Lady Hideaway Ch. 02byBlulady©
It wasn’t like Conner to get overly excited about a job, but all day he had been thinking about seeing Tessa. He had been looking forward to it. There was something about her that made him want to know more. He had done a lot of thinking over the matter, and over why she hid away in that house. He knew he felt sorry for her; whatever fears may have kept her locked away saddened him. He wanted to know more, but it was none of his business. He was simply glad she had asked him to keep working, whether he would have the chance to get to know her or not, besides he wanted to see the place where she spent most of her time hiding.
He had knocked on the door, and this time waited until he heard the deadbolts sliding. Tessa didn’t open the door on her own but had called for him to come inside. She seemed fidgety today, but perhaps no more than usual. He immediately had noticed she was back to wearing the pudgy sweats, pants and shirt, and her hair was pinned tightly into a bun behind her head. He wondered if it had anything to do with the way he had been gawking at her the previous night. He almost regretted the way he had stared so openly, but hell, it wasn’t his fault that he was born with eyes.
Tessa had felt entirely intimidated, leading someone up her stairs. No one went up there. When her family came to visit it would be limited to downstairs, and Conner was a stranger. She was tempted to back out, tell him she had changed her mind. She hated that the idea of bringing him upstairs hadn’t concerned her when she had offered the job. She simply hadn’t been thinking, in fact, she hadn’t been feeling, at least not the apprehension and terror she should have felt over it.
So why wasn’t she backing out now? Why was she leading him up the stairs? He was keeping a cautious distance so she didn’t feel like he was stalking her. That was good, but it made her self conscious as she wondered what her loving but sometimes overbearing stepfather had told Conner about her. Obviously Conner was aware of her ‘condition’ she had made that clear enough, the way she couldn’t control herself when she became frightened. It was even embarrassing for Tessa; an emotion she had not felt over her situation in some while. She wanted to act brave around Conner; of course so far she had failed miserably at it.
She led him straight to her office, not even bothering to give him a tour, but he was looking on his own. He discovered the upstairs was much more homey than the downstairs had been when he first arrived. One of the doors was closed; he decided that must be her bedroom. The second door was a bathroom, a rather large one with potpourri piled into large bowls. He decided that was where the strong flower fragrance he had been noticing came from. The second door had led to her office, and he was rather impressed by it.
Tessa had taken the master bedroom as her office, in one corner there was a large oak desk, neatly organized with a desktop computer and a laptop folded not far from it. There was a sofa at another end of the room cradling in a second entertainment center, where there were shelves full of books and movies, in alphabetical order no less. The carpet was thick and clean and he was glad he hadn’t worn his work boots today. Other than the dingy wallpaper and old paint, the room was perfect. He imagined that Tessa spent most of her time here.
Conner could tell that she was entirely uneasy over bringing him up here, even if it was for a job, so he had been patient, he didn’t ask any questions, deciding he would let her do the talking. She had gone immediately to her desk and opened a drawer, and he waited patiently at least five feet behind her. Any closer and he feared he might scare her again.
Tessa lifted the check and turned to face him finally, surprised to find he looked nervous for once, but she was in no position to make him feel more comfortable as she fought her own nerves. She had noticed at the front door that he looked different today. For one thing, he wasn’t covered in paint. His cloths were quite clean, and his black t-shirt hung securely to his frame, sagging only a few inches over his jeans, and he smelled good. She could smell him even from across the room. She tried to ignore the male scent and held out the check as she took only a step forward, holding the thin piece of paper as far from her as she could.
“This should agree with you,” She said, and her tone took him by surprise, she was suddenly all business, he wondered if being in her office gave her a sense of confidence, “You can start whenever you want.”
Conner used the check she was holding out as an excuse to move closer without alarming her. He stopped when he came close enough so that all he had to do was lift his elbow to take the payment, but he didn’t reach for it.
“Actually,” He smiled, “I wanted to talk to you about that. The first check was enough for both jobs. You don’t need to pay me this time.”
Tessa suddenly looked confused. She had no problem paying him; in fact she would feel better about paying him, no matter what he said. She couldn’t help wondering if this gesture was being made because he pitied her. She hated it when people pitied her. She was perfectly capable of paying for his work. She was quite successful at her business and because she didn’t spend money the way other people did, she had worked up quite a savings account.
“Please take it Mr. Desway.” Her tone had suddenly stiffened, “I can’t hire you if you don’t.”
Conner wanted to argue. He had never in his life come across a customer who had tried to get out of having something done for free, and this time it wasn’t exactly free, her first payment had been enough and he had no desire to take advantage of her. But he thought arguing would only make it worse, so he reluctantly took the check and folded it into his wallet before looked at her again.
“Can I take a look around?” He asked.
Tessa nodded and stood still as he began to circle the room and looked over the walls, mentally noting what he would have to move in order to complete his job.
“There’s one more room isn’t there?” he asked, not wanting to ask to see her bedroom outright.
It seemed like a good choice, to be careful in his wording, as she reluctantly nodded and led him back through the hall to where her bedroom was. She didn’t go in with him; she waited outside as he took a quick look around. Her bedroom was smaller than her office, with a tall bed at the center, a simple dresser and more potpourri filled bowls.
Conner didn’t stay in there for long, not the way he felt her bright eyes nervously glaring. He asked a few more questions, wondering how he was supposed to work and when, not wanting to disturb her. He had expected her to be hiding downstairs now that he would be working upstairs, and was curious to see how this would work, but she simply told him he could start whenever he wanted.
Conner had decided to start in the next few days. Every morning was the same as before, he didn’t come too early and he had to use the doctor’s key to get in. He never saw Tessa initially; she was always hiding away in the kitchen with a cup of coffee. He had decided to start with the bedroom, deciding he could have it all put back together for her in one day, and was pleasantly surprised when he saw she had already packed most of the smaller things into the closet leaving only the furniture for him to move around.
By the middle of the day Tessa would end up in her office, and he was surprised again when he heard her talking on the phone several times, sounding just like everyone else. She was speaking to clients no doubt, the way she seemed so charming, and yet all business. Conner liked to listen to the conversations, not so much listening to the words as he did to the new tone in her voice. He wished he could talk to her like that, with no guards up, he wanted to ask for her number just so he could have a real conversation with her, but did not act on the impulse.
He spent the next days painting the upstairs. He was pleased that she had chosen more colors this time. Her room he painted a pale blue, and he couldn’t help picturing her sleeping in the room. He thought she must look peaceful when she sleeps, not at all tense and withdrawn. The hall remained white, but the office was being painted a deep red color.
The office was the most difficult to paint, mostly because Tessa was usually in it, but he liked her presence and moved around it. He noticed she didn’t take any calls when he was there, but that was all right. He was able to make the occasional conversation with her, not really talking about anything special. They had the same interest in some books, and even some movies. After a few days Tessa was hardly twitching when he entered the room. Progress, he thought.
Conner found himself working slower than usual again. He knew he could finish on the third day, but he didn’t want to. He was drawing this out, wanting badly to ask her so many things, but he couldn’t bring himself to do it. He knew he would be finished by the next day, it would be a weekend, so technically he could draw this out a few more days, but it wasn’t worth it if he wouldn’t even be able to see her.
It was already past six thirty. Tessa had stopped working and was on one of the sofas reading her book and Conner was still working, knowing he should stop soon before she kicked him out. He had noticed the way she hadn’t retreated somewhere else with her book, so he had stayed longer than he had intended.
When he began to clean up for the night he noticed her look up from her book and he flashed her a small smile. He thought maybe she had almost smiled back, but she was difficult to read. He also thought she might have blushed, and wondered what kind of book she was reading.
“I’m out of here.” He grinned, “I’ll be back in the morning to finish up.”
Tessa nodded; apparently she had no objections to him coming on a Saturday. She put down her book to walk him out. He liked how she had started walking down the stairs with him, saying her goodbyes. Tonight was no different as she walked downstairs and kept her distance from the door.
Conner turned to say goodbye when a loud thud came into his ears and his eyes widened. Something had it the door and it had made Tessa jump. Conner looked at her, noticing she was timidly moving back towards the stairs, and then a second thud came. Conner curiously opened the door, even if it frightened her, and he was able to close it again just before a third raw egg splattered against the wood.
Tessa was about to run for the stairs, needing to get away, but her eyes were trapped on Conner as he glanced towards her again, and then she saw a side to him she had not seen before as his eyes narrowed angrily and he swung the door open, setting his eyes on the two juveniles hiding in the bushes. Two young boys who obviously liked to terrorize their ‘strange’ neighbor.
“Hey!” Conner shouted, lunging out the door and closing it behind him.
Tessa’s eyes widened as her heart began to race. Every part of her body urged her upstairs but her curiosity drove her to the window where she pulled the curtains back and looked out to where Conner was holding the two boys by their ears. She couldn’t tell what he was saying to them, but he looked angry and one boy was crying.
Tessa was stunned. She was used to being the occasional target for such juvenile activities, and it always frightened her. The youngest adolescents could send her into panic with their cruel jokes, and in one minute Conner had managed to turn the tables. She didn’t know if she wanted to laugh or run away crying.
She saw him heading back to the house, and she almost vomited, realizing that he was bringing the boys with him. She dropped the curtain and wanted to run. She needed to run. Certainly he wouldn’t bring them in here! He didn’t.
“Don’t move.” Conner told the boys as he opened the door to the house and came back inside, his look softening as his eyes fell on Tessa. “Are you alright?”
Tessa forced herself to nod.
“I’ll be right back.” He told her.
She was at a loss, standing entirely still until he came back from the kitchen with some rags and a bucket of water. She watched him open the door and heard him as he handed the equipment to the boys.
“It better shine.” Conner warned, “And while you’re at it clean the windows.”
Tessa heard a ‘yes sir’ before the door closed again and Conner looked at her.
“I can stay until they’re finished.” Conner offered, “It shouldn’t take long… you know not all kids are so bad.”
Tessa tried not to look too frightened as she crossed her arms. Conner was there; apparently there was no need to be frightened; yet she was. She tried to mask her fear by responding.
“Do you have children?” She asked.
“No, my wife never wanted kids.”
“Your married?” Tessa attempted not to look as surprised as she was.
“Happily divorced.” He laughed. “What about you?”
Conner knew it was a stupid question, but wanted to treat her like everyone else.
“I’ve never been married.” She replied, “No children either.”
Conner saw the concern return to her face as she listened to the boys work outside. He was annoyed that anyone could be so cruel. He knew Tessa wasn’t the crazy old woman everyone assumed lived here, and he wished they could all know that.
“Do they bother you a lot?” He asked.
“I’m sort of used to it.”
“No one should get used to that.” he stated, “They won’t bother you anymore Tessa.”
She heard the protective tone in his voice and something about it brought butterflies to her stomach and just for a moment she had lowered her shield enough to do something she wouldn’t normally have done. She seemed to be doing a lot of things that were unlike her around Conner.
“Do you want to stay for dinner?” She asked.
Conner was taken aback by the invitation. He wouldn’t have expected it, not in this lifetime. He felt a smile curl over his lips as he realized just how much he had wanted an invitation like this.
“Sure,” was all that he could manage.
Tessa gave him her shy nod and proceeded to the kitchen without him. She could hear him giving more orders to the boys and she couldn’t help smiling over it. She was beginning to believe that maybe now they wouldn’t be bothering her anymore.
She cooked fish, red potatoes, and some broccoli for supper. It had been a while since she had cooked for anyone other than herself, and she was feeling nervous over whether or not Conner would like her cooking, and that made her put an extra effort into it.
Tessa tried not to be too jumpy when Conner moved around her, helping to set the small table. It wasn’t really him who was making her jumpy at the moment. Conner had scolded the boys into not only cleaning the egg from her house but also raking the dried grass from the yard and weeding what used to be a flower garden, nothing grew in it but weeds now, so she wondered why he had made the boys do it. Either way, the sounds from outside where the boys worked were nerve-racking.
Conner wasn’t entirely fond of fish, but he liked the way Tessa cooked and he told her so. He had dealt with shy women before, but Tessa had barely managed to get a ‘thank you’ out when he complemented her, and as they ate she kept her eyes down on her plate.
He was contemplating a way to get her to start talking to him when he realized that he was thinking of this as a date. Damn. He had no business thinking of her invitation as a date, or her as a woman he was interested in dating. But he definitely felt something there. Conner was no stranger to dating women, he had done a lot of it just after his divorce, and although he had slowed down a bit since then he never hesitated when he was interested in someone, but Tessa was different. He knew nothing about her other than what she did for a living and that she was afraid of her own shadow.
He definitely couldn’t entertain the idea of getting involved with her… but it wasn’t so simple. Even when he was painting her house he had felt like he was being sucked into this lonely world of hers. It was like he lived in two different realities sometimes, the real world where he worked and went drinking with his friends, where he longed to get away for a quiet break, and Tessa’s world, where he realized he was already away from what he needed a break from. But when he was with Tessa, he found himself wishing that he could be away getting to know her, not just trapped as a silent presence beside her.
Her voice snapped him out of his thoughts and he was suddenly wondering if he had looked bored, he wasn’t bored, and he didn’t want her to think that. Then again, he wasn’t exactly doing his best to make sure that she wasn’t bored either. He wondered if she was regretting inviting him to stay for dinner.
He smiled, noticing she had not used his last name first.
“I think you left something here last week.” She said, “I was going to mention it before, but I didn’t remember until now.”
“Really, what?” He smiled, straining to remember what he could have left.
“In the freezer…” she pointed.
“Oh,” Conner smiled, already knowing what she was getting at, “The ice cream, no, I meant to leave that here… there was nothing involving sugar on your grocery list, so I added it.”
Tessa stared a moment, a little stunned. He had painted her walls how he saw fit, sure, she liked it, but he had also taken it upon himself to change her eating habits. What was with this guy? And why was she so drawn to him?
“But I don’t eat ice cream.” She stated, half expecting an apology, but instead he gave her that half grin that made her tummy do flip-flops.
“Well you should start.” He stated, looking at her plate, seeing most of the food on it was gone, “Are you finished?”
Tessa glanced at her plate, realizing they had both been done with supper for several minutes. She began to lift it without answering and nearly jumped out of her skin when she realized he was over her, taking her plate.
“Sorry.” He chuckled, suddenly treating her fright like it was no big deal.
What was going on here? Tessa wondered, watching him take his plate and hers to the sink. She knew she wasn’t imagining his caution before, but now he was in her kitchen, washing the dinner plates like he had passed the point of being a guest, like they were old friends even, and Tessa sort of liked it. She watched in silence as he opened the freezer and removed the carton of ice cream, still wrapped in the plastic market bag.
“Bowls?” He asked.
Tessa was so perplexed that all she could do was point. What the hell did he think he was doing? She jumped again when he placed the bowl of ice cream in front of her and took another back to his seat. She watched as he took a small bite and a satisfied smile curled his lips.
“Trust me.” He said, pointing at her bowl.
Trust him? Trust was the word that stuck out. Tessa did not trust people. She did not trust inanimate objects. She hardly trusted herself. Conner was a stranger, but nonetheless she was lifting her spoon and cautiously taking a bite of the dark chocolate ice cream in front of her. She had had ice cream before, but it must have been years since the last time, and even longer since she had tasted chocolate. She didn’t realize that she was smiling until she looked up at Conner and he was smiling back.
“Told you so.” He mused in a childish tone.
Conner wasn’t even sure what had gotten into him, he only knew he had decided moments ago to just be himself. He liked seeing her smile; it was a rarity and a treat. He hid the relief he felt, he had been worried she wouldn’t appreciate his change to her grocery list once she actually had mentioned it.
“So you’re a know-it-all.” Tessa remarked.
Conner raised his eyebrows at the playful tone in her voice. He had not expected it. He noticed she didn’t expect it either, as she blushed and her gaze drifted from him again. The innocence about her made her attractive, even with the oversized sweats. He couldn’t really control his staring again, everything about this woman made him curious. Usually people didn’t surprise Conner. He could read most well enough, but Tessa was so different. He wondered what she would be like if she ever let all her inhibitions down. Feisty was the only word he could think of. He decided she would be feisty if she weren’t so afraid.