L is for the way you look at me
Nick Leblanc was so going to be the death of me.
That was all I could think as I chomped desperately on a granola bar, making a mad dash for the bike rack. I was going to be late for work, and it was all completely Nick Leblanc's fault.
Okay, rewind so I can explain.
Nick and I both worked at Lakeshore Manor Heritage House, a museum/restored 1860s mansion down by the waterfront (a good fifteen-minute bike ride from downtown). While my period costume (maid-of-all-work) made me look... well, like I was wearing a giant bell around my waist, Nick's (groundskeeper) made him look... well, stunningly gorgeous. Distractingly gorgeous.
Well, okay, he was distractingly gorgeous in real life too, but that was normal gorgeous, and I could deal with normal gorgeous. It was this hot-1860's-groundskeeper-kindly-answering-tourists'-questions-about-historic-varieties-of-apples gorgeous I couldn't deal with. And Nick was that kind of gorgeous.
The problem? He knew exactly how gorgeous he was, and what's more, he knew exactly how gorgeous I found him. He caught me checking him out with alarming frequency, and he always responded with a smirk and a knowing Look. Sometimes he even tried to push it further... but more about that later.
Anyway, the reason I was late this particular morning was that my alarm had interrupted a particularly nice dream, and as I stretched in bed and tried to recall the steamy details, I'd realized that my dream had featured Nick as the male lead. Horrified, I'd had to retreat to the bathroom to splash cold water on my face. This hadn't been enough, so I'd resorted to a cold shower--not my usual morning routine, thank you very much.
So I was running late for work, my hair was still damp, and even with the cold shower, I still had some racy Nick-images running around my mind. Which of course made me distracted enough that I almost rode straight into the path of an oncoming pickup truck.
This was when I decided that Nick Leblanc was going to be the death of me.
I threw on my petticoats, stockings, ankle boots, day cap, and dress, and then, even though the day promised to be one of the hottest so far in the summer, quickly tossed a shawl over my shoulders. The period dresses all fastened with a long row of hooks-and-eyes down the back--Birdie and I counted once, there were thirty-five--and though Andrea, who used to be a dancer, could do and undo them herself, Birdie and I had difficulty in that area.
When I found Andrea, I tossed aside my shawl so she could do me up, then tied on my apron. Andrea was the manager of the heritage house, and she was a thin, anxious sort of woman, with wide eyes and long hair pinned up in a severe bun even when she wasn't in costume. Still, she was pleasant enough to work for, as long as we stayed out of her way and did our jobs properly.
"Where's Birdie?" I asked. Birdie was the other summer student working in the house. Nick and Chris, the groundskeepers, were both summer students as well.
"Her cousin's wedding is today," Andrea reminded me. "It's just you and me in the house today, Carrie."
Of course, the full implications of that didn't hit me then, but they would, in time.
It was a hot day--not too hot for Andrea to power away at her paperwork, but hot enough that I was wilting in a long-sleeved dress with three petticoats. And no air conditioning. I spent the morning slumped in the front foyer, embroidery in hand, waiting for a visitor to show up. Of course, none came. No one wants to get up early on vacation to go see a heritage house.
Eventually Andrea came to relieve me for lunch--giving me a glare for my unladylike posture, so I made sure to hold my skirts not more than two inches above my toes as I carefully went down to the staff room, secreted in the cellar next to the changing rooms. It was only when I got there that I realized that, thanks to my lateness, I'd forgotten to pack lunch.
"Fuck," I muttered. "It's all his fault."
"All whose fault?"
I whirled around, my skirts ballooning out around me. "Fuck! You scared me! Don't do that again!"
Nick Leblanc raised an eyebrow. "Such ladylike language, Carrie," he drawled, and hearing my name in his smooth baritone voice made me shudder. I wondered what it would sound like rough, strained, breathless, passionate, whispering into my ear, moaning, with--
NO. No. I would not allow myself to have these thoughts. I shook my head quickly--but apparently he'd noticed my shudder, or my shake, or something, because he was smirking and giving me that Look, that knowing, annoying, totally hot look that made me want to punch him and jump him at the same time.
"All whose fault?" he repeated.
"Not important," I snapped.
"What is it that is this mystery-person's fault, then?" he persisted.
I bit my lip and looked down. "I forgot my lunch. Okay? I'm really hungry and I have nothing to eat."
And it's all your fault, I wanted to add, but I really didn't want to give him the satisfaction of knowing that he distracted me enough to put my life out of wack.
Something rustled, and suddenly a hand appeared in my line of vision (a very attractive, manly hand, accompanied by an impressive forearm bared because a sexy period-costume sleeve had been rolled up to the elbow) bearing a packet of instant soup. "Here."
I looked up at Nick. "What?"
Looking distinctly uncomfortable, he rolled his eyes. "Just take the soup, okay? I always bring an extra packet. You know, in case the manual labour makes me extra hungry."
This was not particularly Nick-like. Nick was the hot infuriating guy who sent me Looks from across the room or, preferably, the grounds.
"Just take the fucking soup, okay?" Frustrated, he threw the packet down on the table. I got the feeling he wasn't particularly used to being charitable.
"Um, thanks," I said, and we stood in awkward silence for a moment before I tried to bring it back to the usual half-flirtatious vibe. "So... is this free or..."
Nick sent me a devilish grin and my heart practically stopped. "Nah, you're gonna have to owe me."
"Oh great one, what is the price you ask for half your lunch?" I asked sarcastically.
"Oh, you know what my price is," he said suggestively.
Suddenly we both realized how close we were standing and he stepped back awkwardly to let me and my skirts through. Like I said, for all the checking out, the looks and the smirks, we weren't really used to being in close proximity with one another.
I set about putting the kettle on to make the soup, covertly checking Nick out as I did so. He was looking particularly fine in his special-occasions shirt and waistcoat (the everyday ones must have been dirty) with his sleeves rolled up the the elbow, exposing a good amount of muscular masculine arm, and he neckerchief hanging loosely at his neck. He'd taken his hat off and set it on the table, and his hair was sticking up at strange angles--strangely endearing. When he bent over to fix the laces on one of his big black manly groundskeeper boots (I found his boots incredibly sexy--how pathetic was that?) I could see his shirt and suspenders pulling tightly against his muscular back. He was one attractive specimen of man, and the groundskeeper garb only helped--could I really be blamed for losing all of my presence of mind around him?
Unfortunately, he glanced up just in time to catch the tail-end of my inspection, and he'd caught me enough times not to be at all surprised. He just raised an eyebrow, smirked and sent me the Look--cocky, knowing, a little bit taunting, and for some reason, incredibly hot.
Mortified, I turned back to the kettle. From behind me I could hear his chuckle. This was going to be a long lunch.
We finally had visitors after lunch, and Andrea was so relieved to see them that she pulled out all the stops. The tour was all self-guided, but we did have little skits and pieces of interpretation that we put on sometimes, and Andrea suggested a number of these would be appropriate at this time.
The visitors were four middle-aged women, obviously close friends, some almost cougar candidates, others a little kindlier. They all loved my dress. Airing out one of the antique quilts, my first piece of interpretation, was of little interest to them, but they did follow me outside and watch as I pulled pegs from my apron to attach the quilt to the line.
A gust of wind caught my day cap, and I automatically lifted a hand to reposition it on my head.
"Why isn't your bonnet tied on?" one of them asked. "Isn't that scandalous?"
"It's not the most proper thing," I explained, glad they'd found something that interested them, "but it's alluring, especially in young women. With my bonnet strings dangling, and a few curls loose, I'm being quite flirtatious. As a maid of all work, you know, I'm outside a lot, airing out quilts, hanging the laundry, fetching lots and lots of water. I would probably leave my bonnet undone and my curls out in case, you know, an attractive groundskeeper comes around and I'm in the mood for flirtation."
The women all giggled at this, and then giggled even more when Nick's voice sounded behind me.
"Miss Carrie! All this talk of flirtation! Absolutely scandalous!" He vaulted over the low fence and came to stand next to me.
"Nick!" I exclaimed, but he interrupted me.
"We must be quiet," he told the visitors, "if Mrs. McRae the housekeeper--"(that's Andrea, by the way)--"were to hear of our secret love, we would both be out on our backs before you could say Jack Robinson."
He was taking the words directly from Chris and Birdie's skit about a secret love affair between the parlour mair and a groundskeeper, but my skin lit on fire in a blush anyway.
"Secret love, indeed," I muttered.
"That's it, sweetheart," Nick said encouragingly with a wink. "Nothing going on over here."
I blushed again. The visitors loved it, of course. When Chris and Birdie did it, it was one of the most popular skits we had. People loved the idea of forbidden love.
Unable to stand it anymore, I glanced back at the house. "I think I can hear Mrs. McRae. You mustn't be seen here, my darling." Once again, words taken straight from the skit. Not his unscripted "sweetheart." Jesus Christ. Was he trying to give me a heart attack?
"I go, I go," Nick conceded, retreating. He did, however, blow me a kiss before he left. I had to fan myself with my apron once he'd disappeared.
The visitors lapped it all up. "He's quite good-looking, your young man," one of them told me.
Of course he was. Middle-aged women, and older women too, all loved the groundskeepers. Well, actually, so did younger women, come to think of it. They were universally more popular than us maids--and yet we were the ones who had to go through sexual harassment training because in the 1860s maids were frequently raped and some people have trouble distinguishing between reality and reenactment. Go figure.
The visitors went to the kitchens next, where Andrea had some interpretation about cooking, and I headed up to the second floor and took out my crochet. My next bit of interpretation was about textiles and needlework. Birdie had all the little skits--like the one with Chris--and Andrea did whatever she pleased.
They were just as interested in the textiles as they'd been in the antique quilt before Nick showed up, but fortunately this time the skit was designed to be interrupted.
"Carrie! Carrie! Come quick!" Andrea called from the third floor. "The groundskeepers are in the orchard in their shirtsleeves!"
I glanced at the women. "Come, come! This is a rare treat!" And we raced up the stairs.
We got to the window just in time to see Nick shuck off his waistcoat and clamber up into one of the apple trees. Chris was already checking the apples for rot and insects.
Andrea and I looked at each other and giggled before going back to ogling the boys. It felt strange and awkward; usually it was me and Birdie doing this skit, and she was a natural in it, being both prone to giggles and fond of checking out shirtless guys.
We continued to watch for a moment while Andrea explained a bit about what they were doing to the apples--paring them down so the tree could devote its energies to only the best. One of the women nudged me, glanced meaningfully at Nick, and winked. I blushed but put a finger over my lips, nodding at Andrea. Nodding conspiratorially, she stayed quiet.
Nick was looking particularly fine. His shirt stretched tight across his shoulders as he reached up to grab an apple. The top few buttons were undone, and I could see part of his chest. A tantalizingly small part.
The groundskeepers, of course, could see us. This was essential, because depending on the audience, they sometimes did a little extra. I'd always kind of assumed that Birdie and Chris had some kind of signal, because the skit was kind of related to the secret-love plot, but apparently not, because at that moment Nick looked up, caught me watching him, smirked, and ripped his shirt off.
There was a collective gasp, followed by a round of appreciative giggles. We were definitely all watching Nick now, as he went back to thinning the apples. The play of muscles in his chest as he worked was beautiful to behold, and the shimmer of sweat on his skin had a way of making a woman's primal instincts purr.
Not that I was purring. Aloud, anyway.
Seeing that I was watching even more attentively now, Nick gave me the Look. The ladies caught it and giggled. Andrea caught it and frowned a little.
Nice. Now he was going to get me fired.
On Friday afternoons, Andrea left early to run errands and meet with her boss at the historical society. This is important because, in my awful, awful day, I'd somehow managed to forget it was Friday, and when she left at 3:00, I felt incredibly alone. I also felt like I was forgetting something, but I couldn't figure out what I'd forgotten. I just sat there with a pool of quiet dread growing in the pit of my stomach.
Usually, of course, Birdie was there with me on Friday afternoons, and it was great because Andrea was gone and we could do whatever we wanted without worrying about not doing our jobs or appearing ladylike enough or whatever. Maybe being alone in such an old house was what was making me nervous.
Chris skipped out at 4:00. He started and finished an hour earlier than the rest of us in order to get some of the more modern maintenance work--mowing the lawn, etc.--done before we were open to the public.
My feeling of dread began to grow worse, but I still couldn't figure out what I was dreading.
Finally, it came time to close up. I performed all the regular closing duties, making sure Nick was inside before I locked the doors and headed down to change out of my costume.
It was only once I was downstairs that I realized why I'd spent the afternoon in a state of dread, the real import of Birdie's absence.
There was no one to undo my dress.
I panicked for a moment, then calmed down and tried rationally to undo it myself, which failed miserably. I was just beginning to fear that I would have to walk all the way home in the thing, and face Andrea's ire, when I heard Nick whistle in the boys' changing room.
Much as I hated it, he was the only choice.
I burst into the boys' changing room. "Nick--"
"Holy fuck! Ever heard of knocking?"
I blinked. Nick was shirtless and had been in the process of removing his suspenders when I walked in. He was now holding his pants up and glaring at me.
"Oh my God." I turned my back. "I'm sorry, I'm so so sorry."
Nick grunted. "Knock next time, would you? Now what do you want?"
Oh, like I wanted to ask him now.
"Can you, um, undo me?"
There was a pause.
"Can I what?"
"Undo me. Er, my dress. Undo my dress. It does up in the back and I can't reach the hooks and Birdie's not here and Andrea's left for the day and--"
"Whoa. Um, okay, I guess. One minute."
I listened as he fastened a belt buckle, presumably to keep his period pants from falling down, and then walked towards me.
"So," he said, and he was so close that his breath tickled the back of my neck, making me shiver. "You want me to do what?"
Well, a lot of things actually, but at the moment I would settle for just getting out of this dress. It was beginning to get oppressively hot, and only part of that was due to Nick's proximity.
"Um, undo my dress. Please. It's hooks-and-eyes. Um, you do know how those work, right? They're the same things they use for bra fastenings," I added helpfully, and then wanted to smack myself. Nick was about to help me undress. He would see the back of my bra, since for health and safety reasons we weren't allowed to wear corsets as part of our costumes. I didn't need to actually mention bras at this point.
"Well," Nick said, "I'm quite experienced with bras."
"Oh, really?" It came out rather strangled.
"Don't you wish you knew," he said, as I could feel his smirk.
And then he started to undo the back of my dress.
Thirty-five little hooks and eyes, going from my neck down to the top of my petticoat.
Thirty-five individual hells.
Nick didn't actually touch me; he didn't need to in order to get the hooks undone. But I could feel the heat of his body behind me, and his fingers came close enough that I had myself tensed against their touch. My skin felt strangely fevered where the dress was already open, as it greeted the comparatively cool air but reacted with heat to Nick's closeness and the sheer intimacy of the act. He got to the point where I knew he could see the back of my bra, and I frantically wondered which one I was wearing today. He only paused a second and took a breath before continuing.
It took an agonizingly long time for him to get to the bottom, and each second seemed an eternity with his fingers nearly on my skin, his breath on my neck, his scent all around me.
Finally he came to the bottom, and I was just about to let out a sigh of relief when suddenly a bolt of electricity flew down my spine. Nick's thumb was trailing along the path he'd recently followed with his fingers, and in a ragged voice he said, "Carrie..."
"Thanks, Nick," I squeaked, and ran back to the girls' changing room, where I collapsed on the floor.
I needed to re-evaluate that whole situation--no, not just the situation, the whole fucking summer. This changed things.
When he'd taken so long to undo my dress, I'd assumed that most of that was a perception thing, combined with the fact that he was a boy, and thus unfamiliar with the intricacies of hooks-and-eyes (regardless of his purported bra experience). Or maybe that he was purposely torturing me because he knew how attractive I found him. But touching me... the way he said my name...
It had to make me think. Was it possible that I affected Nick Leblanc just as much as he affected me?
I thought about it. The Look. Was it an amused, self-satisfied look, as I'd always thought, or was it self-satisfied for an entirely different reason? Was it because he liked to catch me checking him out? I'd always thought of the Look as being cocky, but then I found it strangely hot. Did it make him hot to know he made me hot?
And then there was everything today. Sharing the soup. Flirting, or play-flirting, for the visitors. Taking his shirt off just because he knew I was watching. I was fairly sure that the last one was meant to torture me, but still, he seemed to put particular effort and energy into torturing me.
There was a definite, definite possibility that Nick Leblanc wanted me.
With the satisfaction and ego-boost that came with that, as well as a curl of heat in the pit of my stomach, I changed back into my clothes and headed out to the bike rack.
I stopped short when I got outside. Nick was leaning casually against my bike, hands in his pockets. When he saw me he stood up straight.
His voice had almost regained its usual calm tone.
"We have to talk."
Oh, he wanted to talk, did he? Well, he'd tortured me for long enough. It was my turn to torture him.
"You ran away from me down there, but I know for a fact that--"
I bent over to unlock my bike, affording him an excellent glimpse down my shirt to my bra (which, I'd discovered, was black with red hearts. From Valentine's Day a few years ago. Hadn't done laundry in a few weeks).
"that--that--I know for a fact--"
Hearing Nick Leblanc stumble over his words, knowing it was because of me--it was glorious. I stood and walked around to pull my bike out of the rack, making sure to let my leg brush against his.
"You're standing in my way," I told him. He didn't move. I made sure to rub my ass against the fly of his shorts for a decent amount of time while I got my bike out--and yeah, oh yeah, he wanted me alright.
I sauntered down the incline towards the street. "See you tomorrow, Nick."
A frustrated half-scream followed me. "Fuck it, Carrie, you can't just--"
And then he was right behind me, pulling my bike away and letting it fall over onto the grass. His hands went to my back, pulling my body flush against his. "Carrie," he said again, and then he kissed me.
It was even more amazing than I'd imagined, more amazing than the dream I'd had. His mouth was hot and hard, desperate and demanding, and I found myself responding just as desperately. Hadn't I yearned for this all summer? Hadn't I lusted like a hormone-crazed teenager?
But throughout all that time, he'd had no compunction in torturing me, and turnabout was fair play.
I bit his lower lip and then pulled back. "See you tomorrow, Nick," I repeated, picking up my bike.
I grinned. "Well, I guess you'll see me in your dreams."
And then I left him there spluttering and horny, pausing at the bottom of the hill to give him the Look, the same Look he'd been giving me all summer. He spluttered more.
Hell yeah, turnabout was fair play.
AN: This is part 1 of a 4-parter, partially inspired by my summer job at a national historic site :) and no I've unfortunately never had to ask any hot guys to undo my dress.