In the five years since the love of his life abandoned him at the altar, Jake Morgan hasn’t left his house. The locals in this small English town have dubbed him “Mr. Havisham,” but he’s too preoccupied wrestling his demons to care about Dickensian comparisons. Forced to admit he’s losing the battle to keep up his large estate alone, he reluctantly places an advert for help. The striking young man who answers his call shakes him to the core.
When Darius answers the ad for the position at the mysterious mansion, the bitter, lonely master of the house tugs at his heartstrings. Setting aside his own run of bad luck, Darius batters at Jake’s emotional walls with kindness and determination that defy all attempts to drive him away.
Just as tendrils of new love begin to intertwine though, a terrible voice from the past intrudes. And threatens to drive Jake back into the shadows where Darius can never reach him…
A knock sounded at the door. Raindrops ran down the window pane. The trees on the sweeping driveway bowed under the weight of the wind. The knock at the door came again. Jake Morgan pressed his hand to the glass and craned his head down. He had already buzzed the main gates open. He knew who his visitor was.
A tall man stood sheltering under the porch, shoulders hunched against the cold, smart in a black wool jacket, hands thrust in the pockets. He was young and dark-haired, but Jake couldn’t see his face. He stepped back from the window and sighed, closing his eyes. Was he going to ignore the stranger? What was the point in advertising for staff if he didn’t open the door when they came for the interview?
It wasn’t easy making even this little concession to the outside world, though. He dug his nails into his palms, fists clenched. He could do this. He could.
He turned, exited the room and took the stairs with measured steps. Pausing at the front door, he smoothed his hair back and tugged his sweater over his narrow hips. He could see the stranger’s silhouette through the frosted glass. It gave him palpitations.
He slid the bolts back at the top and bottom. He turned the key in the lock once, then locked it again. Turned it again, locked it again. Shit, not the counting, not now. What would the guy think? Once more he opened and locked the door before he mustered all his courage and self-control and stopped at three. Trying to slow his breathing, he unlocked the door a final time and swung it open.
The wind nearly buffeted him back. The stranger lifted his face eagerly in relief. Their gazes locked, and that troublesome heart of Jake’s, battered and broken and way beyond salvation, gave a curious little leap as he gazed upon the man’s face. His stomach lurched, too. Warmth spread down towards his groin. He stepped back, blushing, confused as to what had just happened.
The man took it as an invite. He stepped inside and pushed the door shut, his gaze never leaving Jake’s. His eyes were a curious pale gold, fringed with lush lashes, mesmerising and intense. He dripped water onto the marble floor of the hallway as they stood weighing each other up in silence, gazes locked.
The stranger cleared his throat. He was a man of around thirty-five, the same height as Jake—six two—with a lean, worked-out body. He was lightly tanned, closely shaved and fine featured. Everything in proportion—nose, chin, mouth. Everything perfectly symmetrical, the classification for a beautiful person. He was beautiful, all right. There was no doubt about that. Jake felt like a wilting wallflower just looking upon him.
“I’m here for the interview,” the man said. He held out his hand. “Darius Harrison.”
Jake looked at it. All the touch he’d known in five years had been handshakes. To men who’d done work on his house or his garden or delivered items of furniture. He was reluctant even to commit to that. And now this man, offering his hand with its short, neat nails and long, slim fingers, seemed like he was offering something way more intimate than Jake could handle. The touch of his skin. Jake could barely breathe. He couldn’t do it, and yet he wanted it. He wanted it so much.
Hesitantly, he extended his hand, barely covering the short distance between them. Darius Harrison grasped it. His skin was cold and wet with rain, and despite this, it heated Jake’s blood to inferno proportions. He snatched his hand back and turned away, muttering, “You’re cold. Come through.”
He led Darius down the hall to the living room. A log fire blazed, the curtains were firmly shut against the gloomy afternoon, lamps were lit. He gestured to the stranger to take a seat near the fire under the circle of the brightest lamp—all the better to admire his beautiful face—and sat on the couch opposite him.
Darius unfastened his coat. He sat down and crossed one leg over the other, and Jake glanced at his shoes. He would deny he had OCD to anyone who asked, but he couldn’t explain away the little rituals he had. Shoes were important to him. They could make or break this interview. Darius Harrison wore shiny black leather brogues. They glistened with water and looked brand-new. They were sturdy and well fitted. He teamed them with black socks, his smart black pants exactly the right length.
Jake sat back, satisfied. Nice shoes, beautiful face, and an impressive body. There was no way he could let this man work for him. None at all. His shoulders slumped in resignation and he searched for a polite way to dismiss the candidate with haste. What had he been thinking of, inviting complete strangers into his home after so long? More to the point, why was the only applicant an attractive man instead of a homely, nonthreatening woman who would mother him and make him apple pie?
He sighed and realised it had come out loud. Darius lifted a quizzical eyebrow. Jake coughed, straightened up in his chair. “Thank you for coming out on such a lousy day,” he said.
Darius inclined his head. He kept those golden eyes fixed on Jake, and Jake’s bones started to melt, his body overcome with languor. He crossed one ankle over the opposite knee, hiding his groin for fear he would soon get an erection.
“You know what the job entails?” he asked.
“Not really,” Darius replied. “Your advert was a little vague.”
“General…” Jake hesitated, appalled that he had been about to say dogsbody. It was hardly what he thought someone working for him would be. He merely wanted someone to take the monotony of cleaning and cooking from him and leave him with more time to…stew. “Handyman,” he finished. “Cooking, cleaning, odd jobs.”