Authors: Mia Sheridan
By Thursday, I had read four books cover to cover. Brogan had a decent-sized library, and so I spent a lot of my time there. I should have considered this a mini vacation of sorts, but I was too antsy and keyed up to really relax. From being at the office from eight till five every day for the last few years, worried about the financials, attempting to turn the company around, to . . . doing nothing? A difficult adjustment to say the least.
I had rearranged and organized all of Brogan's dresser drawers—who put T-shirts in the top drawer anyway? Everyone knew top drawers were for underwear and socks. Only it seemed Brogan either only owned one pair of underwear or didn't wear any at all. I tried not to think too much about that.
I was still shaken and confused about what had happened between us in my bedroom and a lingering feeling of sad despair filled my heart. I hadn’t even considered the possibility that Brogan and his family had suffered to the extent he described. I hadn't known where they went when they left our home, had often wondered if they'd gone back to Ireland to be with family, had hoped Brogan's father had found another job quickly, but never once had I pictured them destitute and starving. Anguish gripped me, and I wondered if I had just been too self-centered to consider the depth of hardship his family might have suffered back then. I had been young and sheltered, and though I thought myself worldly, I hadn’t been. Not in the least. "You were," I muttered to myself, "just a stupid, selfish girl."
And at the moment I was lonely. Brogan and I had been friends once. Maybe I just needed to remind him of that to get on better footing with him. Suddenly it wasn't even all about my company. Suddenly I just wanted to let Brogan know how sorry I was, how I would do
to change what I'd done to him back then. If only I could.
I pulled his business card out of my purse and grabbed my phone before I could overthink anything.
Me: Did you take all your underwear with you so I wouldn't rifle through it?
I immediately saw three dots indicating he'd read my message and was responding. But the dots remained there for a good ten minutes. Why was I picturing him standing somewhere, trying to figure out why I was being playful with him and waffling about what to write back? More likely he was just busy and had started a message and been interrupted. I wondered again at what exactly he did business wise.
Brogan: The fact that you're asking this question is proof I was right to do so.
I laughed and let out a relieved breath. Smiling, I typed him back.
Me: And btw, who puts jeans in the top drawer? Is that some kind of Irish thing?
Brogan: Aye. Now stay out of my drawers or I'll have to sic my nasty little leprechaun on you. Goodbye, Lydia.
I remembered how he'd always leave me when we were younger, the Gaelic word for goodbye.
Again, I saw the three little dots indicating he was responding, but then they disappeared. He must have changed his mind and decided to leave it at that.
Grinning, I tossed my phone aside. Surely Brogan joking with me was a good sign. Feeling lighter, I went to his office to organize something there. When I saw business cards for an event floral arrangement and a catering company sitting right on the top of his desk, I paused only momentarily before calling each one, hoping they were the ones he’d hired for his party. When I'd confirmed they were, I posed as Brogan's secretary and had them go over what Brogan had ordered and made some small tweaks. He most likely wouldn't notice, and he'd done a decent job, but he was missing a woman's touch. And after all, he had asked me to work the party. I could hardly do a good job if I was unprepared for exactly what he'd ordered.
On Friday the gardeners arrived and started manicuring the lawn and grounds. I went outside and gave them some direction.
I was the only one in charge, and Brogan
said I was part of the party staff, so I might as well start working. If I knew how to do anything from my upbringing, it was to throw a fancy party. That and shop, but Brogan didn't require my skill in that arena. He dressed immaculately. Classy and masculine and, oh, whatever. Shaking my head, I continued walking the grounds, noting things the gardeners had missed so I could make sure they touched them up before leaving.
As I walked between some trees, I caught movement in the window of the small house behind Brogan's. Biting my lip, I paused and then walked toward it. I took a deep breath before knocking. There was a long silence before I finally heard someone inside moving toward the door. It swung open to reveal a young woman with curly, dark brown hair and the same icy-blue eyes as Brogan's. I let out a breath. "Eileen?" I asked, although I knew immediately who she was. The last time I'd seen her, she'd been a frail pre-teen with leg braces. Now she was a beautiful young woman. She must be what? Nineteen now? Twenty?
She regarded me coldly before saying, "Lydia De Havilland. Imagine this. I never thought I'd see ya again. You're just as beautiful as ya ever were."
I smiled at the lilt of her accent. "You look wonderful, too. Your legs . . ." I gestured my arm downward, smiling with happiness for her. I hadn't ever really known her, never exchanged more than a handful of words over the three years her father had worked for us, but I remembered her being painfully shy and awkward.
"Yeah. No more braces. My brother found a brilliant surgeon and Bob's your uncle, here I am fixed up good as new."
"That's wonderful." There was an awkward silence in which she simply stared at me. I squirmed under her disdainful perusal. "I haven't had a chance to ask Brogan how your father's doing?"
"Our dad's dead."
My heart sunk. "Oh, I'm so sorry," I breathed. She merely shrugged. Another awkward silence ensued.
"Your brother didn't tell me you lived back here."
"Well, I do."
I nodded. This was not going well. It was time for me to go. "Okay, well. I'm just . . . staying at Brogan's house temporarily." I felt the blush rising in my face. Had Brogan told Eileen about taking over my company? About offering me a . . . sort of job or . . . something? "Working there, I mean."
She gave me a small smirk. "So I heard."
I licked my lips and let out a small breath. She hated me as much as her brother did. I turned to go. "Okay, well, it was nice to see you. I'm glad to know you're doing so well."
"Lydia, wait," she said, stepping onto her small porch. I turned just in time to catch the hard slap across my face. Stunned, I brought my hand up to my stinging cheek, my widened eyes finding hers. They were cold and full of contempt.
"That's for breakin' me brother's heart," she said before walking back inside and slamming her door in my face.
I stood there, blinking repeatedly. I now knew that a physical slap hurt almost as much as the bitchy,
behind my back but within earshot
catty comment from the women I’d once called friends. And yet, there was almost a certain
in being slapped by Eileen. I wasn't sure I wanted to examine that too closely at the moment. And I wasn’t sure I could ever face Eileen again without feeling every inch of heat on my skin. I wanted to hide, I wanted to leave, I wanted this to be over. But that wasn’t an option. My hand on my cheek, humiliated and shaken—yet with that confusing relief running just beneath the surface—I didn’t even recall the walk back to Brogan’s house.
The caterer arrived bright and early Saturday morning. I spent the next several hours directing the setup of round tables and chairs on the expansive lawn, getting the band and the bartender situated, and showing the florist exactly where I wanted all the floral arrangements. I had her drape flowers on ribbons behind each chair and do several garlands along the porch railings. The effect was charming and lovely. I smiled up at the clear blue sky, dotted with a scattering of fluffy white clouds. It was going to be a beautiful day—lots of sunshine, but not overly hot. It was the perfect day for a garden party.
Satisfied with the results of the setup, it was time to shower and get dressed. I hadn't packed many dressy outfits, not knowing exactly what I'd be doing here, so my choices were limited. But I had a black, sleeveless dress with a floral, lace overlay that I thought would work well for a garden party. After blow-drying my hair, I put it up in a loose updo, pulling a few pieces down to frame my face. Happy with the result, I did my makeup, dressed, put on a pair of strappy black heels, and went downstairs.
Therese, the head of the catering company, shot me a strange look but then smiled and said, "The appetizers should be ready in half an hour or so. Mr. Ramsay arrived a few minutes ago and is upstairs changing."
"Oh. Okay, thank you. Everything looks great." I started to head upstairs when Brogan appeared at the top landing. I sucked in a breath. He was gorgeous in a black suit that fit his strong physique to perfection, and his dark hair was still slightly wet from a shower. Our eyes held as he descended the staircase, and I clasped my hands in front of me, those old familiar feelings of girlish infatuation rushing through my blood.
"You look very handsome."
"Thank you." He looked me up and down, a small disapproving frown on his face.
I smoothed my hands down the skirt of my dress. "Is this not okay? I didn't bring a lot of clothes—"
"It would be fine if you were one of the guests. You're part of the staff, Lydia."
"Oh." I paused, confused and embarrassed. "I mean, I know. But I still have to mingle and make sure everything runs smoothly. What else should I wear?"
"You're not running this event. You're working it. You should wear a catering uniform. Therese brought an extra one for you."
When he'd said I'd be working this event, he meant as a server. My face flushed. My stomach dropped. "Oh," I breathed. "Oh right. My . . . my misunderstanding." I shook my head, my hands fidgeting at the lace overlay of my dress.
Brogan's lips thinned, and he looked very uncomfortable. "Everything looks nice—the flowers especially. Thank you for organizing that."
I waved my hand. "It was nothing. My mother always said the flowers are what speak to a host's taste and artistry. Hydrangeas were her favorite," my voice trailed off as more blood rose in my face, making it feel hot. I was babbling.
Shut up, Lydia. Just shut up.
favorite. At least they were," he said softly.
I blinked at him. What had he said?
I felt dizzy like I was about to faint. I needed some water. "Oh, well, yes, mine, too. You remembered."
"I was a gardener, Lydia. Flowers were part of the job."
"Right." He had been a gardener, yes. Now he wanted me to be his server. And given his cold tone, I had been dismissed. I pulled my shoulders straight and let out a breath. "Well, I'd better go get changed."
Brogan nodded curtly, something in his eyes that I didn't have the awareness or time to try to read. I hurried away, turning the corner into the kitchen and standing against the wall for a moment to get my bearings.
God, I was an idiot.
I banged the back of my head lightly against the hard surface behind me. "Idiot, idiot, idiot," I chanted. I'd thought Brogan wanted me to
his party, to help plan it. Instead, all he wanted was for me to work it as part of the serving staff. I felt like sinking into the floor at my stupid assumption. I took several deep breaths. I
sink into the floor. Okay, fine. He wanted me to carry trays around and serve his guests. Fine. And why not, really? I was sort of jobless as of now—or at the very least, my employment situation was in limbo. So I could use a job as a matter of fact. I wasn't too good to be a food server. Lots of wonderful, talented people worked serving food, sometimes temporarily, sometimes not. I'd spend a couple hours offering the delicious dumplings I'd put on the menu, and then I'd make Brogan sit down with me and spell out the terms of this ridiculous arrangement. This would settle the score from my long-ago wrong—
and we'd move forward from here. So what if we had joked a little bit via text? Obviously it'd meant nothing to him and it shouldn't mean anything to me either. We weren't friends, he hated me, his
hated me, and I needed to continue to remind myself of those important facts.
I found Therese and asked her for the uniform she'd brought, and she retrieved it for me. Talk about eating demeaning humble pie. Therese either thought me completely vapid and stupid, or pitied my embarrassing faux pas. My guess went toward the former.
Ten minutes later, I was outfitted in the same black pants and white button-down shirt as the rest of the catering team.
After wrapping a short black apron around my waist, I grabbed a tray of hors d'oeuvres and followed the other servers out to the party. The first guests were just arriving, and I spied Brogan near the gate, a blonde woman in a strapless yellow dress holding on to his arm as he greeted his guests. My heart sped up slightly. Ugh, he'd brought a date. Of course he had.
A different woman.
Not Anna and not the woman I'd seen him with at the garden party. Apparently he had at
three on call. Good for him. Variety was the spice of life and all that. I was going to ignore the ache in the pit of my stomach. I had a job to do.