Nikos found his son in the nursery, held in the plump arms of his new nanny. The white-haired Scotswoman had recently finished raising an earl’s son from babyhood to university, and Nikos had hired her at an exorbitant rate. His son must have the best of everything. “Good morning, Mrs. Burbridge.”
“Good morning, sir.” She smiled at him, holding up the baby. “Here to hold your son?”
“Of course.” But, looking at the baby, he suddenly felt as if he were facing a firing squad. What did he know about babies? He’d never held one before. Nikos had been an only child, or close enough, and he’d never exactly been the sort of man to ooh and ah over the children of friends.
Feeling nervous, Nikos gathered his child from the nanny’s protective embrace and held him awkwardly underneath the arms.
“No, er…Mr. Stavrakis, tuck him closer to you. Under his bum.”
Nikos tried, but he couldn’t seem to get it right. The baby apparently agreed. He looked up at Nikos, and his lower lip started to tremble. He screwed up his face and started to wail.
“I…I seem to be doing this wrong,” Nikos said, breaking into a cold sweat.
“Don’t take it personally, sir,” Mrs. Burbridge said in her friendly Scottish burr. “The bairn is just tired and hungry. He’ll soon be right again with a bit to eat. Is his mum about? Or should I make a bottle?”
But Nikos could hardly hear her words over his son’s panicked cries. He felt helpless. Useless. A bad father.
“He…I…I’ll come back when he’s not so tired.” He thrust the baby back into Mrs. Burbridge’s arms and fled.
Or at least he started to. Until he saw Anna standing in the doorway of the nursery, staring around the room with an expression of wonder.
“You didn’t change the room,” she breathed in amazement. With apparent ease, she took the baby from Mrs. Burbridge and cuddled him close. His cries subsided to small whimpers as Anna looked from the painting of animals and trees on the wall to the soft blue cushions of the window seat. “I was sure you’d have Lindsey redecorate.”
Lindsey? Redecorate his house? She could barely manage to type his letters.
“Why would I do that?” Nikos said uncomfortably. “Damn waste of time.”
But the truth was he’d loved this nursery. Once. Mostly he’d loved the way Anna’s face had lit up when she designed it.
This was the first time he’d been in here since that awful day Cooper had called him to say that Anna was missing. Nikos had been sure she’d been kidnapped. Or worse.
It had been one of the police detectives who’d first dared to ask, “Is it possible the woman’s just left you, sir?” Nikos had nearly punched the man for even suggesting it. Because, in spite of his arguments with Anna over her job and her family, Nikos had known he could trust her. He’d never trusted anyone more in his life.
And she’d made him look like a fool.
“Ah, so you’re Mum, then? I’m Mrs. Burbridge, the new nanny. A pleasure to meet you, Mrs. Stavrakis.”
“I’m not Mrs. Stav—A nanny?” Anna glanced at Nikos in surprise. “Is that really necessary? I can take care of Misha, as I always have.”
Nikos stared at the baby. That name still grated on him. He could probably still change it to Andreas. No, he thought. Even he thought of his son as Michael now—Misha. Too late to change his name. Too late for a lot of things.
His own son didn’t know him. He clenched his hands.
“I’m terribly sorry, Mrs. Burbridge, but we don’t need you—”
“Mrs. Burbridge stays,” he interrupted, glaring at Anna. “Since I don’t know how long you’ll be here.”
“What do you mean, how long I’ll be here?” she demanded. “I’m here until Misha is grown and gone. Unless,” she added, “you want to give me joint custody?”
The idea was enough to make him shudder with the injustice of it, but he showed his teeth in a smile. “Your presence here is based upon my will and my son’s needs. The day he doesn’t need you anymore you’ll be escorted to the gate. When he’s weaned, perhaps? A few months from now?”
He had the satisfaction of seeing Anna’s face go white.
She wasn’t the only one. Mrs. Burbridge was edging uncomfortably toward the door. “I…er…now that you’re both here with your son, I can see you have much to discuss. I’ll go and take my tea, if you’ll pardon me…”
Nikos barely noticed the woman leave.
“You can’t throw me out,” Anna said. “I’m his mother. I have rights.”
“You’re lucky you’re not in jail. You have no idea how much I’d love to hand you to my lawyers. Letting them stomp you like grapes in a vat would give me a great deal of joy.”
She looked scared, even as she raised her chin defiantly. “So why don’t you do it, then?”
“Because my son needs you. For now.” He came closer to her. “But that won’t last forever. In the meantime, just give me an excuse, the slightest provocation, and you’re out the door.”
“You can’t force me away from my son!”
“I can’t?” He gave her a hard look, then shook his head with a disbelieving snort. “You and your whole aristocratic family really think the world revolves around you and your wants, don’t you? To hell with everybody else.”
“That’s not true!”
“You’re too much of a bad influence to raise my child. You’re a thief, and the daughter of a thief. Your family mooched off others their whole pathetic lives. Your father was a selfish, immature bastard who never cared about anyone but himself, no matter what it cost the people who loved him—”
He stopped himself, realizing it was no longer Anna’s father he was talking about.
She gave him a knowing glance, causing his teeth to set on edge. She knew too damn much. Ever since the night they’d conceived Michael, when he’d been stupid enough to spill his guts, she’d known the chinks in his armor. He hated her for that.
It had been the confusion and pain of finding out about his father that had sent Nikos to her house last year, expecting his perfect secretary to fix the ache as she fixed everything else in his life. But he hadn’t expected to end up in Anna’s bed. No matter how gorgeous she was, he never would have slept with her if he’d been in his right mind. Anna had been too important to his work—too important in his life—for him to screw it up that way. But, seeking comfort, he’d fallen into her bed and they’d conceived Michael. He’d never had a moment’s peace since.
His son started to whimper again.
Anna snuggled the baby close. “You’re hungry, aren’t you?” With some hesitation, she looked up, biting her lip. “Nikos, I need to feed the baby. Do you mind?”
Itching for a fight, Nikos sat down on the blue overstuffed sofa, pretending to make himself comfortable. “No, I don’t mind at all.” He indicated the nearby rocking chair.
She stared at him in amazement. “You think I’ll do it in front of you?”
“You’re out of your mind.”
“What? Are you scared?” He raised his eyebrows. “You have no reason to be. I’ve seen everything you have to offer.”
Although that was true, it wasn’t true at all. With her loose ponytail, that left dark tendrils cascading against her white skin, she looked very different from the tightly controlled, buttoned-up woman he remembered. And even in the baggy T-shirt she was wearing he could see that her breasts were larger. They’d been perfect before. He remembered them well, remembered cupping them in his hands, licking slowly across the full nipples, until she’d moaned and writhed beneath him, making love to them after he’d brought her to —twice—with his mouth. What were her breasts like now beneath that shirt?
He suddenly realized he was rock-hard.
He was supposed to torture her, not the other way around. He willed the desire away. He didn’t want her. He didn’t want her.
“Fine. Stay. I don’t care,” she said, although he could tell by the defiant expression on her beautiful pale face that she cared very much. Grabbing the diaper bag with her free hand, she set it down with a plop on the floor by the cushioned rocking chair. Rummaging through the bag, she pulled out several items before she found a blanket. A small vial fell out and rolled across the floor. He picked it up. The label was in Russian.
“Baby painkiller,” she said. “He’s teething.”
“At his age?”
“It’s a little early, but not uncommon.” Her fingers seemed clumsy as she used the blue blanket, decorated with safari animals, to cover both baby and breast before she pulled up her T-shirt. The baby’s wails immediately faded to a blissful silence, punctuated with contented gulps.