Island Refuge (Wildflower B&B Romance Book 1) (10 page)

BOOK: Island Refuge (Wildflower B&B Romance Book 1)
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She grinned. “No caviar?”

He smiled at the teasing glint in her eyes. “Exactly. The sleeping bag is already in the tent, but I’ll get blankets for you.” A bell in the other room sounded. “On second thought, I’ll go check in with our guests.”

Zoe looked longingly at her closed bedroom door. He did his best to ignore the niggling in his stomach. He’d tried to be the hero and take the tent, but she refused to allow it. There was nothing more he could do. So why did he have such a bad feeling?

 

****

 

Z
OE PULLED AN
Adirondack chair across the lawn and placed it beside her new home-sweet-home. There wasn’t much to do outside, but at least she could read, since the sun didn’t set until around nine. A breeze kicked up and blew her hair across her face. She pulled a band from her wrist and swept the loose strands into a ponytail.

The sound of motorboats and voices drifted toward her from the direction of the Sound. She sat and looked up at the clear blue sky. This was about as perfect as it got—well, except for the too cool evening breeze, the sleeping in the tent thing, and spiders. At least the tent zipped, so it should be spider free inside.

She pulled her sweater closed, and crossed her legs, wishing she’d thought to wear sneakers instead of flip-flops. Someone cleared his throat. She turned and spotted Nick approaching with an armload of wood.

He dumped it a few feet from her tent and without a word strode to the shed. A minute later he placed a portable fire pit several feet from the tent. “It gets cool at night. I thought you might enjoy a fire.”

“Thanks.” Would this man never cease to surprise her?

In a matter of minutes a crackling fire warmed the air. Nick placed a dome-shaped grate on the top then eased onto the grass. He leaned back and rested on his elbows.

“Isn’t the grass cold?” Zoe held her hands out toward the heat.

“Yeah, but the fire is warm, so it’s a nice balance.”

“Whatever you say, but there’s an empty chair.” She pointed to the edge of the lawn where the property looked down onto the Sound.

He pushed up and clapped his hands together. “I’ll be back.” He slipped into the house instead of heading for the chair.

Zoe stood and strolled across the grass to the other Adirondack and dragged it to where Nick had been sitting. A minute later the back door slammed, and he approached carrying a bag and a guitar.

She couldn’t stop the smile that lit her face. “Are we going to sing campfire songs and roast marshmallows?”

“Absolutely!”

The sun dipped low in the sky creating shadows. Zoe tore her gaze away from Nick’s handsome profile and focused on the flames. She’d never taken the time to really look at her boss, which had been smart, because now she couldn’t get his image out of her mind. Why was she always attracted to men with dark, wavy hair? At least Nick had nice brown eyes and not blue like Kyle’s. And Nick was tall and lean—at least six feet or taller. She suspected his ancestors were French based on the angular shape of his nose.

He’d said he needed her, and something in the tone of his voice made her question if there was more to the statement than the obvious. She shivered and forced her mind elsewhere. There was no sense in going there—she wanted, no needed, uncomplicated.

“Are you warm enough, Zoe?” Nick reached into the bag and pulled out a box of graham crackers.

“I’m fine. What do you have there?”

“I thought it’d be fun to make s’mores.” He tossed the box of crackers to her then removed a bag of marshmallows and chocolate bars.

“How are we supposed to roast the marshmallows?”

Nick snapped his fingers and jumped up. “Be right back.” He strode to the house once again.

Zoe rested her head back. Why was Nick going out of his way to be so nice all of a sudden?

He returned and handed her a long metal skewer with a handle. “I bought these last summer, but this is my first chance to use them. My brother and I had planned a camping trip with Aiden, but it didn’t work out.”

Zoe followed his lead and loaded a marshmallow. Within minutes she had stuffed the gooey delight between crackers and added chocolate. “These are actually one of my favorite treats. I wonder if you should do this for the guests once in a while.”

“Naw, this is for us.” He smashed the graham crackers around the chocolate and marshmallow and took a huge bite.

Zoe’s eyes widened. “Be careful, you might choke.” What was she saying? Being a grownup, not to mention a doctor, he didn’t need to be told how to eat.

He swallowed. “I’m like a big kid when it comes to s’mores.”

The fire crackled, and a block of wood shifted, sending sparks into the air. Good thing the lawn wasn’t dried out. She eyed Nick warily. How long would he sit out here with her? Why was it that at times like this she could never think of a thing to talk about?

“You’re quiet.”

Zoe started.

“And jumpy.”

“As usual.”

Nick pulled a guitar from its case and strummed an unfamiliar tune.

“That’s nice. What is it?”

“Just something I made up.”

“Does it have words?”

He hit a wrong chord and stopped, setting the instrument aside. “No words. It’s a melody I came up with shortly after my wife died.”

Crickets filled the silence. The fire crackled and popped, sending glowing embers dancing on the breeze. Zoe leaned forward. “How’d she die?”

He looked toward the Sound and was quiet so long Zoe felt certain she’d overstepped.

“She contracted bacterial meningitis but I didn’t know.”

“How?” The word popped out before she could stop it. She wanted to slap a hand over her mouth, but remained still and silent.

“How indeed.” He stared into the fire and spoke low so she had to lean closer to hear. “I worked long hours—was up and out of the house before Jenna even awoke so I could make hospital rounds before heading to the office. I often worked late into the night. We could go days without seeing one another.”

“That must have been hard on your marriage.”

“I suppose, although Jenna never complained. She found ways to fill her days.” He glanced at Zoe.

Darkness surrounded them, except for the flicker of the fire. Zoe heard and sensed Nick’s remorse. His face looked mournful in the flickering light of the fire.

“She was a Christian and spent much of her time volunteering at our church. I will never understand why God allowed that to happen to her. Or why I couldn’t save her. I should’ve known.” His voice was soft, barely above a whisper now. “If I could go back and relive those last days…”

“Don’t blame yourself, Nick.”

“Who else do I blame? God?” He shook his head. “Sorry, I know better than to blame the God of the universe for human failings. I should’ve seen the signs. I failed—not God. Sure He could’ve saved her, but He didn’t. The fault lies with me.”

Zoe blew out a puff of breath. Her boss carried a burden no man should bear. She wanted to make everything okay for him but knew that was impossible.

“What’s your story, Zoe? There must be a good one for you to drop a prestigious position to come here.”

Maybe telling him about her pathetic life would help him not feel so bad. Then again, maybe not. Besides, he didn’t need to know the details of her personal life or her past. “It’s not worth talking about.”

He fingered the strings on the guitar and played the soft haunting melody again, then he suddenly put the guitar in the case and stood. “Sleep well, Zoe. I’ll see you in the morning.”

“Nick.” She stood and placed a hand on his arm.

He stopped and looked into her eyes. “Yes?”

“I’m sorry about your wife.”

“Thanks.” He patted her hand. “She died two years ago this December.”

Zoe winced. Losing someone during the holidays had to be the worst. She removed her hand. “Good night, Nick.”

He nodded and walked across the lawn, disappearing into the house.

Zoe swiped at the tears running down her cheeks. When had she started crying? Her heart ached for Nick. It was no wonder he no longer desired to practice medicine. She closed her eyes and rested her head back.

A twig snapped and her eyes flew open. She realized she’d dozed off because the moon had moved a good way across the sky and all the lights were out in the house. She must have slept a couple of hours. Crazy. It felt like no time had passed at all since he walked inside. She glanced at the fire as the last ember fizzled and faded—exactly like her dreams.

But she could make new dreams. She’d always enjoyed a good adventure, and surely life on the island could offer adventure. She already had a mystery to solve involving the ring Rachel came to find. Maybe they should let Nick in on their treasure hunt—give him something else to think about besides his perceived failure. It would also give her a chance to spend more time with him and get to know him better.

CHAPTER TEN

 

R
INGING FILLED THE QUIET OF THE
morning, and Nick startled awake. He reached for the bedside phone. “Hello?”

“Mr. Jackson, this is Tracy from Employees R Us. You inquired about a housekeeper and cook for your bed-and-breakfast. We found a local woman who is interested in the position. Can we send her over today?”

Nick sat up, fully alert now. “Only if she’s willing to work part time and on a trial basis. Today could be a paid interview, so I can see if she’s a good fit.”

“I believe that would work. She will be at the Wildflower at ten sharp.” The line clicked.

He hung up and rolled out of bed. Wouldn’t Zoe be surprised? He couldn’t wait to tell her the good news.

Twenty minutes later, freshly showered and humming, Nick ambled up the stairs and into the kitchen. “Good morning, Zoe. I hope you slept well.”

She spared him a glance and flipped a pancake. “I’ve slept better. You?”

Truth be told, he’d had a rough night. Sharing about Jenna had made finding sleep difficult. “Same here. But I have good news.”

“Great. Will you take the juice to the table?”

“In a minute. I’ve been looking for someone else to help out around here, and today is her first day.” Technically it was a working interview, but Zoe didn’t need to know that.

“I’m fired!”

His eyes widened. “What? No! For now your job is safe. You work seven days a week. Olivia will cover weekends.” He probably shouldn’t have said for now, but it was impossible to know the future, and he didn’t want her saying he’d told her that her job was secure. He couldn’t predict the market. If the B&B didn’t continue to do well, he might close up and find something else to do.

“But that’s our busiest time.”

He rubbed his chin. She made a valid argument. “I’m still working out the kinks. The point is after breakfast this morning you have the rest of the day off. Tomorrow too, if the woman works out.”

Zoe yanked open the oven and flipped the remaining pancakes onto a new platter then added the ones from the oven. She flicked a look of aggravation in his direction and proceeded to load up a tray with the food she’d prepared.

The door to her room opened and the Andersons strolled out. “Breakfast smells delicious.” The woman shot them a nervous smile and scurried through the swinging doors into the dining room.

Great—their guests must have heard their conversation and probably sensed the tension in the kitchen. “I’ll take that juice out now.” He plastered on his best smile and pushed into the dining room. Every chair was full. “Good morning, everyone! Zoe will be right in with a delicious meal.” He placed a jug of orange juice at each end of the table and hustled to the kitchen. “How’re we doing with everything?” He reached for the coffee carafe and the one filled with hot water.

“Dandy. Grab the syrups too, please.” Zoe hoisted the tray and carefully maneuvered it through the doorway.

He followed and helped pass the serving platters around the table family style. “If there is anything else we can get for you, please let us know.” His eyes met Rachel’s. He hadn’t noticed her presence.

She grinned. “Zoe, you outdid yourself.”

“Thanks. Eat up while it’s hot.” She spun around and fled into the kitchen.

They were far from finished talking. Nick went after her and found her at the sink. “Are you okay?”

“Fine.”

“I
was
trying to do right by you.”

“I get it, Nick. Thank you. I’m just tired and in need of a hot bath.”

He winced. That one he couldn’t help with until her room was free again. “You’re welcome to borrow my shower. I’ll be busy training the new help this morning, so it’s all yours.”

“Thanks. I’ll wash these pans first.”

Nick blew out a breath. For a while he’d thought she might quit. “About last night…”

She tilted her head in his direction, and a strand of hair escaped her ponytail. He reached out and brushed it behind her ear.

Her eyes filled with questions.

“Sorry. I wasn’t thinking.” He stepped back and cleared his throat. “As I was saying about last night. I’d be grateful if you’d keep what I told you to yourself.”

“Absolutely.”

He nodded. The wary look in her eyes startled him into silence. Had he caused that wariness?

 

****

 

Z
OE STEPPED OUT
of Nick’s apartment into the kitchen feeling a thousand times better than she had an hour ago. There was nothing like hot water to soothe away the ache of sleeping on the ground. Now, to let Nick know she wasn’t going anywhere. He must be crazy if he thought she’d willingly turn over her kitchen to someone else. At the restaurant she handpicked her own help. She knew nothing about this woman. What if she burned the place down? She’d be out of a job
and
a home.

She stopped, listened, and heard only silence. The guests must be out enjoying the island. Good. She didn’t need an audience. When the Andersons had strolled from her bedroom this morning, clearly privy to their conversation, she’d wanted to hide in the oven.

The kitchen door swung open. “Looks like you’re ready.” Nick stood with his hands behind his back.

“I was coming to find you. I don’t want the day off.”

BOOK: Island Refuge (Wildflower B&B Romance Book 1)
8.23Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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