One Real Man

By: Coleen Kwan

“Hmm, revenge. So you think I have grounds for revenge?”

“Oh, don’t pretend,” she said. “Admit it. You want payback for what happened to you when we were teenagers. You’ve never forgotten, and you’ve been nursing this grudge ever since. And now you think you can get back at me by making me your drudge. Well, it won’t work. I may be down on my luck, but I still have my pride. Good-bye, Owen. I won’t trouble you a minute more.”

Head held high, she brushed past him and strode out of the kitchen. Unfortunately, with her eyes directed upward, she failed to register the rug on the floor, which caught at her stiletto heels and sent her tumbling onto all fours.

“Hell,” she muttered, gasping in pain and surprise. Gingerly she eased over onto her butt so she could massage her wrists, which had jarred against the terra-cotta tiles.

Frowning with concern, Owen crouched down beside her, his hands skimming lightly over her ankles. “Anything broken?”

“No.” Except for her dignity. “Just sore bones and ruined jeans.” Ruefully she glanced at the once-pristine denim, now smudged around the knees.

“You shouldn’t wear such high heels if you’re going to walk around with your nose stuck up like that.”

“I was not…!” She blew out an exasperated sigh as conflicted sensations assailed her. Owen’s fingers on her ankles were disturbingly pleasurable, his touch warm and gentle. Unsettled, she shifted her feet, and his hands immediately withdrew.

“Here, let me help you up.” Before she could protest, he hitched his hands under her elbows and boosted her to her feet. He led her to a chair by the table.

“Thanks.” She sank into the seat.

“No worries. Take all the time you need.” He took the chair next to her. “Do you have a taxi booked already? I could call them to postpone until you’ve recovered.”

“No…no taxi.” She concentrated on her wrists so she wouldn’t have to meet Owen’s eyes. “I, er, called my mother this morning and left a message. She might call the house later on.”

“I see.” His eyes took on that penetrating glint she’d come to know too well. “Trying to get me kicked out? It won’t work. The rental agreement is sewn up tighter than a miser’s wallet.”

She chewed her lip. “I just want to know why they rented out the house without telling me.” Only when the words had tumbled out did she catch the childish neediness in her tone. She was used to her father not telling her anything—he’d always been distant and absent a lot of the time—but her mother was the opposite. At times, Crystal’s attention had almost been suffocating. “It’s not like them at all.”

“I’m sure they had their reasons.”

Could her parents be in financial difficulty? It seemed impossible. Her mother’s TV talk show had been on the air for years. Her father was a respected management consultant and had inherited a fortune, including this house, from his parents. They couldn’t be short of money; there had to be another explanation.

In the ensuing silence, her own predicament returned to the fore. Her parents weren’t around to help her. She had to rescue herself, and right now the only possible means of salvation was sitting right in front of her.

She swallowed hard to get rid of the bilious sting at the back of her throat. “I’m only looking for a temporary situation,” she said, keeping her tone offhand. “Just a month or so until I get myself organized and move back to Sydney.”

Owen’s eyebrows rose. “So you are interested in the housekeeper position?”

“I don’t see why not.” She gave a couldn’t-care-less shrug. “It suits us both.”

He didn’t say anything, just rubbed his jaw thoughtfully. “Well, now. What housekeeping experience do you have?”

She stared at him. “You’re interviewing me?”

“I need to figure out what your pay scale should be.”

She frowned. “You know I’ve never been a housekeeper, but how hard can it be? You buy groceries, fetch dry cleaning, organize cleaners, pay bills, answer the phone.”

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