Undercover Princess

It was funny, but as Trey reached to shake Kathy Wind’s hand, it was almost — at first — as if she were extending her knuckles to be kissed, as if she were the Royal Queen of England.

But although her hand was soft, her nails were short, some of them bitten. Whoever heard of a queen who bit her fingernails?

She had a solid, warm handshake, though, and although it was absurd to base such things on gut reactions, he liked her even more for it.

“Where are you from?” he asked, releasing her hand.

She had to crane her neck to look up at him, and he sat down on the edge of his desk to put them slightly more on the same level.

She had a very direct way of looking steadily into his eyes, and he liked that about her, too.

“I’m from the country of Wynborough,” she told him in her Mary Poppins accent. “It’s a small island not far from England.”

“So what brings you all the way out here to the American Southwest?”

“I have…family…in Aspen. Colorado,” she added in that earnest way she had, as if he might not know where Aspen was.

Yeah, Trey liked her. And that was a damn good thing, because, as Anita had let him know, Kathy Wind was the only surviving candidate for the position of nanny. The others had either been scared off by the size of the estate. Or by the dark rumors that surrounded both this place and its master.

He gazed into this girl’s wide gray eyes, wondering what she’d heard about him, and wondering, if she had heard something, why it didn’t matter to her. Of course, this interview was only just starting. She still had time to bring the subject up.

“Ever been arrested?” he asked. It was amazing the variety of answers he’d received to that question when interviewing potential child care providers for his two kids.

Kathy laughed, a sudden burst of startled surprise. “I should hope not!”

“I should, too,” Trey said dryly. “But have you?”

She flushed slightly. That was the second time she’d done that. The effect was completely sweet and totally charming. “No!”

“Good. Neither have I,” he told her.

Something nearly imperceptible shifted in her eyes, and he knew that she had heard something about him. But she didn’t take the opportunity to question him about it. She was either too nervous or too polite.

Too polite, he decided. Despite the chewed-on fingernails and an undercurrent of some kind of emotional energy, Kathy Wind wasn’t afraid of him. God, he would sure love it if some of those quiet manners rubbed off on Stacy. She had become completely wild since Helena’s death. And as for Dougie — the kid had completely stopped talking. All Trey wanted was to hear his son’s voice again. At this point, he wouldn’t even care if the boy used it to tell him to go to hell.

“How long have you worked as a nanny?” he asked her, moving behind his desk to shuffle through the meager pile of resumes the agency had sent him. “The agency hasn’t sent me your references.”

“No?” Kathy blinked at him. “Well, I’m…new. But I’ll…have them faxed to you.” She shifted in her seat. “Actually, Mr. Sutherland, I’ve got to be honest. I’m not from the agency. I heard about this position through an, um…” She cleared her throat. “An acquaintance. But I’ll see that you receive a full list of references later today. However…”

Trey watched her closely, aware that something — as his college friends at NYU would’ve said — still wasn’t quite kosher here despite her honest admission.

She drew in a deep breath and steadily met his gaze. “I’m afraid you might find me slightly underqualified for this position. I’ve never actually been a nanny before.” She gave him the sweetest, most crookedly hopeful smile. “But everyone’s got to start somewhere, right?”

She was adorable. She warmed him in a way he couldn’t quite remember being warmed before. It wasn’t that he found her attractive. Not sexually attractive, that is. Sure, she had a great pair of legs, and her figure — at least what he could see beneath that incredibly non-feminine wool suit — was slender and rather well proportioned, and… Okay, so she was attractive. She was outrageously attractive, but in a fresh-faced, sweet little sister sort of way. Not that he’d ever had a little sister. But if he had, this warmth might be what he would feel toward her.

She was quietly pretty with a slightly round face, innocently free of makeup, that made her look closer to fifteen than twenty-five. Her features were even, almost delicate — small, straight nose, slightly pointed chin. Her mouth was wide and friendly, but it was her eyes he liked the best. Gray and wide with thick dark lashes, she played at being cool and remote, but she couldn’t hide the very appealing mix of intelligence, interest and innocence that lingered there.

And while Trey would have preferred hiring an experienced nanny, everyone did have to start somewhere.