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"Have you been with the agency for long?"
Princess Katherine of Wynborough gazed at the neatly dressed woman who was pacing nervously in the entrance hall of the Sutherland estate. "Excuse me?"
"You are here for the job interview, too, aren't you?" the woman asked. "I've worked as the Hendrickson's nanny for years, but they're moving overseas. I wanted to stay in the Albuquerque area, but now I'm not sure which would be worse living in Hong Kong or working for Trey Sutherland."
And right then, for Katherine, suddenly everything was crystal clear.
Job interview. That's why it had suddenly become so easy to get onto the Sutherland estate. His secretary had thought she had called for a job interview.
Trey Sutherland was, without a doubt, the most difficult man in the entire state of New Mexico to meet face-to-face. For nearly a week, she'd been given a complete runaround every time she'd called. No, Mr. Sutherland was unable to take the princess's call. No, Mr. Sutherland was unavailable to meet with anyone until after the New Year at the earliest. I'm sorry, Mr. Sutherland sends his regrets.
She suspected Trey Sutherland hadn't even received her messages. It wouldn't have surprised her one bit to find out the man had given his assistant authority to screen his calls. And if it wasn't pure business, it wasn't getting through.
But then, this morning, just like thatjackpot. Katherine had called, and without identifying herself, had asked to speak to Mr. Sutherland. His secretary had put her on hold, and then had come back on the line to ask if she wanted to set up an appointment. Katherine had barely had time to say yes, of course, before the woman had told her, "Three o'clock. Sharp." She'd rattled off the address of the Sutherland estate on the outskirts of Albuquerque, and hung up, leaving Katherine somewhat taken aback by the rapid-fire, no-nonsense American pace.
It hadn't occurred to her at the time that the secretary hadn't taken down Katherine's name. The implications weren't clearuntil now.
And now, after a harried flight from Colorado, it was obvious that the only reason she'd been waved in through those heavy cast-iron gates out front was because she'd been mistaken, first from her well-schooled British accent, and now again from her less than regal demeanor, as a candidate for the position of nanny.
"You've heard the rumors." The other woman in the waiting area simply couldn't sit still. "You know, about Trey Sutherland?"
"Actually," Katherine said evenly, "I haven't."
The woman moved closer to Katherine's chair as she lowered her voice. "His wife died a few years ago. Definitely under mysterious circumstances. I've heard he was a suspect, but the police never found enough evidence to convict him." She shivered. "It's so gloomy in here."
"It's raining," Katherine pointed out. The thunderstorm had started, the clouds opening up, as she'd pulled into the driveway of the estate. "It's gloomy everywhere right now."
There was a mirror on the wall opposite her, and she looked critically at her reflection. Neat white blouse buttoned nearly to her chin. Dark-gray wool skirt, dark-gray jacket. Sensible low heels. Her hair was neither red nor auburn like her sisters'. Although it gleamed slightly in the dim light that came through the windows, it was completely, unremarkably brown, her bangs framing a face that wasn't exotically beautiful like Elizabeth, or elegantly regal like Alexandra, or charmingly pretty like Serena.
No, while her three sisters truly looked like princesses, Katherine looked like
someone's nanny. Her face was a little too round, her mouth a little too soft, and her eyes were a very, very sensible shade of gray.
"How would you sleep at night?" the woman asked. "Wondering if he really did kill her?" She gathered up her purse and raincoat. "I think I'd rather go to Hong Kong."
"But that's silly," Katherine said as the door closed behind the woman. "You don't know any of the facts. It's only a rumor."
Another door opened, and a diminutive Mexican-American woman peeked out. "Are you the only one?" she said in a lilting Spanish accent as she entered the room for a closer look, as if more nanny candidates might be hiding beneath the long bench that lined one wall, or under the other straight-backed chair that sat on the earth-colored tile.
"I appear to be," Katherine said apologetically. "However" She closed her mouth abruptly. She would apologize for the mistake only after she met the elusive Trey Sutherland.
"I'm Anita," the little gray-haired woman said. "I'm Trey's housekeeper."
Anita and Trey. It was charmingly informal. Anita wore jeans and a big bulky sweater, Katherine realized. And sneakers on her feet.
"He's not quite ready for you," Anita said, "but why don't you follow me anyway?"
As the housekeeper led the way down a long corridor, Kathe-rine had to jog a bit to keep up. The estate was beautiful, a sprawling hacienda with Mexican-tile floors and windows set into arches, overlooking a lush center courtyard. The last of the fall flowers bloomed, bringing color to the garden, even in the cool autumn rain.
Katherine followed Anita up a flight of stairs, and then up yet another. The hallway here was wide enough to hold several chairs and a soft leather couch, positioned together in a sort of sitting area.
"Trey's suite is in the tower," Anita explained. She stopped outside a thick wooden door. "His office is here, his bedroom the floor above. The children and the nannyyousleep in the east wing, on the second floor." She gestured toward the sofa. "Why don't you have a seat? Trey will be with you in a minute."
As Katherine slowly sat down, Anita descended the stairs, swiftly and silently.
Katherine drew in a deep breath. Well. Here she was. Moments from meeting the man who could well help answer all her questions.
But how thrilled would he be to help her after he found out she'd used trickery and deceit to worm her way into his home? Of course, she'd been as tricked as he, but he couldn't know that. She'd better figure out what she was going to say, and she'd better do it quickly.
Katherine drew in another deep breath and practiced her most winsomely royal smile. "Mr. Sutherland. What a pleasure it is to finally meet you. But I do believe there's been something of a mix-up, sir. Your staff has mistaken me for the hired help, while in fact I am a princess. And that, sir, is why I've come to see you today. My elder brother, Prince James Wyndham, was abducted as an infant. He's been presumed dead these past nearly thirty years, but my three sisters and I have recently found reason to believe he may not have perished all those years ago. Mr. Sutherland, we believe that your equally elusive business partner, one Mr. William Lewis, could in fact be our missing brother, and the true heir to the Wynborough throne."
That would go over quite excellently.
Katherine closed her eyes, imagining her sister Elizabeth and their social secretary, Laura Bishop, having to fly from Colorado to New Mexico to bail Katherine out of the lunatics' wing of the city jail.
This was a mistakecoming to Albuquerque this way, assuming that she could find Bill Lewis, assuming she could get through Trey Sutherland's tightly closed gates. She wasn't cut out to play James Bond. That was much more Elizabeth's or Serena's speed.
Katherine was the one who should have gone to search through old records at The Sunshine Home for Children in Arizona, where James was now believed to have been brought after his abduction all those years ago.
But something crazy had possessed Katherine. She'd agreed to come to Albuquerque, and now here she was.
Mistaken for a nanny.
Her fault completely.
She looked from the tightly closed door of Trey Sutherland's home office to the stairs that led back down to the front entrance.
As much as she wanted to, now that she was here, she simply couldn't walk away. If she were going to fail, it wasn't going to be from lack of trying.
She took a deep breath. "Mr. Sutherland. What I have to say to you is going to sound completely insane, but I must ask you, sir, to"
The door opened.
And there was Trey Sutherland.
Katherine had seen his picture. She had known that he was outrageously handsome, but his photograph hadn't prepared her for the reality of the man.
He was taller than she'd expectedwell over six feet. His shoulders took up nearly the entire doorwayshoulders clad in a dark-gray business suit that looked as if it had been tailored to his exact measurements. His shirt was a lighter shade of that same gray, his collar unbuttoned, his tie rumpled and loose.
His hair was jet-black and messy, as if he'd been running his fingers through it in frustration. His face was harshly handsome, his mouth set in an expression of grimness. His eyes, although tired, redefined the color blue.
"Sorry to keep you waiting." His voice was a smooth baritone, without even a trace of a Southwestern American twang. "Come on in."
She had to move past him to enter his office. She went swiftly, aware of the subtle fragrance of his cologne, aware once again of his sheer size.
The phone on his desk rang, and Katherine froze, uncertain whether to go any farther or to retreat and wait, once again, out in the hall.
But Trey Sutherland closed his office door. "I'm sorry, I've got to take this. Why don't you sit down? I'll be right with you."
She gestured toward the door. "If you want, I don't mind
"No, this won't take long. Please. Sit."
As Katherine slowly perched on the edge of one of the leather armchairs positioned in front of Trey's rather lovely wooden desk, he picked up the telephone. He took the call standing behind his desk, his back to her as he gazed out the big picture window, his hand on his neck as if he were trying to loosen the tightly knotted muscles there.
Katherine tried not to listen, gazing down at her hands tightly clasped in her lap.
"No." Trey's voice left no room for doubt. "Absolutely not." He laughed, but it was an expulsion of disbelief rather than humor. "No, I'm not hiding him. Believe me, if I knew where Bill Lewis was, I'd be leading the charge to knock down his door."
Bill Lewis. The man she and her sisters believed might be their brother. Katherine stopped trying not to listen.
"Yeah, he could call or even drop in at any time. That's his usual MO," Trey continued, sitting on the edge of his desk in that casual way of an American male, completely comfortable within his well-developed body. His strong back seemed better suited to a T-shirt and a pair of dusty blue jeans, although she did have to admit that his suit fit him exceedingly well. Exceptionally well. "But I can't make any promises. And, no, I won't hold him down until you get here." He laughed againit was a rich sound that made her own lips move up into a smile. "God, I don't know. He could be anywhere. Last time he went to Nepal. Nepal. I love him like a brother, but Nepal?"
He stood and turned to face her, and Katherine hurriedly erased her smile and shifted her gaze to one of the framed wa-tercolors that hung on the wall, pretending to be completely absorbed in the shades of blue used in the ocean scene.
Trey Sutherland didn't know where Bill Lewis was. But he believed it likely that Mr. Lewis could "drop in" at any time. If Katherine truly wanted to find Mr. Lewis, and she did, then
He was looking at her. He was making noises of agreement into the telephone and, while he thought she wasn't paying him any mind, he was sneaking a look at
That was absurd. If anyone was going to dare to look at a princess's legs, he would look at Alexandra's or Elizabeth's legs, not Katherine's. While her legs weren't precisely unattractive, she simply didn't dress in a manner to draw a man's eyes in that direction. That is, assuming the man was bold enough to check out a princess in the first place. Most men weren't.
But, of course, Trey Sutherland had no idea that Katherine was a princess. Trey Sutherland thought that Katherine was in his office to apply for a job as a nanny.
He hung up the phone. "Sorry."
"It's all right."
In the brighter light of his office, she saw that there was a trace of silver at his temples. And his eyes really were a quite disarming shade of blue. His gaze swept over her again in a most disconcerting way. This time, it wasn't so much checking her out as assessing. Taking stock. Studying. There was nothing disrespectful about ithe was simply doing it in an extremely male way.
"You're younger than I'd hoped you'd be," he said bluntly, coming around to sit in the other leather armchair in front of his desk.
Katherine blinked at him. "Younger
"This is a live-in position," he explained. "If you've got a husband and family"
"I don't. Have a husband, I mean."
She felt herself blush. "No."
"How old are you?"
"Twenty-five." This was absurd. This man's questions were so direct as to be rude. And she wasn't even here to be hired on as a nanny. "How old are you?" Oh dear, where had that come from?
But he answered her. "Thirty-five. At least until the beginning of January, and then I'll be thirty-six."
"I'm sorry, I"
"No, that's fair. You've got every right to ask as many questions as you want. This interview is a two-way street. Do you like kids?"
She was blinking at him again. "Do I
"Yeah, I know. It seems like a stupid question considering the job you're applying for, but I've run across more than my share of people claiming to be nannies who don't particularly like the children they've been hired to care for. They don't particularly like children at all." His eyes were hot with intensity as he leaned toward her. "My kids need to be respected and liked at the very least. And you better believe if I could pay you to love them, I would."
He stood up suddenly, as if he'd given too much away, or if there was a limit to how long he could contain his sheer energy and stay seated in a chair.
"My turn to apologize," he said, as he moved behind his desk. "Our last nanny left without even saying goodbye to Stacy and Doug. It's important to me that I find someone who fully understands the extent of the burden I'm placing upon them. These are kids who know too damn well what it means to be deserted, and I'm getting way ahead of myself. I haven't even asked you your name."
"I do like kids," Katherine said softly. She liked kids, Trey Sutherland seemed in rather desperate need of a nanny, and, if she kept up this insane subterfuge and moved into the Sutherland estate, she'd be here when and if William Lewis turned up.