The Broke Billionaire
From living in a tent to owning her own business, an uptight business owner hires a broke billionaire who’s never worked in customer service. His inexperience could cost her everything including her livelihood but firing him could lose her more than her heart.
Tiffany Louise comes from humble beginnings and has clawed her way to owning a modest business on wheels. Ready to take on an employee, Tiffany can’t find anyone willing to work for her. Desperate to increase the hours of operation for her shave ice truck and also… not to feel so alone, Tiffany staples ads all over the place, which doesn’t win her any love in the community. She’s only gotten as far as she has through sheer force of will and monumental control – and the townsfolk know it.
Just when she thinks nothing can go her way, her luck changes when she convinces the charismatic Kaelin Steed to take the job, the confident and charming beach comber she sees every day.
Kaelin Steed has lost everything in a family legal battle for billions and he’s returned to his grandmother’s hometown in the small town of Getaway Bay. Unwilling to use his autonomy to get ahead, Kaelin takes the last job anyone in town will consider – working for the shrewish shave ice truck owner with green eyes and unruly red hair.
Kaelin just wants a steady check but his inexperience and cocky attitude not to mention inability to be subservient could cost them both their goals and their dreams.
Chaos won’t be tolerated, but around Kaelin, Tiffany feels more out of control than the storms over the ocean.
Falling in love isn’t an option when eating their next meal is on the line.
“You’re not considering the job, are you? I’d rather be homeless than work for Tiffany Louis.” A woman all-but sewn into her bright pink and green spandex running clothes and carrying a small silicone-covered dumbbell in each hand stopped in her bouncing jog beside Kaelin. She leaned over his shoulder, pressing her chest against his arm, flashing him a nosy smile which showcased the creases of her lipstick leaking from the cracks in her aging lips.
Blue eyeliner and the neon green of her running clothes juxtaposed and gave off a screaming 1980s vibe. Her perfume didn’t do her any favors either.
Kaelin didn’t smile as he stared at her. He hadn’t asked for her opinion or for her to stop and tell him what he should think about the advertisement for work. The flier was stapled to the telephone pole at the start of the beach entrance, its tags fluttered in the ocean wind. He arched an eyebrow and held his tone deadpan as he replied, “Thank you. I’m homeless. A job is a job.”
The woman’s eyes widened as she stopped bouncing and scanned his form for signs of his poverty. Kaelin didn’t care that she would see his designer board shorts, seven-hundred-dollar button-up shirt, or his Italian leather flip-flops and doubt him. She hadn’t slept on the beach the night before or the night before that or even before that.
If he gave her his name, she would even call him a liar about being homeless. Kaelin Steed was known for his money and his work on a job that joined multiple communities toward prosperity. The old Kaelin Steed, anyway.
Kaelin turned from her with clear dismissal in his mannerisms. He might be poor now, but just a week or so ago he’d had billions at his disposal. He wasn’t going to change who he was in that short a time frame.
The woman leaned in, thick perfume coming off her in an attempt to pollute his breathing air. She tapped the ad with a sparkly pink fingernail and narrowed her eyes. “Well, you belong together. If you do get hired, tell her it’s inappropriate to staple things to the poles. It’s tackier than that beat-up truck she drives around.” The woman sniffed at Kaelin’s lack of response and turned, restarting her odd bouncing movement that was supposed to be a jog, but looked more like a spastic dance carrying her forward.
Kaelin sighed, staring at the black and white hiring sign. The paper had a weathered appearance and not for the first time, Kaelin wondered how long the advert had been out.
He reached into his pocket and fingered the last few dollars he had left for food. He was down to seven. Seven. That wasn’t enough to buy him a can of Spam and bread. Not on the islands. He might be able to get away with it for a couple more days inland, but with everything shipped to the islands of Hawaii, nothing came cheap.
Shaking his head, Kaelin tried to contain his panic – the panic that seemed to be ever-present since he’d stepped off the plane into the humid air. He’d never been without money. He’d never been without anything. Growing up as a Steed in a world where money mattered, he’d known where he belonged – on top.
Now, though, with the death of his grandfather, everything was on its head. The will had declared no one would have access to anything they hadn’t earned themselves in the family company or saved from their dividends until a decision was made on who would take the lead in Steed Enterprises.
Kaelin had worked in the VP offices but he’d spent everything he earned and then some. He’d never known about budgeting or known a shortage of money outside of what was necessary for the company. He’d been assured that his experience wasn’t enough to land him the role of running the company. His accounts had been frozen and he hadn’t been able to pay the lease on his Manhattan apartment.
When Meema had hugged him goodbye at the airport, she’d looked him straight in the eye. Her own had sparkled with tears as she’d said, “What makes a person a better man is the time spent as a have-not, when they have to learn how blessed they are to be a have.” She’d patted his shoulder with a gnarled, beloved hand. “You have always been a have, Kaelin-son. It’s time for you to grow as a have-not.”
Well, Kaelin had been thrust into being a have-not and he hadn’t learned anything except what hunger felt like and that he had to watch for the Getaway Bay police department’s morning searches for vagrants – no, searches for him – around six every morning. He was a vagrant. He was homeless. And once these seven dollars disappeared, he’d be forced to be a beggar.
That’s what he had learned so far – that police were consistent and food cost money he didn’t have.
He refocused on the ad with its handwritten call for help on faded, crinkly paper.
Hiring! Work for the local shave ice company that is taking Getaway Bay by storm. Requirements – shirt, shoes, and attention to detail. Look for the truck by the beach entrance and ask for Tiffany.
Tiffany. Kaelin ran his fingertips along the bottom edge of the paper that had been cut into thin strips with the name of the company written in bold on each strip for someone to tear off. None of them had been taken.
Rainbow Shave Ice and Cones.
Kaelin narrowed his eyes and lifted his gaze from the paper to stare in the direction the truck sat.
Calling it a beat-up old truck was being nice. The white front box-style truck wasn’t large by any stretch of the imagination, but it gave off the feeling of the local ice cream truck from when he was a kid. It didn’t take much to pretend music would come from hidden speakers at any time, announcing it was there to collect their money and deliver goodness. If he looked closer, he would see the balding tires and the flaking paint. But he didn’t want to look closer. He just wanted a job.
Kaelin tried catching a glimpse of the woman he now had a name for. Tiffany. That was the red-head’s name. Her spitfire green eyes had watched him in return as he’d claimed his spot on the bench every night before the sun dipped below the ocean’s line for the last couple weeks. Even his sense of time had slipped.
If he had more than the last few cents to his name, he would have approached her and bought a shave ice and talked to her. But his confidence had left him. Apparently, he had more of his identity wrapped up in his money than he’d been comfortable admitting.
How could Kaelin ask her out when she’d have to pay for their date or worse, he would have to take her back to his place? She’d see that his place was on the beach with sand for carpet and his electricity was powered by the sun. At least the view was enviable.
No. As much as he wanted to introduce himself and get to know the woman who showed up every day precisely at ten and left no earlier than nine-thirty every night, he couldn’t. He wasn’t himself. He was no longer Kaelin Steed. He was someone he was ashamed to look at in the public bathroom mirrors. He was no longer the man he thought he was.
The bouncing woman who had interrupted him by the pole wasn’t the first one Kaelin had heard from about not applying for the job. He’d been watching the fliers for the last week.
Tiffany had posted them all over Getaway Bay a few weeks ago – according to the locals. She’d ignored their anger from her actions and looked the other way as she’d stirred up irritation throughout the community. She’d held her head high and continued about her business. Her business model wasn’t concerned with the locals. Her demographic was with the tourists and he could see how they adored the truck.
Kaelin had watched as tourists clamored for the shave ice from the truck that was right by the beach. Her business model was strong – bring the product to the customers. Eliminate the need to leave the beach. She’d seen a need and she filled it. Why wasn’t anyone else amazed by this?
Every time her red hair had slipped out the window of the truck as she’d delivered items to customers or taken their money, Kaelin held his breath, watching from his bench. Yes, his bench. He didn’t go far from it. He didn’t have anywhere else to go. Plus, he had the best view on the island when Tiffany would step outside the truck-style van and bend over the motor and refrigeration equipment.
Her long legs led up into forever under shorts that were neither too long nor too short. She wore tank tops with a modest collar and her makeup was always precise.
In fact, until he’d learned her name, he’d called her Precise in his head.
What would he say if he introduced himself? Well, before the ad, before he’d lost everything, he probably would have asked her to take a helicopter ride with him. But his helicopter, plane, and boat were under lockdown while the company legal team figured out what was going on and which direction the company and the family money would go.
Meema had asked Kaelin to check in with her once a week before sending him back to her hometown. He still hadn’t figured out how to acquire a phone to do what she’d asked. His pride had taken a hit and when he’d left in a huff, he hadn’t looked back even though his regret was instantaneous at leaving everything behind.
The texture of the ad paper between his fingers pushed him to go. The paper he wanted to feel was green and valuable. If he could get over the menial part of the job, he wouldn’t have a problem feeding himself. And food. He needed food. His mind kept wandering and it had to be from hunger.
Jerking the entire ad from its position on the pole, Kaelin stepped onto the pavement from the cement sidewalk. His sandals ground the sand against the blacktop as he strode across the filling parking lot. Barely afternoon in the middle of the week and the lot was half-full with rental cars, local beaters, and a tourist bus.
The Sweet Breeze Resort shared their beach with public access. There was never any shortage of people walking amongst the cabanas and Adirondack beach furniture.
Hotel security monitored the northern curve of the beach just in front of the resort while the police department monitored the southernmost end of the curve, just before the jut out of the lava rocks that created the majority of the bay atmosphere.
Well, for the west bay. The east bay shared the small peninsula with the west, but it too had a natural land lock-style to its beaches and business area that was similar to the west bay but with a lot more sand and natural landmarks.
The afternoon breeze blew calmly off the ocean, as if pushed along by the waves crashing onto the sandy shore. It ruffled Kaelin’s hair back from his forehead and he reached up to rub at the stubble on his jaw.
If he was going for a possible job, his appearance wouldn’t do – at least he could button up his shirt and try to make his hair more manageable. Or he could just brush back his hair. He didn’t have a comb or anything except his toothbrush which he’d snapped in half and put the brush head into his pocket so he could carry it with him.
His pride was constantly coming back to bite him. When he’d refused to take anything with him when he’d left, he’d had to grab a toothbrush from a convenience stand in an airport – costing him three dollars. He’d only had his ID with him which his secretary had paperclipped to his plane ticket.
Leaving without anything of his own or even stopping for cash was a decision he wanted to smack himself for every time he thought about it. He’d let his grief over his grandfather’s death and his anger at the whole situation carry him along. He’d shown just how spoiled he really was in that final decision. His Opa would be disappointed in him, if he were alive still.
Kaelin left the bottom and top buttons of his shirt open and rolled the sleeves up to his elbows instead of leaving them open at the cuffs and flapping around his wrists where he’d had them the last few days.
Stepping to the side of the parking lot, Kaelin took a deep breath. Was he nervous? Were those butterflies flapping around in his stomach? He hoped it was nerves for the job and not because he was finally getting a chance – and actually had a reason – to talk to the attractive red head.
Because a job wasn’t hard to get as Kaelin Steed.
Kaelin cocked his head to the side, watching the pack of customers thin out as they were served. He couldn’t get hired as Kaelin Steed. He didn’t want anyone to know he’d fallen from his billions. As far as anyone could know, he was just homeless. He needed a job. Wasn’t that enough information for anyone?
Would it be enough for Tiffany? Would she be the type of woman who would discount him simply because he didn’t have a place to stay? His mouth went dry. He’d never been homeless, but he’d been more than aware of the prejudices and the treatment he’d been exposed to since he’d landed in Getaway Bay.
The group of tourists received their large white plastic cones of colorful shave ice and walked away, leaving the perfect opening for Kaelin. He suddenly wasn’t sure if he wanted the job more than he wanted to hold onto the remnants of his shredded pride. What would he say? What would he do? Once he approached her looking for a job, all chances at asking her out on a date were nonexistent.
Tiffany stepped down from the truck, glancing his way as she turned, presenting her backside to his inspection as she bent low over the front of the truck.
Did she know what she was doing? Her rear end was appealingly curved. Maybe she offered the view because she knew who he was. It wouldn’t be the first time a woman had thrown herself at him because of his money. Did Tiffany recognize him? Why would she? He had to stop thinking the world revolved around him. If she recognized him, then she would have read it in the papers or wherever she got her news that he’d lost everything. If she’d read it, she wouldn’t be showing her shapely rear end to him like that. At least not on purpose.
Kaelin needed the job and with no resume or work history to his name that didn’t include working for the family empire, Kaelin had to convince Tiffany to hire him. He’d have to use his charm. He’d have to lie.
Running his fingers through the longer hair on top of his head, Kaelin took a deep breath.
What if he wasn’t what she was looking for?
What if she was exactly what he needed?
The Hawaiian breeze blew across Tiffany’s sweat covered brow, a welcome respite from the heat of the truck. When the truck was running correctly, the refrigeration equipment gave off more heat than an oven in a bakery. When it was giving her problems – which was eighty-five percent of the time – Tiffany felt like she was right next to the volcano’s cranky opening.
Customers came with a higher influx rate since she’d looked up the parking and permit laws for Getaway Bay. She could park and sell anything as long as she stayed on public thoroughfares. The parking lot was a public spot. She got there every day before the beach began to fill up and claimed the same spot where the palm trees cast shade after twelve-thirty and it was right next to the walking path from town to the beach.
So far, so good. She could do this. Anxiety clenched in her gut. She didn’t have any other choice. She’d panhandled and did odd jobs for so long, saving her money and anything she could get, that when she’d finally been able to afford the rundown truck, she’d felt like she’d risen to the top of the world.
Four weeks. She’d been selling shave ice for four weeks in Getaway Bay. The south side of the island wasn’t as busy as the north for a shave ice company but Tiffany had been watching that side of the island for a while now and she knew a growing town when she saw one. Living in a tent all of her life had taught her how to watch for progress or the signs of a failing area.
Getaway Bay was growing and as soon as the Ohana Resort got its act together or sold out, there’d be even more tourist competition along the beach walk and through town. With the 9-0 Club in residence as well, the money would be pouring into the community. Money Tiffany could definitely use a slice of.
Reaching up, Tiffany wiped the sweat off her forehead with the back of her hand. She’d never be without a job again. That she promised herself. She’d never beg for money or food. She would do whatever it took to keep food on the table and a roof over her head – that wasn’t made of nylon or anything but wood.
Stepping down from the sun-like interior of the truck, Tiffany met the gaze of the man she’d eyed more than once since he’d shown up on the beach a week or so ago. He watched her with a hunger in his eyes that she wasn’t altogether certain had to do with food.
Turning from him, and anything he might have to offer her, Tiffany bent over to lift the lid to the engine box. She glared at the cantankerous motor she felt married to. If she had extra cash, she’d buy a new one – one that didn’t stall out every few hours. Extra cash though was going into a savings account for the next step of her plan – buying a storefront to give a more permanent home to Rainbow Shave Ice and Cones. Her business deserved a home spot. One where trucks could call home base. She had so many dreams and only one life to try to pack them all in.
Heat flooded from the box and she fanned the fumes away from her. What was going on? It was well-ventilated, so why did the machine keep giving her problems? Fortunately, she knew a bit about motors, but still, she hadn’t planned on a lemon when she’d purchased the truck and outfitted it for selling cold products.
Before walking to the front of the truck where the equipment was, Tiffany had meant to go to the back of the truck to get into the toolbox, but she’d been distracted by the beach bum staring her direction.
The man was deliciously off limits and, not for the first time, Tiffany wondered why she attracted the poor guys. She wasn’t a gold digger, but she also wasn’t looking to support anyone else.
She had nothing against the homeless. She used to be one. But now… she couldn’t get caught up in that again. She couldn’t live in a tent the rest of her life.
The man with his enigmatic blue eyes and well-defined abs didn’t even have a tent. No, she watched him bed down each night on the sand under the bench he staked a claim to during the day.
She wasn’t sure when he ate or even, if he ate, but the way his eyes watched her left her feeling like she was next on his menu.
Shaking her head, Tiffany refocused on the motor at hand. Maybe she just needed to tighten the belt and check the fan again. That usually seemed to do it. Or giving it a break worked, too, but too long and her ice started to melt. Soggy ice made for heavy shave ice and she prided herself on the fluffy product. The only that should weight down her ice was the syrupy flavor mixing with the rich ice cream below.
Reaching inside, she tried tightening the bolt with just her fingers. Of course not. How many times a day did she try that and always, again always, she had to go to the front of the truck and grab her torque wrench. Always. When was she going to start carrying the wrench in her pocket? Or better yet, when was she going to stop getting distracted by hot-off-limit-men?
Sighing, she started to straighten and then stopped, still bent over, as someone cleared his throat behind her.
She glanced behind her legs and noticed the expensive but worn Italian sandals and closed her eyes for a brief moment. A customer and probably one with a lot of money and there she was in an extremely unprofessional position.
Pasting a smile to her lips, she stood and whirled, throwing her hair out in a wide arc. She jerked to a stop, her smile plastered in a frozen mask of confusion.
The homeless man who was much better looking closeup offered her an amused smile and something in his hands. “Can I help you?”
She cleared her own throat, unsure why she was so nervous suddenly. Tiffany chewed on her bottom lip. He might want to help out to get something to eat. A vulnerability behind his eyes reminded her that helping others wasn’t a bad thing.
Had she forgotten what it was like to need already? She could spare a couple bucks. She nodded and pointed toward the front of the truck. “Yes, please. That would be great. Can you grab me a torque wrench, please? The one on top is the one I need. Red toolbox in back.” She turned from his confused expression and squatted back to the motor.
He’d asked if he could help. What did he think she was going to do? Have him stand there looking pretty? Well, he could pull off the job of being a model, that was for sure, but that wasn’t what she was going to give him cash for. No, he needed to earn it.
She’d hated panhandling, had only done it when she was absolutely desperate. And even then, she’d tried to help out in some way – carrying groceries, wiping sand from people’s shoes, washing a car. Even during the times when the tent floor was flooded and they hadn’t eaten in two days. Even then she’d tried finding ways to earn the money. Asking for a handout was harder than people thought. Trying to feel like you deserved the money was even harder.
The man padded down to the end of the trailer and returned a moment later with three different tools in hand. Sheepishly, he offered them to her. “I’m not sure which one is a torque wrench, but these all look like they could be?”
Tiffany smiled softly and claimed the one with the socket protruding from the base. “Thank you.” She turned back and adjusted the belt and some bolts. After a moment, she stood and closed the motor box, pleased to hear the normal rumble that promised her a couple more hours of normal processing time.
Wiping her hands together, Tiffany turned with her eyebrow arched. “Thanks for your help. Did you need some money for food? I’ve got some cash for you, just a second.” She didn’t want him to see where she kept her reserves. As good looking as he was, as rumbling and hypnotic his voice was, she couldn’t trust him. She couldn’t trust anyone.
“Yeah, I mean, no. I’m here to help you.” He smiled, his teeth stark white against his tanned skin. He didn’t have the look of a man who had spent the better part of his life in the sun. Instead, his skin was vibrant and healthy.
Confused, Tiffany nodded. “Yes, and you did, thank you. I’ll get you some cash.” She glanced down as he held out one of her job opening fliers toward her. For a moment she couldn’t figure out what he wanted, then it all clicked. “Oh, uh, you want to work for me?”
He didn’t know what a torque wrench was. He was sleeping on the beach with a brand name of clothing Tiffany had only ever seen in magazines. What could he possibly do in her line of work?
But it wasn’t like she had prospects lining up the sidewalk. He was the only one who had expressed any interest since she’d posted the fliers a couple weeks ago. She needed help and she needed it bad. She hadn’t planned on being so busy so fast.
Did she really have a choice?
Tiffany studied him, something inside her telling her to go for it while another voice whispered that she’d have to be on guard against his good looks and easy smile. She didn’t need to be distracted. And the charm coming off him in waves was definitely going to be a distraction.
How much would he be able to help and how much would she have to do to help him? She didn’t want to take on more responsibility than she already had. But the hope and vulnerability in his eyes broke down her defenses. She was falling behind on the work she needed to do. She needed help and she needed it badly.
Training someone wasn’t a bad thing. In fact, she would feel like she had given back to the community somehow, returned the favors she’d been granted over her lifetime.
She nodded slowly, liking the idea more and more. “Okay, but I expect you to be on time and no stealing. I’ll pay you under the table to start with. I don’t get tax write-offs for having employees. I’m not in that tax bracket… yet. No insurance or anything. The only benefits you’ll have are cash and a break every day.” She eyed him, trying to ignore the tug in her stomach at the curve of his jaw and the stubble that enhanced the strength in his neck. She didn’t need her breath to hitch when he walked into work every day.
“I’m Kaelin. When do I start?” His voice was slow and had a slight drawl like he’d seen more of the world than just the beaches of the big island of Hawaii which was hard to believe considering his circumstances.
Tiffany hadn’t gone further than Kauai but at least she wasn’t living on the sand anymore. She felt bad for him but she was impressed too that at least he was trying to get out of it by getting a job.
“What’s your last name, Kaelin?” Tiffany held out her hand and waited for him to take it. She ignored the look of surprise he shot her when her fingers wrapped around the square part of his palm. She could shake like a man. She didn’t need to prance around like she was expected to as a woman.
His lips curved lopsidedly in appreciation. “It’s Smith. What’s your last name?”
Tiffany stared into his blue eyes and couldn’t recall what her name was. What was her name? She softly shook her head as it came back to her like a lightning bolt. “I’m sorry. It’s been a long day –” Or month or year. “My name’s Tiffany Louise. Welcome to Rainbow Shave Ice and Cones. You start tomorrow at noon.” She reached into her pocket and pulled out a five-dollar bill. “Here you go. Thanks for your help today. I’ll see you tomorrow.”
There was a disturbing tingling in her lower stomach. She had to establish boundaries now – before he returned the next day.
Kaelin took the money slowly, more consternation furrowing his brow. “I don’t need a handout.” Studying her, he cocked his head to the side, as if unsure whether he should take the cash or not.
“I didn’t say you did. You helped me. I appreciate it. Here’s my thanks. I’ve been there, okay? Don’t walk away from appreciation. You’ll get fifteen an hour when you’re here and working. I can afford twenty-five hours a week, but I won’t be here for some of them. Any questions?” She had to keep her professionalism wrapped around her like a shawl.
The man’s magnetism was going to suffocate her. She wanted to reach out and scrape her fingernails softly through the stubble along his jaw. She shook herself and smiled as she waited for him to leave. She needed to get herself together. They were going to be in the close confines of the food truck starting the next day.
He lifted his hand into a mock salute and then strolled away, his form tall and confident even as he ambled toward his non-existent home.
What was she getting herself into?
Kaelin squeezed his hands and relaxed them, squeezed them, then relaxed. Open, closed, open, closed.
He leaned back on his heels, warm salt water splashing around him as he dug his fingers into the sand. He used the sand as an exfoliant twice daily. Splashing water on his face, he shook his hair back out of his eyes.
At least he didn’t get cold there on the big island. He’d been lucky so far and hadn’t run into any storms or downpours, but that didn’t mean they weren’t right around the corner. The green forests of the islands were called rainforests for a reason.
Staring out at the sparkling water and the waves persistently crashing around him on the shore, Kaelin sighed. How had he gotten to where he was? At least he was on his ancestors’ island. He was stuck and it wasn’t in a way he’d been prepared for. Shouldn’t that have been something he’d planned for? But who in their right mind expected to run out of money when their bank account was attached to billions?
He splashed his face once more, then stood, rinsing the golden sand from his skin. He had to dry before going to work.
To work. Who would think he’d have a job that he could wear his only pair of shorts to? When was the last time he’d gone into work without a suit and tie on? Without a briefcase and his tablet and other gadgets? Even his driver had full access to all sorts of technology. Kaelin missed his phone.
He didn’t want to admit he was nervous. He had no idea how to do a customer service job or how to serve anyone at all. At work, Kaelin was used to issuing orders and getting things his way. His boss had always been his Opa. Now what was he supposed to do?
Get on with his life. He’d lost everything. Now he had to rebuild.
What if she asked him to do something like find a torque wrench again? He’d been petrified when she’d asked him yesterday, thinking she’d been giving him a practical interview. He’d had to grab all three on top. Luckily, he’d grabbed it as an option, but what if he hadn’t? He had to look like an idiot.
All he could do was hope against hope that he would learn whatever she was going to train him to do quickly. He really needed the job. He’d never needed before. The sensation was disorienting and more than a little humbling.
The cash she’d promised to pay him at the end of each day was more appealing than anything else. And there was the biggest lie he could tell himself.
Working alongside the curvy red-head was more appealing than anything else – even eating.
All of that aside, he might be able to save up enough money to get a place to stay after a couple weeks. Apartments in Hawaii had the price tag of a small car on the mainland. He’d have to save up, but as long as he tucked it away and ate minimally, he should be able to do what was necessary. The beach wasn’t that bad. He could convince himself of it.
He couldn’t remember what day it was on the calendar. He was supposed to call Meema after a week or so and find out if anything had happened, but that was at least two weeks ago.
Kaelin had even left his cell phone on his desk in the office. He missed his phone, his slacks, his Italian loafers, and his pillow. Oh, did he miss his pillow. And his sheets. Okay, he wasn’t going to list everything he missed right then. He did that at night when he was trying to fall asleep.
The sun and warm breeze dried his shorts and he couldn’t help wishing that he had access to a shower. The ocean was nice, but fresh water other than what was offered in the public drinking fountain would be amazing. With ice. He needed to stop wishing and start working.
Plus, he could only do so much. Tiffany had already seen him. She knew where he lived and what his prospects were. She’d hired him anyway.
Maybe after he worked for Tiffany for a bit, he could find another job to go with it. Work two jobs while he found out if there were any other jobs like he’d done for Steed Enterprises. Potentially he could rise up in ranks quickly and actually make more than cash during the day.
First, though, he had to start making the cash. Kaelin was a planner and he often had the holidays planned for the next year before the current ones were even over.
He pulled on his shirt from the corner of the bench where he’d hung it up to dry and buttoned it evenly up the front. He ran his hands over the soft material. There was nothing he would give right then for a chance to look impressive to Tiffany, to be what she was interested in instead of the embarrassment he’d become.
Kaelin was nervous, but it wasn’t because of the work. He could do the work. Work wasn’t scary.
No, he was nervous because he would be in close quarters with Tiffany. She was a beautiful, take charge woman who was demonstrating more compassion than he’d ever seen in another person. The two together were a rare combination and Kaelin wasn’t sure what the local townspeople didn’t like about her.
Hanging from the side of Sweet Breeze, the large town clock clicked closer to noon and he didn’t wait any longer. Striding toward the truck with its palm trees painted on the side and it’s awning stretched out over the start of the line, Kaelin forced himself to breathe normally.
What was she thinking? A wave of doubt crashed over Kaelin. The beautiful woman didn’t know him, didn’t know anything about who he was or if he was safe or anything else. She’d welcomed him to work inside the small truck with her and he suddenly was worried that maybe she wasn’t safe to be around.
After a second he chuckled at his train of thoughts. She was petite and not a danger to anyone.
He rounded the side and approached the door, waiting until the crowd was gone before he knocked. He swallowed, more than nervous.
Tiffany opened the door, sweat sticking her side swept bangs to her forehead and cheek. She’d pulled her hair up into a messy bun that could have placed her on the cover of a magazine. Her eyes sparked when she saw him and she snapped. “You’re late.”
He tilted his head to the side, holding his hands out. “I was standing here five minutes early but you had customers. I didn’t want to interrupt or be rude.”
Tiffany’s expression softened, and she rubbed at her eyes. “My apologies. Thank you. That was very… aware of you.” She pushed the door open wider. “Prop this, please. We need more air in here. I feel like I’m stuck in an oven.”
Kaelin moved a crate shoved against the side of the truck to prop the door open. He took a deep breath and ducked in the truck slowly, as if he wasn’t sure he should be inside or not.
The truck was bigger on the outside than it was on the inside. Where the counters came out, stainless steel surfaces protected the wood beneath while also locking in the heat and reflecting the sun. Heat abounded from all over.
He couldn’t stand up completely, so he ducked his head to the side a bit and slouched in the middle of his back. Shifting into the corner, he tried to stay out of Tiffany’s way as she grabbed a white wet rag and wiped brightly colored splotches of syrup on the counters and straightened the bottles of flavoring behind the register.
Fog wafted into the air before evaporating when she opened the lid to the ice cream. Grabbing out the scoop, she dropped the stainless-steel utensil into a bucket of water and the closed the lid. She glanced at him, offering a side smile, and pushed at her hair. “Are you okay? You seem nervous. I promise I don’t bite.” She laughed like the joke wasn’t as funny as she’d hoped but like that was even funnier.
“I’m not sure what to do.” He cleared his throat. “But I’m willing to learn.” He suddenly realized how much he wanted to impress her. He had to rely on himself to impress her. There wasn’t any money for him to depend on. That was another eye-opener he hadn’t been ready for.
Tiffany paused and turned to face him, surprise widening her eyes. “I think that is the best attitude ever. Thank you. I was a little worried, but now…” She scrunched her nose and grinned at him, relief deep in her eyes. “Okay, so let’s start with how to make the shave ice. Once you understand what it is and how to make it, you’ll be able to explain it to customers and take their orders.”
Kaelin blinked at the color of her eyes when she smiled – like the green of the ocean hid emeralds in its depths. The more he was around her, the more attractive he found her. He had a feeling he was in more trouble than he’d originally figured.
He didn’t want to get attached. He didn’t want to be attracted to her. Part of the appeal of working for her was that she was supposed to be a shrew. Well, she was already proving that fact wrong.
Throughout the day as she trained him, Kaelin’s appreciation of her grew. She was kind and patient and didn’t get frustrated. She also paid him generously at the end of his shift and smiled when she encouraged him to come back at the same time the next day. Staying professional seemed to be a talent she displayed easily.
Returning the next day was easy, and the next day was even easier until working at Rainbow Shave Ice and Cones had become a pleasant part of his day. Especially when he caught a whiff of her vanilla coconut perfume and a curl of her red hair brushed against his arm. She was easier and easier to return to at work.
The food he was able to buy with the money wasn’t the most expensive, but after the first taste of a full Spam sandwich that filled him up, he could guarantee he’d never take food for granted again.
On the fifth day working with Tiffany, Kaelin pulled out a hard-boiled egg and a bag of peanuts he’d brought to eat for his meal. There was a lull in customers every evening about five-thirty and Tiffany usually had a small sandwich that she pulled out and ate. She’d offered him half but Kaelin had refused. He had a job and he didn’t need to take any more charity off her.
He stared at his egg and the peanuts and wished desperately for something different. Something more filling. He hadn’t felt full since he’d left home. Sure, he had money, but it was amazing how little day’s wages went at the grocery store. He wanted to save up for a place of his own, but at the rate he was going, he’d have to work there a year to save up anything worth going to an apartment complex for.
That was if he didn’t eat anything or buy new clothes.
He cracked the egg against the counter and forced himself to smile as he peeled the white casing from the egg.
“You’re making that look painful.” Tiffany laughed, ducking from her chair and getting into the small fridge to the side of the register. She pulled out two brown bags and handed one to him, smiling shyly as she half-shrugged. Claiming a spot on the stool opposite him, she watched him while trying to look like she wasn’t.
Kaelin held the bag in front of him. The heavy weight was promising in his hand, more so than the meager offerings he’d brought. He was hungry and he’d eat the egg and nuts, no problem, he just longed for more.
Glancing up at Tiffany questioningly, he slowly put the egg and nuts down on the counter and held the bag she’d given him with two hands. “What’s this?”
She opened the bag she’d kept and pulled out a sub-style sandwich with green lettuce and red tomato edges visible from the edges. “I made us some sandwiches. You keep saying you’re not hungry, but I’m hungry just watching you. Eat up. It’s nothing fancy.” She pulled out a bag of chips as well.
Kaelin didn’t wait for another command. “Yes, ma’am. Thank you.” He pulled out the sandwich on top of the other items in the bag. Peeking inside, he almost moaned in pleasurable anticipation. She’d packed chips, pickles, small cookies, juice, and a cheese stick into the small container.
Kaelin worked his mouth to thank her again but couldn’t. His throat tightened and he tried to swallow past the gratitude in his chest.
“I hope you like turkey. I didn’t even ask if you have any allergies or anything.” She unwrapped her sandwich and just held it, watching him stare into the bag.
He shook his head quickly. “No, I mean, this is perfect. Really. Thank you so much.” He couldn’t thank her enough. He slowly copied her movements and pulled the sandwich out, reveling in the texture of the bread in his hands. Kaelin couldn’t be more excited for the food than if he’d been sitting in a fancy restaurant.
For some reason, Tiffany tried to hide her sweet side. Kaelin grinned and pointed a chip her direction. “You’re not going to be able to keep your secret for long, Tiff.”
Giggles burst from her lips. “My secret? What would that be?”
“You’re sweet and not as brash as you like to pretend.” He wiggled his eyebrow up and down, chomping on the chip with a know-it-all grin as he chewed.
Tiffany sighed. “I wish it was as easy as that, Kaelin. I’m not sweet. You just haven’t seen the rough side of me yet.” But try as she might, Kaelin was holding a sandwich that she’d made him that testified more to her generosity than to her uncaring side she was so determined to make him believe in – make everyone believe.
He left the conversation at that, but he knew the meal in a bag was going to be something he remembered for a long time.
The last day of the week, with a full six days behind them, Kaelin stopped at the door with his most recent day’s pay in his hand. “Hey, Tiffany? Do you mind if I borrow a plastic container?” He squinted at her, her silhouette hard to differentiate from the shadows of the evening. Silhouette curls of her hair created wiggles in the late evening light and Kaelin suppressed the urge to reach out and see if they wound easily around his finger.
“Of course not. Take what you need.” She smiled gently at him and finished wrapping things up. “I’ll probably have you take over tomorrow. I need to hand it over to you since you know what you’re doing now. We can at least practice, right?” Her expression was encouraging but also a little nervous.
He smiled, surprised that she’d be willing to leave him by himself after less than a week. She hadn’t said anything about a day off and he’d passed twenty-five hours that week already alone. She didn’t seem worried about going over on time. She’d even mentioned that since bringing him on, she was having even better days than before.
A chill entered the breeze and he stepped from the truck, stretching and standing straight, staring toward the clouds rolling in from the west.
Just over the horizon a storm thundered toward the island. A storm. Kaelin hadn’t been there during a storm yet. He plucked a plastic container from the storage compartment on the side of the truck and yanked the cash he was saving from his bulging pocket. Tucking the cash inside the container and securing the lid, Kaelin carried the bucket with him, holding onto it with a desperation he didn’t recognize.
Money. He hadn’t realized how important it was.
He glanced back at Tiffany who waved at him from the opening in the truck. He’d spent the last six days spending time with an attractive woman and he’d been making money at the same time. He could handle that.
Even if he had to sleep in the rain.