Pippa grabbed the door handle as the car swerved around another oak-lined hairpin turn at a death-defying speed. The Grim Reaper had sent her a maniac for a driver.
In a moment of carelessness, she opened her eyes and glanced out the windshield, praying for some sight of their destination. Ahead, stone towers rose from the serenity of an evergreen forest, and she gawked at the fantasy. Unfortunately, the breakneck pace crystallized details much too quickly—the Disney image warped into a gawdawful gothic castle lacking only a moat and a woman screaming from the turret.
In the front seat, the crazed driver muttered an ominous “Uh-oh,” and the car swerved with a squeal of brakes.
The crash jerked her head backward into the headrest as the car ground to a halt. Thinking motionlessness a good thing, Pippa closed her eyes and assessed the internal damage. Whiplash, possibly. No broken bones. No flying glass. Her legs appeared capable of moving. And moving them immediately seemed the wisest choice under the circumstances.
Without further internal consultation, she popped open the rear door and dove for safety.
“Durwood!” a voice thundered from somewhere beyond her. “You’re fired! If I’ve told you once, I’ve told you ten thousand times, you can’t drive the car! So help me, I’ll put both you and Nana in a box and shove you over the cliff! What in hell did you think you were doing?”
Pleasant chap, Pippa decided, examining her scraped knees where she’d hit the pavement in her haste to escape the car. Other than a dirty hem, her dress seemed in good shape. She couldn’t say the same for her panty hose. Luckily, she carried a spare pair. Now, if she only dared go back in the car for her shoulder bag…
Scrambling to her feet, she warily glanced around. Firmly wedged against the oak, the car appeared in no imminent danger of tumbling off the cliff. If there was any danger at all, it was from the furious man descending the mansion’s pretentious front steps two at a time. Had he worn a black cloak and carried a scythe, she wouldn’t have raised an eyebrow.
Pippa expected steam to pour from his ears. Not that she could see his ears amid the thick, curly black hair, uncut and uncombed by any self-respecting hairdresser. It waved and curled in layers that would have made her faint with joy had they been on her own head. Instead, they framed a distinctly masculine, long-boned face that made “harsh” seem a mild word.
Scarcely heeding the furious tornado headed his way, the gnarled driver examined the car’s steaming engine with detached interest. He appeared only mildly surprised when the dark man jerked him from the roadway by his shirt collar.
“You’re fired, Durwood! Do you hear me? Now get back to the garden, where you belong.”
Feeling like Alice tumbling through the looking glass, Pippa backed away from the rising fracas. The man in the long-sleeved black turtleneck was twice the driver’s size, and in her present state of mind, looked like some dangerous combination of Frankenstein’s monster and Heathcliff. His biceps bulged beneath tight shirtsleeves as he lifted Durwood off his feet. She preferred not to look at the nearly triangular shape of his back. The broad shoulders she’d seen from the front had scared her enough, thank you very much. As reaction set in, she edged away from the stone castle with its towering turrets and moved toward the driveway.
This cyclone couldn’t be Mr. Wyatt. She didn’t think wealthy eccentrics dressed like athletic thugs. A man with Seth Wyatt’s reputation would have cold eyes, a sharp weasely face, and wear double-breasted Italian suits. She’d never actually seen a man wearing an Italian suit, but she imagined she could spot one easily enough. Perhaps Frankenstein was Wyatt’s bodyguard.
An ear-piercing shriek cut the air, followed by the crash of breaking glass. The thug cursed. Pippa swung instinctively toward the house. There was supposed to be a crippled boy in this household, and that had sounded like a child’s scream.
The still cursing long-haired man hurtled past her with unprecedented rudeness.
Pippa hurried up the stairs after him, nearly stumbling as she fell through the rabbit hole into the most incredible house she’d ever seen. Impressions of stone and timber walls and soaring cathedral ceilings blurred as she raced in the direction of the screams. She followed the man across a mahogany foyer, up flagstone stairs, and down an immense, winding corridor, toward the back of the house.
Abruptly, her leader halted in the doorway of what appeared to be a solarium. Pippa skidded, nearly crashing into his broad back. He propped his hands on his hips, blocking any view except the one between the crooks of his arms. From that angle, she could see the spectacular view from the windows but no sign of an occupant.
“Chad!” the man bellowed. “That’s enough!”
The man did indeed have odd reactions to trauma. Tired of her apparent invisibility, Pippa shoved her way past him, trying to locate the boy. She finally discovered him in a wheelchair.
If the smashed glass door was any evidence, he’d attempted to wheel his chair onto the balcony beyond. But remembering the scream preceding the breaking glass, Pippa accepted the possibility that an escalating temper tantrum could be the culprit. She saw no signs of blood or physical trauma. The behavior of the man behind her corroborated her instincts.
As the youngest of three children, she didn’t have a lot of experience in caring for siblings. She had, however, spent a good deal of time in the hospital’s pediatric ward. She’d seen anger and frustration before, but never a tantrum like this one. The boy’s pale face had nearly turned purple with rage. Something in the similarity of the dark curls and long face warned of the relation to the man behind her, but she’d about had enough of the screaming and didn’t heed the warning.
Not one for vacillating, Pippa took the first workable solution available. Screaming at the boy obviously presented no solution. She couldn’t squeeze the chair past the two-hundred pound immovable object in the doorway, or close the door on him and let the kid exhaust himself. Now that he had the attention he wanted, the boy wouldn’t stop soon, and not knowing the particulars of his condition, she feared for his health. With tight-lipped decision, she grabbed the wheelchair handles and steered him through the doorway, over the broken glass, onto the balcony.
The boy applied his brakes, but she kicked them loose with an expertise that surprised him—for about two seconds. Then he screamed louder, twisting and turning and attempting to fling himself from the chair.
Pippa reached for a nearby watering can. Apologizing to the colorful plants decorating the railing, she dumped the can’s contents over the boy’s curly head.
Howls instantly turned to sputters and pitiful wails. The man behind her roared and stormed into the room.
Calmly, Pippa held up the half-full can as if it were a shotgun and threatened him with it.
“He’s unharmed and doesn’t have a scratch on him,” she informed him patiently. “Which is more than I can say for myself,” she added, finally feeling the ache in her neck and the scrapes on her knees.
The long-haired monster pushed her aside, strode across the stone balcony, and jerked his sobbing son from the chair. Hugging the soaked boy, wetting his shirt in the process, the Grim Reaper glared at her. “You’re fired.”
That seemed reasonable. She didn’t want to work in a madhouse anyway, particularly now that she realized this was her employer and he was as lethal as promised. His stony glare would have put Medusa to shame. But Pippa’s protective nature couldn’t help pointing out the obvious. “Pardon me if I’m in error, but I believe you’ve just given him exactly what he wanted. Who’s running this household, him or you?”
Cuddling his shivering, sobbing son against his chest, Seth couldn’t fling the irritating female over the railing as he would like. He doubted if she reached his shoulder or possessed half his weight, but she stood there calmly defying him. He didn’t know how else to get rid of her if he couldn’t throw her off the balcony. As usual when forced to words instead of action, he cursed. Chad imitated him, and the language spilling from the boy’s tongue turned his attention away from his new employee.
Seth stared down at his son in disbelief. “What did you say?”
The boy glared back at him with the same ferocious expression Seth had seen in his own mirror. “Make the silly bitch go away.”
Seth could hear himself in those precise words. In horror, he glanced at the interfering female, daring her to comment.
Instead of looking properly outraged, she grinned like a damned Cheshire cat. Only then did Seth notice she appeared more female leprechaun than qualified nurse. That absurd cap of obviously tinted red hair bounced with her suppressed laughter. Green eyes danced in a ridiculously cherubic face. She needed only a green stocking cap and leotards to complete the image. The totally out-of-fashion shirtdress didn’t suit her at all. She appeared everything but tailored, in his opinion. Flighty, uncontrollable… He would need a thesaurus.
“He will be a joy as a teenager,” the cheerful leprechaun observed. “I don’t suppose you have another car and driver to take me back to town? I’d rather walk than ride with that maniac again.”