He had come for nothing, Nicholas thought in disgust as he gazed down at the surf crashing on the rocks below. No one would want to kill Nell Calder. She was no more likely to be connected with Gardeaux than that big-eyed elf she was now lavishing with french pastry and adoration.
If there was a target here, it was probably Kavinski. As head of an emerging Russian state, he had the power to be either a cash cow or extremely troublesome to Gardeaux. Nell Calder couldn't be considered troublesome to anyone. He had known the answers to all the questions he had asked her, but he had wanted to see her reactions. He had been watching her all evening, and it was clear she was a nice, shy woman, totally out of her depth even with those fairly innocuous sharks downstairs. He couldn't imagine her having enough influence to warrant bribery, and she would never have been able to deal one on one with Gardeaux.
Unless she was more than she appeared. Possibly. She seemed as meek as a lamb, but she'd had the guts to toss him out of her daughter's room.
Everyone fought back if the battle was important enough. And it was important for Nell Calder not to share her daughter with him. No, the list must mean something else. When he went back downstairs, he would stay close to Kavinski."Here we go up, up, up High in the sky so blue. Here we go down, down, down Touching the rose so red."
She was singing to the kid. He had always liked lullabies. There was a reassuring continuity about them that had been missing in his own life. Since the dawn of time, mothers had sung to their children, and they would probably still be singing to them a thousand years from now.
The song ended with a low chuckle and a murmur he couldn't hear.
She came out of the bedroom and closed the door a few minutes later. She was flushed and glowing with an expression as soft as melted butter.
"I've never heard that lullaby before," he said.
She looked startled, as if she'd forgotten he was still there. "It's very old. My grandmother used to sing it to me."
"Is your daughter asleep?"
"No, but she will be soon. I started the music box for her again. By the time it finishes, she usually nods off."
"She's a beautiful child."
"Yes." A luminous smile turned her plain face radiant once more. "Yes, she is."
He stared at her, intrigued. He found he wanted to keep that smile on her face. "And bright?"
"Sometimes too bright. Her imagination can be troublesome. But she's always reasonable and you can talk to—" She broke off and her eagerness faded. "But this can't interest you. I forgot the tray. I'll go back for it."
"Don't bother. You'll disturb Jill. The maid can pick it up in the morning."
She gave him a level glance. "That's what I told you."
He smiled. "But then I didn't want to listen. Now it makes perfect sense to me."
"Because it's what you want to do."
"I have to go back too. I haven't met Kavinski yet." She moved toward the door.
"Wait. I think you'll want to remove that chocolate from your gown first."
"Damn." She frowned as she looked down at the stain on the skirt. "I forgot." She turned toward the bathroom and said dryly, "Go on. I assure you I don't need your help with this problem."
She glanced at him pointedly over her shoulder.
He had no excuse for staying, not that that small fact would have deterred him.
But he also had no reason. He had lived by his wits too long not to trust his instincts, and this woman wasn't a target of any sort. He should be watching Kavinski.
He turned toward the door. "I'll tell the maid you're ready for her to come back."
"Thank you, that's very kind of you," she said automatically as she disappeared into the bathroom.
Good manners obviously instilled from childhood. Loyalty. Gentleness. A nice woman whose world was centered on that sweet kid. He had definitely drawn a blank.
The maid wasn't waiting in the hallway. He'd have to send up one of the servants from downstairs.
He moved quickly through the corridors and started down the staircase.Shots.
Coming from the ballroom.
He tore down the stairs.
Excerpted from The Ugly Duckling by Iris Johansen. . Excerpted by permission of Bantam, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.