Island Refuge (Wildflower B&B Romance Book 1) (8 page)

BOOK: Island Refuge (Wildflower B&B Romance Book 1)
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“If the price is right.” Nick brought a roll to his lips.

Nick’s plan proved what they already knew. Rachel was interested in the antiques.

Zoe sighed.

“Something wrong, Zoe?” Mitch refilled his cup with water.

“Tired I guess.” It was true, although not the whole truth. Before coming to the B&B, she’d been a night owl and slept in until nine most mornings. On top of the new schedule, she offered to keep an ear out for Aiden, so he wouldn’t have to go off with Rachel. Until she figured out why the woman had snooped in her room and stayed quiet about it, she couldn’t trust her with the boy. “How’s the roof coming along?”

“Should be finished tomorrow.” Mitch nodded to Nick. “What happened to that guy you hired to help out?”

Nick waved a fork in the air. “He called a bit ago and apologized profusely. Apparently he had unexpected business in Seattle. The good news is he’s going to help out with a couple of other items on my to-do list once you leave.”

“I’m glad, but I was counting on the extra hands for the roofing. Guess we’ll have to step it up. Maybe work later into the evening.” Mitch shaded his eyes and looked up. “By the way, I like the shingles you chose. That steel gray looks nice against the white house.”

“Which is getting painted as soon as we finish the roof. I hope by Monday this place will have a fresh and inviting appearance.”

Rachel frowned. “You’re painting too?”

“Yes. I’m surprised you didn’t notice since I hired crew to prep the house for painting. You seem more bothered about the paint than the roof. Is there a problem?”

“No, not really. Will the fumes from the paint come into the house?”

“No, but don’t open your bedroom window.”

Relief shone in her eyes.

Zoe added her observation to her list of oddities regarding Rachel. She looked around at the group and noted that everyone including Aiden had demolished their food. Pleasure shot up her spine. Wait until they tasted tomorrow’s meal.

 

****

 

F
RIDAY MORNING
N
ICK
waved as his brother and nephew drove away. The week had flown by. Now it was up to him and Chase to get the house painted. At least Mitch had helped clean up the mess from the roof and the house was prepped for painting. Chase would be here in the morning with the paint and power sprayers.

A part of him was as giddy as a little boy at Christmas. It felt good to see their progress, but another part felt as tired as an old man. His body wasn’t used to this kind of labor. Muscles he hadn’t thought about since high school made their presence known.

Jenna would probably have gotten a kick out of running the B&B. She’d never been completely happy being a housewife. Sure, she’d volunteered many hours at their church and had friends she often did things with, but it couldn’t have been easy on her with him working so many hours. Regret weighed on him. If only he could have a do-over. However, the past couldn’t be rewritten. But as Mitch had pointed out yesterday, he was the author of his future. He just had to determine what his story would be.

Funny how his brother could be so philosophical, yet barely got through each day. At least things were looking better for Mitch than they had been.

He turned and faced the house. Back to work. He tromped up the stairs leading to the front door and walked inside. “Zoe?”

“In the kitchen.”

Of course.
He strode to the kitchen and found her scrubbing the sink. “You have a minute? We need to talk.”

Zoe stood still. “Okay. Give me a second to finish up here. There’s fresh coffee if you’d like some.”

He poured himself a cup and added a splash of milk then sat at the bar.

Zoe moved slowly, methodically—definitely stalling. Her long wavy hair was bound in a clip at the base of her head. Would the silky strands feel as soft as they looked? He shook his head at his wayward thoughts. He couldn’t go there, especially right now.

She finally washed her hands then turned from the sink. She poured herself a cup of coffee while standing at the bar facing him. “What’s up?”

His pulse ratcheted up a notch. “Mitch brought something to my attention that we need to discuss.”

She took a sip from her mug, but her gaze never wavered from his.

“He felt like you were being less than kind regarding Rachel.”

Zoe’s eyes narrowed, and her mouth stretched into a straight line. She placed the mug on the counter with a thud. “Do you agree?” She shook her head. “Stupid question. You do, or we wouldn’t be having this conversation.” No matter how hard she tried it was never good enough.

Nick studied his coffee for a moment. He hadn’t intended to put her on the defensive. She was exceptional at her job, but he couldn’t have her being rude to the guests. Even if that guest was more like a resident. He raised his gaze to meet hers. “I’ll admit, your first few days here were rocky, and there have been a few rough patches since, but I wouldn’t get upset about it.”

He checked his tone, and softened his voice. No sense in making her more defensive. “You’re a good worker and an exceptional cook. There is no arguing your abilities in the kitchen. For the most part, you do a great job. The house is always clean and smells nice. I appreciated you stepping in and keeping an eye on Aiden when he was here and for trying to keep him in mind with the meals, but I won’t tolerate unkindness toward the guests.”

“Nor should you. Why are we having this conversation? I’ve never been unkind to any of the guests.” Her nose scrunched, and for the first time he noticed light freckles sprinkled across it.

“Mitch felt like you were gossiping about Rachel.”

Zoe’s jaw jutted out. “I disagree, but if Mitch felt that way, I’m sorry. I can’t imagine what he thought he saw or heard.”

“It had to do with Aiden.”

“Oh that. I can’t believe he complained. I was concerned for your nephew’s safety and suggested he not allow Rachel to be alone with his son. We don’t know anything about her. What if she’s a serial killer with a penchant for antiques?”

A laugh bubbled from his lips, but he quickly sobered at the intense look on Zoe’s face. “Seriously?”

She lowered her voice to barely above a whisper. “She keeps to herself most of the time. What else am I to think?”

“I can think of several other options.” Zoe was being uncharacteristically uncharitable. What had come over her? “Why are you so suspicious of others?”

“I’m not. How can you sit there and tell me everything is normal with her when we both know she was snooping around in my room? Who knows what else she’s done when no one was around.”

Nick pressed a hand to his forehead. With all the excitement of having his family visit and working on the house he’d pushed the pictures to the back of his mind for the past few days, but Zoe was right. He needed to deal with that issue once and for all. “I’ll talk to her.”

“Good.” Zoe took a step toward the sink. “Are we finished?”

He bristled at the challenge in her tone, but knew better than to push things with her. He’d made his point, and the last thing he needed was her walking out on the job. Besides, she had the right to expect her personal space to remain private. “Yes.”

He strode to the door leading to his apartment. He’d deal with Rachel, but not until the time was right. Right now, he had something more pressing.

 

****

 

Z
OE REFILLED HER
coffee mug and sat in the spot Nick vacated. Irked didn’t even come close to describing how she felt. She took a gulp of the brew and rested the mug between her hands. A cool breeze fluttered the white curtains hanging from the kitchen window, making her grateful for the warmth of the cup. She should probably close it, but she enjoyed the scent of the flowers and fresh air.

She sipped her coffee. Perhaps Nick was right about Rachel. Zoe certainly had trust issues and it wouldn’t be the first time she’d been wrong about a person. She swirled the coffee around in the mug and stood. Time to find out the truth. She was done waiting around for Nick. She’d confront Rachel herself.

She poured a second cup, grabbed the plate of cookies she’d prepared for afternoon tea, and placed everything on a tray, then trekked up to Rachel’s room. Standing before Rachel’s door, she took a bracing breath then tapped a friendly beat on the door.

“Come in.”

Rachel sat at the table beside the bay window. “Hi, Zoe.”

“If you don’t mind I thought we could both use some girl-talk. I brought treats.” She raised the tray slightly.

“Looks delicious.” She stood and cleared the tabletop. “Come join me. That’s really nice of you to think of me. I have to admit I’m more than a little surprised you want to chat.”

Zoe swallowed the lump that formed in her throat. She hadn’t meant to deceive Rachel. Maybe she should come right out and state her real purpose for being here.

Rachel motioned to the space she’d cleared. “The view here is amazing. When I look at the Sound I forget about all my problems.”

Zoe placed the tray in the center of the table and claimed her mug, then reached for a peanut butter cookie. “
You
have problems?” She tried to soften the words with a smile.

“Excuse me?” Rachel stopped mid-reach for a cookie with confusion clouding her expression.

“Sorry. That didn’t come out right. It just seems to me like someone who is able to spend the summer vacationing in a B&B must live a perfect life.”

“I suppose that’s what it looks like.” Her forehead furrowed. “I guess to an extent that’s exactly what I’m doing, but there is more to me than that.”

Zoe raised a brow and took a bite from the perfectly crisp cookie.

“If you must know, I’m here trying to figure out some things. My life took an interesting turn a couple of months ago, and now I need to fulfill a promise and come up with a plan.”

Zoe rested her elbows on the table holding the mug between her hands. “Sounds mysterious.” But it still didn’t answer why Rachel had been snooping in Zoe’s bedroom.

Rachel glanced toward the open door and frowned. “Can you keep a secret?”

“As long as it doesn’t require me to break any laws.”

“I don’t think you’d be breaking a law, but…”

Zoe’s heart tripped. Could Rachel be into something illegal? She’d figured she was simply a snoop. Did she really want to get involved? Probably not, but if she could help, she wanted to. “You don’t have to tell me anything, but maybe I can help.”

“Thanks.” For the next twenty minutes Rachel shared about her recent past and how she was the widow of the prior owners’ son. “Right before Jason died he made me promise to do something for him.” She looked toward the open door and lowered her voice. “This is where my story touches the gray area of legality.”

Zoe couldn’t take much more shock. Not only was the girl pregnant, but a widow. She reached across the table and squeezed the younger woman’s hand. “You don’t have to tell me. You’ve been through enough already.” Guilt at her prior assumptions about Rachel weighed her down.

“No. I need to tell someone. It’s driving me crazy. Jason, my husband, asked me to find a ring he stole as a child. It belonged to his grandmother, and he wants me to return it to her.”

“How is that illegal?”

“The ring is someplace in this house. You see, Jason had a brain tumor, and he was on heavy pain medicine. Between those two issues, he couldn’t recall where he’d hidden the ring.”

Zoe shook her head and lowered her voice. “Are you sure the ring even exists? Couldn’t his condition have made him imagine it?”

“I suppose, but if you’d been there, you’d have believed him too. He had a scrapbook his mom had made for him and we were looking through it together one day when he spotted the ring. His dying wish was that I find the ring and return it to his grandmother.”

“Let me get this straight. You’re here because you need to find a ring?”

“Exactly.”

“Why did he take the ring to begin with?”

Rachel shrugged. “I asked him the same thing and he couldn’t remember.”

Everything finally made sense—the pictures because she was quietly casing the place looking for possible hiding places for the ring, the vomiting, her tiredness … “We should tell Nick. He can help us. Besides, you need prenatal care.”

“Forget my medical condition for a moment. Are you sure about telling Nick? Since this is his house now, technically everything in it belongs to him.”

“Not stolen merchandise.”

For the first time since Zoe stepped into the room, a grin covered Rachel’s face. “You’re a genius. I didn’t think of that.”

“Good. One problem solved. One to go. We need to get you set up with a doctor.”

“Forget it. I don’t have money for that. I’ll go to the emergency room when it’s time.”

Zoe wanted to argue, but from the firm set of Rachel’s lips, she knew it would be pointless. “Fine, but at least take prenatal vitamins. You want to give your baby the best nutrients possible.”

“Since when are you an expert on babies?”

Zoe bristled. “I’m not, but I know things. I can ask Nick to pick you up some the next time he goes to the city.”

“I suppose since he’s a doctor, he’d know what to buy.” Rachel spoke softly as if Zoe weren’t in the room and pushed back from the table. “It’s such a relief to tell someone about the ring.”

Clearly all pregnancy talk was off limits. “I would imagine so. Now we have to figure out where a young boy would have hidden it.”

CHAPTER EIGHT

 

N
ICK SPRAYED THE BACK OF THE
house a crisp white. Hiring a crew to prep and prime the house had been a huge time saver. A little further and he’d be finished. Chase had finally shown up to help and worked on the front, since it was more complicated. Things were coming together. A scream ripped through the air, coming from the front of house. Nick dropped the paint sprayer and broke into a full sprint.

He rounded the corner of the house and skidded to a stop. Rachel stood beside the door dripping in white paint. “What happened?”


He
,” she pointed a finger covered in paint at Chase, “sprayed me.”

BOOK: Island Refuge (Wildflower B&B Romance Book 1)
8.19Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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