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‘It doesn’t change anything.’

For Kate it changedeverything. She really couldn’t understandhowhe could feel that way. Jake told her that this reaction was exactly why he hadn’t told her.

She dashed away a stray tear angrily as the conversation ran through her head.

‘You’re the best friend, or sister, a person could have. You’d fight to the death for the people you love.’

‘And that is a bad thing?’

‘You don’t just love Mum and Dad, you put them on a pedestal, Kate. You’re tough on yourself and the rest of us, you expect too much. Can’t you see that Mum and Dad were protecting you, I was protecting you?’

‘You don’t protect someone from the truth.’

He had not even come to say goodbye.

Kate gave her head an angry little shake to dislodge the memories and thought,Stop dithering.Straightening her narrow shoulders, she pulled the connecting door open. Whatever was on the other side could not be more disturbing than the company of her own thoughts.

Or maybe not?


DESPITEHERTHUDDINGHEART, Kate did not actually expect to discover anything sinister on the other side of the door and she was fully prepared to feel stupid.

In her head she was inventing crazy scenarios she’d discover, the room filled with people disinfecting the toys, or sweeping for bugs, the snooping kind, or maybe both...? The nursery did not remain showroom pristine without a lot of work.

So, it took Kate several frozen seconds before the adrenaline rush kicked into life. By this point the large figure on the opposite side of the room had put a toy doll back on a shelf that was, her racing brain noted irrelevantly, out of reach to a five-year-old. For that matter it was out of reach for someone her own height, which was a diminutive five-three.

It was definitelynotout of reach for the intruder, whose back view was revealed by the light shining from the room behind her as tall and also powerful. She took in the stretch of fabric across his shoulders, making her aware of the muscles beneath the tailoring. This was one well-dressed and very fit intruder!

If good tailoring was an indicator of character, she had nothing to worry about, but it wasn’t, and she did.

Better to assume the worst and laugh when the innocent truth was revealed, but laughter would be premature. The main thing was to stay calm and not panic...

Oh, God, the panic button beside her bed!

Five minutes ago was the time to remember that. When the red button had been pointed out to her it had seemed a massive overkill because you’d need to be some sort of ninja warrior or possess superpowers to get past the armed guards that had seemed to be lurking around every corner during her whirlwind tour of the nursery wing.

The point was someone had, and the button was not within reach. She weighed the option of retreating but realised the chances of doing so without alerting this man to her presence were zero. He was going to turn around any second, at which point she might discover there was a perfectly reasonable explanation for him being there, but she wasn’t about to give him the benefit of the doubt. Caution was called for and there was a five-year-old child to think about.

He’d have to go through her to get to her new charge...Which probably wouldn’t take more than a few seconds.She pushed the unhelpful thought away and, her bare feet silent on the polished boards—not so her heart, which was throwing itself against her ribcage—she edged towards the little princess’s bedroom door. The intruder remained oblivious to her presence.

She reached the door, took her position and cleared her throat, trying to project her inner Amazonian kick-boxer, while aware that on the outside what he would see made any threat she made laughable.

‘Security is on its way.’ Pleased her voice did not even wobble, she pushed ahead with her warning. ‘I suggest you—’

‘Hold on a moment, will you?’ Marco pushed out between gritted teeth, irritated that the entire elaborate toy display was about to slide once more, domino fashion, off the shelf. On the plus side, the new nanny possessed not only a pleasant speaking voice but excellent hearing, which was one up on her predecessor, who’d refused to wear the hearing aids she really had needed in her advancing years. It could make for some interesting conversations, especially as she took offence if you raised your voice.

She squeaked when one of the dolls let out a horribly realistic crying sound. Marco’s response was to swear, proving he had mastered three languages or at least he knew how to swear multilingually.

‘Right, sorry about that.’ Marco turned, transferring his attention towards the waiting new nanny...only to discover that the person standing there wasnotthe new nanny!

He refused to accept this possibility as for a few stark mind-freezing seconds his brain shut down. Not so his primal functions. Hormones pumped through his bloodstream, leaving heat that pooled hot and heavy in his groin and making a mockery of both the control he prided himself on and his much-admired lightning wits.

In two startled blinks he took in the cause of the blip in his self-control, his glance sweeping her from head to toe—not a long journey. She was petite.

He knew about female nightwear. He’d removed quite a bit of it over the years, but none that looked like the thing the woman standing there was wearing. Not intended to titillate or light the sort of fire it had in him and therein lay the irony. The white cotton shapeless thing covered quite a lot and heavily hinted at a hell of a lot more, courtesy of the directional beam of the wall light in the adjoining flat making it one shade short of transparent. It revealed the dark tips of her small high breasts, the dip and flare at her waist and hip and the shadow at the juncture of the slim, sinuous length of her thighs.

Her skin was the next pale on the colour spectrum to her nightdress but, unlike the fabric, had a pearly, almost opalescent quality. Again, probably courtesy of the lighting. She possessed the most extraordinary hair he’d ever seen; the lustrous waves and heavy coils didn’t need any lighting effects to reveal the gold highlight interwoven with the deep titian waves that fell untidily around her small oval face and tumbled down her back.

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