Glancing at Sophie, he said, "Make sure she doesn't go into the woods."
"I'll make sure of that, sir." She smiled at him, her eyes bright.
He'll admit Sophie was a remarkably beautiful young woman, and he always wondered why she would want to be stuck here as Aria's nanny. He knew she was more ambitious.
He dismissed the thought from his mind and walked out the door, up the stairs, and into his office. Switching on the intercom, he demanded, "What?"
"Sir." The voi
ce of Peter O'Neil came through. "There's a girl here to see you. She said you sent her an email requesting her presence?"
He switched on the laptop screen connected to the security camera. The black screen flashed on, and then a moment later, the girl's face appeared before him.
He stared at the screen, at Andy's sister, long and hard, and felt his cock stirring again. "Does she have a name?"
"Err, Mia Donovan, sir."
He took a deep breath, his eyes still on the laptop screen, on the girl who caused sparks, the girl who managed to awaken his cock without even doing anything seductive. He was so fucking going to regret this.
To Peter, he said, "Let her in."
* * * * *
The moment I sighted the humongous gate, my heart missed a beat. I glanced at the number and, sure enough, it was the right property. Or rather estate, because stretching before my eyes were acres of lawn and woods. I hadn't yet seen the house, but I knew it was going to be big.
I stepped over to the intercom and pushed on the button. A buzzing sound came through and then a male voice said, "Yes?"
I nervously cleared my throat. "I... I'm here to see Mr. Maxwell."
"Do you have an appointment with him?" He was harsh and straight to the point.
"Err, no, I..."
"No appointment, no Mr. Maxwell."
I panicked and knew he was about to end our conversation. "No, please. I mean, he sent me an email asking that I come to see him. I mean... Mr. Maxwell sent me an email a couple weeks ago."
A pause and then, "Your name?"
"Mia... Mia Donovan," I said quickly.
"Wait there a minute," he said, and then the intercom buzzed out.
I blinked and then looked around me, taking in the scenery. It was something to do while I waited. But really, I was so worried, the exquisite scenery didn't interest me long.
It was five minutes later when the buzz came again. "Come in. Just follow the path. You won't miss it."
"Thanks," I said as the gate screeched open. I did that little hop to pull my backpack up my shoulders and then headed through the opened gate.
I followed the path, and it wasn't long when I came to view the most breathtaking scenery of the city below. The buildings sparkled like jewels under the evening sunlight. For a moment, I was lost. For a moment, I felt free of all the worries and burdens that rested heavily on my small shoulders.
If only there was no two million dollars. If only my parents didn't die that summer in a car accident. If only Aunt Miley hadn't hated us so much, and if only Uncle Herbert hadn't done all those horrible things to us. If only... Yeah right.
I pulled myself back from the fantasy world and turned on my heel, continuing up the path.
I was hiking. I was literally hiking up the private driveway, and it took me another ten minutes before I came to the house. No. It wasn't a house. It was a mansion, built of white stone and three stories high. It was the type of mansion I'd seen in magazines, worth millions, and it literally took my breath away.
I stood there for a moment, lost. Usually, I would have been in awe at the sight of such an amazing structure. What I felt today, however, was pure terror, for the sight of that building served only to remind me once again of the power wielded by the man I was about to meet.
A lump formed in my throat and my stomach kept flipping with dread. I took a deep breath and told myself it was too late to run now. It had been too late since I'd opened that email, in fact.
A loud, angry bark caught my attention, jolting me from my thoughts of trepidation. I looked around in confusion. To my left, I saw a big, white dog sprinting toward me, growling and barking aggressively. Panic seized me, and I staggered back. The moment I knew that beast of a canine wasn't going to stop, because man, it was charging at me like a raging bull, I turned and took off, my heart pumping like mad.
I hurried down the lawn, legs sprinting like never before. I headed straight for the woods. Somehow, I thought I would be safe there.
I was just about to reach my destination, my safe heaven, when I tripped on something and fell. A puff escaped my lips as my body unwelcomingly met the ground, followed by a big splash of brown water against my face. Some got into my mouth, tasting like dirt and salt. Spitting the unsavory substance back out, I blinked, wondering what had just happened. Heaving with exertion, I sat up and found that my jeans and shirt were covered in filth. Across from me, the dog had stopped, though it was still barking at me aggressively.
"Stop it!" a tiny voice shouted from the distance.
I lifted my head to see a child running toward me and the dog. A moment later, she came to a stop in front of me. She was heaving with exertion as she looked at me with interest. Then she gave me the loveliest grin I'd ever seen. I felt like someone had just snatched the oxygen from my lungs, because the child was indeed very beautiful. Dark hair, flawless skin, and Prussian blue eyes. Prussian blue eyes? Just like that gorgeous man back at the road.
I couldn't help myself, of course, and gave the little girl one of my lovely smiles as well, despite my fear of the dog, which looked like it wanted to bite my head off.
The girl turned to glare at the fluffy canine, her small hands on her hips. "Stop it, Sammy! You're being a very naughty dog. Now be quiet and be nice."
The dog immediately halted its barking and nuzzled its head against her legs, informing its master it was sorry. It didn't take the girl long to stop being mad with her beloved pet, though. She laughed and patted the dog's head, exempting it from punishment.
"That's a good boy," she said. Then she turned to me. "You're full of mud." She giggled.
I sighed. "Yes, I am."
"Sorry, Sammy isn't usually that excited about new people," she said apologetically.
Excited? Those barks were excitement? I begged to differ. The dog looked like it wanted to chase me down and do some horrible, unmentionable things to me.
"What's your name?"
I gathered myself up, unsuccessfully brushing off the wet, dirty, thick brown goo from my clothes.
"Mia," I said, eyeing her. "What's yours?"
"Aria," she replied, giving me a toothy grin. "And this is Sammy. There's Alfie as well, but he's back in the house."
By house she meant mansion, of course. Then I wondered how the heck I was going to get myself cleaned up before going up to see the billionaire Mr. J. Maxwell.
"Do you know where I might be able to freshen up?" I asked, giving her a lovely grin again, hoping she was able to help me.
She nodded. "Follow me."
"Are you sure?" I asked, wondering if I was overstepping the boundaries. I was a stranger, after all, and requesting a little girl to aid me without her parents' permission wasn't something one usually did. It was frowned upon.
"You helping me," I said. "I'm a stranger. I could be a bad guy."
She cocked her head to one side, her Prussian blue eyes large as she gazed at me. I found myself remembering the other Prussian blue eyes, the ones that belonged to the gorgeous man. The one that made my heart flutter with both excitement and trepidation.
The girl laughed. I realized she was laughing at me.
When she managed to calm down, she said, "You don't look like the bad guys."
I sighed and thought, Kids.
"Bad guys don't run from friendly dogs," she said, nodding her head. "And we're not strangers. I know your name. Your name is Mia. And you know my name. My name is Aria. And if we become friends, that means you're not a stranger."
I had to admit the beautiful child was very smart for a six-ish-year-old.
"Come on. You're getting a little smelly," she said, taking my mud-covered hand.
I couldn't help myself. The child was adorable and very kind. I let her lead me toward the house.
Aria took me back to where I'd been before, the front double doors. This time, though, two females stood there. One was dressed in an immac
ulate black suit with short, neatly styled blond hair. Her posture was straight, and she had a stern, no-nonsense expression on her face that scared me. The other one was a beauty, with long brunette hair, warm tan skin, hazel eyes, and, well, a not-so-lovely expression on her face. She was glaring at me, of course. She didn't bother to hide the look of disgust she had for me. I couldn't blame her. She looked like she was the mistress of this massive house, and I was a girl covered in stinky mud.
The two superior women didn't seem to intimidate little Aria at all, which confused me a great deal.
"Ms. Lane," Aria said to the one in the black suit. "She's my new friend and she needs to shower."
"Yes, of course, Miss Aria," Ms. Lane replied with a bow of her head. "Which bathroom will your friend be using?"
Aria thought about this for a moment. "The first floor."
"I shall tell the maid to prepare the necessities right away," Ms. Lane said and headed up the stairs.
Aria turned to the pretty one. "Sophie, where's Alfie?"
"He's in your room, Aria," Sophie said, her sharp eyes on me.
"Oh, okay," Aria said, pulling my hand to step into the house. I saw Sophie was about to protest Aria holding my dirty hand. But she held herself in check and took a few steps back, allowing us in.
"Follow me," Aria said, marching up into the grand foyer. Sammy and I followed her like obedient soldiers.
I glanced over my shoulder at Sophie and saw the woman narrowing her eyes at me. A sense of unease rushed through me, and I shivered. That woman didn't like me. I knew it in my gut.
On the way to the bathroom, I didn't take much notice of the grandness of the house, as I was too worried about the meeting with Mr. Maxwell. My body suddenly became tenser as we climbed the stairs. Glancing back at Aria, I wondered if the child was Mr. Maxwell's granddaughter. If she was, then I wanted to ask her what the old billionaire was like. I was so tempted to but kept my mouth shut because Aria was talking nonstop about this and that and piano lessons, and of all things, a rabbit on the road.
"You know, Daddy should have brought the rabbit home anyway." She grinned at me. "I like rabbits. They're so cute and fluffy."
I laughed. "I agree," I said. I'd always wanted a rabbit for a pet. But having a pet meant having another mouth to feed, and I couldn't afford that, even a rabbit who only ate cabbage and carrots. Of course, there was still the cost of a pet license, as well as vaccines for diseases, etc. There was just too much money involved.