Chapter One ~
Amy held the application in her hand as if it were a life line; and it was. She'd been seeking employment for months, and she was down to her last few dollars. There would be no more money to rent motel rooms. No more to buy food, or the few articles of clothing and personal items she needed. She needed this nanny job.
She’d moved out of her parent's home when she was eighteen and had been making it quite nicely, until her last employer cheated her out of six months of her pay and kicked her out in the street because she refused to commit adultery with him. Not only was he married, he was fifty years old! Just the thought caused her to shiver in disgust. Why did some men think they could cheat on their wives any time they wanted? Amy had some morals left and she wasn't about to have sex out of wedlock, especially with a married man! The thought sickened her.
She looked down to check the address on the application the Employment Services had given her. She would have to ride the train and then grab a bus to get there. It was a good thing she'd decided to go a few hours early. She would get there at just about the right time.
Two hours later she was standing outside the biggest house she'd ever seen. It stood on a hill, looking like a castle out of a fairy tale. She turned her head from side to side to take in the whole estate. The house was cream-colored brick with green roofing, and there were several outbuildings. The grass was the greenest she'd ever seen and that was saying something in Utah where the grass dried up and turned brown with the first rays of sunshine.
She went up to the massive, hand-carved door and used the lion's head knocker to announce her presence. A couple minutes later the dark, wooden door opened and a man in a dress shirt and vest appeared in the opening.
Was he the butler? Amy felt funny even having such a thought. Who had a butler these days? "I have an appointment at three p.m. to interview for the nanny job."
"Good day, Miss. Come in and I'll show you to the study where Mr. Masters will meet with you." His voice made Amy giggle nervously. He reminded her of one of those TV butlers.
"You’re punctual, Miss. That'll go good in your favor, I'm sure." He had an English accent and it made the experience Amy was having seem even more surreal.
"I sure hope so. I really need this job." She raised her head to look at the portraits hanging on the walls of the long, cold hallway. She assumed they were ancestors of Mr. Masters. She'd heard he was actually an Earl, but didn't know if it was really true.
The butler stopped in front of another dark, wooden door and rapped lightly with the knocker. He opened it at the sound of a voice from the other side.
"Come in, Chester. I'm taking an important call right now, but I'll be with the young lady in just a moment."
Amy's first glance at Mr. Jackson Masters took her breath away. He was absolutely gorgeous. He had black, silky-looking hair that curled at the end and just brushed the edges of his shirt. He had the greenest eyes she'd ever laid eyes on, and his bronze-colored skin made them appear even more brilliant. Her heart immediately started galloping in her chest and she was experiencing shortness of breath. He was wearing a white pullover t-shirt with a collar and blue jeans, not what she'd expected from such a rich man. Dark hair curled at the vee in his t-shirt, and muscles bulged in his arms as he waved at her to sit while he finished his call.
"I’ll return with a refreshing drink for you in a moment." The butler whispered as he stooped down to address her. "What drink do you prefer, Ma'am?"
"I'll take a Dr. Pepper if you have one." She said distractedly as she unsuccessfully tried to pry her eyes away from the man standing behind the desk. He sat down, totally oblivious to her attention and continued his call as the butler left the room to retrieve her drink.
Questions were swimming around in Amy's head and she felt dizzy. How did a man who was supposed to be an English Earl look like he'd stepped right out of a Brazilian magazine? What kind of business did he conduct? Was he a model? Would she be able to have a professional relationship with someone who had attracted her so easily? She was ruminating on these things when the clearing of a throat brought her back to attention.
"You're Miss Amy Petersen, aren't you?" He also had an English accent and it seemed incongruous with his physical features.
"Yes I am." She offered her hand across the desk, almost gasping out loud when their skin made contact.
"Are you okay?”
"Yes, I'm fine Mr. Masters. I didn’t realize you would be so young. I was expecting someone…older. She groaned inwardly. Now he must really think her immature. "I apologize for my rudeness."
"Your apology is accepted, but quite unnecessary.” When he smiled, his eyes got even brighter and Amy thought she was going to swoon. Ugh, where had that word even come from for Pete's sake?
"Here's my application. I sent a copy of my resume to the email address the Employment Agency gave me, did you receive it?" She needed to get this interview back on a business footing.
"I did, and I was impressed. You have the job."
"Are you serious? Just like that I have the job?" She was so amazed her mouth dropped open and she struggled to close it.
"I know what I'm looking for and you fit the bill, so yes, you're hired. I'll need you here by tomorrow morning if that's not too soon?" He asked, but only as a formality. His commanding tone told her he expected it.
"When can I meet the children? Will it wait until tomorrow, or should that happen now?" She was striving to keep her breathing under control. She definitely didn't want him to know how he affected her.
"That can wait until tomorrow. I think I should go ahead and show you where you'll be staying and give you a tour of the house." He came around the side of the desk and pulled her to her feet by her hand.
She gasped again, this time under her breath. She hoped he hadn't heard it again. The embarrassment would be almost unbearable. She didn't want him to think she was an unschooled girl who couldn't handle personal feelings, let alone three young children. "May I ask where your wife is, or is that too personal?" Her tone was polite and businesslike, but the truth was that she had ulterior motives; she wanted to see if he was single. She felt immediate shame at the thought, but it was true, so she shrugged it away and concentrated on his answer.
"I don't think it's too personal. In fact, if you hadn't asked, I would wonder if I'd made the right choice for a nanny. My wife died in childbirth with my last daughter." His tone showed no emotion whatsoever. She tried to find some remorse, or a sense of loss coming from him, but she didn't detect any. That scared her a little. Why wouldn't he care that his wife had died?
"Didn't you love your wife Mr. Masters? Forgive me if I seem rude, but it had to be about two months ago according to the age of your youngest child and you seem unaffected.”
"How astute of you Miss Petersen, I didn't love my wife in the conventional manner. I'm sorry if you find that repulsive, but we were betrothed when she was two, and I felt obligated to marry her. After two years my father insisted we start a family. He wanted another heir to inherit his fortune when he passes away because I told him I wanted nothing to do with it. I've made my own fortune by the sweat of my brow." Amy was happy to detect some emotion in his voice this time, even if it was animosity.
"So your son will inherit a fortune from your father? What does he do?"
"He stands to inherit, if I choose to let him. My father is very ill right now, as a matter-of-fact." He told her. "My father is a Sultan, Miss Petersen. That would account for the color of my skin. I know many people think I'm South American, but they’re wrong. I'm of Arabic descent. Although my father's Sultanate is small and virtually unheard of, as his only legitimate son, I am crown prince."
"Wow, it’s not going to be boring around here.”
"That’s a good thing, Ms. Petersen.”
"I heard you were a Duke from England." Amy cringed at her words. She really needed to get a grip on her impulsiveness.
"You really are delightful, I don't know if I want to waste you as a nanny. You would do well in my securities firm. I am in fact a Duke. I am the son of an English Duchess." They had been walking the whole time, and she hadn't been paying the slightest bit of attention to where they were going. She would never find her way out of here. He stopped in front of another dark brown, hand-carved door. He produced a key card and slid it through the slot attached to the door. She gasped in awe.
"I know, it seems extreme, doesn't it?" He handed her the key card and pushed the door open after slipping his finger through a fingerprint scanner. He gestured with an outstretched arm for her to enter ahead of him.
Amy gasped yet again. She was glad for the bottle of cold Dr. Pepper she carried loosely in her hand because with all this gasping, she was extremely thirsty. She uncapped it and took a long swallow; not noticing Mr. Master’s sharp intake of breath. When she finished, she re-capped the bottle and glanced at him just in time to see a funny look cross his face. "Are you okay, Mr. Masters? Did I do something wrong? Am I not supposed to drink in here?"
"You've done nothing at all. May I call you Amy?"
"Yes, of course. What do you prefer the children call me?"
"Mommy would do just fine."
Her gaze flew to his face to see if she’d heard him correctly. He was smiling again. "You're teasing me, aren't you?"
"I was only partially joking, truth told." He winked one brilliant green eye. Black lashes touched the cheek under his eye and Amy's heart did a rat-a-tat-too. He moved into the room and she followed right on his heels. Her mouth dropped open in awe again, something that was becoming normal since entering this house. The suite was a house in its own right. There was a den in one direction and a library in the other. A hallway led to a full chef's kitchen, a laundry room, and an amazing master suite. The carpet was cream-colored, and so soft Amy's shoes sunk with every step. The kitchen was tiled with brown, tan and cream-colored squares that she immediately fell in love with. She could scarcely take it all in, it was so amazing.
"Is this really going to be mine while I work here?"
"Yes it is. I hope it suits all your needs. If something is unsatisfactory let me know and I'll send for the decorators."
They headed down another hallway and entered a spa area with a sauna, a hot tub, and a personal swimming pool. There were wooden benches at each side and Amy instantly fell in love with this area, too. She followed him to a door on the far side of the room and walked out behind him. It was a basketball/tennis court!
"Is this all mine, too?” She asked in awe. "It's so big."
"I assure you it is. The rest of the bedrooms have their own suites, too. It's good for business contacts, Miss Petersen."
"Of course, that makes sense.”
"I've shown you everything but your patio, which is off the kitchen. It's equipped with everything you'll need if you wish to entertain." A dark look suddenly clouded his features.
Amy wondered about the look, but didn't question him. "I have to confess; I'm a little scared I won't be able to find my way around."
"I've got maps of the whole estate out by the front door. Let’s go get one.”
As they made their way back to the front of the house Amy asked, "So how is it that a Sultan and a Duchess ended up with a child together?"
When they reached the front hall he grabbed a map from the holder and marked her room with a pen. He drew a line from her room to the front door, too. "Here you go." He didn’t answer her question.
"Thanks, that’ll help tremendously. I'm not geographically inclined and getting lost is always a distinct possibility for me."
"Don't worry about it. It doesn't mean anything other than you’re directionally challenged." His tone was teasing and he complimented it with a hundred watt smile.
She folded the map and stuffed it in her purse. She didn't normally carry a bag and had only added this one on the spur of the moment. She’d hoped it would lend to her professional air. "Thank you for the tour. I'll be around tomorrow so I can get settled in and meet the children. Is there a specific time you want me here?"
"You can come any time after seven in the morning. I'll be awake by then for sure." "Sometimes I get lazy and hit snooze until six-thirty." He opened the door and gestured for her to go out ahead of him.
"I'll be around just after seven then." She held her hand out to shake his. He took her hand in his and shook it warmly. She felt the slightest touch on her palm but couldn't be sure if he'd done it purposefully, or purely by accident. It didn't really matter because the shiver that went through her would have happened either way.
As she walked down the steps she heard him say, "Until tomorrow then."