Lourdes drove down the long dirt road toward the home where she had a job interview that afternoon. This was unlike any job she'd applied for in the past. She'd always worked around lots of people and had been lucky enough to secure a job she loved.
Secure. That was a laugh. She should have known nothing was secure.
Now she was not only out of a job, but her lifelong dream had been snatched away. Still, it was a dream she'd spent too long pursuing to the exclusion of everything else, including the safety of a creature she'd loved.
She'd taken the accident as a sign that it was time to reexamine her life. Yesterday she'd decided to take some time off before searching for a new job. She'd driven to the country and taken a room at a bed and breakfast. Last night she'd settled into bed to read the local paper and noticed an interesting ad in the help wanted section.
Someone was looking for a person to help organize a private library. While the pay wasn't fantastic, it was perfect to tide her over while she thought about where she wanted to go in life. Yes, after years of relentless physical work, a quiet, slow-paced job was exactly what she needed.
When she'd dialed the phone number from the ad that morning, a man named Alexi Marius had answered the call. He had the kind of voice that made her belly tighten--deep, smooth, and cultured yet not condescending. He didn't sound old, but mature. He had a voice that screamed experience and wisdom, like a master in the old martial arts movies she'd grown up watching on Saturday afternoons.
Taking a turn onto a long gravel driveway, she noticed the trees had thinned. In the distance was a stone-faced mansion set on a steep hill overlooking rolling meadows.
"Wow," she murmured. "This is a helluva setup. I bet Alexi Marius is a rich old bugger."
Nearing the house, she longed to meet the face that belonged to the voice, yet at the same time she hoped he didn't turn out to be a nasty old recluse. When she'd asked the owner of the inn about him, the woman had looked almost frightened. Stern and private were the words she'd used to describe him.
Lourdes parked in the circular driveway. Up close, the house was huge, almost like a castle. There were even gargoyles on the roof, and two stone griffins stood on either side of the enormous double doors.
Lourdes slung her handbag over her shoulder, took her cane and stepped out of the car. She hated that cane and the annoying limp that served as a physical reminder of the worst experience of her life. Yet she'd progressed further than the doctors had predicted. According to them, she should still be wheelchair bound.
Making her way toward the house, she glanced at the rosebushes lining the cobblestone walk. The flowers were dark purple, blue and black. No red roses for Mr. Alexi Marius.
At the front door, she rang the bell and from inside came the echo of chimes--a weird, old-fashioned sound like something out of a gothic horror movie. A moment later the door opened and Lourdes stared rather dumbly at the sexiest man she'd ever seen.
He was tall and lean with long black hair streaked with silver at his temples. Even with the cover of his priest-like black clothes, there was no mistaking his athletic build. In her career, Lourdes had seen lots of above-average looking men, but he was beyond that. Stunning was the word for him.
Though his face wasn't classically handsome, he had sharp features that looked as if they'd been sculpted from stone. His smooth, pale skin carried a hint of gold. His large, wickedly slanted blue eyes stared from beneath devilish black eyebrows. The look in those eyes made her shiver with arousal and apprehension. Though they didn't exactly frighten her--it took a lot to scare Lourdes--they made her feel a bit uneasy.
"Hello," she said, since he apparently had no intention of greeting her. "I have an appointment with Mr. Marius. Would you tell him Lourdes Alonso Flores is here to see him?"
"I'm Alexi Marius," he replied, taking her aback.
At first glance, he looked in his late twenties, but the fine lines around his piercing blue eyes as well as the jaded expression in them suggested an older man--possibly mid to late forties. By no means did he look like the elderly gentlemen she'd expected.
"Please come in," he said, stepping aside and gesturing for her to enter the house.
She walked into the large foyer and glanced around. The walls and floor were of stone. The only furnishing was a table on top of which sat a crystal dragon with amethyst eyes. There were two doorways toward the left and a staircase to the right leading to the upper floors.
As he closed the front door, she couldn't keep her gaze from him. She'd always been a sucker for a guy with great legs and from what she could see in his well-fitting black pants, his were perfect. They were so long, lean and muscular. She loved the curve of his ass and the sleekness of his hips.
How the hell could she work for a guy like this? It would be pure sexual torture to look yet not touch.