Widowed Prince Mikos Colin Alexander wants to raise his little girl out of the spotlight. Granted a six-month leave from his royal duties, he escapes to Los Angeles, posing as a regular guy, one in need of a live-in nanny. Colin reluctantly hires Darcy Cooper, the curvy beauty who easily wins over his baby duchess. But soon the lush, love-shy American wins him over, too. Now he's torn between duty to the crown and what feels like his newfound family. But when Darcy discovers her emotionally distant boss is royalty, will all bets be off?
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The curves, the expressive green eyes, rich brown hair the color of his favorite scotchall made for a punch of primal lust Mikos Colin Alexander hadn't experienced in years. This sure as hell was not the woman he'd expected to see on his doorstep.
Woman? No, she couldn't be more than twenty years old. She looked as if she'd just stepped out of a photo shoot for some popular American teen magazine. With her pink T-shirt, body-hugging jeans and little white sandals, this was not the image he'd had in mind when he'd gone online seeking a nanny.
Iris's angry cry drew his attention back to the point of this meeting. The lady at his door immediately shifted her gaze from him to the child on his hip.
"Aww, it's okay, sweetheart." Her voice, so soft, so gentle, got Iris's attention. "What's a beautiful princess like you crying about?"
Princess. He cringed at the term, hating how dead-on this stranger was. But he was in LA now, not Galini Isle, a country so small that nobody here knew who he was. Which was just how he preferred it.
His wish to be free from his royal heritage had carried him through life, but the urge had never been stronger than after the accident that nearly took his life. Between that, his failed marriage, Karina's death and his being a widowed prince, the media was all over him. There wasn't a moment's peace back home and he needed to get away, to regroup and maybe to never return.
Now more than ever he wanted independencefor him and his daughter.
"I'm sorry." Extending her hand, the lady offered him a wide, radiant smile. "I'm Darcy Cooper. You must be Mr. Alexander."
Darcy. The woman he'd emailed, the woman he'd spoken to on the phone. The woman he'd all but hired sight unseen to be his live-in nanny because of her impressive references and the number of years the agency had been in business.
Na pari i eychi. Damn it.
What happened to the short, round, bun-wearing grandmother type he'd seen pictured on the website? He'd been assured the woman coming to care for his daughter was the owner. No way could this curvaceous beauty be in charge of Loving Hands Childcare Agency. Perhaps they'd sent someone else at the last minute.
Colin shifted his irate daughter to his good hip. Damn accident still had him fighting to get back to normal whatever normal was after nearly dying and then losing your wife. "You're not what I expected."
Quirking a brow, she tipped her head as a smile spread across her face. Her eyes ran over him, no doubt taking in his running shorts, T-shirt and bedhead.
"That would make two of us."
Her sparkling eyes held his. Was she mocking him? Of course she was. She had no idea who she was speaking to not that anybody here knew of his royal status, but still. Nobody mocked him except his brother.
Iris's piercing wails grew louder, more shrill in his ear. Between lack of sleep and the constant pain in his back and hip, he was done trying to be Father of the Year. The fact that he'd had no choice but to find assistance still angered him. Iris was the only reason he was giving in. Her needs had to come before his pridewhich is why he now found himself staring down at the petite, yet very shapely, nanny.
This is what he'd wanted, right? To be free from all the servants, the media, the people ready to step in and practically raise his child for him while thrusting her into the limelight? Hell, he'd even been running his own vacuum here. Among other domestic tasks like dusting and putting the trash out at the end of the driveway. His brother would die laughing if he saw Mikos wielding a dust mop.
Colin. He had to keep thinking of himself as Colin now that he was in the United States. His middle name would help him blend in so much better. He was here to see who he was as a man, not a prince. To rediscover a piece of himself he was afraid he'd lost.
He just wanted these next six months to be free of all things involving his royal status. He was tired of being home where pity shrouded the faces of everyone he came in contact with. Yes, he was a widower, but so many people didn't know he and his wife had been separated for months before her death. They'd had to keep putting up a good front for the sake of their reputations.
Pretenses. That word pretty much summed him up. He wanted this freedom, wanted to see how he and Iris could live without being waited on hand and foot. He'd promised his brother, King Stefan, that he would only be in the United States for six months, the maximum time a member of the royal family could be away from the island for personal reasons. Then Colin would have to decide whether to renounce his title of Prince Mikos Colin Alexander of Galini Isle or return to the island and resume his royal duties.
Colin was first in line to take over the throne if something ever happened to his brother. If he gave up his position, the crown would be passed to their oldest cousin, who'd rather chase skirts and make scandalous headlines than run a country. That fact had guilt coursing through Colin every time he thought about the situation.
He'd temporarily lost his title when he'd married Karina because she had been divorced once. Their land had archaic rules, but that was one he hadn't been about to fight.
Now that his wife had passed on, he was thrust back into the royal limelight whether he wanted to be there or not. And with his daughter being the next generation of royalty, that automatically made her a duchess. The entire situation was a complicated mess. Added to that, he faced years of ramifications if he chose to walk away from his title.
Colin was determined to be a hands-on father. Being in a new country, still adjusting to this lifestyle and trying to cope with this damn inconvenient handicap forced him to admit he might need just a bit of help. This short-term arrangement would give him good insight into whether or not he could fully care for Iris on his own and if he and his baby should stay here.
When Iris arched her back, screaming as if someone had taken her most prized possession, Darcy instantly reached for the girl.
Without asking, the woman swiped away Iris's tears and gently lifted her from his arms.
"Now, now," Darcy said, patting Iris's back and lightly bouncing his eighteen-month-old. "I'm not a fan of Monday mornings, either."
Colin crossed his arms over his chest as Darcy continued to speak in a calm, relaxing tone. Yeah, like that was going to work. Iris couldn't hear this woman for all the screaming. No way would Darcy's sweet, soft voice penetrate the power of a toddler's lungs.
Darcy stroked a finger across Iris's damp cheeks again. Little by little she started to calm as this virtual stranger kept talking in the same soothing tone, never raising her voice to be louder than Iris. Colin watched as his daughter stared at the stranger.
Within a minute or two, Iris had stopped fussing and was pulling Darcy's ponytail around. Strands of rich, silky hair instantly went to Iris's mouth as she sniffed, hiccupped and finally settled herself.
"Oh, no." He reached for the clump of hair that was serving as Iris's pacifier, but Darcy shifted her body away.
"She's fine," Darcy assured him in the same delicate voice she'd used moments ago to get Iris under control. "Babies put everything in their mouths. I promise it's clean."
Colin watched as Iris gripped the strands in her tight fist and gave a swift yank. Darcy only laughed and reached up to pat the baby's pudgy little hand. "Not so hard, little one. That's attached."
Colin couldn't believe this. Iris had cried off and on all nightmore on than offand had been quite angry all morning. How the hell did this woman calm his child in the span of a few minutes? With a ponytail?
Darcy tapped a fingertip to Iris's nose before turning her attention to him. "May I come in?"
Feeling like a jerk for leaving her on his porch, Colin stepped back and opened the door wider. As Darcy passed by him, some fruity scent trailed her, tickling his nose in a teasing manner.
If he thought she looked good from the front, the view from behind was even more impressive. The woman knew how to wear a pair ofjeans.
Perhaps she was older than he'd first thought, because only a woman would be this shapely, this comfortable with her body. He'd assumed all women in LA wanted that waiflike build, enhanced with silicone as the perfect accessory.
Darcy Cooper was anything but waiflike and her curves were all natural.
Colin gritted his teeth and took a mental step back. He needed to focus. The last thing he needed was to be visually sampling a potential nanny. He had to blame his wayward thoughts on sleep deprivation. Nothing else could explain this sudden onset of lust. His wife was the last woman he'd slept with and that was before his near-fatal rock climbing accident two years ago. Between the accident, the baby, the separation from his wife and then her death yeah, sex hadn't been a priority in his life.
Years ago he'd been the Playboy Prince of Galini Isle and now his life revolved around diapers, baby dolls and trying to walk without this damn limp. Oh, and his glamorous life now included housework.
Yet a beautiful stranger had showed up in his house only moments ago and he was already experiencing a lustful tug. He wasn't sure if he should be elated by the fact he wasn't dead and actually had hormones still ready to stand up and take notice, or if he should be angry because sex was the last thing he had time for.
He and Darcy had agreed on the phone two days ago that today would be a mostly hands-on type of interview. It was important that Iris connect with her potential caregiver. However, he had nobody else lined up because there wasn't another agency that had measured up to this one.
Darcy had been here for all of five minutes. How the hell did he expect her to live here for six months if his attraction had already taken such control of his thoughts? His life was already a jumbled mess without a steamy affair to complicate things further.
Colin watched Darcy as she walked around the open-concept living area, bouncing the baby on one hip as if they'd known each other for some time. Iris started fussing a bit, but just like moments ago, Darcy patted her back and spoke in those hushed tones.
He'd never seen anything like this. He'd tried all damn night to calm his daughter.
Karina would've known what to do. Even though he and Karina had been separated for nearly a year before she died of a sudden aneurism, he still mourned the loss. The rock-climbing accident had changed him, had him pushing her away due to his stubborn pride and fear of not being the perfect husband and father, but a part of him would still always love her. She'd been a loyal wife and an amazing mother.
When Darcy bent over the sofa and picked up a stuffed lamb, Colin clenched his fists at how the denim pulled across her backside. Why couldn't he tear his eyes away? Why couldn't he concentrate on something other than her tempting shape? No, she couldn't stay.
What he needed was someone old enough to be his grandmother, with many years of experience, a woman with silver hair in a bun and ill-fitting clothing. What he did not need was a woman who could kick-start his libido without even trying. But, damn it, she'd calmed Iris and had done so with the ease of an expert.
"What is her daily routine?"
Colin blinked as he stared back at the woman who was trying to be professional when his thoughts had been anything but. "Routine?"
Dancing the lamb toward Iris's nose and then pulling it back, Darcy simply nodded without even looking at him. "Yes. Naps, eating schedule, bedtime."
Since coming to LA only days ago, he did what worked best for them and he was still adjusting. As hard as this change was, he wasn't sorry he'd made the move.
Colin glanced at Iris's smile, the prominent dimple in her cheek that matched his own. Sure, she'd smile for the stranger, but not for him? He loved his little girl with every bit of his soul. He'd give anything to be able to care for her on his own without the fear of his handicap harming her, but he had to face his own limitations to keep her safe.
Colin returned his gaze to Darcy who was actually staring at him. Oh, yeah, she'd asked him a question. Unfortunately, he was going to have to end this trial before it started. Having someone like Darcy here would be a colossal mistake.
Holding those bright green eyes with his, Colin took a deep breath and said, "I'm afraid I can't use your services."
Darcy swallowed her shock. What had he just said? The very survival of Loving Hands was contingent on her landing this job. She refused to take no for an answer. She couldn't afford to.
She also couldn't afford to keep making eye contact with Mr. Alexander's baby blues. No, blue wasn't the right word. What was the proper description for a set of eyes that were so mesmerizing they nearly made her forget all her troubles? The power he possessed when he held her gaze was unlike anything she'd ever experienced, so she kept her focus on the sweet little girl in her arms.
Holding onto a squirming Iris was difficult enough without the added impact of desire. Though she'd certainly take a dose of lust over the ache in her heart from holding such a precious child. She'd avoided working with babies for years, giving those jobs to her employees. Unfortunately, the entire staff of Loving Hands had been let go and Darcy had to face her demons head-on if she wanted to save her grandmother's company. So, his "no" wasn't an option.
This would be the first job caring for a young child she'd taken on since having been told at the age of twenty-one she couldn't have kids due to severe endometriosis. She could do this she had to do this. No matter the heartache, Darcy had to pull through.
But first she had to convince Mr. Alexander she was the one for the job.