Bonus story: Into the Lion’s Den – part 1
Svetlana considered the time between assignments something of a personal purgatory. She didn’t define herself by her work, but racquetball, knitting and art classes didn’t fill her up. Caring for children was that last little piece that she needed. Svetlana had a way with children; the agency knew it and every family she worked for knew it as well. Unfortunately, the assignments didn’t last long. Either parents no longer felt the need for the services of a nanny once their children reached school age or insecure parents hated to see their children become so attached to someone else. As though it were Svetlana’s fault that they viewed a nanny as someone to shoulder their responsibilities instead of a partner to assist in the nurturing of their children. She did her job. The absentee and self-involved parents brought it upon themselves if she did it better.
She closed the copy of Parenting Today that she hadn’t been reading and looked around the small, comfortable sitting room. It was actually the employee waiting room of Natalie Gentry’s Au Pair Services, where the au pairs waited to be assigned, reassigned, or interviewed. The agency’s headquarters occupied an old Victorian home, elaborately decorated with rich, dark woods and thick carpets laid over polished hardwood floors. One other woman occupied the room. The young girl, a pretty thing even with the makeup scrubbed from her face and her hair pulled back in a tight braid, shook one low heeled shoe back and forth.
“First assignment?” Svetlana asked.
“What?” The girl’s dark blonde head lifted and she blushed a few shades of crimson. “Yeah, I mean, yes. Can you tell?”
“Just a little.” Svetlana stood and crossed the room, smoothing her skirt as she went. She took the chair closest to the girl and extended her hand. “Svetlana Matlyn.”
“Chloe Rousch.” Chloe’s handshake was firm if a bit sweaty.
“You made it this far, Chloe.” Svetlana gave the girl a reassuring smile. “Getting accepted as an Au Pair by Natalie Gentry’s is a statement of excellence in and of itself. The rest of it is easy.”
“I still have to impress the family, right?”
“You might be surprised at how easy it will be. Natalie has a sixth sense about these things. She knows what you, and what the clients need. In my experience, she hasn’t been wrong once.”
Her words provided a calm for the girl, and a few moment later, Svetlana sat in Natalie’s office. The older woman, a twelve year widow, sat behind the ornate mahogany desk. Her smile and welcome were genuine as she offered Svetlana coffee or tea. Svetlana declined both.
“You met my newest girl? Chloe?”
Svetlana nodded. She crossed her legs at the ankles and rested her hands in her lap. “Lovely girl though she seems to have a bit of a problem with nerves.”
“Yes, indeed she does.” Natalie lifted a cup of tea to her lips. The overhead light glimmered off of her numerous rings, all diamonds and emeralds. “Still, she has a marvelous way with children. Tell me, where do you see her assigned?”
Svetlana gave the question a moment of thought. Natalie wasn’t asking Svetlana’s opinion, though Svetlana was one of her oldest and most experienced nannies. Natalie made conversation in the oddest ways, though also Svetlana knew a part of Natalie loved to test Svetlana. The part of Natalie that saw Svetlana as destined to be more than an au pair. “A widower would be best for her. Barring that a marriage of convenience, where the wife has no attachments to her husband. Chloe is sweet and innocent and far too pretty. Your average wife will be far too jealous and I doubt that there are many men who wouldn’t be at least tempted.”
“My sentiments exactly,” Natalie practically beamed. “Such insight. You make it so hard on me, Svetlana. I almost don’t want to discuss a placement with you. When it comes to reading my au pairs and understanding people, you’re as good as I am.”
This wasn’t the first time that they’d had this conversation. Svetlana’s smile was wistful but her words firm. “Natalie, you know that my heart is in caring for children. I’m not the administrative type.”
“I know,” Natalie sighed, “but I’m not getting any younger. You can’t blame me for trying.” The older woman slid a folder across the desk blotter toward Svetlana. She left her hand atop of it, catching and holding Svetlana’s gaze. “This is a very . . . unique assignment, Svetlana. I was surprised when I was contacted, but I knew instantly that you were the only one qualified to take it. Even then, it took me some soul searching to bring it here and present it to you. Know that I haven’t accepted yet, and the agency does not have a signed contract. You are free to refuse.”
“But you don’t think I will, do you, Natalie?”
“I know that you’re an experienced professional who likes a challenge.” Natalie still did not lift her hand. “I was contacted a week ago by someone very high up at Triptych Corporation seeking an au pair.”
Svetlana stared at her employer and friend and waited for the punch line. When none came, Svetlana worked her jaw silently before she found words. “You’re not joking, are you? Triptych? And you chose me? Did I piss you off somehow?”
“Lana, it’s nothing like that.” Natalie lifted her hand and gestured to the file. “I meant it when I said that you are the most qualified for a position like this. I don’t have any other au pair that I would even consider for something as high profile as Triptych. I think most of them would be eaten alive.”
“You think I won’t?” Triptych Corporation was the biggest, multinational corporation in the world. They had a reputation for philanthropy; Triptych was famous for advances in science, technology and medicine. They had at their disposal all manner of people who didn’t quite have a place in “the mundane world:” psychics, witches, geniuses and god only knew what else. There were rumors of aliens in their ranks and considering that Triptych held all treaties and contracts with any alien life forms that contacted earth, it wouldn’t be so surprising. People loved Triptych; people also hated and feared them. Absolute power corrupts absolutely were the words whispered about the corporation. They were above the law of all countries and made their own rules. Triptych was a brilliant shining and yet dark and deadly world all its own.
Natalie sat back with a smile. “As a matter of fact, I don’t think you will.”
“I thought that Triptych did this sort of thing internally. Why would they go to an outside source?”
“This is a special case. The child has already had seven nannies, all vetted and trained by Triptych. She’s thirteen months old.”
“What’s wrong with the parents?” Svetlana grabbed the file in spite of herself. In her experience a run on au pairs for an infant had nothing to do with the au pair and everything to do with the parents.
“That’s why you’re so good at this, Lana. According to the girl’s father, the problem is actually a combination of problems. The girl doesn’t seem to want to attach to anyone but her parents and her mother is . . . difficult.”
Svetlana got as far as the child’s name, Ashlynn Harris, and the picture of an adorable honey-eyed and dark curly haired little infant. She lifted her head to look at Natalie. “Define difficult.”
“I think that it would be better for you to speak with the father.” Natalie pressed the intercom button on her telephone. “Perry. We’re ready for Dr. Gibson. Could you send him in please?”
“Natalie!” Svetlana hissed. “He’s here? Dr. Gibson? Dr. Daniel Gibson? And he’s –” Svetlana waved the file to supply the words that she could not. Daniel Gibson had moved from politics to the face of Triptych to one of the most powerful men at Triptych in a matter of years. People knew his name if they didn’t know his face.
Natalie didn’t get the chance to answer. Svetlana heard the door swing inward and turned slowly to gaze upon the face of a man she’d only ever seen on television, in magazines or in news reporters. He was taller and more broad of shoulder than she thought and his eyes were a brilliant green that Svetlana always assumed were an effect of makeup or photo finishing.
“Good afternoon, Dr. Gibson, thank you for waiting.” Natalie flowed to her feet and glided to the front of her desk. She extended her hand to the man.
Dr. Gibson took it with a warm, charming smile. “Thank you for seeing me and reviewing my application on such short notice, Mrs. Gentry.”
“Anything for Triptych.” Natalie motioned to Svetlana. “I’d like to introduce you to Svetlana Matlyn. I believe she’s perfect for the job you’ve described. But as I emphasized, Ms. Matlyn does get the final decision on whether she wishes to meet your daughter and her mother.”
Dr. Gibson’s green-eyed gaze landed on Svetlana and she felt herself being weighed and measured. “Well, then, Ms. Matlyn, let’s get this interview underway, shall we?”
Continued in part 2