Between You and Me(7)

By: Jennifer Gracen

One day, he’d been over there to take out the trash as he always did twice a week. Tess had struck up a conversation with him, and mentioned she’d gone hiking up the mountain by herself the evening before, making it home just before dusk.

“By yourself? Close to dark?” His eyes narrowed.

“Um, yeah.” She cocked her head at him and put her hands on her hips. “Jeez, I know I’m a city girl and all, but sometimes I think that you seem to think I can’t take care of myself.”

He actually blushed. “No, no, I didn’t mean to—that is, I’m sorry if it seems that way. I just . . .” He huffed out a laugh, a mixture of frustration and self-deprecation. “Look, my master certificate was in disaster mental health and trauma studies. Crisis counseling, dealing with disasters . . . so my mind has a tendency to go to a worst-case scenario.” His shoulders lifted as he shifted his stance and admitted, “What I’m trying to say is, it means I worry about people. I never meant to imply you’re not a capable woman. If it seemed that way, I sincerely apologize.”

“No apologies necessary. That you worry about people is . . . nice.” She stared at him with a look of amazement. “Um . . . that’s an interesting thing. The certificate. You have a master’s degree?”

“Yeah. In social work. Why?”

“No reason. I was merely curious. I . . .” She cocked her head to the side, studying him as if she’d found a rare specimen or something. “I’m just surprised. I mean, you work here, doing this for a living, so . . .”

Something in his gut churned. He’d always thought her to not be one of the mega-rich mega-snobs. He’d pegged her as not entitled, and kinder, an exception to the rule. Man, did he hate being wrong on this one. It stung more than he thought it should. But he schooled his features into neutrality. “Ahhh. I see. You didn’t think a big lumberjack type like me would be so highly educated, huh?”

“I didn’t mean it like that,” she said, but her face started to bloom hot pink.

“Uh-huh.” His temper flared, but he kept his voice cool. “Well. Hate to burst your bubble, but I actually graduated summa cum laude.”

He watched her marine-blue eyes widen a bit as the color bloomed in her face, betraying her.

“Logan, I didn’t mean to imply you were—” She visibly cringed, and he took some comfort in that. “God, that must have sounded . . . It’s obvious you’re a smart man, but I didn’t think you’d have a master’s, that’s all.”

“Because I’m a house manager for a living? Careful, Miss Harrison,” he said slowly. He grinned, a hollow one, and couldn’t help himself from adding, “Your blue blood’s showing.”

That blood flooded her face, but she didn’t look away. “Again, I really didn’t mean it like it sounded. But if that’s how you perceived it, I apologize. That came across as horribly judgmental, and I’m very sorry.”

He shook his head, his grin leisurely, belying the burn he felt in his chest. “Don’t sweat it.”

“No, I am sweating it. You were right, I made an unfair assumption. I’m sorry.” She peered up at him more closely. “But I admit it, now I’m curious. How’d a guy with a master’s in social work end up being a house manager for a living? Must be an interesting journey there. I’d love to hear it.”

“No, you wouldn’t.” He hadn’t meant to sound churlish, but it came out as something of a growl. “Trust me.”

“Um . . . okay.” She looked sheepish, wide-eyed. His sharp words had been a reprimand, clearly not what she’d expected, and she blinked before clearing her throat. “I’ll let you get back to work.”

That was last March, almost a year ago, and it still burned his ass when he thought of it. He’d always thought she wasn’t uppity and haughty like most of the super-wealthy clients he had. Between that incorrect assessment and the tiny crush he’d always harbored, her disparaging words had stung, left a bad taste in his mouth. She’d gone back home two days after that, so they hadn’t discussed it again—he hadn’t even seen her, only talked to her briefly on the phone about how he’d close the house up. And when he’d gotten there, the house feeling empty without her presence, he’d found a cream-colored envelope on the granite kitchen counter with his name on it. She’d left two crisp hundred-dollar bills for him, a generous and unnecessary tip that was likely more about assuaging her guilt than his skills, which had only served to leave him even more agitated.