Vintage Love Series Book 3
He’ll do everything he can to avoid love. It may not be enough.
Argentinian tycoon, Santiago Alvarez recently lost his sister, brother-in-law, and father. Now he’s solely responsible for his traumatized niece, Miranda, who hasn’t spoken for three months. His only hope to help Miranda recover is a woman who tempts him like no other. Whatever it takes, he’ll live up to his promise to care for his sister’s daughter—even if it means marriage.
French teacher Genevieve Dubois is slowly recovering from post-traumatic stress disorder after the death of a student. Her new position, helping a little girl find joy again, brings with it an unusual complication—a super-sexy uncle who awakens Genevieve’s desire for a family of her own. When her employer proposes marriage so he can keep custody of Miranda, Genevieve accepts, hoping to turn their passion into love. But when she discovers the real reason Santiago wants to be guardian of his niece, it threatens all their futures.
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Copyright © 2016 by Alexia Adams. All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce, distribute, or transmit in any form or by any means. For information regarding subsidiary rights, please contact the Author.
Excerpt From The Tycoon and The Teacher:
Genevieve glanced at the man beside her. Mon Dieu, what have I gotten myself into? The lure of a child in distress had really landed her in a mess this time.
The car sped past miles of vineyards; the snow-capped peaks of the Andes Mountains stood tall and proud like sentinels guarding Argentina’s Mendoza valley. It wasn’t being so far from her home in the Loire region of France that had unnerved her, though. It was the man next to her in the back seat. Santiago Alvarez was about as gorgeous as men came. His dark brown hair was swept back off his face, and his strong jaw and Roman nose matched his starched and stiff demeanor. Yet all he’d had to say was that his eight-year-old niece hadn’t spoken in the three months since her parents died—could Genevieve come and see if she could do anything to help?
And here she was.
The added push, of course, was that in three weeks her current position as nanny for little Max Castellioni was coming to an end. And the thought of returning to teach in a classroom still sent her heart rate into triple digits. Another job, one on one with a child, was what she needed to stay sane … to keep from remembering.
“Could you tell me about your niece before I meet her?” Genevieve asked. The silence had become as awkward as the time she’d asked a student’s mother when her baby was due, only to be told she wasn’t pregnant.
“Miranda’s eight, and her parents died three months ago,” he replied.
That was the best he could do? The child had been living with him since August. Maybe he wasn’t used to interviewing nannies. Or being quizzed by them. “What does she like to do?”
“I don’t know. I think she likes princesses. As I mentioned, she hasn’t talked in three months, not even to me.”
“But you knew her before her tragedy, didn’t you? What was she like then?”
His hazel eyes clouded for a moment as his gaze lingered on her face. Then he resumed staring at his phone. “Like most eight-year-old girls, I imagine. I’m not very good with children.”
She forced back a huff of frustration. Poor child, no wonder she hadn’t spoken with her uncle, who was doing an impressive impersonation of a stuck-up jackass. He’s dealing with his own grief. Be gentle. Genevieve pulled in a deep breath and released it slowly. “Okay, tell me about her parents then. Were they happy? What kind of family life did they have?”
“Beatriz and Denman were the perfect couple. They loved each other so much, it was a mercy they were taken together.”
Not if it meant leaving their daughter orphaned, surely. But Santiago seemed to think death preferable to living without someone he loved. No way was she going to try to find the water in that well.
Best to keep the conversation on Miranda’s parents. “How did they meet?”
“Through me. Beatriz is … was my sister.” He paused for a moment and swallowed. “I went to school with Denman and we became friends first, then business partners. I don’t think Denman stood a chance once Beatriz decided he was what she wanted.”
“And does Miranda take after her mother or her father?”
“Probably more Denman.”
She tilted her head to the side, taking advantage of Santiago’s distraction with his phone to linger in her gaze. He really was gorgeous. His lips were full, and when he’d smiled once at something Max had said, they lifted up, slightly crooked. His long fingers gripped his mobile device like it was a life raft in a storm-tossed sea. But she wasn’t about to be so easily dismissed, not when a child’s happiness was at stake. “Denman doesn’t sound like an Argentinian name.”
“His mother was English, his father Argentinian. Miranda’s last name is Suarez. And she speaks and understands English if you don’t speak Spanish.”
“I can get by,” Genevieve responded. No need for him to know about what happened in Honduras.
The vehicle pulled up in front of an elegant Mediterranean-style villa. The plaster’s soft yellow glowed against the backdrop of the setting sun. The house was surrounded by a large garden, but beyond that, as far as the eye could see, were grapevines. It was a stunning place—too bad it currently held so much unhappiness.
“Welcome to my home,” Santiago said as she scrambled out of the car before he or the driver could come around and open her door. He stood so close, his intoxicating scent enveloped her. “As we say in Spanish, mi casa es su casa.”
My house is your house. I wish. Beats my small, drab apartment any day.
“Thank you.” Before she could say more, they were surrounded by the rest of Santiago’s guests. They’d all flown from Rio de Janeiro in his private plane but had taken two separate cars from the airport to his house. Only Daniel, Santiago’s half brother and the reason they were all together, had stayed in Brazil to compete in his Formula 1 race.
“Shall I take Max?” Genevieve held her arms up to the little boy, who usually came willingly. She was, after all, paid to care for him.
“Don’t worry, Genevieve,” Lexy, Max’s mother, said. “I’ll look after Max tonight. Why don’t you meet Santiago’s niece?”
Genevieve forced a smile. She’d hoped for at least a few minutes’ break from her host’s company.
“My staff will show you to your rooms,” he said, gesturing towards the steps, atop which stood three uniformed maids. “When you’re ready we can meet on the back veranda for drinks before dinner.”
Genevieve thought a large whiskey might be needed to cope with the diverse personalities in the crowd that had converged at the hospital when Max had an asthma attack a few hours earlier. Santiago had the good luck to pick that moment to arrive in Rio to convince his newfound half brother Daniel to come to Mendoza to meet their dying father. If that weren’t complicated enough, Daniel’s other half brother, Jacques, and his wife, Maya, had also shown up, almost giddy with the freedom of coming out of hiding following the death of the crime boss Maya had testified against.
And now the family reunion had decamped to Santiago’s place to give Max time to recover and to wait for Daniel to finish the next race. How a group of blood-related strangers planned to get along under one roof she had no idea, and she didn’t really want to get involved. In fact, Lexy and Daniel had given her the option of staying in Rio and had decided to do just that.
Until Santiago had told her about his niece.
Genevieve climbed the steps beside Santiago, who waved away the other maid as they approached. “Thank you, Magdalena,” he said. “I will show Señorita Dubois to her room.”
Genevieve shot him a glance. Why did she deserve such personal attention? Aside from his request regarding his niece, he’d barely said ten words to her. Even when they’d returned to the Rio hotel to grab the luggage, he’d spent the entire time on his phone, conducting business. Perhaps her room was in the staff section or near his niece. Daniel and his girlfriend Lexy had never treated her like an employee, so she wasn’t quite sure where she stood now. Was she invited to drinks and dinner, or expected to get her meal in the kitchen with the other staff?
Santiago led her down a long, wide hallway. Every five meters stood a small table with a large vase of fresh flowers that filled the air with their exotic perfume. Near the end of the hallway he opened a double set of doors, revealing a large room complete with fireplace, sofa, and a gorgeous sleigh bed. This was no staff accommodation.
“I hope you find this room satisfactory.”
“It’s beautiful. But very grand. Are you sure this is for me?”
“Yes, I asked the housekeeper to get it ready for you especially.”
“Okay.” She drew the word out, waiting for her brain to process what her eyes were seeing. Was this some game he was playing? Give her the best room and then expect something from her in return? She’d seen the way he looked at her when he thought she was distracted. Did he think she’d be wowed by luxury and fall at his feet? She’d grown up playing in Jacques’s huge chateau where her aunt was the housekeeper, and she traveled around the world on her current job, always staying in the best hotels. Luxury was nothing new.
More enticing was the lure of Santiago’s strong arms wrapped around her, snuggling against his broad chest, making her feel safe… She shook her head to clear that image from her mind before it had the chance to take root. Time to get back to the real reason she was in his house. “Would you like me to meet your niece now?”
“When you’re ready.” His gaze roamed over her again, and she could feel the heat rise in her cheeks. Had he caught her staring at his chest? Dieu, he must work out regularly.
She needed a minute for a reality check. While she was hot and bothered, the man in question was cold enough to warrant a frostbite warning. Why was she suddenly thinking about being in his arms? Her father had taught her to look after herself. She didn’t need a man to keep her safe.
The scars on her back begged to differ.
“Fifteen minutes. Where shall I meet you?”
“I’ll come collect you.” He closed the door gently behind him and she pulled in a deep breath. Hopefully, she would spend the majority of her time with Max and Santiago’s niece. Because too much time near him and she’d be a mess. Having grown up on various army bases, she was used to authoritative, muscled men. Her reaction to Santiago was out of character. Which made it worse. She had no idea how to deal with it.
Maybe some fresh air was what she needed. She opened the doors at the far side of the room. A two-meter wide terrace ran half the width of the house. The sun had just dipped below the horizon, leaving a blaze of orange and pink–hued glory in its wake. Genevieve was about to step out when the patio doors next to hers flung open and Santiago emerged. What? He’d put her in the room next to his, with a shared balcony? She retreated to her room, but only to the point where he couldn’t see her unless he turned around, although she could still see him. His jacket and tie were off, and he’d rolled his sleeves up. Casual, but just as sexy.
At first he leaned his forearms on the stone railing, staring at the sunset. Then he scrubbed his hands over his face as though exhausted, and bowed his head between his arms. He looked like a weary man carrying the weight of the world on his shoulders. She resisted the urge to go to him, run her hands over his back, and ease some of his tension. He stayed like that for a minute more before straightening and returning to his room.
She glanced at her watch—five minutes left to get ready. While she’d been staring at her host, someone had slipped her suitcase in her room. She pulled out a long, Bohemian-style skirt that was meant to be wrinkled and a caftan top and changed into them. Hurriedly, she ran a brush through her hair, leaving it loose. She hadn’t yet found her flat shoes when there was a knock on the door.
Barefoot, she opened the door. Santiago had switched his shirt and ditched the tie but still wore a suit. His gaze roamed over her and a warm, crooked smile lit his features. He seemed about to touch her hair but pulled his hand through his own instead. That second of humanity was quickly replaced by another cool, detached expression.
“Do you need more time?”
“Just to find my shoes. I threw everything in my bag and didn’t pack properly, as we were in a hurry.”
He glanced down at her feet, and she stopped herself from wiggling her toes. “Miranda hates shoes and refuses to wear them most of the time.” It was the first personal insight he’d given about his niece.
“I like her already. I’ll stay barefoot, then. It will give us something in common.”
He hesitated a moment, his gaze returning to her feet, then turned and led her back downstairs and along the hallway to a room at the far end. After knocking softly, he opened the door. The room was bright and cheery and huge. But not cozy. Her eyes scanned the room, looking for Santiago’s niece. A matronly woman sat on a chair, wearing what Genevieve assumed was the uniform for some exclusive nanny company. Opposite her, huddled in a tiny ball, was a dark-haired girl, pristinely garbed in a school uniform, except that her toes peeked out from under the hem of her dress. The nanny put down the book she’d been reading and peered at Santiago over the rim of her glasses.
“Señor Alvarez, I didn’t expect to see you tonight. I thought you would be with your guests.”
“Thank you, Marta. You may take your dinner break now. Señorita Dubois and I will spend some time with Miranda.”
Miranda didn’t raise her chin from where it rested on her knees. Marta put the book down and whooshed out of the room without even saying “bye” to the child.
“Miranda, Señorita Dubois has come to visit for a few days,” Santiago began.
No response from the little girl. He shifted his weight from one foot to the other. He probably addressed heads of state without a qualm. But it looked like an eight-year-old girl had him baffled.
Dieu, the man had no idea how to relate to his own niece. He wasn’t even trying. Miranda continued to stare at the floor, shredding Genevieve’s heart. When Santiago made no move to get closer to the little girl, Genevieve turned to him, wanting him to read the anger in her eyes. “You may go. I’ll stay with her. And will you tell Lexy that, if she wants, Max can take his supper in here with us?”
His eyes widened. “I don’t allow eating in the bedrooms.”
Although she wanted to tell him where he could shove his rules, she tried for a diplomatic approach first. Miranda needed peace, love and reassurance, not an angry tirade. Genevieve put a hand on Santiago’s arm but quickly dropped it. “Please, can we eat in here? It’s been quite a day and I’m not up to a big dinner.”
His eyes searched hers, questioning her actions. But she couldn’t get the little girl to open up to her with her pole-shoved-up-his-ass-I-don’t-allow-eating-in-the-bedrooms uncle around.
“Very well. I’ll have your dinners brought here.” He looked around the room. “I’m sure we have a portable table—”
“No need. We’ll eat on the floor.”
“Trust me, Santiago.”
It was the first time she’d used his name, and it rolled off her tongue with more passion than she’d intended. It sounded more like a caress than a command. And judging by the way his eyes flared, he’d noticed it as well. Merde, having personal fantasies about the way his body would feel molded to hers was one thing, but letting him know she’d thought about it was another.
“Very well. I’ll check on you after dinner.”
“Quick question. Has Miranda cried much?”
“Not at all as far as I’m aware. She hasn’t said a word since I told her of her parents’ passing.”
“Okay. See you later.”
He obviously wasn’t used to being dismissed, as he stood there for several more seconds while she went over to the bed, grabbed as many pillows and stuffed animals as she could, and proceeded to plop down on the floor in front of Miranda. Finally, the door closed behind him.
After settling herself on a pile of cushions, Genevieve picked up a toy rabbit, and using a funny voice said, “Genevieve is such a long name. I can hardly say it.” She nodded the rabbit’s head as if it were speaking.
“I know,” Genevieve responded. “What was my mother thinking? But my little friend Max calls me Vivi, and I quite like it. You can call me Vivi, too.”
“Okay, Vivi,” the rabbit pretended to say.
“What’s your name?” Genevieve asked the toy.
Miranda shook her head but didn’t say anything.
“You don’t look like an Albert,” Genevieve continued. “I think you are Patrice.”
Again Miranda shook her head.
“Bertrand?” she tried again. This time the little girl raised her head before shaking it.
“How about Esteban? Esteban the rabbit. That must be it,” Genevieve said with a note of triumph in her voice.
“Peter,” a soft voice said.
Not wanting to scare Miranda, Genevieve pretended it had been the rabbit that gave its name. “Of course, Peter Rabbit. How could I have forgotten? Is Jemima Puddle Duck here, too, somewhere?”
Miranda slid off her chair and, with a toe, pointed at a small stuffed duck. A child schooled in the classics. Excellent.
Genevieve continued a silly conversation between herself, the stuffed rabbit and the duck. A tiny smile appeared on Miranda’s face for a second before disappearing. Poor child was so stuck in grief she felt guilty for a simple smile.
Just as Genevieve’s throat was getting sore from so much talking, the door opened and Max hurtled through in his usual boisterous manner. He’d quickly recovered from his trip to the hospital earlier in the day.
Lexy stood by the door. “Are you sure?” she asked as Max dived onto the pile of pillows. Miranda was now sitting on the floor, although she still had her knees drawn up to her chest. But at least she’d raised her head. Until Lexy had arrived—and then it was back to her fetal position.
“I’m sure,” Genevieve responded. “Enjoy your dinner. I’ll come get you if there are any issues.”
Lexy nodded and closed the door behind her.
“Miranda, this is my friend Max. Except he’s so bouncy I think he should be called Tigger.” On cue, Max jumped to his feet and bounced around the room, yelling, “Boing, boing, boing” as he went. Miranda stared at him in a mix of amusement and astonishment.
Genevieve grabbed up the book the nanny had left. “Max, come sit down. I’m going to read a story.” She didn’t want his boinging to bring on another asthma attack.
Instantly, Max was in her lap, ready to be read to. He snuggled into her arms and stuck his thumb in his mouth. Genevieve opened up the book—Gulliver’s Travels, in Spanish. Not what she’d have chosen for an eight-year-old, but if Miranda liked it…
She began to read, her Spanish a little rusty after almost a year. After the third paragraph, Max protested. “I can’t understand any of it. Are you talking Italian like my nonno?”
“No, petit chou, it’s Spanish, Miranda’s language. Just listen for now. You can tell what’s happening from the pictures, and I’ll explain in a minute.”
But before she could resume reading, Miranda got to her feet, went across to a bookshelf, and pulled out another book. She handed it to Genevieve before sitting again. Except this time the little girl sat right next to her. Tentatively, Genevieve lifted her arm and put it around Miranda. Although she sat stiffly, Miranda didn’t protest at the contact. Another victory.
The book was a Winnie the Pooh story in English. Genevieve read it slowly, pointing out things in the pictures, trying to get Miranda to join in with Max’s running commentary. She still hadn’t said a word, aside from “Peter,” but now the stuffed rabbit sat in the little girl’s lap as the three of them cuddled.
By the time Santiago and Lexy returned, the two children were in their pajamas and Genevieve snuggled with them on the huge bed. Max was valiantly trying to stay awake but didn’t protest when his mother lifted him into her arms to take him to her room.
“Everything okay? Where’s Marta?” Santiago asked, his gaze searching both Miranda and Genevieve’s faces.
“Just fine. I told Marta she could have the night off, and that I’d stay with the children.” The older woman had been horrified to walk in while Genevieve and the children were eating their dinner in their laps, seated on the floor. Miranda had instantly stiffened again and started to withdraw, so Genevieve sent the nanny away.
“You’re here as my guest, not an employee,” Santiago said.
“Then as your guest I’m asking you to give Marta the rest of the week off and allow me to spend time with Miranda. We have a lot in common, don’t we, petit chou?” Genevieve wriggled her bare toes as she waited for Santiago to respond.
Santiago stared at her as if trying to see into her soul. I wouldn’t peer in there; it’s pretty dark at the moment. Finally, he gave a curt nod. “If that is what you wish.”
“Would you have a drink with me on the terrace off your room after Miranda goes to bed?”
“If that is what you wish.” She repeated his stilted reply and was rewarded with a slight lifting of his lips. Dieu, if the man were any more rigid he’d be a statue, with pigeons perching on his head.
“Goodnight, Miranda. Sleep well.”
Santiago left and Genevieve shook her head. She was going to show the man what a precious gift his niece was if it took everything in her.
Now, she just needed to keep the darkness at bay long enough to show him the light.