Authors: Sandra Miller
“I enjoyed myself, tonight,” he told her, finally breaking the silence between them as they walked through the town that was pleasantly subdued with most of the students gone for the summer.
“Me too,” she replied honestly, relieved that he had decided to quit pouting.
“Can we do this again?”
Now Gregory was nervous, she could hear it in his voice.
“That would be nice…This is my car.”
They stopped and she turned to give him a smile and offer him a farewell handshake.
He took her hand, but rather than shake it as was customary, he pulled her close and kissed her; lightly at first, then deeper when she responded by placing her
fingertips on his cheek. His lips tasted of cigarettes and coffee, but it wasn’t unpleasant, for they were warm and soft. It had been so long since she had been kissed. The feeling of having a man’s lips against hers was strange, yet exciting, creating a long forgotten sensation in her stomach. She hadn’t felt that way since she was a teenager.
Tessa pulled away slowly and looked down at her hand still being held in his.
“I haven’t been this nervous in a very long time,” she whispered, unable to look at him directly, embarrassed by her own desire that demanded to be satisfied.
Tenderly, his lips again brushed against hers.
“Good Night, Ms. Maguire.” His voice was raspy and deep, letting her know that he wanted more as well, but was enough of a gentleman not to ask.
“Good Night, Gregory.”
She twisted around and unlocked the door and opened it, forcing him to take a step back.
“I had a wonderful time, thank you,” she told him as she stepped into her car.
“Can I call you tomorrow?”
“I want to make you dinner at my place, maybe take in a movie or something.”
Tessa’s heart skipped a beat. Dinner at his place sounded very dangerous, and she wouldn’t be able to use work for an excuse to leave early since it would be Sunday.
“We’ll see. It sounds like fun though.”
Gregory smiled down at her seductively. “Are you afraid of being alone with me, Tessa?”
“No…” she lied, and then recanted. “Yes, as a matter of fact I am.”
“It would be dinner and a movie only, I swear.”
“It’s not you that I don’t trust.”
“Well, then I promise I won’t let you take advantage of me.”
Tessa giggled despite the awkwardness of the conversation. “I’ll call you in a few days and we’ll make plans.”
With that said, she started her car and closed the door. As she pulled away from the curb, Gregory raised his hand to wave good night, but was no longer smiling. Her first instinct was to feel sorry for him, but she scoffed at the thought. If he was hurt, it was because he wasn’t use to having the shoe on the other foot. Young women threw themselves at him on a daily basis, so it was no doubt hard for him to comprehend the idea that someone wasn’t ready to jump feet first into a physical relationship with him.
As much as her body longed for intimacy between them, Tessa wasn’t prepared emotionally for a whirlwind romance. Just the idea of having anyone, especially Gregory, see her undressed sent an immediate chill throughout her body. No, she wasn’t ready to bare her body or her soul just to be compared and judged to someone half her age. She had endured enough of that during her marriage. Comments from the past, like ‘she reminded me of you when you were young’, or ‘I wouldn’t have to look at other women if you’d take better care of yourself’ ran through Tessa’s mind and left her cold, dousing the sparks of desire that Gregory had kindled within her.
There was no way she was going to put herself through that again. Her own sexuality died years ago along with her sense of self-worth, and it made no sense to try and resuscitate either of them now so late in life. But what she lost of herself during her marriage, however, had been replaced with something far more valuable; the love and devotion of four remarkable children. And the divorce, often considered a devastating experience, had served as a catalyst—a rebirth—from a woman who assumed she had no value because of constantly being maligned for no longer being young and attractive, to a woman who realized her one redeeming quality was her ability to not only endure circumstances that would destroy most, but survive them with a joy for life still intact.
So if Gregory wanted to be friends, Tessa would welcome it, but she was never going to allow anyone to undermine the advances she had made in the past few years. She could look at herself in the mirror now without a sense of anxiety, and obviously she was developing a sense of confidence that gave her the courage to stand toe to toe with a man like Seth Richards and speak her mind freely without the fear of violence looming in the back of her mind. Well, okay, there was a little fear, but she was able to push her way through it without backing down.
By the time she had reached the Collin’s Estate, Tessa had convinced herself that life was good, and only getting better, equating it to the fact that the only men in her life that she truly needed was her son and her brothers. Some women were just meant to be alone, she was one of them. For whatever reason, she lacked the female genes or chromosomes necessary for men to be attracted to her. True, Gregory showed interest, but he was young and had an unusually forgiving heart that blinded him momentarily. All he could see right now was a familiar face that made him feel more at ease, and he confused it with lust.
Moving around the house quietly as possible, with quickness and efficiency, hoping not to draw her employer’s attention, Tessa worked to complete her chores unnoticed. Mr. Richards had rarely been home over the past month, and when he was, he was quiet and somber as if something serious was going on in his personal life of which she knew absolutely nothing about. No more than a few necessary words had passed between them when he was at the estate since their big blow out when he threatened to fire her and she threatened to resign.
Tessa had her suspicions that his dark mood had something to do with Kristen, because the horrible young woman had not returned, leading Tess to believe he must have spoken to her about the incident. And since she was a relation of one of Mrs. Richards’ close friends, chances were his mother was not very happy about it either.
The wealthy was such a strange breed, she concluded as she poured the bucket of water down the utility sink after scrubbing the last of the down stairs bathrooms. Here was a man who had everything, yet found happiness in nothing. Why in the world would he choose to spend his weekends moping around that old mansion when he could be jetting off to Europe or to some exotic island? And why was he always alone? If he did actually have a girlfriend (not just a stalker) in Boston or somewhere, he never mentioned her, nor did he spend much time with her, because every night he was away from home—like clock-work—he called at ten o’clock to ask if everything was okay, and if the house was secure.
In the beginning she found it offensive, but over the course of a month, had grown accustomed to it, and assumed that the calls were not so much to check in on her because he found her incompetent, but a way of dealing with loneliness. For it wasn’t as if the majority of their conversations were spent on discussing anything of real importance, but rather they would spend fifteen or twenty minutes chatting about the dogs or goading each other with playful insults.
Of course, Tessa could have been wrong; maybe he simply cherished his privacy as much as she did, and felt no need to share anything personal with his hired-helped. Goodness knows he was the last person she wanted to discuss her burgeoning attraction for a younger man with. Still, something told her that Seth Richards was a prisoner in his own home, in his own life even, and trusted no one enough to share his most inner thoughts and fears.
It was sad to think of someone being that emotionally isolated. Obviously, his family wasn’t a close-knit, loving one, for no one ever called or came to visit—a distant family, no wife or children, no social life that she knew of; it all made Tessa consider herself extremely wealthy in comparison.
As she put away the cleaning supplies, she recalled once on an award show, she heard an actor thank his parents for the gift of poverty. Of course, the audience laughed, but the man was being genuine, and she understood exactly what he meant. Growing up without material things had created in her family a strong, in severable bond. No matter what they faced in life, they knew they were never alone. They had each other, and knew unconditional love and acceptance was just a phone call away. For all his riches, Mr. Richards was the most impoverished man she had ever met.
The last thing on her list for the morning was polishing the grand piano that she noticed collected a layer of dust on a daily basis. As she made her way toward the ivory keys, she found that she couldn’t resist the urge to sit in front of them and play—just a quick song for her children who had been on her mind all morning. When they were young they would all gather at her feet at night as she strummed the guitar, or danced in front of her in their footed pajamas. It was one of Tessa’s most cherished memories.
The words to the melody, of a mother’s love for her children weren’t written by her, but it didn’t matter. The emotions they inspired were universal. How terribly she missed them in the quiet hours. Even though she talked to at least one of them on a
daily basis, Tessa longed to see their precious faces and hold them in her arms like she use to when they were babies.
From behind her, Mr. Richards began to clap lightly.
Startled and embarrassed, Tessa wiped her eyes and closed the piano quickly. She muttered her apologies without looking at him, and resumed her polishing.
“Please don’t stop. I was enjoying it,” he told her, leaning casually against the carved door frame that separated the foyer from the living room. “I didn’t realize you could play.”
Tessa made light of his compliment. “That’s because I can’t. I don’t even know how to read music.”
He stepped closer, watching her intently.
“That’s even more impressive.”
Tessa shrugged her shoulders and kept polishing. “Impressive is the last word I would use to describe my musical talents.”
“Play something else for me.”
Keeping her back to him, Tessa shook her head and replied, “I’d rather not, if that’s okay.”
She heard him chuckle to himself and she wished that he would go on about his business so that she could go on with hers.
“Do you have plans this week, you know, besides slaving away at cleaning a house that doesn’t need it?”
“There are plenty of things for me to do around here. I haven’t even touched the west wing yet—which reminds me—I need the doors unlocked, and the windows all need washed, which will probably take me forever with the cut glass.”
“Don’t worry about the west wing; it’s too much for one person. I have a cleaning company come in once a year to take care of it, and the windows.”
“But that’s what you hired me for,” she scoffed. “I feel like I’m taking advantage of you already.”
me, you do more for me than you think. If I hadn’t found someone as dependable as you to manage things around here, I was considering donating this place to the National Historic Society.”
Swinging around to face him squarely, Tessa confronted him in surprise at the revelation.
I had already placed a call to see if they would be interested.”
“I’m not trying to talk myself out of a job, but I think that’s a wonderful idea. I worry about you living here all by yourself. It has to get lonely, being so far away from your family and friends.”
Rubbing at the scruff on his jaw, Mr. Richards chuckled. “That’s exactly the reason I decided to live here.”