What’s your name, sweetheart?
Do you have your résumé with you?
Please call me Slade.
Taking pity at the way the billionaire had Kady near tears, Farica said quickly, “You can call him Mr. Wyndham, too, if it makes you more comfortable.”
This had the girl throwing Farica a look of relief, and Slade, seeing this, said silkily, “I won’t like it, though.”
Kady looked like she was about to cry again, and Farica was torn between exasperation and irritation. Dammit, Slade. She shot him a look that silently demanded an explanation. Couldn’t he see how out of sorts Kady was around him?
But when Slade’s massive shoulders only moved in a lazy shrug, Farica knew it would be no use arguing the point. The man could be annoyingly mercurial when he wanted to be, and for whatever reason, it seemed as if he had developed a sudden but rather sadistic fondness for their future employee.
Turning back to Kady, Farica explained the rest of the specifications of the job and was surprised when the girl actually accepted her offer of free board and lodging. “Are you sure about that?” she couldn’t help asking. “I’m not always here, you know, so there’ll be times when it’s just going to be you and Slade—”
“Making me sound like some sex-starved maniac won’t benefit anyone here.” The billionaire shot his business partner a warning look. Do you want this girl to start working for us or not? Because the way Steel’s woman was painting him to look like some monstrous perv, the still adorably jittery Kady Abrams might just end up bolting out of their sight and never return.
Shit, Farica thought with a mental wince. Slade was right. If she wanted Kady to work for them, she had to focus on making the girl feel at ease rather than giving her more reasons to run away. She turned to face Kady, intending to apologize, but was instead taken aback when the other girl seemed even more horrified.
“I w-would n-never…” While the other girl’s face had completely been without color a minute ago, her tomato-red cheeks now seemed fit to burst in what seemed like shock and mortification. “I’m…me…and Mr. W-Wyndham…never…never…”
It took a while for Slade to make sense of the girl’s unique way of speaking, but a smile slowly curved over his lips as understanding eventually dawned. Apparently, this girl thought he was so out of her league it would’ve been a mortal sin for her to even think he’d look her way.
Farica could feel her confusion growing as she saw the way her friend’s blue eyes gleamed at how the girl was fidgeting under his lazy gaze. While Kady’s words absolutely made no sense to her, it was as if Slade had not only understood her but whatever those words meant had also caused the billionaire to take immense pleasure from the girl’s obvious discomfort.
The man was enjoying himself a little too much, Farica observed uneasily. Hopefully, though, this was just a momentary diversion, and his interest in Kady would eventually wane.
He was Slade Wyndham, after all, and while he played the role of small cafe owner to perfection, it didn’t mean anything about him had fundamentally changed. Outside Hartland, Slade was still the cynical, womanizing billionaire that he had always been.
And as far as Farica knew, a girl like Kady had never appealed to him.
Farica tried not to be too conspicuous as she studied Slade, who was now (torturing) talking to Kady again, which of course had the other girl back to squirming. The whole thing almost seemed like a prelude to flirting but…
I’m probably just imagining things, Farica told herself. Right?
The Lion Sleeps Tonight
* * *
“We must accept finite disappointment but never lose infinite hope.”
~ Martin Luther King, Jr.
* * *
On her first day at work, Kady was abruptly roused from her sleep by animal cries blasting from some close but unknown source, and when she heard a boar snorting from somewhere her room, Kady shot up in her bed, her disoriented gaze sweeping her surroundings.
What was happening? Where am I?
Brick walls, a super comfy bed with fluffy white covers, and a window that showed the outline of the wooden hand-carved sign of Redwood Cafe.
? A-WEEMA-WEH. A-WEEMA-WEH. ?
A moment later, she heard a masculine and completely vivid voice roaring from down the hallway. “For fuck’s sake, Farica.”
The music was suddenly placed on pause, and Farica’s laughing voice came in loud and clear. “Rise and shine guys, training starts right after breakfast today. And now, back to regular programming: The Lion Sleeps Tonight by The Nylons.”
As the still-loud but strangely soothing chants of ‘a-weema-weh’ resumed in the background, Kady’s continuous but somewhat befogged search for the source of Farica’s audible antics finally bore fruit: a Dolby surround-sound speaker, mounted on one of the upper corners of her bedroom’s walls.