When I'm Gone, Page 2Abbi Glines
I had to make sure I didn’t lose this job. The place was usually pretty clean, because no one had lived here in the months since I’d been working, but I cleaned it weekly like it was filthy. No dust could be found anywhere, and I even went as far as organizing the pantry and the cleaning closet, scrubbing the cabinets and throwing out any expired food.
Standing up, I shook off my humiliation at having woken up the client by singing God knows how loudly and vacuuming right outside his door. When he saw how clean everything was, maybe he’d overlook my mistake.
Three hours later, the downstairs was immaculate. I had even wiped out the fridge and the freezer completely again, giving the client plenty of time to sleep. I went to the second floor and cleaned every room thoroughly until I couldn’t find anything else to clean, before I finally stood at the foot of the stairs and looked up to the third floor. It was one in the afternoon, and he was still in bed. I had three bedrooms and three full bathrooms to get to, plus a theater and a game room with a full bar. The game room was far enough away from his room that, if I was quiet, I could probably clean it without waking him.
I tiptoed up the stairs and eased past his room. When I was safely in the game room, I let out a sigh of relief. I closed the door behind me and turned to face the large, untouched room. The bar was stocked with every alcohol imaginable and so many different glasses I couldn’t even begin to figure out what went with what. I walked across the room and set my basket of cleaning supplies down on the floor. I decided today I would spend some extra time cleaning the windows. I grabbed a chair and covered it with a clean cloth before standing on it. The ceiling was at least twelve feet high, which made the windows hard to reach. Sometimes I brought a ladder in here, but it would make too much of a racket if I tried to bring it up today.
I had reached up with a cloth to begin scrubbing the windows from top to bottom when my cell phone rang. Crap! I always put the ringer on high when I was working so I could hear it around the house. I scrambled to get down, but my foot slipped. I winced in pain just before the chair turned over, and my arms shot out to grab for the closest thing next to me. A massive, ornate mirror.
The sound of breaking glass came just before my butt hit the floor with a resounding thud.
And my stupid cell phone was still blaring at top volume.
I turned and desperately reached for my phone but couldn’t grab it. The loud ringing continued as I wiggled over to it, my legs all twisted up.
The door swung open, and I froze in place.
Here I sat, with shattered glass all around me and an upturned chair. The only bright spot was that my phone had finally stopped ringing.
“What the hell happened? Are you OK?” he asked, as he stalked toward me in a pair of white boxer briefs. At least he wasn’t totally naked. I jerked my eyes away from him and his almost-naked body and sucked in a breath. I’d broken his mirror and woken him up again.
“I’m so sorry. I’ll pay you back for the mirror. I know it probably costs a lot, but you don’t have to pay me until it’s covered. I’ll even come in more than once a week for free.”
He frowned, and my stomach dropped. He wasn’t happy. “Are you bleeding? Shit, give me your hand.”
He dropped to his knees and took my left hand in his. Sure enough, there was a piece of glass in it, and blood was slowly trickling out around the shard.
“You’re gonna need stitches. Let me put on some clothes, and I’ll take you to the hospital,” he said, standing back up and heading for the door.
I stared down at the glass and back up at the door. He was taking me to get stitches. For this? If my cleaning agency found out, they would fire me themselves. I couldn’t let him make a big deal out of it. I just needed some peroxide and something to wrap it up. Then I would clean up the mess I’d made.
I stood up and winced from the pain in my backside. I was going to have a bruise for sure. I dusted off the few slivers of glass still clinging to my clothes, but they opened up tiny cuts in my fingers. The blood that smeared down my legs only made things look worse than they were.
I eased out of the wreckage I had created. Once I was sure I wasn’t trailing any pieces of glass after me, I found a clean cloth in my basket, then went to the nearest bathroom to the right of the game room, wet the cloth, and cleaned up my legs.
“What are you doing?” His voice sounded mad.
I jerked my head up and backed away as he filled the doorway of the bathroom. My foot was up on the closed toilet seat lid, and I immediately dropped it back to the floor. “I’m sorry I’m barefoot. I was going to clean the toilet lid once I was done.”
His frown grew. Crap. I wasn’t making this better.
“I don’t care about the fucking toilet. Why didn’t you wait for me to help you up? You could have stepped in more glass.”
What? This time I frowned. I wasn’t understanding him. “I was careful,” I replied, still not sure what had him upset.
“Come on. I’m going to pull that glass out and clean the wound and wrap it before we leave. You can’t keep it in there. It could get infected.”
“OK,” I replied, afraid to tell him no. He was obviously intent on helping me.
He turned and started walking out, so I followed him. I only glanced down once at his bottom, and that was only because I was curious about what his backside looked like in those jeans he was wearing. It was just as impressive as his front. Those jeans fit nicely.
I sent my gaze up his back and noticed for the first time that he had a ponytail. His hair wasn’t that long, but it seemed at least to hit his shoulders. I hadn’t allowed myself to look at him enough to notice. His eyes and strong jawline had taken all my attention before.
We reached his bedroom door, and he stood back and waved me inside. “I have no idea where Nan keeps her first-aid supplies, but I’ve got some in my duffel. I’m doctoring a fall from a horse I’m breaking, so I came prepared.”
Nan? Who was Nan? “Do you not live here?” I asked.
He pulled out a small blue pouch from his camouflage duffel bag and turned to look back at me. A grin lifted the corners of his mouth, and his eyes danced with amusement. “Hell, no.” He chuckled. “Have you met Nannette? No one willingly lives with her. But since our father owns this house, I can stay here whenever I choose. I just choose to do so when Nan is gone.”
“Oh. I’ve never seen anyone here until you,” I said.
“That explains a lot,” he mumbled, then chuckled as if he knew a joke I didn’t. He held out his hand. “Here, give me your hand. I will be as gentle as I can, but this is gonna sting.”
I didn’t let men touch me. But something about the concerned way he was studying my palm made me trust him. He was a nice guy, or he seemed to be a nice guy. He wasn’t looking at me in ways that made me nervous.
I placed my hand palm up in his, and he glanced up at me apologetically, as if it was his fault. I watched as he slowly slid the glass out of my palm and then began dotting it with a cotton ball he’d coated in peroxide. Yes, it stung, but I’d been through much worse.
He bent his head and started gently blowing on my wound as he cleaned it. The cool feel of his breath on my skin eased the sting, and I became fascinated with the way his lips looked puckered up. Was he for real? Had I hit my head when I fell? Was this some strange dream?
He held the cotton ball tightly against the wound, pressing it down with his thumb while he reached for a new cotton ball and medical tape. “I wish I had some salve for it, but I rarely use it, so I didn’t bring any. I’ve got some Tylenol you can take to ease the pain until we can get you to the hospital.”
I just nodded. I didn’t know what else to do. No one had ever cared that I had an injury. And I’d had many.
“My name is Mase, by the way,” he said, as he glanced up at me while wrapping my hand.
“I like that name. I’ve never heard it before.” He chuckled. “Thanks. Do you have a name?” Oh. He was asking what my name was. No one
I had worked for had asked me my name except for one client. But she was different from the clients at the other places I worked. “Yes, I do. It’s Reese.”
She smelled like a fucking cinnamon bun. That sweet cream icing and cinnamon smell that made your mouth water. Not taking deep whiffs as her scent wafted over me was hard. But I managed not to act like a psycho and pull her up against me so I could bury my face in her neck and just breathe. I’d never known a woman to smell like a cinnamon bun, but damn, it was a turn-on.
I got her hand wrapped up and then led her down the stairs. She seemed confused about something, but she didn’t say much. I asked her if she had a purse, and she nodded and went to get it from the table beside the door. It wasn’t what most women would call a purse; it was a faded blue backpack. She slung it over her shoulder and looked back at the house with a worried expression.
“I’m not done cleaning,” she said, then looked back at me.
“You can’t clean with your hand torn open,” I pointed out, unable to suppress a grin.
Her brow puckered into a frown. “It isn’t that bad. I can work like this,” she said, holding up her bandaged hand.
I shook my head and opened the door. “No, you can’t.”
We stepped outside and saw that my truck had arrived. I had been waiting for someone to drop it off. Good, I could drive it instead of her car.
“Where’s your car?” I asked her.
“I don’t have one.”
“Did someone bring you?” I asked, already knowing her answer would be that her boyfriend had brought her. Fuck.
“I have a neighbor who works at the Kerrington Country Club. I ride with him, and then I walk here from there.”
A neighbor. “He doesn’t bring you here?”
She shook her head and looked at me like I was crazy. “No. It’s like a mile away. I enjoy the walk.”
“Who’s your neighbor?” I ask.
“His name is Jimmy.”
I was going to have a talk with Jimmy. It wasn’t safe for someone who looked like her to be walking around by herself. Rosemary Beach was a safe place, but there were people who drove through going from one town to the next. “Does Jimmy take you home?”
She glanced at me with uncertainty. Like she wasn’t sure she should answer me. “Sometimes—yes, most of the time.”
Why didn’t she have a car? She had to be twenty-one or twenty-two. She wasn’t a kid. She had a job and an apartment, I would assume. “How do you get home when Jimmy doesn’t give you a ride?” I asked, holding the truck door open for her. I held out my hand for her to take with her good one and helped her into the truck cab.
“I walk,” she replied, not looking at me.
Glancing down at her cheap flip-flops, I noticed that she had perfect little pink-tipped toes. Even her feet had to be sexy? Damn.
She tucked her feet back, and I knew she had seen me looking at them. I closed the truck door and took my time walking around to the driver’s side. This girl needed help, but I couldn’t save her. I was here for a week, maybe two, before I headed back to Texas. Getting worked up over this girl’s problems wasn’t smart.
My cell phone started ringing in my pocket before I could start the engine, and I knew it was Harlow. She was expecting me at around two. Glancing at the clock, I saw it was almost two now.
“Hey,” I said into the phone, as I cranked up the truck and headed toward the main road.
“Did you get some sleep?” she asked. I could hear Lila Kate, her baby girl, fussing in the background.
“Uh, yeah,” I replied. I couldn’t tell her how little sleep I’d gotten, since the reason was sitting beside me.
“You still coming at two? Grant said he’d give us an hour and then he’ll be here by three.”
I glanced over at Reese’s injured hand. That was going to take a while. An ER waiting room was never fast. “There was an accident this morning. The girl who cleans Nan’s house fell and sliced her hand open. I’m taking her to get stitches. Could be a while before I get there.”
“Oh, no!” Harlow said, her voice filled with concern. One of the many reasons I preferred Harlow to Nan. “Is she OK?”
She hadn’t even winced when I cleaned her with peroxide. Hell, I even winced when I had a cut like that. “Seems to be. Just a nasty cut. She doesn’t have a car, and I’ll need to take her home afterward. Might be later on tonight before I get there. But you’ve got me the rest of the week. You’ll be sick of my face before Sunday,” I assured her.
Harlow laughed. “Doubt it, but that’s fine. Take your time. Get her fixed up and safely home. I’ll take a nap with Lila Kate. She was up a lot last night. She’s teething.”
“Get some sleep, then, sweetheart. I’ll see you tonight,” I replied, before ending the call.
“You don’t have to stay with me. I’ll get a cab to take me home,” Reese said.
I wasn’t leaving her to get stitches and take a cab home. Did I look like the kind of jackass who would do that? “I’ll stay with you,” I said firmly.
“Really, it’s very nice of you to take me. But I’ve had cuts worse than this before. I don’t even need stitches. I can just finish up cleaning and head home.”
What? Was she serious? “You’re getting stitches, and I’m taking you home.” I was frustrated and getting pissed. Not at her. God, who the hell could get pissed at someone who looked like her? But I was pissed that she seemed to think it was OK not to get stitches.
She didn’t argue this time. I glanced over at her, and she was sitting straighter, and her body was leaning toward the door as if she was trying to get away from me. Had I scared her?
“Look, Reese, you were cleaning my sister’s house, and you got hurt. It’s our responsibility to make sure you are properly taken care of. I’m not going to let you finish cleaning the house today or even tomorrow. You can come back once your hand is better and it doesn’t hurt. I’ll be here all week, and I clean up after myself, unlike my sister. I don’t need a housecleaner.”
She didn’t look at me, but she nodded.
It looked like that was the only response I was going to get. Fine. She could pout about this, but seriously, all I’d done was demand that she let me take care of her. What was her deal?
This day could not get any more humiliating. Mase had turned up the radio for the rest of the ride to the hospital. He hadn’t said another word. I knew he was either angry or frustrated. I was keeping him from a woman, but I’d tried to let him go. He just wouldn’t listen to me.
Once we were at the ER, he got me a soda while we waited, even though I told him I didn’t need one. By the time they took me back for stitches, we had said all of five words to each other. I wanted to tell him to leave again and that I’d get a cab, but I was afraid he’d snap at me. I didn’t know this man. I had no clue what he was capable of.
When they had given me a shot, Mase had held my other hand and told me to squeeze if I needed to. What did that even mean? Was he trying to ease the pain? It was just a shot. When they had stitched up my gash, which needed five stitches, he had continued to hold my hand.
He had told me jokes. They were corny, but I’d laughed. I didn’t think anyone had ever tried to make me laugh before. I knew it was the first time I’d ever been told a joke that wasn’t about me. In school, I had heard enough jokes, but I had been the butt of them all.
Now he was pulling up in front of my apartment. He hadn’t spoken to me during the entire drive. He’d looked like he was going to say something more than once, but he’d stopped himself. Eventually, he’d turned up the radio again, and I knew that meant he was done talking to me.
I couldn’t be hurt over his silence. He had put off his date or girlfriend to take me to the hospital and get stitches. During the whole thing, he had been so nice—more than that, actually, he had been kind. But now his mind was on his sweetheart, the girl who was waiting for him.
/> I had been called “babe,” “sugar,” and “hot momma” in the past, which still made me cringe. I had also been called other less desirable names, but never “sweetheart.” I wondered what that must feel like. To have someone speak to you that way and mean it. To know he wasn’t going to hurt you.
When he parked the truck, I knew I had to thank him again and send him on his way.
“Thanks again for taking me, and for the soda, and for . . . for, um, holding my hand. I really appreciate it. I’m sorry I ruined your day. And I’ll be back to clean up on Sunday. I don’t have another house booked for that day. And you’re leaving then . . . right?”
Mase sighed and looked at me. “Yeah, I’m heading home Sunday. At least, that’s the plan right now. But don’t worry about the house until your hand is better. Nan won’t be back for another month. She’s in Paris.”
Paris. Wow. I couldn’t imagine going somewhere like Paris. I wondered what this Nan looked like. If she was his sister, I imagined she was beautiful.
“OK, thanks,” I said again, unable to stop thanking him. I grabbed my backpack and opened the truck door.
“Wait. Let me help you down,” Mase said, stopping me. He had done this every time I got into or out of the truck. It was as if he didn’t think I could just hop down on my own without hurting myself. But then again, after what he had witnessed today, he probably thought I was a klutz.
He was in front of me, holding out his hand again for me to take. I let him help me, because I was sure it was the last time I’d see this man. He didn’t realize it, but he’d given me hope. And he’d shown me that not all men were evil.
I bit my tongue to keep from thanking him again. Instead, I just nodded and headed for apartment 1C.