Maggie Taggart felt restless. She’d finished washing up the dishes in the sink and looked around the vast and gleaming kitchen which was situated in the basement of an even vaster house. A stunningly beautiful, period, country house to be exact. Set in some ten acres of lush green land about an hour’s drive outside Dublin.
There were manicured gardens to the rear and a sizeable walled kitchen garden to the side. There was even a small lake, and forest.
And stables. But the stables were empty. The owner – a billionaire tycoon – had apparently bought the house sight – unseen on a whim when he’d had a passing interest in investing in horse – racing, which this part of Ireland was renowned for.
Except he’d never bought any horses and he’d never actually visited the house. So here it sat, empty and untouched. Luxuriously decorated to his specifications. He hadn’t even hired the housekeeper himself, one of his assistant’s had done it over Skype.
The housekeeper had been Maggie’s mother, and when she’d fallen ill – terrified of losing her job – Maggie had quit her own job as a commis chef in a Dublin restaurant and had come to help her and take care of her. Leaving her restaurant job hadn’t been too much of a sacrifice thanks to the head chef who had been a serial groper of his female staff.
Then, when Maggie’s mother had died suddenly and she’d informed the owner’s offices, an impersonal assistant had asked if she wouldn’t mind taking over in the interim while they found a permanent replacement.
Maggie had been in shock…grieving so she’d found herself saying yes, relishing the thought of a quiet space to lick her wounds and deal with her grief, not yet ready to face back into the world.
That had been three months ago. Three months that had passed in a grief – struck blur, and she was only now emerging from that very intial painful stage.
Hence the sense of restlessness. Up to now the house had served as a kind of cocoon, shielding her from the outside world. But she could feel herself itching to do more than just tend to this house. Which, in spite of its lack of occupants, was surprisingly challenging to maintain at the high standard demanded by the boss – should he ever decide to drop by. On a whim.
Maggie’s soft mouth firmed. The impression she had of the owner – a man she hadn’t been interested enough in to look up – was one of gross entitlement. I mean, who bought a lavish country house and then never even came to visit?
Rich, powerful men who had more money than sense. Those had been her mother’s words. And she had known all about rich, powerful men because Maggie’s father had been one. A wealthy property tycoon in Scotland, he’d had an affair with Maggie’s mother and when she’d told him she was pregnant, he’d denied all knowledge, terrified that Maggie’s mother and/or his daughter would get their hands on his vast fortune.
He hadn’t offered any support or commitment. He’d offered threats and intimidation. Maggie’s mother had been too proud and heartbroken to pursue him for maintenance and they’d left Scotland and moved to Ireland.
Maggie’s mother’s job as a housekeeper had kept them moving around the country, never really settling in any one place for long.
To say that Maggie had a jaded view of rich men and their ways was an understatement. She sighed. However, she was being paid very generously to take care of an empty house on the whim of a rich man so she couldn’t really complain.
But at that moment, the peace that she’d so relished was shattered by a sound from upstairs – the ground floor. A banging noise. The front door?
It was such an unusual sound to hear in this silent house. Maggie rushed upstairs and walked into the hall just as the knocker was slammed down onto the door again. She muttered, keep your hair on, just as she switched on an outside light and swung the door open.
And promptly ceased breathing at the sight in front of her. A tall dark man dominated the doorway, hand lifted as if to slam the knocker down again. His other arm was raised and rested on the side of the door – frame. The late – summer sky was a dusky lavendar behind him, making him seem even darker.
Maggie couldn’t find her breath. Dressed in a classic black tuxedo, he was…the most stupendously gorgeous man she’d ever seen. Thick dark curly hair and dark brows framed a strong – boned face. Cheek – bones to die for. Deep – set eyes were dark, but not brown. Slightly golden. His skin was dark. Stubble on his jaw.
The sheer height, width and breadth of him was…heat – inducingly powerful. He was pure power and muscle. She registered all of this in a split – second, a very basic biological reaction to a virile male.
His black bow – tie hung rakishly undone, under the open top button of his shirt. Dark eyes flicked down from her face and over her body. A bold appraisal. Arrogant, even.
Maggie became acutely aware of the fact that she was wearing cut – off shorts and a sleeveless t – shirt, hair up in an untidy bun. Her habitual uniform for when she was cleaning.
‘This is Kildare House?’ the masculine vision asked with a slight accent. His voice was deep and rough and a pulse between her legs throbbed. Most disturbing.
‘Yes, it is.’
The man stood up straight. He had a slight air of louche inebriation but his eyes were too focused and direct to be intoxicated. Actually, it was an air of intense ennui.
He turned away from her and it was only then that Maggie noticed a taxi in the forecourt of the house, engine idling. The man said to the driver who was waiting by the car, ‘This is the right place. Thank you.’
Maggie watched with growing shock as the taxi driver waved jauntily, got into his car and drove off.
She gripped the door. ‘Excuse me but who are you?’
The man turned back to face her. ‘I’m the owner of this house. Nikos Marchetti. I think the more pertinent question here is, who are you? Because I’ve seen a picture of the housekeeper and you are most definitely not her.’