She blinked at him. “You really think it’s a good idea for me to stay considering our history? You haven’t even formally interviewed me yet.”
“Fine, let’s have the interview then,” Gabriel snapped and stalked around back to his chair, grabbing a piece of paper she assumed was her CV off his desk. “So you were with your last family for five months? Why did you decide to leave them?”
“Mr. Scott was being transferred to Japan, and although they wanted me to go with them, I decided not to,” she replied promptly, determined to act as professionally as possible under the circumstances.
“And that was your first live-in situation? The lack of a readily available social life didn’t bother you? The Scotts lived near Greenwich—you may have noticed on your drive here that this is a more isolated location than your previous position,” Gabriel remarked coolly, watching her carefully.
Maria hesitated for a moment before responding. “No, the lack of a social life didn’t bother me. I don’t mind a quiet life.”
“Is that because you already have a boyfriend who plans on visiting you? Should I be letting my housekeeper know to expect another guest?” he drawled.
She refused to be baited. “No sir, I don’t have a boyfriend.”
“So are you planning on using your days off to go into the city and find more random hook-ups there? I seem to recall you saying how much you wanted to explore Manhattan,” he sneered.
Maria flushed and her temper started to climb. There was no doubt he was deliberately trying to provoke her. “Despite what you may think, I don’t make it a habit to do random hook-ups—you know very well you were my first!”
“Well it has been six months since we were last together—how do I know you aren’t in the habit now? I wouldn’t want to expose my children to possibly immoral behavior from their caretaker,” he said insultingly.
She stood up, her temper definitely on fire now. How could he be so awful! “I’m sorry to disappoint you, but you’re the only man I’ve ever slept with and I’m having major regrets about that right now!”
He stood up as well and leaned towards her over the desk, glaring at her. “Then why did you then? Were you just determined to lose your virginity that night, and any man would do?”
She flushed bright red, her gaze faltering a little and he realized that he had hit a target with his words, immediately pouncing on her. “I’m right, aren’t I? You did plan on losing your virginity that night! Any dick would do!”
“No! Well, yes, but—” she said, trying to explain but Gabriel interrupted her curtly, saying, “Please, spare me your justifications. Let’s get on with this interview now, shall we?”
He glanced down at her CV again, and Maria bit her lip, perilously close to tears. Her passionate, tender lover was gone completely, replaced by this brutal, cold-eyed stranger who acted like he hated her.
He suddenly stilled, staring at the piece of paper in front of him as if it were a striking cobra before his head shot up, and the shock and horror in his gaze caused her stomach to plummet. “Christ Almighty, you’re a nun!?”
She flinched, both at his blasphemy and at his reaction. She’d nearly forgotten that information was on her CV. “Ex-novice, actually. I left the novitiate last year before I took my final vows.”
He stared at her in utter disbelief. This vibrant and sensual creature had nearly chosen a life devoted to God? Everything in him revolted at the thought—he’d never met someone less suited to a cloistered life. His eyes narrowed as something else occurred to him. “What the f**k was a virgin ex-novice doing picking up strange men in bars? And taking birth control pills on top of that!”
Maria’s entire body vibrated with hurt fury as her control finally broke. “An ex-novice who’d been prescribed them by her doctor to regulate her period, you jerk! And an ex-novice who wanted to experience something that other girls her age take for granted, and who knew she would have as much opportunity to meet someone as a live-in nanny as if she’d stayed a nun! And an ex-novice who didn’t just choose any dick, she waited for the right dick, a man who’s being an absolute prick to her!”
Gabriel opened his mouth but she held up her hand to stop him, having had enough of his insulting behavior. “Mr. Trentham, this interview is at an end. It’s safe to say that that it would take an act of God for me to work for you!”
With that she whirled away and stalked to the door, opening and slamming it shut as she walked quickly down the hallway to the entrance hall. She passed Matt who had poked his head out of his office and opened his mouth, but she brushed past him, not wanting him to see the indignant tears on her face.
She rushed to the front door, barely waiting for the startled butler to open the door for her before she barreled through the swirling snow to her car. It was snowing much harder now, and the temperature had dropped precipitously. She knew she was taking a foolhardy chance driving through a blizzard, but she would just go to the nearest town ten miles down the road—surely there had to be a place for her to stay until the blizzard had passed and she could figure out her options.
She angrily dashed the tears away from her cheeks before they had a chance to freeze on her face. She refused to wonder why she felt so devastated—this time, there would be no regrets at leaving him. She’d make sure of it.
“WHAT THE HELL HAPPENED IN here? I could hear you both yelling at each other from my not-so-soundproofed office!” Matt exclaimed, rushing into the office.
Gabriel stood frozen behind his desk, the furious hurt on Maria’s face burned into his retinas. He’d been an utter bastard to Maria and his only excuse was that he’d been battling his own rage at her for running from him that morning and finding her again now, after he’d finally given up on ever seeing her again and deciding to marry Olivia.
He closed his eyes and mentally groaned at the thought of Olivia, who would be coming at the end of the week for a short stay to make the arrangements for their upcoming Christmas engagement party.
“I don’t know what you said to her to make her run out of here like a bat outta hell, but I really don’t think it’s a good idea for her to be driving in this weather,” Matt said anxiously.
His head snapped up at Matt’s words. “What do you mean—she left here and drove away?”
Matt nodded. “I saw Williams open the front door for her and she didn’t even hesitate before going out into the snow.”
Shit! “Matt, make sure no one opens the gate for her. Anyone who does so will be fired on the spot, do you understand me?”
Matt gulped and reached for the phone. “Yes, sir! What are you going to do?”
“Bring her back, whether she wants to or not!” Gabriel said grimly, already leaving the office and heading to the garage.
MARIA THUMPED HER HAND AGAINST the steering wheel in frustration. She couldn’t figure out how to open the gate, and no one would pick up the house phone when she called to ask. She’d even tried to get on the security camera to ask for the gate to be opened, but nothing.
She’d spent several minutes looking for a manual override—there had to be one, right?—but hadn’t been able to find it yet, and had been forced back to the car by the force of the snow and the wind. She managed to get snow stuck in her hair and it was melting slowly, making her both wet and cold.
She leaned her forehead down on the steering wheel, feeling both physically and emotionally exhausted. Just great. Could this day get any worse?
As if in answer, a silver Range Rover appeared behind her little compact. Hope rose that it was someone who would open the gate for her; it quickly plummeted when she recognized the tall, broad-shouldered figure clad in a navy pinstriped suit descending from the vehicle.
She stared stonily ahead when he came to her window and tapped lightly on it, refusing to even look at him when he called her name.
“Ria, please, we need to talk.”
No we don’t, she thought furiously. We’ve said everything we need to, and thanks for turning one of my most cherished memories into something ugly and hurtful.
She thought he would go back to his vehicle and leave her alone when she refused to respond. Obviously, she underestimated him—instead, he walked around to the passenger side of her car and opened the door, quickly sliding into the seat before she could think to lock it.
“Get out! I never want to speak to you again.”
Gabriel’s heart ached at the misery plain on her face and in her tear-swollen eyes. He never wanted to make her cry, and he felt like the jerk she’d called him. He needed to convince her to stay, to give him another chance.
“Maria, please, I apologize. You’re right—I’ve been a complete and utter a**hole to you, and you’ve deserved none of it. My only excuse is that I did hope that our one night would lead to more, and I looked for you for months afterwards. I didn’t realize how angry I was at your disappearing act until you showed up literally on my doorstep.” He smiled wryly and added, “And my ego took a beating when I realized that you were perfectly happy leaving me behind. I’d been hoping you’d want the same—not just one night.”
Maria took a long, trembling breath. She desperately wanted to believe him, but she didn’t want to give him the power to hurt her so badly again. But he gave her the truth, and he deserved no less.
“I did intend it just to be a one-night stand, but I did regret leaving you like that, and wonder what could have happened if I didn’t run out. I owe you an apology too—you gave me such an incredible night, and I cheapened it when I left without saying goodbye.”
He smiled slightly at her words, hope rising in him that they could get past this. “Will you come back to the house with me? You shouldn’t be driving in this—it’s much too dangerous.”
She hesitated and Gabriel held his breath, waiting for her decision. Finally, she nodded slowly.
“I’ll come back, but only until the blizzard is over.”
Gabriel thought quickly. “I don’t think anyone is going anywhere for a while—I was supposed to fly out to Chicago tonight but I’m sure my flight has been cancelled. If we get the two feet of snow forecasted, I think school will be cancelled tomorrow and likely longer, and I still need a nanny—will you at least consider taking the job? We could use this week as a trial run—I promise to keep things strictly professional between us.” He fervently hoped that her nose for lies wouldn’t detect his—he really didn’t know if he would be able to keep his hands off of her.
She stared at him with those vibrant blue eyes, still absolutely captivating even red-rimmed. Indecision was all over her face—he watched that emotion as well as doubt, hope, anxiety and fear all flit across her expressive face. She worried her bottom lip and he had the nearly irresistible urge to free her lip so that he could nip it instead. Her lip popped free when she opened her mouth and Gabriel waited, barely breathing.
“Okay,” she said and he nearly shuddered with relief. “Let’s try it for a week since I’m going to be stuck here anyway and I don’t want your children to go without a nanny while they wait out the storm. Although,” she suddenly grinned, and his breath caught at the breathtaking beauty of her smile—it was like the sun coming out after a cloudy day, “I’m sure they would rather have a week’s vacation with their father than have a new nanny around.”
Gabriel grimaced. “I don’t think you have to worry about that.”
She would soon realize that he didn’t have the closest relationship with his children, and it was one of his biggest regrets and failings as a father. He’d retreated into his grief after Elle’s death and pushed them away. Ironically, it was his night with Maria that had allowed him to get past his self-imposed emotional exile and really see his children again. Once he’d realized what had happened he simply didn’t know how to bridge the gulf between them, it had existed for too long.
It was the reason he’d proposed to Olivia—he’d thought that a new mother would be in his children’s best interests. He’d been disappointed when they hadn’t seemed all that enthusiastic at his engagement, although they’d all known Olivia for years.
Dear lord, what was he going do about Olivia? He’d proposed for the sake of his children—should he marry for their sake too, even if his heart wasn’t in it?
He wasn’t sure if he was even ready to admit to himself what he felt for Maria—all he could think of right now was that she’d agreed to stay. Just for one week right now, but he couldn’t look ahead—he’d just take it day by day. At least for now.
MARIA FOLLOWED HIM BACK TO the house, driving carefully on the slippery road. Instead of stopping in front of the house, he drove to the side to the very large modern garage. There were nearly a dozen cars parked in it. He pulled into a space and she parked next to him.