The spring morning transformed Glade Wilson.
Gone was the sobbing girl from last night. She beamed happiness as Reenie set a banquet of food before her; a poached egg in a silver holder as ornate as a chalice, red strawberries sparkling beneath a dash of sugar, a warm croissant, three varieties of jam, and links of maple sausage still hot from the frying pan. Her face was round and plain, but the curiosity sparkling in her bottle green eyes lent an attractive quality as she canvassed the kitchen’s generous spaces. She seemed astonished by the rich surroundings, her eyes lingering on the overlong center island before moving closer, to take in the miles of wainscoting surrounding the table.
Meade, smartly dressed in a wool crepe suit, had already received three calls from the office. No matter how detailed her instructions, her wholesale cosmetics company Vivid didn’t function without her on the premises. A shipment of perfumes was trapped at the airport. Pouring a cup of Reenie’s cinnamon-scented coffee, she made a mental note to check into it on the drive to work.
Noticing her, the housekeeper left the table and busied herself at the sink. Taking the cue, Meade went to the table.
“Good morning, Glade.”
The greeting sent the ripe strawberry aimed for the girl’s mouth back into the bowl. With an air of desperation, she glanced at the sink. Reenie, dunking her hands in suds, kept her attention studiously on the task.
“Feeling better this morning? Reenie said you had quite a trip.”
“Yeah, it was something.” At last she looked up, adding, “You sure have a nice house. This place is like a hotel.”
“It’s my father’s home, actually.”
“Don’t you live here? This is too much room not to share with family.”
A hint of accusation rimmed the question, raising Meade’s defenses. “I keep an apartment in Beachwood, but I usually stay here,” she agreed. The girl meant no harm. Curiosity was natural, especially for someone of limited means. In a warmer voice, she added, “My father is getting on in years. I stay to keep him company. He doesn’t get out much.”
“Does your husband mind when you stay here? Or does he come with you?”
“I’ve never married. I own a company.”
Confusion clouded the girl’s eyes. “That’s okay,” she said, as if granting approval. “Lots of older ladies don’t settle down. Owning your own company sounds great.”
“I didn’t know houses came this big. I mean, I’ve seen stuff in movies but it’s pretend. Do you have lots of friends come over? If I were you, I’d have a million slumber parties. I’d invite everyone I know.”
The ramble wound into an awkward silence, leaving Meade unnerved. Evidently the proprieties of common etiquette were beyond the girl. As was the ability to select flattering clothing—she wore a sweatshirt large enough for a man. It all but hid her voluptuous body. She was on the heavy side with brown hair blooming in a frizzy swirl around her shoulders. Was she five months pregnant? Six? Impossible to tell.
“Reenie says you’re from West Virginia,” Meade said at last.
“Not anymore. I like Ohio. It’s real nice here.”
No surprise there. A lucky fate had dropped her onto a country estate. Why wouldn’t she think it was nice? Good manners precluded asking about the length of her stay. Instead Meade said, “How was your trip?”
Considering, the girl succumbed to temptation and selected a strawberry. “It was okay. The bus was smelly but I fell asleep.” She popped it into her mouth.
“I’m glad you made it in one piece.”
“Can I ask you something?”
Meade took a lingering sip of coffee. “Of course,” she said with false cheer.
“What’s it like to be rich? Do you buy stuff without checking the price? Just buy it because you want it? I used to clip coupons for Mom every Sunday after we got back from church. She wouldn’t go to a store without coupons. You’re pretty too. I bet you’ve never seen hand-me-downs. I’m going to be rich someday. I’ll never shop in Goodwill again.”
Meade rattled the teacup back into its saucer. Drumming up a polite response proved impossible.
At the sink Reenie ejected her hands from the soapy water. Suds plopped on the floor.
She sent Meade a look of apology. To her imprudent relative, she said, “Glade, why don’t you finish your breakfast? Miss Williams doesn’t have time to chat. She has a guest waiting in the sunroom.”
Meade allowed the housekeeper to remove the cup from her hand. Together they went into the foyer.
“I have a guest?” Meade asked.
“He’s waiting for your father. I couldn’t think of a better way to extradite you from the kitchen.”
“You’re intrepid, Reenie.” The tinkling of bells on her miniature poodle’s collar sent her attention up the stairwell. After Melbourne trotted down and leapt into her arms, she added, “What would I do without you?”
“Encounter fewer embarrassing questions. Glade means well. She’s a country girl, and rather overwhelmed.”
“Who’s waiting in the sunroom?”
“Hector. Your father asked him to stop by.”
“I can’t imagine why Daddy asked to see Hector.” There was no sense prodding the housekeeper. Chances were, she wouldn’t know the reason for the visit.
She freed the squirming poodle from her grasp. He trotted toward the kitchen. Glade’s squeal of delight was followed by Melbourne’s yip, yip, yip of canine excitement.
“Do you mind if Glade gives Melbourne a walk around the grounds?” Reenie asked. “I have a busy morning ahead of me. It’ll keep her out of my hair for at least half an hour.”
“It’s a perfect idea. Tell Glade she’d be doing you a service if she gives Melbourne a good run. If you can keep her out of sight, it’s best. I’ll mention her to my father tonight after work.”
“Thank you, Meade.”
“It’s nothing. Now, stop worrying. Everything will work out.”
Excusing herself, she went to the sunroom.
Hector was casting appreciative glances at the jungle of plants trailing from baskets and placed on every available surface. Unlike the other rooms in the mansion, the sun-washed space had returned to life after Meade’s father discovered a latent green thumb. The air was moist in here, and thick with the pleasing scents of potting soil and leafy vegetation.
Hector’s back was to her, and she hesitated before making her presence known. She wanted to like him. He’d grown close to her younger sister and Hugh. Theodora, who lobbed inflammatory remarks at Meade with regularity, treated him with warmth she usually reserved only for Birdie. Even Meade’s father, whose only close friend was Theodora, seemed to enjoy his company.
More laughter from the kitchen, and Hector turned around. His inquisitive gaze found Meade’s.
“Is that your housekeeper?” he asked. “Sounds like she’s won the lottery.”
“No, Reenie isn’t laughing.”
“I’d rather not go into it.”
“Why not?” he persisted. “State secret?”
Glade was a troubling issue better forgotten until tonight. Contrary to the assurance she’d given her housekeeper, she was not looking forward to discussing the girl’s visit with her father. Nor would she bring Hector into her confidence.
With a tight smile, she said, “It’s none of your business.”
He approached, his eyes sparkling. “Don’t hold back. I applaud honesty in women.”
A backhanded compliment, but she wasn’t impressed. “Do you always pry into other people’s lives?”
“Depends. If they’re tight-lipped, I can’t resist.”
She started over. “Fine. If you must know, my housekeeper has a relative visiting.” Hector’s brows rose, prodding her on, and she added, “Reenie didn’t know she was coming. Glade’s from West Virginia.”
“It’s good to have time with family.”
“Depends,” she said, mimicking his playful tone. “Reenie’s a nervous wreck about the visit.” She paused a bea
t. “Her young relative is pregnant.”
This got his full attention. “West Virginia isn’t ten minutes away. Is her husband with her? A pregnant woman shouldn’t travel alone.”
Count on Hector to cast a positive assumption on a difficult situation. No wonder she felt ambivalent toward him—the unabashed optimism. It paired nicely with his inability to settle into a career. Given his Greek heritage, his striking features and ebony hair seemed his birthright. If he were a woman he would’ve landed a Sugar Daddy by now, someone enthralled by his effervescent personality and easy sexuality. He’d spend his days shopping and planning dinner parties.
Or slumber parties like the ones Glade dreamed of hosting. Like her houseguest, there was something adolescent in his personality, a bubbly quality she mistrusted.
“There’s no husband,” she revealed. “If I had to guess, Glade is seventeen years old. Eighteen, tops. She has a history of wild behavior and a mother in the Appalachian Mountains too busy raising the rest of her brood to take this one in hand. I have no idea how long she plans to stay.”
“And she’s pregnant? How many months?”
“Good question. She’s wearing a man’s sweatshirt. I can’t tell.”
The peevish response lowered Hector’s brows. “Meade, take her to a doctor. I don’t care if the kid is twelve years old. If she’s pregnant, she needs guidance on appropriate prenatal care.”
Heat climbed her cheeks. If her father had chastised her, she couldn’t have felt more embarrassed. Why was she treating the girl’s arrival like an invasion? So they’d have an additional guest at Birdie’s wedding reception. Undoubtedly Glade ran away from home because she was tired of clipping coupons and shopping at Goodwill.
“Forgive me.” Meade offered a whisper of a smile. “Of course you’re correct. What’s the matter with me?” Poor, uneducated, pregnant—Glade deserved compassion. “I’m behaving dreadfully.”
“It’s understandable. You’ve got a lot on your plate with Birdie’s wedding. You weren’t expecting a houseguest.”
“You’re too kind.”
She let his bravado pass. “I don’t know the first thing about teenagers,” she admitted. “Do they always bash you with questions? I wasn’t expecting a Q&A first thing this morning.”
“Kids are naturally curious, if that’s what you mean.”
Her thoughts exactly, and the comment sent her attention back to his eyes. Their gazes meshed for an electric moment. Sexual energy charged the air with potency impossible to dispel. His tight appraisal heightened her senses, making her acutely aware of her shallow breaths and the increasing tempo of her pulse. Men rarely had such an effect on her. She didn’t relish the sensation. She wasn’t in control of her emotions—or the situation.
No wonder she preferred to dislike him. It was safer.
“Reenie never married, which makes her no help whatsoever,” she said in a conversational tone that belied the effect he was having on her. “She’s no more experienced at dealing with teenagers than I. How my father will react when he discovers a pregnant girl wandering around the house is another worry. He’s very private.”
“He’s not the only one,” Hector replied. “You are too.”
She was, but the observation bothered her.
What’s it like to be rich? Do you buy stuff without checking the price? The girl’s brutal inquisitiveness had nearly brought on Meade’s temper, the ungovernable emotion she despised.
What was it like? Lonely.
She’d spent her childhood on the fringes of her mother’s celebrity, the great philanthropist Cat Seavers. A trophy child, Meade was shuttled among a forgettable series of nannies with only the stalwart Reenie as a playmate. She’d built a company on her own and was just beginning to enjoy the first taste of success when her mother, during one of her more narcissistic tantrums—and over her frightened daughter’s objections—piloted her motorboat into Lake Erie. Cat drowned, and the ensuing publicity captivated Ohioans. News reports about her affairs and Meade’s father’s longstanding association with Wish Kaminsky continued to pop up for months after.
Meade then spent the following years tending to a father grieving the loss of his wife and his reputation. His spirit was fully broken when Birdie’s mother took her child and disappeared.
The smartphone tucked in Meade’s suit gave off a hum, rousing her from the sad reverie.
“I’m late for work.” She pivoted toward the door then paused for a parting shot. “Why are you here to see my father? I wasn’t aware you had an appointment.”
The rude query filled Hector’s eyes with merriment. “None of your business,” he said, throwing down a gauntlet of his own.
Click Follow to receive emails when this author adds content on Bublish