It didn’t take long for Lisa to adjust to her new job. For the most part, the work she did for the Giddon family was little more than she would have done at home - with the exception that at home she probably would have made a sandwich instead of a meal. Tammy was well mannered and required little supervision. Equipped with the most modern appliances, cooking and cleaning was quick and easy. In short, she had a cushion job. Sarah and Giddon both seemed content with the arrangement, but she felt guilty about the money she earned...or didn’t earn.
In her first successful attempt to call on the cell phone in her room, she told Connie about her feelings. Connie immediately assured her that the Giddons wouldn’t be shelling out the money if they didn’t think she was earning it.
“I suppose that’s the one thing that troubles me most,” Lisa admitted. “I can’t figure out who owns this house or who has the money. Mr. Giddon is either on an extended vacation or he doesn’t have a job. If he doesn’t have a job, why doesn’t he take care of his daughter?”
Connie was silent a moment. “He doesn’t work?”
Lisa sighed. Well, he has a home office and he goes there pretty often, but I can’t figure out what he’s doing. He says he’s self employed.”
“Maybe he has a work from home job.” Connie caught her breath. “Oh, I was going to ask you. Did Len ever call you?”
“Len? No. Why would he call me?” She felt the hair rising on the back of her neck.
“He said you tried to call him.”
“Oh,” she let her breath out quickly in relief. “That was before I took the job.”
“Why were you trying to call him?”
Lisa hesitated. Connie still didn’t know about her car. “Nothing important. I just wanted to ask him something.”
Connie chuckled. “He is kind of cute, isn’t he?”
“Yeah. Uh...I’d better go now. I think I hear someone coming down the hall.”
“I’ll talk to you later. Bye.” Lisa closed the phone and listened as Giddon walked by. Did he hear her? It was no big deal that she had a cell phone, but he would wonder why she was hiding it from him, and that was a question she couldn’t answer. Maybe it was the intrigue, or maybe it was that gut feeling that something wasn’t as it appeared. Whatever the reason, it felt good to have options he didn’t know about.
Three weeks after she began working for the Giddons, they had the pool filled. Finally she felt comfortable about her wages. Tammy could swim almost as well as Lisa, but Sarah couldn’t swim at all, confessing unabashed that she was afraid of the water. Tammy was finally allowed to swim to her heart’s content...apparently for the first time. They usually spent the morning hours in the garden and the afternoon at the pool.
Five days a week Giddon left the house before anyone was up. Sarah’s only explanation was that he liked being alone. At noon he would come in from a path in the woods, eat and then return by the same path. What he did there was a mystery. Questioning Sarah always led to an evasive answer and a change of subject. What the Giddons did on their own land was their business, yet it left her feeling uncomfortable. What lay at the end of that path? Sometimes she imagined a large field of marijuana, but that would have been discovered long ago. Anyway, they didn’t seem the type...whatever that was. And hadn’t she been fooled by Allen?
Although Sarah spent most of her time in the garden or crocheting, Lisa soon discovered her favorite hobby was shopping, which she did at least once a week. On these occasions she took Tammy with her, and Lisa was left to enjoy her precious solitude. Sarah couldn’t understand her desire to be alone, but she accepted it.
It was on one of those occasions that Lisa made her first perplexing discovery. It was a hot afternoon, and she had thrown a light cotton sundress over her swimsuit. No one was around, so she decided to explore the path. She lifted the hair off her neck and sighed as she paused in the shade of a huge oak tree. Her sandals raised little puffs of dust every time she put a foot down in the soft dirt. She smiled mischievously as she kicked off her shoes and dug her toes into the soft cool dust. It took her mind back to childhood memories of barefoot strolls down dusty lanes. A cool breeze lifted the damp hair at her temples and ruffled the hem of her full skirt. She started down the path again, lifting her arms and spinning around. Laughing softly at the matching shadows of her hair and skirt, she imagined it was a Christmas tree. The shadow made her long legs look short. She twirled, watching the shadow in child-like awe.
Something blue in the shadow of the trees caught her attention. Shielding her eyes from the bright sun, she peered into the shadows, gasping. A tall figure lounged against a huge oak tree beside the trail. His arms were folded across his chest, one leg thrown carelessly over the other. Giddon looked completely relaxed, right down to his lazy smile.
“Enjoying yourself?” he drawled.
She touched her lips with trembling fingers, her face burning. “I’m sorry. I didn’t know you were...I had no idea anyone was around.”
He chuckled softly. “Don’t apologize to me, I was enjoying the show.”
Her face grew hotter and she gnawed at her bottom lip. “I must have made quite a spectacle.”
He sobered, his gaze probing her mind again. Suspicion touched his voice and eyes. “Where were you going?”
Her pulse raced, but she forced innocence into her voice. “I was going to explore this path. It looks so inviting!”
He nodded and dropped his arms to his sides, moving away from the tree in lithe motion. “Lots of dangerous trails look inviting around here. Don’t be wandering off alone.” He bent down and retrieved her shoes, handing them to her. His eyes held a glint of humor. “I’m hungry. What’s for supper?”
“I have a roast in the oven. It should be ready now.” She slipped into her shoes, still smarting from his reproach. “You know, I was brought up in these hills. I’m not afraid.”
Silence escorted them to the house. When they reached door he paused, gazing down at her with an unreadable expression. He reached out and took one of her curls in his big hand and studied it. Her hair sparkled in the sunlight against the dark tan of his hand. He lifted his gaze to hers. “Like spun gold,” he said softly tossing it across her shoulder, where it poised and then bounced down her back. “I suspect I’d have a lot of young men to answer to if anything happened to you out here.”
She stared up at him defiantly ignoring his reference to the countless nonexistent suitors. “Are you telling me I can’t go for a walk?”
His mouth slid into a sardonic smile. “Would it do any good?”
She shrugged. “I can take care of myself.”
He shook his head in defeat and opened the door for her, bowing deeply. “Ladies first.” A smile was plastered on his dark face, but it didn’t reach the smoldering eyes.
She preceded him into the house and swiftly burdened the table with lunch. Why was he so concerned? Outside of snakes and insects, there was nothing dangerous about the forest. There were bears and mountain lions, but in all the years she had lived here, she had never known of anyone being attacked. His concern probably had little to do with her safety, though. More than likely it was born of self-preservation. What was down that path that he didn’t want her to see? The idea of a lurking mystery quickened her pulse. A meth lab? She eyed Giddon covertly. It was hard to picture him involved with anything illegal...but why? He was certainly mysterious, even a little eccentric, but...what did she know about the business? Maybe he was the typical drug lord. What about Sarah?
She forced the subject from her mind. There was only one thing that she was sure of, and that was the fact that she had an overactive imagination.
In the weeks that followed, she was careful to restrict her forays to walks down the drive, but she was getting restless. The wild hills were calling, as they had in her youth. Giddon kept the lawn mowed short to discourage snakes, but the rich green carpet wasn’t nearly as enticing as the tangle of brush that threatened to invade the area around the house. Still, the draw of the mysterious path crept into her subconscious. Some nights, dreams took her on a stealthy walk down the path, taking advantage of every bush for cover. The path became more indistinct with each step, eventually coming to an end in dense underbrush.
By day, the mystery lurked in every look exchanged between Sarah and Giddon. It even found its way into her writing. The tablet that she tucked under her mattress at night contained all sorts of conclusions at the end of that trail.
One evening, close to suppertime, Lisa, Tammy and Sarah were lounging around the pool. Tammy jumped from her seat beside the pool and pointed a finger excitedly at a horse, which was grazing by the fence close to the house.
“Dabble!” She said.
The horse lifted its head and nickered in the direction of the path.
“Dabble?” Lisa asked, as she gazed at the beautiful buckskin gelding.
Sarah laughed. “Diablo. He’s Yancey’s method of relieving stress and getting away from us women once in a while.”
Giddon emerged from the path, carrying a saddle and halter. Diablo trotted over to welcome his master, nuzzling and nickering. Giddon paid no attention to the three at the pool, patting Diablo’s nose and talking softly to him as if no one was around. He dropped the saddle to the ground and slipped a halter over the horses’ nose. Diablo stood hip-shod, his eyes half closed as Giddon tossed a saddle blanket over his back and lifted the saddle. He reached under the horse and tightened the cinch, which finally brought Diablo to attention. As Giddon grabbed the reins, Diablo turned his head to look at his master. Giddon mounted smoothly and turned Diablo toward the gate. He leaned over to unlatch the gate and then rode through, heading down the drive toward the road. Not once did he look in their direction.
Lisa rose from her chair and glanced down at Sarah. “It’s getting close to supper, so I’d better go in. Do you want to watch Tammy?”
“Sure. We’ll be in after a little bit.”
She was putting supper on the table when she glanced out the window and noticed Giddon riding Diablo back into the yard. His ride had taken almost an hour. Where did he go? The day she met him he had been riding on the road. Was he going somewhere or simply exercising the horse? Again she felt an urge to explore the hills...especially that path. If it was so dangerous out there in the woods, why did Giddon feel so safe? Only one reason came to mind - because it wasn’t dangerous. It was simply a ruse to keep her from exploring that path and what lay beyond. And that would be...?
He dismounted in one graceful movement and started unsaddling Diablo. He was unusually coordinated for such a large man, at least any she had seen up to now. Graceful, coordinated and a pleasure to watch. He gave the horse an affectionate slap on the flank and hefted the saddle and bridle to his shoulder. Stepping around the horse, he disappeared down the mysterious pathway.
Lisa stared after him; unsure which was more intriguing, the man or the path. Maybe that pathway merely led to a barn. But why wouldn’t he want her to see the barn, and why would he build it so far from the house? On the other hand, who wanted the odors of animals drifting through their house all the time? Maybe he wasn’t trying to keep her from seeing the barn. Maybe he was merely overprotective. Sure, that sounded possible...if he didn’t spend every day at the barn. So, what was down that path? She sighed. There was only one way to find out...well, maybe two, but asking Sarah or Giddon was probably wasted effort.
After supper, they all spent their usual evening in the family room. Giddon immediately became absorbed in a book, and Sarah worked on a sweater she was crocheting. Tammy was watching a children’s show on television and Lisa was on the couch, trying to concentrate on her writing. She chewed on the end of her pencil, absently staring at one of the paintings hanging on the wall. The scrawling signature was difficult to read, but she would have recognized one of Andy Gordon’s paintings anywhere. He was one of her favorite artists, but his paintings were more than she could afford - yet another reminder of her employer’s wealth. Had he inherited his fortune, and if not, what did he do in the woods that would support such a lavish lifestyle?
Her gaze dropped to Tammy, who had fallen asleep on the couch. Her head was tipped to the side, resting on her tiny shoulder. She would have a sore neck if she stayed that way for long. Lisa started to rise from her chair, but Giddon was faster. He closed his book and placed it on the end table. He rose from the chair in one lithe movement. His step was light as he crossed the room and gently lifted Tammy into his arms. She made a soft noise, cuddling closer to her father. He gazed down at her with nothing less than adoration. He seemed oblivious to anyone else in the house as he carried her down the hallway to her room.
Lisa stared at the floor, consumed by loneliness. Would she ever be able to watch a normal family scene without feeling the agony of her loss? And yet, if she hadn’t come to this house, it would have been worse. She owed a large debt to the Giddons.
That night, for the first time in more than a week, she tossed and turned in the bed; her sleep interrupted by memories of her family. Not until the early hours of morning did exhaustion take her into a sound sleep.
She woke to bright sunlight shining through her window and jumped from the bed, tugging on a pair of shorts and a blouse. She ran a comb through her hair, deciding not to re-braid the top part. Slipping into her sandals, she hurried down the hall. No one responded to her calls, and she found a note on the refrigerator.
“Went to town with Tammy. Be back after a while. Your breakfast is in the microwave.”
Lisa ate the food and washed the dishes. By the time she had cleaned the house and finished the laundry, the day was getting hot and sticky. She donned her bathing suit and headed for the pool. With everyone gone, she could enjoy the solitude. She dove into the pool and swam several laps before emerging. Even though her skin now had a healthy tan, the sun was doing its best to burn it. She pulled the lawn chair into the shade under a tree and stretched out, closing her eyes and simply listening to the birds.
Only a few minutes passed before the sound of tires crunching on gravel announced the approach of a vehicle. What she expected to see when she turned was Sarah’s white Plymouth, but the car that stopped before the house was Allen’s red Eagle Talon. She stiffened. What was he doing here? She would have bet her eyeteeth that Connie wouldn’t tell Allen where she was.
Allen swaggered over to the pool, a conceited smile on his handsome face. She gave up her attempt at relaxing, and abandoned the lawn chair. His bloodshot gaze wandered over her figure in a way that made her regret leaving her beach robe in the house. Finally his gaze came to rest on hers. The shear lust in them left her wishing he had looked elsewhere. She mustered a cold stare.
“How did you know where to find me?”
He laughed suggestively. “Surely you’re not trying to hide from me.” He leaned closer, his hot breath laden with the smell of alcohol. “Found a new man?”
Lisa drew herself to her full height and glared at him. The wedge heels brought her up to his height, and she met his gaze on the level.
“First I’d have to find a man before I could find a new one.”
His eyes flashed angrily and he stepped forward, reaching for her. She took a quick step back and he dropped his hands.
“You always did have a high opinion of yourself.”
“If you feel that way, why did you come all the way out here to see me?”
His laugh was insidious. “What makes you think I came here to see you? Anyway, I saw your boss in town, so I figured you were alone.”
“Yancey?” She blurted out. It was the first time she had used his first name, and it came completely unbidden. Why, she couldn’t say. But there were more important things to think about at the moment. If Giddon and Sarah were both in town, then she was alone. The thought brought goose bumps to her arms.
Allen frowned. “No, Mrs. Giddon.” His eyes glittered. “So you’re on a first name basis with him, huh?”
Heat flooded her face. “He’s my employer, nothing else. So get your filthy little mind out of the gutter. This is where I work.”
He glanced around the pool and lifted his upper lip in disdain. “This is work?”
The flush became hotter. “Surely you have time off as well, otherwise, how would you have time to come all the way out here. How did you know where I was working?”
Allen gave her a sour look. “You’re really off on yourself, aren’t you? Did it ever occur to you that I came out here to see someone else?”
There was a light step behind her, and Allen’s eyes widened as his attention shifted to a point behind her. She swung around to find Giddon watching Allen, his expression dark and brooding. He towered over them both, the muscles in his arms and shoulders straining against his shirt as he hooked his thumbs in the front pockets of his jeans.
Allen swallowed audibly, but Giddon shifted his focus to Lisa. His gaze was blistering, his voice controlled. “Did you invite him here?”
She sucked in a quick breath and met his gaze steadily. “Am I not allowed visitors?”
Eyes of blue ice turned on Allen and Giddon’s voice was almost a growl. “Did she invite you?”
Allen swallowed again, almost cringing as he licked his lips and turned desperate eyes on Lisa. His display of cowardice was pitiful.
“Why else would he be here?” She cut in.
The frigid gaze swung back to her. She lifted her chin, defying him to lash out at her again. She had no intention of letting him turn her into a mouse. Either he would give her due respect or he could find another sitter. His piercing gaze held hers for a moment, and then his expression softened ever so slightly.
“In the future,” he spoke in a crisp voice, “I’d appreciate it if you consulted me before inviting guests into my home.” He gave Allen a last threatening look and stalked off to the house.
Allen watched him enter the house before he turned to Lisa. “That’s your boss? What a jerk! Who does he think he is?”
Lisa stared at Allen in disbelief. Where did he get the nerve to call Giddon a jerk, after hiding behind her? He had been perfectly content to step back and let her bear the brunt of Giddon’s anger, even knowing that he had arrived uninvited. She gave him cold stare. “Wouldn’t you think it improper if I invited guests to your house?”
Allen looked surprised. “But you didn’t invite me.”
“Exactly,” Lisa answered. She brushed by him on her way to the house.
“Lisa!” Allen’s voice was high and sharp. He was brave now that he faced only a woman. She didn’t look back, but his muffled curse chased after her. From the door she turned and watched as he climbed into his car and drove away. Why had he come to this house, and how did he know the way?
Giddon was leaning against the kitchen sink, frowning into a cup of coffee when she entered. He lifted the cup to take a sip and his accusing gaze met hers.
“For what it’s worth,” she began, “I didn’t invite him, but....”
“I know,” he interrupted. “I heard him harassing you.” His gaze lowered to her swimsuit. “I’m not surprised, considering your lack of clothing.”
She glanced down at her conservative one-piece suit and was suddenly consumed with fury. “This is what is commonly known as a swimming suit.” She addressed him in an icy voice. “I was swimming. What would you have me wear, a sweat suit?”
To her surprise, color began to invade his dark features. He studied his cup of coffee, swishing the liquid around in it absently.
She had him at bay and he was going to pay for his belligerent behavior. “If you don’t want me to use the pool, just say so. After all, it’s your pool, your house.…”
Her voice trailed off when his head jerked up. He was obviously stung by her words.
“You’re welcome to use the pool any time you want. I’m sorry I was rude to you, and I know it’s not your fault you look so good in that suit.” He dumped the rest of his coffee in the sink, set the cup on the counter and left the room.
She stared after him. His moods came and went like summer storms. With a perplexed shake of her head, she went to her room to change. From now on, she would be sure she had her beach robe by the pool when she swam, just in case someone came by...especially Giddon. His remark about how she looked in the swimsuit made it obvious that he saw her as something more than a baby sitter or maid. Come to think of it, maybe that thought troubled him as well. Maybe that was why he was so upset.
She was walking so fast that it created a breeze that caught the loose hair hanging down her back. She turned her ankle slipping off her sandals. Recovering in an ungraceful manner, she marched to her room, glad he wasn’t around to laugh.
She changed into a sleeveless blouse and shorts, wondering as she did so if he would object to the shorts. Part of her hair was still damp due to the volume. Combing it up into a pony tail, she bound it and eyed her image critically in the mirror. There was nothing suggestive about her attire, and it was too hot to wear jeans. She placed the brush on the table and left the room.
Tammy and Sarah were in the kitchen when she returned, and Tammy was standing in a chair ripping the cover off some chocolate chip cookies. A wisp of blond hair hung over one eye and Lisa brushed it back. Tammy grinned up at her.
Lisa leaned over the sack and examined the cookies with the expected enthusiasm.
“Mmm. They look delicious. Which one is mine?”
Tammy’s tiny fingers coaxed a cookie from the package. She giggled as she handed it to Lisa.
Giddon entered the room, his chagrined gaze immediately seeking Lisa. His smile was so disarming that she couldn’t help smiling back. He was such a contrast of emotions, and yet so masculine. Even now, as his eyes sought her forgiveness, his chin stayed up proudly. He was willing to admit he was wrong, but he wasn’t going to grovel.
“Daddy!” Tammy hurled herself across the room into his arms and started lavishing him with kisses and hugs that he returned with equal enthusiasm.
Lisa took a frying pan from the cabinet and started preparing lunch while father and daughter went into the living room to play. It was a cozy family setting, and she soon forgot the argument.
After lunch, Giddon’s offer to help Lisa with the dishes was met by a raised eyebrow from Sarah. She looked as surprised as Lisa felt. Obviously it wasn’t something he often did. Sarah made an excuse of putting Tammy down for a nap and left them alone.
Lisa tossed Giddon a towel and plunged her hands into the soapy water in the sink. Perhaps his offer of help was born of guilt. She glanced up to find him watching her with masked emotion. Their gazes met and it struck her how extraordinarily handsome he was. A rush of excitement sent color to her cheeks, and she tore her gaze from his, focusing her attention on the dishes. Like Dracula, he was putting her under his spell again. This was the same man who treated her so coldly earlier today, and she’d do best to keep that picture in her mind.
“You’re an uncommonly beautiful woman, do you know that?” His voice was low and gentle.
She glanced up quickly, feeling the color deepen in her face. “Thank you,” she said flatly. What else was there to say? It wasn’t as if she had any part in becoming that way, nor did it make her a better person.
He was silent a moment, and then his tone took on a stern edge. “You need to be careful around men.”
She gave her attention to a glass she was washing. Obviously his remark was merely a prelude to a lecture.
“You mean I should try to cover up that which any man might find attractive.” Her voice was intentionally cool.
His response was instant. “No, I mean you’re too trusting.”
She glanced up at him. “Like taking a job at the home of a stranger?”
He dried a glass carefully, studying it against the light for spots. His expression was unreadable. Finally, his intent gaze left the glass and found hers. “Like dating Allen,” he said, his voice stern.
So that was it. He thought she was dating Allen. Well, hadn’t she? And he was right, to some extent. Dating Allen hadn’t been a good idea. Still, how could Giddon know? Oh yes, he had overheard her conversation with Allen earlier and made his own deductions. Of course, she had stood up for Allen. All of which was beside the point. None of this was any of Giddon’s business. She met his steady gaze.
“Mr. Giddon, I am old enough...”
“Yancey,” he interrupted sharply. “My name is Yancey.” His steady gaze gave no indication of what else was on his mind.
She met his regard with equal composure, in spite of the fact that the conversation was beginning to make her feel extremely uncomfortable. “Well...Yancey, maybe you’re the one I should be careful about.”
His expression revealed surprise for a brief moment, and then his eyes flashed with anger. “What’s that supposed to mean? What have I done?”
She gave her attention to the glass she was rinsing. “I think sometimes you forget that you’re my employer.”
“You’re right, I do forget.” He slammed his glass down on the counter.
She dropped her glass in the sink and took a step backward. If he was going to start throwing things, she had no intention of staying there in the kitchen alone with him.
He slung the dishtowel over his shoulder and one long step brought him to a point where she was pinned in the corner of the counter. He grabbed her shoulders, pulling her roughly against him and kissed her lips in a demanding way that roused more anger than anything else. It was that anything else that concerned her the most.
He released her and searched her face as though trying to discover the reason for her lack of response.
She glared at him. “See what I mean?”
His brows drew down in a scowl and he grabbed the dishtowel from his shoulder, throwing it on the counter. Without another word, he stalked from the room.
So much for helping her with the dishes. It was only a ruse to get her alone. His kiss had been an act of aggression, not passion. He couldn’t win the argument any other way, so he had resorted to his irresistible charm. Maybe it angered him because she hadn’t found him irresistible. Who knew what would tick him off? Although, lately she had been hitting that nerve with little or no effort. Outside of his remark about her swimsuit, and the two kisses he had forced on her, he had shown no special interest in her. She was the maid, the baby sitter - nothing else in his eyes. His greatest interest obviously lay some distance down that path into the woods. At least they had one common interest.