Taylor watched on the computer screen in his office as another interviewee for the position as his PA walked into the drawing room of Sutton Hall. Taylor cringed. A middle-aged guy wearing a shiny suit was never going to be right.
"He might as well leave now," Taylor said.
At his side, Niall sighed. "Could have a sick wife, three teenage kids to support and be shit-hot on the computer."
"He looks wrong."
Niall's jaw twitched. "You mean he doesn't have legs to his armpits, huge breasts and no morals?"
"I definitely wouldn't want him then." Taylor shuddered. "Man boobs? Arrggh."
Niall snorted. "Is he the last?"
"One more." Taylor checked his watch. "But she's late, so she's out."
Since Taylor had returned to Sutton Hall a month ago, he'd lost three PAs. Emma had decided it was too far to commute and neither of his next two choices had lasted more than a week. He'd never had this problem in London.
Taylor hadn't thought he'd want to stay this long at Sutton Hall. The plan had been a couple of weeks to clear the place and then move into a modern apartment in Leeds, but he was too busy with work to even look for an office let alone a place to live. Niall made living at the Hall so easy. A meal on the table in the evening. Company when he needed it. Silence when he didn't. The only issue was Niall himself. What the hell had happened that he needed to stay hidden away? Taylor still hadn't wormed the truth out of him, which didn't say much for his skills as a PI. The guy intrigued him in more ways than one, which was probably why Taylor hadn't pushed.
He glanced at Niall, who was staring out of the window. Christ, he's good looking. Niall turned as though he sensed Taylor's gaze, and Taylor looked back at the monitor. When Niall had offered to help him pick the next office assistant, Taylor agreed because he needed to stop looking for beauty and go for brains. Since he also needed Niall's help in Leeds tonight, and it was almost impossible to persuade him to leave the house at all, let alone twice in one day, Taylor had reluctantly agreed to do the interviews here rather than in some anonymous hotel.
The recruitment agency had whittled down the applicants for the position of personal assistant to five, and then squeezed in one more a couple of hours ago. The five who'd turned up sat in complete silence. The three men were in suits, the women in skirts and fitted blouses. Very fitted in the case of the blonde. Taylor ran his tongue over his lip as he stared at the swell of her--
"Not the right basis on which to choose an assistant," Niall said.
Taylor bristled. Sometimes he thought the bloody guy could read his mind. "How do you--?"
"Because all of your previous PAs have had legs to their armpits, large breasts and wore beautiful shoes. Think about the men instead."
Yeah right. Taylor had only included guys in the list because he didn't want to get accused of sexual prejudice, but he preferred a woman for the job, someone easy on the eye, who'd make him coffee and do what he asked because they fancied him. Not that he'd written that on the job spec.
"Leave them sitting there until one of them shows some initiative," Niall said.
Actually Taylor didn't want someone with too much initiative. A message on the door had invited them in, told them where to go and they'd all followed the instructions. Maybe he should have left a pot of coffee with a Drink this sign. If there'd been another note telling them to walk out the back door and roll on the lawn, would they have done that? Although Taylor wanted someone who did as they were told, he didn't want a sheep.
Ten minutes ticked slowly by.
"I give in," Niall said. "They're all idiots."
Taylor laughed. "I'm intrigued now. How long are they going to sit there?"
"I suspect until they drop dead."
Five more minutes before Taylor heard Niall exhale in frustration, and then the door of the living room flew open and a chicken burst in.
"What the fuck?" Taylor gasped.
"Hi, everyone," the chicken said in a perky voice. "Thank goodness I'm not too late. I had difficulty getting across the road." She laughed and then sighed when no one else joined in. They sat staring at her in mute shock.
"Damn. Maybe I am too late. Have you all been in for your interview and you're waiting to see who's been chosen?"
Mumbles of "No" came from the zombies. Taylor was riveted to the screen. The chicken pulled back the hood of her costume to reveal a woman in her mid-twenties with short, untidy dark hair, bright eyes and a dazzling smile. He sat up straighter and felt Niall tense. She ran her fingers through her hair. It made no difference. It still looked a mess.
"I bet you're all wondering if you missed an instruction for the interview, aren't you? Wear an outrageous costume and not a suit. Don't worry. You didn't. I'm stuck in this one. The zipper won't budge. I've just spent ten minutes wrestling with it. Would someone give me a hand?"
Taylor glanced at Niall. His attention was fixed on the screen, his mouth a thin line. He wished the guy would lighten up. Niall rarely laughed these days. He had when Taylor first arrived, he always seemed to be chuckling, but now it was rare to see a smile on his face. Instead, when Taylor caught him unaware, Niall's look was one of nervous anticipation, his eyes holding hints of promise and fear. It felt to Taylor as though Niall was waiting for something. Presumably his worries about this family issue were growing worse. Taylor had kept asking him about it, hoping he could help, but Niall always clammed up.
The man in the shiny suit stood to assist with the chicken's zipper. The woman wriggled out of the back of the yellow-and-white costume, and tossed it behind the couch. Taylor took in her rumpled, red V-necked T-shirt, pert breasts, the miniscule blue skirt, her long, long legs and then lurched to a halt on the huge brown chicken feet. He sniggered.
She offered her hand to the man. "Thanks so much. You're an expert chicken skinner. Good thing you're not a pleasant peasant, and I'm not a pheasant and need plucking. Try saying that fast. Okay. You're a pleasant pheasant--arrgh--maybe not. I'm Roo. You are?"
Taylor watched her shake hands and introduce herself to the others.
"So no one's been interviewed yet?" she asked. "And you've not seen anyone? Why are we waiting?"
"Didn't you read the message on the door? It told us to wait in here," said the woman with the book.
Roo sat and then almost immediately jumped up again. "Maybe something's happened to the person interviewing us. He might have choked on a bone or been bitten by a snake or maybe he slipped with a knife and he's bleeding to death on the kitchen floor."
Taylor let out a choked laugh.
"You're being ridiculous," said the other woman.
Roo sat down. "Hey, this is a private investigation company we're interviewing for. Who knows what's happened. Maybe this is to test our powers of observation and our ability to think on our feet. Could be the guy's been murdered." She stood.
"What are you going to do?" Niall asked. "She's the only one who's shown any initiative, but she's a nutcase."
"I like nuts."
Roo was about to go look for a murder victim when the door opened and a tall, slim guy with tousled blond hair stepped into the room.
He looked around. "Sorry to keep you all waiting."
Drool alert! Roo swallowed hard. Every inch of this guy was jaw-droppingly, mouth-wateringly, pants-wettingly gorgeous and she couldn't even see every inch of him. Don't look at his crotch. Ice-green eyes, chiseled cheek bones and those lips--oh shit--lips that were saying something and she'd flipping well missed it. Damn.
One of the women walked out of the room with the subject of Roo's nighttime fantasies for weeks to come, and Roo sighed with relief that he'd not been speaking to her. She settled into a corner of a couch and winced when she registered she was still wearing the chicken feet. Roo kicked them off along with her shoes, curled up with her feet tucked under her and closed her eyes. Think calm, sensible thoughts.
He had a lovely, bitable butt.