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The Housekeeper's Daughter
Chapter OneThey said he needed a wife. A woman of breeding who wouldn't mind spending her evenings alone or entertaining on a moment's notice. A special woman who could withstand the scrutiny of his family, the press and his constituents. According to the polls, men who were settled projected a better image and more easily gained the public's trust.
A frown furrowed Gabe Kendrick's broad brow as he stood at the arched bedroom window, his hands in the pockets of his khaki slacks, his broad shoulders straight beneath his white polo shirt. As a senator in Virginia's General Assembly, he was well aware that political decisions could often be cold and calculated. But adding "find a wife" to his list of things to do hadn't been the advice he'd expected from his father and his uncle Charles when he'd arrived at the family estate last night.
Offhand, he couldn't think of any woman he'd want to spend the weekend with, much less the rest of his life.
The thought deepened the furrows. Last night's discussion had been a long-range planning session, one of those discussions that went beyond immediate needs to set smaller goals on the way to a larger one. He already had an excellent reputation. He had money. And heaven knew he had name recognition. From the moment his mother had relinquished her claim to the throne of the kingdom of Luzandria to marry his father thirty-five years ago, the Kendrick name had been a household word.
His father, now retired, had been a young senator himself at the time. Not much older than Gabe's own thirty-three years. His mother was one of the most photographed women in the world. He, his brother and both of their sisters had grown up on the covers of magazines. Press and paparazzi followed them nearly everywhere.
Name recognition, he definitely had.
All he needed was the perfect woman. He just had no intention of addressing the wife issue now. He had no time for a relationship. He would have even less after he announced his candidacy for governor. He barely had time for his own family as it was.
The thought had him glancing at his watch and wincing at the time. He was supposed to be joining them for breakfast at that very moment.
He loved his family. The good-natured competition between them energized him, and he hadn't seen certain aunts, uncles and cousins in months. He was even looking forward to a little rough and tumble with his young second cousins out on the manicured lawn. But, having arrived late last night from Richmond, then being up until two in the morning with his father and uncle, he wanted nothing more than a little peace before he joined the myriad relatives gathered below.
Always mindful of what others expected of him, he prepared to abandon the view of magnificent gardens beyond the leaded glass. Peace would have to wait.
Or so he was thinking when he caught sight of a small, slender figure moving from behind the gazebo. The family's young groundskeeper moved methodically as she tended the wide flower border, reaching to snag a weed, pinch a dead bloom.
He couldn't help the smile that erased his fatigue. His mother never had been able to get Addie Lowe into a uniform. With the exception of the stable master, every other member of the Kendrick estate's staff wore a uniform appropriate to his or her position. Bentley, the mechanic and chauffeur, wore tan in the summer and black in winter. The maids wore black dresses with white collars and aprons. The cook wore white. Gardeners wore tan jump-suits.
Except for Addie.
The jumpsuits his mother preferred were apparently sized for men and didn't come small enough for her. As quiet and unassuming as the youngest staff member tended to be, she managed to blend in even in her usual chambray and denim. But Gabe thought it appropriate that she had escaped having to conform. He'd always thought her spirit too gentle to box in.
He hadn't even realized he'd been looking for her until he'd seen her.
He crossed the room, his footsteps soundless on the antique-gold rug and opened the door to the long, door-lined east wing. The other doors along the wide burgundy carpeted hallway were closed, hiding the unmade beds the maids would tackle now that everyone was up and moving.
The entire Kendrick clan had descended on the 125-acre estate in Camelot, Virginia, for the social event of the year. Gabe's youngest sister, Tess, was marrying Bradley Michael Ashworth III tomorrow on the north lawn. According to the schedule of events he'd found waiting for him on his pillow last night, rehearsal was at three o'clock this afternoon. The rehearsal dinner was at a restaurant in town at six-thirty that evening. Breakfast had started fifteen minutes ago.
The tantalizing aroma of coffee drew him down the steps of the double, carved and curving staircase that embraced the marble foyer. The scent mingled with the fragrance of an enormous bouquet on the round glass table centered in the echoing space before he pushed through a small door beneath the stairs. By using the butler's door, he could avoid the breakfast room.
Voices drifted toward him as he moved through the halls at the back of the house. The servants' areas were separate from the family's, but he was close to the breakfast room here. The clink of fine silver on china underscored animated conversation as he stepped into the brightly lit kitchen.
His name held a blend of surprise and pleasure as the pleasantly plump Olivia Schilling turned from her sauce on the eight-burner stove. That stove was in the middle of the huge, white-tiled center island. Copper pots hung from the high ceiling above it. Fresh herbs lined the long, multipaned window over the triple stainless steel sink.
Grinning, he buzzed a kiss over her cheek. "How's my favorite chef?"
The Kendricks' cook of twenty-five years smelled of soap and vanilla, just as she always had. And, just as she always had, she replied, "She's just dandy," and smiled back.
Olivia's short, ruthlessly permed salt-and-pepper hair didn't budge as she turned back to her task. A white apron, pristine except for a streak of egg yolk, protected a starched white blouse and black skirt. Her white running shoes sported a defiant slash of neon green.
"We heard you might be late rising this morning," she informed him, referring to herself and the young maid backing through a swinging door with a silver tray of pastries. "I was just thinking I should set aside a tray for you. What do you need over there?"
"Not a thing," he replied, heading for the coffeemaker under a long line of white birch and glass cabinets. "I just want some coffee."
"Isn't there any in the other room?" she asked, glancing toward the still-swinging door. "Hold on and I'll have Marie refill the service."
"I haven't been in the other room. I'm avoiding it. Marie is new," he observed, as much to avoid making excuses for why he wasn't joining his family as to acknowledge new staff. "Is she permanent or just here for the weekend?"
Excerpted from The Housekeeper's Daughter by Christine Flynn Copyright © 2004 by Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.. Excerpted by permission.
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