Home is Where the Heart Is (2 page)

BOOK: Home is Where the Heart Is
5.6Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

Lindsey was amused by her directness. "My name's Meredith and I'm the new housekeeper. Didn't you know I was coming?"

The girl pulled a face. "Huh, we never get told anything in this house. Anyway Daddy said he wouldn't have anyone else after the Pargiter left."

She was an unattractive, gangling child, pale and mousey-haired. It was the boy who radiated charm, despite his present sulky manner.

"We wanted the television on," he said now. "This is supposed to be our sitting room, but I suppose we'll have to share it with you, if you stay—of all the rotten luck."

"Well, I don't suppose we'll both want it at the same time, so I shouldn't worry. It's a very pleasant room, isn't it?"

It was too, with its honey-coloured carpet and green and rust soft furnishings and suite. Just then a robust, cheerful-looking woman entered the room, carrying a laden tea tray. Tommy sprang towards her. "Hi Polly, is that our tea?"

"No, that's for Miss Meredith so you can keep your fingers off, Tommy. Yours'll be ready shortly…Mr. Kirkby said will you go to his study when you've finished, Miss. I'll come up and fetch you in about twenty minutes or so, shall I?"

"Thank you, Polly." When she had gone, Lindsey poured herself a cup of tea. The children seemed to be watching her every movement, and she wondered if they were hungry. "Would you like a sandwich?"

They refused. "Could be poisoned," said Tommy.

Lindsey had a job to hide her amusement. "Why did you say, a little while ago, 'If you stay'? Aren't you expecting me to stay?" she asked casually.

"Our last housekeeper, old Pargiter couldn't stand the sight of us so she left," remarked Susan, picking up the discarded magazine.

"Yes," added Tommy gleefully, "We played hilarious pranks on her—
Hey, give me that back, Sue—I haven't finished looking up my programme."

"Hard luck—you shouldn't have put it down . . . We put a mouse in her bedroom slippers. You should have heard her scream!" They giggled.

"Then I'll know what to expect." Lindsey wasn't the least bit afraid of mice; the ranch house in Kenya always had a motley collection of lizards, bats and frogs.

"Oh no, we never do the same thing twice. We're not that gormless!"

"Hey, give me that back, Sue or I'll tickle you," threatened Tommy.

Susan ignored him. "Anyway you're not English, are you? You've got an accent."

"Of course I'm English." Lindsey reached for another sandwich.

"I was born near here, as a matter of fact." She had no intention of mentioning Kenya, for quite apart from the fact that she was proud to be British, she didn't want her employer to learn that she was only planning to stay in England for three months.

"Cor, I bet! Where did you get that tan then? Tommy, lay off!" Susan shrieked, as Tommy suddenly carried out his threat.

"Well, I decided to have a late holiday in between jobs. I've been abroad recently —in the sun." It was partly true anyway and they seemed satisfied.

"You're not as old as the Pargiter," remarked Tommy, staring at her. "Bet you don't know anything about housekeeping. Mrs. Parker won't let you near her kitchen, you know. I heard her telling Polly; she bet you were just a useless decoration!"

Susan giggled. "We won't do anything you tell us—will we Tommy?" He shook his head and continued to stare at Lindsey.

Lindsey poured herself another cup of tea. She could sense that the children were testing her out to see if she would get angry and she was determined not to do so.

"What's your Christian name?" demanded Susan presently.

"I haven't got one." Lindsey helped herself to a rather dry-looking piece of fruit cake.

"Everyone's got a Christian name. Okay, if you won't tell me, I shall find out," Susan leant towards her threateningly. "I shall find out everything about you—you just see if I don't!"

"She'll hypnotise you," said Tommy. "And then you'll tell us all your secrets."

"You're just a silly goose," Susan told her brother scornfully.

This amused Tommy, and he paraded round the room, flapping imaginary wings and making hissing noises. Lindsey's patience was beginning to wear a bit thin, and so she was rather relieved when Polly reappeared to take her to her employer.

 

Simon Kirkby did not look up immediately when Lindsey entered the room, but carried on writing a letter. She felt rather like a naughty schoolgirl summoned to the presence of the headmaster, but at least, he had given her a chance to study him.

Any thoughts she might have had about a crusty old professor were quickly dispelled. Although he lacked his cousin's striking good looks, he had strong rugged features. His thick dark hair fell forward untidily over a wide brow that was furrowed from too frequent frowning.

Suddenly he put down his pen and glanced up, and it was with a sense of shock that she saw his eyes—steely grey, like granite, and just as hard. For a long moment they held hers and they seemed to pierce through to her very soul. She felt her spine prickle, and her heart began to beat so loudly that she felt certain he must hear it. No-one had had this extraordinary, electrifying effect on her before. It was un-nerving and so she was glad when finally he broke the silence.

"Well, good-afternoon, Miss Meredith. You're much younger than I had expected. I hope you will prove to be more efficient than the other women sent by that agency—I suppose you have had experience of this type of work before?"

"Naturally, Mr. Kirkby," Lindsey replied smoothly, although inwardly indignant. She had kept house for her father for the past six years and he had taught her how to keep accounts. Previous to this, she had also taken both a Cordon Bleu and a commercial course. Oh yes, she was qualified for this job all right.

"Good. Well, we shall see no doubt. I daresay they will have told you, at the agency, that I'm an ogre who eats house-keepers for breakfast. I sent the last two packing in as many months—both of them were totally incompetent!"

The man was intolerable, but Lindsey refused to be ruffled; after all she had been warned. "No, Mr. Kirkby. All I know is that I needed a job and so Miss Porlock sent me to you." She thought she detected a twinkle in his eye, but perhaps she was mistaken. "Indeed? Well, let's hope it'll be third time lucky. So long as you keep the children and yourself out of my hair when I'm writing we shall no doubt get along well enough. I suppose you drive?" It was a statement rather than a question.

"Yes, as a matter of fact, I do," she said triumphantly.

"Good, that at least, solves one problem. You'll be able to take the children to and from school." He swiftly outlined her duties. His voice, out of keeping with his manner, was a deep brown velvet with a musical inflection. She noted, with some surprise, that she seemed to be responsible for the children’s welfare, but to have little say in the culinary affairs.

"Do I arrange the menus?" she asked at last.

"No, that's Mrs. Parker's prerogative at present. She knows my tastes. The actual shopping and catering side is yours, and the book-keeping of course."

This promised to be a dull job, thought Lindsey.
"One further question, Mr. Kirkby. Do I have any authority to discipline the children?"

"Well of course," he said impatiently. "I haven't got time to deal with trivia and expect my staff to use their initiatives and cope with minor domestic crises." He smiled suddenly. "Susan and Tommy did rather excel themselves at scrapes during Miss
Pargiter's reign, but if they take to you, I can promise that you won't have any trouble with them . . . Incidentally the agency has issued you with a uniform, hasn't it?"

Lindsey was indignant. Surely he didn't expect her to wear her uniform all the time, even when she wasn't on duty, did he?

"I haven't had time to unpack yet," she said shortly.

"Well, it might be as well if you did so right away so that you're ready to commence your duties first thing in the morning. Oh, and perhaps you'll dine with me tomorrow night…And now I've a great deal of work to do, and so if you wouldn't mind…I'll say goodnight, Miss Meredith." He gave her another long look from those granite eyes and then, picking up his pen, began to write at great speed in bold black letters.

"Good night, Mr. Kirkby," Lindsey replied crisply and closed the door quietly. Her first impressions of Mr. Simon Kirkby were not favourable. She already had an uncomfortable feeling that she and her employer were not going to see eye to eye about things. As for keeping out of his way, why he didn't need to trouble himself on that score, for Lindsey intended to stay as far away from him as possible. It was as if a red flag had been waved!

Reaching her room she sank onto her bed, feeling as if she had undergone a very thorough grilling. Miss Porlock and Andrew Kirkby hadn't exaggerated one jot about her
employer, and, in any other circumstances, she wouldn't have tolerated the situation, but she really needed this job. After all, if she were to remain in England for any length of time, she simply must have some means of finance. Besides this place was so conveniently near to Cambrook, and so she would surely have the opportunity of discovering what had happened to her beloved White Chestnuts.

Her thoughts turned suddenly to Gavin, her main reason for coming to England in the first place.

"I want a decision, Lindsey," he had said, whilst waiting for her flight number to be called at Nairobi Airport. "I want to know if you'll be ready to settle down as my wife, when you return."

And she had promised to let him know her answer soon; although in her heart, she was not certain where he fitted in to the pattern of her life. She had never been quite sure, she supposed, and now, with over four thousand miles separating them, the doubts kept crowding into her mind, although she kept pushing them away and trying to pretend they didn't exist.

Oh well, she would have a golden opportunity to sort out all her problems while she was at Balliam Point. She began to unpack.

She found herself thinking about young Susan and Tommy, and realised that she already felt sorry for them. No wonder they were so unruly with a father like that and, as for their lack of manners, it was hardly surprising when he had none himself. She couldn't help wondering, however, what made a man
so hard and unfeeling as Simon Kirkby.

His eyes seemed to haunt her for the rest of the night, and she lay awake far into the small hours wondering about the strange household in which she found herself.

 

When Lindsey returned from driving the children to school the following morning, she went into Simon Kirkby's study and attempted to restore order. Really, Polly would have to be chased. The room was a disgrace! She swept the hearth and laid the fire; emptied the waste-paper basket and ash-trays and gathered up the various papers strewn about the floor.
That done, she carefully dusted the valuable-looking ormulu clock and jade ornaments. Finally, she found a small crystal vase in the lobby, which she filled with an attractive arrangement of leaves and berries from the garden. She looked round the room with satisfaction and, turning to leave, almost tripped over a pair of very worn checked carpet slippers, half hidden under the desk. She smiled; so her employer was human after all, even if he pretended otherwise.

Simon Kirkby waved his fork at her imperiously, as she passed the breakfast room. She went in to him.

"I understand you cooked the children’s breakfast."

"Yes—I would have done yours too, but
Mrs. Parker said . . ."

His eyes glinted. "I am well aware of what
Mrs. Parker said—I've just had to placate her. Breakfast is her job. Yours is to supervise the children and to prevent them from making that ear-splitting din they made this morning…You don't seem to be coping very well, Miss Meredith."

"Most children are high-spirited," Lindsey remarked mildly, refusing to be ruffled.

He nodded. "Yes, point taken, but I find their effervescence just a little wearing first thing in the morning particularly when I've been up half the night writing, so if you could manage to tone them down a bit I'd be eternally grateful. Not only that, but if you let them get the better of you now it'll be the worse for you in the long run, as poor Miss Pargiter found to her cost. By the way, has the post arrived yet?"

"Yes,
Mr. Kirkby—I left it in your study."

"Oh, well in future kindly bring it in here so that I can save time by reading it during breakfast." He scraped back his chair irritably and left her to clear the table. A few minutes later, as she was carrying the dirty crockery to the kitchen, the study door burst open and he bellowed her name. Used to her father's temperament, Lindsey calmly took the tray into the kitchen before going to confront her employer.

"Miss Meredith, didn't you hear me call?"

"Yes sir, I heard." She picked up the feather duster and, quite unconcernedly, flicked it over the breakfast room mantel-piece.

"Then why didn't you come at once? Put that ridiculous thing down and answer me!"

Lindsey turned to face him, meeting his gaze levelly. "Because I objected to your male chauvinist attitude—that's why. I'm not accustomed to being shouted at like an animal." The light shone on her hair making it look like a golden halo; the blue dress accentuated her trim figure. There was silence for a
moment during which his lips twitched, almost as if he were trying not to laugh, and then he said, "Then you'd better get accustomed to it and fast, if you're to remain in my employ. I don't bow and scrape to my housekeeper." He glared at her accusingly with his granite eyes. "You've been in my study!"

BOOK: Home is Where the Heart Is
5.6Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

Other books

Zinnia by Jayne Castle
Two Steps Back by Britni Danielle
Legend of the Mist by Bale, Veronica
The Nines (The Nines #1) by Dakota Madison, Sierra Avalon
Susannah's Garden by Debbie Macomber
The Glacier by Jeff Wood