My name is Lisa Wycherly.
I live with my boss.
I’m not sleeping with him. He’s got enough women in and out of his bedroom. He doesn’t need me.
Oh, Lord, that sounds so defensive.
It’s just that, thanks to my boss, my life has radically changed, and I still don’t know how to make sense of it all. Things got just plain scary last weekend, not to mention that horrible fight, and I’m still more freaked out because I’m sharing a house with a man. Okay, maybe not that I’m living with a man, but this man, a guy whose values are so totally opposed to my own when it comes to sex and relationships.
Maybe I should just start at the beginning.
Neither of us knew what we were getting into that night. [And let’s be thankful we didn’t. -SEH] We were in a bar, the absolute last place you’d find me under normal circumstances. He sat down across from me.
“Ditched your date?” he asked, pleasantly casual.
He was very nice for someone so obviously on the make, and good looking with dark wavy hair, a cleft chin, and very bright blue eyes. He wore a light-colored silk shirt with a sweater neatly tossed over his shoulders. Later, I found he was on the small side of average, about three inches taller than me, but just barely.
“Yes,” I replied, as coolly and politely as possible. “And thank you, but I don’t care to be picked up by anyone else.”
He glanced into the restaurant of which the bar was a part.
“Well, I suppose getting grabbed while starting your salad is enough to sour an evening.” He started to get up. “My apologies for presuming, Lisa.”
He sat. “Yes?”
“How did you know my name?”
“You’re wearing it around your neck.”
My hand flew to the necklace as I let out a sniff.
He gazed at me softly. “Are you in trouble?”
“I’m alright!” I snapped, then blushed. “I’m sorry. I don’t mean to be rude.”
“But you are in trouble.”
“It’s nothing life-threatening.”
I felt the tears well up again. And I’d thought I was past crying about it. I blinked them back and looked at the man across from me. There was something about him…
“I’ve been out of work for a year,” I heard myself say. “My unemployment’s run out, and things are getting tight.” I touched my necklace. “This is the only thing I haven’t pawned.”
He nodded. “No money for a taxi, I presume.”
“I’ll be alright. I can call my sister.”
“Who is not currently home, at least I assume that’s who you called earlier.”
“They won’t be home ‘til eleven, and they’re in Fullerton.”
“And we are in Hollywood.” He checked his watch. “Which means you’ve got a long wait. Why don’t I buy you dinner and take you home?”
I sighed. It was certainly my night to fend off aspiring Don Juans. Except the current one was anything but sleazy. In fact, he was the first genuine threat to my honor that I’d ever known. Wouldn’t you know, that’s the moment my date decided to show up.
“Wo, there you are, Lisa.” Larry was not wearing a leisure suit, but he might as well have been. “You were taking so long. I thought I’d better make sure you didn’t fall in.”
“I survived the restroom, Larry,” I said.
Even though I wanted to fend off the man across from me, I still felt embarrassed by Larry.
“It’s a pleasure to meet you, Larry,” said my nameless friend. He got up smoothly and shook Larry’s hand. “Lisa and I go way back. We haven’t seen each other in a while, and I just had to have a chat with her.”
“Well, the waiter brought dinner,” Larry said to me.
“Oh, that’s too bad,” said the nameless one. “Lisa’s coming to dinner with me.” He signaled the maitre d.’ “In fact, our table’s ready now.”
“Now, wait a minute!” protested Larry. “Lisa—”
Larry made a grab at me. My benefactor stepped between us and put his arm around Larry’s shoulders. They spoke together quietly for a minute. I couldn’t hear over the music. [I told him blind dates were a drag, and that I’d take you off his hands, and put him onto Sue Wilkins if I remember correctly. – SEH]
“Happy hunting,” my new friend said. He slapped Larry on the back, then slid around and took my hand. “Come on, Lisa. He won’t hold that table forever.”
I went with him. I don’t know why I did, but I went with him. Larry gaped at me, then at some redhead. I didn’t see what happened next. The maitre d’ seated us in a nice, secluded booth, and my friend slipped him something.
The maitre d’ grinned. “Thank you, sir.”
I put my face in my hand. “You didn’t have to do that.”
“It’s my pleasure.” My friend smiled, and there was something utterly sincere about it.
“What about Larry?” I asked.
Mischief lit up in those incredible eyes of his. “That desperate little dork is getting the fate he so richly deserves.”
“What do you mean?”
“The redhead at the end of the bar.” He nodded in that direction.
I peeked around the booth. I couldn’t see the bar.
I turned back to him. “She isn’t going to dump him, is she?”
My friend laughed. “Hardly. In the first place, she’s so easy he won’t know what to do with her, and in the second, should he figure it out, she’s into S and M.”
“That’s… Oh no!” I started to get up.
“Let him be.” His hand landed gently on my forearm.
“But—” I sat down.
He sat back and folded his arms. “The jackass drove you from a salad you desperately wanted, felt you up in a public place, he’s crude and he thinks he’s God’s gift to women.”
“Just because he’s a jerk doesn’t mean he deserves to get hurt.”
He looked at me. “Are you serious?”
“Of course, I’m serious.”
He shook his head. “Well, relax. She won’t hurt him. Unless he asks, and that’s a different matter, isn’t it?”
I slumped back into my seat. “I guess it is. I don’t know. I’d always heard pleasure was the idea.”
“It’s not how I get my kicks, but who are we to judge?”
“True.” My face felt fever hot. “Do you know if he’s left yet?”
“They left just as we were sitting down.”
“Good. I’d better be getting back to the bar.” I almost got up again.
“Why? Don’t you want dinner?”
I swallowed. “Yes. But I don’t want to get any deeper in.”
“It’s nothing.” His smile was, again, genuine and warm.
“A maitre d’ at a place like this does not grin at nothing.”
“You’re hungry.” He looked puzzled. “I saw you attack that salad with the ferocity of a starving child.”
“How do you know that’s not the way I always eat?” Which, in truth, it is.
“I also saw you slide two dinner rolls into your purse.”
I blushed again. “Alright. I’m hungry. Like I said, things are tight. But I’m not hungry enough to compromise my standards.”
He shrugged. “This is merely a philanthropic gesture.”
“I’ve heard that before.”
“I don’t doubt it. Well, I’ll confess to ulterior motives.”
His manner was relaxed, his grin casual. But his eyes had an intensity that made me catch my breath. I could see he would not trespass without my permission, but he would be happy to convince me to give it.
“Look, it’s not you,” I stammered. “You seem really nice, and I really appreciate your being honest about it, and the way you got rid of Larry, and it’s very sweet of you to offer, but I just don’t believe in sex outside of marriage.”
“Don’t you want dinner?” He seemed genuinely surprised.
“Yes, but… Well, I just can’t. Larry was a blind date, and the friend who set me up knows how I feel, and I told him how I feel, and he ignored it, I guess. Anyway, I don’t have any money, and I can’t give you my body, so…”
“I can accept that.” He looked at me again. He was considering something, unrelated to the messing around, for once. “Can you accept dinner and a ride? I promise I won’t touch you.”
“Sure, if you really want to.” I shrugged and he nodded at the waiter.
“What’s your name?” he asked after I’d ordered. “I mean, your full name.”
“Lisa Wycherly. Yours?”
“Oh. What do you do for a living?”
“As little as possible.”
I grimaced. “Not funny.”
It was almost imperceptible, but he winced. “I suppose not. Apologies. I do some occasional freelance writing and dabble in the stock market. Just enough work to maintain a comfortably high standard of living. And you?”
“Well, I was a teacher.”
“Was, huh? Hmm.” He considered again.
I don’t why, but it made me nervous. After I’d eaten, he put me in a taxi, gave the driver my address, and I thought that was the last I would ever see of him.
I was wrong. Still, I didn’t regret it when Mr. Hackbirn showed up on my doorstep three days later.
“What are you doing here?” I asked, with the door opened only as far as the chain would let it.
I wasn’t particularly surprised that he was there. I’d thought I’d seen heads of dark wavy hair following me in the previous days. I wrote it off to my imagination, but it did make his appearance less of a shock. Besides, I had other problems just then.
“I’d like to talk to you,” he said.
“I’m serious. I have a business proposition for you, and nothing more.”
“Alright.” I shut the door, removed the chain, and let him in. “The worst you can do is kill me.”
He chuckled. “I like that attitude.”
“The place is a mess,” I said, sighing over the boxes and stuff all around.
“You’re packing.” He shifted the vest of the discreet three-piece suit he was wearing.
“I’m being evicted.” I choked and grabbed for a tissue.
“Going to your sister’s?”
“For a couple days. Then, Neil, he’s my brother-in-law, he’s going to help me move to Tahoe. I’m fleeing to the security of the womb.”
“Not your preferred option.”
I fought back the tears. “Well, Mae and Neil don’t have the room. They’ve got five kids. It won’t be so bad. I’ll be working. My dad has a business up there.”
“A resort and a souvenir store, I believe.”
“You’ve been there?” I was a little more surprised at that, but I’d met people who’d been to my parents’ place before.
“Not really. I stay on the Nevada side when I’m there.”
I turned on him. “You’ve been poking into my private affairs!”
“I prefer to call it research.”
“I call it nosy.”
“I reserve the right to gather basic background information on a prospective employee.”
That caught me. “Mr. Hackbirn, are you offering me a job?”
“Yes. I need a personal secretary to take over the mundane trivialities of life.” He smiled. “You impressed me last Friday with your backbone.”
“I don’t understand.”
“You are a person who sticks to her convictions even when there’s strong temptation not to. That’s a very difficult quality to find in people.”
“I don’t type very well.”
His eyebrow lifted. “A master’s degree and you don’t type?”
“Not very fast. I stayed up late a lot of nights.” I looked him over again. “Just how much do you know about me?”
He shrugged. “Basic facts. Your college background, your year of community college teaching, things like that. You got excellent references from your former employer, by the way.”
“Let’s hear it for budget cuts.” I sighed. “What makes you think I’m going to take a chance working for you?”
“I’m offering an excellent salary and a place to live, neither of which you have at the moment.”
“I do so.”
“Independent of your parents?” He shook his head. “That is what you find most galling about going back there, and don’t think I don’t know it.”
I looked away. “So where is this place to live?”
“My house. I will need you to live in.”
“Sure.” I snorted. “Now, I get it.”
“Miss Wycherly, I assure you, I have no time to waste on virgins with standards. This is a business proposition, nothing more.”
“I still feel like it’s an elaborate plan to seduce me.”
“If you really want to think so.”
He smiled a truly sensual smile. I blushed and swallowed and tried to control the way my heart was racing. He was mulling over the possibilities of bedding me by sundown. He could have done it. But he wouldn’t unless I said yes, and I knew that I could trust him not to. In fact, his job offer seemed to be the answer to all the prayers I’d been offering. A really strange answer, to be sure, but my gut said that it was the right one.
I smiled. “Alright, it’s not. Why don’t we talk some terms?”
They were attractive, to say the least, and included my own rooms and guaranteed time off to go to church on Sundays. We dickered for an hour. Finally, I shook his hand.
“I guess I can take my chances with you,” I said, happily.
Mr. Hackbirn sighed. “Miss Wycherly, before we call this final, I’d better tell you. I wanted you specifically because I need someone with guts. I can be a dangerous person to know.”
“Mr. Hackbirn, I’m not a thrill-seeker. But danger beats stifling hands down. Don’t get me wrong. I love my parents, and they wouldn’t hold me back intentionally, and I’ll probably end up running their businesses when they retire, or whatever. But with them… Well, you get the idea.”
He got it. I was the one who didn’t have a clue. I called my sister and told her about the eleventh hour save.
“What are you going to do about your landlord?” Mae asked.
“Well, I’m moving.” I looked over at Mr. Hackbirn. “I found a new place right away.”
“What about first and last months’ rent?”
“Um. My new boss said he’d loan me the money. He’s taking it out of my check.”
Mr. Hackbirn smirked. Maybe he had a right to. All I knew was that I didn’t want Mae talking me out of it. I told her I’d phone her with the address and phone number as soon as I was settled in and hung up.
“Mae’s a nice person,” I explained awkwardly. “But she gets judgmental sometimes, and you never know when.”
“I see. Well. Why don’t I call the moving company? We’ll get them straightened out, and then you can come over to my place and start today.”
I took a deep breath. “Okay.”
There really wasn’t much left in the apartment except my clothes, my books and other odds and ends. Anything of value I’d pawned or sold, even my trusty old sewing machine. The movers arrived a half hour after Mr. Hackbirn called them from the pay phone down the street. While we waited, I tried to find out about my new employer. He was pleasant but evasive. I didn’t realize it until some days later when it dawned on me that he hadn’t answered one question I’d asked him about himself.
His car is a dark slate blue Mercedes Benz 450SL, one of the first ones they ever built. I had expected something a little newer, although not necessarily flashier. One thing that was obvious about Mr. Hackbirn, he had excellent taste.
He also has plenty of money to spend. His house is in Beverly Hills. I was in awe as we rolled up the steep driveway to the gray ranch-style house at the top of an ice plant covered slope. The place had been built in the early sixties and looked like it.
We went in through the bare garage. There’s a small utility room to the right of the garage door, with the kitchen and breakfast room just beyond that. The breakfast room is a sunny yellow with a white French provincial breakfront, table, and chairs with light green upholstery on the seats. The kitchen door was closed.
“We don’t go in there unless Conchetta is gone for the day,” Mr. Hackbirn said.
“My housekeeper and cook. She prefers to be left alone.”
Mr. Hackbirn then led me to the small suite of rooms on the other side of the breakfast room.
“This will be your space,” he said, opening the door. “Feel free to decorate it in any way you like. In fact, I can have my decorator come in and confer with you.”
The outer sitting room was a large open space with a writing table on one wall and a huge sofa upholstered in an ugly shade of eggplant. There was a small oak coffee table that didn’t match the sofa, and a small waist-high bookshelf, as well. I went on through the door to the bedroom and bath.
The bedroom was very nice. I really liked the comforter decorated with small red and blue flowers on nice green stems. The bed was brass, too. My bedside tables and dresser were white French Provincial, and the walls had been painted a soft light blue. The bathroom matched, with fluffy blue towels. My closet, which had mirrored sliding doors, was huge.
I put my box down on the dresser and set my lone suitcase next to the bench at the foot of the bed.
Then it was time to see most of the rest of the place. It looked like a model home or something out of a magazine. Mr. Hackbirn, or his decorator, really liked period furnishings. The formal dining room was Eighteenth Century, the rest of the place tended towards Victorian and lots of oak.
The library was sheer heaven. Books lined all four walls, and there were two burgundy velvet wing-backed chairs, each with a good reading lamp next to it. There was also an ebony baby grand piano.
“Do you play?” I asked Mr. Hackbirn.
“Sometimes,” he said.
The offices were also oak paneled. I think they must have been one room in the past because to get to Mr. Hackbirn’s, you must go through mine. My desk was modern, and it had a computer to one side, with two printers next to it. There was also a green leather couch on the opposite wall, sliding glass doors to the front yard on the side, and four oak filing cabinets with five drawers each.
The phone rang. Without hesitation, I went over and picked it up.
“Mr. Hackbirn’s residence, Miss Wycherly speaking,” I told the caller.
“Already?” answered the man on the other end. “Is Sid in?”
“I’ll see. May I tell him who’s calling?”
“Mr. Henry James.”
There was a hold button, and I pressed it. It was a multi-line phone, and it looked like Mr. Hackbirn had three lines hooked up.
“It’s a Mr. Henry James,” I told him.
He sighed in relief. “Miss Wycherly, I appreciate the way you screened that call, but in the future, under no circumstances are you to identify yourself, or this place as my residence.”
“Should I call it your business?”
“Don’t identify it at all. A simple hello will do. I’ll take the call in my office. Why don’t you start getting the files in order, then I’ll show you how to work the computer.”
The file cabinets were empty except for the first one. That was loaded with papers randomly tossed in. Almost all of them were clippings of articles from magazines and newspapers. Mr. Hackbirn was certainly well read, and given the number of different newspapers I found, got around. Traveled a lot, I mean. He gets around a lot the other way, too. But that has nothing to do with the clippings.
After his call, it was lunch time. Mr. Hackbirn explained that we would eat the majority of our meals in the breakfast room and that he generally avoided work talk at the table. The plates were set out on the table when we came into the room.
Lunch was chicken salad with butter lettuce, whole wheat toast made from homemade bread and a fruit compote. The portions were on the small side, but I was in no position to complain. I was done quickly. Mr. Hackbirn told me to leave the dirty dishes on the table. Then it was back to the office where Mr. Hackbirn showed me how to boot up the computer and the different programs on it.
I played around for the next few hours until it was five-thirty and time for dinner. Again, the plates had been set on the table when we got into the breakfast room. There was grilled mahi-mahi, salad with vinaigrette, fresh steamed zucchini, brown rice, and small portions. Mr. Hackbirn, it seemed, was on a diet.
Not that he said so. Nor did he comment on the fact that I was done eating in a few short minutes. It’s not obvious because my mother did pound good manners into me, but I tend to wolf my food down.
“You should feel free to watch television in the rumpus room if you like,” said Mr. Hackbirn, trying not to notice how fast my food was disappearing. “Or if you prefer, I can arrange to have a television put in your room.”
“I don’t watch much TV,” I said between bites. “I was wondering about the library, though.”
“Help yourself. To any of the common areas. I’d just as soon consider you a housemate outside of business hours.” He paused. “Although, you might be more comfortable if you make a habit of knocking first before opening any closed doors.”
“Well, of course. I—” I stopped. “Oh. Yeah, you might be right.”
Mr. Hackbirn chuckled, then looked at me. “One more thing. I would appreciate if you’d not leave the house for a week or two. Just until we’re settled in with the arrangement and all.”
“Oh.” I frowned. “I was going to go shopping on payday. All I have is one suit, and you did say business wear during office hours.”
“That’s right. I did. I think I can arrange that. Why don’t you go Friday afternoon? We can put together a more detailed plan that morning.”
I nodded. It seemed a little weird. So, the guy was kind of eccentric. I didn’t have any place to go, anyway. I agreed to stick around.
Once Mr. Hackbirn had finished eating, he got up and collected our plates and silverware.
“Come on,” he said, nodding at the kitchen door. “I’d better show you how to load the dishwasher.”
“Okay, but I have loaded dishwashers before.” I followed him into the beautiful tan and black kitchen with gorgeous almond-colored appliances.
Mr. Hackbirn chuckled. “No. It’s how Conchetta wants it loaded.”
I looked at him, puzzled. “Aren’t you her boss?”
“Yes, and she makes that perfectly clear. That being said, she puts up with surprise guests and other small messes. I give her full rights to the kitchen when she’s here.”
Conchetta’s system wasn’t that hard to learn and actually made a lot of sense. As soon as we were done, I went to my rooms. I have no idea what Mr. Hackbirn did.
Later that night, while unpacking some of the several boxes of my stuff that had been delivered that afternoon, I found a Complete Works of Shakespeare and thumbed through just for the heck of it. In the second scene of Julius Caesar, a line jumped out at me. It was Cassius’: “Therefore it is meet that noble minds keep ever with their likes, for who so firm that cannot be seduced?”
Well, me, for one. Then I thought back to that morning and that really hot little smile of Mr. Hackbirn’s. Alright. Maybe it was possible. But I wouldn’t go down without a fight. And what the heck was I doing there in the first place?