Island Refuge (Wildflower B&B Romance Book 1) (11 page)

BOOK: Island Refuge (Wildflower B&B Romance Book 1)
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“You need a break. I wish I’d had someone to relieve you sooner.”

A young, petite, blonde woman stepped into the kitchen. “Nick, I can’t find the cleaning supplies.”

“That’s it. I’m not leaving.” Whether Nick would admit it or not, he needed her to stick around and help train Olivia. Sure she’d figured things out as things went along, but Olivia didn’t look like she could find her way around a kitchen, much less clean the B&B from top to bottom.

“I’ll be with you in a moment, Olivia.” Nick gently gripped Zoe’s upper arm and propelled her to the back door. “Yes. You are. Enjoy your day. I have everything under control.”

“But—”

He touched a finger to her lips. “No buts,” he said softly.

Zoe inhaled sharply—the nerve. His gaze softened and she stilled. She’d never noticed the gold flecks in his brown eyes—mesmerizing. “Please, Nick. Let me stay. I don’t want to come home to a disaster. At least let me train her.”

“No.” His word was spoken gently, but the determined set of his jaw left no room for argument. “Go exploring. You’ve barely had any time to see the island. There are many things you can do to fill the day.”

With a nod she glanced around Nick’s shoulder and spotted the new girl smirking. She balled a fist and then flexed her fingers. “Fine. You win, Nick. See you later.”

Zoe snagged her keys off the kitchen counter and marched to her car.

 

****

 


N
ICK!”
O
LIVIA RACED
down the stairs.

He stood and lurched around the reception desk. “What’s the matter?” He’d spent at least an hour showing her where everything was and what to do. Surely she could handle things now. Zoe rose another notch in his estimation. She’d jumped in without training and managed the B&B like a pro.

“The Poppy room is occupied. What do I do?”

“I thought something was wrong, Olivia. Please don’t overreact to non-issues. If a guest is in the room, move on.” He shook his head.

“But I want to go in order.”

“In a perfect world that would work, but since we don’t live in a perfect world you’ll need to move on and return to the room once the occupant has left.”

“Okay.” She smiled sweetly. “Will you be checking my work?”

“Do I need to?”

“Umm… no?”

The doubt in her tone had him marching up the stairs. Until this moment he hadn’t truly appreciated what he’d had in Zoe. The woman deserved a raise and as soon as he was able, she’d get one.

Olivia looked over her shoulder at him. “What should I make for tea this afternoon?”

He stifled a sigh. “How about fruit, cheese and crackers, or a quick bread?”

“That will be easy enough.”

“Good.” At least something about this day would go smoothly. He’d come to enjoy the afternoon teatime and visiting with his guests.

Olivia knocked at the first door in the hall, waited a minute, then swung it open. He stepped inside and went directly to the restroom. It smelled of lemons and window cleaner. The linens were fresh and folded neatly, and the floor sparkled. “Well done, Olivia. This looks very nice.” He moved into the sleeping area and noted the neatly made bed. “Very nice. I don’t think it’s necessary for me to see every room. Keep up the good work.”

Olivia’s hazel eyes sparkled. “Thank you.” She moved past him and strolled down the hall.

He shook his head, and for the first time since Zoe had departed this morning felt that he’d found a suitable stand in. Sure she’d had a rocky start, but as the day progressed she’d finally showed competency. Good thing he hadn’t given up on her after the first hour. Clearly she had backbone and wasn’t afraid of hard work. Now, could she cook?

 

****

 

Z
OE DROVE AIMLESSLY
around the island. Nick meant well, and she appreciated his concern for her, but he had no idea how not being busy drove her crazy. A smile touched her lips at the memory of Olivia. The young woman didn’t look like she’d worked a day in her life. Zoe almost felt sorry for Nick, but she was too annoyed with him for that. He should’ve at least given her a heads up that he was hiring a new part-time girl rather than spring Olivia on her.

The idea of bringing in a new person to cook on weekends was crazy. A sign for Wildflower Golf Club caught her attention at the same time her stomach rumbled. She parked the car and stepped out. The white building of the upscale establishment looked like a large, well-maintained house, with beautiful conifers scattered around the property. She shielded her eyes from the bright sunshine and admired the golf course. She might not have a clue how to play golf, but the vibrant green was lovely.

She drew the door open and a blast of cool air made her shiver. She looked around and noted the golf-pro shop to her right and the entrance to a restaurant to her left. A woman who looked to be about her age laughed loudly at guest services where golfers presumably checked in as well as people coming to dine at the restaurant. Zoe strolled over to the counter and waited until the gentleman in front of her walked away.

The woman smiled. Her long dark hair hung in a stylish ponytail at the base of her neck, and she wore a polo shirt with tailored pants. “May I help you?”

Zoe stepped forward and noted the woman’s nametag. “Hi, Autumn. I was wondering about the restaurant.”

Autumn’s face lit. “Yes. It’s open Thursday through Sunday. Are you interested in lunch?”

Zoe squared her shoulders. “Actually, I’m a chef, and I was wondering if they’re hiring.”

“Let me check.” Autumn picked up the phone and spoke softly into the receiver. She nodded and hung up. “The manager is busy setting tables in the dining room, but he wants to meet you.”

“Does that mean there’s an opening?” Nick might think he was doing her a favor, but he was mistaken. On top of that, he even admitted her job wasn’t completely secure. The words
for now
still rang in her mind. What did he mean her job was safe for now?

Autumn flashed perfect teeth. “He didn’t say. Why don’t you go see Mr. Trask and find out about openings?” She pointed across the lobby to a doorway with a freestanding sign beside it.

“Okay. I will. Thanks.” Zoe practiced deep breathing as she proceeded in the direction indicated. Why was she so nervous? Nick’s image flashed in her mind, but she pushed it aside.

“You must be Ms. Griffin.” A middle-aged man approached wearing khakis and a white shirt with a red tie. He held out his hand.

He knew her name. How? She gave his hand a firm shake and stepped back. “Yes, but—”

“How did I know your name?”

She nodded.

“It’s a small island. Word traveled that a five-star chef was working at the Wildflower B&B. Naturally, I inquired about you, and one of our guests described the fabulous cook at the B&B they were staying at. Since I know all the other B&B cooks, I knew it had to be you.” He pulled out a chair and motioned for her to sit.

“Thank you.”

“So, what can I do for you? You’re not leaving the Wildflower already?”

Zoe folded her hands in her lap. “I like to keep my options open.”

He squinted. “I see. I’m currently not hiring, but I know where to find you if anything opens up. Is that all you wanted to talk about?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Okay then.” He stood and looked down at her. “Welcome to Wildflower Island. It was a pleasure to meet the famous Ms. Griffin.”

Famous?
Maybe he meant infamous. She fumbled with her chair and stood. What had gone wrong? He’d seemed interested, but maybe he really only wanted to meet her because of her reputation. “Thanks. Mr. Trask?” She stopped and looked directly into his eyes. “Did I do or say something to offend you?”

“I like that you speak your mind, Ms. Griffin, so I’ll be honest. When you asked to meet with me, I was proud that you’d be interested in this establishment, and I wanted to meet you. Your reputation as an exceptional chef made me curious about you, but hiring you concerns me since you recently left a prestigious job for a B&B and now you’re seeking new employment again. I need someone who is loyal and will stick around for the long haul. Your recent actions make me doubt you’d meet my needs.”

Zoe opened her mouth to deny his accusation and then snapped it shut. Arguing wouldn’t do any good. His mind was made up and she didn’t need to prove her worth. “I see. Thank you for your time.” She strolled back to the reception area, taking in the room. Maybe she’d made a huge mistake in coming here. What if it got back to Nick that she’d inquired about work? He might let her go thinking her disloyal. Clearly loyalty meant something to Mr. Trask.

Autumn sidled up to her. “How’d it go?”

“Badly.”

Autumn chuckled. “Don’t mind Mr. Trask. He can be difficult, but if he likes you, you’ll hear from him. In the meantime, I’m on break. Want to join me? I always take an iced tea outside by the lake and relax.”

“Sure. By the way, I’m Zoe.”

“I know.”

“Of course you did.” Zoe grinned. Nothing was a secret on this island. She may as well take time to visit. It wasn’t like she had anything better to do, and Autumn seemed like a nice person. That was if Zoe could trust her own judgment—lately it’d been way off base.

“Wait here. I’ll go grab our teas.” Autumn disappeared down the hall and returned a few minutes later. “Here you go.” She handed Zoe a tall glass filled almost to the brim. “Let’s go outside.

Autumn motioned to a chair that faced the water. “Take a seat.”

“The lake is so pretty. I see why you come out here on your breaks.” She sat and sipped her iced tea.

“Yeah. It’s peaceful too. Everyone’s been talking about the Wildflower Bed and Breakfast.”

Zoe laughed drily. “I can’t imagine we’re all that exciting to talk about.”

“Sure you are. First the owners suddenly sell and leave the island after twenty-plus years, then the good looking new owner arrives, and shortly after that, the long-time help takes off, and you show up. Oh, and there’s the mystery woman, too.”

Zoe wrinkled her nose. “What mystery woman?”

“The one who has been staying at the B&B for over a month. Why would she stay at a B&B that long? Some people think she’s running from the law. Others have suggested she’s a rich heiress or a movie star.”

Zoe laughed. “That’s absurd! I can’t believe what people come up with.” However, reality could be on the crazy side too.

Autumn leaned close and kept her voice low. “So, what’s the truth?”

Zoe couldn’t very well tell what she knew about Rachel. She pursed her lips tightly and shook her head. “I’d rather not gossip.”

“Ah, so the mystery continues.” Autumn shrugged, glanced at her watch and stood. “Glad to meet you, Zoe. Stay as long as you’d like, but I need to get back to work.”

“Thanks. I’m free by two most afternoons. You’re welcome to stop in at the B&B. Maybe you’ll be able to clear up some of the conspiracy theories.”

Autumn chuckled. “You’re my kind of person, Zoe. See you around.”

CHAPTER ELEVEN

 

F
ROM HIS PLACE AT THE RECEPTION
desk, Nick looked out the window beside the front door and breathed a little easier. Zoe was home! The day hadn’t been a disaster, but it could have gone more smoothly. The front door swung open, and he smiled. “Welcome back. How was your day?”

“Interesting. Yours?”

“The same.” He stood and walked around the reception desk.

She glanced from side to side, obviously trying to see if Olivia had destroyed the house. She had more than made her opinion clear about her lack of faith in the new girl, and unfortunately Zoe had been at least partially correct. Olivia did
not
know her way around a kitchen.

“But I’m glad you’re back.”

A smug smile rested on her face, and a gleam lit her eyes.

This was a side of Zoe he hadn’t witnessed. “The couple staying in your room checked out early, and I forgot to have Olivia clean it.”

Zoe shrugged. “I’ll take care of it. Why’d they leave after making such a fuss about staying until Monday?”

“Some work emergency.” He stepped past her and ambled into the kitchen.

Zoe followed and caught her breath. “What happened in here?”

“Olivia tried to make scones. I sent her home and told her I’d clean up. Kind of reminds me of your first morning here.”

Zoe crossed her arms. “That was an accident. This is—”

“A disaster zone. I’m still not sure how egg got on the ceiling.”

“Looks like she used an electric mixer instead of stirring by hand.” She turned to him with a sweet smile. “I’m glad you’re cleaning this and not me.”

“I’ll get right on that, but first I need to make sure everything in your room is intact. You can’t be too careful.” Nick slid the key into the lock and pushed her bedroom door open. He walked around the room. “Looks like everything is here.”

“I should hope so. I can’t imagine people running off with your stuff. Then again, things disappeared from the restaurant all the time.”

“Exactly. When you’re free, would you mind making up a checklist for Olivia? She’s insecure, and I think a list would help her.”

“Sure.” She strode to the bed and yanked the covers back. In the process, a decorative pillow flew up and smacked Nick in the side of the head, making him jump. She giggled. “Oops.”

He waggled his brows, grabbed the pillow from the floor, and tossed it at her hitting her on the back. “Oops.”

Her eyes widened, and her lips tipped up. She gripped a bed pillow in her hands. “You asked for it.”

He ran around to the other side of the bed and snatched up the other pillow. “I’m armed and dangerous.” He chuckled, unable to hide his pleasure in their game. Zoe looked ready to pounce.

She darted around the bed and swung the pillow, hitting his shoulder.

“Is that the best you can do?” He wiggled his fingers, egging her on.

“Nope.” She belted his head, laughing.

He whipped a pillow to the side and swung, hitting her across the back as she bolted to the foot of the bed. “You can dish it out, but you can’t take it, huh?” He knew the woman was feisty, but she had a competitive streak too.

BOOK: Island Refuge (Wildflower B&B Romance Book 1)
2.33Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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