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27

Fleeced

When Maldwin and his posse returned to Lydias apartment, he found her in the master bedroom with the covers over her head.

Miss Lydia, Maldwin said to her. He knew that something was up. May I bring you some tea?

I dont think tea will solve my problems, Lydia declared as she lowered her quilt.

Maldwin sat on the side of the bed. It was not something a butler of the old school would have done, but Maldwin believed that butlers of the twenty-first century should practice compassion for their employers. He felt he was Lydias protector, confidant-in a way, her soul mate, even if she did occasionally drive him crazy. What is it, Princess? he asked.

Burkhard called.

That no good

Why was I ever attracted to him in the first place? Lydia implored.

Good question, Maldwin thought, but he tried to appear thoughtful. At first Mr. Whittlesey gave an impression of class and breeding.

Someone with class doesnt stick the lady with the check all the time

I understand.

Someone with class doesnt threaten to take things I said in private and twist them around.

You mean about making fun of your clients?

Maldwin!

Sorry.

He was only interested in my money. He thought he could manipulate me because he went to college and I didnt. But Ive got street smarts.

That you do, Miss Lydia.

Im afraid, Maldwin.

Theres no reason to be afraid, Maldwin said, even though he didnt believe it.

Ive invested so much of my money in this business. I want you and me to be a big success in New York City. Well have our fingers on the pulse of dating and butlering for the third millennium. Burkhard could destroy that for me.

We wont let him, Maldwin said firmly.

Lydia sat up. How was your day?

A challenge. Im afraid Vinnie and Albert do not have personalities suitable to a life of private service.

I could have told you that.

Maldwin ignored her. I thought they would be acceptable because my butler school is one for the changing times. It is impossible to think that youre going to find students who fit the mold of the classic English butler-the perfect Jeeves who seems like an aristocrat himself.

Those two are far from it, Lydia agreed. But as they say, good help is hard to find. Im lucky I found you.

Maldwin winced. He hated to be thought of as help. He ran the damn place as if it were his own. He cleared his throat. As Meister Eckehart said, Everyone is born an aristocrat. Unfortunately most people lose their charm in childhood.

Whos Meister Eckehart?

A wise man. Maldwin stood. We will prevail. Sunday night Stanley Stocks program will air, and Im sure that on Monday the phone will be ringing off the hook. Well get through this weekend and all its unpleasantries.

And if Burkhard shows up for the party tomorrow night?

Well handle it. I think we should focus on our party tonight.

Lydia pulled the covers back over her head. I knew I should have taken that other apartment I looked at. I wouldnt be dealing with this right now!

Regrets are a waste of time, Maldwin said. Now get dressed. Weve got to make your gathering tonight the best one yet.


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