The Best Next Thing - Natasha Anders Page 0,3

allow herself to speculate over what he must have thought about her sloppy appearance, and definitely didn’t allow herself to dwell over the heat she’d seen smoldering in his steel gray eyes while he had been dragging his gaze over her face and body.

He hadn’t recognized her, that much was clear and having him see her like that, without her usual protective shell in place, had left her feeling raw and defensive.

Just get through tonight, she urged herself, heading back to the kitchen to quickly assemble a grilled ham and cheese sandwich. She added a side salad and a mug of hot chocolate with marshmallows—his favorite nighttime drink—and placed everything onto a breakfast tray. She took a moment to compose herself, allowing tranquility to blanket her shattered nerves. After another deep breath, she felt centered enough to calmly walk the long, dimly lit corridor to his suite of rooms.

There was no response to her initial knock on his bedroom door. After another perfunctory knock, she turned the handle and stepped into the room. It was illuminated by the bedside lamp, which shed only enough light for her to see that Mr. Hollingsworth was sprawled out and fast asleep in the center of his luxurious king-sized bed. She tried not to wince at the sight of the stripped-down bed, reminding herself that nobody had notified her of his imminent arrival. Impossible to be effective if she wasn’t kept appraised of the family’s intentions.

She stared at her employer for a moment, wondering if it was best to let him sleep, but he was still wearing that hopelessly wrinkled gray pinstriped suit—and he had requested this sandwich. Charity had worked for him long enough to know that he would be displeased if she didn’t follow his instructions to the letter. He was an exacting, cold man who had no time for, or patience with, bad service.

She set the tray on the bedside table and cleared her throat awkwardly.

“Mr. Hollingsworth, I brought your sandwich,” she said. Nothing. Not even the flutter of an eyelid. Crap. She raised her voice, “Mr. Hollingsworth. Your sandwich.”

Still nothing. She closed her eyes and inhaled nervously. She was going to have to touch him. She wiped her suddenly clammy palms on her skirt and swallowed back the bile that had risen in her throat. This wasn’t ideal. She should leave. Maybe he’d wake up on his own.

“Mr. Hollingsworth!” She practically shouted in a last-ditch desperate attempt to avoid touching him. That did the trick. He leaped out of the bed like it was on fire and stood staring at her with wide eyes, his chest heaving as he assessed the situation, searching for the threat. When he realized that there was none and registered her presence, he stood upright and glared at her.

Charity tried her best to appear unfazed even though his violent reaction had nearly sent her rabbiting out of the room like the coward she was. She held her hands clasped in front of her in an effort to hide their trembling from him.

“Mrs. Cole? What the fuck? Christ, you had me thinking the house was on fire!” She had never seen the usually unflappable Miles H. Hollingsworth look so completely pissed off before, and she couldn’t help taking a step back, preparing to flee if the need arose. Her breathing shallowed, and she tried to quell her instinctive fight or flight response, not sure if his reaction would worsen.

He raked his hands through his hair, furrowing it into messy peaks, and after another deep breath, his anger visibly dissipated, leaving him looking even more exhausted. Charity allowed herself to relax and took a step forward again.

“I’m sorry, sir. I thought you’d want me to wake you for the sandwich.” She gestured toward the tray, and his piercing gaze followed the vague movement of her hand.

“Yes. Of course. Thank you, Mrs. Cole. That will be all.”

Resisting the usual urge to curtsy in the face of all that British reserve, Charity nodded before asking, “What time would you like breakfast served in the morning, sir?”

“I doubt I’ll surface before noon. Prepare something light at one.”

“Yes, sir. Goodnight, sir.” She backed out of the room but kept her eyes deferentially downcast while remaining acutely aware of his penetrating, unflinching gaze as she retreated.

She escaped the room with a relieved gasp and leaned back against the door for a moment as she gathered herself. She took a few, wobbly steps toward the kitchen but paused, swore beneath her breath, and