Book Six: The Family Simon
Cooper Simon had been at his place in Maine for two weeks and nothing was going right. Less than five days in he’d lost power—a sudden nor’easter had been the culprit—and he’d been forced to stay in Fisherman’s Landing with his brother Maverick. He loved his brother but Cooper wasn’t in the mood to be surrounded by happy, and living with Maverick and his wife Charlie was like being dunked in a vat of happy.
Cooper was gone as soon as he’d gotten word his hydro had been restored.
That was a week ago, and sometime in the night a wind storm had taken his Godzilla weathervane along with most of his frost fence. The frost fence he could care less about—it could be replaced—the weathervane however was another story. Made of copper and brass it was probably the ugliest weathervane in the entire state of Maine, but man, he loved it. So much so, that he’d spent the last three hours walking his property as well as the neighboring ones looking for the damn thing. He’d trudged up and down the coast, slipping over icy rock and mushy snow and had nothing to show for his effort. Hell, not even a piece of fencing could be found.
Glaring up at the gathering clouds and then back at the dark, angry ocean, he yanked on his hood and started toward home. It was already well into the afternoon and he’d gotten no work done. If he got back sooner than later he might be able to fix that.
His mood now as black as the water behind him, Cooper hunched his shoulders against the wind and decided not to think about work. What was the point?
By the time he reached the old farmhouse he’d renovated a few years back, a headache was beginning to press in around his temples. He supposed a couple pain pills and a swig of whisky would do the trick, and was planning on doing just that when he spied a compact red car parked not far from his door. Scowling he shook his head. It was probably Charlie, Maverick’s wife.
“Not today,” he muttered, heading to the front door. For whatever reason Charlotte had decided he needed taking care of, but it was about damn time to set her straight. Cooper Simon didn’t need anyone taking care of him—especially not his brother’s wife. She was too damn happy all the time and it annoyed the hell out of him.
Cooper took the stairs two at a time and didn’t bother to shake the slush, salt, and dirt from his boots as he slammed into his house. He strode across the foyer and pulled up short when his cell phone rang. He patted the front pockets of his jeans and then realized the darn thing was on the hall table. He scooped it up and headed for the kitchen.
“Where have you been?” It was Charlie, Maverick’s wife.
“Where are you?” He shot back, glancing around the place. What was that smell? Pine? Cooper didn’t stop walking until he reached the fridge, and deciding he was too lazy to head back to the dining room where he kept his whisky, he reached inside and grabbed a Bud. Wasn’t like there was much choice considering the only things inside were beer and yogurt.
“I’m home, with your brother.”
Cooper rummaged through the cupboard for a couple pain pills and then took a long swing from the bottle as he leaned his hip against the counter. Shrugging out of his jacket he tossed the heavy coat onto the kitchen table. Frowning he took another swig and glanced outside. So who’s car was out front?
“Where are you?” Charlie asked again.
“I’m home,” Cooper replied, rubbing his chin absently.
“Did you expect me to be somewhere else?”
“Well, no. But I’ve been calling for hours and you didn’t pick up. Morgan said the place was empty.”
“Morgan?” He straightened and peered into the dining room.
“Thank goodness I gave her my spare set of keys.”
“Keys?” A frown firmly in place, Cooper headed back to the front of the house. “Why the hell would you give my keys to some stranger?”
“Cooper. You need someone out there, if only to clean the damn toilet and make sure there’s more food in the fridge than beer and yogurt.”
“I happen to like beer and yogurt.” Here we go. He’d been having this conversation with Charlie ever since he’d arrived. “I told you I don’t need anyone poking around in my business.”
“Who said anything about poking around?” Something crashed in his ear. “Hold on Coop.” A pause. “Connor. Please put that dog in its crate or I won’t be held responsible for what I will do to it.”
“You still training that puppy?” Cooper grinned for the first time.
“Puppy? It’s a freaking giant. I can’t believe Rick came home with it.”
“Kind of like I can’t believe you gave my keys to a perfect stranger.”
“Cooper, she’s not…she…” Charlie swore under her breath and Cooper paused near the front door.
“Morgan’s not a stranger and besides, you need someone out there. It’s not healthy to be on your own for days on end, eating crap food and living in filth.”
Okay. That was going a little too far. So he didn’t clean his damn toilet every day. At least he lifted the lid. That was saying something.
“You’ll like her. I promise.”
No way was this happening.
“Morgan can help out with whatever you need. Laundry. Errands.”
“No.” His voice was firm.
“You said you were thinking of hiring someone to go through all the stuff in the attic and organize it.”
“She’d be real good at that. Organizing and cleaning and…well, whatever stuff you need done.”
“No.” Charlotte Simon had to be the stubbornest woman he’d ever met.
“Why not?” He heard the frustration in her voice. “You know what? It doesn’t matter. I’ve already hired her so…”
Cooper’s swore a blue streak. “What do you mean you hired her?” The last thing he needed was someone bothering him when all he wanted was peace and quiet. What he needed was to be able to walk around his own house in his boxers—hell naked if he felt like it—and scratch his ass without eyes on him.
What he needed was to work and no way could he work with some woman poking around. Hell, he could barely get any work done on his own. And he sure as hell didn’t need some sweet little old lady who’d want nothing more than to set him up with a granddaughter or daughter or cousin or…
“You hired her, you can fire her.”
Silence greeted his words. “I can’t. I won’t. Tell me that you don’t need someone to get your groceries and organize your meals. Clean the dust bunnies and your clothes and maybe organize that huge attic? I thought you wanted your work space up there?”
Damn but his head hurt.
“And she’s not a stranger, Cooper. You met her last week at the Church social.”
He groaned thinking about it. A church social wasn’t his usual gig and the only reason he’d gone was because the night before the social he’d lost at poker and his brother had insisted if he had to go, then Cooper did as well.
Charlie was still jabbering into his ear. “Kennedy’s Home Services is just getting off the ground and they could really use—“
“Kennedy?” His eyes flew open. Well that rang a bell.
“You met her at the social.”
Blond hair, green eyes, a nice rack, and legs that went on for miles is what he remembered.
“Do you remember?”
What the hell was her name? “Sara?”
“Sara was there, but no, I’m talking about her sister Morgan Kennedy.”
He frowned. “She a blonde?”
“No. Brunette.” Charlie yelled at her young brother Connor once more and then sighed into the phone. “Morgan’s had a tough go and this would really mean a lot to her. It would mean a lot to me, Coop. Please.”
He thought back to the Saturday before. “Wait a minute. Are you talking about the middle age woman who stood in the corner all night? The one in the green sweater?” The only reason he remembered her was because the color of her sweater was the ugliest puke green he’d ever seen. It was big, bulky, and covered her from her neck to mid thigh.
“She’s not middle aged. She’s twenty-eight.”
“Well, she’s the oldest looking twenty-eight year old, I’ve ever seen.”
He swore and rubbed at the hair on his chin. He knew he sounded like an asshole but couldn’t seem to help himself. His head ached, he was frustrated beyond belief, and he sure as hell didn’t have time to argue.
“Look, Charlie. I don’t care if she’s twenty-eight or eighty-two. Hell, she could look like Angelina Jolie and it wouldn’t matter. I don’t want her here. End of story.”
“I’m not doing this with you, Charlie.”
His sister in law said something not fit for human ears.
“Your vocabulary is interesting. The way you mix up nouns and verbs to make something so naughty I just might have to use it myself.” He was trying to lighten things up but with a sigh, leaned against the door and squeezed his eyes shut. It wasn’t working. Charlie wasn’t so easily swayed.
“She needs the work.”
“She needs the work? What the hell do you think I am? Some kind of charity?”
A noise caught his attention and Cooper’s eyes flew open. He whipped up his head in time to see two feet disappear back upstairs. Well, shit.
“I gotta go, Charlie.”
Tight lipped, he tossed his cell back onto the table cutting off his sister-on-law and without pausing, took the stairs two at a time. No sense in putting things off. He would let this Morgan know she could finish up whatever it was that Charlie had hired her to do for the day. He would pay her and then get on with things.
Cooper strode across the worn plank flooring and peeked into the first bedroom but it was empty. He spied a plastic purple caddy filled with cleaning products and other stuff near the bathroom and took exactly two steps before a woman appeared in the doorway. She met his eyes for all of two seconds and then proceeded to toss a few more cleaning supplies into the caddy before disappearing back into the bathroom.
She reappeared with a mop and bucket and paused, her eyes once more on him. The lighting up here was dim, especially at this time of day, but it was enough for him to see that the woman was angry. Or annoyed. Or something. Her lips were pursed together tightly, and she pushed back a strand of dark hair that fell over her eyebrows.
“Do you always walk around your house in dirty boots?” She glared at him as if he’d just committed some sort of crime.
He glanced down at his feet and then slowly met her gaze again. “Not generally, no.” She was tall for a woman—maybe five foot ten—and every inch of her was covered. Loose track pants and a long sleeved sweatshirt, gave no indication of her shape. Hell, she could have been hiding an entire litter of kittens under there for all he knew. She was pale, as if she didn’t get out much, and her hair was scraped back, secured into a low ponytail. She had high cheekbones and a generous mouth and her eyes were an unusual shade of green. So light they appeared almost colorless.
And what was that there…on the side of her neck?
Small dots of red appeared in her cheeks and Cooper became aware that he was staring at her—rudely so. His eyes fell away as an awkward silence fell between them.
She cleared her throat and he found himself watching her once more as she bent down to retrieve the caddy.
“Take your boots off and I’ll clean up after you,” she said, voice curt and to the point. Her eyebrows rose as she met his gaze once more. The anger or whatever it was he’d seen in her eyes before, was gone. There was just…nothing. It was as if she’d pulled down the blinds and disappeared.
Cooper wasn’t exactly used to women reacting to him this way and it piqued his interest.
Still unsure, Cooper kicked off his boots and held them in his hands as she walked past with her caddy and headed downstairs. She set it near the front door and then climbed the stairs once more—her steps were slow and even, but something about the way she moved was odd. He couldn’t quite put his finger on it.
She didn’t utter a word as she passed him and grabbed up the mop, cleaning the floor where he’d tracked dirt, and then each of the stairs. He followed her back down and felt like a complete ass, as she set about cleaning the foyer and back into the kitchen where he’d traipsed all over the place like a spoiled, uncaring child.
“Sorry, I wasn’t thinking,” he said, but she didn’t reply.
Once she was done, she made her way back to the front door where she scooped a large grey parka from the wall hook, and her boots from the mat. Only then did she speak, though she kept her eyes lowered, focused at shoulder level.
“You don’t have to worry about paying me, Mr. Simon. Charlie already looked after that. I’ll make sure to reimburse her for the rest of the services she contracted us for. Two weeks worth of cleaning and the attic.”
“I…you don’t have to…” Those pale eyes rose and Cooper’s words died in his throat.
“I don’t need your charity, so yes I do.”
Of course she’d heard everything he’d said to Charlie earlier. There was no anger in her words but something about her tone bothered Cooper.
She grabbed her cleaning things and he moved quickly to open the door for her.
“Thank you.” Stepping out onto the porch she paused, eyes straight ahead. Head tilted to the side she didn’t look back at him. “You might want to get a new plug for the tank on your toilet. The one upstairs. It’s running, and…”
“And?” He prompted.
She turned slightly at his voice. “A neighbor stopped by. Mr. Leeds from down the road. Said he had your Godzilla.” She shrugged. “Whatever that means.”
Cooper watched her walk to her small car, her steps slow and steady. She put away her cleaning tools and in less than a minute her taillights disappeared down the lane.
He closed the door, inhaling that clean pine scent he’d first noticed when he’d come home, and then headed back to the kitchen. Screw work. He wasn’t getting anything done—not tonight. Another beer, a steak on the barbecue and Netflix was about all he could muster ambition for.
He flipped on the lights and glanced around his kitchen. The stainless steel gleamed, the granite shone, and he had to admit the place looked pretty damn good. He busied himself getting his dinner prepared, and told himself that the woman, Morgan, would find other work. Hell, he didn’t need her. He could keep up with things. Sure he used a service when he was in California but out here he liked being on his own.
Cooper cracked open a beer and gazed out into the now darkened sky, and found himself thinking about her unusual eyes. He wondered what it was she was hiding.
“Leave it alone,” he muttered into the silence.
With a frown Cooper grabbed up the steak and headed out to the deck to barbecue the damn thing. He knew what he was doing. He was grasping at anything that would distract him from the one thing that he needed to do. Work.
If he didn’t get his shit together, the reclusive and famous Lee Holloway would disappear forever. And considering Lee Holloway was pretty much the only real thing in his life, it wasn’t an option.
Cooper Simon would walk through fire before he let that happen.