I have plenty of time to be awed by the size and stature of Grayson Manor. It takes three rounds of knocking as I stand in the blistering cold before someone answers the door. I would have expected an estate like this—especially considering the supposed wealth of the man who owns it—to run as smoothly as the engine of the gleaming Aston Martin parked on the circular drive. What I don’t expect is for the door to be opened by a scowling hulk.
After days of fantasizing about this man, I never thought he’d be this intimidating in the flesh. Probably because I underestimated just how big he is. He’s not only tall, but he’s broad-shouldered and muscular too… if the tensing cords visible on his neck are any sign.
Leo takes one look at me before growling, “Do you know how long I’ve been waiting for you?” He has a faint European accent that’s beyond sexy.
While I’m struggling to form a sentence, my eyes seem happy to gaze on the sight of his tanned, corded arms, his massive hands, and the trim waist they’re currently gripping in annoyance. Despite the frigid cold, he’s dressed in thin, tan slacks that do nothing to hide the muscular thighs beneath, and a white button-down shirt with the sleeves rolled up.
He’s younger than I expected, and incredibly handsome despite his penetrating stare.
“Well?” he grates out in a deep voice. “Are you coming in or not?”
I had a list of carefully planned questions for him. I’d even written them down in a small notebook inside my handbag, just in case he rattled me. Obviously he wouldn’t admit to anything straight away, especially to a stranger, but a reporter?
Unfortunately, this pretend-reporter didn’t consider the fact that I’d be so flustered by his appearance that I’d forget about the questions, the notebook, my handbag, and that the man in front of me was the last person to see my mother alive.
Instead, I manage a pathetic little, “Um…” as my brain struggles to process what’s happening. There’s a fast, uneven flutter to my pulse that spells trouble if I don’t get my anxiety under control.
It’s his stunning good looks and the way he fills the space around him with a sense of dark control.
Who is this man? And how did he know my mother?
But I don’t have time to ask.
“Christ,” he mutters, his deep-set, steel-gray eyes boring into me. “Where’s your uniform?”
His eyes sweep over my baggy, nondescript clothes and the body beneath with the interrogatory stare I was supposed to be giving him. I’ve never felt this small, this insignificant, and this… cheap. His slacks cost more than a year’s worth of wages from both my jobs, so even if I’d dressed in my best—and only—suit, I’d be feeling the same level of inadequacy as I do now. It’s like he’s trying to decide if I’m something he owns, employs, or should toss out with the trash.
A signal flare of defiance sparks up inside me. I ignore the way my body switches on in an entirely different way at the touch of his shadowed eyes.
“Tell me your name, girl.”
His command forces out a faint, “Hannah. I’m Hannah.”
He gives me another onceover that sends goosebumps breaking out over my skin. “You are from the agency, aren’t you?”
But the scowl he gives me seems unconvinced. What agency? Who does he expect to arrive at his door, dressed in a uniform?
“I… uh… I’m your new maid.” It’s a stab in the dark with a butter knife, but it’s better than nothing.
Dark eyebrows streaked with the odd silver hair quirk up. “So you can speak,” he rumbles under his breath as he studies my empty hands. “Did you bring the forms?”
My mind is still reeling from my hasty decision to become an undercover operative. I’m not usually this impulsive, but Grayson is the last lead I have. If Leo can’t tell me what happened the night he met my mother, then I’ve hit a wall. And it’s one of those collisions where even airbags can’t save your life.
I’ve spent months trying to track down her killer. Months where my life has been in a downward spiral. After the investigation ran cold and the detectives gave up hope, I nearly did as well.
But then I caught a break. And it’s led me here. And, God, I hope this is the one thread that untangles the mess my life has become.
Staring up at Leo Grayson as he waits for me to reply, I realize there’s no way he’ll answer my questions openly. Even if the police showed up, he’d probably clam up until his lawyer arrived. And if he is guilty, he can afford the best representation money can buy and the state wouldn’t stand a chance of sending him to prison.
Or he’d just bribe his way out of a charge.
“The forms, girl. Where are they?” Leo narrows his eyes as he waits for the answer to a very reasonable question. Yes, Hannah, where are the papers the agency would have sent with you to present to your new employer?
By some miracle, I scramble together a passable lie. I point over my shoulder with my thumb, blurting out, “I left them in the Uber.”
“No uniform, no papers,” he says, his gray eyes narrowing dangerously. Then like a cloud passing over the sun, his expression clears. “And no time. Get in.”
He steps back, sweeping a hand down the expansive hallway leading deeper into his mansion. When I walk past him and catch his scent, my pulse is off like a horse at the races.
It’s as if my legs are driven by some primal need—this crazy urge to rub up against him, to mark my body with his scent—but I force myself not to veer closer to him. For someone dressed like he could throw on a tie and attend a board meeting, the earthy tones of his cologne shouldn’t work. But God, they do. I’m practically salivating.
Has it really been that long since I’ve been in the presence of a well-groomed man who can afford expensive cologne? I’ll admit, I’ve been a little busy working two jobs and working my mother’s case.
I snort Leo Grayson’s smug scent out of my nose and smooth my face back into the grim mask I was wearing when he ripped open the door.
My plan has changed… but hopefully for the better. If I can keep this ruse going, I’ll have access to his personal effects. Computers. Cellphones. Places where he’d have made a note about meeting my mother. Once I have proof, I’ll send it to the police and hightail it out of here before he realizes I’m a fraud.
“May I take your coat?”
His smell surrounds me like a whirlwind. I spin around, clutching my lapels to my throat. My thick, slightly worn brown coat suddenly feels like a layer of impenetrable armor, and I’ll be damned if I’m parting with it.
It’s difficult to force civility into my voice when I want to beat him with my fists until he admits to killing my mother, but I manage. “No. Thank you.”
Again, he looks at me like he’s considering asking for my papers. I force a crooked smile onto my mouth. “I run cold,” I lie.
Why am I behaving like a teen girl with a crush? Maybe it’s simple biology. I’m a young, fertile woman and apparently my ovaries are just begging to be impregnated with his genetically superior seed.
Holy cow, Hannah, what the hell is wrong with you? This guy is dangerous. It would be suicide—homicide, actually—to even consider letting down your guard around him.
“Hmm.” His expression clears, but a tiny crease remains between his darkly lashed eyes. He walks past me, the air sweeping another noseful of his intoxicating scent my way.
I hurry after him, acutely aware just how tall he is with every long step. My eyes take in his powerful physique—the way his muscles move under his clothes, the power in his strides, how he fills every space he enters.
An involuntary shudder courses through me. For a moment, I’d forgotten why I’m here.
Someone strangled my mother the night she met Leo Grayson and I have no idea why they were even meeting, and he’s the closest thing to a suspect I have. She never mentioned this man to me or my father. I know for a fact she’d never have an affair. She loved my father deeply. Whether Leo killed her, or arranged for someone else to do it, it doesn’t change the fact that this man was possibly the last person to see her alive the night of her murder.
My heart ticks inside my chest like a pendulum. I’m all too aware of everything I still have to work on today… at least, I was. The girl in the faded brown coat scurrying along behind me keeps dragging my attention away from my to-do list.
It’s been a long time since that’s happened.
I wasn’t expecting her to be so damn pretty. What led her into an occupation like this? She obviously needs the money—the Salvation Army would have refused that coat as a donation. I thought I spotted a chain around her neck, but it didn’t look to be good quality. Probably a piece of costume jewelry she thought would spruce up her sad outfit.
Hannah. The temp agency emailed last week, but I’d barely glanced at it. I hadn’t been interested in who they’d send… until now.
I should be nicer to her. It’s obvious I scared the hell out of her when I yanked open the door. Her wide, jade-colored eyes had nearly popped out of her head. Honestly, I thought she was another goddamn estate agent. I don’t know how word got out that I want to sell this place, but it’s as if every realtor across the state began smelling blood in the water.
“It’s nice to meet you, Hannah,” I say.
“You too, Leo,” she says in a tight voice.
I stop walking. Hannah walks into me with a yelp of surprise. She all but leaps back when I turn to face her.
While I enjoyed how her name stroked my tongue, I did not care for the sound of my name on her lips. Maybe it’s the way her mouth forms a perfect O at the end, forcing a sudden influx of sinful thoughts into my mind. Thoughts about all the things I could slide between those perfect lips.
Is she wearing lipstick? I make a note to tell her to stop… after she’s settled in. I don’t want this girl thinking I was fixating on her mouth.
And God, she is just a girl. I’d judge her to be in her late twenties. Which makes her far too young to be of any interest to me.
Why the fuck does she keep scowling at me?
“It’s Mr. Grayson.”
The faintest blush infuses her plump cheeks. “Sorry. Mr. Grayson.”
Jesus, that’s even worse. Maybe it’s the way she ducks her head so her chestnut bangs fall in her eyes. You’d think she’d finally wipe that scowl from her face, maybe try to appear meek, but she glares at me like I bought her at a slave auction and she’s already planning her escape—after slitting my throat while I sleep.
Bad news for her—I’m an insomniac.
“No names,” I snap. “Just follow me.”
“Yes…” Her throat moves. “Sir.”
I turn on my heel and charge away. Sir is the worst yet, but I can’t make a fuss about it either. The girl looks like she’s wishing she never got in the Uber that brought her here… and I’d be the first to agree. I’d have sent her away if I didn’t need her this badly.
I lead her through the scullery and into the laundry. When I turn to open one of the storage closets with all the detergents and cleaning things, I catch Hannah’s wide-eyed glance at the piles of laundry in a nearby corner.
There used to be a laundry hamper there. In fact, I’m pretty sure it’s still there. One would just have to shovel through the massive pile of dirty clothes to get to it.
“It’s been… a busy few days,” I mumble.
“Days?” she says, a hint of sarcasm in her voice. “More like weeks.”
“What did you say?”
Hannah’s eyes go even wider when she faces me. “Uh… I mean… I’m sorry, Sir.” She doesn’t fucking look it. “It’s just—that’s more like a few weeks’ worth of clothes. Unless you have a wardrobe change every few hours.”
I rake a hand through my hair. “I keep meaning to make a stop at the dry cleaners…”
The lie fades under Hannah’s frank stare. Then she gives me that curious smile of hers—the one that looks like it takes all her effort to gather up. “That’s okay, Sir. It’s why I’m here, right?”
God, I need to come up with a better way for us to communicate. Perhaps post-it notes. Anything’s better than listening to her calling me Sir.
My cock twitches every time she says it.
“So… can I just throw everything in the back of your Aston and take it to the cleaners?” She blinks up innocently at me.
Now I’m imagining her in the back seat of my car, her bare, creamy flesh contrasting with the dark brown leather of my DB11’s bitter-chocolate–colored interior. I hurriedly clear my throat, thrust the image from my mind, and point to the wall phone inside the kitchen.
“Call them,” I grate out. “They’re number five on speed dial. They’ll come collect it.”
“Too busy to make a phone call,” I swear I hear her murmur to herself, but when I turn to look at her she has her hand behind her back, her face like that of an angel’s.
Why can’t I get a handle on this girl?
“Here’s everything you need,” I say, turning away to gesture toward the cleaning supplies. “Start in the kitchen and work your way up. I need everything spotless by Wednesday.”
I didn’t imagine it this time. There was definitely contempt in her voice.
I don’t know what the hell Hannah expected when the agency briefed her on my requirements, but the look of outrage I turn and see is as unexpected as the way she quickly clears her expression.
“Is that going to be a problem?”
She flutters her dark green eyes at me. “No, of course not,” she says grudgingly, giving me that same forced smile. “I’ll have it spotless, Sir.”
Christ, I need to get laid. That all it takes to give me a semi is hearing this girl say, “Sir” is fucking ridiculous.
“Good. I’ll be in my office.” I’m halfway out the door when I turn back just in time to catch the girl scowling at my dirty clothes like they’ve wronged her in a previous life. “And I won’t be disturbed.”
Hannah gives me a bright, if still blatantly fake, smile. She’s getting better at them.
Good for her.
I turn and leave. Thankfully, by the time I’m past the kitchen, my mind can return to my work. It seems Hannah’s peculiar influence weakens the further away from her I get.
For the first time, I’m glad this place is so damn huge.
Well, that was a royal screw-up. I wouldn’t be in the least surprised if Leo—sorry, Mr. Grayson—was on his way to call the cops. I need to step up my game if this is going to work. Time to knuckle down and get into character. I can’t have Mr. Grayson—sorry, Sir—becoming suspicious of me.
Which means, if he hired someone through a cleaning service, I need to make sure that person doesn’t arrive.
Wouldn’t that be hilarious?
No, it would be a disaster. My cover would be blown, and I’d never stand a chance at finding out what happened to my mother.
I clutch my necklace. The pretty blue stone flecked with green and red warms in my hand. Other than fond memories, this piece of jewelry is all I have left of Rebecca Monroe, my mother.
“I’m going to make this right, Mom,” I whisper. “No matter what it takes.”
I turn, glimpsing the kitchen past the scullery. I don’t know who Leo actually hired, and cleaning that massive kitchen won’t get me any closer to figuring it out. For that, I’ll need access to his office, or study, or whatever room he works out of. Even just his phone.
My eyes sweep back to the pile of clothes in the corner, and my mouth quirks up.
“Can’t have the man of the house walking around in dirty clothes, can we?” I scoop up a bundle of clothes and dump them in the middle of the floor to start sorting them. Jackets and pants I put aside for the cleaners, the rest goes on a smaller pile to get washed. I add some laundry detergent to the load of socks, shirts, and underwear inside the industrial-sized washing machine, and watch the clothes tumbling around inside with a smile on my face.
I call the cleaners and get to work on the kitchen.
As soon as the first load of laundry is done, I toss it into a basket and head up the stairs. I don’t know where Leo’s bedroom is, but since he asked me not to disturb him, I guess I’ll have to find it myself. I’m hoping there’s something useful in there. Maybe a laptop?
I quickly realize how enormous this mansion is. At least three levels, not considering any attics or basements. I mean, he has to park that Aston Martin somewhere, right? I doubt it stays out on the drive all day long.
The ground and first floors are beautifully furnished and decorated—if a bit too Victorian-era for my taste—and filled with intriguing works of arts. The second floor seems utilitarian in comparison. Intricate wall sconces stud hallways where the wallpaper is just as luxurious as the first floor and ground level of the estate. There are no statues dotted around here, no works of art.
I find a few bare nails on the walls as I snoop around looking for Leo’s bedroom… as if he had something hung up and took it down.
Assuming the master bedroom is the last door, I head in that direction. Thankfully, I’m right beside a partly open door leading into what looks like a guest bedroom when the exact door I was heading for opens.
My heart gives a hard thud in my chest, propelling me into the guest room so fast I’m sure I became a blur. I press my back against the wall, gulping down a silent breath to fill my empty lungs.
The thick carpeting in the hallway gives me no clue where Leo could be, but I remembered his long, sure strides—he should have passed me already. I’m about to peek out of the room, laundry hamper clutched to my chest, when Leo crosses the doorway outside.
Of course I drop the hamper.
Of course Leo hears the noise and turns to find me on hands and knees, hurriedly scooping up his clean clothes.
God, I hate the way he says my name. When it comes out of that mouth in that voice? Gravelly and slightly hoarse, like I’m a demon he’s about to exorcise… with that faint accent.
“Leo—Sir. I, uh, I was—” I swallow down whatever nonsense I was trying to concoct and blurt out, “I was looking for your bedroom.” Then, because he’s just standing there with his phone in one hand, a deep frown between his brows, I add, “You said not to disturb you.”
“And yet here you are. Disturbing me.” From the sounds of it, he’s never been this disturbed before. There’s a twist to his mouth like he’s eaten something sour, and the derogatory scan he gives me suggests that he’s seen more appetizing things smeared on the tarmac days after their encounter with a speeding car.
“My apologies.” And then, because he’s such a smarmy fuck, I add in an icy, “Sir.”
His lips part, concrete-gray eyes narrowing. “Why were you looking for my room?”
“To put these away.” I stand, lifting the hamper in case he doesn’t recognize what clean clothes look like anymore.
He barely glances at the hamper. “Is this your first time working under someone?”
I don’t know why the hell my cheeks catch fire. Maybe it’s the way he says it, like he means something else entirely. “Look, if you can just tell me where your room is, I can—”
When he stalks up to me, I hurriedly bite off the rest of the sentence. It’s that or yelp like a terrified puppy again.
He plucks out a pink button-down shirt, then a pair of black socks, then a blood-red tie. Slowly, alarm spreads across his face. “Did you wash these?”
“Yes, Sir. You can tell by how clean they are now.”
“Together?” His growl makes the hairs on my nape stand up.
I barely stop myself from retreating.
Shit. I hadn’t even thought about separating colors or anything like that. My clothes are all so worn out, it doesn’t matter anymore. Now that I come to think about it, I don’t remember seeing any pink shirts going into the washer.
He smells the shirt. “No dryer sheets?” When he puts his phone in his pants pockets so he can lift the shirt in both hands, that’s when I know I’m in deep shit. “Do you assume I have an iron in my bedroom? Or were you planning to hang these up as is?”
“It was a lot less creased before it landed on the floor,” I mutter.
He tosses the shirt back in the hamper. “Why the hell are you doing laundry anyway? The dry cleaners could have taken care of these. I told you to clean the kitchen.” His voice drops even lower.
“What did you think I was doing while the laundry was being washed?” I lift my chin and give him an indignant sniff. “Filing my nails? Plus, it’s a waste sending stuff like this to the cleaners.”
There’s a flicker of surprise in his eyes. “You cleaned the whole kitchen already?”
“Yes, Sir. The whole kitchen.” I shift my grip on the hamper. “I was about to start with the rest of your enormous mansion but I thought I’d come put these away before they got more creased.” I drop my eyes, glancing at the shirt he picked up. “I was planning to iron those this afternoon when all the housework was done… but I needed some hangers to put them on.”
The more I speak, the calmer he looks. He steps back and sweeps out an arm. “Down there. Last door.”
I keep my chin up as I slip past him and make my way to the end of the hall. I can feel his eyes moving over me as I walk, piercing through my coat, making it feel as though I might as well be wearing nothing at all. It’s only when I stop to juggle the hamper so I can open the door that I realize why that feeling was so intense.
“Allow me, Hannah.”
His muscular arm reaches past me to turn the knob, and I nearly jump out of my skin. This man moves like a tiger. Silent, despite his size, and just as damn deadly.
“Thanks,” I mutter, hurriedly pushing into the room so I don’t have to breathe in his smell. It was even stronger this time, and there was an underlying scent I wasn’t prepared for—Leo’s masculinity. It made me want to press back into him and tip my head back for—
Dear God, for what, Hannah? A kiss?
I spare the room barely a glance before I make a beeline for the line of doors I assume are his closets. But when I hear the bedroom door closing behind me, I skid to a halt and whip my head around to look.
“Don’t want to let the heat out,” he says.
I take shockingly long to figure out what he means. But then I feel the prickle of sweat at the base of my spine and realize the room is scorching.
I’ve been back here a month, and Hannah is the first cleaning lady to grace these halls in nearly a year. I’ve been working from my apartment in the city, and thought I’d only be here for a few days while I listed the house. But first I had to hire a maintenance crew to take care of the gardens, and then the roof needed some patching…
I can’t get rid of this stack of bricks soon enough.
I forgot the maid would have to move through my sanctum. But of all the rooms I expected a stranger to defile today, my bedroom wasn’t one of them. That it’s pretty little Hannah just makes it worse.
“Leave it,” I bark, gesturing roughly at the bed. “I’ll pack it away later.”
My room isn’t dirty. It’s just… messy. I haven’t really bothered to make the bed or clean away any of the wineglasses and bottles piling up on my study desk.
Hannah shifts uneasily, glancing around as if taking in the room. “I’ll need to come clean in here. Unless you want to do it yourself. But I’m guessing if that had been an option…” The sentence trails off, but the challenging glint in her eyes fills in the blanks.
If that had been an option, I’d have done it myself.
Why does this young woman with her defiant eyes and lush, unhappy mouth make me so goddamn angry?
And I swear, if she calls me Sir one more time…
I relent with ill grace, waving toward my closet. “Fine. But be quick. I’m—”
“Busy. Yes, Sir.”
I can practically hear her rolling her eyes at me. I’m still standing at the door, my hand pressed to it like I’m the only thing stopping it from swinging open and releasing the heat trapped inside. Not just heat, but the smell of wood smoke and a computer that’s running too hot. I can’t handle the cold—another reason I should have sold this old house the moment I moved out last year.
How foolishly sentimental I was. I thought the good memories would combat the bad. Long summers, Cindy and I riding down to the stream that crossed a portion of the estate and having a picnic.
Cindy had breathed warmth and light into this place. Now that she’s gone, the house has been transformed into an icy crypt—gloomily lit by a weak sun that struggles to penetrate the constantly overcast sky outside.
Maybe it was because I returned mid-winter, and that’s why it’s silent as a tomb in here. No frogs. No cicadas. No jazz music drifting through the house from the old record player in the library.
Back then, in those warm summer days, I had no idea hope was a foreign concept for my newly engaged fiancée.
Now that I’ve finally decided to sell, it seems everything is working against me and keeping me bound to this house. First, all the repair work. Now a stubborn maid, bucking and rebelling at every command.
“Watch your mouth, girl,” I tell her. “Or I’ll send you straight back to town.”
“Sorry.” She watches me warily for a moment and then backs up to the closet like I’m a wild animal who’ll pounce her the moment she turns her back. A wise assumption. I’m feeling all kinds of edgy today. “I’m… new to this.”
“Really? I couldn’t tell.”
Her mouth twists, but she says nothing. Instead, she decides it’s safe to turn around and start putting away my clothes.
Thank God—I’m literally wearing the last clean thing that isn’t a tuxedo or a three-piece suit. I usually prefer sweats when I’m working from home, but it’s been more than a week since I had a clean pair in my closet.
I move to my computer, logging in to check my emails. There’s something bugging me about this girl, and I still haven’t decided if I’ll let her stay on until tomorrow. If the agency can send me a new girl tomorrow morning, then it’s probably best if—
“Do your wife and kids only come here in the summer?”
My thoughts scatter. I turn to look at Hannah, but she still has her back to me. I guess the heat in the room finally soaked through her layers of clothing, because her coat is now hanging from my closet door.
She’s wearing jeans and a tank top, the fabric of her white top thin enough that I can see the bra beneath. When I don’t reply immediately, she glances at me over her shoulder… and catches me staring at her ass.
Christ, what the fuck is wrong with me today? Why do I keep imagining sinking my fingers into her soft, curvy ass hard enough to leave dimples in her flesh? Or wondering if it’s her hair or her perfume that smells so gloriously sweet and flowery?
Don’t I have an ounce of self-control?
“There’s no one else.”
“You’re not married?” She sounds surprised.
“Not anymore.” An unpleasantly familiar coldness seeps into my stomach and sits there like a chunk of concrete. I need to end this line of questioning without making her suspicious. Although, if she’s lived in this town longer than five years, she’d know about this house. About the family that lived here. How tragedy destroyed their happy lives.
No reporters have visited me since I arrived back at my estate. Guess the things that happened in these halls are old news by now. They have new, exciting things to report on.
Changing my name was the best thing I ever did. It felt like a betrayal, of course, but at least I can live out the rest of my miserable life in peace.
“I didn’t hire you to pry into my personal life,” I tell her brusquely. “I’d thank you to keep your questions to yourself.”
Hannah looks like she wants to blurt out a retort, but then she quickly bites down on her bottom lip and returns to packing away my clothes.
I search my emails for the last communication from the agency. They sent a confirmation last week stating that a Miss H. Thomas would arrive on Tuesday.
Guess I owe Hannah an apology. She’s not late after all. In fact, she’s early.