Massimo Black, Lord Linden, curbed his irritation. ‘I said, please take a seat.’
The woman who had just entered was looking at him as if she’d never seen a man before. He was used to slightly less obvious reactions. Maybe his assistant had been wrong when he’d said, before he went to summon her, ‘This is the last one, boss, and apparently she’s never heard of you.’
That had made Massimo sit up. It was rare for him to meet anyone who didn’t know him and his lurid life story: inheriting the vast Linden wealth and his father’s title of Earl of Linden at only eighteen, after the premature scandalous deaths of his parents—his mother of a drugs overdose at their family country pile after a debauched party and his father only a few weeks later, while piloting a helicopter with his latest lover. And then the tragic death of his beloved younger brother, who had inherited the destructive gene from his parents, in spite of Massimo’s best efforts to keep him on a straight path.
Massimo pushed all that aside.
So far none of the candidates for housekeeper had impressed him, in spite of their more than adequate CVs and references. So he didn’t hold out much hope for this one, who came with none of that.
The woman—he checked her name…Carrie Taylor—sat down gingerly on the edge of a chair. Massimo wondered why she was sitting like that, and looked down and saw she was tugging at her skirt, as if to pull it over her knee. He saw a flash of pale skin. A hole in her tights.
Massimo felt something stir in his blood. Awareness. He immediately scoffed at himself. For this scrap of a thing? Because she was a scrap. Her clothes hung off her, and she looked as if she needed to be sent to the sun for a few months, to put some colour in her cheeks.
Her blonde hair was pulled back in a bun, but tendrils were trying to escape. Her face at first glance was plain enough, but as Massimo took a seat opposite her and watched her looking around the room he could see fine bone structure, a straight nose, and a surprisingly lush mouth. Her eyes were huge, and very green. Unusual.
She looked at him then, and Massimo had to use all of his control to stop himself reacting.
He looked down at her file. ‘It says here that you’re widowed?’ He looked back up just in time to see her flinch slightly.
His conscience pricked. He knew what it was to lose someone you loved. The pain of his brother’s death nearly ten years ago was still vivid.
‘I’m sorry. It was recent?’
She avoided his eye. ‘Six months ago.’
‘It also says here that you’re available to start right away and are available to live in?’
Massimo felt curious now, about this woman who had travelled all the way from Manchester to apply for a job that she really had very little hope of getting.
He asked, ‘What makes you think you’d be qualified to take on a job as housekeeper of this house?’
He saw her draw in a breath and her breasts rose under her shirt, fuller than he would have expected. He diverted his gaze up, once again incensed to be caught like this.
Affected like this.
She looked at him now, her gaze direct. Her voice was soft but clear, with a surprising hint of steel. ‘I know I don’t have any fancy university qualifications, but I’ve been working since I was sixteen.’
‘Is that when you left school?’
She lifted her chin. ‘Yes.’
Massimo couldn’t help but admire her defiance.
She said, ‘I started working in a local hotel, making beds and cleaning bathrooms, and I made it all the way up to become manager by the age of twenty. I hired staff, managed them, and was responsible for ensuring the smooth running of …everything really.’
Massimo put down her file and sat back. He found that he could well believe it. The unmistakable pride in her voice impressed him. She didn’t have an academic qualification to her name, but she had more experience in her little finger than any of the other candidates he’d just met. Who had all been as dull and boring as he might have expected.
He said, ‘So my question now is, why leave all that to come and manage one house in London?’
She avoided his eye again. A shadow passed over her face. ‘Because I have no ties and I would like a change. I want to gain experience in the private sector.’
Massimo had a sense that there was more to it than that, but he resisted pushing. Then he made a split-second decision—very unlike him.
He said, ‘You’re hired. One month’s trial. My outgoing housekeeper will be on hand for a week, to show you the ropes and get you acquainted with how we run things here. How long do you need to pack up and move down?’
She looked at him, her eyes wide, dazed.
‘You mean it?’
He nodded. He was fascinated by the colour coming into her cheeks. Pink. His blood grew warm. He doused it with ice. This woman would be his housekeeper. Out of bounds. If she accepted the job, from this moment on he would not allow her to affect him again.
‘Um…I just need a day or two… I could be back here after the weekend?’
Massimo stood up and held out his hand. ‘Perfect, my assistant will give you any help you need with packing and moving.’
Carrie couldn’t quite believe what had just happened. She stood up and her legs felt shaky. She put out her hand to Lord Linden and he took it, engulfing her in heat. His touch was like an electric shock, zapping through her body and blood.
She told herself it was the shock of the job offer. And because he was so charismatic and impressive. And young. She’d have to be made of stone not to be affected by a man like this.
She pulled her hand back and somehow managed to get out, ‘Thank you for giving me this opportunity. I’ll make sure you don’t regret it.’
A wave of relief went through her to think that she could move away from all the grim reminders of her life up to now. She could make a new start. In a new place. Heal herself. And maybe some day move on with her life again.
Lord Linden’s gaze was hard to look away from. It was very dark. Hard to read.
Good, she told herself. She did not want to be reading this man’s emotions. He was her boss, and there was too much at stake to be allowing him to affect her in any way. Emotionally or physically.
‘Thank you,’ she said again, and vowed to make sure that he would have no reason to regret giving her this chance.