Beautiful Affliction

By: Celia Loren

Prologue





Jody Hall smiled nervously at Mrs. Redmond as they passed each other in the hall. Mrs. Redmond smiled back, but Jody always got the feeling that Mrs. Redmond was barely tolerating her. Jody promised herself that she would work even harder. Somehow she would win the approval of the matriarch of the Redmond clan.

As she entered the kitchen, she just saw the back of Ms. Mueller as the cook walked up the rear staircase to the servants' quarters.

"Goodnight!" Jody called, but Ms. Mueller didn't hear her. Jody reached into the pocket of her uniform to check her phone. Frowning down at it, she didn't hear the back door to the lawn open until Aaron Sarka was standing inside.

"'Night, Jody," Aaron said with a friendly wave as he also turned to the staircase. Jody jumped guiltily, knowing she shouldn't have her cell phone on her while she was working, though she knew Aaron would never say anything to their boss.

"Goodnight!" she called after him as he disappeared upstairs. She looked back down at the text her boyfriend Andres had just sent her. Tomorrow at Alicia's Diner, noon…please??

She chewed the inside of her cheek, thinking it over. She and Andres had been dating for about six months. At first he'd seemed really sweet, and his Portuguese accent had really done her in. But then she'd met a couple of his friends, and there was something just a bit unsavory about them, and she could tell that they hadn't appreciated her presence either. Jody had told him that she wanted him to stop hanging around people like that, and Andres had stormed off. But now here he was begging to meet her.

We'll see, she texted back, and smiled. She felt very mysterious, and a little proud to be playing hard to get. She smugly tossed her dark brown ponytail over her narrow shoulder as she tucked her phone back into her pocket and walked down the hall to the living room.

She surveyed the space, noting that everyone who'd been at dinner had now reconvened here, gathered around the seating area by the fireplace like a well-conceived tableau. Her eyes immediately fell on the face of her boss, Brent Redmond, as the fire sent flickering light playing across his strong features. He was seated between his younger sister, Whitney, on one side, and his friends Mark and Kristine on the other, but she couldn't take her eyes off him.

Jody felt deeply ashamed of the way her body responded to Mr. Redmond. She believed that there was right and there was wrong, and being attracted to your boss was definitely wrong—particularly knowing what she knew about him.

Mr. Redmond glanced up, catching her staring at him. "I think we have everything we need here, Jody," he told her, the conversation around him ceasing for a moment as the group looked up at her.

"Thank you, Mr. Redmond. I'll be off to bed, then," she replied, knowing he was giving her his implicit permission to head upstairs. He turned back to his guests, and after a slight pause, Jody turned around and headed to the kitchen, then up the back staircase.

She turned into the first room off the hallway and yawned as she closed her bedroom door behind her and unzipped the back of her dress. Tomorrow was her day off, and she planned to get a good night's sleep and then spend the day in town. She pulled on her nightgown and then settled into bed with a book.

The very next night, her bed would be empty. Jody Hall would be dead.





Chapter One



One month later…



I push the skin on my cuticles back as I sit in the waiting room of Landmark Domestics. It's only the second time I've had to come in person to my placement agency, as I stayed at my initial assignment for so long. I sigh, dropping my hands into my lap as I think of the prospect of a new job. I was the live-in maid for the Akermans for three years, so going somewhere new feels jarring, to say the least. But they were an elderly couple, and were both having a hard time negotiating the stairs of their large Boston home. Moving into assisted living was the right decision for them.

"Cora!" Tess cries, sticking her head out of her office. "You're back!"

"Hi, Tess," I murmur, "Good to see you again." She ushers me into her small, dingy office and closes the door behind us.

"I'm sorry to hear about the Akermans. Do you think you'll keep in touch?" she asks as she circles around behind her desk and I sit across from her. Tess and I didn't have a lot of contact after I was placed, but she always takes a motherly interest in her clients.

"Maybe," I murmur, though I doubt we will.

"Well, they wrote you a stellar reference, I have to tell you. I'd read it to you, but I think it would just embarrass you, it's so glowing!" My cheeks flush in surprise. We weren't close, but I did always do my best at the job. "So, let me just look over your resume and refresh myself and then we'll see what we have for you!" I nod, and hook my ankles under my chair as she turns to her computer, tilting her face up to look through the bottom of her bifocals.

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