enough depth to his shoulders and definition to his body to make him appear bigger and stronger.
Currently he was a husk of his former self. Too thin and also much too pale. It was summer in the UK, why was he so pale? His impeccably tailored suits always fitted him like a glove, yet this one hung from his frame with room to spare.
She looked at her armful of groceries and grimaced, feeling at a disadvantage. She had kissed the notion of sleep goodbye after her nightmare and had been about to make herself a sandwich when her boss had scared her nearly to death. Aware that she looked completely unprofessional, she straightened her shoulders, tilted her chin, and schooled her face into its usual expressionless mask. There was nothing she could do about the way she was dressed but, even though she felt defenseless being seen without her usual armor in place, she did the best with what she had.
“Mr. Hollingsworth, sir, I wasn’t expecting you tonight.” Or at all. “Can I fix you something to eat?”
He scowled at her suspiciously before an expression close to disbelief settled on his face.
She didn’t respond, merely kept her gaze level, and her face impassive. He raked his incredulous glance up and down her body, and she strove not to cringe beneath that scorching appraisal.
“Perhaps a sandwich, sir? I’m sorry, my refrigerator is on the fritz and the electrician hasn’t been in to fix it yet, and I’ve been keeping my groceries here for the time being. I’ll remove everything as soon as possible, of course.”
Miles was having a hard time reconciling the barefoot goddess in front of him with the prim, practical Mrs. Cole, whom—for some reason—he had always assumed was closer to fifty than thirty. Yet this woman standing in front of him in those tiny shorts didn’t look much older than thirty. But her slightly aloof demeanor, her voice, the absolute professionalism, despite the way she was dressed, were hallmark Mrs. Cole.
Miles would move heaven and earth to secure an accomplished employee like Mrs. Cole, confident in the knowledge that once she was working for him, he wouldn’t have to do anything more than check in on her occasionally. That’s the beauty of hiring the best.
Mrs. Cole ran the house efficiently from behind the scenes, employing cleaning and catering services as needed, and communicating through texts and emails whenever she could. All while keeping herself determinedly invisible. She was like a phantom—the legendary Mrs. Cole who appeared only when needed and disappeared into the woodwork when her task was complete.
It was easy to understand how he had not noticed this striking woman before. And yet, the transformation was still mind-boggling. How could the difference in dress and hair be so profound that it felt like he was looking at a completely different woman? In fact, Miles doubted even Vicki or Hugh—both usually a hell of a lot more observant than Miles when it came to people—had any idea what she really looked like.
She was still talking about the refrigerator and he forced himself to focus on what she was saying.
“I don’t give a damn where you keep your groceries, Mrs. Cole,” he said, forcing the incredulity out of his voice. If she could maintain her professionalism under these awkward circumstances, then so could he. “Just make sure I’m fed on time, the house is clean, and I remain undisturbed. That’s all I require.”
“Will anybody be joining you, sir?”
“And might I inquire as to how long you’ll be staying?”
“Six weeks at the very least.” He sensed her surprise even though her expression remained stuck in neutral. He had never stayed here for longer than a week or ten days. His siblings and their friends usually stayed longer but the siren song of work always called him back sooner rather than later.
“And yes, I’d like a sandwich.”
“Very well, sir.” So much aplomb in that crisp voice. “Would you like me to bring it up to your room?”
“I think that would be best.” He gave her another frowning once-over, before shaking his head, annoyed with her for being so disturbingly different. He trusted that she’d go back to her normal self by morning so that he could attempt to dismiss tonight as exhaustion playing tricks on his mind.
He left without a backward glance, and Charity heaved a relieved sigh. She dashed into her room to scrape her long hair back into a bun and drag on a skirt. She didn’t