“You’re the receptionist, right?” Kessler’s voice booms. He’s always had an obnoxiously sexy voice, that kind of gravelly low sex voice that ignites you in seconds flat.
Thank god I’m surrounded by used noodles and who knows what, so he doesn’t have that effect on me anymore. I focus on his shoes, shiny, expensive Italian ones and then his dark grey-blue tailored pants and I hate that even his style has improved over the years.
“That would be correct. And you’re Mr. Almond Roca,” Kate says, and I delight in how absolutely bored she sounds.
“Can’t say I haven’t heard that before.”
“It’s a popular candy around the holidays,” she says dryly.
“Yes. I know. It’s actually Portuguese.”
“Almond Roca is Portuguese?”
“No. My last name is.”
“What’s your last name?”
Oh god. Really Kess? This is your small talk now?
She sighs and nearly kicks me under the table as she uncrosses her legs. “It’s Kim.”
“Yeah, it’s Korean.”
“Are you from Korea?”
“I’m from San Francisco,” she says with an edge to her voice.
“Well, so am I.”
“Oh no. Does that mean we have to be best friends now?”
“You’re from the Yukon, anyway.”
“How did you know that?”
Long pause. I don’t even have to see their faces to know their expressions.
“HR file,” Kate says smoothly. “As receptionist, it’s my job to know everything. And I do mean everything.”
Kessler’s feet pivot in my direction. “Listen, I’m not interrupting anything am I? Seems like you’re not dining alone. Someone must really love mai tais.”
“Those are my mai tais.”
“And the beer?”
“Being a receptionist is stressful.”
“And you have both the soup and the sandwich?”
“I like to eat. Don’t food shame me.”
At that she crosses her legs and manages to kick me right in the jaw.
“Ahhhh,” I cry out, cupping my chin in pain.
Fucking shit, Kate and her killer feet.
“What the hell?” Kessler says and the next thing I know he’s bending down to look at me under the table. “Nova? Is that you? What are you doing under there?”
There’s only one way out of this. In a panic, I pretend to be looking for something “Ahhh, here it is,” I say, trying to blend it in with my cry of pain. I quickly pop up the other end of the table and get to my feet, holding a noodle.
“I was looking for this,” I say, smiling and waving the noodle at him. “Here you go, Kate.”
I drop the noodle right in her soup.
She stares at it for a moment and then slowly pushes her bowl of soup away from her.
“Listen,” Kessler says after a moment, staring at the soup and then back to me. “I was wondering if I could have a moment to talk to you. Alone.”
Kate stares up at me expectantly. “You go ahead, Nova,” she says. “I’ll bring the soup back to George. I could use the extra brownie points with the head honcho. Or, the big Kahuna, as we say here.”
Kessler manages a tight smile. “Right.” He looks to me, brows raised, and I’m struck by how good age has been to him. He has to be now, what, thirty-four? Thirty-five? And he’s just the right amount of youth and manliness combined. The baby fat is gone from his face, leaving chiseled cheeks and a jaw sharper than a hockey skate. The crinkles at the corners of his teal eyes hint at fun life lived and the pepper of grey in his dark hair makes him look distinguished. Then there’s his actual hair. It was curlier back in the day, but it’s still wavy and somehow thicker, like he’s got male pattern baldness in reverse.
What a dick.
“Do you mind?” Kessler asks. “I don’t want to interrupt your lunch.”
“Our lunch was already interrupted when Nova decided to hunt down that wayward noodle,” Kate says before she has a slow sip of her beer, her focus now on the crotch of Kessler’s pants and never wavering. If she dared to look at me, she’d see all the seven circles of hell in my glare.
And I do mind, of course. He’s the damn reason I went under the table and he knows it. I’m just so blindsided by him, by today, by this week, that I can’t get a handle on anything and I’m bound to say the wrong thing, do the wrong thing. For example, hiding under the table like I’m a thirteen-year-old that just spotted her crush. But the last thing I want is for Kessler to think he has some upper hand, as petty as that sounds. Even if it’s kind of true.
Faking a smile, faking everything, I say, “Sure. That’s fine, I have a few minutes to spare on the way back to the office.”
“Great,” he says, and I hate his smile, stupid perfect veneers. Why can’t he be like most hockey players and have a mouth like a broken piano?
I grab my purse and give Kate one last glare, which she won’t acknowledge, before marching out of the restaurant.
“Seems like a cool spot, do you come here often?” Kessler calls after me as he exits out onto the street. “I have to say, Honolulu is nothing what I expected.”
Don’t say it, don’t say it, don’t say it.
I make it about half a block before I stop and turn to him.
“Why the hell are you here?”
He stops, stepping out of the way as a group of lost tourists wander past. “Excuse me?”
“Why are you here?” I repeat, wishing I could play it cooler than this. “You’re the last person I ever expected to see again.”
“I thought I was the last person you ever wanted to see again,” he says, shoving his hands in his pockets. He looks all cool and comfortable, but I can see the sweat starting to break out on his forehead.
“What makes you say that?”
“What makes me say that?” he repeats. “Uh, I don’t know. How about the fact that after we stopped sleeping together, you fucking ghosted. And when you ghost, Nova, you’re gone. You changed jobs and came here within weeks. Half-way across the Pacific Ocean. You cut me out of social media, you changed your number, you never answered any emails.”
I fold my arms, tapping my foot impatiently. “What’s your point?”
“My point?” he repeats, and then wipes the sweat off his forehead with the back of his hand. “Fucking hell, is it ever not a million degrees outside?”
“You’re the one wearing a suit,” I point out. “And I’ll have you know it’s only eighty degrees. I think San Francisco broke you.”
He makes a face but he’s still handsome somehow. “Anyway, I just…I don’t know what happened between us back then, but I just want to make things right. And I know that’s going to be difficult now that I’m your boss.”
My eyes narrow venomously. “You’re only my boss for three months. Anything can happen after that. Which brings me to my original question: why the hell are you here? You have a child now? I’m assuming a wife or baby mama? Why were things so bad at your old job that you were willing to throw it all away and move here for a chance. Don’t tell me you’ve secretly harbored dreams about living in Hawaii because I know you Kess, and you’re not that type.”
Now it’s time for his eyes to narrow. “You don’t know me, Supernova.” I roll my eyes at the mention of my old nickname. “If you did, you’d know I’m not married, nor do I have a baby mama.”
Somehow the fact that he’s not with anyone makes things worse.
“Then where did the kid come from?”
“The kid,” he says patiently, “came from a night of poorly planned sex. I was drunk, she was…a sexy Russian model. We met at a party at Kirk Hammett’s house.” There he is with the name-dropping again. “Anyway, long story short, she’s in jail and I have custody of Hunter.”
I stare at him blankly. “I’m sorry. Back up. You can’t just long story short that part. What happened?”
He sighs and runs his hand down his face, staring up at the sky scrapers. “Look. Her name is Natalia. She was a legit model. Seventy-five-percent of her was just vagina and legs.” I scrunch up my nose. “She got pregnant. She lived in LA and I said I’d support her anyway that I could—money, time. I’d be as involved as she needed.”
This should surprise me but it doesn’t. Kessler was anti-marriage, anti-children, but he’s also a got a good heart beneath that burly, sweaty facade. I’d seen it enough to know he’s at least coming from a genuine place in wanting to do the right thing.
“But,” he continues, “she was adamant she be on her own. I talked to her when I could, she seemed fine. She gave birth. I wasn’t there for it, though now I really wish I was. I wanted to be…” he trails off and his expression turns wistful. “Anyway, Hunter was born and I saw him only a handful of times. Then she moved to New York. Then she moved to Chicago. Then she was arrested for fraud and I learned that Natalia was never her name anyway and she had dozens of them and was in the business of fleecing rich men, stealing identities, and credit card theft.” He shrugs. “Maybe that’s why she never wanted me very close. Either way, I got the call and I was the father and it was either I take Hunter or he goes into foster care. He had no other family.”
“Oh my god.”
Do you ever know how to pick ‘em, Kess.
He nods. “Yeah. Obviously I wanted him. He’s my son. So, there you have it. This only happened six months ago.”
Damn. “You’ve only had him for six months?”
He gives me a wry smile. “I’m learning as I go. And I can really use the extra help. So when Mike called and said there was this job and that I could stay in his house and that he would arrange a nanny for Hunter, I jumped at the idea. The last six months have been rough. I thought maybe this would be a good way for Hunter and I to start fresh.”