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Dutchman's Creek, Colorado
HELP WANTED Live-in nanny for newborn. Wolf Ridge area. Mature. Discreet. Experience preferred. Start immediately. Email résumé and references to wr@dcsentinel. com
Wyatt Richardson glared at the stack of résumés on the borrowed desk. So far he'd interviewed three teenagers, a Guatemalan woman who barely spoke English, a harried mom with her own two-year-old and a grandmotherly type who confessed she got heart palpitations at high altitudes. His need for a qualified nanny bordered on desperation. But so far not one of the applicants was right for the job.
At least none of them had seemed to recognize him in his faded baseball cap. But that didn't solve his problem.
Maybe he should have gone through an agency instead of placing that blind ad through The Dutchman's Creek
Sentinel. But agencies asked questions, and this was a personal matter, demanding privacy. Not even his staff at the resort knew that his sixteen-year-old daughter, Chloe, had shown up on his doorstep almost nine months pregnantor that she'd just given birth to a baby boy at the local hospital.
With a weary sigh he scanned the final résumé. Leigh Foster, 26. At least her age was in the ballpark he'd wanted to see. But the journalism degree from the University of Colorado wouldn't be much help. And her experience handling children was limited to some babysitting in high school. Glancing down the page he noticed she'd edited a defunct travel magazine and was currently working part-time for the local paper. He'd bet she was scrambling for money. Why else would an educated woman apply for this job?
Never mind. Just get it over with. He buzzed the receptionist, a signal to send in the next applicant.
High heels clicked down the tiled hallway, their cadence brisk and confident. An instant later the door of the small interview room opened. Wyatt's gaze took her in at a glancewillowy figure, simple navy blue suit, dark chestnut hair worn in a sleek pageboy. An Anne Hathaway type. He liked what he sawliked it a lot. Unfortunately he was looking for a nanny, not a date.
"Mr. Richardson." Her long legs flashed as she strode toward the desk, hand extended. Her use of his name put Wyatt on instant alert. She worked for the Sentinel and would have known who placed the ad, he reminded himself. But the woman was a journalist. Did she really need a job or was she scoping out some juicy gossip for a story?
Either way, his first priority had to be protecting Chloe.
Rising, he accepted her proffered handshake. Her fingers felt the way she lookedslim and strong but surprisingly warm. Her tailored jacket had fallen open to reveal a coppery silk blouse. The fabric clung to her figure enticingly.
Yanking his gaze back to her face, Wyatt nodded toward the straight-backed chair opposite the desk. She settled onto the edge, one shapely knee crossed over the other in her narrow little skirt.
Sitting again, he perused her résumé, giving him a reason to take his eyes off her. "Tell me, Miss Foster. You appear well qualified for work in your own field. Why would you want a job as a nanny?"
Her lush mouth twitched in a sardonic smile. "I may be qualified, but times are tough. Right now I'm working twenty hours a week and camping out in my mother's guest room. She sells real estate, so she's struggling, tooand she has my younger brother to support. I'd like to contribute instead of feeling like a burden."
"So it's all about money."
"No!" She stared down at her hands. When she looked up again he noticed her eyes for the first time. Framed by thick, black lashes, they were the color of aged whiskey with intriguing flecks of gold.
"There are many factors involved. Most of my friends have children." The words sounded rehearsed. "I've been thinking that down the road a few years from now, if I don't get married, I might try adoption, or even have a child by a donor. Meanwhile, I'd love the experience of caring for a little baby. Of course I can't promise to stay for a long time " Her husky voice trailed into a breath. "If you're still interested, could you tell me more about the job? Otherwise, I'll just leave now."
She clasped her hands on her knees, looking so vulnerable that Wyatt almost melted. He was interested all rightinterested in getting to know this woman better. But he couldn't do or say anything that might make her hesitate to take the job. He needed a nanny for Chloe's baby, and right now Leigh Foster was his only option.
On the other hand, he had to make sure she wasn't out to exploit the situation.
Clearing his throat, he reached for the briefcase he'd left under the desk. "I'll need to run a background check, of course," he said, lifting out a manila folder. "But before we pursue this any further, would you be willing to sign a confidentiality agreement?"
Her eyes widened. "Of course. But why?"
"You're a journalist." He slid a single page across the desktop. "And even if you weren't I'd demand your signature on this document. Protecting the privacy of my family is incredibly important to me. You must agree that whether you take the job or not, nothing you see or hear will be carried awaystarting right now. You're not to publish it or share gossip with anyone, not even your own mother. Do I make myself clear?"
She leaned forward to scan the pagea boilerplate document outlining the legal consequences of sharing information in any form. The open neck of her blouse gave him a tantalizing glimpse of creamy flesh and black lace before he tore his eyes away. If he wanted her to take the job, it wouldn't do to be caught ogling her cleavage or any other delicious part of her. Especially since she'd be sharing his home.
"Any questions?" he asked her.
She straightened, impaling him with her stunning eyes. "Just one, Mr. Richardson. Could you spare me a pen?"
Leigh scrawled her name along the blank line at the bottom of the page. Maybe if she did it fast enough, he wouldn't notice that her hand was shaking.
The confidentiality agreement was no problem. Even without that piece of paper there was no way she'd reveal what she hoped to learn. But that didn't ease her nervous jitters. If Wyatt Richardson knew why she was really here, she'd be up to her ears in you-know-what.
The truth was she knew a lot more about the man than she was letting on. Even under that silly baseball cap she'd have recognized the local celebrity who'd put Dutchman's Creek on the map. In his younger days he'd been a daredevil downhill skier, winning several Olympic medals and enough product endorsements to make him rich. Coming home to Colorado he'd bought Wolf Ridge, a run-down resort that was little more than a hangout for local ski bums. Over the past fifteen years he'd built the place into an international ski destination that rivaled Aspen and Vail in everything but size.
That much was public knowledge. Discovering the details of his private life had taken some digging. But what Leigh learned had confirmed that she needed to be here today. There was no guarantee she'd be hired for the nanny job. But either way, she had to take this masquerade as far as it would go.
Right now, everything depended on her playing her cards carefully.
"Satisfied?" She slid the signed contract back across the desk. "I'm not looking for a story. I'm looking for a job."
"Fine. Let's see how it goes after we've talked." He slid the baseball cap off his head and raked a hand through his thick, gray-flecked hair. He'd be a little past forty, she calculated. His athlete's body, clad in jeans and a gray sweatshirt, was taut and muscular, his strongly featured face scoured by sun and wind. His eyes were a deep, startling Nordic blue. The year he'd won Olympic gold, a popular magazine had named him as one of the world's ten sexiest men. From the looks of him, he hadn't lost that edge.
It was public record that he'd been divorced for more than a decade. He looked as virile as a bull and, along with that, was certainly rich enough to have women falling at his feet, but he'd managed to keep his sex life out of the public eyethough, of course, in a small community like Dutchman's Creek there was always talk. Not that it mattered. She wasn't here to become one more notch on Wyatt Richardson's bedpost.
Although the notion did trigger a pleasant sort of tingle between her thighs.
"Tell me about the baby," she said.
"Yes. The baby." He exhaled slowly, as if he were about to wade into battle. "My daughter's. She's sixteen."
"You have a daughter?" Leigh feigned surprise.
"Her mother and I divorced when she was young. I didn't see much of her growing up, but for reasons I won't go into now, Chloe and the baby will be staying with me."
"What about the father?" Her pulse shot to a gallop, the pressure hammering against her eardrums. She willed her expression to remain calm and pleasant.
"Chloe won't give me a name. She says he's history. I take it he's just some boy she met while she and her mother were living here. But if I ever get my hands on the little bastard "
One powerful fist crumpled the baseball cap. He released it with a muffled sound that could have been a sigh or a growl.
"That's the least of my worries now. Chloe insists she wants to keep her baby. But she doesn't know the first thing about being a mother. Lord, she's barely more than a baby herself." His cerulean eyes drilled into Leigh's.
"The nanny who accepts this job will be taking care of two childrenthe baby and his mother. Do you understand?"
Leigh had begun to breathe again. "I believe I do, Mr. Richardson."
"Fine. And please call me Wyatt." He rose, catching up the briefcase and jamming the cap back onto his head.
"Go where?" She scrambled to her feet as he strode around the desk.
"I'm taking you to the hospital to meet Chloe. If she thinks you'll do, I'll be willing to hire you for two weeks' probation. That should give me time to find someone else if things don't work out. We can discuss salary on the way back here."
Two weeks. High heels teetering, she struggled to keep pace with his strides. Next to a long-term job it was the best she could hope for. And even if he didn't hire her she'd at least get to see the baby.
"My vehicle's around back." He paused to hold the door for her. The October sun was blinding after the dim hallway of the small office building. Beyond the town, the mountain slopes were a riot of green-gold aspen, scarlet maple and dark stands of pine. The light breeze carried a whisper of winter to comethe winter that would bring snow to the mountains and skiers flocking to the high canyon runs.
"Careful." His hand steadied her elbow, guiding her around a broken piece of the asphalt parking lot. She could feel the power in his easy gripa grip that remained even after they'd passed the danger spot.
She'd half hoped he'd be driving a sports car. But the only vehicle in the back parking lot was an elephant-sized black Hummer with oversized snow tires. "Sorry about the behemoth," he muttered. "This is my snow vehicle. My regular car's getting a brake job."
When he opened the passenger door for her, Leigh realized that the floor was thigh-high. There was no step, just a grip handle on the frame inside the door. There was no way she could climb up without making a spectacle of herself in the pencil skirt and high heels she'd worn to look professional for the interview. Maybe she should've worn jeans and hiking boots.
He stood behind her, saying nothing. For heaven's sake, was the man waiting for her to hitch up her skirt and give him a show?
Glancing back, she shot him an annoyed look. "If you wouldn't mind."
His chuckle caught her off guard. "I was waiting for you to ask. If I were to just grab you, I'd be liable to end up getting slapped."
With that, he scooped her up in his arms as if she weighed nothing. Her breath stopped as his strong hands lifted her high and lowered her onto the leather seat. The subtle heat of his grip lingered as she fastened her safety belt. Her pulse was racing. As he strode around the vehicle and swung into the driver's seat, she willed herself to take deep breaths. Wyatt Richardson was a compellingly attractive man, capable of making her hormones surge with a glance from those unearthly blue eyes. But Leigh knew better than to go down that road. Let him get close enough to discover the truth about her, and she'd be up the proverbial creek.
And she wouldn't be the only one in trouble.
As the engine purred to life, she settled back into the seat. "So your daughter's in the hospital. When did she have the baby?"
"Yesterday morning. An easy birth, or so I was told.
She and the baby are doing fine. They should be ready to leave sometime tomorrow."
"What about the girl's mother? Is she in town to be with her daughter and see her grandchild?"
He winced as if she'd stuck him with something sharp. "Her mother's in Chicago with her new husband. Evidently the marriage is on shaky ground. That's why she chartered a plane for Chloe last week and sent her to me."
"I'm sorry, but that's monstrous."
"Don't judge her too harshly. The situation has us all thrown. I didn't even know Chloe was pregnant till the girl climbed out of a taxi and rang my front doorbell. Frankly, I'm still in shock."
And what about your poor daughter? Leigh thought it but she didn't say it. For now, at least, she'd be wise to tread lightly.
He turned onto the side road that led to the county hospital. "I didn't mean to dump all this on you before you met the girl. But at least you'll know what you could be getting into. Chloe's been through a devil of a time. And aside from taking her in and hiring somebody for the baby, I don't know how to help her through this."
"It sounds as if you care, at least. That should count for something."
A bitter laugh rumbled in his throat. "Say that to Chloe. She'll tell you that my caring's come about fifteen years too late."
He swung the Hummer into the parking lot and pulled into an empty space. After walking around to open the door on Leigh's side, he held up his arms. Taking her cue from him, she placed her hands on his muscled shoulders. His grip around her waist was brief as he lowered her to the ground. But as he released her, their eyes met. His were sunk into weary shadowsthe eyes of a man who'd spent some sleepless nights. A worried man, unsure, perhaps, for the first time in his life.
For the space of a breath his big hand lingered on her hip. As if suddenly aware, he pulled it away and took her arm. "Let's go inside," he said.
Leigh was familiar with the hospital, a sprawling one-story maze of wings and hallways. Having visited several friends there, she knew her way to the maternity ward. "Were you here when the baby was born?" she asked as Wyatt walked beside her.
"I was wrapping up a meeting and missed the delivery, but I saw Chloe in recovery. They'd given her an epidural for the birth. She was still groggy when I left. She probably won't even remember I was there."
Leigh glanced down a side hall where the nursery windows were located. She was hoping to see the baby for a moment, but Wyatt kept walking on down the corridor, checking the room numbers. He paused outside a door that was slightly ajar. "I guess this is it."
"Go on in," Leigh said. "I'll wait out here until you're ready to introduce me."
Murmuring his thanks, he squared his shoulders, knocked lightly on the door and stepped into the room.