Falling for the wrong guy can be hazardous to your heart.
Vivian Wood is desperate. After her beloved brother dies of a sudden aneurysm and her mother develops Alzheimer’s, she needs a good job and a place to stay. She finds it at The Seacroft, a Cape Cod seaside mansion ruled by a mysterious and demanding woman looking for a personal assistant.
Vivian soon discovers that being broke and having to deal with her cranky new boss are not her only problems. The gardener at The Seacroft, Cody McGraw, is young, gorgeous, and the bane of her existence—until she starts falling for him.
But Vivian isn’t the only one captivated by Cody’s charms. Their sultry employer quickly takes an interest in him—and the developing relationship between Cody and Vivian is threatened by the loss of their jobs and more, should they upset The Seacroft’s exotic mistress.
Set against the breathtaking backdrop of the Cape, The Seacroft is a steamy story of difficult choices, heart-wrenching sacrifice, and the ultimate salvation of love.
Vivian stood before the antique mirror, frowning at her new glasses. Although she’d tried to pick out something suitable for her new job as personal assistant to Ms. Uvi Polansky, she’d goofed. Again. These black-framed monstrosities were the best she could afford, but now she really regretted listening to the salesgirl who said they were cool.
“Ugly, ugly, ugly.” She tucked in her white blouse, straightened her navy blue skirt, and smoothed her bangs, noticing at the last minute that her ponytail was crooked. She sighed with disgust.
Grabbing a brush off the vanity, she yanked off the hair tie
and began to furiously brush her dark hair, smoothing it into a tight ponytail.
“Better.” She reluctantly nodded approval in the mirror, stopping
when a sudden bang sounded from the grounds of The Seacroft, the mansion by the
sea she now called home.
Crossing over the wide pine floorboards in her new quarters,
she skirted the four poster bed—complete with a lacey canopy—and pulled back
the gold velvet drapes, peering outside. The windows needed a good cleaning,
and she really couldn’t see well through the old circular impressions in the
antique glass. Unlatching the cast iron lock, she flung open the window and
peered down at the pickup truck that had just backfired.
She should have known. That new handyman who’d been two
years ahead of her in high school—and who’d never even said hello to her in the
hallways—was everywhere these days. He’d been hired a few days after she
started her new job several weeks ago, and now she couldn’t seem to avoid
bumping into him at every turn.
The guy was magazine-cover gorgeous. Every day he’d been shirtless
while cleaning the pool, trimming hedges, and mowing that endless lawn that was
bigger than three football fields. He flexed those muscles every time she
passed. She tried hard not to stare.
But once in a while, she let herself dream. And she had to
admit, he was gorgeous.
Okay, she had to face it. He was more than gorgeous, he was
dark-haired, dreamy-eyed, and fit. No, he hadn’t noticed her in high school,
and he sure as heck wouldn’t look at her now.
She heaved a sigh and shut the window. The heat had already
wafted in, and she knew it was going to be a scorcher. Mid-July in Brewster, on
Cape Cod, could be brutal. She thought back to the long, blistering days last
summer when she’d nursed her brother back to health in their old tin-can trailer.
What she would have given for a window air conditioner. But they couldn’t
afford it. Martin had beaten the cancer, with Vivian’s help. His hair had
started growing back and he’d been gaining a bit of energy, too.
And then his brain had decided it was enough. An aneurism burst
inside his skull and had killed him instantly.
He’d been only twenty-three.
Why had God dangled recovery in front of them? She’d quit
art school, staying home a full year to help him. They’d been so hopeful about
finally being able to put all the sickness and fear behind them. To start
living again. To dare to dream of a future where they could try to find their
soul mates, get married, and have families.
Then, in the blink of an eye, he was gone. And she was desperately, miserably alone.
Now she had looming medical bills to worry about. She knew
her mother, Mirella Wood, would never be able to help. The youngest guest at
the Shady Pines home, Mirella had developed early onset Alzheimer’s several years
She’d have to work hard for the rest of her life to pay off the hospital and to keep her mother at Shady Pines. No more dreams of college for her.
Her cell phone chirped. She slid it out of her pocket and glanced at the text from Uvi. “Can you fetch me the paper?”
She huffed and snorted a laugh. Fetch me the paper? Like I’m some kind of dog?
Well, at least she didn’t have to answer to a bell like the servants in her new favorite television show, Downton Abbey. She covered a smile and typed a quick response. Funny, how she compared herself to those characters, thinking of her life of servitude now, and how it would always be so.
She tapped the send button on her brand new iPhone—provided
by her employer, of course—and like the good little domestic that she was,
hurried down the elegant spiral staircase and out the grand front door. At the
bottom of the marble steps, she flew along the white oyster shell driveway to
retrieve the paper from the roadside mailbox. Suddenly she stopped, trying to
adjust to the heat that enveloped her like a heavy, wet blanket.
It was only eight in the morning, and it had to be ninety degrees
outside. No fresh seaside breeze cooled her brow today from Paines Creek Beach,
the bayside beach near Uvi’s mansion, and no breakers whitened the blue-green
waters. She could see the shore from here, and noted that the ocean was
unusually still, dead calm. Like her brother’s eyes when he’d passed.
Oh, how she missed him. He was all she’d had. And just like that, he’d been snatched away.
She straightened, pushed aside the painful memories, and slowed her steps to a more measured pace as she headed down the long driveway toward the mailbox for their daily paper, The Cape Cod Times.
The growl of the John Deere Gator came up behind her just as
she reached the mailbox. She tried to ignore it while calmly retrieving the
Cody called to her. “Hey, Viv. Wanna ride back? It’s wicked
hot.” He smiled at her from the driver’s seat, indicating the free seat beside
She flushed—of course—and stammered. “Um. Yes. Thank you
very much.” Carefully, she slid up onto the hot, yellow seat and held on tight.
“It’s a scorcher,” Cody said, stomping on the gas pedal.
“It is,” she said, looking straight ahead.
“You don’t talk much, do you?”
She glanced sideways at him, trying not to look at his bare chest. “Guess not.”
He laughed, turned the vehicle in a tight, fast circle, and gunned it again. “This’ll give us a breeze,” he laughed. “Cool us down.”
“Hey!” She gripped the bar tighter, sliding sideways.
He slowed the machine, grinning slyly at her. “Did I scare you?”
“No.” She compressed her lips and looked toward the sea, avoiding his eyes.
“Okay,” he said, and proceeded to do it again, this time
even faster than the last.
She was ready for it, though. She held on with a death grip. Geez. It was almost like he was showing off or something. But more likely, he was teasing her.
When they approached the porch, she noticed Uvi watching
them from her bedroom window on the second floor. Like a beautiful wooden figurehead
from an ancient ship, her exquisite features appeared regal, as if she were a
queen at the top of her turret gazing down on the outside world.
She wished, once again, that she could someday be such a
beauty, a woman to make men quake in their proverbial boots. Sighing with
resignation, she waited for Cody to park the vehicle.
Cody stopped the Gator and looked up, waving to his employer. Uvi raised one finger to beckon him inside, quickly disappearing behind the lace curtain.
He wondered for the millionth time about the enigmatic woman. Rumor was she had written volumes of exceptional poetry, had even won the Pulitzer Prize for her work. But the exotic beauty rarely showed herself in public these days, and had few visitors. He’d seldom seen her up close. Just that short job interview in her darkened library a few weeks back, and the occasional wave from the window. Most of their communication was done through texting on the fancy new iPhone she’d given him.
He didn’t understand why she kept to herself in that big old place. She was obviously wealthy, and could travel the world if she wanted. Heck, she could go to Paris or Fiji, Alaska, or even Bora Bora. Yet, she stayed secreted away in this mansion by the sea. It was so strange.
He turned to Vivian, gesturing up at Uvi’s bedroom window. “Guess
I’m being summoned by the grand dame.”
She slid off the Gator and smoothed her skirt, avoiding his eyes. “Looks like it.” Tucking the paper under one arm, she said, “Um. Thanks for the ride.”
“No problem.” He wondered why she seemed to struggle so much just to have an everyday conversation like this one. Why was she so nervous around him, like a frightened bird? Of course, he probably hadn’t made it very easy on her, always teasing her like he did. Maybe he should ease up a little, give her a break. He hadn’t meant any harm. It was just his way. Always the joker, he thought. That’s me.
She was a pretty
little thing, under those big glasses. He imagined her hair loose on her
shoulders, thought it would look better hanging free rather than pulled back in
that tight ponytail. He noticed she had a really nice figure under the austere
outfit she wore like a uniform. She seemed to be hiding from the world, like
Uvi, but in her own unique way.
He turned off the Gator, shrugged into his denim shirt, and hopped up onto the steps beside her. “So, you from around here, Viv?”
She flushed and bit her lip. “Yes.”
“Where’d you go to school?”
She stared at him, and for a minute, he got the impression
of someone not-so-timid behind those glasses.
“Same place as you.”
He stopped, fastening the last button. “Whoa. Wait a minute. Really? What’s your last name?”
“Wood. I was a few years behind you.”
“That would explain it, then.” He grinned, glad for the fact. If she’d been in his class and he’d forgotten her, he would’ve felt bad. Suddenly, the light dawned. “Wait. Did you say Wood? Were you related to Martin Wood?”
Her eyes brimmed with unshed tears. “Yes. He was my big brother.”
He reached for her arm. “Oh, I’m so sorry. That was terrible what happened to him. I used to watch him play football. He was amazing.”
“Yes.” She swiped at her eyes. “He was.”
His pocket buzzed and he glanced at the screen. Great. Another text from Uvi. He shrugged. “Oops. Better get a move on. Mizz P wants me up there. Pronto.”
They hurried upstairs to her doorway, arriving at the same
time. Uvi sat up in bed, her iPad on her lap.
“Your paper,” Vivian said.
Uvi waved her in. “Put it right on the nightstand. Thank you, dear.”
The girl did as instructed, murmured something Cody couldn’t
hear, and backed out, walking sedately down the hall without turning back.
Uvi smiled and gestured to him. “Come in, Cody.”
He shuffled inside, suddenly aware of the sand and wet grass coating his work boots. “Yes, Mizz P.”
He’d never seen the inside of her boudoir before, and felt a
bit sheepish about walking right in there. Sitting against a mountain of
pillows in her bed, the woman was dressed in a pink satin peignoir set that
clung to her figure like icing on a sculpted cake. He tried hard not to stare
at her, but she was absolutely the most beautiful woman he’d ever seen.
“I’ve told you before. Please call me Uvi.”
“And don’t call me ma’am. I hate that. Makes me feel old, for heaven’s sake.”
“I'm not that much older than you, Cody. I’m thirty-three.”
He lifted his eyes to her, unsure what to say. Uvi was right, she wasn’t that much older than him. That wasn’t the point. The point was, she was his boss.
“Come. Sit.” She patted a spot beside her on the bed.
He hesitated, but walked into her frilly room, noting the lacy curtains, puffy comforter, crystal vases on the vanity, and a sweet, lemony fragrance.
“Keep me company while I finish up the shopping list. I need you to go to the store for me.”
Shopping list? That was the housemaid’s job. He sat down, raising one eyebrow. “Deidre’s not shopping today?”
“No.” Uvi pursed her lips. “I had to let her go yesterday.”
So that’s why he hadn’t seen her car outside. “Really?”
“Yes. It was a private matter. But for now, you and Vivian will have to try to split the household jobs as best as you can. Can you help me out with that, until I find a new housemaid?”
“Sure thing.” But he wondered how they’d manage. Deidre had done all the cleaning, cooking, laundry, and shopping for Uvi. How would he keep up mowing that monster lawn while mopping floors or peeling carrots? It wouldn’t be easy.
While she tapped away on her iPad, apparently adding items
to her list, he shot sideways glances at her, noting her high, Slavic
cheekbones, her long-lashed almond-shaped eyes, and her lustrous black hair
draping her shoulders. Normally, he saw her from afar, with her hair twisted into
a loose chignon.
This sudden departure into a world where “come sit on my bed” happened, put him on full alert.
Her body—not so well hidden under the translucent nightgown—was curvy and rounded in all the right places. She wasn’t one of those skinny, ninety-pound models. No, she was more of a Rubenesque beauty. An alluring woman, to be sure. He felt drawn to her, as if she’d cast a spell on him.
He’d been with a few girls in high school, and most recently
with Tammy, his senior high school girlfriend who’d dumped him in the spring
for a guy she met at college. Since then, he’d been single and so busy with
work he hadn’t thought about it much. Well, that wasn’t true. He might not have
thought about getting into a new relationship very often, but he thought about
sex all the time. In his imagination, alluring, longhaired women beckoned him
to their bedside during the long hours when he worked on Uvi’s estate. But up
to now, the whole thing came down to fantasies and nighttime dreams.
Before he’d landed this job, his Uncle Finn had made him work on the blueberry farm. He’d gotten sick of being bossed around by him, paid slave wages, and being bugged about going back to college, where he’d failed miserably the first time around. So, when this job came up, he’d grabbed it. The pay was good, complete with an apartment over the garage. And the grounds were demanding, but beautiful. He liked his newfound independence.
“Cody?” she raised her eyes and caught him staring.
“Yes?” A tremor of longing raced down his body. There was something about her voice, too, that mesmerized him. Throaty and silky all at once, it reached down into his heart and drew him closer. He felt himself begin to harden.
“How’s your little apartment?” Now, her perfect breasts
pushed against sheer fabric, daring him to stroke them.
“Er. It’s great.” His rooms were tacked onto the back of the
house over the garage, a whole studio apartment. He sneaked another glance, and
then purposefully looked away, trying to calm himself. God. You’d think he was
a horny teenager, the way he was reacting to her.
“I’m glad.” With a flourish, she swiped her screen. “There we go. All done.”
His phone beeped. He stood, slid it out of his pocket, and hoped she didn’t notice the growing bulge in his pants. “Got it. Charge it to your account at the grocery store?”
She threw back her covers and rose, stepping toward him in a cloud of sweet perfume. “Yes. They’ll bill me.” To his surprise, she leaned forward, running her fingers playfully down his chest. “Cody?”
“Yes?” He swallowed hard, trying not to lose control. My God, what would happen if she saw?
“You buttoned your shirt wrong. Here. Let me help you.” She slowly unbuttoned and re-buttoned his shirt, her soft fingers brushing his skin. “There you go.”
“Er. Okay.” Completely bewitched, he couldn’t move.
“Thanks for your help. There will be more money in your paycheck this week, to account for all the extra work I’m going to ask of you.” She suddenly turned away, heading for the attached bathroom and wiggling her fingers at him. “See you later.”
He quickly turned away and walked out the door.
Had she really done that? Run her fingers down his chest in
such a provocative manner?
Desire coursed through him. He wanted to follow her into the
bathroom, throw her up against the wall, and take her in one swift motion.
Smiling at the preposterous idea, he forced himself to think
of something cold and ugly, anything to stop his body’s swelling hardness
beneath his belt. He pictured jumping naked into the winter sea.
That did it.
He turned and trotted down the hall.