Authors: Erin McCarthy
Tags: #Romance, #dpg pyscho, #New Adult
When Hattie reached out and hugged me, I was startled, but I didn’t resist. In fact, I sank into the embrace, taking in her floral scent. Despite it being so chilly outside, her touch was warm and comforting.
“If you need anything, you have my cell phone. Plus I’m just down the road for three more weeks before I go to Florida.”
“Thank you,” I said, closing my eyes briefly, wondering how it was that some people were lucky enough to be born to women like Hattie, and others were not.
Somewhere I had a father who might or might not know I even existed, and a mother who had died without seeing me for three years. And Hattie was moving several thousand miles to be near her family.
There was a whole flurry of last minute directions, suggestions, and concerns, and then Hattie left.
I was alone.
In a house the size of my high school.
After unpacking my few clothes into my new room, I wandered the mini-mansion, figuring out how to turn on the touch-sensitive lights, and jumping when I approached the refrigerator for water and it told me the weather in a disembodied voice. Forty-two degrees Fahrenheit, partly cloudy. In the hall bathroom designated for me, I found a shower with six shower heads and a jetted tub. And there was high speed Internet. I could click on my Tumblr account and see everything in less than a second. Glorious. At Gram’s I could make a sandwich waiting for pages to load.
By five I was grinning as I flopped on the overstuffed sofa, a soda in one hand, a doughnut in the other. Hattie had told me to eat whatever I wanted. There was a restock list I was to shop from each week with household funds. I might have exaggerated my driving abilities. As in, I had none. No driver’s license either, so I wasn’t going to be taking the truck that was sitting in Mr. Gold’s garage for the caretaker. I would just ride my bike, like I always had, and he would never know.
The house had to be ready at all times for an unexpected appearance from Mr. Gold, and he had a sweet tooth. Chocolate éclairs were to be kept fresh and ready to go in his mouth on a moment’s notice.
I liked the rich guy already. His never-used house rocked my socks off and his fridge was nirvana. I wondered what happened when he didn’t show up three hundred and sixty days out of the year. Who ate the éclairs, the Canadian geese in the yard? Crazy. Rich people were flat out nuts. But screw the geese, I was eating the doughnuts now. Alone.
Yet as the hours crawled by, it felt more and more alien to be by myself. What had seemed so awesome, the ability to talk really loud just to hear myself, and rolling around on fat plush furniture, and taking random bites of various junk food, gave way to an overwhelming silence and a queasy stomach. I turned the TV up loud because the remarkable quiet was unnerving.
I could feel and hear myself breathing.
I swear I could even hear dust drifting down onto the furniture. By nightfall, I had turned on every light within reach, and flicked on three ceiling fans, despite the cold temperatures outside. The fridge said it was thirty-nine degrees now. Camped out in the family room at the back of the house, I peered through the glass of the windows in the darkness, my reflection and everything around me clearly outlined. There were no blinds, no drapes. I felt totally exposed.
A minnow in a fishbowl.
Even squinting, I couldn’t see into the dark beyond the multi-tiered terrace to the lawn, and beyond that the ocean. If there were someone out there, I would never know. Yet they would see me, quite clearly.
When the sun was shining earlier, I had only thought about how amazing it was to slide over the wood floors in my socks, in complete blissful solitude.
Now in the dark of a blustery Maine nightfall, Richfield felt too large, too empty, too exposed. Still.
Yep, the house had a name. Who did that?
Guys whose last name was Gold.
Mr. Gold of Richfield Hall. Was that irony or what?
A man so rich he could own a house he never came to, just because.
Clutching my cell phone, I decided to turn off most of the lights so I wouldn’t be so visible from outside. Wearing a tank top that I’d had since I was fourteen and was too small, thus proving that I had in fact grown despite my fears to the contrary, I tugged the bottom of the shirt down for the tenth time in an hour and moved around the family room, flicking off a half dozen of the lamps I had turned on during the high of my newfound independence. No one to holler at me if I wasted electricity. But now all I could think was that Hattie was right- it was a big house.
I had mistaken assumed only old houses made creaking noises. Richfield was only five years old, but the wind hit the windows with an ominous straining sound, and at random intervals the floors seem to pop and groan.
Cat was texting me and I was grateful for the interruption. After Gram had kicked me out, I’d stayed with my one-time foster sister and best friend. Only friend, honestly. Bouncing from foster house to house didn’t lend itself to lasting friendships. Cat and her boyfriend Heath took me into their house in Vinalhaven, but I had known I couldn’t stay long. I needed to find some way to support myself, and their lovefest didn’t need me around. They basically smoldered at each other on a regular basis, and I rolled my eyes so many times I almost knocked myself over backwards. I was happy for them. I just didn’t need to see how in love they were repeatedly in the form of their casual groping.
But despite the dumb luck of landing this job, I was glad to know they were both still close by, and happy that Cat was sending me stupid YouTube videos of cats falling down stairs. I smiled as I sat on the couch in the mostly dark room and watched as a cat made the most godawful screeching sound at a dog on my phone screen. The dog barked back.
And kept barking when the video stopped.
I sat up straight, heart thumping. There was a dog barking outside.
Not good. Because who did it belong to? And why was it barking?
I figured I could either sit there and wait for it to stop, or for the intruder the unknown dog was barking at to break into what was supposed to be an empty mansion. Or I could get up and see what the noise was about. Being practical, I shoved my cheap cell phone in my pocket and moved to the hallway, planning to go to the cabinet Hattie had shown me that housed the owner’s hunting rifles. They weren’t loaded, but I did know how to shoot. I could at least lift it as a threat if necessary. Debating calling the cops, I stopped in the hall and listened carefully.
Nothing. No barking.
I dismissed the idea of calling the cops. Years in the foster care system had proven to me that while there were great officers, there were also those who were bored and bitter, who didn’t give two shits about a teen girl, and would be annoyed that I had interrupted their TV viewing to go out and investigate a whole lot of nothing. I was about to go for the rifle cabinet when the front door swung open without warning and I froze, debating which way to run.
“God, it’s bloody cold out there for October,” a man said as he entered, presumably to the dog who ran into the house alongside him. In shadow, the man stamped his feet on the doormat, drawing up short when he saw me. “Who the hell are you?”
I felt trapped under his scrutiny, nowhere to hide. Nowhere to run. He’d used a key on the front door so this was no burglar. I swallowed hard. “I’m Tiffany.” Then because I had a sick conviction this was undoubtedly the owner of Richfield, I added, “Sir.” I had no clue how to speak to a rich dude but it seemed like I should be respectful. I wished I hadn’t left the box of doughnuts carelessly on the coffee table in a sticky disregard for his expensive property.
“And where do you come from, Tiffany?” He sounded mildly curious, nothing more. He had a low, smooth voice, masculine.
“Vinalhaven.” The black dog ran over to me, sniffing at my leg, and I bent over to pet his silky coat, gauging him to be a Lab. “Hey, buddy,” I murmured.
“Where is that?” the man asked, divesting himself of his coat and tossing it on the end table.
“It’s the island across the way.”
“That craggy looking island? Where like twelve people live?”
I nodded, shoving my hands in my pockets self-consciously.
“Ah,” he said. “That explains it.”
Explained what? But he stepped into the light from the family room then, and I lost the ability to speak. My question shriveled up and died on my lips. If this was Mr. Gold, and I had to assume it was, he was not sixty-five years old, botoxed, or dressed like a pretentious douchebag.
He was more like thirty. Sexy. Wearing what looked like expensive but ordinary jeans, a plaid shirt, a bag in his hand. An overnight bag. He had strong features, an angled jaw, and hair that was carelessly too long, varying in color from dark brown to caramel to sand, though it didn’t look done in a salon. Either he had a hell of a hairdresser, or it was naturally the work of the summer sun, now growing out.
My shoulders rose up further, my arms tightly at my sides, hands deep in my pockets as my heart rate shot up from a reaction that was not fear. Mr. Gold was Mr. Gorgeous. He wasn’t traditionally attractive. His nose was too long, his brow too furrowed. But there was something about the way that he’d been put together that was commanding, powerful. Just sexy. Holy shit. So good and so awful all at the same time, because I wasn’t comfortable around men in general, and certainly not a good-looking one.
He scratched the beard stubble on his chin. “So where is Hattie? Are you a niece of hers or something?”
“Um…” He didn’t know that Hattie had quit? Bad to worse. “I’m her replacement, sir. She’s moving to Florida to live with her son.”
He frowned. “Stop calling me, sir. It makes me feel grandiose. And old.” He tilted his head and looked me up and down. “Though compared to you I guess I am old.” His expression was amused, rueful. “Maybe even crusty.”
Not the adjective I would use to describe him. I was suddenly aware of the fact that I wasn’t wearing a bra, and didn’t even need one. Because my shirt was too short, a large sliver of my belly was showing. I didn’t know what to say, so I said nothing. Just stood there.
“I’d forgotten Hattie quit. My assistant said she hired a replacement. Am I to take it that’s you?”
“Yes. Today is my first day.” Hopefully not my last. I didn’t like the way he was looking at me. Like he found me curious. Lacking. He clearly thought I was too young for the job. My palms started to sweat. I had zero experience being in the company of hot older guys who were rich. I didn’t even have any experience with young, ugly, broke guys. I’d spent most of high school taking care of my grandmother or hanging out online when I could sneak away from her. “You have a beautiful house.”
He looked around, like he was seeing it for the first time. “I suppose I do, don’t I? Thanks, Tiffany. And I guess I should introduce myself. Devin Gold.” He dropped his bag on the floor and held his hand out to me.
Wiping my own hand quickly on the inside of my pocket to rid my skin of clamminess, I hastily raised it and put it into his. I expected a quick, swift, nothing of a touch, but he gripped my hand firmly and held it longer than I was comfortable with.
“Nice to meet you,” he said, studying me intently.
His interest wasn’t sexual. I’d seen enough of that from sweaty older foster brothers. It was just an… assessment. He was a businessman after all. He had created massive success for major music stars. He obviously knew how to read people. I wondered what he saw when he looked at me.
Most likely I didn’t want to know.
But the scrutiny had me raising my chin slightly. If there was one thing I knew how to do, it was maintain my pride with someone else in the power position. “It’s nice to meet you, too. Sir.”
He laughed softly and let go of my hand. “Come in the family room, Tiffany, and keep me company. You can tell me why a young girl wants to housesit by herself in a pretentious mini-mansion on an obscure part of the Maine coast.”
And maybe he could tell me why he was there and how soon he was leaving. His presence was unnerving. Okay, it was also arousing. But that was bad. Really, really bad. I could not develop a crush on my boss. He would think I was completely ridiculous if he found out, and he’d fire me. I would have nowhere to go if I lost this cushy gig.
Slapping his hand to his thigh to call the dog, he moved into the family room. “It’s dark in here. You can override the timers, you know. Just use the switches.”
“I like the dark,” I lied, not wanting to admit that I’d been afraid imaginary serial killers were creeping around outside checking me out.
“I like the dark too.” He went over to the fireplace and opened the doors. “But I also like a fire. Can’t do that at my place in Manhattan.”
Sitting down on the easy chair, I busied my hands by petting the dog, who had come right over and rested his head on my knees. “What’s the dog’s name?”
“So you’re a girl,” I murmured to the Lab, rubbing behind her ears.
“I like girls,” Mr. Gold said, his back to me as he skillfully built a pyre from the woodpile recessed into the stone wall.
The words seemed flirty, charming. But the tone didn’t. He just sounded matter-of-fact, which was way more unnerving than if he had been shamelessly flirtatious. My minimal experience with guys had been limited to boys and creepers. Plus a handful of foster fathers who had been decent men, like Cat’s dad. That was it. I didn’t know how to read Mr. Gold. And I couldn’t bring myself to think of him as Devin. That name was too familiar, too romantic, too college student. It would be too easy to forget he was my employer if I was thinking of him as Devin. He was going to have to stay Mr. Gold while he was there.
“You’re a pretty girl,” I told Amelia as her earnest dark eyes stared up at me. It was much easier to talk to animals than it was to humans.
Within another minute there was a fire blazing and he stood back up, stretching. I could practically smell the manliness so I crossed my legs. Tightly. It was a suck ass time for my hormones to decide to stand at attention. But there was something intriguing about him and as he moved past the coffee table he gave a nod to the open doughnut box.