The Sweetness of Life(9)

By: Kathryn Andrews


“Ms. Leigh?”

My back straightens as the girl standing across from me raises her hand in a small wave. I turn to face her, and she’s frowning at me.

“Yes?” I frown back, feeling every bit of what that expression means: angry, sad, and disappointed. She has no idea how much he makes me want to run out the door and never look back. But I won’t. I won’t because this project puts me one step closer to my dream, a dream that means more to me than anything.

“If you’re ready, I’ll show you to your cottage.”

Cottage. Well, at least that sounds nice. I’m extremely relieved to hear that I’m not staying in the same house with him. God, I can’t even imagine. The thought of randomly running into him makes my stomach turn sour.

“That would be great. Thank you.”

Bending down to pick up my bag, I spot the other guy in the room studying me. It’s bad enough that I have to spend two weeks here working with that asshole who hates me, I don’t want the rest of the staff to hate me, too. So, after I sling the strap of my bag over my shoulder, I walk over to him and hold out my hand.

“Hi, I’m Shelby.” His eyes are unreadable, but he slips his hand into mine and shakes it. He’s handsome in a young Harry Connick Jr. kind of way.

“I gathered that. I’m Kyle. I oversee general and wholesale distribution for Mr. Wolff, and that’s Michelle. She runs front end operations.” I glance at Michelle, and she gives me a strained smile.

I take a step back and release a deep sigh. Flashes of my interaction with Zach and the words I said to him increase my humiliation. I understand their skepticism. I would be wary of me, too. I may always try to be kind and courteous, but I was as bad as Zach was in our little exchange.

“Yeah, I’m sorry about that.” I look between him and Michelle. “That must have sounded pretty bad.” Heat climbs up my neck and into my cheeks. I really don’t know what came over me, and now that the anger has dulled, I’m thoroughly embarrassed.

“I’m not actually sure what that really was,” he says, pointing between the door Zach left through and me. He looks concerned and confused, but really, I find that hard to believe.

I don’t know why I thought Zach would be civil when I got here. Maybe because he agreed to the project knowing I would be his partner on it, or maybe because we have a mutual friend, I don’t know, but I was giving him the benefit of the doubt and really hoping that night last fall was a fluke. Apparently, it wasn’t.

How is it possible that he didn’t know it was me coming today? He. Didn’t. Know. I guess he just thought so little of me before, from the benefit, that he forgot my name.

Forgettable.

“It is what it is,” I say, shrugging and trying to release the stress that’s built up in my shoulders. “I’m here to do the assignment. I’ll stay in the kitchen and out of the way, and then I’ll be gone.”

I shift my weight from one foot to the other, uncomfortable under their separate gazes, and Kyle’s phone dings with an incoming text, breaking the silence.

“All right then. It’ll be easiest if you follow me.” Michelle tilts her head toward the front door as she walks out from behind the bar and spins a key ring full of keys around her finger.

Michelle is a pretty girl. There’s something about her that’s very girl next door, the kind everyone wants to be best friends with and secretly envies at the same time. Her smile is bright, and her eyes are kind and unjaded. I can see why she runs the consumer side here, especially if the alternative is Zach. The thought of his name has me grinding my teeth.

“Michelle, text me if you need anything. I’ll be in the barn,” Kyle says, glancing up from his phone. He smiles at her, winks, and then heads off in the other direction. She blushes, and I feel a pang of jealousy.

Jealousy. My stomach drops—I’ve officially hit a new low.

I don’t even know these people, and I don’t want anything to do with the responsibility or obligations that come with a guy; yet, I’m suddenly wishing I had someone who’d look at me with flirty eyes like he just looked at her. I was fine before I came here. I’m independent, driven, successful, and I love what I do. I have rules in place, I don’t mix business with pleasure and I never involve the heart. I’ve also stuck to the plan—career first, guys later—and I shouldn’t care that this guy, a guy who I’ve met twice, isn’t interested in me.

So, why do I?

I don’t know.

I hate this. I hate him.

Following Michelle outside, the sun warms my skin and I’m struck with how beautiful it is here. I’d been so focused on getting here and through the first reintroduction with him that my mental tunnel vision blocked everything around me.

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