Last night wasn’t a mistake.
That’s what she kept telling herself as she got up at the butt crack of dawn and drove to the airport after saying goodbye to her parents and while she dozed on and off on the rather quick flight. Last night was different and ended a bit weirdly, but it wasn’t a mistake. She had no idea why he left after getting her off without him doing the same, but she wasn’t going to stress over that, because her neurotic brain would somehow twist it to something that reflected negatively on her.
And what that beautiful man had done to her was too . . . too amazing to tarnish.
Before she’d boarded the plane, she’d given Anna a quick update. She didn’t go into details, much to her friend’s displeasure, but she did ask Anna if she had told him her last name. When the plane landed, she’d gotten her answer from Anna.
As far as Anna could remember, she hadn’t told him her last name.
That was incredibly bizarre, but she didn’t have the brain space to really stress over that at the moment. Her parents were worried about her, though. She could tell this morning that they thought she was making a bad life choice. Maybe her decision to take this nursing job in a state a thousand miles away was a huge mistake. Who knew? But it was most definitely, certifiably, the craziest thing she’d ever done.
Well, last night was probably a close second.
But the farthest she’d been from her hometown of Chambersburg was the short flight to Cleveland with her ex, Adam, to visit his family about five years ago. Taking a job that required her to move, even if it was temporarily, to a small town she’d never heard of outside of New Orleans was literally the opposite of what she’d typically do.
The town didn’t even sound like it had a real name. LaPlace? Julia gave a little shake of her head as she rode the escalator to baggage, where, according to a Mr. Besson, she’d meet the driver who would take her to the house. Mr. Besson had flat-out refused to allow her to rent a car, claiming that the home would be too difficult to find even using GPS.
Reassuring to know.
If Mr. Besson hadn’t been vetted through the agency, she’d be worried that she was about to hand deliver herself on a silver platter to a serial killer.
She dragged in the musty scent that seemed to pervade every nook and cranny of the airport. Okay, she was still a little concerned. It sounded like she’d be driving all the way out to the bayou, which she’d only recently learned was not the same thing as the swamp. Who knew?
Hand tight on the handle of the same piece of carry-on luggage she’d owned since forever, she tucked a stray piece of brown hair behind her ear as she took in the clusters of people huddled near the baggage carousels.
Reaching the end, she stepped to the side and swallowed hard. A nervous flutter picked up in her belly. Scanning over the men in dark suits with name cards, she told herself that it was too late to worry if this was a mistake.
She’d left her stable job at the assisted care facility.
Ended her contract with her apartment building.
Her car sold and the money transferred to a savings account she flat-out refused to touch since Mr. Besson assured her they’d have a vehicle for her to use during the assignment.
There was no going back and that was a good thing, because she had to leave. Something Anna understood, but her mother didn’t want to understand, didn’t want to see. Something she never wanted her father to find out.
The fluttering ceased as her stomach pitched. She wouldn’t think about Adam. Not now. Hopefully not ever again.
Tugging on the loose, pale pink blouse, she started toward the baggage carousel, but stopped and did a double take. Disbelief filled her as she saw JULIA HUGHES on the screen of one of those ginormous iPads that cost the same as a mortgage payment.
A young man dressed like he was escorting a diplomat to an important meeting was waiting for her. He wore a tailored black suit and shoes that were shinier than a diamond. There was no way he was her driver. There had to be some bizarre—
“Ms. Hughes?” the man asked, shoving the iPad under his arm as he stepped toward her. His gaze moved to her suitcase. “Is this your only luggage?”
How had he recognized her? Unease filled her stomach as she glanced around, not even sure what or who she was looking for. “Yes. It’s . . . it’s my only bag. I had—”
“Most of your belongings shipped ahead,” he answered for her, which was only a bit reassuring. “My name is Brett and I’ll be driving you today. May I?”
Julia blinked dumbly.
He smiled as he reached for her luggage, successfully prying the handle away from her. “Do you need to use a restroom before we leave? Where we’re going is about an hour from here.”
“Yes. No, I’m fine,” she corrected and felt her cheeks flush. “I’m sorry. I’m just a little out of it. Long morning.”
“Understandable.” He flashed a quick but warm smile. “If you’ll follow me?”
She did just that, following the brisk young man as he passed the carousels, grateful that she wore the flats instead of the heels. Unsure of how she should be dressed for the first meeting with her new employers, she’d worn the only pair of black trousers that still fit without feeling like they were cutting off the circulation to the entire lower half of her body. She’d rather have worn a nice pair of leggings for the flight.
Warm, tacky air greeted them as they stepped out into the garage. “Wow,” she said, holding the strap of her purse. “It’s pretty close.”
“This is nothing. Wait until summer really comes around,” Brett replied, fishing keys out of the pocket of his pants. “You’ll be praying for temps in the low eighties.”
Julia had read all about the infamous humid and hot conditions of New Orleans. Nothing about her was small and she didn’t get cold when the temps were in the fifties like her father who was on the thin side of slender. She had a bit of extra insulation. Okay. She had more than a bit, and there was no amount of diet or cardio that was ever changing the size of her hips or thighs, so she’d pretty much resigned herself to melting like the witch from Wizard of Oz.
Headlights flicked on and then Brett stopped behind a . . .
Was that a . . . a Mercedes?
Julia gaped at the sleek black sedan. What in the world? She’d never been inside a car like that in her entire life. She’d stood there so long staring at the car that probably cost more than her life savings that she didn’t even see Brett move to the back passenger door and open it for her.
Feeling about seven kinds of stupid, she hurried forward and slid into the backseat. Not as gracefully as a Mercedes deserved, but she got her butt inside without looking like a total fool.
And then she did look around the interior like a fool, barely resisting the urge to run her palm over what was surely a supple interior. The car smelled like she imagined a new one did, of pine and leather.
All of this felt surreal.
Brett was behind the wheel and the engine purred. Within moments, they were backing out of the garage and then her face was planted to the tinted windows as they found their way out of the airport and onto a major highway she’d only heard about on the news.
She had never been driven anywhere by anyone other than her family or friends, so the silence had her uncomfortably twisting her fingers together. “So, um, do you drive often for Mr. Besson?”
Brett chuckled. “Not often, thank God.”
Her eyes widened.
“They usually do their own thing, him and his wife, and I normally don’t do the driving. My father does, but he had an appointment today,” he explained. “Our families have worked together for, wow, for generations.”
For generations? Leaning back in the seat as she loosely folded her arms in her lap, she figured that must be a southern thing or something.
“I go to Loyola full-time, so the extra cash doesn’t hurt.” He eased in to the passing lane.
“Oh, what are you studying?”
“Business management, but I may change it. I’m only two years in, so I haven’t taken a lot of core classes yet.”
They chitchatted as Julia’s mind raced a million miles a second. She didn’t know a lot about Mr. Besson beyond the condition of her soon-to-be charge and the pay—the pay that was higher than normal for these kinds of jobs. In all honesty, she’d applied to the posting half drunk on a bottle of wine, after eating nearly an entire bag of Dove chocolates during one of the nights her head wouldn’t shut up and she couldn’t sleep. At no point did she think she was actually going to get an interview or an offer. So she’d nearly toppled over when the agency called her two days later, requesting her to do a phone interview with Mr. Besson.