The trip to Fayetteville wasn’t as unpleasant as she had anticipated. In fact, Giddon was actually pleasant and entertaining. When they reached the house, she invited him in for a cup of coffee. She had some money tucked away in a cookie jar in the kitchen and she intended to pay him something, whether he liked it or not. He and Sarah had done far more for her than could have been expected.
When she brought his coffee into the living room, she found him holding their family photo. He glanced up as she entered and turned the photo around so that she could see the picture.
“I found it upside down and figured it was the boyfriend at the bottom of your troubles. Why didn’t you tell me?”
She glanced at the photo in his hand. It was the one the paper had used with the article about the wreck. She shrugged. “Does it matter?”
He frowned. “It does to me.” He replaced the photo on the end table. “Now I understand why you were crying. I wish I had known. I could have...would have been more of a comfort. I had no idea.”
She sighed. “No. I guess I’d be upset, too, if someone barged into my life that way. It was nice of you to help me out...even if it was grudgingly.”
His color deepened. “I didn’t begrudge you. I was glad to have you stay the night. Mom was delighted, and Tammy took to you right off.” He hesitated, looking down at his feet as he spoke. “I’m afraid I wasn’t very sympathetic, though.”
It never occurred to her that he might be embarrassed when he found out.
“Well, I’ve had enough sympathy in the last few weeks. Maybe what I needed was someone to kick me to my feet. I feel much better now.”
He looked up and studied her face intently for a moment. Finally he took the cup of coffee from her hand and nodded.
“So what are your plans now?”
She re-positioned the photo standing up. “I’ll get a summer job and start collage in the fall like my parents wanted me to do.”
His gaze was intense as he sipped the hot liquid. “What kind of job are you looking for?”
She made a face. “When you’re only going to work for the summer, you can’t be too picky. There are a zillion fast food restaurants around here. I also have an offer to work at the law office where I worked last summer. The pay isn’t that great, but its clean work with reasonable hours.”
For a moment he stared into his coffee. Without taking his gaze from it, he finally spoke.
“You’ve got a better summer job, if you’ll accept.”
He was full of surprises. She stared at him. “Doing what?”
His gaze lifted to hers. “I need someone to take care of Tammy and help Mom with the house and garden.”
Not more than four hours ago he was so mad at her that he could hardly speak. He couldn’t wait to get her out of the house. Now he was offering her a job taking care of his family? Not that the idea didn’t have some appeal. The place was quiet and secluded, and Sarah would be a sweet person to work for. Still, working for Giddon would be a challenge. And why had he chosen her? Pity? She eyed him suspiciously.
“What makes you think I’m qualified for the job?”
He shrugged, returning his attention to the coffee in his cup. “I know you as well as I know anyone else.”
He didn’t know her at all, but that was beside the point. “You can’t find a sitter closer to your home?”
He swirled the coffee in his cup and lifted a piercing gaze to her face. “Do you want the job or don’t you?” His expression was unreadable.
“I don’t know. What does it pay and what are the hours.” Not that it mattered. It was too far to consider driving every day, even if she had a car.
“I hadn’t thought...How about $250 a week - plus room and board? As for hours, whenever you’re needed, whether it is three hours or twelve.”
He hadn’t thought about a sitter before now, or hadn’t thought about how much he would pay? Somehow, the concept of spontaneity didn’t fit him. So, what was his motive? Remembering the kiss, she was inclined to decline his offer. And yet, his offer was generous. Living in that house and using the pool would be like a summer vacation, not a job. It would be an excellent opportunity to get out of this house with its unpleasant memories. On the other hand, putting up with his volatile moods wouldn’t be exactly easy. And what did she know about him? She heard her voice speaking impulsively.
“I’ll take it. When do I start?”
For a moment he looked as startled as she felt. Then his face engaged in a smile that created little wrinkles around his eyes and grooves in his cheeks. “Good. Pack your clothes and come back with me.”
Belatedly, her mind caught up with her mouth. She blushed. “But I couldn’t...I’d have to….” She stammered, trying to think of an excuse why she couldn’t go.
He lifted one eyebrow. “Do you need to clear it through your boyfriend?”
Her face grew hotter. “I don’t have a boyfriend.”
“Well,” he commented nonchalantly, “It’s none of my business. If you need time to take care of things, I can come back and get you.”
She jerked her gaze back to his face. Was he having second thoughts as well? Had his offer been as impulsive as her acceptance? She should feel relieved, but anxious would better describe her response. Something inside said she needed that job. Why, she couldn’t say. She cleared her throat.
“No, there’s no need for you to make an extra trip.”
He lifted an inquisitive brow. “So, you’re ready to go?”
It was ridiculous...and exciting...bold and impulsive - everything she didn’t want to be. Or was it? She shook her head. What was she thinking? Of course she couldn’t go with him. But her mouth took control again.
“I really don’t have anything to do but pack,” the words spilled out excitedly, “and call Connie so she’ll know where I am.”
He gave her a strange look and nodded as he lowered his frame to the sofa. There he stretched out his long legs and sipped at the cup of coffee. “Take your time. This is my day off.”
Day off? What did he do? Who was he? Maybe there was a way out of this yet. Maybe Connie wouldn’t be at home. She’d have to wait, and maybe by that time sanity would have returned.
“Where do you work?” she asked, trying not to sound overly interested.
“I’m self-employed.” He offered no further information and she felt uncomfortable about asking.
Lisa used the land line because she still hadn’t charged her cell phone. To her surprise, she caught Connie at home. Her mouth continued its revolt with her mind, delivering contradictory information to the other end of the line.
“Connie? Lisa. Listen, I got a summer job in the Mountains as a sitter and it includes room and board. Can you watch the house for me while I’m gone?”
Connie hesitated, and then spoke excitedly. “Sure. Is it someone your family knew? You sound happier already.”
Happy? More like inane. “No, it’s no one my family knew but I think the change will be good for me.”
Connie gave a heavy sigh. “No doubt. I was just getting ready to leave the house. I’ll be over there in a few minutes so you can show me what needs to be taken care of while you’re gone. Bye.” The line buzzed.
Lisa replaced the receiver. It was like Connie to spend as little time on the telephone as possible. When she talked to people, she liked to do it face to face. A prospect that wasn’t all that appealing at the moment. Lisa gulped and turned to Giddon.
“I’ll go pack now. Make yourself at home.”
She beat a hasty retreat down the hallway, and paused breathlessly in the middle of her bedroom. Was she insane? And yet, the idea was enticing...almost an obsession. Without a doubt, it would be a diversion from the gruesome thoughts that had plagued her mind lately. So why not go? Because she hadn’t known him long? How many people knew anything about their boss before they were hired? And hadn’t he expressed admiration for her tenacity?
There was no point in stalling now. She was committed to the job. So, what should she pack? She took a suitcase out of the closet and swung it up on the bed. Snapping it open, she pulled out a dresser drawer and began tossing things in. In such a hurry, she was bound to leave something behind that she would need later. She grabbed her tablet and several pencils. Her make-up, though she used very little, and a couple of bathing suits. Her attention focused on a dangling cord. And her cell phone charger. She unplugged it and tossed it in the bag.
She had almost finished packing when the doorbell rang. By the time she reached the front room, Giddon had answered the door. Connie stared up at him in amazement.
Lisa tugged her friend by the arm. “Come in, Connie, and meet my new boss, Yancey Giddon.”
Connie stammered out a prim salutation, still staring at him, and Lisa blushed at Giddon’s obvious amusement. She pulled on Connie’s arm.
“Come on back and help me pack.”
Giddon returned to his place on the couch, his eyes twinkling with humor and the slightest suggestion of a smile playing at the corners of his mouth.
Lisa half dragged her gaping friend down the hall. The minute they entered the room Connie shut the door and turned to her with wide eyes.
“Holy smoke, Lisa. You didn’t tell me he was gorgeous! Is he married?”
Lisa stared at Connie. Somewhere in the back of her mind, she might have been aware of his looks, but for some reason it hadn’t been a conscious thought. She shrugged. “I guess I didn’t notice. I don’t know if he’s married. I guess he is...or at least was. He has a daughter, but his wife must not live with him because he needs a sitter,” she stammered. Actually, she knew very little about the man with whom she had promised to spend the summer. “I think he’s wealthy...his house is beautiful.”
Connie stared her in disbelief. “Hello? Is anybody home? What’s got into you, Lisa? You always liked living on the edge, but you’ve never been so impulsive.”
Lisa’s face felt hot. It wasn’t as though she could explain her sudden Jekyll and Hide personality, either. She shrugged.
“His mother lives there with him, so it’s not like we’d be all alone out there.” When Connie continued to watch her dubiously, Lisa dropped to the bed and sighed heavily. “It sounded like a good chance to get away from this house and the memories for a while. I can’t sleep well here.” The only defense in that statement was honesty. “Besides, he offered me $250 a week.”
Connie’s determination softened and she dug in her purse, coming up with a pencil and an old grocery receipt. She planted both on the nightstand in front of Lisa.
“If you absolutely insist on doing this, at least leave me instructions on how to get there...and a phone number where you can be reached.”
“I have my cell phone...”
“Yeah, but will it work up there?”
“I don’t know. By the time I got it from the car, it was down to one bar.”
“You left it in the car all night?”
“No...” Lisa hesitated, not wanting to alarm her friend with the details. “It doesn’t matter. They have a phone. I’ll get the number.”
Lisa did the best she could to draw a map on the small piece of paper. She handed it to Connie, describing the entrance and house.
Connie pursed her lips and whistled softly. “He doesn’t need two nannies does he?”
“I don’t know, why don’t you ask him?”
Connie grinned. “You finally learned how to smile again.”
Lisa sobered and nodded. “And cry.”
“Great!” Connie looked startled. “Well, it’s good that you’re getting to be yourself again.”
Lisa sighed. “I know.” She picked up two suitcases and nodded to her make-up case. “Could you carry that? I’ll ask him for the phone number.”
When she asked Giddon to give Connie his phone number, he looked suspiciously from one of them to the other. He tucked his hands into his pockets and fixed Connie with a hostile stare. “My number is unlisted.”
Connie shot Lisa a warning look. “Are you sure you want to go through with this?”
Giddon rolled his eyes and waved a hand. He rattled off his number and gave Connie a stern look. “I don’t want you to give that number to anyone unless it’s an emergency, you understand? I don’t want people harassing me.”
Connie gave him an icy stare. “Is it all right if I call Lisa now and then to see how she’s doing?”
Giddon looked surprised. “Of course. She’s a house guest, not a prisoner.”
Connie lifted her eyebrows. “You mean an employee.”
He favored her with one of his wry smiles. “Right.” He glanced at Lisa’s luggage. “Are you ready?”
Lisa glanced at Connie; not at all sure she was making a wise decision. She shrugged. “I’m as ready as I’m going to get.”
At the car, Connie hugged Lisa while Giddon impatiently held the car door open for her. Lisa returned the hug. “Good luck with your job this summer. See you this fall, if not before.”
Connie stepped back. “Take care of yourself, and if you have any problems, call me, okay?”
“Sure,” Lisa said as she climbed into the car. Giddon closed the door, and Lisa waved to Connie as he walked around the front of the car. He started the car and they drove off, leaving Connie standing on the curb looking after them with a troubled expression.
It was all so fast that Lisa didn’t have time to think. She studied her new boss, for the first time completely aware of his features. Connie was right. He was handsome, though she wouldn’t go so far as to call him gorgeous. His features were too rugged to be described with such a word. Thick dark lashes and a deep tan intensified the blue of his eyes, and his freshly shaved face had attractive angles. She looked away; wishing Connie hadn’t brought it to her attention. He was her boss now, not a date. A boss she knew little about. Was he married? Separated? Remembering his kiss yesterday, she doubted if he was still married. She stiffened, wondering if the job was genuine - or was he was simply looking for a mistress? She glanced at him suspiciously.
“Where is Tammy’s mother?”
His attention left the road long enough to search her face. His expression was perplexed. “She died when Tammy was born.”
Blood pulsed vigorously into her neck. “I’m sorry.”
He gave undue attention to the road. “It was a long time ago.” His tone was flat, almost uninterested.
Lisa hesitated, afraid of blundering further, but why did he need a sitter when his mother lived in the house? She tried to make her tone casual.
“Has your mother always taken care of Tammy?”
He nodded; his attention riveted on the highway. Why was he so unwilling to discuss the situation? She stared out the windows at the telephone poles as they approached and sped off in a blur. Something wasn’t right. She turned and studied his stoic profile anxiously.
“Then why are you suddenly in need of a sitter?”
He waved a hand as if to brush her inquest off. “You ask too many questions.”
A cold feeling began in the pit of her stomach. With every second, they were getting farther from the safety of civilization. Even now, the houses were farther apart; some separated by large fields. How could she have been such a fool? She stared at his profile and tried to make her voice cool and commanding.
“Take me back to my house.”
He jerked his head around and stared at her. “What?”
“I said,” she repeated with feigned confidence. “Take me back to my house.”
He braked and pulled the car to the side of the road. Once the car was stopped, he turned to her, his voice suddenly gentle.
She met his puzzled gaze defiantly. “I’m sorry you’re unhappy with my questions, but I need to know why you suddenly needed a girl after going three years without any.”
How could she blame him for wanting to smile? The poor phrasing brought warmth to her cheeks. Rephrasing the question would be nothing more than a distraction. He knew what she meant. She continued to watch him soberly.
The twinkle left his eyes and he shifted uncomfortably in the seat.
“I never realized how lonely my mother was until you came. If she knew I was hiring you as a companion, she’d be embarrassed.” He shrugged, his tone becoming stern. “Anyway, she’s my mother, not a sitter. I don’t want her to be stuck with the responsibility of my child. She raised her own. Now it’s time for her to relax.” He lifted a dark brow. “Is your fit of curiosity satisfied, or do you have some more questions?”
Her cheeks burned, but she eyed him with a cool regard. “I’m satisfied...for now.”
He turned back to the wheel, chuckling. “I can just imagine.” Glancing at the road behind them he pulled back onto the highway.
So, he found her questions amusing, did he? Or was it her suspicion that he found so amusing. Not that she could deny a vivid imagination. Still, it was something she should have asked when he first offered her the job. What did she know about him? Yet, there was something about him that attracted her like a June bug to a light bulb. It wasn’t his rugged good looks. It was something else...maybe the mystery – the danger?
The trip back to his house was uneventful. Sarah met them at the door, her puzzled gaze going from Giddon to Lisa. Giddon removed the suitcases from his car and joined them at the door. “Mom, meet the new sitter. You’ve got the summer off.”
Sarah’s expression went from surprise to joy in the blink of an eye. She threw Giddon an exasperated look. “You know I love taking care of Tammy.” Her gaze sought Lisa reflectively. “I could use some help around the house, but...” Again she glanced at Giddon. This time her expression was guarded. “I’ve never had a maid. I don’t know...”
“You have one now,” Giddon interrupted, his expression solemn.
Sarah hugged her son and then Lisa. “Thank you,” she finally said, smiling up at Giddon. “I’m not sure I have enough chores around here to keep her busy.”
Lisa watched the two of them, sensing that there was something neither of them wanted to mention. Sarah’s tone had an anxious quality, and Giddon’s expression was much too stern for the situation. Was Sarah concerned about the money? Had Giddon overstepped his authority? Who owned the house? Or was it something else that troubled Sarah? Did she think Giddon had other reasons for bringing a young girl into the house? If Giddon had any such plans, he would soon find they were futile.
Lisa sighed. It was probably her overactive imagination again. Maybe it was as Giddon had feared. Maybe Sarah suspected that Giddon felt sorry for her. She broke the tense silence. “If my being here makes you feel uncomfortable....”
“Oh no!” Sarah denied, and opened the door as an invitation. “I’ll just have to get used to being idle.”
Lisa smiled. “Somehow I get the idea that you will find it harder to be idle than working.”
Sarah grimaced. “I like doing things for myself. I’m not ready for the rocking chair yet.”
Was that the cause of the tension? Did she think Giddon was implying that she was getting old? She patted Sarah on the shoulder. “I’ll try not to get in the way, but everyone deserves a little time to themselves.”
Again Sara looked uncomfortable as her gaze sought Giddon’s. “I suppose so.”