Maid for the Billionaire
Page 2

 Ruth Cardello

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He looked up and through her as he crossed the foyer. “You can go now.”
She considered following his weary command, but something held her immobile.
“Are you deaf? I said you can leave. Finish whatever you're doing tomorrow.”
Mr. Armani sounded like an over-tired child, although she was fairly certain that he wouldn't appreciate the comparison. The wisest choice of action would have been to do as he said and leave before he had a chance to question her on her attire, but she couldn't.
He didn't look like someone who should be alone.
Was she simply projecting? Her friends often accused her of seeing good where there was none, but that was a hazard of her job. To be an effective middle school teacher, one had to see beyond the bravado. Abby taught English to non-native speakers, so she was often employed in the toughest schools in the city. She was used to defusing misdirected anger. Profanity was a cry for help. Harsh words often hid fear. Her patience paid off. Students returned, year after year, to thank her for believing in them. For some, she knew she’d been the only one who had. But this wasn’t her classroom and, in reality, she had no idea who this man was.
She could almost hear Lil’s voice telling her that some things were simply not her business and she’d be right. This man wouldn’t welcome her nurturing any more than her sister did, but that didn’t stop Abby’s heart from going out to him.
She put the sheets on a table on one side of the hallway and said, “There are fresh towels upstairs. Why don't you go take a shower and I'll get some basic groceries from the corner store for you.”
His back straightened and she caught her breath, reeling from the full impact of his attention. God, he’s beautiful. His dark gray eyes raked over her, flashing with irritation and then something else. He cut the distance between them in a few short strides. A hint of alcohol reached her as he stopped mere inches from her. She tipped her head back to look up at him.
“Did Jake send you?” he asked as he assessed her. “You don't look like a model.”
She blinked a few times in surprise as some of her sympathy for him faded. “And you don't smell like a man who should be wearing an Armani, but I wasn't going to mention it,” she answered in a huff.
Her words stirred something in him; his shoulders squared and his eyes narrowed. This was a man who was not accustomed to people speaking back to him, but if he was trying to intimidate her, his nearness was creating the entirely wrong reaction in her body. Even in his rumpled suit, or maybe because of it, he was the sexiest man she'd ever seen in person. Men like this existed only on the large screen or in novels. She wanted to reach up and run a hand over the rough stubble on his cheek.
“I didn't say you were unattractive,” he growled. “You're just not reed thin like the women I'm used to.”
That’s it. She put her hands on her hips and raised her eyebrows in a silent challenge.
Time suspended as their standoff continued. His look of annoyance was steeped with an expectation that she should try to appease him in some way. She simply met his glare with her own, giving him time to replay his choice of words in his mind. He looked away first, a slight flush reddening his neck
“Ok, that came out wrong.” He ran a frustrated hand through his thick black hair, leaving it slightly awry and sexier ...if that were even possible. He was already a twelve or thirteen on her one to ten scale, even after she deducted a few points for lack of social skills. A glint of fascination lit his dark eyes as something occurred to him. “Did you just tell me that I stink?”
There was nothing tired about the way he leaned down until their lips almost touched. The scent of him mixed with the dash of liquor and the combination was heady. He was all male, untamed and interested in more than her answer to his question. No man had ever looked at her with such intensity. His sexual energy demanded a response that her body seemed all too willing to deliver.
Abby fought down the urge to close the short distance between them. She’d lost too much to believe in anything that felt this good. She took a half a step back and raised a placating hand. “I wasn’t quite that harsh.”
The corners of his mouth twitched in amusement. “Do you have any idea who I am?” he asked, somehow making the question sound more curious than pompous.
Perhaps his tragedy had brought him a bit of notoriety, but Abby wasn't one to watch much TV and, as usual, Lil had given her just the information she absolutely needed in a brief, stilted conversation that typified how strained their relationship had become.
“I'm hoping you're the man who owns this brownstone, otherwise I'm going to get in trouble for letting you in,” she said with some forced humor.
He didn't laugh. “You really don’t know, do you?” His question sounded oddly hopeful.
Abby shrugged, but the hairs on the back of her neck tingled. What kind of man was relieved to not be recognized?
A criminal.
Crap.
Nice clothes meant nothing. His suit might have become disheveled during a tussle with the actual owner of it. She shook her head at the thought. “You do own the place, don't you?”
At his lack of a response, she scanned the area for something to toss at him if she needed to dash for the door. The closest object was a large, brass lamp. If he made any fast moves…
All coherent thought fled when he smiled down at her while lightly running his hands up both of her arms. “Yes, I’m the owner.”
Her heart really shouldn't be pounding in her chest just because the man was preparing to restrain her if she attacked him with deadly, brass force. It wasn't like she'd never been near a man before, but even her prior intimate relationships had been cautious endeavors. No man had ever brought to mind the words carnal abandon like this one did. When he looked at her, no one and nothing else existed.
“Before you clock me, would you like to see my license?” he asked while his thumb traced the edge of her collar bone rhythmically. Hypnotically. “Would you?” he prompted in response to her silence.
“Yes,” she said breathlessly, unable to concentrate on anything beyond the way her body was responding to his touch. Her skin burned beneath his light caress. Her stomach quivered with an anticipation she had previously only read about. Yes, to whatever you’re asking.
Her state of arousal was not lost on the man towering above her and the answering pleasure in his eyes shook her out of her daze. She stepped back, away from his touch and gave herself a mental shake. This kind of passion had no place in the life she’d built for herself. “I mean no. No, I believe you. You were right. I should go. I can finish everything tomorrow.”
His lids lowered slightly, making his expression unreadable.
“Do you know what I'm thinking?” he asked.
Unless he was also imagining the two of them naked, rolling around on the thick area rug in the living room, she was pretty much stumped. “No,” she croaked.
“I'm starving and I hate to eat alone. I'd be grateful if you joined me for a meal.”
That wouldn't be wise. There were at least a hundred, maybe a thousand, reasons why she should leave now before she made a fool out of herself. Yet, she was tempted.
It was more than the athletic span his shoulders, more than the strong line of his jaw. She couldn’t even blame the sadness in his eyes, because the exhausted man of earlier had been replaced by a virile male who knew exactly how to get what he wanted – and right now he wanted her.
Every sensible cell in her body urged her to turn tail and run, but wasn’t that what she always did when life offered her something she considered too good to be true? She chose safety and certainty over less reliable dreams and desires.
Just this once she wanted to sample what she’d been missing. Just this once she wouldn’t run.
Well, not immediately, anyway.
She’d share a meal with the near god before her, enjoy the way he made her skin tingle with just a look, and leave before anything happened. He wouldn’t have to eat alone and she could have an hour or so of pretending any of this was real.
“Any problems with Chinese?” she asked as she mentally reviewed the local places she knew would deliver.
The question seemed to jolt him. “Chinese what?”
“Food?” she added helpfully.
“Oh,” he visibly relaxed, “takeout.”
“Yes, there is a good place right around the corner that I know delivers -- unless you’d like me to try to find something else.”
“No.” He shook his head at some private joke. “Sorry, for a minute there I forgot.” Hands in his pockets, he rocked back on his heels, still looking highly amused by his thoughts.
“Forgot what?” she couldn’t help but ask.
With unexpected tenderness, he slid one of her wayward curls behind her ear. “That you’re exactly what I need.” Before she could catch her breath, he stepped back and handed her far too much money, no matter what she ordered. “Order some food while I take a shower.” His knock ‘em dead sex appeal returned as he chuckled and sauntered away, tossing over his shoulder, “I’ve heard I need one.”
Abby fanned her red face with the bills as she watched him climb the stairs two at a time. Not quite shaking herself free of the mental image of Mr. Armani naked beneath the steamy spray of the shower, Abby went in search of her purse and cell phone.
A man that sexy is just trouble.
Luckily it was highly unlikely that she would ever see him again after today. They would share one quick meal and then she’d head back to Lil and reality.
Back to the quiet, predictable life she’d built for herself.
That thought held less appeal than usual.
Chapter Three
The hot shower he'd taken in a bathroom that could easily have fit into one of the closets at any number of his other homes, had been invigorating and brief. As he toweled dry, he fought off teenage-like excitement. His blood surged each time he wondered what his housekeeper was doing...and that was about every ten seconds or so.
She wasn't the magazine cover type; he groaned as he remembered that he'd told her as much. Real smooth. He could attribute some of his uncouthness to fatigue, but he suspected that it had more to do with the way she filled out her jeans.
She was lushly rounded in the places women were meant to be rounded. Her light complexion, devoid of makeup, was sprinkled with freckles and those simple brown curls, which had escaped her attempt to bind them back, added to the guilelessness of her image. Nothing about her should have floored him, but when she'd pinned him down with those dark amber eyes, he'd almost stopped breathing.
She looked innocent and wholesome, exactly the kind of woman he normally avoided. Not too innocent, though, if the fire that leapt into her eyes at his approach was any indication.
Would she stay the night or leave while he was freshening up? The uncertainty was a novel and somewhat unpleasant experience for him. He ran an impatient comb through his hair, threw on khaki slacks, a white cotton button down shirt, and forced himself to walk calmly rather than bolt back downstairs to check if she was still there.
He knew he was attractive, but it had been a long time since a woman had looked through his reputation and his wealth and seen him. Not only had his housekeeper been unimpressed by his expensive clothing; she'd actually taken him to task for his behavior. Outside of Jake's recent outburst, he couldn't remember the last person who had.