Authors: L.J. Wilson
Aaron decided that last night had been enough. The morning was a new dawn. On his drive into Abstract Enchantment, he forced his mind center. It had to be that way. What were his options? He couldn’t spend the rest of his life with an athletic jacket and a cat. Among other things, prison had been a bridge. Maybe it was time he finished crossing it. The future in front of him wasn’t the one he wanted. But at least Abstract Enchantment was somewhere to be, something to concentrate on. And that’s what he was going to do.
Soon his status would change, going from blue-collar worker to assistant manager. He couldn’t complain about that. Truth be told, he felt a twinge of gratitude toward Stefan. Aaron had learned a lot about the business in his short tenure. If he could find the will to succeed, maybe this life could be enough. Aaron pulled into the parking lot, going with the idea that last night had been his rock bottom. Maybe the pain had flat-lined. Hell, the sun was shining and the air smelled like fall, he thought getting out of the car. He’d always liked autumn. Better still, no armed guard or gun tower were in his sightlines. That alone was an improvement. He said hello to Tully and Joe and Juan, a few of the finish carpenters at the inn. Dressed in his usual finely tailored suit, Stefan stood in the lobby with an iPad in hand, a stylus going through that morning’s checks and balances.
“Morning, boss,” Aaron said, trying to sound genuine.
“Good morning, Aaron. I’m glad you’re here. I was hoping for a status update on the extension to the executive suite.”
“We’re right on schedule, all set for the soon-to-be missus. Is she still arriving today?”
“Absolutely—and I’m most expectant. I haven’t seen her… Well,” he said, cocking a brow at Aaron. “Let’s say it’s been a while. I appreciate your preparedness with the suite. Everything from overseeing drywall to making certain the proper furniture was delivered. Of course, I realize fine linens and stocking the wet bar aren’t necessarily in your job description, but I thought the experience would be beneficial.”
“I’m fine with all of it. I admit my thread count and crystal knowledge was limited, but Shauna helped with that.”
“Yes, Shauna has exquisite taste. It’s one reason I hired her. It’s rare that I hire someone without a specific agenda in mind.”
“Right,” Aaron said, nodding. “Well, is there anything else I can take care of in the suite? Otherwise, I’ll see if Tully wants me to move onto something else.”
“Could you do one last walk through? You’ve proven to have an eye for detail. After that… well, did Honor mention the menu she’s presenting?”
“She did,” Aaron said, recalling the Cornish game hen he’d barely sampled last night. “I’m sure it will live up to expectations.”
“I agree. Honor. There’s a perfect example. Again, I hired her for very specific reasons. When we get those contracts signed, her business will be in the black for years to come. Of course, it will benefit Abstract Enchantment. But I admit I like the idea of putting a fledgling business on the map.”
Aaron nodded again. Mentally, he was still trying to tack a red cape to Stefan’s custom-tailored suits. On the other hand, so far, not a word of what Stefan had said was bullshit. “She appreciates everything you’ve done for her. We both do.”
Stefan smiled. “Good, I hope that will make a small request easier.”
“Yes. I have an issue regarding our corporate affair. The wait staff isn’t finalized—we have a few positions that need to be filled. Would it be an incredible imposition to ask if you’d help serve in the dining room?”
“You mean, like, be a waiter?”
“Waiter… bus a few tables if need be. Corporate will be here in full, and I’d appreciate someone I could trust. I realize it’s not in the assistant manager job description, but if you don’t find the request too tiresome… ” His cell rang, Stefan glancing at the caller ID. “Ah, my better half…” He answered. “Don’t say a word, darling! Just let me tell you how much I’m looking forward to seeing you.” He put his hand over the phone, speaking to Aaron. “What do you say? I’d be glad to pay you for your time, of course.”
“Sure. If nothing else, it helps out Honor.”
“If nothing else…” He took the call, striding across the lobby.
A glance around the executive suite said Stefan and his fiancée would be living well when staying at Abstract Enchantment. With a clipboard in hand and Shauna in tow, the two tallied the creature comforts. “A half-dozen bottles of Cristal, Russian caviar… gross,” he mumbled, inventorying the minibar, “ten… twelve bottles of Pat…Patagonia…?
“Rare Argentinian imported water. A Stefan must have.”
“Yeah, well, Abstract Enchantment must have an operating budget the size of California’s.” Shauna laughed as Aaron reached to the back of the refrigerator. There were more bottles. Pink wine coolers—the kind you’d buy at the local convenience story. Aaron paused, fingering the gold labels.
He turned. “Sorry. Wine coolers… four wine coolers. Weird, huh? Picnic basket food with cheese you can’t pronounce and champagne that would eat my entire paycheck.”
“The habits of the rich can be perplexing,” Shauna said, taking the clipboard from him.
“A solid paycheck, sure. But what’s in here reads more like jet-setter rich.”
She shrugged. “It’s not my job to calculate or question Stefan’s income.” Shauna moved on with the list. “So we’ve already checked the linens. The only things we’re missing are the Turkish bath sheets. They should come in this afternoon.”
“I swore I put towels in there yesterday.” Aaron walked into the bathroom, pointing. “Here.”
“Those are the standard towels that go in all the suites. These are a grade above. Stefan insisted—two-hundred bucks a towel.”
“Two-hundred…” On Aaron’s right was a closet. He opened the door. Inside was a sexy violet-colored robe that made satin seem substandard. “Jesus, the fiancée must be a piece of work.”
“Hard to say. I only met her once. To be honest, she didn’t strike me as demanding. She was quiet… even subdued. Or I don’t know, maybe she was aloof. Anyway, I was just given a list,” she said, tipping the clipboard in his direction. “You and me, in case you haven’t figured it out, we’re just the worker bees.” Shauna smiled. “After we’re done here, I get to go through Stefan’s
“I thought that was the other suite?” Aaron said, motioning between the bedroom and living room. “How much personal space does one VP need?”
“Again, not for me to say. But I was asked to oversee the renovation of the space above the carriage house.”
“I don’t recall the redesign of that area on any blueprints.”
“Uh, it’s not,” she said, studying the clipboard pages. “It was a separate project. Tully has been handling the work. It’s quite the, um…
“Is it for rent, just separate from the other rooms?”
Shauna was hesitant, starting to answer then stopping. “Look, Aaron, my paycheck is healthy enough to suggest I mind my own business. But I’d say that suite isn’t slated to be part of Abstract Enchantment’s public inventory.”
“So… So you think he intends to use it for…”
Shauna tucked the clipboard to her chest. She looked torn between what was on her mind and what she should say. “I have no idea.” But it was too blunt, like she had a total idea. “I do know I need this job. I’m a single mom. It took me years to get out of an
relationship. I have a son to raise. All those things come before any opinions I might have about why Stefan Gerard finished the carriage house suite or who’s paying for it.”
“So Stefan, there is more to his story than what we see?”
“Aaron, did you not hear the part where I desperately need this job?”
“Sorry,” he said, holding up a hand. “I didn’t mean to put you on the spot.”
“As a boss, I have zero complaints about Stefan.” A smile eased into her fine bone structure. “He treats me well. I don’t plan on doing anything to jeopardize that. End of story.” She looked around the well-dressed suite. “I think we’re done here.”
They headed toward the door. “Again, I’m sorry, Shauna. I… I’m only concerned about my sister, her business dealings with him.”
She pivoted. “It’s fine, Aaron. I’m not mad. In fact…” Shauna took a deep breath. “I was wondering… if you’re interested in subjects that don’t include Stefan, I wanted to ask… Well, would you like to have dinner sometime?”
He was blindsided. Aaron’s brain scrambled to organize information. A) No question, he liked Shauna. B) She was beautiful. Dark, velvety skin, a body that looked as if it had walked a runway or two. C) She appeared to have her shit together. D) Did he plan on spending the rest of his life with Harry the cat?
Yeah, well, that’s kind of the way it was looking…
He could feel Honor poking him between the shoulder blades. Even she had mentioned how nice, how personable, how single Shauna was. “Uh, you know… Well, you’re aware…”
“That you didn’t come to Abstract Enchantment after
at another inn?”
She had a good sense of humor too. “Yeah. I guess that’s one way of putting it.”
“We all have a past, Aaron. I’m not here to judge yours. So if you don’t mind being asked out…?”
The answer should have been obvious and on the tip of his tongue.
“Great idea, Shauna… We could go to dinner… maybe a movie…”
But Aaron didn’t verbalize the thought. “Uh, sure… maybe after all the inn fuss settles down. We’re both kind of busy right now, aren’t we?” He’d taken a step toward life that morning. Clearly, he wasn’t ready for the leap. It seemed unfair to hint at something Aaron suspected he couldn’t give. A date with Shauna wouldn’t be a shower scene with Chloe Pike.
Her brilliant smile faded. “Right… sure. After the fuss settles down. Speaking of which,” she said, quickly moving on and out the door. “I’ve got a million lists and a million things on each one.” She went on her way, leaving Aaron with the feeling that he’d jumped at the wrong choice.
Aaron’s encounters with women continued on a downward spiral. A few hours later, he was out back, making certain the dumpsters were located the proper distance from the building. He reread Stefan’s note:
“I don’t want the idea of waste disposal to ever cross a guest’s mind or path.”
It seemed to be part of the Abstract Enchantment fantasy: everyday shit didn’t exist—at least not in any world Stefan Gerard was running. The trash situation checked out, and Aaron headed back toward the inn. A dented, dirty sedan blew by, nearly colliding with him. That seemed like a definite “fuck no” on Stefan’s list. The car jerked into a space designated for the guests. Along with the garbage, employee vehicles were to be parked out of view. Aaron approached and shuffled to a stop. Garbage emerged from the sedan—busty, redheaded garbage. “What the fuck?” Twenty feet away, Chloe Pike’s crooked-toothed smile came clear.
“Well, I’d prefer a fancy guestroom, but if you want to make a quick trip behind that fencing, we can give it a go.”
Fuck her behind a dumpster? It seemed about right. Aaron shook his head. “What are you doing here, Chloe?”
“I got a job.”
“You got a—?”
“Job,” she said. “Honor hired me. She didn’t tell you?”
“No. And why the hell would Honor hire you?” His angry tone was evident and Chloe stopped in her tracks.
“That’s not very friendly, Aaron.”
He closed the distance, keeping his voice low. “We’re not friends.”
“Oh, so you were just using me during our little welcome home get together?”
Aaron didn’t think his eyes could bug any wider and stay in his head. “Excuse me? I was what? Uh, you’re the one who ambushed my shower, Chloe.”
“Your version. And I didn’t hear you say ‘stop.’”
“What do you mean ‘my version’? There is no
. You showed up, uninvited, in my bathroom.”
“Mmm, whatever. Anyway, Honor knew I was looking for something—work-wise,” she clarified, “and she hired me to assist. Kitchen duty mostly. But I’ll see where I can make myself useful. So welcome me aboard Abstract Enchantment, buddy!” She started to walk away. Aaron didn’t think. He just grabbed her by the arm, whirling her around. Chloe’s pale irises lost their lusty edge, looking a little concerned.