He made the calls, checked his email, and headed out for a leisurely stroll around his property. It was a good opportunity to speak to the groundskeeper about how good the perennials were looking and how the tallest tree to the west needed trimming because it obstructed the view of Camelback from his office window.
Hands in his pockets, he realized quickly that taking an unplanned stroll in his suit and tie was going to be uncomfortably hot. He shed the jacket and rolled up the sleeves. There, he thought, business casual. Harvey spoke to the groundskeeper, pointing out the offending branches, and stopped by the stables to speak to the groomers and greet Winnower, his stallion.
At last, he made his way back to the staff guesthouse and nodded to the pair of night security men who were just getting up and heading out for coffee. Around at the pool, he saw one of his chefs, a stable groom on a late meal break, and the new maid lounging with her feet in the water. She wore a plain one-piece bathing suit in boring black, and he couldn’t help thinking how stunning she’d look in one of those Trina Turk bikinis all the women in his set favored. He was used to seeing bathing suits on tanned, perfect bodies on his yacht, wearing their designer suits complete with necklaces and earrings, with sunglasses that probably cost more than this girl’s Arkansas apartment had.
If Harvey was used to looking at perfection, why couldn’t he take his eyes off this girl? This maid with her hipster jokes and her motel-cleaner work experience and discount store fashion. She had no degree, no study abroad program, no connections to speak of. So here he was, one of the top executives in the nation, the wealthiest man in the state of Arizona, spying on the help at their pool. Overcoming the slight embarrassment, he strode forward and said hello to Fabrice, the chef.
“Duck tonight?” he asked.
“Yes, sir. With the cherry glaze you prefer.”
“Excellent. Enjoying your swim?”
“Very much. The pool is such a relief on hot days after the hot kitchen.”
“Good, good. And you, Mariel?” he asked of the stablehand.
“Just cooling off before I head back,” she said, diving underwater.
“How are you settling in, Bella?” he said, finally turning his attention to her.
“It’s great. I love the pool. I feel more productive already,” she smiled.
“Did Mrs. Marks give you the grand tour?”
“Yes. I know where to find the abrasive cleaners and the toilet brushes and all that good stuff. Your bathroom fixtures are safe with me.”
“Good to know. And if I find a water spot on my faucet, I’ll know who to call.”
“Day or night. My phone’s right over there on the towel. So I can leap out of the water and t
end to your every need.” She blushed, “well, not your every need. I meant cleaning needs. Like if you needed something…cleaned…” she trailed off, obviously embarrassed.
Harvey had the urge to kiss her. He was madly attracted to her. “I’ll keep my requests strictly professional, don’t worry,” he said to reassure her. She nodded sagely.
“Yes, Greta said you weren’t a creep. I appreciate that. And I apologize for the gaffe about your every need. I’m not flirting. I’m just nervous, and I say awkward things when I’m nervous. I blurt things out.”
“Please don’t feel nervous around me.”
“You don’t have that problem. I can tell. You’re very cool that way. I’m—I like the pool, and thanks for checking in on me. I’ll see you when—well, I guess I won’t see you. If I do my job properly, Mrs. Marks said I would be invisible. No one would know I was there. All of us had to be like the elves.”
“In the Elves and the Shoemaker. The ones that crept in at night and made perfect little fairy shoes…I’m guessing you don’t know this story. I thought Mrs. Marks was funny. But it kind of reminded me of this story I used to read when I was a kid about little helper elves who never let anyone see them. This is like that in a way. I creep in and clean when you’re gone, and then you find everything just right without ever having to think about the people who keep it that way.”
“You have the most astonishing way of speaking, Bella.”
“The elf thing was all Mrs. Marks. But thank you. I mean, I’m sorry. I just get flustered around, well, around hot guys. Not that you’re hot. I mean, you are, obviously. But I don’t think of you as hot. I just think of you as my boss. That’s all. I don’t intend to think of you at all apart from that. I swear,” she said, clearly agitated, her face pink.
“You’re very refreshing. There are so few people of my acquaintance who actually tell me what they think. It’s a hazard of my station, I’ve always thought. People tell me what they think I want to hear and no more. So it’s interesting to hear an unedited response. Especially if you think I’m hot.”
“I don’t think you’re hot. It’s not a matter of opinion. Mariel? He’s hot, right?”
“I guess so. Yeah,” the stablehand said as she toweled off, “Personally not my type, too pretty.”
“See?” Bella said, as if this demonstrated her point perfectly, “It isn’t a matter of preference or of—attraction, you’re just handsome. So handsome,” she said in almost a sigh, “Oh, I didn’t mean to say that last part aloud. The ‘so handsome’ part? Yeah, that was an accident. See what I mean?”