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Maid for Love (A Romantic Comedy)
 


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Maid for Love (A Romantic Comedy)


  MAID FOR LOVE

  A Romantic Comedy

  By

  Caroline Mickelson

  Copyright 2014 Caroline Mickelson

  Published by Bon Accord Press

  For Leah-Annie

  with much love always!

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  www.carolinemickelson.com

  CHAPTER ONE

  “You’re certain you can’t remember anything at all?” Zoe Watson gazed intently at her client, searching for a sign that her attempt to erase the woman’s painful memory had been successful.

  Mrs. Hendrickson blinked twice and then stared at Zoe, confusion evident by the way she furrowed her brow. “What is it that you want me to remember?”

  Zoe settled back against the sofa cushions with more than a bit of satisfaction at a job well done. Her client’s befuddled expression was almost all of the assurance she needed that she’d helped to erase a hurtful memory. But still, she needed to double check. “You were telling me about your husband and how he had to go out of town on business for several weeks right after your twins were born. You were saying that he should have known you needed him here.”

  A sweet smile played on the new mother’s lips. “Well, I was probably making too big a deal about it. I know he needed to go. What matters most is how much he loves us, right?”

  Zoe nodded. “Exactly.”

  “And wasn’t it the sweetest thing that he hired your company to come in and clean?” She looked around the living room. “Everything looks spectacular. I feel so much happier than I did when you arrived.”

  Zoe got to her feet. “Happy is what we aim for.”

  “I’d love it if you were able to send one of your cleaning crews out on a regular basis,” she said over her shoulder as she led Zoe toward the front door. “Is that possible?”

  “I’m afraid not,” Zoe answered. “Maid for Love specializes in one time deep cleaning.” Well, that and the removal of contentious memories that get between loved ones. She reached into her handbag for a business card and handed it to the other woman. “I highly recommend this cleaning service that is happy to come in on a regular basis. They’re top-notch.”

  “Thank you for everything, Zoe. I feel so much more at peace now.”

  Zoe’s smile was warm. This was the best part of her job, and she loved it. “Thank your husband when he gets home tonight. He’s the one who reached out to us.”

  “Trust me, I’m going to thank him like he’s never been thanked.”

  Zoe’s grin stayed in place long after she’d waved goodbye and headed back toward the office. She reached for the car radio at the same time that her Bluetooth beeped. She tapped the hands-free device. “Maid for Love, this is Zoe.”

  “Hello, Zoe, it’s your under-paid and under-appreciated executive assistant calling.”

  “Hello, Mother.” Zoe glanced in her rear view mirror and switched lanes. “If you’re calling to ask for a raise, the answer is no because you don’t need the money. But if you’re calling for praise, you certainly deserve that. You’re the best scheduler any daughter could ask for.”

  “I’ll settle for that,” her mother chirped. “So how did the Hendrickson job go?”

  “Very well, I’m happy to say. Not only is their house spic and span, but I think I was able to completely wipe out any lingering resentment that Mrs. Hendrickson was holding onto. Mission accomplished.”

  “I’m proud of you, Zoe. You’ve learned to use your gift for such good.”

  "Thank you." Zoe came from a long line of women each born with a unique gift. Her gift, she’d learned by the time she’d reached middle school, was helping people forget painful, hurtful, or sad moments in their lives. Compared to so many of her other relatives' abilities, it had seemed a paltry one. But with her mother’s support and encouragement, she’d learned to embrace her ability. Together they’d come up for the idea of starting Maid for Love, a cleaning service that eliminated not only dust and clutter, but included a visit from Zoe that resulted in the detection and release of a sad or hurtful memory. Her aunt had once described what Zoe did as ‘removing emotional thorns’. “You've been a huge part of our success. I owe you.”

  Her mother didn’t miss a beat. “Wonderful of you to say that. I’d like to collect today.”

  Alarm bells began to ring in Zoe’s head. Despite the fact that her mother was in Florida, and Zoe was in Connecticut, there was no end to the amount of well-intentioned chaos that her mother could cause. “If this has anything to do with a blind date-”

  “Don’t be silly,” her mother cut her off. “It’s not anything personal in nature. Although it goes without saying that, I think you should get out more. Meet a nice man, settle down, make me a grandmother…am I asking too much?”

  From experience, Zoe knew it was best to sidestep that quagmire entirely. “What was it that you needed?”

  “I’ve just booked a new client.”

  So far so good. “Great. Text me the details.”

  “I will, darling.” Silence filled the few thousand miles between them for a long moment before her mother spoke again. “There’s just one more little thing.”

  Her mother’s idea of ‘one more little thing’ never ended up being little at all. Zoe took a deep breath and then slowly exhaled as she counted to ten. When it came to her mother, a little zen went a long way. “What might that be?”

  “The client is a single man-”

  “Hold on there, I’m cutting you off at the pass. We’ve been over this at least a million times-”

  “Don’t exaggerate, Zoe dear,” her mother interrupted. “It’s probably only been half a million times. Besides, you’re getting off topic. This is strictly business.”

  “You swear you’re not match-making?”

  “I swear I’m not.”

  Zoe pulled her SUV into the reserved parking space in front of Maid for Love’s office. She switched off the engine but didn’t get out of the car. “I’m listening.”

  “The good news is that it’s a lucrative contract.”

  Zoe leaned back against the headrest and closed her eyes. “What’s the bad news?”

  “There isn’t any bad news. There’s just a difference in how we’re going to handle this particular client.”

  “Define 'difference', Mother.”

  “The contract calls for multiple visits.” Her mother continued on without stopping to draw a breath. “It’s not what you’re thinking. The house isn’t filthy dirty or anything.”

  “So then I am left to assume that the memory extraction is complicated.”

  “No, it’s not that either. Not exactly.”

  Zoe opened her eyes and glanced at the dashboard clock. If her mother kept tap dancing around the truth, this could take all afternoon. “So why did you break our one-time visit rule?”

  “The man has two teenagers staying with him for the summer, Zoe. Teenagers are messy creatures by nature, and these two appear to be no exception. He’s simply a confirmed bachelor who is in way over his head. I took pity on him.”

  Past experience had long ago taught Zoe that things with her mother were never quite this simple. “That’s it? You’re sure?”

  “I swear that I’m telling the truth. You’ll see for yourself when you go over for the initial meeting.”

  Zoe rubbed her eyes. “I’ll think about it, Mother.”

  “Well, think quickly, won’t you? You need to be over at his house in less than an hour. I’ll email you a copy of the contract and the address. Love you, darling.” Her rushed farew
ell was instantaneously followed by the sound of a dial tone.

  Zoe tossed her keys into her purse and got out of the car. Something wasn’t right but there was nothing she could do about it now. Maid for Love enjoyed more than a fair bit of success, due in great part to glowing referrals. Canceling this contract without even meeting the client seemed a bit reactive. Perhaps everything was on the up and up, and she was just being too hard on her mother. Zoe pushed open the office door and stood for a moment to enjoy the blast of cold air conditioning that hit her. She could at least meet the client, right? Not that she’d ever admit it to her mother, not even under the threat of torture, but her social life was dead in the water so it wasn’t like she had to rush home.

  Decision made then. She’d meet this client and scope out both his house and his troubled psyche and see what she could do. How bad could it be?

  ***

  Michael Archer was a man who thrived on challenges. At least he thought so before his home was invaded by two teenagers. It was only then that he realized that he preferred professional challenges to personal ones. He surveyed the disaster that used to be his pristine kitchen. Thrive? Not the goal anymore. He’d settle for survive.

  “Hey, Uncle Michael.”

  A small smile tugged at Michael’s lips. “Hey, yourself.” He resisted the urge to reach out and tousle his nephew’s hair the way he’d done when Josh had been little. Instead, he kept his hands wrapped around his coffee mug. "Act casual so as not to spook them", had been his sister’s parting advice as she left for a two month cruise with her husband. At the time, the advice had sounded like he was going to be watching her two cats instead of her two kids. But what did he know? He’d never had either a cat or kid. It was probably best to stick to her advice. “How’d you sleep?”

  Josh shrugged. “Okay.”

  “Great. Glad to hear it. Did you make your bed?” As soon as the words were out of his mouth, Michael realized he sounded just like his own mother. “Not that it matters. It’s your room while you’re here. I want you to feel at home.”

  “Thanks.”

  Michael watched as his nephew poured the contents of three different almost empty cereal boxes into one bowl. Hadn’t he just bought that cereal two days ago? He made a mental note to replace them and buy more. He’d forgotten how much teenage boys ate. “Where’s Kathryn?”

  His mouth too full to talk, Josh nodded in the direction of the living room.

  “Right, well, when you’re finished with your breakfast, meet us in there. I need to talk to you both.”

  He found his niece curled up on the sofa, cell phone in hand, her thumbs moving across the screen like it was a concert piano and she was giving the performance of her lifetime.

  She glanced up briefly as he settled into the chair across from her. “Hey.”

  “Hey, yourself,” he said for the second time that day.

  “With you in a minute,” Kathryn said before she turned her attention back to her phone.

  At thirty-six years old, Michael was too old to have had a cell phone when he was a teenager. Which, judging by the way Josh and Kathryn acted like theirs was an oxygen tank that they had to stay attached to in order to survive, didn’t leave him feeling like he’d missed anything. He’d kept a quarter in his wallet for emergencies and he’d managed just fine.

  Kathryn slipped her phone in her pocket just as her brother flopped down beside her. “What’s up, Uncle M?”

  Michael smiled at the use of her childhood nickname for him. These kids weren’t strangers to him, they were his flesh and blood. His family. He’d known them since they could barely open their eyes. This was all going to work out just fine. “I just wanted to check in with you two before I leave for work. You’re settling in okay?”

  They both nodded.

  “Good. Got everything you need?”

  Again with the nods. Perhaps he should try an open-ended question next. “As your mom told you, I have to work this week. But I’m taking next week off and I thought we could go away for a few days. Have our own little summer break. Any ideas where you’d like to go?”

  Josh answered first. “The Jersey shore?”

  Kathryn made a face at her brother’s suggestion. “Hollywood sounds better.”

  Michael took a sip of his coffee and then set the mug on the coffee table. More accurately, he set it on top of his niece’s stack of magazines that were strewn all over the coffee table. “I was thinking more along the lines of Nantucket.”

  He watched as Josh and Kathryn exchanged a glance and a shrug. He breathed a sigh of relief because he assumed that exchange to be teen-speak for ‘whatever’. Good enough for him. “There’s just one more thing we’ve got to work out so we can have a harmonious two months.” He waved a hand around the room. “I’m not used to living in such disarray.”

  “Disarray?” Josh looked puzzled.

  “Mess,” Michael clarified. “Clutter. You know, all the piles of stuff strewn about. It’s all a bit much.”

  The two teens shared a knowing look.

  “What?”

  Josh spoke first. “Do you have a girlfriend?”

  Michael’s eyebrows rose. “Did we just change the subject?”

  Kathryn grabbed a cushion and hugged it to her chest. “No. Not really. There’s just something we want to know.”

  “Go ahead.”

  “Are you gay?”

  Michael struggled to come up with a response. “Gay?” he finally managed to choke out. “Is that what you just said?”

  “Because it wouldn’t matter to us, Uncle M,” Kathryn’s words tumbled out in a rush. “We love you just the way you are.”

  A slow smile spread across Michael’s face and warmth filled his heart. As messy as the kids were, and as far off the mark as they were, they were good kids. “No, I’m not gay. But I appreciate the offer of unconditional support and love. But I have to call you two out on perpetuating stereotypes. Not all men who live alone and appreciate neatness are gay. I just haven’t met the right woman yet.” His smile slipped as he realized he’d just lied to the kids. He had met the right woman. He’d also let her get away. He couldn’t imagine any other woman in the world would ever compare to Zoe. But he didn’t want to go there now.

  “What about the lady you were dating last year?”

  How had they gotten so far away from the topic of picking up after themselves? “What are you talking about, Kathryn?”

  “Mom said that you were dating someone last year who made you really happy. She said you were totally in love.”

  Josh’s expression could only be classified as a smirk. “Yeah, Mom says you really blew it by letting her get away.”

  “I didn’t let her get away. She…wait, why am I explaining this to you guys?”

  “Because we love you and we care about your happiness, Uncle M.”

  Josh nodded. “Yeah, Kathryn’s right. We don’t want you to grow old alone. Living here in this house, with no one around to care about you, that’s not cool. It seems to me that you’re concerned about your house being in order but you really might want to get this straightened out.” He tapped his chest.

  Michael looked between them without saying anything for a long moment. What had happened to the two children who used to tear through his house like it was on fire and they were the ones shooting flaming arrows? “You know, Josh buddy, it’s a little hard for me to take romantic advice from someone who, not so long ago, wanted to put a frog in my freezer.” He stood. “Look, I know you two mean well and I appreciate it, but I’m still not ready to talk about what happened with-” but he stopped himself just in time. Even now, almost a year after she’d dumped him, it was still hard to think about Zoe, let alone say her name. “Let’s get back on topic.”

  His niece and nephew stared up expectantly at him.

  “We were talking about the mess,” he reminded them. “I get that it’s a teenage thing but we’re going to have to compromise if we’re going to be living together
for a couple of months. I’m prepared to offer you a deal. You want to hear the terms?”

  They nodded in perfect unison.

  “It’s a take-it or leave-it deal. Well, actually it’s a take-it or take-it deal so I urge you to accept my offer. I get that you’re teenagers and that’s cool. But I can’t deal with the clutter. So, if you are willing to pick up after yourselves, I’m willing to pay for a housekeeper so you don’t have to do any actual housework. Agreed?”

  He watched as Kathryn and Josh bumped their fists together. “I take it that’s a yes?”

  They agreed at the speed of light.

  “Great. Now I’ve got to get to the office, but there’s a woman coming in a little while from the housekeeping agency just to have a look around and see what needs to be done before we schedule the first visit. Can you two handle that?”

  “Got it.”

  “And we’ll start picking up our stuff, too,” Kathryn assured him.

  Michael felt rather pleased with himself. He’d not only secured an agreement from the kids that they’d pick up, he’d gotten them off the topic of his love life. Not bad for a morning’s work. “I’m off then. Call if you need me.”

  The front door bell rang just as Michael was about to open the door, which he took as a sign that this arrangement was going to work out just fine. His summer was starting to look stress-free, just the way he wanted it. He opened the door and his gaze settled on the woman who stood on his doorstep. She was young, brunette, and beautiful. He felt the air leave his lungs as if he’d been sucker punched. The woman was Zoe.

  CHAPTER TWO

  Zoe stared at the man in front of her. It was Michael Archer. Her Michael Archer. The man who not only stole her heart, but had the audacity to suggest they had a future together. She’d put an end to that by erasing his memory of meeting her. And now here they were again. Except that Michael didn’t remember her even if she remembered every moment they’d shared together. She struggled to maintain her composure as she managed a weak smile. “Hello, I’m here from Maid for Love.”

 
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