The Erotic Secrets Of A French Maid
Emma Mayson wrenched on the parking brake and hoped her incorrigible Honda Civic wouldn't roll down the steep driveway, into the side of the multimillion-dollar lakefront house below. It would suck equally badly if her car hit the Jaguar parked in front of the garage. She yanked harder on the parking brake, making sure her souped-up little car wasn't going anywhere. Then she popped the hatchback and got out to fetch her buckets of cleaning supplies, sponge mop, broom, and other housecleaning miscellanea.
The house below was an example of Northwest Modernism, probably built in the 1960s by Roland Terry or one of his emulators. Horizontal planes were punctuated with wide gables that reminded her of Northwest Indian lodges, and under those gables and planes were walls of plate glass. Emma felt a nudge of respect for the person who had bought this house rather than one of the new McMansions or pseudo Mediterranean villas squatting like false royalty around the lake.
Someday she, too, might design the type of building that becomes a landmark in the decades to follow, her name synonymous with a new architectural style. Someday, she might design houses and buildings as remarkable as this one-instead of cleaning them. They hadn't mentioned in graduate school that the market was flooded with aspiring architects, and that more than a year could go by before finding an internship position with an architecture firm.
A year in which to go through what remained of a small inheritance from one's grandmother, and to begin receiving repayment statements from one's student loan services.
She sighed and propped her broom and mop against the bumper. As she hoisted her canister vacuum out of the back, the wind tossed her dark ponytail across her face and into her lip gloss, where it stuck. She tried to pull it out and, distracted, bumped into the broom, which clattered to the pavement, knocking over a bucket. The bucket started to roll down the driveway, careening drunkenly toward the Jaguar with a peculiar determination, as if its whole white plastic life of janitorial humiliation had been waiting for this chance to take a chip off an expensive car.
As Emma yelped and raced after it she saw two men appear at the front door of the house.
'Shoot, shoot, shoot!' she said under her breath as the bucket rolled toward the car with murderous pleasure. She lunged and stopped it inches from the side of the Jaguar, but thudded against the side panel herself.
The bucket sat motionless and innocent, looking up at her with its wide-open brim, daring her to challenge it.
'Are you all right?'
The voice drew her gaze, and she met the hazel eyes of a thirtysomething man. He had brown hair and stood a little under six feet tall, broad-shouldered and trim. His regular features were unremarkable except for the intensity behind them: his precisely focused look pinned her like a bug to a board, demanding an answer.
Emma pushed away from the car and stood straight. 'I'm fine, thanks.'
His eyes swept over her as if looking for signs of damage and then came to rest again on her face. He didn't say anything more, and Emma felt an awkward tension building.
She smiled brightly. 'No harm done! And the bucket chase woke me up; I didn't have my coffee this morning.'
A hint of smile breathed across his lips.
The other man scooted past them to examine the panel of the car, rubbing the spot where Emma had hit. He was about the same age as Hazel Eyes, but shorter and with a thin, wiry build,
'Kevin, knock it off. Your car's fine,' Hazel Eyes said.
'I can't help it! I just know something's going to happen to it.'
'I told you you should buy something older, with dents already in place. You're going to make yourself crazy trying to keep that thing perfect.'
'It's a beautiful car,' Emma said to Kevin.
His toothy smile revealed braces that glinted with sunlight. 'There!' he said triumphantly, to his friend.
'He bought it as a chick-magnet,' Hazel Eyes said.
Emma chewed her upper lip as a silence descended. They seemed to be waiting for her to comment, as if, as a representative of womanhood, she could settle the dispute. 'Er… I'm sure it will impress a certain
'Ha! Gold diggers!' Hazel Eyes declared.
'Maybe,' Emma admitted, and saw the crestfallen expression on Kevin's face. 'And maybe it will attract women who are looking for a stable, established sort of man who will be able to afford sending their children to private schools.'
'Country club matrons.' Kevin scowled at his Jaguar, some of the love clearly lost.
'I forgot your name,' Hazel Eyes said abruptly to Emma. 'You're the one my sister hired for me, aren't you?'
She blinked, realizing this must be Russell Carrick-the workaholic entrepreneur who, according to his sister, Pamela, had been sleeping on the same unwashed sheets for the past year and didn't know a toilet brush from a hair brush.
'Emma Mayson,' she said, smiling at Pamela's rants on his bachelor habits. 'Your new housekeeper.'
'Russ Carrick. Pleasure to meet you.' He gripped her hand firmly and Emma's heart skipped a beat as energy zinged straight from his hand down to her loins.
He scowled for reasons unknown and released her hand, then turned to his friend. 'Kevin, I have to show Emma the house. I'll see you at the office inside an hour. Make sure everyone is ready for that conference call: I don't want any screw-ups this time.'
Ooh, he was bossy. Emma's native sense of mischief reasserted itself, and she wondered what he was like in private, with a girlfriend, and whether she called him pet names like
'It should go better this time,' Kevin said, getting into his car.
'It has to.' Russ turned back to Emma. 'I'm afraid this is going to be quick.'
Emma imagined him saying the same thing before having sex, and grinned.
Russ's eyes narrowed.
'Lead on,' she said innocently and gestured toward the house.
Russ muttered something unintelligible and led the way.
Pamela, whose house Emma also cleaned, had told her that Russ was in software. Like two-thirds of Seattle, it seemed, with the other third divided between Boeing, Starbucks, and Amazon.com.
Russ stopped at the front door to flip open a keypad mounted on the outside wall. 'Pamela did a background check on you and assures me that you have rock-solid references, so I'm going to give you the code to open the front door. I usually won't be here when you come.'
'Okay.' She listened to his terse yet thorough explanation of the locks and alarms and then at his prompting, stepped forward to try it herself. He stood close, watching her fingers tap in the sequences.
'Well done,' he said brusquely when she finished without error.
She murmured a noise that could be construed as thanks only by someone not listening closely. She hated being praised for brainless tasks, as if she were a dog who had sat on command. It was one of her personal quirks-or flaws-and had caused her grandmother to scold her for having too much pride.