Mr. Imperfect(8)

By: Karina Bliss

“I work the roster to suit mothers’ hours.”

“Get full-time staff. The taxes and health insurances for all these people adds ten percent to your costs.”

“The benefits offset that,” argued Kezia. “My workforce is highly motivated because they’re so delighted to be out of the house for a few hours. By definition mothers are skilled multitaskers, and adept at handling troublemakers.”

“They have to go, Kez.”

“No, Christian, they don’t. We’ll save money elsewhere.” One thing Kezia had resolved after a week of receiving his brusque e-mails—Send this. Find that. What the hell does this mean?—was to clarify who was boss.

“Listen.” She squared her shoulders. “I’m happy to consider any ideas you have with an open mind, but—”

“Starting when? You’ve knocked down every suggestion I’ve made.”

“You’ve been here half an hour!” Kezia paused to drag her tone back to civility. “You haven’t seen your room yet, let alone toured the property and met staff. Do you really think I’ll take your recommendations seriously until you do?”

“No, which is the underlying problem. This hotel is in such dire straits because Muriel let emotion overrule good business practice.”

Kezia saw red. “Don’t you dare attack Nana’s judgment. Never criticize her, do you hear me?”

“I’m sorry,” he said simply.

She realized she was standing and sat again, too shaken to censor her words. “I think I would cope with my grief better if I wasn’t so angry with her.”

He nodded, neither in pity nor judgment, and Kezia felt strangely absolved. All week she’d vacillated between tears and guilt-stricken fury. For the first time it seemed forgivable. “You’ve had time to assess the mess. How do you rate our chances of success?”

“If we keep emotion out of it?” Their shared past flickered like a ghost between them. “Fifty/fifty.”

“Better than the odds I came up with.” She hesitated. “As long as you understand that I’m John Wayne in this picture.”

“You’re going to need his balls,” he replied dryly.

The door swung open before Kezia could think of a suitable retort. A trolley appeared first, lurched left across the doorway, then right, then surged into the room and rode roughshod over one of Kezia’s neat piles.

“Your horse needs breaking in,” remarked Christian.

The small woman pushing it raised her head. Marion Morgan looked like a benign witch, mainly because of her wild blond hair—closer to mist than curls—but also because of the perpetual myopic bewilderment in her big blue eyes.

A bewilderment that had intensified since her alcoholic husband had abandoned his family three months earlier. Kezia saw with relief that Marion’s preschooler was nowhere in sight.

Christian was the one who needed breaking in.

He hated being here already, she could tell by his inability to sit still. It reassured Kezia that the ties that meant everything to her were binds on him; he wouldn’t outstay his welcome. There was also a curious relief in having the decision she’d made all those years ago reinforced as the right one. Restless and mercurial, he would never have stuck by her.

“Well, this is a surprise.” Christian crossed the room to give Marion a hand. The trolley rattled to a rest, slopped coffee shivering to stillness in the saucers.

Marion flung her arms around him and kissed him. “You’re a lifesaver for rescuing us like this.”

Over her head Christian stared unnerved at Kezia who shrugged, half exasperated, half amused. The man was only here because of some IOU he refused to explain, but bless Marion, she always suspected the best in people. Especially bad boys.

Christian changed the subject. “You work here?”

Marion released him to search through her jeans for a handkerchief. “Most evenings. The job’s a godsend as well as my little bit of sanity.” She dabbed at her eyes. “I guess Kezia has told you of my troubles.”

“All we’ve done so far is argue,” said Kezia, hoping to deflect her. One litany of woes at a time.

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