Caleb Bravo stood in the doorway to his housekeeper's
bedroom. He was holding the note she'd left propped on the
kitchen counter. "What the hell, Irina?" He shook
the note at her.
"Oh. Hello, Caleb. You are home early." She spoke
without giving him so much as a glance, her head tipped down
as she tucked a gray sweater into one of the two tattered
suitcases spread open on her bed.
He entered the room. "I asked you what you're doing."
She straightened at last and faced him. "I am
leaving," she said in her throaty, deadpan,
"Just like that? Out of nowhere?"
"Is no other choice."
"Of course there's a choice." He held up the note again.
"Three sentences," he accused. "'Caleb, I must
leave. I will not come back. Thank you for everything you do
for me.'" He wadded it up and fired it at the
wastebasket in the corner. "Couldn't you at least have
told me why?"
She turned and took an envelope from the night-stand.
"One hour ago, from the mail, this comes for me."
She gave it to him.
There was a single sheet of paper inside—a letter, a
very official-looking one, topped by the seal of U.S.
Citizenship and Immigration Services. He scanned it swiftly.
They were revoking her asylum. She was to report to her San
Antonio service center immediately.
"What the hell?" he said again. "Don't you have
a green card? Aren't those good for several years at least?"
"I have permit to work. I apply for green card. But
there are… delays. Many delays."
"They can't do that, just… send you back to
"But they do." She took the letter from him,
refolded it, slipped it into the envelope, put the envelope
on the nightstand—and returned to her packing. He
watched her as she moved on silent feet from the bureau to
the bed and back to the bureau again.
This was not happening. It couldn't be happening.
No way was he getting along without Irina. She was the best.
She picked up after him, saw to his laundry, cooked tasty
meals when he asked for them—and never batted an eye
when she saw him or a girlfriend walking around the house naked.
She was the perfect live-in housekeeper. Quiet and competent
and always calm. She anticipated his every need and also
somehow managed to be next to invisible. He would never find
another like her.
And what about Victor?
Her cousin, Victor Lukovic, was his best friend in the whole
damn world. He owed Victor his life. He couldn't stand it if
Victor thought he'd somehow chased his little cousin away.
"Yes?" She smoothed the folds of a brown wool scarf.
"Where exactly are you going?"
She frowned and shook her head. And then returned to the
bureau for a stack of depressingly plain white cotton underwear.
He tried again. "So… back to Argovia then?"
She put the underwear in the larger of the two suitcases.
"I never go back there." She flipped the suitcase
closed and zipped it shut.
"But if not there, then…?"
"You have no need to know." She grabbed the laptop
she'd bought a few months after she started working for him
and stuck it in the side pocket of the smaller suitcase.
Then she zipped that suitcase shut and dragged it to the
floor. The larger one followed, landing with a heavy thump.
"Do you even know where you're going?"
No answer. She arranged the suitcases side by side, with a
small space between. And finally she stepped into that space
and faced him again.
"Thank you for everything you do for me, Caleb. You are
good boss. The best." As usual, she was dressed from
head to toe in nondescript gray. He'd never seen her in
anything bright-colored, nor in short sleeves. And she wore
high-neck shirts and sweaters year-round, in complete
defiance of San Antonio's killer-hot summers. Her straight,
dark brown bangs half-covered her enormous brown eyes. She
looked… so pitiful. Lost. And alone.
He asked, "Have you called Victor about this?"
"No. My cousin does too much for me already. He does not
need this trouble."
"Irina, come on…" Without thinking, he
reached for her.
She flinched and ducked away from his outstretched hand.
"Please. I must go now."
Damn. Bad move. He knew she didn't like to be touched.
"I'm sorry. I didn't mean to—"
"You have done nothing wrong." She spoke gently as
she hefted the suitcases, one in either hand. "Please.
Move from in my way."
Like hell. "Come on. You can give me a little
time, okay, before you…vanish into thin air? No one's
coming to get you in the next ten minutes."
She shifted the suitcases and muttered something low in
Argovian, her dark head tipped down. And then, glancing up,
she said his name with a hopeless little sigh. "Oh,
He gave her a coaxing smile. "What can it hurt? Just a
minute or two, to talk this over…."
"For what? Is no use."
"Irina. Please." He tried really hard to look
pitiful and needy.
It must have worked. With a second sigh, she set down her
bags. "Okay. You go ahead. You talk."
"I can't believe you were just going to walk out like
this, just leave me worrying and wondering what the hell
happened to you. If I hadn't come home early…" He
shook his head in disbelief. "You were going to
just go, weren't you? Just… disappear?"
"Yes. Are we finished with the talking now?"
The brilliant idea struck him right then, as he stared at
her standing there, so lost and sad, between her two beat-up
suitcases. He knew what he had to do. "We'll get
married," he said. "It's the perfect solution."
She gave no response, only gazed at him steadily from behind
those too-long bangs of hers.
He needed to get her away from the suitcases. "Come
on." He gestured over his shoulder. "Into the living
room. Let's sit down. We'll have a drink. We'll talk it
over. We'll work it out, together."
She continued to stand there—silent, between her
suitcases, watching him with an expression that gave nothing
"The living room?" he said again, almost afraid to
turn his back on her for fear she might toss her suitcases
through the window behind her and jump out after them.
There was another too-long moment while she continued to
stare at him. And then, just as he was giving up hope, she
spoke. "Yes. All right. We talk."
"Great," he said. "Fantastic." And he
turned, ears attuned to the soft whisper of her flat black
shoes on the hardwood floor. In the living room, she perched
carefully on a leather club chair.
"Drink?" he asked, thinking he could use a nice
stiff one about now.
But she pressed her lips together and shook her head.
"No, thank you."
So he sat in the chair a few feet from hers and put on his
most sincere expression. "Irina, I can't afford to lose
you. That's all there is to it. You're too damn good at what
you do. I could never replace you. It's just impossible."
Strange. She'd worked for him for two years. The whole
hands-off thing had never been an issue before. But right
now, it was a pain in the ass. If he could only touch her,
he knew he could convince her. But he sat in his chair and
she sat in hers, and since physical contact was off the
table, he decided he'd have to settle for pitching his heart
out. Luckily, he was a master at pitching. He did it for a
living, after all.
He said, "You have to admit it. We get along great
together. I have no complaints. Do you?"
She swallowed and shook her head, long bangs flying out and
then settling like a dark veil over those big, haunted eyes.
"Plus, there's Victor. Irina, what would I say to Victor
if we don't work this out? I can't believe you weren't even
going to tell him."
She hung her head and softly admitted, "I… cannot
tell him. He has family here. And he does too much
for me already. It is better he is not involved."
"I owe him my life," Caleb said, with just the right
touch of drama.
Or so he thought, until he realized she was trying not to
smile. "You should not drive so fast."
Yeah, okay. He liked to drive fast, always had. While they
were still at UT, Victor had pulled him from a burning car
after Caleb lost control of the wheel and crashed into a
brick wall. He still regretted wrecking that car. A classic
Mustang, a '68 fastback he'd restored himself in high
school, with a little help from his brother, Jericho. They
didn't make them like that Mustang any more.
"This isn't about my driving," he reminded her, in a
tone both severe and reproachful. "This is about you and
me and poor Victor, who's going to be beyond freaked if you
just walk out of my house and disappear. This is about the
fact that you need to let me do this one thing for you, for
us, really—and for the man who saved my
Irina was watching him, her expression unreadable. Finally,
she said gently, "You marry me so you will not have to
marry that Emily person."
Yeah, all right. Getting Emily Gray off his back would be a
nice bonus. What was he thinking, to sleep with a colleague,
anyway? He never should have done that. But it was a problem
he had when it came to women. How could a man resist? They
smelled so good and they had such soft skin….
He cleared his throat. "Irina, you know I wasn't ever
going to marry Emily."
"Too bad Emily does not know that."
True. Too true. Just the other night, Emily had followed him
around the house chanting "Tick-tick-tick-tick!" For
Emily, lately, it was all about her biological clock. She
wanted a ring and a baby before she hit thirty-five. Caleb
just wanted her off his back. But Emily was a driven woman.
She refused to accept that he was not the man for her.
Enter Irina and her immigration issues.
He granted her his most charming smile. "Well, once you
and I are married, Emily will get the picture crystal
clear." There was a silence. A nerve-racking one, Caleb
thought. Irina continued to study him from beneath the
fringe of her bangs, her slim hands neatly folded in her
lap. He kept his mouth shut, too, hoping she would agree
with him that their getting married would be useful to both
of them. But she just sat there. When he couldn't stand the
silence any longer, he suggested, "Look, can we forget
about Emily? Please?"
She nodded, a single regal dip of her head.
"So then it's settled," he said with easy
confidence, assuming the sale as he had known how to do
since before he could talk. "We'll fly to Vegas tomorrow
and be married on Valentine's Day. Next week, you can visit
the San Antonio service center with a marriage license in
"You do not understand."
"A green card marriage is not so easy as the movies and
the TV make you think. Your government is very—"
she frowned, seeking the word "—very strict that
the marriage must be a real one. There will be meetings, you
understand? Meetings with Immigration officials. And the
caseworkers could come to the door at any time, giving no
notice, to try and prove us to be liars."
"Oh, come on. It's a government agency. I'll bet my Audi
R8 that they don't have the personnel to have them wandering
around dropping in on people randomly."
"It is not random. And you are right, home visits do not
happen often. But they do happen, Caleb. If they are not
believing the marriage is true and if they can prove we lie,
that would be very bad."
"They would deport you, you mean?"
"Much worse than that. It is a crime to make a false
marriage to get a green card. If Immigration discovers the
marriage is not real, we both pay big fines and go to jail.
And when I am released, then they deport me.
And I am afterwards barred from ever in my life
trying again to get a green card."
This began to look like something of a challenge. Caleb had
always enjoyed a challenge. "We can do that. We can
convince them. I'm real convincing when I put my mind to
"There is more."
"What do you mean, more?"
"The marriage must last for two full years."
Those words shut him up. For a half a second, anyway.
"You're not serious."
"I am. Two years. Is it your wish to be married to your
housekeeper for two years?"
It was not his wish, as a matter of fact. "Two years.
That can't be. You're absolutely certain?"
"Yes. I am."
"It seems a little… extreme."
"Think. A true marriage is meant to last until there is
death. Two years." She snapped her fingers. "Is
nothing next to a lifetime. But is enough for Immigration to
believe that the marriage is one that is made in good
"Enough? It seems like too damn much to me."
She jumped to her feet so fast it startled him.
"Whoa. Irina. What?"
"I go and get the book for you."
"U.S. Immigration Made Easy. It has much about
green card marriage. I show you the right page, about how it
must be a marriage of two full years for a permanent green
card, about what happens to you and to me if we make a false
marriage." She drew herself up. "You think I am a
fool? You think I do not consider all possible ways to stay
in this country? I am many things, Caleb Bravo. But not a
He put up both hands. "All right. Fine. I believe you. I
don't need to see the book."
"You are sure?"
"I'm sure. Sit back down."
She perched on the edge of the chair cushion again and
glared at him narrow-eyed from under her bangs.
He looked at her sideways. "Are you mad?" He tried
to remember if he'd ever seen her mad before.
"You must know I never lie to you. I swear it. Without
you to give me this job I will still be in Argovia."
"Irina. I believe you. Okay?"
Her expression softened and she said in a near-whisper,
Two years. Scary.