His Final Bargain(6)

By: Melanie Milburne

It was Eliza’s turn to arch an eyebrow. ‘I just bet I do. Young and female with a pulse, correct?’

A glint of something dark and mocking entered his gaze as it held hers. ‘You misunderstand me, Eliza. I am not offering you a rerun at being my mistress. You will be employed as my daughter’s nanny. That is all that will be required of you.’

Why was she feeling as if he had just insulted her? What right did she have to bristle at his words? He needed a nanny. He didn’t want her in any other capacity.

He didn’t want her.

The realisation pained Eliza much more than she wanted it to. What foolish part of her had clung to the idea that even after all this time he would come back for her because he had never found anyone who filled the gaping hole she had left in his life? ‘I can assure you that if you were offering me anything else I wouldn’t accept it,’ she said with a little hitch of her chin.

His gaze held hers in an assessing manner. It was unnerving to be subjected to such an intensely probing look, especially as she wasn’t entirely confident she was keeping her reaction to him concealed. ‘I wonder if that is strictly true,’ he mused. ‘Clearly your fiancé isn’t satisfying you. You still have that hungry look about you.’

‘You’re mistaken,’ she said with prickly defensiveness. ‘You’re seeing what you want to see, not what is.’ You’re seeing what I’m trying so hard to hide!

His dark brown eyes continued to impale hers. ‘Will you accept the post?’

Eliza caught at her lower lip for a brief moment. She had at her fingertips the way to keep the school open. All of her children could continue with their education. The parenting and counselling programme for single mums she had dreamt of offering could very well become a reality if there were more funds available—a programme that might have saved her mother if it had been available at the time.

‘Will another five hundred thousand pounds in cash help you come to a decision a little sooner?’

Eliza gaped at him. Was he really offering her a million pounds in cash? Did people do that? Were there really people out there who could do that?

She had grown up with next to nothing, shunted from place to place while her mother continued on a wretched cycle of drug and alcohol abuse that was her way of self-medicating far deeper emotional issues that had their origin in childhood. Eliza wasn’t used to having enough money for the necessities, let alone the luxuries. As a child she had dreamt of having enough money to get her mother the help she so desperately needed, but there hadn’t been enough for food and rent at times, let alone therapy.

She knew she came from a very different background from Leo, but he had never flaunted his wealth in the past. She had thought him surprisingly modest about it considering he was a self-made man. Thirty years ago his father had lost everything in a business deal gone sour. Leo had worked long and hard to rebuild the family engineering company from scratch. And he had done it and done it well. The Valente Engineering Company was responsible for some of the biggest projects across the globe. She had admired him for turning things around. So many people would have given up or adopted a victim mentality but he had not.

But for all the wealth Leo Valente had, it certainly hadn’t bought him happiness. Eliza could see the lines of strain on his face and the shadows in his eyes that hadn’t been there four years ago. She sent her tongue out over her lips again. ‘Cash?’

He gave a businesslike nod. ‘Cash. But only if you sign up right here and now.’

She frowned. ‘You want me to sign something?’

He took out a folded sheet of paper from the inside of his jacket without once breaking his gaze lock with hers. ‘A confidentiality agreement. No press interviews before, during or once your appointment is over.’

Eliza took the document and glanced over it. It was reasonably straightforward. She was forbidden to speak to the press, otherwise she would have to repay the amount he was giving her with twenty per cent interest. She looked up at him again. ‘You certainly put a very high price on your privacy.’

‘I have seen lives and reputations destroyed by idle speculation in the press,’ he said. ‘I will not tolerate any scurrilous rumour mongering. If you don’t think you can abide by the rules set out in that document, then I will leave now and let you get on with your life. There will be no need for any further contact between us.’

Eliza couldn’t help wondering why he wanted contact with her now. Why her? He could afford to employ the most highly qualified nanny in the world.