Authors: Sandra Miller
“It’s open,” the young woman’s voice called out.
Pushing the door with her foot, Tessa entered quietly and tried to set the tray down without notice so she could hurry and slip out of the room. But it wasn’t meant to be.
“Impressive room isn’t it,” Kristen asked, holding swatches of material against the wall next to the window.
“Yes, it is,” admitted Tess with some reluctance, seeing the inside of her employer’s bedroom for the first time, since he had deemed it off limits, insisting that he had never been comfortable with the idea of someone intruding on his private space. She had half expected it to be dark and dismal, covered in spider webs with a coffin sitting in the middle of it.
Although it did resemble a king’s private chambers in some medieval castle, there was nothing sinister about it. In all honesty, it was quite impressive with its heavily beamed cathedral ceilings and massive mahogany furniture; large oil paintings of hunting scenes that adorned the walls, most of which seemed to be originals, though she would never again make the mistake of asking.
How apropos, she thought to herself with a new wave of resentment for her employer starting to seep in from the remark Ms. Blakely had made earlier. Tessa could understand him having some reservations, she was a new hire living in his house after all, but to assume she was inept was entirely different. And asking this princess, who had probably never done housework in her life, to ‘check in on her’ was a slap in the face.
“That’s all…you can leave now.”
Not needing to be asked twice, Tessa turned to leave.
“Oh, Ms. Maguire…” Kristen called out just as she reached the doorway.
Turning only enough to be civil, Tessa waited for the young woman to continue.
“Has he said anything to you about how you’re to dress?”
“Well, I suggest you try a little harder to look presentable. When he has guests, your appearance reflects on him.”
Looking down at the sweat pants she wore rolled up to the knees, and the ‘wife beater’, Tessa felt her face flush.
“I was cleaning the east wing. If I had known he was expecting someone…”
“That’s no excuse; you never know when he’s going to have visitors.”
“Until he suggests something more appropriate to clean toilets in
greet his guests, I think I’ll wear my sweats.”
it might be difficult for a woman your size to find clothes that fit properly, but I’m sure you can find something a little more professional. Most uniform shops sell plus sizes, I’m sure.”
“I’ll look into it,” Tessa lied, attempting to make it through the door this time.
“I wasn’t trying to offend you,” the young woman added, though Tessa felt no need to stop walking this time. “Personally I don’t care what you look like, but Seth has a real problem with people who let themselves go. I’m surprised he ever agreed to hire you. But he did say he was desperate, so you were lucky.”
No, the only thing she found fortuitous was the fact that when she and the dogs returned from their five mile hike that the house was empty. It had started to rain when she was about two miles from the estate, so her already foul mood had taken a turn for the worse. Even being chilled to the bone did little to dispel the indignation that had her steaming inside.
Opening the door, she allowed Rex and Hank to enter first into the house that was now in total darkness, accept for what little bit of light was streaming in through the windows from the security lights surrounding the estate. While she removed her wet sneakers and
hoodie which had been little protection from the steady rainfall, she heard them suddenly yelp joyfully.
“What is it boys, did you find a treat,” she laughed softly, flipping on the light switch as she closed the door behind her.
Turning to find Mr. Richards standing there at the island gave her quite a start and she gasped and jumped backwards.
“You scared me,” she smiled, though she felt anything but friendly toward him at that moment.
“Then I guess we’re even,” he said evenly, though it was clear from the strained expression on his face that he wasn’t too happy with her either.
“I’m sorry. I didn’t think you were coming home tonight, I thought you told me Friday.”
“It doesn’t matter when you were expecting me. I came home and found the doors unlocked and no one here. I was getting ready to call the authorities.”
Tessa laughed nervously, “Why on earth would you do that?”
“Oh, I don’t know…maybe because all the signs were pointing to an accident or an abduction; you were gone, you’re car is still here, the house was left unattended so that anyone could walk in. What would you have assumed if you were me, Ms. Maguire?”
“The same thing, I guess,” she readily admitted, slightly amused at how short-lived their attempt at first names basis lasted.
“Where were you?”
“We went for a walk.”
“No, it was still light outside when we left.”
“So you’ve been gone for hours?”
“It would seem.”
“I’m beginning to think I should have gone with my first instinct and found someone else who might understand the meaning of responsibility.”
At this point, Tessa had had enough. Quickly growing defensive, she squeezed the rain from the ends of her braids with her jacket and moved to make her way to her apartment to get out of the wet clothing so she could get dinner started. The last thing she wanted to do was to have a confrontation with this man, she was biting her tongue as it was, and him standing there berating her like a complete imbecile would not end well for either of them, not when she was still seething from the insults she endured from his fiancée.
“Yeah, well—maybe you should have,” she snapped as she passed by him.
Placing a hand on her forearm lightly, Mr. Richards impeded her progress, refusing to let the matter drop.
“If you want to keep this job, Ms. Maguire, I think you better explain yourself.”
Tessa’s anger had reached its boiling point. How dare he place all the blame on her after sending Kristen on a reconnaissance mission, as if he found her incompetent of even the most menial
Jerking her arm away, Tessa hissed, “I’ve already told you, I went for a walk.”
“And I told you in no uncertain terms were you weren’t to go beyond the immediate grounds of the estate.”
“Yeah well, I finished my chores for the day, if that’s what you’re concerned about. You got your money’s worth out of me for ten hours—or wasn’t you’re fiancée satisfied with what she saw?”
Mr. Richards stared at her briefly in confusion before asking for clarification.
“Fiancée,” Tessa snapped. “She told me how you sent her here to check on me. Which is fine, I understand. But if you have a problem trusting me, or with the way I dress or how I look, then you should be the one to tell me. Having one of your minions do it is degrading, and I refuse to be talked to as if I’m trailer trash, by her, by you, or anyone else. I’m a hard worker, Mr. Richards, I’m loyal, and I’m honest, and I expect to be treated with a certain measure of respect.
We may come from different backgrounds, but your money doesn’t give you a license to ridicule me. So don’t waste your time trying to decide whether to keep me, because I quit.”
“I don’t know what in the hell you’re talking about, Tessa.”
“I’m talking about you judging me on personal issues that have nothing to do with my work performance. I can work anybody under the table.” Realizing she had crossed the point of no return as far as keeping her job was concerned, Tessa threw caution and her innate desire to be pleasing to the wind and pointed a finger in his direction. “And furthermore, you’re never going to find an employee more dependable and trustworthy than me. Where I come from a person’s integrity determines their worth, not how they look or what they wear. You might find my fat ass distasteful to your prima donna senses, but I got news for you, I find the depth of your narcissism and shallowness
down right disgusting.”
With their eyes locked in a heated stale mate, the two of them glared at each other for several seconds. Mr. Richards was the first to finally relent, his voice sounding strained.
“I’m going to assume you met Kristen today.”
“Oh, yes, I most certainly did.”
“Well, let’s set a few things straight before this goes any further,” his tone becoming more even-keeled and calming. “For starters, she’s not my fiancée, and I never asked her to come here.”
The admission caught Tessa off-guard, causing her to rock back on her heels as she looked at her employer with her mouth slightly agape.
“But she said…”
“I don’t care what she said; I haven’t talked to her in over two months, long before you even arrived.”
“But why would she lie to me? Why would she say those things?”
“I don’t know, Tessa. I don’t even know how she found out I hired another housekeeper, unless my mother told her.”
“What is she, like a fricking stalker or something?” Tessa ranted, unable to let go of the anger that had been welling up inside of her for most of the day.
“At times…” he replied with a reticent grin. “She’s a granddaughter of one of my mother’s friends. They’ve been trying to force her on me for the past two years.”
“They do realize she’s nuts?”
Dropping his gaze while continuing to smile, Mr. Richards scanned over the translucent material of Tessa’s wet ‘beater’ and glanced away quickly, which
prompted her to cross her arms over her chest to hide herself, since she was sure her silk bra wasn’t helping to cover up much since it was soaked as well.
“My entire family is unstable, Ms. Maguire, so no; I doubt that they’ve noticed.”
Feeling some of her ire dissipate with the revelation, Tessa forced herself to breathe deeply as she collected her thoughts, which had been running rampant with images of Seth Richards’ painful demise.
“I’m sorry I jumped to conclusions then,” she managed to grind out with some semblance of sincerity.
“No,” he interjected with a raised hand. “I’m the one who needs to apologize. It isn’t the first time something like this has happened. She must have assumed I hired another college student.”
“Oh, is that what you meant by complications?”
“Yes. What did you think I meant?”
Tessa grimaced before speaking truthfully. “I thought you were being an arrogant pig.”
Finding her honesty amusing, Mr. Richards chuckled under his breath. “I take it you don’t think very highly of me?”
“I really don’t know you well enough to like you or dislike you...well…to like you.”
“Fair enough. But I do like you, and for some reason, I trust you. It’s been a long time since I’ve been able to leave this house without any concerns, so I hope you’ll reconsider and stay.”
“I’m going to have to calm down enough to think about,” she told him, refusing to make any rash promises. “And I absolutely refuse to wear a maid outfit, so you might as well not even ask.”
Her answer made him laugh out loud this time, and shake his head. “I don’t even want to know what she said to you today, but I assure you I don’t care about anything that doesn’t concern the work I’ve hired you to do or your safety while you’re living here.”
“Well, alright then.”
“So you’re staying?”
“On a trial basis, and only if you can keep your psycho women away from me.”
“I’ll take care of it first thing tomorrow.”
“And I’m sorry I stormed off like that, it was very irresponsible,” Tessa admitted with some reluctance, in the spirit of cooperation.
“Under the circumstances, I have no choice but to forgive you.”
Finally, Tessa managed a slight smile. “Well, then, I guess we’re good.”
“All accept for one small detail.”
“What do you want for dinner?”
“I was going to make some soup and Panini sandwiches. It won’t take long. I’m just going to get out of these wet clothes real quick.”
“No, no…it’s my treat. It’s the least I can do considering what you had to put up with today. I make a pretty good frozen pizza.”
“Now you’re making me feel guilty.”
“Well don’t, because I’m making you pick out the movie. Now go take a hot shower, get into some warm pajamas and meet me in the living room in thirty minutes.”
“Sweet…” she giggled. “They say make-up TV is the best kind.”
Mr. Richards grinned and patted the top of her head. “I’m glad you’re staying, Tessa.”
“So am I.”
“Well, go get cleaned up then. I’m starving. My new housekeeper makes me fend for myself around here.”