Part H, in a continuing story from A to Z [link to the beginning]
The sun rose two hours late the next morning. Not that Zoey noticed. She was out cold, exhausted from the previous day’s adventures. But she heard the maids talking about it when she passed them in the hall on the way to breakfast.
She could probably get used to living in a place where morning was delayed by a couple hours once in a while. Not that she could stay. In fact, she needed to concentrate on finding a way to leave before her cover was completely blown and Ferraro started to wonder why someone with her dubious office skills had been hired to handle his correspondence.
Stepping into his study an hour later, registering the look on his face, she suspected it might be too late.
“Ms. Prescott. You’re making tardiness a habit.”
“Good morning, Anton.” She ignored the slight pounding at her temples, flashing a cheery smile before taking a seat in one of the wingback chairs in front of his desk. “I believe I’m right on time. From what I hear, sunrise was late. Not my fault.”
The look he gave her was so darkly intense, it was all she could do to just sit there, feigning a calm she didn’t feel. What was it about the man that was so unsettling? So compelling.
“From now on, I expect you to be here promptly at eight o’clock, ready to begin work. Regardless of celestial anomalies.”
“Certainly, Anton.” She nodded regally, as if granting a boon to a commoner, and felt a rather savage satisfaction at seeing his jaw clench. Morning people could be so insufferable. “Shall we begin?”
“Harold Davis sent me an email, asking for my response to the letter he sent on the 4th. Perhaps you’d be good enough to retrieve it from the file.”
It was going to be like that, was it? She got up and went to the file room, making a noisy show of opening file drawers and closing them. The first time she’d actually done so. She grabbed a file at random, came back out and sat down in the chair.
“I’ll just read it to you, shall I?” She opened the file and began before he could object. “My Dear Lord Ferraro.” She paused. “Harold Davis is a bit of a suck-up, if you ask me.” She then resumed until the letter ended with, “Your most humble servant, Harold Davis, Esquire.”
Ferraro looked up from his phone, which he’d stared at intently the entire time she’d been reciting the letter, his stare so cold she actually shivered.
“Read the third paragraph again.”
She did so, speaking slowly and clearly, wondering whether he had comprehension issues, while he once again focused on his phone.
He set the phone down, carefully. “Ms. Prescott.”
“I’ve been in the file room.”
“So have I. Dreadful place. Something should be done.”
“When I couldn’t find Davis’ letter in that mess, I had him email it to me.”
“Resourceful of you. Can’t imagine why he didn’t email it in the first place.”
“That’s not how I do business. It’s also not the point.”
She kept a pleasantly bland expression on her face, waiting for what she knew was coming.
“Perhaps you’d care to explain how you just managed to recite, verbatim, a three-page letter from my solicitor containing sixteen dense paragraphs of complicated legalese, without actually looking at said letter.”
It was the most words she’d heard him string together at one time. She suppressed the little thrill she got from this demonstration of his ability to be articulate. “I guess some things are just more memorable than others.”
He glared at her, silently. Waiting.
“Oh, fine. I have almost perfect recall of things I’ve read.”
“I’m not sure whether his return address listed Suite 202 or 203. It’s quite distressing,” she added, trying to make light of it.
Luckily, she was saved from whatever he might have been about to say — extremely lucky, from the look on his face — when Benton entered the study and approached the desk.
“Today’s mail, sir.”
Ferraro gave a terse nod toward the corner of his desk, face still tight with anger, not saying a word.
But Zoey’s curiosity was piqued. “Tell me, Benton, how is it we’re getting mail when the road is still blocked?” Was there a way in, and out, she hadn’t considered?
Benton looked at her as if she were a suspicious stain on the upholstery that should perhaps be reported to the housekeeper. He unbent enough to say, “In the usual manner.” Then he turned and left the room, closing the doors quietly behind him.
Zoey grabbed the stack of mail, quickly rifling through it, trying to hold back a snort of laughter. That man was more taciturn than her father at his worst. Where had that thought come from?
She was abruptly torn from her musings when she came to a letter that was clearly personal rather than business related. She grasped the corner to set it aside and felt the hair on the back of her neck stand up. Something is wrong. She gave a soft gasp, letting the rest of the mail slide off her lap. She’d learned not to ignore her instincts. Although how Ferraro’s personal correspondence had anything to do with her, she couldn’t imagine. She just knew it did.
Her hand shook slightly as she handed the letter to him. “This is important.”
“How could you possibly–”
She cut him off, her tone serious. “Please.” She never, ever ignored this feeling. “Open it.”
Ferraro hesitated, clearly not done interrogating her about the other matter, but opened the letter and read it. Then he sighed heavily and leaned back in his chair, head supported by the old soft leather, eyes closed. For a moment, he almost looked vulnerable.
He straightened, as if the moment hadn’t occurred, and said, “My mother has taken a fall.”
Zoey blinked. He made it sound as banal as if the woman had taken afternoon tea.
“Arrangements need to be made,” he continued.
“Of course, you’ll need to go to her. Is she badly hurt, in the hospital? Does she need home health care? Physical therapy?”
He seemed bemused by her concern. “Mother broke her hip and bruised an elbow. I assure you, she is being well taken care of.”
Zoey didn’t respond, waiting for an explanation. Wondering why this situation would trigger her instincts. They’d never been wrong before.
“Arrangements need to be made for my niece, who is a minor. It appears she will be staying here for a time.”
“Here?” Zoey couldn’t help it, the word came out as a strangled squeak. “A child is coming here? To stay?” Her instincts must have been issuing a warning. Get out, now.
“Of course, here. I’m her only other blood relative. She’ll need a tutor, as the one she has is unable to travel.” Ferraro gave her a considering look.
“Oh, no.” Zoey shook her head emphatically, suddenly nervous. “I don’t do children. They don’t like me and the feeling is entirely mutual.”
“Your résumé claims you graduated in the top one percent of your class, cum laude.”
“That hardly qualifies–”
“Ms. Prescott. Are you daunted by the prospect of a challenge?”
There went that damned eyebrow again, taunting her. He couldn’t possibly know how difficult it was for her not to accept a dare. Could he? She felt her resistance faltering in the face of stubborn pride.
“I’ll not take on additional responsibilities without commensurate pay.” There, that would deter most employers.
“I’ll double your salary.”
Unfortunately, Ferraro was not most employers. “Triple. And we begin work at nine.”
“Done. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a niece to collect.”
She saw his lips curve slightly, briefly, in what might have been a triumphant smirk and suspected she’d gotten the raw end of that deal. Oh, he was good. Just how awful was this niece? “How do you intend to retrieve her, Anton? I assume she’s not simply sitting at the end of your drive.”
“By helicopter, of course.”
“You have a helicopter? Here?” How had she failed to notice a freaking helicopter? This was perfect. There hadn’t been a chopper made she couldn’t pilot. Escape was imminent.
“Of course not here. The winds here on the headland during a storm would tear it apart. It’s kept inland. I call for it when needed.”
Well, hell. So much for that plan.
Ferraro was almost to the door of the study when he turned and fixed her with a steady look. “Oh, and the mail? This time of year, Ms. Prescott, it arrives via snowmobile.”
He walked out, already calling for Benton, while Zoey turned over a new plan in her mind. Regular snowmobile delivery meant a well-worn path through the snow.
She’d need to prepare, gather supplies without anyone realizing. But she could easily walk out of there on a compacted path through the snow. Easily. Far more easily than she could deal with a child, tripled salary be damned.
It was horribly inconvenient that her instincts weren’t going to allow her to leave. Not until she figured out what was wrong.
H is for Helicopter