She gazed at him thoughtfully. “I could stay until January, provided I’d have a week off for Christmas,” she told him. “It wouldn’t be the best scenario, but…Maybe if the children knew from the start that I’d only be here temporarily…?”
“Maybe what you better do is meet them first,” Trey countered, “before you start making such generous offers.”
Kathy stood up. “Then lead on,” she commanded in that royal manner she had.
“Right this way, Your Majesty,” he said, leading the way to the door.
She faltered. “Excuse me?”
“Bad joke,” he said. “I think it’s probably your accent. Very…regal.”
“Really?” She looked completely taken aback. “I’m so sorry, I didn’t realize—”
“Relax,” Trey told her. “It suits you. It’s very cute.”
Of all the things Princess Katherine of Wynborough had been called in her relatively uneventful life, cute had not been one of them.
She followed Trey Sutherland down the stairs, down another endless hallway. If she were going to live here, she’d need to take a few hours and go exploring with a map. As far as she could figure, the house was shaped like a square U, with two long wings stretching back from the main building, forming the shelter for the center courtyard. The tower was on one front corner of the building—at the beginning of the opposite wing than the one they were heading down now.
In fact, if she looked out the window, across the courtyard and up, she could see the windows of Trey’s office, lights still blazing through the late-afternoon dreariness.
Trey slowed his pace and glanced at her. “I meant what I said,” he told her. “Instead of coming to a definite decision after you meet the kids, you go home and think it over. Fax me your references, and tomorrow, if we still both think this will work—temporarily, of course—we’ll talk again.”
He was giving her an out.
“This is the playroom,” he said, taking a deep breath before he opened the door.
Katherine wasn’t sure exactly what horror she’d expected to find, but the cheerful, brightly lit room, filled with books and games and toys, furnished with two big, overstuffed sofas and a small handful of rocking chairs wasn’t it. There was a huge fireplace. It was cold and dark now, but when lit it would be capable of warming nearly the entire large room. Windows and skylights let in what little light remained of the darkening afternoon. A cabinet was open, revealing a TV and VCR. A Disney tape was playing to the otherwise empty room.
Trey strode to the VCR and turned both it and the TV off. He then went to an intercom system that was built into the wall. He leaned on one of the buttons, bent close to the microphone. “Stace. I thought I asked you to stay with Doug in the playroom this afternoon.”
A young girl’s voice came through the speaker, tinny and thin and clearly annoyed. “I was. But then he chewed through his leash….”
Chewed? Through his leash?
Trey didn’t look too happy about that, either. “How many times have I told you that if we treat him like a boy, he’ll act like a boy and…” He shook his head, clearly exasperated. “Just come down here,” he ordered. “There’s someone here I want you to meet.”
“Leash?” Katherine echoed weakly.
“Imaginary leash,” Trey said quickly. “I may not be father of the year, but I don’t tie my kids up.”
“Doggie—Dougie—thinks he’s a dog.”
The girl’s room must have been right next door, because Stacy arrived in no time at all.
She stood in the doorway, arms across her chest. She was dressed entirely in black. Black leggings, black oversize turtleneck that hung down to her thighs, black lace-up boots with big clunky heels. Her short hair was black, too, although Katherine would have wagered she hadn’t been born with it that extreme color. She wore thick black eyeliner, an extremely pale shade of pancake base, an almost blackish red shade of lipstick, and black nail polish.
The effect was…striking, but perhaps a little much for a thirteen-year-old.
“A dog,” Katherine echoed.
“Yeah.” Stacy gazed at her, unsmiling, sullen to the point of near rudeness. “You know, arf, arf.” She turned to her father. “If you whistle for him, Trey, he’ll come.”
Trey looked decidedly displeased, the muscles in the sides of his jaw jumping. “I’m not going to whistle for him because he’s not a dog.”
Stacy turned to Katherine. “You must be nanny number 4,515.” The girl looked at her critically. “The suit’s cool, the knee-length skirt’s kind of retro, but you should lose the dorky blouse and just go with the jacket with nothing underneath—except maybe one of those black Miracle Bras from the Victoria’s Secret catalog. Trade in the nerd shoes for something with a three and a half inch heel and—”
“And I don’t think so,” Trey interrupted.
“Yeah, you wouldn’t,” Stacy said with an exaggerated sigh. “You’re the one who hasn’t gone out with anyone but the awful Ice Queen in years—unless you’ve been getting busy on the sly with someone I don’t know about.”
For one awful moment, Trey Sutherland looked as if he were going to throttle his daughter. And then for one truly dreadful moment, Katherine was afraid the man might cry. Then everything he was feeling, anger and hurt and embarrassment, was tucked neatly away. And when he spoke, his voice was devoid of all emotion.
“What did I do to deserve that?” he quietly asked his daughter.
Stacy knew perfectly well that she had completely overstepped the boundaries of propriety by saying such a thing in front of a stranger. She could apologize, or she could take the defensive route. As Katherine watched, the girl unwisely chose defensive. “It was just a joke. Lighten up, Trey.”
Oh, dear. He clearly hated that she called him by his first name, and Stacy knew it. Katherine could see that the girl certainly had learned how to push her father’s buttons.
“If I’m nanny number 4,500 and something,” Katherine said, stepping boldly into the fray, “I can understand how this all might be a little overwhelming for the pair of you—and for Doug, too, poor thing. So why don’t we start again?” She looked at Trey. “Why don’t you give your son a break and whistle for him—obviously that’s what he wants you to do. And as for you—” she turned to Stacy “—let’s do this nicely, without embarrassing your father any further, shall we?” She held out her hand as Trey sighed and let out a piercing whistle. “I’m Kathy Wind. How do you do? Shake my hand and say ‘Fine, thanks.’”