“The bread’s a bit stale, but you don’t mind, do you?” Moira Stanley asked softly. “Just nibble around the funky spots on the edge. That’s what I do.”
The rat didn’t answer. It gobbled up the chunk of white bread with all the gusto of eating the world’s most luxurious Christmas cake. And only the occasional muffled squeak telegraphed its delight.
Moira slowly reached down, picked up her Prada kitten heels, and placed them beside her on top of the bed.
Just in case.
Rats, cockroaches, spiders. She’d seen plenty over the years of cleaning other people’s homes, but she still liked to keep a healthy distance.
“I won’t have any bread for you tomorrow,” she continued in a quiet voice so as not to scare the little grey rat away. She looked at the handful of pound notes and coins laid out before her on the tatty bed cover. “Actually, I won’t have any bread for me either.”
Four days ago she’d been worth billions.
Today she was worth eighty pounds and thirty pence exactly.
She’d even left her credit cards behind. No, not her credit cards. His credit cards.
Picking up the four twenty-pound notes, she set them aside. “Well, that covers the room for today and tomorrow. Which leaves us…” she swiped the coins into a pile, “…thirty pence. Yay!”
She rubbed a weary hand across her face. Thirty pence might have bought her a bottle of water anywhere else in England, but in London, she’d be lucky if it bought her a bottle cap.
“And we need to make it stretch to breakfast, lunch, and dinner for God knows how long,” she murmured to the busily chomping rat. “That agency better get back quick with a job, or after tomorrow it’ll be a roofless, foodless, Merry Christmas.”
The rat ate on.
“You don’t care, do you?” she muttered.
The last of her bread, which she’d turned into a ketchup sandwich, was quietly dissolving into soggy mush on the bedside table. She’d bought the pack of white bread and the small bottle of ketchup days ago when the worst of the hunger pangs had struck. Cheap food that had quietened her stomach but tasted like tart paper mache. The rat loved the oozy bread though. It couldn’t get enough of the stuff after she’d coaxed it out of its hole in the wall three days ago.
“We have lunch…” Moira eyed the stale mushy sandwich half-heartedly. “But I understand if you don’t want to share. A few missed meals might do me good anyway,” she muttered, tapping her curvy hip. But then she frowned. “I don’t get it. There’s tons of cleaning work around Christmas time, what with the parties going on. But the agency keeps saying they’ve got nothing for me.”
The rat snuffled about and munched, oblivious to her plight.
Moira sighed. “I think they want me to stop pestering them and take Alessandro’s offer.”
Problem was, Alessandro’s offer was no longer about the job. It was now about her.
She moved the coins about in distracted little circles. She’d drowned in tears her first day here, but no one had come to dry her tears. The painful truth had faced her that without a paying job she wouldn’t survive. And she was determined to survive. So she’d gritted her teeth and returned to the work she’d known before her marriage. Housekeeping.
The agency she’d called for a job had given her details to a businessman desperate for a housekeeper. He’d turned out to be Italian and more than she’d bargained for.
She picked up her phone from the bedside table and flicked to Alessandro’s photo that he’d sent her. “Way too dark, handsome, and sexy for his own good.” She smirked at the rat. “Sorry to say it, you’re cute and all, but you’ve a long way to go before you’ll compete at this level.”
The rat scurried in small circles, searching for the last crumbs. And finding none, it twitched its pink nose in the air and headed for its hole nearby. Moira reached over to her sandwich and tearing off another soggy chunk, threw it near the rat. It jumped on the bread and settled down to a new feast.
Moira settled back against her pillow. “I think Alessandro likes me. You know… like a man would. But why me? He could have any woman he wants.”
She’d sent Alessandro a photo of herself when he’d insisted. She was good-looking to an extent, but her plain brown hair, prettyish features and ordinary blue eyes were unlikely to stun a man as striking as him.
“But he’s kind. He always knows what to say… or text.” She waggled the phone in the rat’s direction. “Take notes. He cares and knows how to show it. That’s how you reach a woman’s heart, not by scoffing her sandwich without even a ‘thank you’.”
And she returned to studying Alessandro’s photo.
His first texts three days ago had been impersonal, more of an interview. He worked at a hotel and said he was always on the job, so he needed an affordable housekeeper to keep his home. She’d answered his questions as best she could. But her answers had intrigued him, and his texts had come more often, becoming sweeter, wanting to know more about her. And she’d ended up telling him everything, right down to the sorry breakup of her marriage.
Now he wanted her, and not just as his housekeeper.
The rat scrabbled about on the wooden floorboards, hoovering up breadcrumbs.
“You’re right. I need the job and a place to stay,” Moira said. “But also… It’s Christmas, and truth is… I don’t want to be alone.” She paused. “Alessandro said I wouldn’t be if I’m with him. But… I’m not sure I’m ready…” She sat back with a weary sigh and regarded the busy rat. “At least you’re a good listener. Thanks for being here with me.”
A heavy thump landed on her room door.
Moira dropped the phone and sat bolt upright, her heart beating a frantic tattoo in her chest. The rat gave a terrified squeak and disappeared into its hole…