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Maid for Montero

By:Kim Lawrence

CHAPTER ONE

SOME MEN IN Isandro’s position would have whined about press intrusion. He didn’t. He considered he had little to complain about in life, and he knew it was perfectly possible, even for someone whose financial empire drew the sort of global media attention that his did, to have a private life.

Of course, if his taste had run to falling out of nightclubs in the small hours or the routine attendance of film premieres with scantily clad models, it might have been more difficult, but neither pastime held any appeal for him.

He viewed security as a necessary evil, a side effect of success—like midges in the Highlands—but he was hardly a recluse who lived his life behind ten-feet-high walls.

If he had had a family to consider, possibly he might have seen potential danger lurking around every corner, but he didn’t. He only had an ex-wife, with whom he exchanged Christmas cards these days rather than insults, and a father he had very little contact with. Given that he was confident in his ability to look after himself, Isandro was not alarmed when the electronic gates that guarded the entrance to his English estate—which did actually have ten-feet-high walls—did not swing open as he approached, for they were already open.

Slowing his car, he swept the area with narrow-eyed, irritated speculation. While he didn’t automatically assume this suggested anything dark and sinister, it did suggest a carelessness that he did not expect from those who worked for him.

The groove between his dark, strongly defined brows and his level of irritation deepened as his glance lighted on a brightly coloured bunch of balloons attached to an overhanging branch that looked incongruous beside the discreetly tasteful sign that simply read ‘Ravenwood House: Private’.

He had owned Ravenwood for three years, and in that time on the admittedly rare occasions he had visited he had never found cause for complaint, which was nothing less than expected. He employed the best, be they corporate executives or gardening staff, paid them extremely well and expected them to earn their salary.

It was not a complicated formula but one that he found worked, and if it didn’t…He was not a man renowned for patience or sentimentality in his professional or personal life. If those in his employ didn’t perform to the high standards he expected and deliver the goods they did not remain in his employ.

He opened the window, reached out and caught hold of the string dangling from the balloons. As he tugged two popped on the branches and the rest rose into the air, embracing their freedom. Following their merry progress with his eyes, he frowned before he pulled his head back in. He was not ready to read anything significant into the open gates or the balloons, but there had been a recent staff change, and the housekeeper did play a pivotal role at Ravenwood.

The previous postholder had not only been efficient, but had combined excellent man-management skills with the ability to blend into the background. She had never been obtrusive.

Under her watch he could not imagine open gates, invisible security or balloons. It was always possible none was connected with the new housekeeper, and he kept an open mind on the subject, innocent until proved guilty. No one could say that he wasn’t scrupulously fair, and he made allowances for human error.

What he couldn’t live with was incompetence.

He was prepared at this point to believe that the new housekeeper was as perfect as his personal assistant, who had interviewed the candidates, had indicated. He trusted Tom’s judgement, as the younger man had always shown it to be excellent and it had been his efforts and diplomacy that had gone a long way to soothing local ill will when Isandro had bought the hall.

Three years ago the local community had greeted the change of ownership of the local estate with deep suspicion bordering on hostility. The family that had given the house and the village their name had contributed nothing tangible to the local economy in decades, and the previous owner spent more time falling out of nightclubs and entering rehab clinics than repairing the roof or earning money to do so—so the locals’ blind loyalty to them seemed perverse to Isandro.

With Tom’s help he had addressed the situation with his usual pragmatism. He did not wish to be best friends with his neighbours, but neither did he want the inconvenience of being at war with them. The initial stream of complaints had faded to a trickle and visits from officials with clipboards from conservation and heritage groups that had halted work on the house and grounds had lessened and eventually vanished. He made a point of employing only local artisans and firms on the restoration work and made a donation that had put a new roof on the leaking church.

He considered the situation resolved.

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