MAID IN THE USA

MAID IN THE USA
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Published Date:31-07-2017
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MAID IN THE USA JUDY ANGELO The BAD BOY BILLIONAIRES Series Volume 2MAID IN THE USA CHAPTER ONE Celine hummed a love song as she pushed the housekeeping trolley down the carpeted hallway. Today was going to be a great day she’d told herself, no matter that she was stuck in Cambridge for yet another summer when she’d much rather be back home in France with her mother and two rowdy little brothers. She smiled as she thought about Marc and Sylvan. The ten and twelve year olds were probably driving her maman crazy at this very moment with their constant pranks and rough play. If only she could be home with them. She was the only one who could keep those two in check. She stopped at the door to suite 1206. No time to dwell on that now. She had twelve suites to clean in the next few hours and she wanted to make a good impression. For the last two summers she’d worked at small hotels where the pay was minimal and the hours long. This summer she’d been lucky to land a job at one of the largest hotels on Main Street. She’d be earning almost fifty percent more than she’d made at her previous job. It was still a far cry from adequate but if she kept to a tight budget she might just be able to save enough to go home for Christmas. Celine knocked on the door. No answer. She knocked again just to be sure then stuck her keycard in the slot and pushed it open. Gathering up a handful of towels and tiny bottles of toiletries she tucked them in the crook of her arm, grabbed the handle of the vacuum cleaner then backed into the room. The presidential suite was magnificent with a spacious living room filled with antique furniture and ornate carpeting. A sparkling crystal chandelier hung from the ceiling. Celine paused to admire the elegant room. Oh, to be able to live like this. She chuckled to herself. It would probably take a month’s salary for her to pay for one night in this suite. Now where to start? She had an armful of towels so the bathroom it was. Still humming she pushed the door and walked into the bedroom. At that moment she heard a click and the bathroom door opened. She gasped and the towels fell from her hands. Standing in front of her, his face hidden by a thick towel, was a tall, muscular and very naked man. Celine screamed. “What the…” The man dropped the towel and stared back at her in obvious shock. “Where did you come from?” “I…I’m sorry,” Celine said as she backed away. “I thought the suite was empty. I’m so sorry.” The man was staring at her with eyes that were shockingly green. “I was in the shower," he said, raking his fingers through his dark brown hair, "so if you knocked I wouldn’t have heard a thing.” Mon Dieu. He was standing there, tall and lean and every inch a man, and he was making no move to cover himself. Celine dropped her eyes, her face hot with embarrassment. She turned to flee. “Wait. I want to talk to you.” Was he serious? She would not turn back to talk to a naked man no matter how handsome. She was back in the living room and had already grabbed hold of her vacuum cleaner when his voice stopped her. “Don’t leave,” he said, his voice imperious and bold. He sounded like the kind of man who expected to be obeyed. He was standing in the bedroom doorway and this time, thankfully, he had the towel wrapped around his waist. “Wait for me in the living room. I’ll get dressed.” Without bothering to wait for a reply he turned and went back into the bedroom, leaving Celine staring at the empty doorway. Who did this man think he was, to be ordering her around like that? She frowned as her thoughts raced wildly. Come to think of it, that was a good question. Who was he, really? He had to be a very important person or else a very rich one to be staying in the presidential suite of one of the most expensive hotels in town. Her heart pounded as a new thought crowded her mind. Was he going to come back and reprimand her for violating his privacy? Was he going to report her, or worse, get her fired? Her palms grew damp and she slid them down the sides of her uniform. She couldn’t afford to lose this job, she just couldn’t. When he came she would have to plead her case. In less than a minute the man was walking out of the bedroom in dark slacks and a white shirt which he buttoned casually as he approached. His long, lean feet were bare. “Have a seat,” he said and beckoned to the couch by the window. “Excuse me?” Celine stood stock-still, her hand on the vacuum cleaner, her eyes wide as she stared back at him. Why was he offering her a seat? If he was going to reprimand her why not do it quickly and let her go? He must really plan to lecture her. She decided to speak up, maybe appease him before he got the chance to blast her. “I’m very sorry for barging in on you like this,” she said, her voice earnest. “It won’t ever happen again. I’ll be back later to clean your room.” With that she started toward the door, pushing the vacuum cleaner before her. Maybe if she made a quick exit nothing more would come of this. At least, that was what she hoped. She was halfway to the door when he laughed, a deep husky laugh that sent a little shiver up her back. It stopped her in her tracks. She turned to stare at him. “No need to fly so fast,” he said, tucking the ends of his shirt into his trousers. “I’m not going to bite. I just want to talk to you about something.” He wanted to talk to her? About what? Her curiosity got the better of her and when he waved her over to the couch again she released her hold on the vacuum cleaner and went to sit demurely on the edge of the chair. “My name is Pierce D’Amato,” he said and plucked a business card from the desk. He reached over and handed it to her. “And you are?” “Celine Santini.” “Pleased to meet you, Ms. Santini,” he said with a smile then cocked an eyebrow. “You’re Italian? Your accent sounds French.” She nodded and smiled. “Good guess. I’m from France but my dad was an Italian American serviceman. I speak all three languages.” He gave her quick bow of the head and looked impressed. “Now that we know each other we can talk.” He leaned against the desk and folded his arms across his chest. His face grew serious. “I’m in a dilemma, Ms. Santini, and I wonder if you can help me?” Celine frowned. What in the world could she do to help a man like him? He was obviously a powerful, wealthy man and she was nothing but a PhD student moonlighting as a hotel maid. “I’m a busy man,” he said, deftly buttoning his cuffs as he spoke, never once taking his eyes off her, “but I suddenly find myself in a difficult situation. I’ve got my business to run and now I’ve got a four year old. I need the services of a nanny.” Celine could only stare at Pierce D’Amato, convinced that the man had gone mad. He didn’t know a thing about her. What was he thinking?“I know this sounds crazy,” he said, giving her a smile that told her he’d seen the confusion on her face, “but I was just appointed guardian for my cousin’s little girl and…I’m a bit lost, to say the least.” He shrugged. “What do I know about children?” “So you’re looking for someone to take care of her.” “Yes, a nanny, companion, helper. Whatever you call it. I already have a housekeeper but she’s got her hands full and I don’t think she’s up to the challenge of a four year old. Mrs. Simpson is almost sixty.” “But what about the agencies? They can help you find lots of people who would be happy to take care of a child.” “I went that route already. Hated it.” He grunted as if in disgust. “They sent me young, old, fat, thin. Kylie hated all of them. She’s really picky, that little one.” “And you think…she’d like me?” He chuckled. “I’m sure of it. From the second I laid eyes on you I knew you were the girl for Kylie.” The second he laid eyes on her? How could he form an opinion that fast? And then she remembered she’d formed an opinion of him in that split second, too. And as she remembered their encounter her face grew warm. Celine shook her head. “I don’t understand.” He laughed then stood up and walked over to the window. He looked down at the street below then turned to look at her. “As funny as it sounds when my eyes met yours something clicked. You have a freshness about you that I think will appeal to Kylie. And you look like a girl who isn’t afraid to have fun.” Now what did he mean by that? Celine frowned and rose to her feet. “I’m sorry, Mr. D’Amato. I don’t think that would be a good idea. I’ve got a good job here and-” He laughed. “Working at what? Minimum wage? I could give you many times that without blinking.” Celine sucked in her breath. The nerve of him. “Money isn’t everything. I don’t know you. How can I leave my job to go to a man I don’t know?” “Is that all?” He waved his hand dismissively. “I’ve got great references, starting with the man who owns this hotel. He’s one of my clients.” “Mr. Pierrefond?” she asked, her voice a reverent whisper. “You know him?” Every one of the hotel employees knew and respected John Pierrefond. He was one of the few billionaire businessmen in the area who took a personal interest in his employees. He was in his seventies but he remained as involved in the operations of his businesses as when he’d started out. The veteran employees never stopped talking about him. Pierce shrugged. “We’ve been doing business for years. Ask him.” Then he gave her a grin that revealed a charming dimple in his right cheek. “He’ll stand by my character. I don’t go around ravishing innocent maidens, if that’s what you’re worried about.” The smile disappeared as quickly as it had come. He glanced at the heavy gold watch on his wrist then back at her. “Listen, I have to go. Keep the card and call me. You have until tomorrow. I’m heading back to Springfield and I need an answer before I go.” Celine nodded and slid the card into her pocket. “Of course,” she said, hurrying to retrieve the vacuum cleaner. “I’ll think about it and let you know.” “Good.” He nodded and before she was even out the door he was heading back to the bedroom. Celine closed the door behind her, leaned her back against it and closed her eyes. Talk about an interesting start to the day. She’d just met the most seductively handsome man and her heart still raced at the memory of Pierce D’Amato with his broad shoulders, narrow waist and the silky strands of black hair that nestled around his… Mon Dieu. She had to get a hold of herself. But the image of Pierce was burned into her mind and she knew that, like it or not, it would haunt her for a very long time. She pushed her trolley on to the next suite. She had no intention of still being in sight when Pierce exited his room. The next time she saw him, if there ever was a next time, it would be on very different terms.CHAPTER TWO Heart thumping, Celine drove up the long and winding driveway that led to Pierce D’Amato’s house. Actually, house was an understatement. What she was looking at was a mansion. The place looked big enough to house five families and still have room to spare. She pulled her Toyota Corolla into the space between a sleek black Jaguar and a candy-red Porsche. She couldn’t help but grimace. Beside the other vehicles her ten-year old car looked so out of place. Oh, well. The other cars would just have to get used to working-class company. She slid her damp palms down the sides of her jeans, shaking her head in annoyance. She hated how they perspired when she was nervous. There was no need to be, she knew, but her body was saying otherwise. After almost an entire day of vacillation Celine had decided to call Pierce D’Amato. After all, how could she throw away the chance to possibly double her salary? With such an increase in fortune she would be able to afford two, maybe even three trips back to Europe each year to visit her family. Her eyes grew misty at the thought of Christmas at home in France. She’d confided in Bridgette, a friend she’d made on her first day of work, and received a glowing report from the older woman. Bridgette had met Pierce many times and she described him as a true gentleman known for giving generous tips to hotel staff who served him. Still, there was a sparkle in the woman’s eyes that told Celine she was smitten by him. And who wouldn’t be? With his sleek, dark looks and intense green eyes, Pierce D’Amato looked like he had the power to charm any woman he desired.That evening Celine called Pierce and he invited her to meet with him in his home office so she could be introduced to his little charge. They’d talk further, he’d said, and then she could make her final decision. And so it was that she found herself walking toward the magnificent steps of Pierce D’Amato’s residence. She clutched the strap of her bag tighter, gave her palms one last swipe on the seat of her jeans and climbed the steps to the expansive marble- tiled entrance. She rang the bell then stood there plucking at the buckle on her bag, trying to steel her nerves for her next meeting with Pierce. Try as she might she could not wipe from her mind the memory of his strong toned body and she wondered how she’d react when he opened the door. She took a deep breath, trying to slow her racing heart. It would not do to let this man see her sweat. The door opened and a plump gray haired woman smiled up at her. “Miss Santini. Welcome. I was expecting you. I am Elizabeth Simpson. Come in.” Celine released her breath, thankful that it was the housekeeper who opened the door. That would buy her some time to get her wits together. She gave the woman a smile and a whispered “thank you” then entered the house. Celine was in awe. The foyer was huge with a high cathedral ceiling graced with a sparkling chandelier that looked like a host of tiny stars floating in mid-air. The white columns reached gracefully up to the ceiling and multicolored tiles of marble glistened beneath her feet. She was almost afraid to step on them. This wasn’t the entrance to a private home. It was more like the lobby to a grand hotel. “I’ll take you to the office and let Mr. D’Amato know you’ve arrived,” Mrs. Simpson said as she led the way down a hallway that seemed to run along the length of the house. “You’re a bit early so he’s not quite ready but he won’t keep you waiting.” “Thank you,” Celine said again but she was hardly listening to the woman. She was too distracted by the splendid paintings that lined the walls. She loved art and paintings in particular. She could live for days in a museum and not miss life in the outside world. Pierce’s collection fascinated her. She caught her breath at the sixth one. Was that a Picasso? No, it couldn’t be. She stared at it, almost bumping into Mrs. Simpson as she walked. She would have to come back and check that out later. They were walking past wide French doors now, and through them Celine saw a huge swimming pool, its water glistening brilliant blue in the bright sunshine. And there in the pool, his back to her, was the man who had occupied her thoughts since the day they met. Pierce was standing in the shallow end of the pool, the skin of his shoulders and back deeply tanned by the rays of the hot sun. His hair, wet and slicked back, gleamed in the sunlight. Celine almost stopped walking. Her eyes fixed on the broad shoulders she remembered, the narrow waist, and those lean hips now encased in black hip-hugging swim trunks. She could see the outline of firm cheeks through the wet material that clung to his body. For the second time in two days she was seeing this man without his clothes on. Celine bit her lip to keep from smiling. If she were totally honest she would admit that neither experience had been painful. She caught a glimpse of a little blonde head just by Pierce’s hand and realized that he was in the water with the little girl she’d heard about. He was probably giving her a swimming lesson. For a man who made it clear how busy he was it came as a surprise to Celine that he was spending a weekday afternoon entertaining a child. She admired that. She smiled and kept on walking.Mrs. Simpson was right. Pierce did not take long to appear at the office door. She’d been sitting there less than five minutes, just enough time for Mrs. Simpson to bring her a cup of herbal tea, when Pierce arrived fully dressed in white button down shirt and navy trousers. “You’re early,” he said as he walked over and gave her a nod of greeting. “I didn’t expect you for another half hour.” “I’m sorry,” Celine said. “I wasn’t sure what the traffic would be like so I decided to give myself ample time.” She laid the cup and saucer on the table beside her. Pierce sounded quite formal. This was a job interview, of course, and she would be as professional as he was. He turned those intense green eyes on her. “Thank you,” he said with a smile. “I appreciate punctuality. Now let’s bring you up to speed on what this job requires.” Pierce gave Celine the details on Kylie’s situation and the kind of help he was looking for. Kylie’s mother, a cousin of his and a widow, had been in a serious motor vehicle accident and had sustained severe head injuries. Now she lay in a coma with only a fifty percent chance of recovery. The little girl had been at the daycare center when it happened. Not having any close relatives, Kylie’s mother had listed Pierce's name as the emergency contact person. And so it was that he became an overnight surrogate parent. “What about Kylie’s father?” Celine asked, her heart going out to the little girl who was now without her mother. “Why doesn’t he help?” Pierce shook his head, his face solemn. “Sadly, he died when Kylie was only two. He had congenital heart disease. Had a heart attack and died when he was only twenty-seven.” “Oh, no,” Celine whispered. What a tragedy for a child to experience. First, the loss of her father and now a mother who was barely clinging to life. What must the little one be going through? At that moment Mrs. Simpson came in holding the hand of the little girl who’d been the subject of their conversation. She was dressed in a white puff sleeve summer dress with a yellow bow. She looked like a delicate little daisy. “Here she is, Mr. D’Amato. Kylie is ready to meet your guest.” Mrs. Simpson smiled at Kylie and gave her a little push toward Pierce. The child walked slowly up to him and with a serious little face she rested her tiny hand in his outstretched one. Pierce gave her a gentle smile then said softly, “There’s someone I’d like you to meet, Kylie. This is Celine who came all the way from Cambridge to meet you.” He turned the child to face Celine. “Why don’t you go over and say hello?” Kylie hesitated and turned wide blue eyes up to Pierce as if seeking reassurance. Then, at his smile and nod, she looked at Celine for the first time. She took a quick breath then walked over. Celine felt her heart melt instantly. There was a world of sadness in Kylie’s eyes but she did not flinch and she did not cry. She went to Celine and took her hand and did not utter a word of protest. What a brave little soldier she was. Celine felt like pulling her into her arms and hugging her till she felt only love and peace. It was so heartbreaking to see grief in the eyes of one so young. Celine slid off her chair and kneeled in front of the child so their eyes were level. “I’d like to be your friend, Kylie,” she said, making her voice as soft and comforting as she could. “May I?” The girl remained silent, staring back at Celine with eyes filled with uncertainty. Then slowly she nodded her curly blonde head and lifted her thumb to her mouth. “May I have a hug?” Celine tilted her head and smiled.Kylie didn’t wait for Celine to open her arms. She simply popped the thumb out of her mouth, took the two steps she needed to get to Celine, and wrapped her arms tight around her neck. No words were spoken but Kylie buried her face in Celine’s neck and began to cry softly. “It’s okay, ma cherie, it’s okay,” Celine soothed as she rubbed the child’s back and held her close. “I’m here for you.” For almost a minute Kylie clung to her until finally she quieted and lifted her face. “I’m glad you’re my friend,” she said in a tiny whisper then rested against Celine with a sigh. Celine lifted her head, her eyes pricking with tears of sympathy, and when she looked at Mrs. Simpson the woman was dabbing at her face with a dainty handkerchief. When her eyes wandered over to where Pierce stood, his hands shoved deep into his pockets, his face was somber and dark with emotion. They’d all been affected by Kylie’s innocent plea for comfort. When Mrs. Simpson left the room taking Kylie with her Celine looked directly at Pierce. After meeting the child there was no way she would say no to this job. How could she deny her the attention, sympathy and love that she so desperately craved? “I want this job,” she said and her voice cracked on the last word. She cleared her throat, trying hopelessly to hide the depth of her emotions. “I want to be here for Kylie. When can I start?” Pierce nodded and although he did not smile his eyes told her he was pleased with her decision. Still, he asked, “Are you sure?” “I want to help Kylie,” she said, her voice earnest. “I can’t explain it but I feel a connection between us.” Pierce nodded again and this time the smile reached his lips. “I could tell. Don’t ask me how, but the moment my eyes landed on you I knew you were the one. I knew you’d be perfect for Kylie.” Celine sat back in her chair, surprised at the strength of his confidence in her. How could he have known that? He hadn’t even known a thing about her before that day. And even though she’d emailed him her resume and references after they spoke on the phone he still didn’t know that much about her. And what about him? Was she perfect for him, too? Celine’s breath caught in her throat and she stole a guilty glance at Pierce. Where had that thought come from? Why in the world had she even gone there? She meant nothing to this man, absolutely nothing except someone who’d make a great nanny for his charge. If she was going to survive at this job she’d better reign in her unruly emotions. If it was one thing she knew it was that she and Pierce D’Amato were in two totally different classes and unless she suddenly won a few hundred million dollars in the Super Lotto never would their two worlds meet. CHAPTER THREE Pierce watched as Celine climbed into her car and drove away. He thanked the stars he’d found her when he did. Kylie needed someone like Celine in her life. And then there was him. What was it about the girl that drew him to her, made him determined to get her under his roof? It had been weird. That first day they met he’d heard the scream, dropped the towel and found himself staring into the liquid brown eyes of a startled and stunningly beautiful woman. No matter that she was in a maid’s uniform and had her sleek black hair pulled into an old fashioned bun. He’d felt a jolt of electricity run through him, a shock that made him freeze. What the hell, he’d thought. He’d never reacted to a woman like that before. And she’d appeared just when he was praying for a miracle, just when he’d almost given up hope of finding the perfect nanny for Kylie. He remembered seeing her fright and saying something or other to reassure her but he’d been so startled that seconds passed before he remembered that he was still standing stark naked in front of her. By that time she was already turning to flee. Good thing he’d stopped her from leaving the suite altogether. Now because of his quick action she would be working for him under this very roof. He couldn’t help but smile at the turn of events. He was looking forward to getting to know Miss Celine Santini. When Celine’s tail lights disappeared Pierce went inside in search of Kylie. He found her watching cartoons. “Uncle, can I have ice cream?” Pierce went over and tousled her hair. “Of course, Kylie. And it’s ‘may I have ice cream’, okay?” “Okay,” she said as she stuck her thumb in her mouth and looked up at him with big blue eyes, her little face as solemn as a priest. Pierce knew what that meant and his chest tightened in sympathy. The thumb in the mouth meant that Kylie was really missing her mother right then. Her thumb was her source of comfort in a world that had turned upside down. “Come on, sweetie,” he said and lifted her up in his arms. “Let’s both go get some ice cream.” A week had passed since Celine arrived at Pierce’s house with her suitcases and few possessions piled into her car. Thankfully, she would be able to spend the next five months or so focusing on Kylie and her needs since she didn’t need to check in at the university until October. Since her arrival Kylie had spent every waking moment with her and slowly, tentatively, the little girl began to open up like a tender flower in the morning dew. The first three nights were difficult. Kylie had cried herself to sleep each night, refusing Celine’s attempts to comfort her. On the fourth night, instead of trying to read a bedtime story, Celine pulled toys from the box and acted out the story of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs right there on top of the little girl’s blanket. Kylie laughed so hard she had to wipe happy tears away with the back of her hand. After that she insisted that Celine pile the toys onto the bed each night so they could act out Cinderella, the Bremen Traveling Musicians and all her other favorite bedtime tales. Celine was happy to oblige and when Kylie asked her to climb into the bed with her she pulled the child close and they cuddled until the little head dipped onto her shoulder and Kylie slipped softly into sleep. Next day Celine woke to the sound of birds whistling outside her window. It was going to be a great day, she knew, because it was sunny and bright, it was Saturday, and Pierce would return home. She knew it was stupid of her to feel the way she did but she couldn’t help it. She was actually looking forward to seeing Pierce D’Amato again. She was sure that a man like him would have women flitting around like moths to a flame. He probably had myriads of female admirers in every city he visited. He certainly wouldn’t notice her, a simple nanny working to make a living. Even though she knew there was no way she could compete for his attention Celine could not stop herself from feeling a jolt of excitement at the thought of seeing him again. With a smile on her face she hopped out of bed and padded across the hallway to Kylie’s room. She tapped on the door and went in then leaned over to tickle the little girl’s cheeks. “Wake up, sleepyhead,” she said with a laugh as Kylie stretched and opened her tiny mouth in a yawn that could swallow an elephant. “Time to get ready for a fun day.” Half an hour later Celine and Kylie were in the kitchen having a breakfast of pancakes, eggs, strawberries and yogurt. They were racing to see who would finish first. They had a full day scheduled. First, Celine would review letters and numbers with Kylie then they would take a dip in the pool then do lunch and then gardening. Celine knew that working in the garden, planting seeds and nurturing the flowers were all excellent therapy for her little charge. She was in her second year of the PhD program in Psychology and much of her research involved child development, motivation and counseling. There was something about working with your hands that calmed the nerves, and working outdoors in the fresh air surrounded by the beauty of nature were like magic to soothe the spirit and comfort the soul. This was what Kylie needed in her life right now - structure, physical activity and a feeling of accomplishment. After lunch Celine plopped a wide-brimmed straw hat onto Kylie’s head and they went out to the garden that circled the back patio. The little girl was armed with a miniature garden fork and shovel while Celine followed with a watering can. “Race you,” Kylie yelled and took off across the grass, laughing as she ran. Celine ran after her, laughing too, happy to see that she was in a cheerful mood. When they got to the far end of the garden Celine flopped down onto the grass, panting and laughing, then she slid a finger across her brow, pretending to wipe sweat away. “Wow, you’re a really fast runner,” she said, opening her eyes wide as if in amazement. “I couldn’t catch you in a million years.” “Really?” Kylie asked, eyes wide with wonder. “Did I run that fast?” “Yes, you did,” Celine said and reached over to tickle her. “You’re my Olympic champion.” After that they settled down to some serious gardening, with Celine digging the holes and Kylie dropping the seeds in and covering them with earth. Then it was Kylie’s job to water the seeds while Celine weeded out that section of the garden to make sure they didn’t choke the seedlings when they popped out of ground. They were so absorbed in their task, working together in comfortable companionship, that they both jumped at the snap of a twig behind them. They whirled around to see a tall, blonde and exquisitely beautiful in woman in a cloud-white summer dress staring down at them. Celine put up a hand to shade her eyes from the sun and that was when she saw the woman’s face, perfectly made-up with crimson lips that curled in what looked like disdain. Celine, taken aback by the sudden appearance of the stranger, took off her garden gloves and rose to her feet. She was at least a couple of inches taller than the unexpected visitor but somehow she felt almost intimidated in her presence. The woman was looking at them with such an unfriendly expression that it was as if they were the intruders and not her. “Hello,” Celine said, still feeling a little off balance. “May I help you?” She felt Kylie move closer to her and she put a reassuring hand on the child’s shoulder. “So you’re the new maid,” the woman said, her eyes flashing with something akin to dislike. “I heard about you but nobody told me you were beautiful.” “Excuse me?” Celine said, unnerved by her statement. “Pierce told me he got a nanny for his new…responsibility.” She turned her eyes on Kylie and from her look Celine could tell that, for some reason, the child was a source of annoyance to her. Then she trained her flashing blue eyes on Celine again. “But I thought it would be somebody like Mrs. Simpson. He never told me you were young.” Her brows settled into a frown that made it obvious that this was a major problem. Celine raised her eyebrows, unable to hide her surprise. “And you are?” The woman’s eyes widened as if shocked that she would ask. Or maybe she was shocked that she didn’t already know of her. Celine didn’t know which. “I am Sophia Redgrave and I own the home next door. Pierce and I have been friends for several years.” The woman said the words with a haughty sniff. Celine did not miss her deliberate emphasis on the word ‘friends’. Sophia

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