Chapter no 4

The Housemaid's Secret (The Housemaid, Book 2)

I’ve got my tenth job interview in the last three weeks, and I’m starting to get nervous.

I don’t even have enough money in my bank account to cover one month’s rent. I know you’re supposed to have a six-month buffer in the bank, just in case, but that works better in theory than in practice. I’d love to have a six-month buffer in the bank. Hell, I’d love to have a two-month buffer. Instead, I’ve got less than two hundred dollars.

I don’t know what I did wrong in the other nine interviews for cleaning or babysitting positions. One of the women outright assured me that she was planning to hire me, but it’s been a week and I haven’t heard a peep from her. Or any of the others. I’m assuming she did a background check and that was the end of it.

If I were any other person, I could simply join some sort of cleaning service, and I wouldn’t have to go through this process. But none of them will hire me. I’ve tried. The background checks make it impossible— nobody wants someone with a criminal record inside their home. That’s why I put up ads online and hope for the best.

I don’t have much hope for today’s interview either. I’m meeting a man named Douglas Garrick, who lives in an apartment building on the Upper West Side, just west of Central Park. It’s one of those Gothic buildings with mini towers rising out of the skyline. It vaguely looks like it should be surrounded by a moat and guarded by a dragon, instead of being a place that you can just walk into right off the street.

A doorman with white hair holds the front door open for me with a tip of his black cap. As I smile up at him, once again I get that prickling

sensation in the back of my neck. Like somebody is watching me.

Ever since that night I came home after getting fired, I’ve gotten that sensation several times. It made sense in my neighborhood in the South Bronx, where there are probably muggers on every corner waiting to jump out if I looked like I had any money at all, but not here. Not in one of the swankiest neighborhoods in Manhattan.

Before I step into the apartment building, I whirl around to look behind me. There are dozens of people milling about on the street, but none of them are paying attention to me. There are plenty of unique and interesting people walking around the streets of Manhattan, and I’m not one of them. There’s no reason for anyone to be staring at me.

Then I see the car.

It’s a black Mazda sedan. There are probably thousands of cars just like it in the city, but when I look at it, I get this weird sense of déjà vu. It takes me a second to realize why. The car has a cracked right headlight. I’m certain that I saw a black Mazda with a right cracked headlight parked near my apartment building in the South Bronx.

Didn’t I?

I peer through the windshield. The car is empty. I lower my gaze to look down at the license plate. It’s a New York plate—nothing exciting there. I take a moment to memorize the number: 58F321. The plate number means nothing to me, but if I see it again, I’ll remember it.

“Miss?” the doorman asks me, jerking me out of my trance. “Will you be coming inside?”

“Oh.” I cough into my hand. “Yes. Yes, sorry about that.”

I step into the lobby of the building. Instead of overhead lights, the lobby is lit by chandeliers and lamps on the sides of the walls that are meant to resemble torches. The low ceiling curves into a dome, which makes me feel slightly like I’m entering a tunnel. Works of art adorn the walls, all of which are likely priceless.

“Who are you here to see, Miss?” the doorman asks me. “The Garricks. Twenty-A.”

“Ah.” He winks at me. “The penthouse.”

Oh great—a penthouse family. Why do I even bother?

After the doorman calls upstairs to confirm my appointment, he has to go into the elevator and insert a special key so that I can get up to the penthouse. After the elevator doors swing shut, I do a quick inventory of

my appearance. I smooth out my blond hair that I have pulled back into a simple bun. I’m wearing my nicest pair of black slacks and a sweater vest. I start to adjust my boobs, but then I notice that there’s a camera in the elevator, and I’d rather not give the doorman a show.

The doors to the elevator open directly into the foyer of the Garricks’ penthouse apartment. As I step out of the elevator, I take a deep breath, and I can almost smell the wealth in the air. It’s some combination of expensive cologne and crisp hundred-dollar bills. I stand in the foyer for a moment, not sure if I should venture out without being formally welcomed, so instead, I focus my attention on a white podium displaying a gray statue that is essentially just a large smooth vertical stone—one that you could find in any park in the city. Despite that, it’s probably worth more than everything I’ve ever owned in the entire world.

“Millie?” I hear the voice seconds before a man materializes in the foyer. “Millie Calloway?”

It was Mr. Garrick who invited me to the interview today. It’s unusual to be called by the man of the house. Almost 100 percent of my primary employers in the cleaning business have been female. But Mr. Garrick seems eager to greet me. He rushes into the foyer, a smile on his lips, his hand already extended.

“Mr. Garrick?” I say.

“Please,” he says as his strong hand slides into mine, “call me Douglas.”

Douglas Garrick looks exactly like the sort of man who would be living in a penthouse on the Upper West Side. He’s in his early forties and handsome in that classic, chiseled sort of way. He’s wearing a suit that looks extremely expensive, and his dark brown hair is glossy and expertly cut and styled. His deep-set brown eyes are shrewd and make just the right amount of eye contact with mine.

“Nice to meet you… Douglas,” I say.

“Thank you so much for coming today.” Douglas Garrick flashes me a grateful smile as he leads me into the expansive living room. “My wife Wendy usually does the housework—she takes pride in trying to do it all herself—but she hasn’t been feeling well, so I insisted on getting some help.”

His last statement strikes me as strange. Women who live in huge penthouse apartments like this generally don’t “try to do it all” themselves. Usually, women like this have maids for their maids.

“Of course,” I say. “You mentioned you’re looking for cooking and cleaning…?”

He nods. “General housekeeping stuff, like dusting, tidying, and laundry, of course. And meal preparation a few nights a week. Do you think that would be a problem?”

“Not at all.” I’m willing to agree to just about anything. “I’ve been cleaning apartments and houses for many years. I can bring my own cleaning supplies and—”

“No, that won’t be necessary,” Douglas interrupts me. “My wife… Wendy is very particular about cleaning supplies. She’s sensitive to smells, you see. It triggers her symptoms. You need to use our special cleaning products, or else…”

“Absolutely,” I say. “Whatever you’d like.”

“Wonderful.” His shoulders relax. “And we would need you to start right away.”

“That’s not a problem.”

“Good, good.” Douglas smiles apologetically. “Because, as you can see, this place is a bit of a mess.”

As I step into the living room, I take in my surroundings. Much like the rest of the building, this penthouse makes me feel like I’ve been transported into the past. Aside from the gorgeous leather sofa, most of the furniture looks like it was constructed hundreds of years ago and then frozen in time to be specially transported to this living room. If I knew more about home décor, I might be able to pinpoint that the coffee table was hand carved in the early twentieth century or that the bookcase with the glass doors came from, I don’t know, the French neoclassical revival period or something like that. All I can say for sure is that every item cost a small fortune.

And another thing I know is that this apartment is not a mess. It’s the opposite of a mess. If I were to start cleaning, I’m not even sure what I would do. I would need a microscope to find a speck of dust.

“I’m happy to start whenever you want,” I say carefully.

“Fantastic.” Douglas nods in approval. “I’m so pleased to hear that.

Why don’t you have a seat so we can chat further?”

I sit down beside Douglas on the sectional, sinking deep into the soft leather. Oh my God, this is the nicest thing I’ve ever felt against my skin. I could leave Brock and just marry this sofa instead, and all my needs would be met.

Douglas stares at me intently with his deep-set eyes beneath a pair of thick dark brown eyebrows. “So tell me about yourself, Millie.”

I appreciate from the start that there’s no hint of flirtation in his voice. His eyes stay respectfully pinned on mine and don’t drift down to my boobs or my legs. I’ve gotten involved with my employer only one time before, and I will never, ever go down that road again. I’d rather yank my own tooth out with a pair of pliers.

“Well.” I clear my throat. “I’m currently a student at the community college. I’m planning to become a social worker, but in the meantime, I’m paying my way through school.”

“That’s admirable.” He smiles, showing off a row of straight, white teeth. “And you have experience with cooking?”

I nod. “I’ve cooked for a lot of the families I work for. I’m not a professional, but I’ve taken a couple of classes. I also…” I glance around, unable to see any toys or signs of a child living here. “I babysit?”

Douglas flinches. “No need for that.”

I wince, cursing my big mouth. He never mentioned babysitting. I probably reminded him of some horrible infertility problems. “Sorry,” I say.

He shrugs. “No worries. How about a tour?”

The Garricks’ penthouse puts Amber’s uber-apartment to shame. This penthouse is an entirely different species of apartment. The living room is at least the size of an Olympic swimming pool. The corner contains a bar with half a dozen vintage barstools set up around it. Despite the antiquated theme of the living room, the kitchen has all of the latest appliances, including, I’m sure, the best dehydrator on the market.

“This should have everything you need,” Douglas tells me as he sweeps a hand across the vast expanse of the kitchen.

“Looks perfect,” I say, crossing my fingers that the oven comes with some sort of manual to explain what each of the two dozen buttons on the display is supposed to do.

“Excellent,” he says. “Now let me show you the second floor.” Second floor?

Apartments in Manhattan do not have two floors. But apparently, this one does. Douglas takes me on a tour of the upstairs, leading me to at least half a dozen bedrooms. The master bedroom is so large that I need a pair of binoculars to see the king-size bed at the other end of the room. There’s one room that is entirely books, and I am vaguely reminded of that scene in

Beauty and the Beast when Belle is taken into the book room. Another room seems to include a wall full of pillows. I guess that’s the pillow room. After he takes me into a room that contains what must be an artificial fireplace, and one entire wall is a huge window with a breathtaking view of the New York City skyline, we come to one final door. He hesitates, his fist

poised to knock.

“This is our guest bedroom,” he tells me. “Wendy has been in here recovering. I probably should let her rest.”

“I’m sorry to hear your wife is ill,” I say.

“She’s been sick for most of our marriage,” he explains. “She suffers from a… a chronic illness. She has good days and bad days. Sometimes she’s her usual self, and then other days she can barely get out of bed. And other days…”


“Nothing.” He offers a weak smile. “Anyway, if the door is closed, just leave her alone. She needs her rest.”

“I completely understand.”

Douglas stares at the door for a moment, a troubled expression on his face. He touches the door with his fingertips, then he shakes his head.

“So, Millie,” he says, “when can you start?”

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