Authors: Johanna Lindsey
“Well, no need to be squeamish about straddling my leg, dear girl. Just get to it.”
She did, presenting him with her back and waiting for him to plant his other foot on her backside for the shove needed to get the boot off. But this time Jeremy was frozen. She’d come upstairs without her coat, wearing only her shirt, pants, and socks, so nothing was covering the shapely derriere that was suddenly in front of him and quite within his reach. It was probably one of the harder things he ever did, not taking advantage of that and instead putting his foot to her derriere instead of his hands.
Annoyed that she was making him want her again, he shoved a bit harder than necessary. She stumbled several feet away as the boot came off, but she didn’t seem to think anything was amiss in that and she came right back to tackle the other one.
In an attempt to cool his ardor, he remarked casually, “I notice you’re still wearing your thiefly garb. Couldn’t Mrs. Robertson find you any suitable clothes?”
She glanced around to give him a cross look for the term he’d used, but there was no inflection in her tone. “She did. She took me to her sister’s seamstress. Said it would be a waste of time to look for that new ready-made clothing to fit me. Didn’t want my ankles showing, she said.”
“Well, that’s too bad. Showing ankles sounds interesting.”
She snorted at his grin. “The first dress will be sent over sometime tomorrow, the other one by the next day.”
“Only two? That won’t do a’tall.”
“I don’t need more’n that and told her so.”
“Of course you do. Can’t have you washing your clothes every day. Pure waste of time, that. I’ll let her know to increase the order. And how d’you like the room? Finding it satisfactory?”
The second boot came off, in time for her to turn and lift a brow at him. “And you’d be changing it if it weren’t?”
He stood up and leaned close to her to say in a conspiratorial whisper, “My room is available for sharing if you’d prefer. I know
Her back stiffened. “Not bleedin’ likely, mate.”
He straightened and sighed at her tone. “You need to stop being so defensive, Danny, over such harmless flirtation. Really, I don’t bite, you know—well, only if it gives pleasure, which it usually does. Like nibbling on your neck.” His tone got husky. “And your ear—and this might be a good time for you to leave.”
Bloody hell, she did.
ANNY HURRIED DOWN THE HALL
to the kitchen. She’d over-slept and had had to be wakened, which wasn’t a good way to start her new job. And it was such a nice job. She still couldn’t believe she’d be living and working in such a fine house. Even the hall in the servants’ wing was carpeted! But even needing a maid, Malory wouldn’t have hired her if she hadn’t blackmailed him. She felt bad about that. She’d make up for it though, vowed to be a better maid than he could have found by normal means.
Thinking about him brought on a twinge of excitement that she quickly tamped down. It wasn’t going to be easy ignoring her attraction to him, but she would, because a man like that would be her downfall otherwise.
Danny reached the kitchen. The cook was there, Mrs. Appleton. She was a jovial middle-aged woman, short but hefty. She liked to sing while she was cooking and got very loud at it, too.
She’d laughed yesterday when Mrs. Robertson had introduced Danny as the new upstairs maid, laughed for nearly ten minutes, off and on, every time she glanced at Danny. It was the clothes, at least Danny hoped that was all that was causing the woman such amusement. She’d probably never seen a woman wearing pants before.
Her helper, Claire, was in the kitchen now, too, the grumpy girl who’d let Danny in the house yesterday. She was quick to point out when Danny walked into the room, “You’re late.”
“I know. I’m sorry.”
“The food is cold now.”
It was said as if that were Danny’s fault. Claire was definitely a glum sort. Dumpy of shape, shoulders stooped, she seemed to wear a perpetual frown—at least Danny had yet to see any other expression cross her face. Or maybe it just seemed so in contrast to the happy cook.
“I ’aven’t time to eat it now,” Danny explained with a wistful sigh as she stared at the wide assortment of dishes that had been prepared. She was hungry.
“Why not?” Claire demanded. “Where else are you going then? It’s the food you’re late for.”
“Oh. But ain’t I late for work?”
Claire snorted. “I work early, you don’t. You have to wait until the master vacates his room so you can clean it. There’s to be no noise upstairs that might wake him sooner than he planned to wake.”
“But wot if ’e sleeps all day?”
“Then you’ll be working at night, won’t you. And work on your speech as well,” Claire added in disgust. “Cor, you sound like a street urchin. Where do you come from?”
Danny didn’t answer, was too busy blushing. She could have spoken better just then, but it would have required concentration, and it was hard to do that when she was nervous. And besides, just because she’d recalled that she did used to talk much differently didn’t mean it was all going to come back naturally. The way she talked now was natural to her, had been ingrained in her for fifteen years.
The cook tsked at her helper and said to Danny, “Don’t worry about it, dear. Mrs. Robertson will train you well in what needs doing and when. Just follow her instruction and you’ll do fine.”
The lady in question came through the doorway then, spotted Danny, and said, “There you are. All done eating? Follow me.”
So she wasn’t to be scolded? She had only been late for breakfast? Danny’s relief was immense, but so was her hunger.
With a last glance at the wide assortment of food spread out on the table, she quickly swiped up two rolls and stuffed them in her pockets, then hurried after the housekeeper. The cook had seen what she’d done and her laughter followed Danny out the door.
Mrs. Robertson took her upstairs and into one of the unoccupied rooms to explain in exact detail what her duties would be. Even though the room was pretty much empty at the moment, it wouldn’t stay that way, and so Mrs. Robertson explained what Danny would have to do when it was fully furnished.
There was never to be a speck of dust in the house. That was Mrs. Robertson’s first rule. Danny would have dirty laundry to fetch and return cleaned. Floors, windows, just about everything upstairs, fell to her to keep spotless.
The upstairs would be her domain, Mrs. Robertson had stressed. Danny rather liked the sound of that. But in the meantime, at least until the downstairs maid was hired, she’d have to help in keeping those rooms clean as well. Claire took care of the kitchen. And at the moment, most of the other downstairs rooms were empty, so keeping them dust-free wouldn’t take up much time at all.
“You will wait until Master Jeremy leaves his room before you enter it to clean it, unless he needs something, in which case he’ll likely call for you. If he has guests, again, wait until they go downstairs before you enter their rooms. Do not, in any case, disturb any occupants upstairs if they are sleeping. Currently a member of his family is staying with us, so two of these rooms are occupied. You do not need to do your chores in any exact order, just make sure they are all done by the end of the day.”
Mrs. Robertson had a
more to say, and Danny managed to retain it all, but it still didn’t seem like enough work to keep her busy all day. She pointed that out.
“Wot if I finish up early each day?”
“You will need to keep yourself available if Master Jeremy is at home, in case he requires something. Otherwise you will be free to do as you like, rest, read, go out, visit friends, whatever suits you. You will have Sundays off after you make the beds and make sure everything on your floor is in its proper place. You might also wish to spend some time each day working on your diction.”
“Exactly. The proper response would have been, ‘What is wrong with my diction?’ or ‘What is diction?’ or even ‘I like my diction the way it is, thank you.’ ”
“But—that’s wot I said, I just tossed it all into one word.”
The woman actually laughed. “Danny, lass, this is nothing personal. Frankly, I find your speech quaint. It reminds me of my younger years. I didn’t always work for the nobility, you know. But you’ll find that improving your speech can only be a benefit to you. Unless you like being embarrassed when you have difficulty conveying your thoughts?”
Danny was jarred by what the housekeeper had called her,
It brought back a vague memory of being surrounded by a room full of toys, someone holding her hand and telling her, “Make a choice, Danny lass. Your father said you could have any toy that strikes your fancy for this birthday.”
Had her life really been that nice before someone had ripped her from it by trying to hurt her? Or was that just some dream she’d once had? Her head starting aching, trying to remember more, but nothing else would come to her to prove that it had been a dream—or a real memory. And Mrs. Robertson was waiting on an answer from her.
“I—I might know ’ow to talk better,” she said hesitantly. “It’s just been so long, I’ve mostly forgotten. My friend Lucy, she wanted me to talk as I do now. She worked ’ard at it, making sure I did.”
“How odd. But at any rate, I don’t mind correcting you, if you won’t mind being corrected. Master Jeremy also mentioned that he would try to assist you in that regard.”
“ ’E did?”
“Yes, he’s apparently taken quite an interest in you. This is an upper-crust household. If you were employed by tradespeople, it wouldn’t matter that much. But servants of the nobility can be quite as snobbish as their employers, and you do want to fit in, don’t you?”
Danny thought about that for a moment, then said, “I don’t think I’m wanting to be a snob, no.”
Mrs. Robertson burst out laughing again. “You’re priceless, child. I haven’t laughed this much in years. I wasn’t suggesting turning
into a snob. Good heavens, no. I don’t believe I’m one myself, and Master Jeremy certainly isn’t. But, you will meet other servants on this street, I’m sure. And we have yet to finish staffing this house. My point was, you are likely to come across such people, and while you might look down your nose at them, just as they will at you, you don’t want to stand out for ridicule if you don’t have to, do you? No, of course not. No one enjoys ridicule.”
Danny hadn’t been expecting this type of instruction. But since it did fit right in with her desire to improve herself, she was quite grateful that the woman suggested it and said so.
“Thank ye, ma’am. I’d be beholden for the teaching.”
“Splendid. Shall we devote a half hour each evening to it for a while? We’ll get those
’s back into your speech in no time!”
Danny grinned. “There’s fifteen years to correct. It may take more’n a while.”
“Possibly. But, you aren’t going anywhere, are you? So we’ve plenty of time to work on it.”
Not going anywhere? Some of the weight just lifted from Danny’s shoulders. Now if Malory would just get off them as well…
Where is everyone?”
Danny heard the women’s loud call and poked her head around the upstairs corner to glance down the stairs where the noise was coming from. Three women were in the entry hall, decked out in high fashion, beauties all of them. She recognized one—Malory’s cousin Regina Eden, who’d barged in on him yesterday. Which explained how they got in when no one was around to let them in.
Danny had no intention of answering the lady’s question. Her duties were fresh in her mind and they didn’t include answering doors or dealing with guests. She was aware that there was no butler or footman yet to do that, but Claire was around somewhere and had managed to answer the door just fine yesterday.
Danny quickly leaned back out of sight again, but not soon enough. “You there! Come here, please.”
Danny didn’t move. Just because it seemed as if the woman was talking to her didn’t mean she was. Claire could have appeared.
should have by now, with all that yelling going on.
“I know you heard me, so don’t run off. Come down here, please.”
Danny stuck her head around the corner again. Sure enough, Regina Eden was looking directly at her and beckoned her forward with a wave of her hand. There was no help for it. Rudeness wasn’t part of her job.
She bounded down the stairs in her usual get-to-it-quickly pace, then nearly landed on her arse on the marble floor as she slid a few feet. Bleedin’ slippery floor. Her blush didn’t last long though as she was boggled by the three women, now that she was closer and could see them better. They weren’t just beauties, they were raving beauties.
One of them had flaming red-gold hair and gray-green eyes. She was petite, a good five inches shorter than Danny, and looked to be in her early thirties. The other new one was younger, perhaps twenty-five, with black hair that looked naturally curly and soft gray eyes. She was a bit shorter, too, making Danny feel positively huge standing next to the three of them.
Malory was related to Regina Eden, but these other two women? He’d said the rest of his family were blond, so they weren’t family of his. And if he had beauties like these visiting him, maybe he wasn’t out to get her in his bed after all. Maybe he had only been toying with her. She was nothing compared to these elegant ladies, and they were definitely ladies. Nobility was written all over them.
“How are you liking your new job, lad?” Regina was asking her. “My footman will be over later today. I’m sure you’ll get along with him splendidly. He’s such a nice fellow. But in the meantime, it looks like you’re the only one available to fetch Jeremy for us. I imagine he and Drew made a late night of it after they left my house last night, not that Jeremy is known to be an early riser in any case. He’s still sleeping?”
The hour was still early, barely ten in the morning. Danny could truthfully say he was still in his room, since she’d been keeping a close eye and ear on his door, to make sure she’d be behind some other door when he left his room. Running into Malory in the hall upstairs was
going to be part of her daily routine.
“I ’aven’t seen ’im today, so, aye, ’e’s probably still abed.”
That should have been their clue to leave, but, no, Regina said,
“Well, run along and wake him. And do tell him to hurry. We have a great many shops and warehouses to stop in today if we’re going to get this house furnished.”
“Yer taking ’im shopping?”
“Indeed. Waiting for him to muddle through the process on his own will never get this place up to scratch. He has entertaining to do, but he can’t do it if there isn’t a sofa to sit on.”
Danny wondered if Jeremy knew he had entertaining to do. She was smirking as she headed back upstairs. His cousin seemed so pushy, Danny wouldn’t be surprised if the entertaining was her idea, not his.
She stopped short in the hall before his door, realizing suddenly that
was supposed to wake him. She’d been hoping she wouldn’t have to see him today. She’d been hoping to get used to her job before she had to deal with him again. After what he’d said last night… she caught her breath, thinking of it, and remembering the way he’d looked at her.
She went ahead and pounded on his door, shouting, “Get up, mate! Ye ’ave company.”
Then she took off down the hall to hide in an empty bedroom. Not soon enough though. The door across from his opened and a blond giant of a man stepped out to growl at her, “If that’s the way you wake people, make sure you send a maid to my door, or you’ll end up being tossed down the stairs in short order.”
Danny could have cried at that point. Just when she’d begun to feel comfortable, she had to blow it again and get a member of his family annoyed enough to send her tossing. She turned about, ready to apologize, and forgot what she was going to say. Big, blond, and gorgeous. And he was as surprised as she was, now that he got a look at her.
“I’ll be damned, if you aren’t a woman, I’ll eat my ship plank by plank.”
“A gut full o’ splinters don’t sound too appetizing,” she said by way of acknowledgment.
He grinned. “I take it you
the maid? Or rather, let me rephrase that. I
you are the maid and not one of Jeremy’s ladyloves.”
“I ain’t no one’s ladylove.”
“Then it’s my lucky day.”
“Means you’re available, sweetheart.”
Danny snorted. “Don’t mean any such thing.”
“Don’t devastate me this early in the morning. I may not recover.”
Since he didn’t look the least bit devastated, looked nothing but confident and full of mirth, she replied simply, “Get over it, mate.”
Danny turned to leave again. She wasn’t used to men flirting with her. Women, yes, all the time and everywhere she went. She was very used to that, but then they saw a handsome lad when they looked at her. And she’d developed trite phrases that didn’t insult, but let them know she wasn’t interested. But men… and how the devil had another one seen through her disguise so easily?
Bleedin’ hell, she’d been right to worry that she couldn’t go on much longer playing the man. Twice in a matter of days she’d been figured out.
She’d gotten no more than a step away when she heard Jeremy say in a less-than-friendly tone, “My servants are off-limits, Drew—just so you know.”
“So it’s like that, is it? I’m not surprised. A face like that is worth giving up the sea for.”
“Which you have no intention of ever doing.”
A chuckle. “Not a chance.”
One of the doors closed, Danny couldn’t tell which. She took the chance of glancing back, hoping it was Jeremy who’d gone back in his room. It wasn’t. He stood there looking at her, and he wasn’t completely dressed. He only had his pants on.
She couldn’t move, she even forgot to breathe for a moment, she was so mesmerized. He was more muscular than his clothes indicated, and rock-firm. Even his tan extended down his chest, implying it was his natural skin tone. And his hair was mussed from sleeping, giving him an irresistible sexy appeal that was so strong, she was almost drawn forward like a moth to a flame…
Oh, God! Looking for a door, any door, to dash behind, she found the closest, opened it, and stepped inside. Bleedin’ hell, she was in the closet where the clean bedding was kept, along with a supply of cleaning materials! It was dark with barely any room between the door and the shelves behind her. But she wasn’t going back out there to see that man half-naked again.
He rapped on the door. She groaned inwardly. “Go away. Ye ain’t dressed.”
“You could get used to it.”
“Not bleedin’ likely.”
She heard his chuckle. She gritted her teeth.
“Was there a reason you nearly broke my door down waking me?”
She blushed. Hearing it put that way, she probably shouldn’t have been so loud about it. Having to wake him at all, well, she supposed that task was going to fall to her occasionally and be the hardest part of her new job. She’d have to find a way to avoid it, maybe make a deal with the new footman when he arrived. She felt better already, until she recalled that Jeremy was on the other side of the door waiting for her answer. And half-naked.
“A good reason. Ye’ve a gaggle of females downstairs…”
Her words trailed off. He’d opened the door. He leaned against the frame of it, too, crossing his arms over his bare chest. It was a wide chest, tapered down to a lean waist. Broad shoulders and sculpted muscles went with it. He was put together too fine, he really was. That’s probably why he always seemed so confident. He bleedin’ well knew he was a prime piece to look at.
At the moment he was perfectly relaxed—and amused. She stared at his blue eyes to keep from looking at his chest.
“Having a conversation through a door is rather silly, don’t you think?” he asked.
“ ’Aving a conversation at all is silly, when ye’ve got guests waiting on ye.”
“Yer cousin and two other ladies.”
“I suppose they aren’t stopping by just to say hello?” he asked hopefully.
She shook her head and, for the life of her, couldn’t figure out why a smirk was in her tone when she replied, “They mean to drag ye shopping.” Probably because it was obvious that he didn’t particularly like to shop, or he’d have finished furnishing his house on his own.
And his sigh wasn’t happy. “Bloody hell, I wish Reggie would give some warning when she makes plans for me. Course, then she wouldn’t be our sweet Reggie. Be a love and fetch me a couple pastries while I dress. My cousin won’t want to wait while I eat a decent breakfast.”
Anything to get out of his presence!
But he didn’t move! She had to squeeze past him and didn’t quite manage it without brushing against his arm. That arm shot out across her waist to stop her.
“The next time you want to hide in a closet”—he leaned closer to whisper by her ear—“you might consider some company. You’d be surprised what delights can be found in cozy spots like this.”
Danny didn’t answer, wouldn’t have been able to utter a word even if she’d thought of one. She pushed past him and bolted down the stairs. The last thing she’d heard from Jeremy was his sigh. The only surprise she had was that she made it to the kitchen without falling apart from having been that close to him.