I told myself I wouldn't be nervous. They can't actually see me, so why is my heart pounding so hard? I adjust my camera for the fourth time, checking the angle before I assess my outfit again. It's a cute bra, and the underwear match--what comes next is nothing that I haven't done a thousand times before. It's just that now, I'll be doing it for unseen viewers for pay. I take a deep breath, reminding myself that I need the money. That it's my body, and I'm taking ownership of it. Everything that I do from this point onward is my choice, and I'm in complete control. That thought makes me feel brave. I take a deep breath. I check my wig. I adjust my mask. I can do this. I start the camera. Chapter 1 Cassie I'm going to be homeless." I hear Wanda clucking her tongue all the way from her kitchen (which, incidentally, isn't that far away in a seven- hundred-square-foot apartment), and when I raise my face from the aged velvet of her couch, I can see her shaking a spatula at me. "No pity parties," she tells me. "You aren't gonna be homeless. You can take the couch if need be." I make a face at the aforementioned velvet couch, glancing from it to the pile of newspapers at the end of it to the television that defies time by refusing to die inside its wooden shell. "I couldn't . . . impose," I say tentatively, not wanting to hurt her feelings. "I'll figure something out." In my third year of grad school for occupational therapy-- losing my job as a therapy assistant at the children's hospital was not part of the plan. I've barely been making rent with the salary they were giving me, and now that they've had to downsize, my even tinier apartment across the hall from Wanda's place is looking more and more like it will be a thing of the past very soon. "Nonsense," Wanda argues. "You know you're welcome here." I blow one auburn curl away from my face, pushing up from the couch cushions to a sitting position. I've known Wanda Simmons for about six years now; I met her when she invited me in for tea after I locked myself out of the apartment my first week here. A seventy-two-year-old woman as my best friend wasn't exactly on my list of things to accomplish here, but she might be more interesting than I am, so I guess there's that. "Wanda," I sigh. "I love you. You know that, but . . . you have one bathroom and no Wi-Fi. It would never work out between us." "It's the age difference, isn't it," she pouts. "Absolutely not. You will always be the only woman for me." "I'm just saying. The option is there." "And what are you going to do when you bring home your bingo men, and I'm sitting here on your couch?" "Oh, we won't bother you. We'll go to the bedroom." I grimace. "I am all for you getting yours, but I absolutely don't want to be on the other side of these very thin walls for it." Wanda chuckles as she stirs the sauce for her meatballs. "You could always go back to doing those booby cams." I groan. "Please don't call them booby cams." "What? It's a camera. You show your boobies. You get paid." I let my face fall back against her couch. I sort of regret telling Wanda about my . . . history with OnlyFans, but I hadn't quite anticipated that she would be able to handle her tequila better than I did the night I bared it all. Not that I'm ashamed of it, by any means. It was good money. Taking cash from people looking to get their rocks off was an easy decision when faced with a looming tuition bill that I couldn't begin to pay for otherwise. I mean, good tits should really earn their keep. I think Margaret Thatcher said that once. "You know I can't," I sigh. "I deleted my whole account. All my subs are gone. It would take me another two years to build them back up." Besides, I learned my lesson the first time around. At least I kept that part to myself. "Then what are you going to do? Have you been looking for another job?" "Trying to," I grumble, scrolling through the same help wanted ads on my phone that have mostly not panned out. "Why put out help wanted ads if they aren't going to get back with you?" "Too many people in this city," Wanda tuts. "You know, when I moved here, you could actually walk down the street and recognize folks. Now it's like a beehive out there. Always buzzing. Did you know they have a damned grocery store you don't even use your card in? Just walk in and walk out. Thought I was stealing the whole time. 'Bout gave me heart palpitations." "Yes, we talked about the new Fresh store, remember? I helped you set up your account." "Oh, yeah. Next thing you know, they'll be flying groceries right to your door." "Wanda, I hate to break it to you, but they already are." "No kidding? Hmm. You should set that up too. Save me a damned walk." "I guess you're not so opposed to the future after all." "Yeah, yeah. What about the diner on Fifth?" "They won't let me off for my on-campus labs." "You know, Sal was saying he could use some help with--" "I am not working at the deli," I tell her firmly. "Sal is too handsy." "I always sort of liked that about him," Wanda laughs. "Aren't you too old to be this horny?" "I'm old, Cassie," she snorts. "Not dead." "Seriously, I don't know what I am going to do," I groan. "Check the ads again. Maybe you missed something." "I've checked them a dozen times," I huff. Wanda is still grousing at me from the kitchen as I pore over the help wanted section again regardless, thinking that if I scan it enough times, some miracle ad will jump out at me that I didn't notice before. How can it be so hard to find a job that will let me do my schoolwork at night and be off every other weekend for my on-campus courses? I mean, this is San Diego, not Santa Barbara. There's got to be something that I can-- "Oh, shit," I say suddenly. Wanda steps out of the kitchen, spatula in hand. "What?" "Wanted: full-time live-in nanny position. Experience with children is a must. Free room and board. Serious inquiries only." Wanda humphs. "You don't want to be stuck taking care of someone else's--" "Entry salary . . . Holy shit." "Is it good?" I look up at Wanda with an open mouth, and when I tell her what they're offering, Wanda says a word she usually only reserves for when the Lakers lose. She blows out a breath afterward, patting at her neat white curls in that flustered way of hers. "I guess you'd best be calling them then." I hadn't expected Aiden Reid to get back to me as quickly as he did after I emailed him, and I certainly hadn't expected him to seem so eager, in setting a date for an interview. And speaking of date, I definitely hadn't expected him to ask me to meet him at one of the poshest restaurants in the city--one I cannot afford to eat at and one that I am pretty sure I am too underdressed to even be in. Is this how rich people hold interviews? I doubt Sal at the diner would be treating me to a five-star restaurant to get me to slice turkey for him while he accidentally brushes his hand across my ass. Still, I've put on my favorite black sheath dress, the one that I wore to my college graduation, and I hope it makes me seem a lot more put together than I feel right now. Since I am now under the suspicion that the family I am trying to nanny for is more well-off than I first thought, I'm thinking a little false confidence will do me a world of good. I mean, I love kids. And I learned working at the children's hospital that they're the target demographic of my terrible jokes, so that's a plus. Besides, the entire reason that I am pursuing a career in occupational therapy is to try to be that person who is there for children when no one else seems to be--so with that in mind, this job should be a piece of cake, right? That's what I keep telling myself. I swear the hostess can smell my vanilla body spray from Target, and she somehow knows this means I can't afford the appetizers here, but she pastes on a smile, much to her credit, and leads me to a table after I give her my would-be employer's name. Is this what it feels like to have pull? I take a seat in the silk-covered chair, feeling like a fish out of water amid the lit candles and the elegant music. Hell, I'm afraid to put my elbows on the table. A waiter comes by to ask if I want to start with any appetizers, and since the hostess with the judgy eyes was absolutely right--I ask for water instead while I wait. I sip it as I wait for this Aiden guy to show up (seems kind of rude to be late to your own interview), trying to look like I totally eat at places like this all the time. The restaurant itself is the nicest I've ever been in. I've never seen so many crystal centerpieces in my entire life, and Wanda would lose her shit if she saw the prices on the menu. I can't wait to tell her later and watch her eyes bug out of her head. "Excuse me," someone says. The deep voice murmured so closely to my ear nearly makes me choke on my water, a bit dribbling over my bottom lip and down my chin as I cough through it. I press the back of my hand there to try to wipe it away, noticing big hands in my now-blurred vision as a face comes into view. Holy. Hell. My brain short-circuits for a few seconds, trying to make sense of the sudden appearance of a large man with thick chestnut hair that's pushed away from his forehead and strong jaw and stronger cheekbones, and is his mouth softer looking than mine? He's tall too. Not the sort of tall that makes you think he plays basketball or something (although he totally could, if he wanted to), but the kind of tall that makes you want to ask him to grab something off the top shelf for you just so you can watch the way his shoulders move under his shirt. I realize this thought process makes little sense, but all I know is I am five seven with tits worth paying for, an ass built on squats and an emotional connection with bread, and this man makes me feel tiny. And if these things aren't enough to leave me dumbfounded (which I am, I mean, I'm literally drooling sparkling water)--his eyes would do the trick. I've heard of heterochromia; at the very least I'm pretty sure my biology professor mentioned it in passing when I was an undergrad, but I have never actually seen it in person. His eyes are a clash of one brown and one green, the colors not bright but subtle, like warm tea and seawater that are hard to look away from. I realize that this is exactly what I'm doing. Staring at the poor guy. "I'm sorry," I sputter. "Sort of caught me off guard." I grab the napkin to start patting at my chin, noticing now that the man is wearing a white chef coat with a matching apron tied around his waist. "Oh," I start again. "I wasn't going to order anything yet, I was waiting for someone." "Right." He flashes a row of perfect teeth that my orthodontist would be ecstatic over, looking almost like he regrets having walked up to the table. Or maybe I'm projecting. "I think you're waiting for me. Are you Cassie?" "I--" Oh no. No, no, no. I did not spit water all over myself in front of the guy I'm trying to get to hire me. "Are you Mr. Reid?" He makes a face. "Aiden, please. Mr. Reid makes me feel old." Which he isn't. I don't think. I mean, he's older than me, but not old. He can't be any older than thirty, I'd wager. I'm still sort of gawking at him. "Right," I say, trying to collect myself as I push away from the table and extend my hand awkwardly. "I'm Cassie. Cassie Evans." His mouth quirks at my extended hand, making me immediately regret holding it out like I'm doing an off-Broadway rendition of the Tin Man in The Wizard of Oz, but there's no taking it back now. He shakes it in what I can only assume is an attempt to be nice, gesturing back to my seat and waiting for me to sit before he takes the one across from me. I clear my throat, trying to forget that a minute ago I almost spit water on the hottest man alive who I very much want to pay me a ridiculous amount of money to watch his kid. His kid, I remind myself. This is a job interview. Which makes it totally inappropriate that I'm still thinking about his massive hands. Hands that my hindbrain actually notices aren't sporting a ring of any kind. Cut it out, brain. I should stop staring at his hands, in any case. Even if they are large enough to make a girl mentally calculate when her last date was. "So," I try awkwardly. "You're a cook." I groan, instantly regretting my choice of words. "Sorry. I mean a chef. You're a chef. Right?" Miraculously, he doesn't call to have me removed, but smiles instead. "Yeah. I cook here." Oh, bless him for humoring me. "That's . . . awesome. Really awesome." I nod appreciatively as I glance around us at the glittering chandeliers and the piano player somewhere behind us. "It's a snazzy place." "It is," he agrees. "I've been the executive chef here for a few years now." "No kidding? Fancy." "Fancy," he echoes, looking amused. "Right. Sorry to ask you to meet me at work. I've been, ah . . . well. It's been crazy lately." "It's no big deal. I thought it was weird to do one of these things over dinner, especially at a place like this, but I figured . . ." It might have been nice if it had dawned on me before I had started sputtering my nonsense, but nevertheless, it does hit me. The implications of what he's said. My mouth snaps shut as heat floods my face, and I duck with embarrassment as I cover my eyes. "Oh my God. This isn't a dinner interview. You wanted to talk to me on your break." "I should have . . . been more clear in my email." Oh God. He's trying to defend me. Someone bury me. "I'm unbelievable." "No, no," he tries. "It's fine." Excerpted from The Nanny by Lana Ferguson All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.