Authors: Mia Sheridan
I returned home quickly and pinned my hair up and took another quick shower. I then packed a bag with a week's worth of clothes. Surely it wouldn't take me longer than that to convince Brogan to come up with some terms we could work with. I hesitated over what exactly to take. Hmm . . . what did a girl pack before submitting herself to her slave master?
How had my life ended up here?
I got in my car and pulled the address up on my GPS that Brogan had emailed. I turned on an audio book for the forty-five minute drive and attempted to focus on the story as I drove. Worrying was useless, and I had no idea what I was walking into. Imagining the possibilities would only serve to work me into a nervous wreck. All the same, by the time I pulled off my exit, I knew I hadn't absorbed a single word of the novel.
I navigated my way to Brogan's address in Old Greenwich and drove down the long driveway to pull up in front of a gorgeous pale-gray Nantucket-style shore colonial right on the waterfront.
The boy who had once been a gardener's son sure had done mighty well for himself. Clearly there was money to be made in the
insurance business. This home had to be upward of six million dollars, if not more.
There were no other cars in the driveway, but Brogan could very well have parked in the three-car garage in front of me. I got out of my car and grabbed my bag from the backseat, surveying the house in its entirety. Was this part of the reason Brogan had chosen to have me come here? So I would see just how affluent he was now? To highlight how far
fallen, and how far
risen? Well, if so, he'd already been successful. That fact was clear. As clear as I could imagine the view was to the Long Island Sound from every room in this elegant home.
I walked around to the front of the house and used my hand to shield my eyes as I looked out over the water just beyond a wide expanse of grass, mowed in diamond shapes. Interesting. Brogan did his own yard work? Either that, or he'd found a gardener to adopt his style. I doubted it, though. I thought back to seven years ago. I hadn't only noticed Brogan physically back then. I used to watch with fascination how detailed he was in everything he did. Intent. Focused. The precision of the work in front of me spoke of Brogan Ramsay and Brogan Ramsay alone.
There was a spacious wrap-around porch flanked by endless summer hydrangeas already in full bloom, the decadent, round, blue flowers a favorite of mine.
Taking a deep breath, I knocked once on the door and then waited. It was several moments before I heard footsteps approaching. The door swung open, and Brogan was standing there in jeans and a navy blue T-shirt. I pulled myself up as straight as possible. "Hello," I managed. Brogan nodded and stepped back, allowing me room to enter. I did, looking up and around at the two-story foyer. "You have a lovely home."
Brogan thinned his lips and nodded, pushing the door so it swung shut with a small click. "Follow me, I'll show you to your room."
Well, this was uncomfortable.
Brogan shot me a scowl. "I left you a choice in this matter, Lydia. Feel free to leave now if you've reconsidered."
I followed him up a flight of stairs, my eyes caught by the stunning view out the window of the upper floor. I was right—all the way to the Long Island Sound. "No, I haven't reconsidered. But I'd like to discuss terms. We didn't—"
Brogan turned into a room and I followed him, the words I'd been saying dying on my lips as I took in the luxurious accommodations. I was pulled immediately to the French doors that led to a widow's walk providing a beautiful, clear view of the water. I could imagine standing here with a cup of coffee in the mornings, watching the sun rise.
Temporarily, of course.
I turned and looked at the bed, a large canopy with plush, white bedding. The far wall featured a fireplace flanked by two tufted, velvet chairs, and a door that must lead to the bathroom. The only other furniture was a chest of drawers and a nightstand.
I turned suddenly back to Brogan and he startled slightly at my abrupt movement. I thought I caught a fleeting expression of nervous anticipation, but when I blinked, his face held only neutral boredom. "This is . . . this is beautiful," I said anyway, biting my lip. "Can we talk now?"
Brogan cleared his throat. "Actually, no, I have a business call I need to make. I'll see you later at dinner."
"Oh, okay. Um, dinner? Do you cook, or should I . . . I mean, will that be part of my . . . duties?"
Brogan seemed to consider that. "Actually, yes, that will be part of your duties. You'll probably want to go shopping for some food, though. I haven't had the chance to get to the grocery store for a while."
The sudden picture in my mind of this aloof, powerful man strolling through the frozen food section glaring at the potpies and sending searing glances at the English muffins made me want to giggle. I stifled it. "All right then." I'd plan to discuss the terms of this arrangement over dinner. I eyed him. "And on what schedule does my begging begin?"
Brogan had turned toward the door but now halted and pivoted toward me. I shrunk back as he took two long strides before he was right in front of me. "When would you like to start?"
I raised my chin. "Does it matter what I want? I thought I was at your command. Isn't that the whole point of this?"
Brogan stared at me for several heartbeats but didn't say a word before turning and leaving my room, closing the door behind him.
I released a breath, walking to my bed and sinking down on it, lying back, and staring up at the canopy above me. Okay, well, here I was. And at least going to the grocery store would give me something to do with my nervous energy.
An hour later I was back at Brogan's house with an armload of groceries. I wasn't the greatest cook, but I could manage. I'd been living on my own since I returned from college, and I'd learned to make do for myself, especially since I was on a budget and went out to eat as little as possible. Of course, if this whole business with Brogan didn't work out in my favor, I'd be on an even tighter budget. Jobless. Or maybe I'd be better off. As it was, I was putting practically every dime of my own paycheck back into the company. I had to hope it would be worth it, but in the meantime, I was shopping the bargain racks and clipping coupons. Not that I would ever let Brogan know that—it would probably
him, and I wouldn't give him the satisfaction. He knew we were bad off—he didn't need to know the particulars of my personal finances. Or, that when I’d first thought to shop for this year's swimsuit at Target—which surprisingly enough, had really
get to shop at all. There was no extra money for this year’s anything really.
My new reality.
At least I was prepared for what might be to come. And at least I now knew Target was great for swimsuits. And clothes. And purses. And home décor. Target was awesome.
I unpacked the groceries, opening cabinets to determine where the dry goods went. The kitchen was a large open area with custom white cabinets and white subway tile. There was a large island in the center and a breakfast nook off to the side with a pretty garden view. Brogan's home was luxurious, but it also managed to be very homey and comfortable, too. Despite growing up very close to here, in a luxurious home as well, it had never had the relaxed feel of this home. I looked around. Perhaps it was the décor—Ginny had always decorated using showpieces rather than anything you could actually use with any practicality. And even my mother, though she'd been warm and kind, had leaned toward formal furnishings. Brogan's home was decorated in just the opposite way—it seemed as if all the pieces, though beautiful, had been chosen specifically for comfort. But there was also a decidedly female influence—I wondered if he'd hired a decorator.
Or perhaps he'd been married . . .
I didn't really want to ponder on why that thought sat heavy in my belly.
I headed toward the stairs to drop my purse in my room and noticed that the door to what I'd seen was Brogan's office was open and Brogan was gone. I called out his name softly and then waited, but there was no response. He must have gone out.
After leaving my purse in my room, I returned to the kitchen and moved the kettle off the stove—a kettle! What man owned a kettle these days? I prepared a baked chicken, roasted Parmesan potatoes and green beans for our dinner, and then poured myself a glass of wine as I waited for Brogan to return.
An hour later, I'd drunk two glasses of wine, my stomach was growling and there was no sign of him. Should I call him? I went and retrieved his business card from my purse and dialed his number. It went straight to voicemail. Sighing, I dished up my own plate and ate alone, sitting in the breakfast nook, staring out at the garden, colorful with summer flowers.
I cleaned the kitchen and wrapped the plate I'd made for Brogan and left it on the counter.
What in the world was going on here? Anger assaulted me as I climbed the stairs and put my pajamas on and climbed into bed. Didn't I even deserve some common courtesy? Apparently not. Despite my anger and although it was early, my lids began to close as soon as my head hit the pillow. I'd barely slept at all the night before and the two glasses of wine had done me in. I was asleep in mere moments.
I woke early and showered and dressed before heading downstairs. Although I had slept hard and hadn't heard Brogan come in the night before, it was obvious that he'd been home. The food I'd left out was gone, there was some junk mail on the counter that hadn't been there yesterday, and a chair had been left pulled out from the table. I saw a note on the island and picked it up.
I'll be home at six with a guest. Please have dinner prepared for two.
No explanation about why he hadn't bothered to turn up for dinner last night, no information about what I was supposed to do today, no plan for when we'd have a conversation about the terms of this ludicrous agreement, just . . .
I crumpled the note up and threw it across the room. Picking up my phone, I dialed his number for the second time. Straight to voicemail again. I let out an angry growl and dropped my phone on the counter with a loud clack.
Was his plan to bore me to death? Or maybe I should look at this as a nice little vacation? Perhaps I'd lie out on his deck and soak up some . . . a loud crack of thunder sounded out the window and rain began beating on the glass. I slumped down onto one of the bar stools and put my chin in my hands.
No, I was not going to sit here and do nothing. He'd "hired" me to work off our debt, and that's what I'd do. I got started in his kitchen cabinets, organizing everything by item and then alphabetizing it all. After a quick lunch, I moved on to his room, knocking first and then opening the door slowly, peeking inside as if he might be there, hiding in the shadows. I stepped inside, looking around at the large master. It looked somewhat similar to the room he'd given me only the bed wasn't a canopy and was made up in dark gray linens, and there were no chairs in front of the fireplace, only a large, soft-looking area rug. There were no personal items I could see, and I decided not to open his dresser drawers—for the moment anyway. Instead, I went to his bathroom and organized his medicine cabinet in the same way I'd organized the kitchen. He only had a few items—toothpaste, a toothbrush, floss, deodorant, shaving cream, a comb, a bottle of Tylenol, and nail clippers—so it didn't take long. It felt extremely personal to be going through his bathroom cabinet, but that's what he got for leaving me with no direction. If I had to make it up as I went along because he'd left me to my own devices, then he couldn't complain. Still, there was a tight feeling in my gut as I went through his personal spaces that I couldn't exactly explain to myself. All this time, all the days I'd wondered about the boy, and then the man . . . and now here I was in his bedroom.
I looked over at the bed again, wondering what he looked like when he slept. Did that intense expression he wore smooth out as he traveled to the land of dreams, or did he hold on to that tight control of his even in sleep? And how many women had slept here with him? How many women knew him intimately,
as I had . . . once and only once?
Shaking off the thought, I went into his closet and began organizing his clothes by type and color. His clothes mostly consisted of dress shirts and pants, a few ties, and several racks of shoes.
When I was done, I left his room, that same strange feeling of sadness lodged in my chest. That had been a bad idea. I would be better off with no reminders that Brogan Ramsay was a flesh and blood man. Though I had thought of him often over the years, with a mixture of sorrow and regret, I'd be better off remembering he hated me and was out to punish me in whatever way brought him satisfaction. Going through his clothes and personal items had not helped my own cause. Still, it might annoy him so at least I had that.
As I stood staring out the window, I caught movement just beyond some trees to the side of the house and leaned closer, straining my eyes. It had stopped raining, but water droplets were still dripping down the glass, which made it difficult to see. I walked quickly to the front door and made my way across the soggy lawn and through the trees, emerging in another driveway in front of what looked like a nice guesthouse, smaller than the main house, but in a similar style. There was a car driving up the driveway and I watched as it turned out of sight. Someone was staying here? I turned and walked back to the house.
I dialed Stuart's number, and he picked up on the second ring.
"Lydia. You okay?"
I gritted my teeth. It sounded like Stuart had been drinking, his voice slurred. What I was doing out here at Brogan's house wasn't going to make a damn bit of difference if Stuart was drinking himself stupid rather than maintaining our business until I could get back. I'd likely return with some kind of plan worked out between Brogan and me, and the company would be completely worthless. "Yeah, I'm fine."
"He hasn't hurt you?"
"No. It seems like he's planning on using me as his housekeeper. I'm supposed to cook him and a guest dinner tonight." I opened the refrigerator and started looking at what I'd bought yesterday that I could make for dinner.
Stuart let out a breath. "Did he tell you how long you'd have to be there?"
"No. I haven't talked to him yet. I'll let you know when I do, okay? Are you all right?"
"Yeah." He sounded sullen like he was having a pity party. "I've been fired. My replacement showed up today and the new management watched as I cleaned out my office. Not surprising . . . but . . ." His voice drifted away.
I froze for a second, hearing how upset Stuart sounded.
And so it begins. Would he fire me, too?
"Oh," I breathed, leaning against the counter. "Stuart, I'm sorry. I was worried that would happen, but I hoped . . . Well, this will turn out all right. Will you be okay?"
"Once Brogan Ramsay is dead in the ground," he murmured.
"I don't think we need to get that drastic. Hold tight. This will work out. I'll call you as soon as I can, okay?"
"Okay, whatever you say. Let me know if you need anything." I heard liquid sloshing as if he'd just taken a drink out of a bottle.
Yeah, I need for you to grow up and start being a responsible man, Stuart. Start thinking of someone other than yourself.
I held my tongue. He'd just been escorted out of our family company. Maybe it wasn't the right time for a verbal lashing. And maybe he wasn't the only one who needed a drink.
"I will. Stuart, I . . . I love you, okay?"
"Yeah, I love you, too. Bye."
I stood in Brogan's kitchen for several minutes, trying to get hold of my emotions. I was resentful of Brogan for the situation we were currently in, but I was angry with Stuart, too. Here I was serving at my master's mercy and he was . . .
I could barely afford groceries and he was still drinking? Where exactly was he getting the money for that expensive vice? And after he'd gambled away our company? I let out a shaky breath. God, my life was in tatters. And now I might have to figure out a way to make my car payment. Or maybe it was time to get rid of it entirely—I had prepaid the garage fee in the city for the year, but it was coming up for renewal in the next few months and I probably wouldn't have the funds to pay it. Truthfully, I no longer lived a lifestyle where maintaining a car in New York City was reasonable. Maybe I should start preparing my résumé,
but what employable skills did I actually possess?
I headed to my bedroom where I took out my laptop and logged in to my email account, my muscles tense as I waited to see whether I was locked out or not. I wasn't. So Brogan had had his new management team fire Stuart, but not me? My heart rate decreased slightly. I had to believe that was a good sign, that at least Brogan was considering working with me on this. The next department head team meeting wasn't for another couple weeks, so hopefully all would be resolved by then.
I spent the next few hours catching up on emails and a few work items I could do from my computer, thankful that although I wasn't in the office, I could keep my finger on the pulse of the company so to speak. Then I went to a recipe website and looked up a few ideas, emailing the one to myself that I finally chose.
Returning to the kitchen, I pulled the recipe up on my phone and got the ingredients out of the refrigerator. Again, I poured myself a glass of wine while I cooked. So far, I had to say, this portion of the revenge plot Brogan had going on was pretty weak.
At five forty-five, I heard a car pull up in the driveway and checked the fish I had just put in the oven. It still needed about fifteen minutes, so I hoped Brogan wasn't expecting dinner early. I heard the front door being opened and left the kitchen to stand in the foyer. Brogan came in first, a smile on his face and I almost startled at the unexpectedness of it. But then I saw why he was smiling. He was talking to a woman who was entering the house behind him as he gestured her into the foyer. He caught sight of me and his smile wilted. "Lydia," he said, nodding his head. The woman stepped fully into the foyer, a smile on her face. She was gorgeous with long, red hair and legs that went on for days. She looked at me questioningly, but Brogan didn't introduce us.
"Um, dinner's not quite ready," I said to Brogan. He took the woman's light wrap, and I couldn't help but to notice that her figure was perfect in every way as the entirety of her dark purple dress was revealed, deeply cut at the chest, showing an ample amount of cleavage.
Brogan moved his eyes from her to me, as if with difficulty. Something tightened in my chest. "That's okay. We'll have cocktails in the living room. What would you like, Anna?"
"I'd love a glass of white wine," she said. "Do you have a chardonnay?"
I looked at Brogan and he looked at me, raising his brows when I didn't answer. "Oh, uh, yes," I finally said. So I'd be, what, serving them tonight? I pressed my lips together. "Let me get that for you." I plastered a fake smile on my face. "What would you like to drink, Brogan?"
Brogan put his hand possessively on Anna's lower back and led her toward the living room, turning his head slightly and saying, "Just water."
I gritted my teeth and turned back to the kitchen. This was fine. I was going to serve Brogan and his date. He could have assigned me worse tasks than this, I supposed.
I checked on the fish and then the items on the stove. I'd made pecan-crusted halibut with couscous and roasted asparagus.
When I walked into the living room with their drinks, they were both sitting on the sofa with their knees touching as Brogan laughed at something Anna had just said. Laughed! I'd rarely even seen him laugh when he was a teenager. He'd just gotten this warm look in his eyes and they'd crinkle slightly at the corners in this endearing way . . .
Without making eye contact, I put the drinks down on two coasters on the coffee table. When I looked up, I saw that Brogan was watching me, his tongue running over his front teeth. His eyes moved away and I glanced at Anna whose eyes were moving between Brogan and me. I cleared my throat. "Dinner should be ready in ten minutes."
I turned to leave when Anna put her hand on Brogan's thigh, giving me a cool smile, and said, "I don't think I caught your name. I'm Anna."
I turned fully toward her, shooting a quick glance at Brogan. His eyes were shuttered as he took a drink from his water. "I'm Lydia. It's nice to meet you." I gave her a small smile and then turned and left the room as quickly as possible. I could hear her asking Brogan in a whispered voice who I was, but I didn't try to listen for his answer.
As I set two places at the table in the formal dining room right off the kitchen, I wondered if Brogan was having me serve him and his date to inspire some kind of jealousy? Why would he do
? Or was he simply trying to cause me embarrassment with the fact that I was now so lowly I was reduced to serving him and his girlfriend? Or one of his girlfriends at least. I did note that she was a different woman than the one I'd first seen him with at the garden party. Apparently he wasn't lacking for dates. What
the actual point of this? Because the truth was, I
feel a smidge of jealousy and I didn't like it at all. I didn't want to watch Brogan with the beautiful woman in the other room. I could certainly accept that he was with another woman—all these years, I'd figured he was. When I'd thought of him, I'd assumed he was probably with plenty of women, perhaps even married, perhaps even with children . . . A lump formed in my throat and I swallowed it down. But assuming something and having to be a party to it were two very different things. And the truth was, I could admit to myself that I had never fully let go of my feelings for Brogan Ramsay. I wasn't even sure exactly how I felt about him—especially now in my current predicament—but what I
know was that I'd rather be lots of other places than where I was now.
Suck it up, Lydia. You agreed to this.
I squared my shoulders and returned to the living room where Anna was leaned in to Brogan whispering something in his ear. Her hand was between his thighs, resting just above his knee. His gaze met mine above her turned head, and my eyes widened at the direct eye contact. "Dinner's ready," I muttered, pivoting back toward the kitchen. God, I
this. And I hated him. I hated that this was bothering me. I hated that he was doing this to me just because he could. He was doing this to prove that he held all the control. Like a spoiled toddler, he was going to show me who was in possession of all the toys. And yet, he knew nothing about me now. He knew nothing of the things I'd experienced since that day seven years ago. He didn't know that I'd suffered, too. He didn't know because he hadn't attempted to find out.
He probably hadn’t cared and really, I guess I couldn't blame him, and yet it hurt all the same.
And so this was who Brogan Ramsay had become: a man who took pleasure from exacting any petty revenge he could on a person he knew nothing of anymore.