Nash stared down at Hayley, watching her gaze move over the foyer, the large open living room beyond, the furnishings, then to the left to the hall leading to the bedrooms and second floor. To the right lay a combination kitchen, dining area and den, or what real-estate agents called a Carolina room, and he searched her expression for a reaction, then wondered why he bothered.
She brought her gaze back to his. "Nice digs, Nash."
He eyed her. "Thanks."
"So, what's first?"
He inclined his head toward the kitchen. "What did the agency tell you?" he said as he walked.
"That you needed a temporary wife and all-around kid wrangler for two little girls."
He stilled and snapped a black look back over his shoulder. "I don't need a wife."
Hayley blinked, frowning. "I was speaking figuratively, Nash."
His gaze swept over her thoroughly, and she stared back, dropping her hand to her hip and waiting for him to continue. This ought to be good, she thought.
"The plantation needs a cook and housekeeper, and my daughters need supervision. Household chores are Mrs. Winslow's and now they're yours. The girls have chores, too. The list is on the fridge." He faced her. "This is temporary, and if I could manage without help, I would. Understand?"
"Quite well, as a matter of fact." There was no room in his life for her other than as the domestic help, and he'd just made it crystal clear.
"And the cooking is for seven ranch hands, too."
She shrugged. "Two, five, ten, it doesn't matter. As long as there's food to prepare."
He eyed her skeptically. "I don't recall you being much of a cook."
"A lot has changed in seven years, Nash."
Her mysterious smile set him on edge, and the question about where she'd been, what she'd been doing besides graduate study, nagged at him. But he was determined to keep this relationship strictly business. Even if she was still sexy enough to make his jeans feel crowded.
"I guess we'll get to see that, won't we?" His words snapped off with the bite of lash.
She frowned. This wasn't the Nash she remembered. This man was hard on the inside, apparently, as well as the outside. He never once smiled and he was the epitome of tall, dark and brooding. She half expected him to whip out a sword, draw a line in the carpet and dare her to cross it. His stare was intense, deep blue—and having far too powerful an effect on her.
"No, taste it." Her brow knit. "If you doubt me, then why did you agree to have me stay?"
"I'm short on time and you're here."
"Gee. Thanks for throwing a bone my way."
Nash sighed and ran his fingers through his hair again. How was he going to last two weeks when he all he wanted to do was kiss her senseless? "I didn't mean it that way."
"Look, Nash. We have a past and it's over and dead. You have no real reason to be upset with me…" She let the sentence hang, implying that she alone had reason. "If I'm going to work for you, don't you think you could cut me some slack?"
His gaze darkened, raked her with the same heat as when she first saw him. She ought to be immune to a look like that. She wasn't. It didn't help that it was hidden in anger, or that she had to crane her neck to look up at him, making her feel like a shrimp in an ocean of sharks. Or that he filled out that black T-shirt rather well after all these years. And for a split second she remembered what he looked like without a stitch.
Uh-oh, this was not in her plan, she thought, trying to focus as he described duties and meal preferences. He moved through the large kitchen to the laundry room, which was stacked with soiled clothes, then back around into the Carolina room. Pausing to check on what his daughters were watching on TV, he headed toward the hall. She followed.
"My office, and off-limits." He gestured without looking back at her.
"Aye, aye, Captain."
He cast her a sharp glance. She blinked sweetly and motioned for him to proceed.
He walked, pointing out the steep staircase leading to the girls' rooms on the second floor, informing her that Mrs. Winslow went home to her son's each evening unless work took Nash into the night. He stopped before a door, turned the knob, pushed, then leaned back against the frame, waiting.
She looked. It was a normal guest bedroom, neutral decor, bright with sunlight. Was he waiting for her to disapprove of something? She hadn't had a room to call her own until college, but walls meant little to Hayley; it was what was inside them that mattered. "This is fine." She hurled her bag onto the bed, kicked off her shoes and looked at him. Wonderful. He was now another two inches taller.
"I suppose you have work to do. I'll get started." She walked back down the hall.