Billionaires and Beach Bums(6)

By: Mia Caldwell

I’m afraid a recoiled a bit. Those Tiny Tina Cakes are nasty. Mostly artificial ingredients and priced so low they’re nearly irresistible. Of course, in school, it felt like everyone had them in their lunchboxes except my brother and I. Man, I wanted Mama to buy Oatmeal Fudge Pies so bad, but she said they were poison and for that dollar, we could have two pounds of pinto beans. Not what a kid wants to hear of course, but she was right.

“You don’t approve,” said Walker. I couldn’t bring myself to meet his gaze.

“Uh, no, not really. I think Tiny Tina cakes are, um,” don’t say poison, “not part of a healthy diet.” My voice sounded tight. I forced myself to lighten up a little and waved my hand around the room. “Clearly it’s done okay for you though,” I smiled, but I knew it probably looked more like a grimace.

“It has. But I happen to agree with you, mostly. While I think a healthy diet can include…rewards, I would like to find a way to both make our current snack cakes a little less, um, objectionable to some and to launch a healthier snack line.”

I picked up our plates and rinsed them in the sink. “Mmm,” I said, making the same non-committal noise my mother used to make whenever David or I carried on about some teacher treating us unfairly or some notion we had for better dividing our bedroom.

“That’s why I sought you out to cook for Mother, Andrea. I was hoping you could help.”

I turned to look at him, “What do you mean?”

Rising to come stand closer to me–I think he must have known he had a physical effect on my ability to think–he said, “Help me develop the new line. You make healthy and delicious food every day.”

It was hard to keep my thoughts straight with him so near. The desire to jump at a chance to spend more time around him was at war with what I knew to be true. “But there’s no way to make fresh, local food in a factory.”

Walker smiled. “I think you can help us figure out how to come close.”

He was watching me so intently. I wished I’d read that article in the paper so I’d know anything at all about him. “Looks like a movie star” isn’t enough to go on. I sat back down in the kitchen chair to give myself at least a little space. “Why me?” I asked him. “There are lots of chefs with chemistry degrees and chemists who like to cook. Why me?”

Drinking the last of his wine and refilling the glass, he paused. When he looked up at me, there was mischief in his eyes. My mom would have said “I see the devil in you, boy.”

“It’s pretty shallow. I saw your photo and wanted an excuse to meet you. So I researched a bit and could see that you have big dreams. Dreams it will be hard to achieve just by cooking for invalids and busy families.”

“So… you thought I was hot and then figured out what you could offer me to draw me in? Selling yourself a little short, aren’t you?”

He laughed. “Oh I know how to catch women using looks and money. Believe me.” His voice sobered up and he gave me that soul-searching Alexander look. “But there was something about your photo that really grabbed me. And when I started reading about you, it just made it clear that I needed to meet you.” He sat back down, too, and smiled, releasing me from that laser-stare. “But even I know looks are deceiving and the internet is full of lies, so when Mother needed a chef for a few days, I thought it would be a good chance to…”

“Audition me?”

“Yes, perfect!” He was so relaxed, so at ease with the idea that he could just see a thing–in this case a person (and in this case, me)–decide he wants it, and find a way to get it. No doubt at all that it would work. It was definitely a perk of being born rich and powerful.

“Really,” he added, “Mother needs a chef for a full week, but I thought I’d be sure you could get along with her first.”

“That’s flattering, but I can’t. I’m going on a trip with my best friend. We leave on Friday.”

He stopped grinning, but the smile didn’t leave his eyes. “Oh, somewhere fun?”

“Aruba.” I stifled my impulse to add “She’s a lawyer, she’s paying.” I could never have afforded a vacation if Kiera wasn’t funding it, but I didn’t need to tell Walker that. No need to appear utterly destitute and at his mercy.

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