M was tempted. What she could see of the house—a large Georgian manor—was stunning. She’d never been in a home like this and couldn’t imagine living in one. The place was the size of an Inn, not a single-family dwelling.
Could she do it?
Living here would be like putting salt in an open wound and then covering it with a bandage.
For as long as she could remember, people like this had been looking down on her. Heck, even the people that had worked in homes like this had looked down on her family. As far as the social hierarchy in Canada went, her family was only one step up from the bottom. Homeless, then trailer park trash. Isn’t that how it went? And while she’d worked hard since leaving home—in an effort to carve out an identity of her own— the stigma of her beginnings still jumped up and bit her butt from time to time.
And sometimes she waved it in peoples’ faces just to test them.
But the fact was she needed a roof over her head, no matter how ornate the roof was. She couldn’t afford to be too picky.
Pros and cons. Pros: She wouldn’t end up sleeping on the street tonight, finding herself farther down the food chain than when she’d started life twenty-nine years ago. Cons: She’d have to share a house with Richie Rich and his little sister, and the two of them were in obvious need of an intervention. She’d have to live with a little girl who’d lost her father because of her sister. Talk about uncomfortable. And Richie Rich was a lot more than he’d seemed at first. He’d raised an awareness in her that she’d have to be wary of. Her heart had been butchered by his kind already, and she wasn’t going to let that happen ever again.
She needed more info before she could make a decision.
“How much do you want for the use of a bedroom and a bathroom?”
He didn’t say anything for a moment, just steepled the fingers of both hands, then tapped them against each other.
“Since I’d be—in effect—hiring you, nothing.”
“Sure. Your payment for looking after Alicia three days a week will be a suite. Bedroom and bathroom.”
He paused, separated his palms, then put his hands in his pants pockets. He leaned one shoulder back against the wall behind him—stepping off her bags in doing so—and gave her a slight smile.
“Alicia may have appointments, or you may want to do something with her on the days she’s home, so you’ll need a car. Since I haven’t got around to selling Summer’s Beemer, it’s still in the garage. It’s yours to use whenever you want.”
Hookay. That kinda tips the scales for the pro side.
He nodded. “She was driving my father’s car when… Anyway, the Beemer is less than a year old. And she didn’t drive it that often. She preferred it when the chauffer drove her around in the limo.”
He stopped, frowning. “Unless… Unless you would prefer that as well?”
Summer hadn’t believed in doing anything she could get someone else to do, but that wasn’t M’s style. Her independence wouldn’t allow it.
Having a car would be a boon. Giving her own up had been a difficult decision, but she’d needed the cash and had rationalized that she could make do with public transportation while in Toronto. She’d get another when she could afford it.
That looked like it was going to take longer than she’d originally hoped, though.
“How do you know I need a car?”
He shrugged. “The front drive is big, but not so big that I’d miss a car in it. You either walked, or were dropped off.”
He was right about the drive. Once you entered the property through the front gates, you traversed a wide circular driveway up to the house, which stood about a hundred and fifty feet back from the street. From the front door, you could see the entire driveway.
He straightened away from the wall, then bent down and picked up her bags. Walking toward her, he said, “So, what’s your decision? Will you stay?”
She took her bags. Looked out the front door, and down those death-defying stairs. Stairs that led to what she knew. All things familiar and comfortable.
She heaved a sigh.
Was she willing to stay in the home of a complete stranger? What about common sense and safety precautions? What if he was some kind of pervert?
Did she really have a choice?
She always had choices.
“How about a trial period? I’ll give it a few days, maybe a week. If I’m not comfortable with the arrangement for any reason, I leave. No harm, no foul.”
He stuck his hand out. “Agreed.”
She set her bags back down and shook his hand.
She wanted to pretend her sudden breathlessness was due to the choice she’d just made, not his touch. He’d likely had a soft life, a life of ease—and sure, that was probably a sweeping generalization—but he had a firm grip. Powerful. Confident. In control. All of the things she wasn’t. Things she admired in others.
She envied Alicia. Not because of the money. Not because of the big house. Her young life had been visited with tragedy, but this man would always be there for her.
His touch sparked more than that though. Something far scarier. The tingles doing curly cues around her spine were the result of awareness. The kind of awareness she wanted to avoid.
As he walked away to close the front door—shutting her in—M shook those thoughts from her head.
She had to focus on reality. Was she making a mistake?
This was not her kind of place. These were not her kind of people. She’d been able to rationalize staying here with her sister, but this was an entirely different matter.
M knew from experience that desperation can move you to make choices you usually wouldn’t, and this was one of those times.
She was tired. Tired of always being on the move. Fed up with a life of searching for—something. She didn’t know what, and she didn’t know why, she only knew that the fruitlessness of it was wearing her down.
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