Authors: Christina Hollis
‘The prince’s people asked for you by name, Alyssa. You were recommended to them because they want the best, of course.’
‘They’ll need it, with that Casanova turning the poor child’s home into an open house for idiots,’ Alyssa muttered, her head full of all the lurid ‘Playboy Gets Top Job’ stories she had seen.
‘But I’m going to tell them you aren’t available,’ Karen went on airily. ‘Which is probably just as well for all concerned.’
Alyssa definitely didn’t like the way the agency boss said that. ‘Meaning?’
‘Come off it, Lis, would you really want to work in a set-up like that? Everyone knows you’re the best person in the world when it comes to taking care of children,
but, let’s face it, would you have been able to fit in with Prince Lysander’s way of life? He’s got such a terrible reputation, I knew you wouldn’t want the job in a million years.’
Alyssa could feel herself being played, and she didn’t like it, but she also couldn’t deny it was working. Maybe this break was doing her some good after all. The only thing she had decided over the past few days was that her life had to change. Could this be where it started?
That child needed a calming influence in his life. Even in the midst of her own misery, Alyssa had never been able to ignore a child in need. Also, she had to admit to a faint flicker of curiosity—the first sign of life she’d felt for ages. What would the palace be like? How could she go about helping the little boy?
And after all
, she thought,
if I say I’m not available, they might go ahead and hire the first hopeless, brainless, wannabe celebrity they come across. Someone only interested in trailing the poor little boy around in Lysander’s wake …
That settled it for Alyssa.
‘Have you actually put the royal family off yet, Karen?’
It was difficult to sound offhand when her heart was racing. Keeping quiet had wrecked her life before. And now, telling herself the only thing that mattered was what the child might be going through, she knew she had to have that job. She’d make sure little Ra’id Kahani was safe and properly looked after first, then worry about her own feelings afterwards.
‘Not yet, no. I’m trying to find someone else for
them first. Telling them there
no one as good as you is the next thing on my “to do” list.’
‘Then don’t do it.’ Alyssa plunged in before she had time to think about all the drawbacks. ‘You don’t need to ring them. I’ll take the job, Karen,’ she said with the blood pounding in her ears.
There was a considered silence at the other end of the line. Then her boss laughed. ‘But what about the irresistible Prince Lysander? No woman is safe from his charm, apparently!’
‘After what’s happened to me over the past few months, I’m totally immune to men. Don’t say you’ve forgotten one of the things that drove me to take this break from work in the first place.’
Karen hesitated. ‘Of course …’
Alyssa still couldn’t bring herself to say the name out loud. Thinking about what that rat had done still made her feel ill. This Rosara job would be the perfect way to bury all her horrible memories. It would give her the new start she was craving so badly.
‘So you think you can cope with a dark-eyed, dashing playboy?’ The smile was obvious in Karen’s voice.
‘The only thing I’m interested in is his poor little nephew,’ Alyssa said, and meant it. ‘When can I start?’
‘I’ll tell them you’re on your way.’ Her boss laughed again.
Alyssa’s nerve held right up until she reached the security checkpoint at the entrance to Combe House. She had worked for plenty of rich people in the past and was no stranger to being met by guards inside a home and
at its doors, but never at gates so far from the house. It was a new experience for her.
But one I shall have to get used to,
she thought, driving towards the Kahanis’ mansion along a curving drive that seemed to go on for ever. Starting with a new family always made her nervous, and these surroundings didn’t do anything to make her feel better about the Kahani family. Untamed English woodland pressed in on all sides, while undergrowth spilled out over the gritty approach road.
They’re probably nocturnal,
she thought grimly.
And too busy partying all night to care what the place looks like to daytime visitors.
As she drove on, a huge rambling mansion rose out of the undergrowth ahead of her. Combe House had turrets, weathervanes and flagpoles, all lichenous with age. She could hardly take it all in. It was the most beautiful house she had ever seen, and the setting was lovely despite the weeds.
This whole place is like something out of Sleeping Beauty!
A little knot of sharp-suited security men stood chatting beside the great entrance doors to the house. When Alyssa rolled down her window to ask where she should park, she got a first taste of working for Lysander Kahani. One man took her car keys to save her the trouble of parking, while a second escorted her into the building. He showed her into a waiting room the size of a ballroom. Much of it was hidden beneath dust sheets while the delicate plaster details of cornices and dados could be restored, but the parts that had been finished were truly beautiful. Alyssa hoped it would take the Combe House staff a long time to find anyone
to deal with her. She wanted a chance to look around the room on her own, first.
She didn’t get it. An awful racket bowled through the house towards her. It was a lot of people jabbering among themselves, seasoned with the sound of ringing mobile phones.
The Kahani state circus was coming to town.
Alyssa checked her appearance in the nearest mirror, but she needn’t have bothered. A cavalcade of smartly dressed staff burst into the room where she was waiting, but showed no sign of noticing her. They were only interested in the tall, lean man who strode ahead of them. He had the look of an avenging angel, while they clamoured for his attention like a nest of ravens. Common sense told Alyssa this figure must be Lysander Kahani, but it was hard to recognise him. This man didn’t look much like the amused playboy prince pictured in all the celebrity magazines, and on the front pages of all the newspapers. He looked angry, dark hair tousled untidily over his brow, and he wore a perfectly fitted light grey business suit rather than the tuxedo of his photos. His tie was missing, and his plain white shirt was open at the neck. He certainly wasn’t smiling, and there was a dangerous gleam in his eyes as he saw her watching him. Despite the crowd and noise, Alyssa had never felt so alone and vulnerable.
I thought the royal family were here on holiday, but you’d never know from Prince Lysander’s expression
, she thought.
While his rapier gaze was distracted by the arrival of yet another electronic message, she tried to study her new employer. Lysander Kahani was a
six-and-a-half-foot scowl, his height impressive and intimidating, but she could only bring herself to look at the lower seventy inches or so. To make up for that, she studied him all the way up from his highly polished, handmade shoes to his dark shaded chin, and then down again. It was scarily enjoyable—so she did it again. On the return journey her eyes made their way right up to his. As she tried her best to look cool and unapproachable she saw the anger leave his face.
As his eyes locked onto hers, he spoke sharply to his crowd of followers. Alyssa didn’t speak his language, but his words had a questioning lilt that was easy enough to understand. He must want to know who she was, and why she was there. His staff all fell silent and turned to stare at her as if she were another exhibit for their madhouse. Alyssa tried to concentrate on the blurry newspaper photos of the poor little boy, Prince Ra’id, who had lost both his parents and must have been shoved aside in favour of this mob. Folding her hands in front of her as a defence, she took a deep breath.
‘I am Alyssa Dene. I’m here by special request of Prince Lysander of Rosara, because I’m to be his nephew’s new nanny.’
The words came out louder and more haughtily than she intended. Before she could apologise, something changed in Lysander Kahani’s expression. It softened, and in the face of his dark amusement Alyssa stopped thinking straight. She couldn’t help it. The sight of his smile sent all the questions she had lined up for her new employer scattering like beads on a tray. It was obvious he knew the effect he was having on her. This was
more fun to him than work. His taut frame relaxed. With a few words he sent his horde of advisors scuttling away. Tossing the sheaf of paperwork he was holding onto the nearest table, Lysander followed them to the door and closed it behind them. As he leaned back against it Alyssa came to her senses. She was now totally alone with a notorious man. If that weren’t bad enough, somehow in the past few seconds he had become more attractive than he appeared in all his photographs put together.
She tried to speak, but no sound came out. Lysander Kahani showed every sign of revelling in the situation.
‘That’s more like it!’ he said in beautifully accented English. ‘Now I can hear myself think, and devote my whole attention to you. This job is playing havoc with my lifestyle, I can tell you.’
Alyssa swallowed hard as he prowled towards her. His wicked smile sent tremors straight through her body. It felt incredible, but she couldn’t afford to enjoy it. A man without a fraction of Lysander’s charm had wrecked her life only a few months ago, and she was still trying to recover. Every ounce of her common sense told her this was a dangerous situation and she ought to resist, but Lysander was looking at her as though she were the only woman in the world. The expression in his rich brown, dark-lashed eyes made it difficult not to give in and simply revel in the wonderful feeling of being admired.
‘D-don’t you think you’d better deal with all that paperwork first, Prince Lysander?’ She faltered, looking at the chaos scattered over the nearest table top.
She was suddenly desperate for more time to prepare herself for this encounter.
‘No, I don’t,’ he said, strolling over to position himself between her and the table. By leaning back against it he hid the heap of work from her, but she had already stopped looking at it. The fine lines of his suit and the long, strong fingers he curled over the edge of the table top had captured her attention. ‘It’s only parcels of trouble, tied up in red tape. Forget it. I’d much rather talk to you …
The way he purred her name sent a shiver of anticipation across her sensitised skin. She was already nervous about starting work for such an infamous man, and his flirting set new butterflies dancing inside her tummy. The last thing she needed was this handsome stranger taking over her body by stealth before she was safely hidden away in Combe House’s nursery wing. She had to show she meant business right away.
‘It—it might be important, Your Royal Highness.’
‘You’d like to think so, wouldn’t you?’ His well-shaped mouth twisted with the sulky retort. ‘Maybe if it was about the important things in life I could raise some enthusiasm, but it’s nothing but CRB checks, Health & Safety issues and risk assessments concerning a child I don’t even know. But why are we talking about all that, when we could be talking about
His annoyance over something so close to her heart was the wake-up call Alyssa needed. She stopped melting in the warmth of his gaze and fastened her new employer with a look of her own.
‘Because I am your nephew’s new nanny, and right now that paperwork
the most important thing—in
You self-centred drone!
she added silently to herself.
Prince Lysander Kahani stopped smiling, and she felt a brief spark of satisfaction. That was quickly extinguished as his dark eyes continued to ripple over her like a caress.
‘You sound like a woman who knows what she’s doing and have the added advantage of looking nothing like a headmistress. Goodbye, all my thoughts of a terrifying harridan, and hello to the beautiful vision that is Miss Alyssa Dene!’
With a ridiculously extravagant gesture, he reached out for her hand. Lifting it to his lips, he brushed her fingers with a kiss of long, slow meaning.
‘Please don’t do that, Your Royal Highness,’ Alyssa said sternly, forcing herself to pull her hand out of his grasp, but unable to stop the corners of her mouth curling up at his teasing.
He gave her a mock pained look. ‘Don’t spoil my one moment of hope, Alyssa. You are my only ray of sunshine—the first woman below the rank of minister I’ve been alone with in over three weeks. Look at me!’ He groaned, throwing up his arms in mock despair. ‘I used to have a life. Now I’m a caged tiger, performing for the benefit of others.’
Alyssa was transfixed—a rabbit trapped in the headlights of his charm. Catching herself gazing at him, she shook her head as though waking from a dream. Angry with his effect on her, she gave a dramatic sigh and said:
‘Cursed with a fortune and forced to live in a place
like this? Dear, dear—it must be absolute
for you, Your Royal Highness!’
The moment the words popped out, Alyssa knew she should have kept her mouth shut. Lysander’s eyes hardened to jet. The change in him was like the sun going behind a thundercloud.
Why the hell did I say that? He may be an arrogant so-and-so, but he’s still royalty! What will happen to his poor little nephew if I get sacked before I’ve even met the child?
‘In the past month I’ve lost my brother, my sister-in-law, and my freedom.’ Lysander Kahani’s voice was as cold as the shiver running through Alyssa’s body.
There was nothing for it but to apologise. ‘I know—and I’m sorry, Your Royal Highness, but my first loyalty is to little Ra’id—’ she burst out.
‘I can see that, by the way you didn’t let me finish what I was saying,’ he cut in smoothly. ‘I was going on to tell you that picking up the pieces my brother left behind is a full-time job. It shouldn’t leave me any time for self-pity.’ He gave the tiniest nod of acknowledgement, and the hint of a wry smile.
Alyssa didn’t like the way he interrupted her, but at least he understood why she had spoken out.