Petra is nineteen years old, innocent and inexperienced. In search of adventure, she sets off from Czech Republic on a plane to New York, where she will serve as au pair to a wealthy family in Brooklyn.
When she arrives, she finds to her surprise, the family is one of the wealthiest black families in the city, and the husband, Terence Clay, is more renowned than she had ever imagined. A skilled negotiator, Terence is known to be someone who can convince someone to do whatever he wants, and like it.
Sometimes sweet, sometimes nasty to Petra, she cannot get a read on the man of the house. Finally, the wife and kids are scheduled to be out of town for a weekend, and Terence asks her to prepare herself. He is having some friends over for a party, and Petra will be the guest of honor.
I was so sweaty and flustered by the time I plopped down into my seat, I didn’t even notice where they had placed me. I was in first class, with a woman smiling and hovering over me, asking me if I wanted to give her my bag. Next thing I knew, there was a glass of champagne in my hand.
I must have had an insane look on my face.
“First time in first class?”
I looked beside me and saw a man in his early thirties, clean-shaven and smiling, wearing a grey suit and a perfectly knotted tie. By his accent, he sounded American. Clearly, he was on his way home.
“Jo - I mean, yes it is.”
The man laughed. Was he laughing at me?
“Did I say something funny?”
“No, no,” he said. “I do the same thing when I am speaking a foreign language. It takes me some time to switch from my native English.”
I nodded and sipped the champagne. It was light and fizzy. And the bubbles, as they say, went straight to my head. I felt loopy and euphoric almost immediately.
“How long have you been speaking English?” the man asked.
“They teach it in the schools,” I said.
“Your accent is very good,” he said. “And cute,” he added with a wink.
In American movies, the woman would throw her head back and laugh like a maniac. But growing up in Prague, I had met enough American boys who thought they could get in my pants with a quick and easy line like that. I was pretty sick of it. I guess I wasn’t going to get away from it in New York either. Of course I wouldn’t.
I put on my headphones, reclined my seat and kicked off my sneakers. I settled in to watch some kind of romantic comedy on the screen in front of me.
Just when I got comfortable, the guy beside me touched my arm. I let his arm sit there, holding my forearm. His hands were soft, but strong. I wanted him to feel awkward.
I pulled off my headphones. “What are you doing?” I asked him, brow furrowed.
“Wow,” he said. “I am so sorry. I didn’t mean to make you uncomfortable. I was just asking what you were doing in America.”
He looked so desperate and scared I felt sorry for him. I had given him a good scare. I kept up the act, because he looked so cute when he was scared.
I watched the screen as I answered. “I’ll be working as an au pair for a family in Brooklyn.”
“Au pair, huh?” He looked at me sideways. “What exactly does that mean?”
“I will care for the young ones, and help around the house. Some cooking, and some cleaning. House duties.”
“Uh huh.” He sounded skeptical for some reason.
“Okay, so what do you do?” I asked, turning to look him in the eye.
He shrugged and looked apologetic. “I’m in commercial real estate. I’m a developer.”
He handed me a business card. I read the name aloud. “Connor Christensen. Okay, so basically you sell historic Central and Eastern European buildings to greedy Americans who want to open a new McDonald’s?”
“It’s a little more complicated than that.” He smiled. “But basically, you’re right.”
“So, real estate. You must have a nice house?”
“Well, it’s an apartment, technically. In TriBeCa. But yes, it’s nice. My number is on there. Give me a call and I’ll give you a tour.”
He smiled again. His teeth were impossibly white and straight. I couldn’t tell if he was making fun of me, or if he was actually interested.
“So where are you staying?” he asked. “In the city somewhere?”
“It is Brooklyn,” I said. I reached down between my legs and pulled a paper from my bag. I had printed out the details of my assignment in America. I handed it to Connor.
He read for a few seconds, and stuck out his lower lip. “Brooklyn Heights, nice. Probably going to live in a nice big brownstone, Petra.” He gave me a look like he was clever for being able to read my name. I didn’t know what a “brownstone” was and didn’t feel like asking.
Then, reading the paper, his eyes nearly popped out of his head. “Terence Clay?” It was the most excited I had seen him.
“Do you know him?”
“Honey, Terence Clay is the shrewdest, most cutthroat Venture Capitalist on the East Coast. I’ve had friends who have dealt with him. He is a shark, big time. I’m telling you, he negotiates newborn babies away from seasoned pros. Do I know him? Shit, he’s a fucking legend.”
“So, he is famous or something?”
“He is better than famous. He has wealth and power and he built it all from the ground up, using only his incredible business savvy, vision and otherworldly powers of persuasion.”
I thought about it for a second. “So, brownstone means a big house?”
He laughed and laughed. “Yes, and I bet Terence Clay has a very big house.”
I turned my attention back to the movie. The American woman and the American man had just met and were making stupid googly eyes at each other. I spaced out, fantasizing about the gorgeous room where I would sleep in the powerful rich man’s huge house. I couldn’t wait