Island Refuge (Wildflower B&B Romance Book 1) (3 page)

BOOK: Island Refuge (Wildflower B&B Romance Book 1)
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Jenna would gently scold him if she heard his thoughts. She always had a kind word for everyone whether they deserved it or not. Remorse filled him. No one was perfect. He chuckled. Especially Zoe. However, he could overlook her lack of musical talent if his old house would smell and look this good every day. He took a bite of banana bread he found on the table and frowned, wondering if he’d made the right decision in calling the employment agency. This was good. Really good. If it wasn’t so important for his new business to be a success, he wouldn’t think twice about giving Zoe another half-dozen chances, but could he really take the risk? After all, the service and cleanliness of a B&B was important.

The door to her room opened and a gasp escaped her lips as she stepped into the kitchen.

“Sorry. I keep startling you.” Nick had a hard time tearing his gaze away. Her damp hair hung in ringlets around her heart-shaped face and cascaded past her long neck. She really was stunning. He shook off the thought. He’d been widowed for more than a year, but somehow noticing another woman’s beauty seemed disloyal to Jenna.

“Nothing to apologize for. I’m jumpy by nature.” She rested a hip against the counter and crossed her arms.

“How’s your hand?”

“Better.”

“Good.”

“Can I make you something?”

He held up the bread. “I know it’s for the guests, but I couldn’t resist. It smells so good.” He pulled an apple from the fridge.

She chuckled.

“What?”

“An apple a day keeps the doctor away.” She chuckled again. “You’re a doctor, so you’re keeping yourself away.”

He frowned. “O—kay.”

She sobered. “Sorry. I’ve been told I have an odd sense of humor. If you don’t need me for anything, I’m going to head out for the rest of the afternoon.”

“Have fun.” He scowled at her retreating form. Somehow he had expected they’d hang out together. In retrospect, he’d guess she’d been planning her escape.

He’d spent the morning figuring out the reservation book and fielding phone calls. The Wi-Fi would be set up by tomorrow, which wasn’t soon enough to his way of thinking. How had they operated without Wi-Fi when most guests expected it? No wonder he had vacancies. This house should be at capacity every weekend during the summer but not one weekend was fully booked.

He scanned through his to-do list. Replace roof, hire gardener, paint house… with a sigh he plopped into the cushy chair he’d squeezed behind the reception desk. It’d be easier to hire someone to do the work, but he relished the satisfaction of doing it himself.

 

****

 

Z
OE MEANDERED THROUGH
the garden and spotted Rachel under the vine-covered arbor sitting beside a woman who looked young enough to be her sister. Zoe hesitated. Her own mother would never go out of her way to spend time with her.

She skirted unnoticed past Rachel and her mom and set out toward the Sound. In spite of the long soak, the small of her back protested her speedy gait. Somehow she’d get used to cleaning and learn to like it, if it was the last thing she did.

Her foster mom had quoted those exact words more times than she cared to remember. Which reminded her that if she didn’t check-in soon, Michelle would worry. But what could she say? “I quit my dream job to be a glorified housekeeper”? Michelle had warned her about Kyle but she hadn’t listened. How had Michelle known what he was really like?

Before Zoe realized it she was at the shore of the Sound. Sitting, she kicked off her flip-flops then pulled her knees to her chest and wrapped her arms around her legs, laughing when two seals bobbed their heads up out of the water.

Her phone rang. She looked at the caller ID.
Michelle
. Somehow she always knew when to call. “Hi, Mom.”

“I stopped by your apartment this afternoon.”

Zoe winced. The woman she’d called mom since she was thirteen deserved better. “I’m sorry. I should’ve called.”

“Where are you, sweetie? Tara didn’t know, and all she would tell me is that you moved out and quit your job. Are you okay?”

“I’m fine.”

“What’s going on? For years, all you talked about was how you were going to run your own kitchen at a fancy restaurant. Did you get a better offer?”

Zoe laughed drily. “Not exactly.” She ran her fingers through the tiny gravel pieces along the shoreline. “Kyle cheated on me with Tara, and they’re engaged.”

“I warned you about that man. He’s a player.”

Zoe’s stomach tightened. “I’m sorry for letting you down.” Michelle and Richard Brown had taken her in and treated her as their own. They deserved more, but maybe she was no better than her birth mom who taunted that Zoe would never amount to anything.

“Nonsense. You haven’t let me down. I wish you had heeded my advice, but you are a grown woman and more than capable of making your own choices. You’re better without him. I’m glad you discovered his true colors before you married him. So, what’s next for my favorite daughter?”

In spite of the circumstances, Zoe laughed. Michelle didn’t have a daughter of her own and had never taken in another child after she arrived. Her foster parents had talked behind closed doors about adopting her, but her birth mom wouldn’t allow it. Zoe had lived in constant fear that she’d be sent back, but thankfully that never happened. “I’m living on Wildflower Island in Washington State.”

“What on earth are you doing there?”

“I’m a cook and housekeeper in a bed-and-breakfast.”

“Oh, Zoe.” Disappointment laced her voice.

“I couldn’t stay at the restaurant. Not with Tara and Kyle both working there.”

“So you should have fired them! You were in charge! I will never understand why you allow people to walk all over you.”

Zoe blinked back tears. Mom was right. She should’ve fired them. In fact she would have if she hadn’t feared a lawsuit since everyone was so sue-happy these days. But there was no going back now. “It’s complicated, but the place where I’m at now is…” What could she say? Dilapidated and grossly beneath her skill level.

“Is what?”

“Quaint.” Where that word came from she didn’t know, but it fit. The Wildflower was charming in its own way.

“Do you need your dad and me to come?”

“I’m thirty years old and more than capable.”

“I know, dear. But I’m worried about you.”

“And I love you for that. No, I don’t want you to come. I’m still getting settled. Maybe later you and Dad could visit, though.”

“Okay. Let us know. I love you and will be praying for you. Bye.”

Zoe pocketed her phone and let the tears of regret slide down her face.

 

****

 

T
HE FOLLOWING MORNING
Zoe covered her eyes with her arm and winced at the bright sunshine filtering through the blinds. “Oh no!” She flung the sheets back and vaulted for the restroom. After throwing her hair into a clip atop her head, she splashed water on her face, applied a coat of lipstick, and tossed on the first thing she grabbed from the tiny closet.

She yanked her door open and scurried into the kitchen. Cereal boxes littered the counter as well as a pitcher of orange juice and a basket of leftover muffins.

“Oh good, you’re up.” Nick motioned to the toaster. “Mind buttering the toast?”

Zoe snapped her jaw closed and quickly washed her hands. “I overslept.”

“I noticed.” A frown puckered his brow.

“I’d planned French toast, bacon, fried potatoes, and scrambled eggs.”

“Sometimes our best laid plans are thwarted. How’s the toast coming?”

She reached for a knife and buttered the lightly browned bread. “Done.”

“Good. Let’s get this to the table.”

Zoe wrapped her arms around several boxes of cereal and pushed through the door into the dining room. “Good morning, everyone.” She lowered the boxes onto the table then turned toward the kitchen and wove around Nick who followed with a tray filled with everything else.

Twitters of laughter in the other room brought a smile to her face. At least their guests were enjoying the simple meal. She reached into the fridge and pulled out a bag of peaches she’d thawed the night before and poured them into a glass bowl.

Nick pushed through the door and stopped. “I’ll take that. You might want to go change.” His eyes gleamed, and he fingered his collar.

“What’s wrong with what I’m wearing?”

“Did you get dressed in the dark?”

“Of course not.” She didn’t mean to snap but couldn’t help it. She’d worked so hard to prove herself to her boss and now apparently she couldn’t even dress right.

He held up his hands. “I’m no fashion expert, but you might want to rethink that look.”

She dashed into her room and looked in the mirror. For starters her top was on backward. How had she not noticed? But to make matters worse the top was sheer and she’d forgotten to remove her nightshirt, which now hung beneath the hem of her white top. A groan escaped her lips. Of all days to forget to wear her chef’s jacket.

After making things right she took a little extra time to fix her hair and make sure she was put together properly. Satisfied, she re-entered the kitchen. “You know, you could’ve said something before I went into the dining room.”

Nick looked up from wiping the counter. Appreciation shone in his eyes. “Honestly, I didn’t notice until one of the guests pointed it out. I may look cool under pressure, but I was stressing. Sorry.”

“No, I’m sorry.” Zoe skimmed past him and into the dining room. “Can I get anyone…” Where had they gone? She noted the wall clock and pursed her lips. Everyone was finished eating. It didn’t take twenty minutes to down a bowl of cereal.

Nick strolled into the room with a tray. “They all had plans for their day. Rachel and her mother went for a walk. Rachel asked me to let you know.”

Sounded like that was a polite way of telling her to clean Rachel’s room. “I’ll clean up breakfast then take care of her room.”

“I’ve got this. Go ahead.”

Zoe reached for a coffee mug and placed it on the tray. “I can do my job, Nick. I just overslept. It won’t happen again.”

“I’m glad to hear that, but I’d rather you take care of Rachel’s room, and let me do this.”

“You’re the boss.” Zoe bit her bottom lip and tromped up the stairs. Her stomach roiled at the thought of losing her job, but she wouldn’t blame Nick if he let her go. She’d messed up.

She had worked hard to get her life together after Children’s Protective Services removed her from her home. That first year with her foster family had been rough, but mostly because she didn’t trust them. Gradually, the trust grew and their nurturing helped heal the wounds her birth parents had inflicted.

Cooking had been her catharsis—the place where everything was always okay. Her birth parents had loved her cooking and always mellowed when they smelled the aroma of a homemade meal. But when there was no money for food, things got rough. She exhaled and yanked the closet door open. No good came of reliving bad memories.

If Nick let her go, she’d find another job—one where she didn’t need to clean bathrooms or bedding. But she rather liked living on this beautiful island where life lacked complications—like boyfriend-stealing roommates.

CHAPTER THREE

 


I
DON’T KNOW,
M
ITCH.
T
HE ROOF
is a big job.” Nick rubbed the back of his neck. “There are several guests here and I—”

“The roof needs replacing. I have this week off. I’m coming. Give them a discount or something.”

Nick had taken ownership two weeks ago. Surely the repairs could wait a little longer. He paced to a large picture window and looked toward the Sound. The couple who arrived today would be gone in the morning. Rachel was already getting a discount, and her mother seemed nice enough. Maybe she wouldn’t mind a couple days of noise. “I’ll call you.”

“Don’t forget.”

“Why do you always say that? Err, never mind.” He hung up knowing full well he was horrible about remembering to phone back. He found Rachel and her mother in the sitting room talking in low tones. He squared his shoulders and strode into the room. “Good afternoon, ladies. May I join you for a moment?”

Rachel smiled. “Of course.”

“Thanks.” He squeezed into the old Victorian rocker that faced the women. This old furniture was not made for a man from this century. “I’m sure you noticed that the Wildflower is in need of repair.”

The women nodded.

“Ordinarily I wouldn’t do any work with guests staying here, but since you,” he glanced at Rachel, “will be in residence for the entire summer, I find myself at a loss for when to do the needed repairs.”

Rachel shrugged. “Don’t worry about me. I understand the situation. Go ahead and do what you need to.”

Rachel’s mother patted her daughter’s hand. “Let’s not be too hasty. What exactly are we talking about? I am paying for a peaceful retreat, not a loud construction site.”

Nick’s stomach roiled. This was exactly what he’d feared. “I understand your concern. However, I need to have the roof replaced while the weather is good. Perhaps you and Rachel could spend a couple of days sightseeing. We have an interesting museum on the island, I heard a new boutique opened up, and there’s the golf club if you enjoy golfing. There are also hiking trails and kayaking.”

Mrs. Narrelli pursed her lips and shook her head. “That won’t do. Rachel, pack your bags. We’ll find other accommodations.”

He snapped his mouth shut.

“No!” Rachel’s face turned the shade of ripe strawberries. “I’m not leaving.”

“Nonsense. You will do as I tell you.”

“I’m twenty-three, Mother, and old enough to make my own decisions. If you want to leave, fine. But I’m staying.” She folded her hands in her lap and sent her mother a look that clearly stated she meant what she said.

Nick rocked forward in the chair. “I’ll let you discuss this privately.” He had no problem with Rachel or her mother vacating the premises, however the chances of Rachel leaving were slim considering the sensational rate the previous owners had agreed to.

A whirring sound from the kitchen drew him, and he pushed through the swinging door.

BOOK: Island Refuge (Wildflower B&B Romance Book 1)
6.62Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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