“I’m sorry, Mr. Denver, but as I wrote in my email, I’m not taking on any more clients at the moment.”
“I’m perfectly aware of what you wrote, Miss Claxton. I just want you to name your price.”
“It’s not a question of price!” Sonya tried to hide her frustration from this annoying man. She wanted to put the phone down on him, but he was her father’s lawyer—she didn’t want to be accused of being rude. “My schedule is full—” He didn’t even give her chance to finish.
“I heard you were the best, and my brother needs someone with your experience. Am I right in saying you work every day, including Christmas?”
Twenty-seven-year-old Sonya took a deep breath, then sighed. “Yes, I do work every day.” For her, Christmas day was just like any other. Lonely. At least since starting her own business she had the chance to spend it with clients who needed her. “And thanks for the compliment, but I am the best, as you say, because I stick to my business plan which includes how many clients I handle at any one time. And as I said, I have no room for another one.” Especially if your brother’s anything like you—that would be one pain in the backside I could well do without.
There was a moment of silence before the man on the end of the phone spoke. “In that case, I’ll wait until you have a vacancy. You have my number. I look forward to hearing from you.”
The phone went dead. Sonya held it in mid-air for a moment and frowned in confusion. Why would Mr. Denver be willing to wait for a vacancy. His email had inferred he only needed her services for the next six weeks. There was no reason to expect to lose a client in the next six months, let alone six weeks. By the time something did become available, presumably Denver’s brother wouldn’t need her services anymore.
Stuffing her phone in the back pocket of her jeans, Sonya determined not to give the matter another thought.
The next morning she made her way to her first client on Cornflower Drive. With just a few more yards to go to her destination, there was a text message alert. Sonya stared at the screen.
Sonya, I’m sorry but we don’t need you to come any more.
What did that mean? She tapped her code in and went to read the full message. That was the full message. From Mrs. Angel on Cornflower Drive. Sonya stopped in her tracks. She was contemplating walking up to the house to ask for an explanation when a car pulled up beside her.
The driver got out. “Miss Claxton? Mr. Denver. Pleased to meet you.”
Sonya stared at him as words evaded her.
Mr. Denver opened the passenger door. “I believe you have a vacancy now. I’ll take you to my brother’s house.”
“How did you know?” Her eyes darted from her phone still in her hand to Mrs. Angel’s door. “Did you force Mrs. Angel to quit on me?”
“Miss Claxton, you told me you have a busy schedule so we’re wasting time. Please get in the car. It’s not far.”
“Did you force her?”
“Force is a strong word. She was more than willing to be co-operative once she knew the situation.”
Sonya threw her arms in the air, her anger fuelled by his apparent blindness to having done anything wrong. “If you think you can intimidate people into no longer wanting my services, and then expect me to offer them to you and this brother of yours, then—”
“I assure you, Miss Claxton. I definitely do not require your services.” He brushed “nothing” from the shoulder of his immaculately clean jacket with an air of disgust. “But my brother does.”
“Well, tell him to find someone else to pamper to his needs.” Sonya called as she headed up the road, fuming. This jerk had just cost her a good client, one she loved pampering.
“I think you should give him a chance.”
Now his tone had changed. Gone was the superior pompousness. He almost sounded desperate. Sonya turned around.
“Tell me why I should.” She folded her arms and waited.
Mr. Denver sighed. At first he looked reluctant to say anything and Sonya was about to walk away again, but then he spoke. “I really think it’s better if my brother tells you. The problem is not mine to explain. I’ve tried several other people and not one has been able to accommodate him satisfactorily. Actually, it was Mrs. Angel who recommended you. Please, can we get in the car? When we arrive at the house you can decide for yourself.”
Casting a glance to the sky in resignation, Sonya followed Mr. Denver to a white Range Rover and peered in at the black leather upholstery. If she hadn’t known Mr. Denver was a reputable lawyer there would have been no way she was getting in his car. But knowing she had two hours before her next pick up, what had she got to lose?
The short journey passed in silence and soon the car turned into a long driveway lined by two rows of mature scotch pine. It was almost impossible to see the large house until they were pulling up in front of it.
“Come and meet your temporary client, Miss Claxton.”
Sonya glanced up at the stone building with its black and white Tudor facade and leaded windows. By the time she had climbed out of the car, Mr. Denver had already raced up the steps and opened the dark oak door.
“Come on in.”
Sonya stepped into a grand entrance hall with a majestic staircase sweeping up the middle. She looked around expecting to see her client.
“Take a seat in the morning room. I’ll let Adam know you’re here.”
Mr. Denver pointed to a door just visible at the end of a darkened corridor before he disappeared off to the left.
Expecting to see a room furnished with stately antique furniture as would befit the morning room of an English country house, Sonya was surprised to find herself standing on a dirty, quarry-tiled floor dotted with a shabby velour sofa and armchair, a stand with an old TV on it, a sideboard cluttered with bottles, boxes and paper bags, and a long bench piled with blankets, under which were several pairs of wellington boots. Sonya gazed at the far wall where several saddles hung, together with stirrups and riding crops.
“I can tell from the look on your face, Miss Claxton, that my brother told you this was the morning room. His little joke. It’s the boot room but I come in here every morning. At least I used to.”
Sonya stared at a man standing in the doorway. From the straight-as-a-board posture and look of discomfort lying behind his smile, Sonya knew he was wearing a back brace. He looked about thirty-five with dark brown hair, eyes to match, and a neatly trimmed beard. Sonya loved a man with a beard.
He didn’t move but held his hand out. “I’m sorry I can’t walk far.”
His eyes were kind and Sonya stepped toward him only to feel his firm grip envelop her hand, unable to shake it.
“Oh. Pleased to meet you, Mr. Denver.”
How different this brother was compared to the first Mr. Denver, with his grey hair, what was left of it, and pale, wish-washy blue eyes. This Mr. Denver was much younger, and handsome.
“Please, call me Adam. And thanks for agreeing to take us on. I just need some help walking for the next six weeks or so.”
That reminded Sonya why she was here. Adam was clearly in pain, and things began to fall into place. This is why her contract would only be for six weeks, and why those six weeks needed to start now. “Where is your dog?”
Adam whistled. From behind the sideboard waddled a very large, hairy, black Newfoundland. “Meet Hercules.”
Sonya beamed at the sight of one of her favourite breeds. What a damn shame this was just a six-week contract. And not just because of the gorgeous dog, she thought, as she looked back at his master.