning!" She was practically yelling the last, but only heard Stephanie's giggles in the background. So much for sympathy.
"I was trying to sleep in," she grumbled.
"Oh, poor you. Go back to sleep in a minute. You have a new assignment and the client actually postponed his trip to make sure it coincided with your availability. This one's right up your alleyone child, a teenager. Parents are divorced, mother has custody. However, the teen is with her father now and will be for the summer apparently. Could be a bonding experience for them, I suppose."
"What could?" Savannah asked. She was growing wider awake the longer Stephanie kept her on the phone. For what? She was off the clock and wanted to catch up on sleep and fun before taking another assignment from vacation Nannies.
"Backpacking in the High Sierras," Stephanie said.
Savannah stared out the window to the sliver of a view of the Hudson River she and her sister enjoyed from their apartment. Glass and concrete and that tiny sliver compared to endless vistas of mountain ranges? Clear blue sky instead of the heavy layer of smog over New York?
"How come Stacey gets to lounge around at the beach on the Med and I'm stuck lugging a heavy backpack on a trail where there won't even be hot and cold running water?"
"Luck of the draw. Plus you're our resident expert on troublesome teens."
"Oh, joy, another challenge. When do we meet?" she asked. Rule number one of Vacation Nannies was that both parties had to agree to the assignment. Which usually worked to make sure the match between nanny and children was harmonious, but she had seriously been off with the Lightower children. Who expected them to behave so nicely at the initial meeting and then turn into terrors? Not that she hadn't been able to cope, but the carefree cruise she'd anticipated had not been the case.
"Friday. If everything goes okay, you'll depart next week and be gone three weeks."
"How old's the teen?" Savannah had specialized in adolescent behavior when getting her degree in education. She had a special bond for children who had reached the whacked-out stage of teenagedom, which included recalcitrant and defiant behavior.
"She's fourteen. Lives here in New York."
Savannah could hear papers being turned over, Stephanie was obviously referring to interview notes. She plopped down on the sofa, giving up any thought of going back to sleep until later. "Never mind giving me all the info. I'll be by later to look at the file. Anything else I should know?"
"Do you have hiking boots?"
"Of course, remember my trip to the Adirondacks last fall? It was a glorious week tramping round the forest and enjoying at all the colorful foliage. The pair I got then are well worn in. How cold is it in the High Sierras in June?"
"Check the national weather outlook. I'll confirm you'll be there on Friday at eleven. Oh, and, Savannah " Stephanie sounded hesitant.
Savannah sat up at her tone.
"The dad is Declan Murdock."
Savannah frowned, almost hearing Stephanie holding her breath after delivering that bombshell.
"I'm not going," she said. Declan Murdoch. It had been seven years since she'd seen him. Seven lonely years of trying to forget the man she'd loved with all the fresh bright hope of first loveand who had dumped her so unceremoniously.
"He asked especially for you."
"That's hard to believe." And was like a knife twisting in her. He'd left her because of Jacey. Now he wanted her to watch her while he was off doing whatoh yeah, backpacking. What had happened to Jacey's mother? They were divorcedagain?
"Why backpacking in the mountains? Why isn't he just sticking around New York while he has Jacey? They could see shows, visit museums, go to the shore. Bond in New York."
"I don't inquire as to why our clients do things. Friday morning at his office. I think you know where." Stephanie hung up before Savannah could utter another word.
She slammed down the phone. "For this I had to get up early?"
Declan Murdock. She hadn't seen him in years, hadn't thought about him inwell, at least maybe one year. She wished she could say she'd forgotten him as fast as he'd probably forgotten her. But she'd been incredibly hurt by their parting. She'd been dreaming of a wedding and he'd been lured back to his ex-wife because of a daughter he hadn't known existed.
For the longest time she'd gone over everything, replaying in her mind every word he'd uttered at that final meeting, trying to see where things could have gone differently.
"Water long under the bridge," she muttered, going to get coffee to jump-start her brain. Did Stephanie really think she'd take the job? Be alone with Declan and his daughter for three weeks?
"Why not ask me to plunge a knife into my heart to begin with. It would be just as painful," she mumbled, watching the coffeemaker drizzle the brew into the carafe. Divorced, Stephanie had said. So when had that happened? What about Declan's determination to make a go of his marriage for the sake of a daughter he'd just discovered?
No one would blame her for turning down a request for an assignment from the man who had broken her heart. The man against whom she had judged all other men ever sinceand had usually found them lacking.
Maybe she should have asked the Lightowers to extend her serviceseven the horrible brats looked better than facing Declan again.
Taking her coffee, she went back to the sofa and gazed out the window. She wondered if he'd aged much. She'd learned how successful his sporting goods chain had become. Everything he touched seemed golden.
Divorced. Her curiosity got the better of her. Dare she risk her peace of mind by seeing him again? Any feelings she'd had for him seven years ago had evaporated. She'd become much more wary, much more cynical about men's intentions.
And how could she watch his daughterthe reason he'd left her. She'd been so in love, and she'd thought he had, as well. How could he so easily have tossed that love aside to marry Margoor rather to remarry her when she'd shown up years after their divorce saying Declan was a father. He'd had the paternity tests done and had then been convinced he needed to marry Jacey's mother again and build a strong family unit.
Forget about the college student who had adored him. Forget about the plans and dreams they'd had. Once he'd uttered the fateful words, Savannah had wished him well and left the coffee shop, tears not falling until she was home.
So what had happened to his precious plans that had brought him full circle back into her life?
Curiosity won. She'd go to the interview. It wouldn't go well, she already knew that. But the reputation of Vacation Nannies was on the line. She didn't want him bad-mouthing the company because of personal feelings. Feelings that should have died seven years ago.
"That did die seven years ago!" she repeated aloud. "I'm so over you, Declan Murdock."
Friday, Savannah dressed with care. She was no longer the college student dating an up-and-coming businessman. She went with the most trendy outfit she had, and spiked her short hair the way she liked it. Her outfit was the fourth she'd tried on this morning, wanting to get just the right look of successful businesswoman and capable nanny. The navy slacks, white blouse and sassy scarf declared her achievement.
He'd done well, she'd learned a couple of years ago. Well, so had she and her sister. Maybe not on the scale he'd reached, but wildly prosperous. She and Stacey had planned their business long before they were able to start it. The one course she especially wanted to take in her senior year in college was Start-ups on a Shoestringtaught by visiting guest lecturer Declan Murdock shortly after he began his sporting goods company. She'd hung on his every word. First for what she could learn about business, then for what she could learn about the man himself. When he'd asked her out, she'd gone. There were rules at the college against faculty dating students but as a guest lecturer, he wasn't really faculty.
Only a few years older than she, he'd captured her imagination and fired her enthusiasm about her business model for Vacation Nannies. Before long the business talk had turned personal and by Christmas that year she'd fallen in love. She remembered their talk about surfing together off the coast of Maine, the fun she'd had slugging a soft-ball out of the park to his wild cheering, the thrill of roller-blading in Central Park together. Visiting museums and art galleries when the weather was bad, lost in a world of two despite the crowded places.
She shook off the memories. She was an accomplished businesswoman in her own right. She would see him, refuse the job and that would be that.
She gave the cabdriver the address. Savannah knew exactly where the company headquarters was for Murdock Sports. She'd met him there many evenings, to give them more time together. She didn't want to remember, but ever since Stephanie's call the memories had flooded in.
At least she had the teensy consolation that she wasn't still some lovestruck idiot pining for a man who'd married a woman he didn't love for the sake of a daughter who had been kept from him the first seven years of her life.
Maybe he'd say or do something so outlandish at the interview she could instantly say no. Highly unlikely, but she lived in hope. Truth was, she could turn down the assignment for no reason at all. She didn't answer to him.
But Vacation Nannies thrived on referrals. He probably moved in such rarified air these days he could give their company a big boost.
Three weeks was a mere twenty-one days. She could do anything for a short time.
The first thing Savannah noticed when she stepped into the building was the major renovations since she'd last been there. The reception area was larger and very upscale. Most suitable to the image of a very successful company. Let the public believe you're highly successful, and you'll be highly successful, had been one of his axioms. So his business instincts had been right on. He was a huge success. Despite her heartbreak, she'd picked up some information over the years from the local business news. If nothing else, she'd learned solid business techniques and how to focus on the main goal from Declan's class.
Add the fact that the address of Vacation Nannies made a major impression on clients, also thanks to Declan. Granted she sometimes thought they paid way too much for the tiny offices they had, but the clientele they drew demanded the very best.
Savannah gave her name to the receptionist and was asked to wait. No hardship since she'd put off the interview entirely if she could. But there was no other nanny as suitable from their company so Stephanie had explained to her when she'd showed up at the office to read the file before the interview. The most important thing was to keep up the reputation of Vacation Nannies.
The conceptprovide short-term, temporary nannies to watch children while the family was on vacationhad proven surprisingly popular. Savannah and Stacey had begun the business because of their own desire to travel and see the world. With the little money they had that would be unlikely. So they'd found a way to travel on someone else's dime.
After a degree in education, plus some business courses at NYU, Savannah had been instrumental in getting the business going. Soon there were more requests than she and Stacey could handle, so Stephanie had been hired to handle the scheduling aspect. Other nannies, trained at the prestigious Miss Pritchard's School for Nannies, were carefully vetted and hired. Now they had a dozen others on the payroll, and during the summer months everyone was fully booked.
To ensure the nannies weren't stuck for weeks with horrendous children or parents, the interview aspect went both ways. Either the prospective client could decline after meeting the nanny or the nanny could refuse to take the assignment.
So far there had only been a handful of refusals. She winced, thinking she'd make this another one.
She grew more nervous the longer she waited. What was she doing coming here? She didn't want to spend three weeks with Declan. Or with his daughter.
"Mr. Murdock can see you now," the receptionist said, rising and heading for the hall on the left. Her sleek toned looks gave mute testimony to the healthy lifestyle a sports aficionado could expectespecially if they used Murdock equipment.