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Bared: A Dark Romance by Alta Hensley – Sample

Chapter One

Tessa

I had already walked by the address twice. It was a lovely house with its crisp white paint, black shutters, and a matching black roof. The walkway leading up to the door had little green bushes with pink and white flowers.

Manicured.

Yes, that would be the word I’d use to describe it. It was a far cry from any house I ever lived or grew up in. Each house that lined the perfectly groomed sidewalk had the same charm, and if I wasn’t nervous before, I certainly was now. I was now in the rich part of San Francisco. The part of the city that girls like me didn’t visit.

I kept trying to chant to myself that it was just an interview. Just an interview. I’d had plenty of interviews before, but this time was different. This time, it wasn’t for some shitty waitress job or tending bar in some dive. This one was different. So, so very different.

I still couldn’t believe I had found the courage to apply. It wasn’t like me to be so bold, adventurous, and yet… the minute I read the words, I knew I wanted it more than anything I had ever wanted before.

Wanted: Executive Assistant.

Looking for a live-in assistant, cook, and housekeeper to provide services to an author during the writing of his novel. Job will require residing in a secluded mountain cabin for a minimum of six months, and then back in the city after that. The ideal candidate will provide personal assistance in the publishing process, housekeeping, meal preparation, the overall running of the house, helping the author in proofreading, and other duties.

Please click on the link below and complete application. A nondisclosure agreement will need to be signed due to the employer working in the public eye.

The fact that the job required you to live on location—win. The eviction notice sitting on a crappy particleboard table in my small studio weekly made it quite clear to me that I needed a solution to my situation and quick. I had less than twenty dollars to my name, a laptop that sometimes worked, and a suitcase of cheap clothes. This pathetic existence had to come to an end one way or the other. All my life I had moved from one dirty motel to the next with my deadbeat mother who would rather drink or snort our dinner money than worry about her annoying daughter whom she’d only kept around so she could collect more welfare and extra food stamps.

Now, actually being an executive assistant? That was a different story. I had never even held any type of professional job before and considered myself quite uncomfortable around corporate types in general. Money, and all those who had it, made me uncomfortable. But… well, I had to do something. So deciding to throw all caution to the wind, I clicked on the link. I answered all the basic questions that were on any standard application, and I gave a silent prayer that maybe luck could work in my favor for a change. But there were some questions that definitely brought it home that I was applying for a job that was completely out of the ordinary for me.

Have you ever been a personal assistant before? No.

Are you prepared to relocate to a remote cabin? Yes.

Are you prepared to have little to no interaction with anyone but the employer? Yes.

Do you read novels often? No.

Trying to not overthink why I was being asked if I read or not, and wondering if it was a deal breaker if I wasn’t literary, I simply answered all the questions as honestly as I could and hit send. It was done, and there was no looking back. One day turned to two, but I finally got an email that asked for an interview.

I had stared at those words in disbelief. Had I made it to stage two? Was I actually being considered for the position? I wanted this. I wanted this more than anything.

So, as I rode the city bus to the address provided, I chanted positive words of affirmation over and over. A teacher once had told me to do so when the dark shadows came into my life. Affirmations. I still remember how I had never heard of the word, and the idea seemed ridiculous, but I did it regardless. It helped, and I’d been doing it ever since. But this time it did little to calm my raging nerves.

I had given myself plenty of time, not sure how long the bus would take and if I would even be able to find the address. So, when I did, and still had a half hour to stall, I just walked around the neighborhood. It was fun pretending that I lived in it, walking my dog, or having a casual stroll in the evening enjoying the fresh air.

Glancing down at my watch for the hundredth time, I decided that arriving fifteen minutes early would be all right. I didn’t want to come off as too desperate, but I wanted whoever was interviewing me to know that I was serious and reliable. Unfortunately, my resume didn’t look that way since I’d worked one crap job after another, usually quitting because the asshole of a manager would make a move on me or the pay was so awful that it wouldn’t even cover my bus fare. Taking a deep breath, I somehow drummed up the courage to walk up the stairs leading to the door. I pressed my finger on the doorbell and had a last-minute wish that I had painted my nails a delicate pink or something.

I didn’t have to wait long before the door opened and a tall man with piercing dark eyes gazed down upon me. He was dressed casually in jeans and a white button-down shirt. His sleeves were rolled up, giving him a relaxed feel, yet his entire demeanor gave off an aura of authority. To only say the man was handsome would be an understatement. Mouthwatering, gorgeous, a gut-punching, breath-captivating sexy would be a better way to describe him.

“Yes?” he asked, tilting his head ever so slightly as he examined me from head to toe.

I shifted uncomfortably before I said, “I’m Tessa Stanton. I applied for your position.” When he didn’t say anything but instead continued to stare at me, I added, “I have an interview at three.” I swallowed hard and attempted to look directly into his eyes. But when I saw the intensity in the rich brown color, I awkwardly looked toward the ground, feeling a sense of defeat. I was no match for the power he exuded. “I’m sorry I’m early.”

He opened the door wider and moved to the side. “Come on in. My name is Price Anderson, and I’m the one hiring for the position.” He gave a slight smile, but not enough to come across as particularly friendly. He had a thick English accent that only added to his appeal for some unknown reason. The way he said each word sounded aristocratic, yet extremely masculine at the same time. “I like seeing my potentials arrive on time. Starting off on a good foot.”

As I walked in, he placed his palm on my lower back and applied some pressure as he led me to a room toward the right. I wasn’t used to a man touching me so freely unless he had something else in mind, but I didn’t get that feeling from Mr. Anderson. If anything, the touch seemed like the courteous thing to do.

“You’ll be meeting with me in here for the interview.”

When I entered the room, it was hard not to feel instantly at ease. The room looked like it came right out of a Better Homes and Gardens magazine. The colors of light blue and classic gray blended perfectly. A large blue couch with patterned throw pillows expertly placed mastered the room. Armchairs sat across from the couch with cherry wood end tables on each side. Lamps with lovely shades stood nearby casting a warm glow on the room even though the sunlight still shone through the large windows with sheer lace curtains adorning them.

I wore black ballerina slipper shoes—scuffed and faded—and they made a light pitter-patter on the wood-plank floor as I was gently guided into the room. I tried to control all the nerves that wanted to release from my body in a big whoosh. I had never been so anxious before, and I only prayed that he wouldn’t notice just how jittery I felt.

Mr. Anderson motioned to the couch with a brisk gesture of his hand. “Please have a seat, Miss Stanton. Let’s begin the interview.”

Chapter Two

Tessa

When I didn’t move immediately, he continued to guide me to the couch with the warmth of his palm still against the small of my back. When he removed his hand to take a seat in the armchair directly across from where I was to sit, I felt a sense of loss. I hadn’t even realized that his touch had given me a warm feeling of security until it was removed.

I sat down, held my shoulders back, positioned my feet together, and placed my hands on my lap. I wanted to appear distinguished and mature even though I felt anything but. The large cushions of the couch seemed to dwarf me in size, and the very tall and large man before me only added to that feeling. I struggled not to look around and fully examine all the little knickknacks that were scattered about. From the angle where I sat, I could see a fireplace with an ornate mantel and large mirror that hung above it. Classic would be a perfect word for this room. Every single item seemed to be in its assigned place without one thing being out of order.

“Tessa Stanton,” Price began, looking down at the clipboard he had taken off the table nearby. He looked up and stared at me as if studying every single move I made. I tried to not pay attention to the way he watched me, or to how little butterflies attacked my stomach with the way he said my name—pronouncing it in a way that made it sound beautiful and elegant, unlike any way I’d ever heard before.

“Yes. My mother named me after a rich girl she went to school with. She decided that Tessa would be a good name to give me so I would one day be rich or something—like her classmate.” My mother would have also liked the way he said my name, but why I was giving him this useless information, I had no idea. I knew I needed to calm down and not hog the conversation, or I was going to blow this interview.

“All right, Tessa. It says on your application that you have never been a personal assistant before. Is that true?” He watched me intently, as if wanting to see how I delivered my answer rather than simply to hear it.

“Yes, sir.”

“Then why did you apply to be one?” he asked. His deep, husky voice rolled off his tongue as smooth as butter.

“I…” I glanced at my feet, back at him, and then decided I had to be honest. “I don’t know. When I saw the ad, there was something about it that just stood out. It interested me.”

“But you have never worked in this field at all? What about housekeeping?” he asked, his eyes narrowing.

“No, sir. I’ve only been a waitress or a bartender. I was a maid once for a motel but was being paid under the table, and it was for less than a week, so I didn’t put it on the application.”

“Do you have any higher education?” he asked, the intensity of his stare making my skin burn.

“No, sir. I have no education to mention at all. That would have required my mother to actually care or be engaged in my life. I was pretty much on my own growing up. I wouldn’t call my mother a parent, but more the other way around.” I let out a defeated breath. I was giving away too much of my dramatic past. No employer wanted drama, and I was handing it to him on a silver platter. Shit. I needed to shut up.

“So where do you live now? Are you currently employed?” he asked.

“I’m not employed right now. The last job I had was at a café, and it went out of business. I currently live in… the city.” I didn’t want to continue on. He didn’t know, nor would he care, that I barely had enough money to get back to my shitty hole and have dinner for the night.

“Family in town?”

“Not unless you count my druggy mother. I’m sure she’s somewhere out there. But I haven’t seen her in over five years. So your guess is as good as mine.” And there I go again. Completely ruining this interview with my big mouth. I was a complete disaster and by the heat radiating from my face, I knew I had to be several shades of red as I did so.

“Did you read the part about having to be a live-in? Living in a remote cabin?” he asked, still staring at me with those dark eyes of his.

I nodded. “I think that was the part of the ad that interested me the most.” I struggled to inhale a steady breath, and stilled my fidgeting hands. “I’ve never been to the mountains before. Or a cabin.”

“Do you know who I am?”

I shook my head, confused by his question and looked down at the floor again where I got some feeling of reprieve from the penetrating energy in the room. “I don’t understand. Should I?”

Price sat back, clapped his hands together, and interlaced his fingers. “Very well then, let me make it perfectly clear what I am looking for.” He waited for me to look up and meet his eyes. “I’ve been writing psychological thrillers and horror novels for over two decades. I work under strict deadlines and have an aggressive production schedule for my releases. To hit these deadlines, I like to go to my cabin in the Sierra Mountains. I like to be away from San Francisco, the distractions, and breathe the mountain air. My writing consumes me, which means that unless I want to live in absolute squalor and living off no nutrients whatsoever, I need someone to handle providing the meals, making sure I actually eat them, and keeping the house from becoming uninhabitable. I also need someone to read my writing as I go to make sure I haven’t gone off track and to look for glaring mistakes. I am a taskmaster. I have extremely high standards and expect things done my way. My rules are my rules, and they aren’t up for negotiations. I have very little patience for just about anything.” He stopped and released a deep breath as he briefly closed his eyes before continuing. “Without going too much into the details about what I write, it often puts me in a dark mindset. Almost as if my words haunt me. So, I need someone to help keep all the shadows at bay, keep my life level, and to also know when to leave me alone.”

He looked at me as if expecting me to speak. Maybe he wanted me to say something, but I had no idea what that would be. His mention of dark shadows didn’t deter me at all, and maybe he expected it would. But the sad thing was, his admittance of having the shadows was not all that different than the things I had to deal with in my life. I could have been the starring actress in his movie since I had played that part many a time.

“This job, Tessa, is not an ordinary job at all. You will not get to clock in and clock out. There are no breaks, no holiday pay, and no HR department to run to when you feel you’re being mistreated. I’m an asshole. I’m a perfectionist. I like things my way, and only my way. If things are not done the way that I expect, I can be harsh and unforgiving. And I’m not going to be much company since I will be focused on my book and only my book. We will spend a lot of time at the cabin, and then when we leave there, we’ll reassess your duties and what I will need from you.”

Swallowing against the lump in the back of my throat, I prayed my words wouldn’t come out as a squeak. “I understand this job isn’t going to be like a normal nine to five. I understand I have to live on location, Mr. Anderson. I completely understand what I’m getting myself into, and I want it.” All of his talk of rules and strict expectations did little to deter me. I had had some of the shittiest bosses anyone could imagine. No way could Mr. Anderson be any worse than them, and at least with this job, I didn’t have to go home to a pile of bills and an eviction notice staring back at me.

He paused with skepticism washed all over his face. “So you have no experience in this type of work. Yet, you want this job simply because it’s going to be in the mountains?”

“Right,” I said as I decided I better try to fight for this if I really wanted the job. Which I did. Otherwise, I was going to blow any opportunity I had. “I mean, not just because it’s in the mountains, but because it’s different from everything else I have ever done before. I understand that I don’t have any experience in this, but I can assure you that I’m a quick learner and a hard worker. I’m loyal, dedicated, and there isn’t anything I won’t do that is needed of me. I’m not a diva or high maintenance, and I know how to keep my head down and my mouth shut.” I took a deep breath, and paused to try to read him, which was completely impossible since he only stared at me with zero emotion. “I will give everything I have to making sure I provide all the duties you require.”

“I’m finding it hard to believe that you would want a job where you’re expected to pick up and move to a place out in the middle of nowhere. With a man you know nothing about other than the fact that I just told you that I’m a strict asshole. How do you know you would like it? Are you prepared for the fact that there is no one around? There will be no way to easily go into town, no real days off, and your only company will be a good book or Mother Nature since I’ll be locked away in my office writing for the majority of the time,” Price informed.

“Well, I don’t know that I’ll like it. But does anyone know if they will truly like a job when they interview for one? All I do know is that I’ve worked some lousy jobs in the past, and they barely kept me fed, let alone housed.” I ran my palms along the fabric of my skirt, trying my best not to fidget anymore, or put my fingernail in my mouth and start nibbling away, which was always a bad habit of mine. “I believe that I would enjoy being… being your assistant. I won’t lie and say the idea of picking up and moving doesn’t gives me butterflies in my stomach.” My face had to be bright red because the heat radiating from it had grown so powerful that my ears actually felt hot. “And I have never had housing provided before with any of my past work.” I glanced around with longing. “I also have never lived in a house before. It shames me to admit to that, but maybe it will help explain why everything about the ad appealed to me. If I got this job, I would have a chance to live a completely different life. A life that has only been a fantasy for me. Working for an author and caring for a house… well, that sounds like heaven. It’s something I have never had a chance to experience, and if I were given the opportunity to do this, I would not let you down. I assure you.”

There, I did it. I spilled my guts.

Price leaned forward, placed his elbows on his thighs, and stared directly into my eyes. “Is it the move to the cabin, the job, or me that gives you butterflies in your tummy?”

Oh, God. The way his thickly accented voice asked the question caused a pulsation between my legs. Arousal, need, and a hell of a lot of confusion attacked me as he intently waited for my response.

“I don’t have an answer to that.” I began to fidget with my fingers, no longer being able to control the impulse. “You intimidate me. The job scares me. But I know I can handle it.”

“You think you can handle me?” he asked with a slight smirk as he leaned back. “I told you. I’m an asshole.”

I nodded as I swallowed against the lump forming in the back of my throat. “Yes, sir. I can.”

He leaned forward again and narrowed his eyes. “I can pretty much guarantee that this job will be unlike any other job you have had before. I’m not promising you wine and roses. Quite the opposite.”

I suppose a normal person would have run out the door right then and there and never looked back. Maybe I should have. In all actuality, I should have been terrified that I would be alone in a cabin with a man I didn’t know.

But I wasn’t.

“I can do this job, Mr. Anderson. If you hire me, you can one hundred percent focus on your book and nothing else. I will have everything you ask for covered.” I said this not much louder than a whisper and wished I had sounded more confident. “When are you looking for someone to start?” I asked, with more confidence this time.

I knew, without a doubt, that I wanted this job more than anything. Maybe I’d lost my mind, but I didn’t care. I didn’t even know how much my pay would be, but if it meant I got to live in a cabin, and not have to live in the dark dank world of my current existence… I wanted it.

“Right away,” Price answered. “I need to get to the cabin and get to work straightaway. I’ve been interviewing for days, and I’m not getting what I really need to be done, done.”

I looked down at my feet before looking back at Price with a courage I had to force out. “Then hire me now. I can start immediately.”

I held my breath and waited for an answer. Should I not have been so bold? Should I have asked more questions? I certainly had many more questions to ask. I didn’t want to come off as overly eager but… I was. I not only needed a job and a place to live, but I was desperate to experience something new. I wanted a fresh start, and I felt that this job could be exactly what I needed to achieve it.

Price stood up and silently motioned for me to follow him to the front door. The thought that I would be dismissed and sent away like all the others he had interviewed sent a wave of panic through me, but at the same time, I knew I’d done the best that I could fighting for the chance.

“Are you sure you want this job, Tessa?” Mr. Anderson asked as we stood in front of the door. “There’s no turning back once we’re up there. I won’t have time to take you back and do this entire interview process all over again. So if I hire you, you are stuck on that mountain whether you like it or not. At least until I write the words ‘The End.’”

I nodded as I tried to control my breathing. Could this be it? Would he decide right now if I got the job or not? “If you hire me, Mr. Anderson, I will have champagne and the best dinner of your life waiting as you type those words. I assure you that you won’t have to worry about me changing my mind at all.”

He paused and then gave another one of his half smiles. “Then consider yourself hired.”

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