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Authors: Christina Hollis

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BOOK: Weight of the Crown
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‘At least when I take charge of your poor little nephew it will be one weight off your shoulders.’

His gaze had been working its way down her body with slow enjoyment, but her words stopped him. He dragged his attention back to her face. ‘You say that as though you actually give a damn, Miss Alyssa Dene.’

‘That’s because I do. I’m here to make sure your
nephew is properly looked after, and gets a sensible upbringing.’

‘And to bring a little light into my life while you do it,’ he said with a widening smile. ‘You can start by dropping the formalities. As we’ll be working so closely together, call me Lysander.’

Alyssa hesitated. This was quite a normal request from an employer, but with a smooth operator like Lysander Kahani it might be an intimacy too far. It broke down a barrier between them, and that couldn’t be a good idea. She already knew it was desperately important to keep this man at arm’s length, so he couldn’t affect her judgement. That had failed her in the past, when it came to adults. The only thing she wanted to rush into now was little Prince Ra’id’s nursery. If she couldn’t trust herself, how could she trust a womaniser like Lysander? Only thoughts of the poor child involved stopped her making some sort of excuse and escaping from Combe House while she still could. Good or bad, this man was her new employer. She had to develop a working relationship with him, and that would involve some give and take.

‘All right, then … Lysander. You can trust me to look after poor Prince Ra’id as if he was my own child,’ she told him.

He raised his dark, finely arched brows. ‘There speaks a woman who’s never met him!’

‘I’m here to care for your poor little nephew, Lysander, not your feelings. So while I’m sorry about your family bereavement and the way you’ve been forced into becoming Prince Regent, you and I have to work together to make the best of it, for little Ra’id’s
sake,’ she said firmly, hoping she could be equally determined when it came to resisting Lysander’s charm.

‘Nobody’s ever said anything like that to me before, either.’

The crease between his brows deepened.

Alyssa realised a man would never have risked saying something like that to Prince Lysander Kahani. Only a woman could get away with it. She allowed herself the hint of a smile. Lysander’s interest in her body was turning out to have advantages as well as danger. It could deflect his anger—at least for the moment.

‘Then I hope I can keep your nephew a bit more down to earth.’

Lysander was beginning to have doubts about her. She could see it in his face.

‘I wish you luck,’ he murmured. ‘As Ra’id is my brother’s son, I’ve seen him now and again over the years, but that’s all. What I’ve heard about him from his nursery maids is bad enough. It’ll be a brave woman who refuses that child anything, from the sound of it.’

When she didn’t laugh, he shrugged and stuck his hands in his pockets. ‘Well … if you feel confident enough to make a mad claim like that, the least I can do is match it, and raise you. What can I do to help you in your hopeless task, and earn your undying gratitude when I’ve done it?’

She raised her eyebrows, then met his question with one of her own.

‘How do you get on with Ra’id?’

He responded with a quizzical smile. ‘Me? I don’t. My family has used this house in England as a bolt hole for years, so we’ve met up here regularly for holidays,
but that doesn’t mean I’ve had anything to do with the child.’

I might have guessed,
Alyssa thought. ‘So you’re quite happy to leave that poor mite completely in the hands of strangers?’

His expression hardened. ‘Of course, when they come with qualifications and references like yours. What else would you expect me to do? I don’t know the first thing about children.’

‘Lysander!’
Alyssa chided him, but it was only when she took a step backwards and away from him to underline her disapproval that he looked at all bothered.

Annoyed at her reaction, he moved towards an intercom on the desk. ‘Ra’id has been well looked after by the general nursery staff here since his last nanny left. I think. At least, I assume … No, I’m sure that’s been the case,’ he said through gritted teeth.

Alyssa could tell that not knowing annoyed him. That was a detail she could work with.

‘Well, you’ll be able to judge that side of things for yourself when I’ve called someone to take you to the nursery,’ he went on irritably.

Alyssa had other ideas. ‘I’d rather you took me yourself, Lysander. After all, you did ask how you could help,’ she said, and this time her smile was as winning as any of the looks he kept turning on her.

CHAPTER TWO

T
HEY
were tempting words, but Alyssa’s body language belied her inviting smile, and warned Lysander. He knew she was only trying to use his reputation against him again. Liking her cheek, however, he escorted her to the nursery with the indulgent smile of a man who always got what he wanted. Women generally fell into his arms within seconds, and Alyssa was the first woman in a long while to present him with anything like a challenge. Her beautiful body and long, shapely legs made this new experience very enjoyable. He was confident she would soon be running to him for comfort, and for a prize like that he was willing to be patient. Little Ra’id had sent plenty of distressed nursery maids his way over the past few weeks. Miss Alyssa Dene was different, there was no doubt about that, but Lysander was sure he only had to wait for this latest peach to fall into his lap.

As they walked he sent a series of covert glances in her direction and liked what he saw. She was tall for a woman, so the crown of her head was almost level with his shoulder. Her feminine curves were in perfect proportion, and her blue-eyed beauty was topped by a swirl of shining blonde hair. He knew exactly how that
silken waterfall would feel when he released it from her prissy French plait, and looked forward to doing it.

They went straight to the nursery wing’s dining room, drawn by an unholy racket. It was full of people, all talking at once. Lysander introduced Alyssa, then stood back. The crowd fell silent. The staff, like him, were watching to see what Alyssa would do when confronted with five-year-old Ra’id. The child was holding court at the head of his dining table and scowling like a little old man. When Lysander saw the peculiar collection of food on the table, he frowned, too. None of it looked edible—especially the sardines in chocolate sauce and the cupcakes spread with Marmite. He watched Alyssa sum up the situation. Then he leaned in to enjoy the fragrant sensation of whispering into her small, perfectly formed ear.

‘Meet the poor little orphaned mite you’re going to rescue from his wicked, uncaring uncle.’

He expected her to apologise for her starchy attitude towards him, but she didn’t. Instead she hissed, ‘He seems to have recovered from the tragedy well enough to have your staff on the run!’

‘That’s because he was about as close to his parents as I was to mine,’ Lysander flashed back.

She gave him a strange look, then pinned on a smile before speaking out loud to the infant dictator.

‘Good afternoon, Prince Ra’id. It doesn’t look as though traditional Rosarian food meets with your approval, so we’ll get rid of it,
and
all these people.’

‘But he hasn’t had any food yet!’ A shocked voice burst out from the crowd. ‘And it isn’t traditional—we’ve
brought him everything he asked for, but nothing’s been good enough yet.’

‘That’s a shame,’ Alyssa said evenly. ‘But lunchtime should have been over a long time ago.’

‘I’m hungry!’ Ra’id said through clenched teeth.

The huddle of servants held its breath. Lysander carried on lazily watching Alyssa. She took no notice of her little charge. Instead, she started piling up plates with quick, neat movements. After an exchange of glances, the rest of the staff stepped forward to help her. In minutes the table was clear and the room empty apart from Lysander, Alyssa and the little boy.

‘I’m hungry!’ Ra’id repeated, this time with more of a whine.

‘No, you aren’t. If you’d been hungry, you would have eaten the first thing you were served. You’re not to treat your staff like that, Prince Ra’id. They spent a lot of time satisfying your demands, so the least you could have done was try something. As your uncle Lysander has just told you, I’m in charge now. From today, you’ll eat at regular times. Whatever arrives is what you’ll eat, and that’s an end to it. There will be
no
alternatives.’ She glanced at her watch, then looked at Lysander. ‘Do you eat high tea at Combe House?’

‘For you, Alyssa, anything is possible.’ He chuckled.

‘Then could you order a simple meal of egg on toast for His Majesty, to be served in your dining room in half an hour?’

‘I don’t like egg. What is it?’ the little boy piped up.

‘It’s what you’re having for tea,’ Alyssa said with
a determination Lysander wished he could see more often.

Ra’id wasn’t so impressed. ‘No! And I can do what I like, because I’m King.’

Lysander had consoled enough nursery maids to know that was the killer line. It always worked. He glanced at Alyssa with a grin that said
I’d like to see you get out of that!

Alyssa didn’t need to answer him. She knelt down beside Ra’id and folded her arms on the ruined surface of his miniature Georgian dining table so that her face was very close to his.

‘Oho—not yet, you aren’t! Listen to me, young man. Your uncle Lysander is going to be in charge of you, and everything else around you, for at least the next four thousand days, so what he says, goes. That’s a long time, so get used to it. And he says you’ll eat the lovely food the staff are kind enough to make for you. If you don’t, you’ll go hungry.’ She looked up at Lysander with battle blazing in her eyes. ‘Right?’

Wide-eyed and speechless, the little boy switched his gaze from Alyssa to Lysander, searching for support.

‘That’s right, isn’t it, Lysander?’ Alyssa repeated, more forcefully this time.

Lysander knew she wanted him to back her up, but he took his time. He was busy with his own thoughts, enjoying the arousal that pulsed through his body as he watched this determined and beautiful woman in action. The sensation was far more enjoyable than talking to her about nursery routine. Miss Alyssa Dene had the sort of nerve he had never encountered before. He already knew she wasn’t going to roll over
and submit to him like so many women that had filled his universe until now. He would have to break down her resistance to him inch by inch. It was an idea he found intensely exciting. It would make the moment she finally fell under his spell a real triumph, and a conquest worthy of his maverick skills. He allowed a slow, seductive smile to warm his face. Her need for him was so deeply buried she might not recognise it yet, but she would. Given time. He would make sure of it.

‘Right …’ He teased the word out slowly. ‘So from now on, Ra’id, you’ll do everything Alyssa tells you, OK?’

His answer satisfied her, although she laid down the law to Ra’id for a long time after that. While she rattled on, Lysander lost himself again in more luscious thoughts involving silk sheets, perfumed massage oil and Miss Alyssa Dene’s soft curves. He only realised he should have been listening to her instead when she coughed politely to attract his attention.

‘So, Lysander, Ra’id and I will see you in your dining room in half an hour.’

‘Of course,’ Lysander said suavely, still wondering if she knew what she was letting herself in for. He sent another leisurely glance over her body. The tempting reality of her promised to be even better than his fantasy.

‘Miss Alyssa Dene is the best nanny in the business, Ra’id,’ he told his nephew. ‘And I’m looking forward to discovering what other talents she has, very soon.’ He smiled, tilting his head towards her in a way that
never failed to soften women. She stared at him, her cool blue eyes as assured as his own technique.

‘It’s a pity smiling doesn’t seem to be one of them,’ he went on, standing back to give her room to melt over his teasing. It had no effect.

‘Childcare isn’t a laughing matter, Lysander.’

Her wide-set eyes would have been beautiful if they hadn’t been focusing a stare on him that was as hard as sapphires.

The last few weeks had stretched Lysander’s patience so thin, it was practically transparent. He heard himself snap, like an elastic band that had been stretched too far.

‘Then that’s a shame. You’ll need a sense of humour if you’re going to work here.’

He regretted it instantly. Unleashing his bitterness wasn’t the way to win over rebellious women. Stepping in close to her again, he softened his retort by patting her gently on the back. ‘If only to put up with my short temper. So if you wouldn’t mind giving me a few moments of your time outside so we can discuss it, Nanny—?’

His hand slid sensuously over her ribcage on its way to become a support under her elbow.

‘My name is Alyssa!’

She jerked away from him so savagely, Ra’id gave a little cry of alarm. Instantly, she swooped down to comfort the little boy. Any angry remarks Lysander might have made at her overreaction died on his lips when he saw the way she reassured his nephew—that, and the way her shirt gaped a little as she bent forward. It gave him an illicit glimpse of her lacy bra as it cupped
the creamy swell of her breasts. The view was so delicious, he forgave her everything.

It made him look forward to seeing a whole lot more of her, very soon.

Alyssa used a combination of psychology and her own novelty value to make tea a triumph. Comfort eating over the past few months had made her staid navy-blue nanny’s uniform a bit snug. This worked wonders on Lysander. She had his full attention, although it did tend to gravitate towards her breasts. To get him back on track she told him his good manners and charm would soon rub off on his nephew. Ra’id turned out to have a big appetite, and he was so astonished that anyone would stand up to him, he was easy to manage. Food was the perfect bribe. All Alyssa had to do was to make sure he got a healthy diet, and by keeping Lysander on side she would have all the backup she needed.

BOOK: Weight of the Crown
5.04Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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