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Authors: Jayde Scott

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BOOK: A Job From Hell
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Someone yel ed, "Ye already back, Harry? Or dinna ye find the way out?" The man's Scottish accent was so strong, I barely understood a word, but I smiled. Harry waved to a table across the room, then turned back to me.

A redhead in her forties approached, hands pressed against her broad hips as she regarded me curiously. "Who's the pretty lass, Harry? What are you keeping from your dearie?"

"She's just a child." Harry turned bright red. "Just get us a pint and water for the girl, and the best of your beef and mash."

He shot me a questioning look. When I nodded in agreement, the woman scribbled on a thick notepad and turned to leave cal ing over her shoulder, "I'l be right back."

"It's nice here," I said, watching the redhead as she took a couple's order a few tables away.

"Don't mind her. Most of the time, she doesn't mean what she's babbling." Harry pointed at a stage obscured by a group of visitors. "On a Saturday night, you'l find plenty of young and talented local musicians performing here. I don't know much about music, but Greta says they're good." He continued chatting until the food arrived, served by a freckled girl. The girl dropped off the plates and left just as quickly, her eyes fixed on her hands, a shy smile playing on her lips.

Harry tucked in and I fol owed suit. The slice of beef was so large I could barely eat half of it, but it was the best I'd ever had. Finishing my water I pushed my plate aside when my gaze fel on a pale woman leaning against the bar. She had long, brown hair tied at the back of her nape. The skin, shimmering pale like alabaster, stood in contrast to her long, black dress. I reckoned, with al the makeup giving her that white-as-the-dead look she could only be an actress or a musical performer. The fril s on her long sleeves ruffled as she turned and lifted a manicured hand to her flat chest, her neck craned to the side in an unnatural angle.

"Who's that?" I interrupted Harry's monologue.

He raised his gaze from his plate and looked in the direction in which I pointed. "That's the pastor. A fine man."

I shook my head. "No, the woman beside him. The one in the black dress."

Harry squinted. "I don't see a woman in a black dress."

"Over there." I pointed impatiently to the woman standing next to the pastor. "Near the corner."

"That's the pastor, dear." He motioned the redhead to approach with the bil .

Frowning, I grabbed my coat and squeezed into it. When I looked back at the bar, the woman in black was gone.

"Ready to head home? It's going to rain soon," Harry said as soon as we were outside. A strong gust of wind blew my hair in my face. Several girls clad in short skirts and revealing tops walked past, clutching at each other's arms to keep warm.

"Sure." I pushed the eccentric woman out of my mind as I inhaled, remembering I hadn't thanked Harry for his hospitality. "Thanks for lunch," I said. "You were right about the beef. It was fantastic, the best I had in ages."

Nodding, Harry unlocked the car and held the passenger door open. He started the car and resumed his chat, but I couldn't focus. I nodded a few times in what I thought were al the right places as my stomach began to rebel. A tiny pang, like an electric shock, shot through me. Maybe the beef hadn't been so great after al , or my stomach wasn't used to so much food.

We drove out of the city centre. Harry stopped at traffic lights. Through the windshield, I watched an old woman clad in an old-fashioned, buttoned up dress push a buggy across the street. The long, grey material barely swayed in the wind as she trudged forward, stopping right before us. The lights changed to green. Harry accelerated. He was going to kil them. Gasping, I grabbed hold of his arm, tugging as hard as I could. "No!

Stop!"

Harry didn't even flinch as he drove right through them. He signal ed and stopped on the bus lane. "What's wrong? Did you forget something?"

For a moment I just stared at him, open-mouthed, then turned in my seat to peer at the crossing. The woman with the buggy wasn't there.

"Where did she disappear?"

"Who?"

I turned to face him again. "You didn't see them?" It couldn't be. She'd been standing right in front of the car. The left side of my head started to throb like someone was hammering on my brain.

Harry regarded me intently. "See who?"

Throwing a last glance over my shoulder, I shook my head muttering, "No one."

"Are you okay?" Harry asked. The furrows on his forehead deepened. I nodded, wishing I could get home as fast as possible.

Less than two hours later, the car pul ed in front of the manor, and I exited, grabbing my bags as I thanked Harry.

"If you need anything, just ring. It can get lonely here," he cal ed before putting the van in gear and speeding off.

"I wil ." I walked around the back to the kitchen. It was almost three p.m. but the house was quiet. I grabbed a bottle of water and an empty glass, and returned to my room, sinking into my soft sheets as soon as I shrugged out of my boots and coat.

The woman with the buggy had been there, I knew it. There could be many explanations why Harry didn't see her. Maybe his sight failed him.

Maybe something obstructed his view and the woman jumped to the side on time, unhurt. But how did she disappear so quickly?

I sat up and poured myself a glass of water, emptying it in one big gulp, then pressed the cool glass against my feverish temple, hoping I hadn't caught a cold on my first day out. I closed my eyes and fel asleep, the image of the woman in black stil lingering at the back of my mind. When I woke up, darkness had descended, bathing the room in darkness. My joints felt stiff as though I'd slept in the same position for too long, but my upset stomach felt a little better already. Grunting, I stirred and pushed the covers aside. Dizziness washed over me, making me want to stay in bed. I held on to the bedside table until it passed, then stood on shaky feet.

Somewhere a clock stroke seven times. I had slept for four hours. The lack of sleep from last night must've caught up with me. I changed into a black V-neck shirt and headed for the kitchen when I heard laughter coming from the library. Stopping midstride, I held my breath to listen.

A woman laughed. Was it Clare? "Looks like you can try again to win the prize in five hundred years. I can't believe you let that pretty little thing beat you."

"She didn't," Aidan said. I could hear the irritation in his voice. "I was just too busy to notice her slip in and snatch it from under everyone's nose."

Chapter 6

A door opened, startling me. I turned to bolt back up the stairs. Halfway up, I stopped, reconsidering. I might make it before someone saw me, but the stairs would creak, betraying my presence. Besides, I didn't mind a bit of company, particularly since I barely knew anyone and real y needed another human's presence before I turned completely bonkers.

Heaving a sigh I spun, staring straight into pale blue eyes. For a moment I thought it was Aidan McAl ister standing before me, until I realised the guy was about the same age but a bit bulkier. He smiled and held out a hand with pale, long fingers, scanning me up and down, his eyes lingering on my throat a tad too long. "I'm Kieran." Even his voice sounded like Aidan's.

I shook his hand, a freezing sensation charging through me. "I'm Amber."

"Aidan didn't say you were this—" he gestured with his hand and laughed "—tasty."

One word flashed through my mind—Clare. Why would Aidan brag about a hamburger when he had filet mignon on his plate? I curled my lips into a forced smile. "Thank you." What did it matter if Aidan found me attractive anyway? Cameron and I were only taking a break.

"Would you care to join us in the library?" Standing a little too close for comfort, Kieran grabbed my hand and guided me toward the other voices without waiting for my answer. He didn't drop my hand when we stepped through the large oak door. Al eyes turned on me as Kieran said, "I found this delightful creature sneaking off to bed without so much as a single goodnight. My dear brother's been keeping her al to himself.

Remember what Mother always said, it's nice to share."

Sibling rivalry? I had no idea what to make of it, but being the centre of attention made me feel awkward. I decided to ignore Kieran's comment as I peered around. I had been inside the library to clean, but I hadn't inspected the room too closely because my thoughts had been preoccupied with Dal as's plan. Taking it in for the first time, I realised the room was spacious with scarce but heavy furniture. Heavy brocade drapes in the colour of rusty leaves covered the large bay window. Three leather sofas were set in the middle; mahogany bookcases covered the wal s up to the ceiling. Aidan sat on the armchair to the right, dressed in black from head to toe, his pale blue eyes staring at me as though I was some sort of freak. Behind him, a soft fire burned in the fireplace, the crackling of wood carrying through the unnerving silence.

Clare jumped up from the floor in front of the fireplace, her skin flushed from the heat, and pointed at a sofa opposite from Aidan, inviting me to sit. "Amber, how fabulous that you should join us. I see you've met Aidan's brother, Kieran." Her silver dress enveloped her athletic body like a sheath. Her glossy hair smel ed of roses and something else I had never smel ed before—mysterious and different. Clare was always so dressed up. Wearing my usual jeans and top, I felt like the pauper standing next to the beautiful princess.

I dropped on the sofa. Kieran sat down next to me, his thigh brushing mine, and draped his arm around my shoulders. Aidan frowned but didn't comment. He probably didn't like his brother hitting on the employees. Even though he had a point and I vowed to keep al my relationships strictly professional because I needed a good reference letter, I couldn't help but feel flattered. It wasn't the norm that a good-looking guy pay me attention.

Smiling, Clare walked over to a cabinet and retrieved a bottle of something red. It looked like wine, smel ed like it. Surely, she knew I wasn't eighteen just yet. She shot me an inquiring look. When I nodded, Clare poured the liquid into four crystal glasses, then handed me one.

"Thank you," I murmured. There were no snacks or drinks on the table, no empty plates or bowls. The rich kids in this house behaved nothing like the teens I knew. The atmosphere reminded me of going to a party that had been raging for hours and as soon as I walked in, someone suddenly decided to break the keg. I realised I shouldn't be here at al , drinking whatever was in my glass with my employer in a house I cleaned for a living. What was I thinking?

With trembling fingers, I lifted the glass to my mouth when Kieran inched closer sniffing the air. "This is good stuff."

"Shut up," Aidan said. It was barely a whisper, but the tiniest hint of a threat echoed in his tone.

Kieran laughed. "Please, someone teach him how to appreciate the good things in life."

The door flew open and another guy entered. He was tal and dark, long hair framing strong cheekbones and spil ing onto his col ar, his golden skin seemed free of any blemish. He looked like a statue: cold, smooth, and untouchable. His brown gaze fixed on me and stayed there. I curled my lips into a smile at the prospect of meeting yet another rich kid, remembering that I was nothing but the housekeeper. It was only a matter of time until they let me feel it.

"Blake, how fabulous that you should join us." Clare, repeating the same words she'd used before, seemed unfazed by his frown. "Meet Amber.

She's—" Clare hesitated "—just arrived." I breathed out, thankful that Clare hadn't referred to me as the maid. Even though that was the job description, not being cal ed one mattered. Clare turned to face me. "This is Blake, a good friend."

Blake looked me up and down, and I realised it wasn't with animosity; just cold curiosity like you'd watch a lab experiment. I sank deeper into the sofa, wishing I could make myself invisible. First Aidan couldn't stop staring, and now Blake. Was a mole growing on the tip of my nose and I hadn't noticed?

Blake crossed his arms over his chest and cocked an eyebrow toward Aidan who shook his head and turned away. The sudden silence seemed oppressive. I fidgeted in my seat, unsure what to do to break the ice. I felt like an intruder who'd interrupted an important conversation and everyone was too polite to ask me to leave.

Eventual y Clare cleared her throat and said, "I heard you had a nasty fal last night. How are you?"

Four pairs of eyes turned on me, their faces blank. They were probably as grateful as I was for the opportunity to break the silence. Of course I would've been more grateful if the topic of conversation didn't involve me. "I'm fine, thanks for asking," I said.

Clare shook her head. "You shouldn't be outside after dark. It's not safe. Aidan should've fil ed you in on the dangers." She gave him a hard stare.

"It was just a walk," I said. What could possibly be dangerous in the middle of nowhere?

Aidan raised an eyebrow. "After midnight?"

Why al the interest? Surely we had more pressing issues to discuss. Like global warming, or the rise in hurricanes al over the world. Okay, so I had been dressed al in black and couldn't blame him for thinking I was out robbing the neighbours—if we had any. Or why else would he make it sound like an accusation? I raised my chin a notch. "I couldn't sleep."

"Next time you can't sleep, cal me," Kieran said. I shuddered at how much he looked and sounded like Aidan.

Aidan glowered. "Please ignore my dear brother. He's slightly confused these days."

My heart fluttered in my chest. It was the longest I'd been able to stare at Aidan without looking stupid. I felt like a schoolgirl having her first crush, but it couldn't be a crush because Cameron and I weren't over. Clare's voice jerked me out of my thoughts.

"Sorry?"

"I said did you find anything interesting?" Clare asked.

 

Heat scorched my cheeks. What a weird question, as though she suspected something. She couldn't be. "Not real y. I just needed some fresh air."

Aidan scoffed and rose from his chair, slamming a book on a nearby coffee table. "Wel , then, it's al sorted, isn't it?"

BOOK: A Job From Hell
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