Billionaires and Beach Bums(10)

By: Mia Caldwell

Chapter Four

There was no sign of Walker at lunch the next day, either, and by the time I came in to make dinner, I felt like myself again. This is just a job, do it and get on with the next one. Maybe I’d call him about the consulting job, maybe not. I could think about it in Aruba. Tomorrow night. I’d told Mrs. Alexander I’d come make her one last avocado smoothie tomorrow morning, but then I was off to the airport. A week in the Caribbean would wash away all the uncertainty and weirdness of these past few days.

I took the tray upstairs and was whistling as I came back into the kitchen to find Walker leaning against the counter, offering me a glass of red wine.

And all my cool resolve just dissolved. Like the connective tissue in my knees. What was it about him that his very presence made it hard to stand up, to breathe normally, to remember who I am?

“Did I make it in time for dinner again?” he asked, smiling that easy smile. His voice made my stomach get all fluttery, in addition to all the other symptoms. He was like a really strong virus.

“Sure,” I said, “I’ll make you a plate.” Figure it out, girl–what do you want here? Flirt back and get your heart broken? Play it cool and maybe blow the chance at a business deal? Surely I could just play at flirting, it doesn’t have to mean anything, right? Right?

I gave him the plate and took the wine glass. You know, I can’t tell much difference between a $15 bottle of wine and a $30 bottle. But I can tell when it’s a good wine. This was a good wine.

“This salad is amazing,” said Walker between bites. “What’s that unusual flavor?”

“Sorrel. I have a connection in West Virginia that does wild harvesting. In spring, she gets me morels–she has secret spots.”

I sat down across from him with my own plate. “The wine is very good, thank you.”

“It’s one of my favorites. I know some people wouldn’t drink red with fish, but I say good wine and good food always go together.”

I lifted my glass, “I’ll drink to that.” I watched him for a moment, he was chewing with his eyes closed, savoring the taste. Seriously, that’s like crack to a chef. When he opened his eyes, I darted my eyes to my plate, I didn’t want to be caught staring. When I looked up, he was watching me. It was getting hard to eat when my stomach was so full of butterflies.

Talking, though, I can always do that.

“So, did you mom never cook when you were a kid, even before you got rich?”

“Oh, we’ve always been rich,” he said with a crooked smile. “My mother’s father came from Italy a wealthy man. He’d had a falling out with his brother–they were just beginning to industrialize baking there and the Rossi brothers couldn’t agree on how to run things. So Salvatore packed up his brand new bride and moved to America to open his own factory. He was pretty successful right away, but when he launched Tiny Tina–” Walker gestured toward the stairs. “–named after my own mother, his little girl, Christina, that’s when he got really rich.”

When I realized that the rosy cheeked little girl on the snack cake box was the foul-mouthed old woman upstairs, I nearly choked. My wine went down the wrong way and I started sputtering. I tried to wave him away while I coughed, but Walker jumped up to get me some water and stroked my back while I drank it. It was a strangely intimate gesture, but I was too busy figuring out how to breathe again to really respond. When I was back to just clearing my throat a little, he still stood there beside my chair, his hand on my back. I felt like all of my focus was on that hand-shaped patch of skin, like there should be visible light radiating out from his fingertips. Get it together. Control. I shifted my weight a little and he sat back down. There was an empty spot on my back.

“That’s your mom on the Tiny Tina box?”

Walker laughed. “Yeah, it was a long time ago. She’s always hated that picture. Hated being associated with the brand. Hated being called ‘Snack Cake’ at boarding school.” He took another drink of the wine and shrugged. “But she never hated the money it brought in. And when she married my dad, she didn’t object to his taking the reins from her father.”

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