Maid for the Billionaire
Page 4

 Ruth Cardello

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Abby turned on the car’s air conditioner to cool her face. She really had to stop thinking about him that way. The man might be good looking, but he had the social skills of a cockroach. He offered to buy me for the night, for goodness sake.
So, why did she wish the evening had ended differently?
She wasn’t the type who found dangerous men attractive. She dated solid, dependable, safe men. They were part of her plan; a plan that she’d outlined for herself and Lil when, at eighteen, she’d become her sister’s legal guardian. What her life lacked in passion, it made up for in achievement. Her careful choices had made juggling college and parenthood possible. The house she was driving home to was evidence that the path she’d chosen had been the right one.
Whatever Mr. Armani made her feel didn’t fit her priorities. It was good, but it was the kind of good that always ended badly. That knowledge didn’t change the fact that for the first time in too many years to count she’d felt young, giddy – alive.
Pulling into the neatly shrub-lined driveway of her suburban home, Abby succumbed once again to the memory of their brief kiss and shivered despite the warm, June evening air that assailed her as she opened the car door. She caught her smiling reflection in the car window.
Come on, Abby she said to herself in reproach. Snap out if it. Nothing good would have come from sleeping with Mr. Armani.
Nothing except mind blowing sex.
Abby groaned at the excitement that was still evident in her expression. How was she going to convince Lil that she regretted getting her fired from her job if she couldn’t get this stupid smile off her face?
Dominic put his feet up on the desk in the small office of the brownstone. The worn leather of the swivel chair reminded him of days long past when he'd settled for this office furniture out of necessity. Each day had held a challenge for him, a reason to get up in the morning.
He poured himself a glass of Jack Daniels, but put it down without taking a sip. Not normally a big drinker, Dominic had temporarily sought solace in the numbness alcohol provided. But even at the level of incapacitation, the self-recriminations and fury had remained – until tonight.
Tonight he didn’t want to think about the father who had disowned him when he’d set off to find his mother or the bitterness that had overcome Dominic when eventually he’d stopped looking for her. He didn’t want to second guess the very successful career he’d thrown himself into or how his business practices had left him with a distinct lack of friends.
No, tonight was not about the past. For once, he was focused on something that had nothing to do with money or revenge. Tonight was about getting something -- more specifically someone -- he wanted. He’d played the evening wrong and fixing the situation would require careful negotiations and a clear head.
He pulled out his cell phone and said, “Jake.”
Jake picked up on the second ring. “Dom, what do you need?”
“I need a favor. A personal favor.”
Knowing Jake, he sat forward in his chair as he announced, “I’m not going to kill anyone for you.” Although his tone was light, Dominic heard the serious undertones of his proclamation.
“Do you honestly think if I was going to ask you to knock someone off, that I’d use my own cell phone?” he joked, but Jake didn't share in his humor. “Jake, I’m kidding.”
“I don’t joke about things that could have me hiding in a third world country to escape extradition.”
The seriousness of Jake’s tone stung. When they’d sat in this very office, cramming for exams and outlining their future business proposals, neither of them could have predicted exactly how much they would surpass their original goals or how ruthless Dominic would have to become to make it happen. But murder? Exactly how depraved did Jake think he’d become? Sure there had been financial casualties along the way, but that was business. Morality, much like international law, was often subjective. His success had always sparked rumors of possible wrong-doing, but until now he’d believed that Jake knew the truth. “All I need, Jake, is for you to contact our local security company.”
That got Jake’s attention. “What happened?”
“Nothing happened. I need a background check done on someone ASAP. Tonight.”
“Not a problem. We subcontract Luros Systems in Boston. I’ll have Duhamel contact them. Who do you want checked out?”
He hesitated and Dominic wasn't a man who second-guessed himself. “I don't know her name, but she cleaned my brownstone today.”
“You want a background check on your housekeeper?” Jake asked in disbelief. “Did she steal from you?”
“No. It’s complicated, but I want a full report – where she lives, who she dates, how serious it is.”
“Ohhhhhhh,” Jake said. “You want that kind of background check. That might take some legwork. It's already six o'clock, your time.”
“I want the information tonight.”
Jake sighed. “I’m sure Luros can get someone out there.”
“I don’t care what it costs. I want the information before eight,” Dominic said.
“Oh, you’ll get it. There’s not much you can’t get if you’re willing to pay the price.”
“You’d be surprised,” Dominic muttered and hung up.
At seven forty-five, a fascinated Dominic discovered that Abigail Dartley had a secret. The proof, which had arrived just a few minutes before, was spread across Dominic’s desk in typed and photographic form. Luros Systems was worth their high fee. They’d used his description to discern that she wasn’t the regularly scheduled housekeeper, Lillian Dartley, but she could be the woman’s sister.
Shortly after his initial conversation with the private investigator, Dominic had received Abby’s driver’s license photo in a phone text requesting confirmation of her identity.
The rest of information had come less than an hour later via a courier. There were financial records, interviews with neighbors and friends, and a fascinating description of Abby’s last boyfriend: a bank manager, good looking, polite, reliable. His initial assessment of Abby had been correct. She liked to play it safe.
He held up a photo of the two sisters together and was further impressed by Scott Luros’ security company. The physical description of the two women had similarities. Both had long, dark brown curls and light brown eyes and Dominic guessed that many men would have also found Abby’s sister attractive. However, Lillian was lean where Abby was lush, sharp where Abby was soft. The major difference between the two was in their body language. Abby held herself straight and tall like a woman who proudly drove the speed limit. Her sister’s body was stiff with a defiance which might have explained the awkward physical distance between the two.
He scanned Abby’s life history with deepening interest. The wholesome act might not have been an act at all. The woman everyone simply called Abby had taken on the responsibility of her sister after the death of her parents. She was a respected member of her community, a friend to many, and a considerate neighbor. In the three pages of recorded interviews, there wasn’t an unkind word about her.
Nothing in her profile implied that she was anything but a middle school teacher who had covered for her sister for an evening; a teacher whose summer vacation had started a few days ago.
Perfect.
A sweet little teacher who had innocently told her neighbor how much trouble her sister would be in if the switch were revealed.
Even better.
This was almost too easy.
With the reading of the will the next afternoon, he would be free as early as –
A sudden thought struck him. Why not bring her? Abby would make the perfect distraction. With her at his side, he doubted he would care what stipulations his father had written into his will or how volatile his sister became.
Just thinking about her now was enough to get his blood rushing around. It also wouldn’t hurt to let her see that he was so rich that being left out of his father’s will was merely an annoyance. Yes, he’d bring her with him – make the unbearable situation tolerable and then take her to some ridiculously expensive penthouse in the city and show little Miss School Teacher exactly what she’d been missing.
He dialed the home number attached to her profile photo and waited, barely breathing, while it rang.
“Hello,” she answered on the fourth ring.
“This is Dominic Corisi. I’d like to speak to Abby Dartley,” he said.
Silence was followed by muffled words spoken to someone else as she apparently covered the phone with her hand. A female voice answered her, mostly likely her sister. They didn’t sound like they were in agreement on what to do and her ability to muffle their conversation slipped as their exchange became more heated.
He cut into their conversation. “Although your suggestion sounds entertaining, it’s not necessary to have your sister pretend to be you, Abby. I know all about your little ruse.”
“Crap,” she said, “you heard that?”
Unexpectedly, he found himself chuckling again. He dropped his feet to the floor and rested an elbow on his desk. “Let’s just say that you made a good choice when you went into education rather than espionage.”
“How do you find me?” she asked. “And how do you know that I’m a teacher?”
“That’s not important. I am calling about…”
She interrupted him. “Oh, my god, you paid someone to ask questions about me! My neighbor said someone had been asking about me tonight and she thought their questions were rather odd.”
So much for Luros being discrete. He’d have to mention that to them, but he supposed that they weren’t often given such a short time frame to gather personal details on someone.
“You left without even giving your name. Can you blame a man for wanting to know who he had dinner with?” he asked.
“So you grilled my neighbors? That’s not like looking me up in the phonebook,” she countered.
“I think we both know we have some unfinished business,” he said, running a finger over the lip of his still full glass.
“You make it sound like more than it was. It was nothing,” she argued.
“Because you ran,” he said.
“I did not run.”
“Oh, yes, you did. Did you really think I’d care that you were a teacher and not the regular housekeeper?”
“Did you really think I’d have sex with you for money?” she asked sharply.
“I wasn’t sure,” he said honestly and realized his mistake when he heard her harsh intake of breath. “After reading over your life story, I can see how that might have offended you.”
“Might have? Reading over my life story? There is nothing about this conversation that is changing my original impression of you as an arrogant ass.”
“And yet you kissed me.” Just saying the words sent his blood rushing downward in anticipation of a pleasure he knew he’d enjoy again and soon.
“You kissed me,” she corrected.
“I don’t remember you exactly fighting me off. In fact, I distinctly remember you making a soft moan when the kiss ended. It made me wonder what other noises you’d make for me.”