She stopped short. My word. Apparently money was not a problem for Richard Blackthorne. The room was almost dreamlike, a pink-and-mint-green fantasy in fairy tales with a Victorian dollhouse, new toys galore, and a bed situated at an angle in the corner, its half canopy with sheer curtains draping back to the elaborately carved headboard and caught in rich satin bows. The story of the Princess and the Pea instantly came to mind, for the little girl would have to use that step stool to climb into the high bed. He'd thought of everything, she decided, inspecting the closet and drawers and finding them stocked with clothes in three sizes. He really didn't know anything about his daughter, she realized, and went back to her room, opened her briefcase and slipped out the file Katherine Davenport, owner of Wife, Incorporated, had given her only two days ago.
The face of a little dark-haired girl peered back at her from the photograph, her smile infectiously sweet, her eyes as blue as a Carolina summer sky. Tossing the photo aside with a sigh, she moved to the window bench, brushing back the curtain as she sat down. She could see the mainland and the other islands that were scattered along this portion of the southern South Carolina coast. The October wind whipped over the beach and blew the tall, willowy sea oats like palm fronds in the tropics. Waves rushed the shore, darkening the sand, the sky a dull gray and heavy with moisture. Gloomy. The best time to curl up with a book and dream. And what did a little girl dream about, she wondered, especially one who'd lost her mother and was about to come to an isolated island and meet the father she didn't know she had.
She dreamed of a prince to keep her safe, Laura thought.
Not a dragon who breathed fire when anyone dared step into his cave.
* * *
His back braced against the door, Richard closed his eyes, her image locked in his mind and refusing to leave. She was the most beautiful creature he'd ever seen. The kind of woman who made heads turn, men stumble over themselves and women envy them. And just to look into her jade-green eyes made him feel every scar with fresh stinging pain. It was like dangling candy before a starving man. Offer him the sweet, yet deny him a taste.
He could barely tolerate her being here, in his home, in his sanctuary. Just knowing she was near would drive him mad, he thought, and he wanted to strangle Katherine Davenport for sending him such an exquisite female. Didn't Kat realize he hadn't been near a woman since the accident? And until this morning he didn't even have a name to reference, only Katherine's word that she'd found someone who was qualified. He hadn't been able to do a deep probe of her past, and although he'd found only a portion of it, there were no photographs of her, not that he'd needed them once he'd learned about her pageant wins. Still, it was as if she didn't want that pretty face to be seen. He had good reason for that, but what was hers?
She was still gorgeous at thirty.
Damn. He'd been specific on his requirements for a nanny—matronly, strong and healthy enough to chase after a four-year-old and one who understood that the responsibility of Kelly would be hers. He couldn't let Kelly see him. Not ever. The child would run from him, and Richard knew he couldn't take that. Not again. People shunned him because of his disfigurement. He wasn't about to scare a child.
Kelly. Richard clenched his fists. A child he hadn't known existed until a couple of weeks ago when his wife was killed. It seems he was only good enough to care for his own child when there was no other option.
He cursed Andrea again and again for not telling him she was carrying his child when she left him. God, how he'd needed to know that four years ago, for something to hold on to in his world of surgeries and recovery and the hard reality that nothing could be done to change his torn body.
Pushing away from the door, Richard picked up the phone, punching a number with a vengeance.
"Wife Incorporated. Katherine Davenport speaking."
"Dammit, Kat, she's beautiful." Breathtaking, exotic, he added silently, remembering every curve of her body in the tailored white suit.
"So, you came out of your lair long enough to actually look?"
"Why did you do this?"
Her sigh was audible. "Laura is one of the kindest women I know. And I didn't do it for you, sugah. I did it for Kelly. Laura loves children, and she's worked with kids before. She has all the qualifications you wanted. She's educated, but not so much that she can't talk to a child. Besides, she's fun and creative. Give her a chance."
"I don't have a choice. Kelly arrives in two days."
"It will work out, Richard."
"Find someone else, immediately. I don't want her here."
There was a pause on the line, and when Katherine spoke her voice was crisp and cool. "Andrea should have told you about Kelly, I will agree with that, and if I hadn't sworn an oath not to tell you, I would have. But when she said she'd left you because you'd turned cold and mean, I couldn't believe it. I see now that she was right."