“Greer. Greer. He’s looking at you.”
Greer felt the elbow bump from Amanda as her friend looked into the distance behind them.
Greer leaned in and whispered, “Should I look or not?”
“I don’t know!” Amanda was twenty-three.
Amanda thought Greer was twenty-five and Greer was just grateful she managed to pull it off. At thirty-four, Greer hadn’t fit into the Bay Park nanny crowd very well. Amanda was the only one who had befriended her, in part because Greer was so obviously out of her element. Amanda was one of the few here who was actually nice enough to do that.
“Oh my God, he’s coming over.” The he Amanda referred to was Judd.
Greer turned to catch a casual glimpse. Broad shouldered with a neatly trimmed beard, he carried a toddler on his hip like it was nothing.
Greer felt her eyes widen as he clearly approached her. Before she could decide whether or not to turn back to pretending he didn’t exist, he looked her in the eye.
“Hey,” he said.
There was no avoiding it now. This was absolutely not part of her job—either of them. She had lied about far more than just her age. Ouch.
It should have been easier than this.
She tried to dress like she was twenty-five. She tried to act like it. She tried to blend in and act like she knew how to be a nanny or anything resembling one. Hitting on the hot Manny at the park was absolutely not what Greer should be doing. But it would help her blend in, and she couldn’t quite quell the butterflies anyway. So, she looked up into disturbingly blue eyes—his, not the toddler’s—as he said “Hey” again.
She smiled her best flirty grin, even though she hadn’t quite meant it that way … had she? Was he going to ask her out? Should she even say yes? Maybe she should. It would be part of her cover because who in their right mind would turn down Judd Pascal when he asked them out?
Greer hoped her attempt at flirting didn’t go off the rails as her flirty smiles often did. Finally, she managed to say “Hey” back to him.
His wide smile was infused with the kind of charm that made panties drop. Was he laughing? She couldn’t tell, but she held her smile in place.
“I think that’s your toddler trying to climb to the top of the monkey bars.”
Greer yanked her head back. Not a date. No. Instead it was danger.
Her head swiveled as she rapidly scanned the playground. Beside her, Amanda did the same. Suddenly, Greer realized she’d been doing the shittiest nanny job ever. Ever.
Addie was indeed almost to the top of the monkey bars.
After a moment’s paralysis, Greer bolted across the park, her heels sinking into the manicured grass. She had to get to the little girl before she fell and hurt herself!
The only reason she knew it was Addie, and not Ellie, was because Greer dressed the twins in different color shirts to tell them apart. It had been a fight Greer had barely won this morning.
Oh hell no. At least she could see Addie, but where was Ellie?
Greer’s head swiveled as she tried to scan the entire park in one sweep, but she didn’t have time to find the other toddler. Addie was definitely in danger. Despite Greer’s stupid choice of footwear, she was at the monkey bars quickly. Reaching up, she discovered she wasn’t tall enough and Addie was well out of her grasp.
Why the hell had she worn a dress? It was the Gulf Coast of Florida. It was warm. The sun dress seemed like a good idea and it was the only thing in her wardrobe that didn’t look like she was trying to report on a crime or break a case. The low heels were also a shitty decision. She’d thought they were great, since she’d downgraded from the high stilettos she often wore.
Clearly, she wasn’t doing anything well enough.
Using the middle of her shoe as an anchor, rather than balancing on the slick ball of the stupider-by-the-second shoe, she started climbing the monkey bars. Just then, the wind kicked up swishing her skirt around her.
“Addie?” she called, hoping that everyone wasn’t looking at her underwear. Damn wind! “Addie?”
“Geer, look!” The child called back, obviously proud she was now sitting on top of the contraption.
What the hell was Greer even supposed to say to that? She was looking and it wasn’t good. Addie was very pleased at providing her nanny with a near death experience. Greer could only hope that it was in fact near death, and not actual death. Or even any actual damage.
“Come here, Addie.” Greer balanced on the bar she’d climbed to and stretched one hand out.
“You come here, Geer. It’s fun!”
The mispronunciation of her name had seemed cute until now. How in hell was she supposed to convince Addie that she wasn’t big enough to play on the monkey bars when the child had clearly just proven she absolutely was big enough to get up there.
“I need you to come down right now.” The panic in her voice was not what was needed right now, but Greer couldn’t help it. She was absolutely frantic.
She was ready to try bribery—anything—when her whole body moved backwards. She jerked as if to catch herself from a fall before she realized large hands were firmly around her waist and she was being lifted bodily off of the apparatus. She would have fought but what good would that do?
“I’ve got you,” Judd’s voice told her from where he held on behind her. “You get Emma.”
Greer didn’t understand at all. Why was she getting Emma? Emma was his charge. She needed to get Addie and then she needed to find Ellie! And where the hell was Jack? Who thought it was a good idea to trust her with three children?
Reminding herself taking care of these three children was absolutely necessary to the next step of her job, she looked up at Judd, since he’d just pulled her away from her task.
There were several reasons she had to keep these children safe. One, because they were just children. Regardless of how horrible their parents might be, all children deserved safety. And, two, there was a fat raise and choice of future stories if she managed to pull this off.
“Get Emma,” Judd told her in the stern voice she was confident he used on the toddler.
As she watched, he began to deftly climb the monkey bars five times as fast as she possibly could. As she finally understood he was going after Addie, Greer breathed a sigh of relief. Everything would be okay now, if she could just do her part.
Turning around, she realized she’d already lost Emma. Judd was going to kill her.
Greer hadn’t realized when she’d been hired that part of her job duties would be cutting thousands of tiny pieces of apple. She was not made for this, and her biggest challenge was not cutting herself while she sliced the fruit.
There was a kitchen staff for this usually, but for whatever reason, Adrianna Williamson Orlov—Greer’s boss, the kids’ mother, and possible mafia wife—wanted them to do this together.
Greer tried to look like she knew what she was doing, but domestic skills were not her forte. Adrianna was watching her. The woman had been a B-level popstar once upon a time. She’d had one hit before she married Nicholas Orlov and became part of whatever the Orlovs were doing.
Greer even remembered the song. In fact, she’d found it difficult not to hum the tune each time the woman was around. But right now she was trying to cut apples without complaint.
Adrianna had decided to have a spur-of-the-moment party. In these circles, Greer was finding it was a sign of wealth to be able to throw lush parties impromptu. A lot of the families on the beach were rich enough to have that kind of free time. A handful of the families coming tonight would be bringing their children—which was why she was cutting an entire bushel of apples into small pieces and not getting her own work done tonight.
She was on childcare duty for an entire group of Gulf Coast families tonight.
Luckily, Greer would not be alone. Amanda would be there, and one of the other families was bringing their own nanny simply because they could.
Adrianna had informed her of all of this less than four hours ago. Because having your nanny on call for these parties was part of the cache.
Still, her boss had let her know that some of the nannies didn’t work nights. She’d said it like “those poor people.”
Like I’m not supposed to work nights? Greer had thought it but didn’t say it. This wasn’t in her contract, but she couldn’t afford to make enemies, so Greer decided to go along to get along. Besides, she hoped the party would provide some opportunities. Lord knew, those were not turning up as fast as she’d hoped.
This could make up for having no real time off.
Greer figured the Orlovs probably didn’t want an investigative reporter as a nanny. They probably also didn’t want a woman who’d mistakenly let one of the toddlers reach the top of the monkey bars without even noticing, so she kept her mouth shut and cut more apples. When Adrianna asked her to help with the honeydew and cantaloupe she simple found her best smile then said she just loved cutting melons!
The event itself was going to be catered—maybe why the kitchen staff wasn’t chopping the damn apples?—and Greer was looking forward to tiny sandwiches. Also, maybe she could get some of the shrimp skewers that she’d seen stored in the gigantic fridge that was hidden behind cabinet doors.
This food was for the children. These bougie kids ate kiwi, starfruit, mangoes, and five varieties of melons, things Greer had not had while growing up. Adrianna prided herself on being a good mother, even if that seemed to manifest in her just occasionally cutting fruit for her children—not actually being a mother.
The only upside was that Adrianna had finished with the bananas and was now working on the kiwis and was proving absolutely no more skilled at this than Greer. A little while later the woman whipped off her apron and announced, “It looks like we’re about finished here.”
Then she smiled, grabbed the glass of wine she’d been sipping, (the bottle cost about what they were paying Greer each week) and flounced out of the room to get ready.
Greer had learned quickly that phrasing was Adrianna code for, “I’m quitting. You finish.” But the job was almost done, and Greer had a few little tweaks she wanted to make anyway.
Five minutes later, Greer had put everything into the gorgeous bowl her boss had set out for the kids. Crystal bowls and handcrafted dinnerware would be used to serve the children cookies and fruit in their own playroom. In Manhattan, the Orlovs owned an entire floor of a posh building. There was another home somewhere in the Mediterranean, and the house here in Florida sprawled on forever.
It had its own private white sand beach and was nestled in the portion of the Gulf famous for the beautiful weather. Entire walls of the home were wide windows, many of which opened up to let the sea air circulate. All of them changed tone as the sun hit. It was the kind of technology that Greer knew existed and hadn’t quite seen in action before. Living in it was a different experience.
Not only did the staff see to a lot of the cleaning and maintenance, but also the children’s breakfasts and lunches. Dinners were served to the family each night they ate at home, and there was more that Greer was confident she didn’t yet know about. The employment roster on this home alone was more people than she’d counted.
Which was part of what had started this assignment, wasn’t it?
At least Greer had benefited from all of the help—even if she was the help, too. Her breakfast was plated and even garnished most mornings. As wonderful as the eggs tasted, or the French toast, it made her worry about the number of calories she was consuming. Also, her meals always seemed to be served up with a side of doubt—which was where her real job came in.
So as she finished putting fruit in the bowl, she purposefully didn’t add enough apples. The kids might be raised on bougie foods, but she’d spent the past three weeks learning that kids were kids. They didn’t want starfruit, they wanted apples. So Greer used them to engineer a way into the party.
While the kids played, she would leave the designated children’s wing and work her way into the adult crowd. Looking around now, she decided to make sure some of the cookies didn’t get put out either. Which ones would Jack ask for?
She set out only half of the high-end organic juice boxes, stashing the others in the back of the fridge. That should run out before the night was over. Excuses, excuses. She would need so very many of them.
Finally removing her own apron and tossing it into the bin for the kitchen laundry, she stepped over to the wide windows. Even the kitchen staff had a fantastic view, but Greer was more interested in her own reflection.
The sundress she’d worn all day would do. Adrianna had made it clear the party was supposed to be casual—which still meant rich. Though Greer knew her own version of casual might seem good enough to fit in at a distance, as soon as she was close to anyone, it would be obvious that her dress did not have the kind of price tag the other guests’ clothing would be sporting.
She would still be the help.
That was okay if she was good enough to blend a little.
She should do something with her hair. The braids she’d put in for the park were not going to be sufficient. But it also couldn’t be enough to make Adrianna or Nicholas suspicious. She was walking a fine line and she had to keep the children safe.
Heading back to her own suite near the kids’ rooms, she heard Nicholas’ booming laugh. He loved his kids—a fact that made this job harder. It got a little easier when he stood up abruptly as she entered and said, “Wonderful. I was curious when you’d be getting back.”
“Adrianna and I finished,” she said.
“Are you good in here now?” He’d turned off the “play mode” so quickly even his own kids were confused.
With that, he disappeared without even saying goodnight to the kids.
Amanda should be arriving any moment with her singular charge. Greer wished the Orlovs would have stopped with just one but that would have meant she had only Jack and—good God—if that child wasn’t five, going on an angry, middle-aged, valium-soaked fifty! His attitude always reeked of chain-smoking cigarettes and divorcé levels of bitterness.
Greer gathered her things from her own suite and set herself up in the kids’ bathroom. Leaving the door open allowed her to do her hair and also keep an eye on them.
“Hello?” Amanda called from somewhere near the entrance to the kids’ section.
“Come on back!” Greer hollered out to her one and only real friend—though her side of that friendship would certainly be called into question later.
They chatted, and Amanda managed to quell a fight that was breaking out between Addie and Ellie while Greer finished her hair.
“Thank you!” Greer unplugged everything and took it back to her own room where it couldn’t burn any small fingers. She was not cut out for this.
A thousand times a day she reminded herself it was temporary.
As she emerged back into the main room to a small handful of children playing relatively peacefully, Amanda’s eyes flicked quickly beyond the door to the front lawn—because of course the kids had their own outside door!
“Is all that for a certain Manny?” Amanda whispered, motioning up and down to Greer.
Greer wasn’t overly fond of the term “manny,” but it was in full use without her permission anyway.
“Maybe.” She could only act like she didn’t care. She shouldn’t care. She already had way too much on her plate. It was actually to blend in at the party, but she’d let Amanda think it was about Judd. “The guests are starting to arrive.”
“How many are we going to have tonight?” Amanda asked.
Though Greer was expecting a full house of the little goblins, she replied, “It doesn’t matter. We’ve got food for days.”
There was truly no way to plan for who would ‘just drop their kids off for Greer to watch!’
“And a movie theater!” Greer added at the last minute. That was the saving grace.
“An actual theater?” Amanda asked. Maybe the family she was working for wasn’t quite as well off as the Orlovs. Then again, maybe their money wasn’t made on sketchy and almost definitely illegal terms …
Behind them a male voice chimed in. “There’s a theater! Emma, you get to watch a movie tonight.”
Greer swung around, not surprised to find Judd standing there in jeans, sneakers, and a T shirt that hugged him in the way she knew all the other nannies wanted to. Her mouth opened and she said the dumbest thing she could.
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