Natalie glanced up from the architectural drawings spread out on the table in front of her and scowled at the pretty strawberry blonde weaving her way through the half dozen other tables in the golf club’s large lower dining room to reach her.
“Jeez, Jan. I hate it when you call me boss.”
“I know,” Jan said. A mischievous grin pulling at her lips, she added, “That’s why I do it.”
The words startled a laugh out of Natalie and she shook her head at the woman who was both her assistant chef and friend.
“So . . . ?” Jan stopped at the corner table where Natalie had set up and raised her eyebrows. “Is there anything you need help with before I go?”
“No. I’m good,” Natalie assured her, and didn’t miss the relief in her friend’s face at her answer. She wasn’t surprised. It was Friday night, after all, and she knew Jan and her husband, Rick, had a date night planned. A 10 p.m. showing at one of the movie theaters in the city and a late dinner were apparently on the agenda.
“Are you going to close up now?” Jan asked, her gaze sliding over the drawings Natalie had been making changes to.
“Soon,” Natalie assured her as she began to roll up the large sheets of paper. “Just waiting for Mr. MacKenzie to finish his round before Tim and I mow.”
“The mysterious Mr. MacKenzie,” Jan said, waggling her eyebrows.
“Mysterious?” Natalie asked with amusement.
“He books and pays for his eighteen holes online, and never steps foot in the club. None of us have even seen the man except from a distance.”
“Roy sees him,” Natalie corrected her. “He gives him the keys to his golf cart when he shows up.”
“Yeah. Roy.” She wrinkled her nose. “But the old coot won’t tell us anything about the guy. What he looks like. If he’s nice or not. Nothing. You should really let me swap jobs with Roy one of these nights so I can give Mr. MacKenzie the keys. Then I could give you the scoop.”
“Roy in the kitchen?” Natalie asked with horror. “No. Never gonna happen.”
Jan gave a fake scowl that quickly gave way to a grin. “That would be pretty bad.”
Natalie didn’t bother to comment, her mind was taken up with imagining that scenario. Roy was old, ornery, and not someone she’d want holding a cleaver in the pressure cooker that was the kitchen at busy hour.
“It’s a shame, though,” Jan said now. “I’m really curious about our Mr. MacKenzie. I mean, what kind of man picks a sunset tee time?”
“It’s probably when he gets off work,” Natalie said with a shrug.
“Then why not golf in the morning, before he goes into work?” Jan said. “It has to be better than starting the course at twilight and then finishing it in full darkness, for heaven’s sake. That’s crazy! How does he even see his balls?”
Natalie opened her mouth, but before she could speak, Jan narrowed her eyes and snapped, “And don’t say he drops his drawers and bends his head to look down. You know I’m talking golf balls.”
“You spoil all my fun,” Natalie complained on a laugh, and then said more seriously, “But what I was going to say is that I think he uses glow in the dark golf balls.”
“Oh.” Jan blinked. “Do they have those?”
“Apparently.” Natalie stood and began to slide the drawings into the cardboard tube that protected them when she wasn’t making adjustments to them.
“Why?” Jan asked with amazement. “I mean . . . glow in the dark balls? Surely there aren’t a lot of people golfing in the dark who might need them?”
“Actually, I gather night golfing is a thing in some places. I was reading an article about it and there are night golf courses in a lot of areas.”
“Where?” Jan asked with open disbelief.
“Texas, Florida, Utah, Massachusetts,” Natalie listed off. “There were other states mentioned[SR1] , but I can’t remember them all.”
“None in Canada, though?” Jan asked. “Besides us, I mean.”
“I’m not sure if there are any in Canada or not. The article I read was on American night golfing and the different places that offer it there,” Natalie explained. “Anyway, we aren’t really a night golf course ourselves. Those are all lit up with floodlights once the sun sets, and we don’t do that. We just happen to have a client who likes to golf in the dark.”
“And holds you up every night he does since you insist on waiting for him to finish before you mow the course,” Jan pointed out with a scowl. “I don’t know why you let him book so late.”
“Because he spends a mint here,” Natalie said patiently. “Valerian MacKenzie has booked for eighteen holes five or six times a week, every week since the end of June, and he rents a golf cart every single time.”
“Yeah,” Jan breathed, sounding resigned. But then she shook her head. “I wonder why he doesn’t just buy a membership. That would have been a lot cheaper than paying every time.”
“I know.” Natalie frowned as she put the lid on the tube. “I did email and tell him that if he intended to continue to golf that often through the summer, a membership would be cheaper, but he continued to book online so I guess he doesn’t care about the cost of— Why are you smiling at me like that?” she interrupted herself to ask.
“Because I’m pretty sure you’re the only golf course owner in the world who would try to save a customer money at your own expense. His getting a membership would have cut into your profits and still you suggested it to him to save him money.” Her smile widened. “It makes me proud to call you friend.”
The words surprised another laugh from Natalie, but she didn’t comment other than to say, “You should get going. Rick’s probably foaming at the mouth waiting on you.”
“Yeah.” Jan glanced at her wristwatch before nodding and turning to thread her way back through the tables, but this time toward the smaller, upper dining room where the reception desk and exit were. “All righty, then. I’ll see you tomorrow.”
“Tomorrow,” Natalie agreed. “Have fun tonight.”
“You betcha,” Jan responded easily, but then paused as she reached the screen door and swung back. “I almost forgot.” Eyebrows rising in question, she asked, “A grocery list for the market in the morning?”
“Already emailed it to you,” Natalie assured her, and then set down the tube and started around the table, saying, “But that reminds me . . . Wait here a sec.” Not wanting to hold up the woman any longer than necessary, she didn’t take the time to explain, but simply hurried into her office. After a quick dig through her purse, she returned to the dining area, holding out an envelope. “For you.”
“What is it?” Jan asked with curiosity.
“A company credit card,” Natalie announced. “I ordered it a while ago and it finally came in the mail today. I thought it would make shopping easier for you.”
“Oh wow! Yeah, it will,” Jan agreed, taking the envelope and opening it to retrieve the credit card inside. She peered at it for a minute, a smile tugging at her lips, and then raised her head and arched an eyebrow. “So, my plan worked. I’ve fooled you into trusting me.”
Natalie just laughed and shook her head at the teasing.
“Jan got a company credit card?”
Natalie glanced around with surprise at that question to see Timothy, another employee, now standing behind the counter by the exit, waiting by the cash register. He must have returned in the few minutes that she was gone, but she hadn’t heard the bell ring indicating that the door had opened. It wasn’t the first time that had happened and she looked toward the door with a frown, thinking she needed to test it and see if it was the bell not working or just her being distracted enough not to notice it. If it was the bell, she’d have to fix it, she thought, and then turned raised eyebrows to Timothy.
“The nightcrawler is on the sixteenth hole, so I headed back to sign the guy out on the computer. Then I’ll go out and wait to take the keys and put the golf cart away,” the young man explained, answering her silent question. His word choice brought an immediate scowl to her face.
“Tim, I’ve told you. No nicknames for our clients. If he heard you and was offended, we could lose him as a customer.”
Timothy grimaced and shrugged with unconcern. “Not a biggie. Then we wouldn’t be stuck waiting on him to finish every night, and my Friday nights would stop being ruined. Besides, losing one customer wouldn’t hurt.”
“Oh no?” She arched an eyebrow. “So, if he stops coming, I can just take the money we would have made from him out of your paycheck, then?”
“What? No way! He comes nearly every damned night, and rents a cart every single time. I wouldn’t have any money left in my paycheck if you—” His words died as she nodded solemnly. Looking irritated now, he muttered, “Fine. I won’t call him nightcrawler again.”
“Thank you,” she said quietly.
Timothy nodded resentfully, and then glanced to Jan as she slid the shiny new credit card into her wallet. “So, do I get a credit card too?”
Natalie shook her head. “You don’t need a credit card, Jan does. She shops for the kitchen daily on her way in.”
“I shop for you,” he countered at once. “Just last week you sent me to Home Hardware for that piece for the pump when the water feature broke down.”
Natalie managed not to snap at him for his description of the issue. The water feature hadn’t “broken down,” at least not on its own; he’d helped, but she didn’t bring that up and simply said, “That was the only time you’ve had to go buy something since I hired you two months ago, Tim. And that was only because it was an emergency. One trip to Home Hardware does not mean you need a company credit card.”
“Or maybe you just don’t trust me,” he countered sulkily.
Natalie sighed inwardly at the accusation and the guilt it stirred in her. However, it was only a small bit of guilt, not enough to make her give him a company credit card to prove she did trust him, so she ignored his words and said, “If MacKenzie’s on the sixteenth hole it should be fine to start mowing. Do holes five through ten. Those are farthest away from the last three holes where he is, so the noise shouldn’t bother him. I’ll wait for him to bring the golf cart back, then do the rest.”
Tim was heading out before she’d finished speaking, but hesitated at the door. “I’ll be done before you. Do you want me to help with your holes after I finish mine?”
Natalie shook her head. “I’ll manage on my own. Just clock out when you’re done. It’s Friday night. I’m sure you have better things to do than mow the course.”
“Oh yeah!” he said with a grin. “The Hoffman brothers are having a party, and now I might actually get there in time to have some fun.”
“Good. Go,” she said, and then moved around to stand behind the counter, her gaze sliding over the glass-fronted refrigerators that held the alcoholic and nonalcoholic drinks they sold to golfers. She’d have to restock it, as well as the snack stand, which held small bags of chips and such. Then she’d have to close out the cash register before she started to mow.
“You’re too soft.”
Natalie turned to find Jan now leaning against the opposite side of the counter, eyeing her with disapproval.
“Why?” she asked with mild amusement. “Because I’m letting him start mowing before MacKenzie’s completely done the course?”
“That and because you’re only making Tim mow six holes,” Jan said solemnly. “That means you’ll have to mow twelve yourself. It’ll be after midnight before you’re done.”
Natalie managed not to grimace at those words, but knew they were true.
“It’s fine,” she said mildly. “It’s Friday night, let him have fun. Besides, it’s nearly nine thirty. Mia’s gone to bed, Emily’s here to keep an eye on things, so I’m free to mow.”
“Yeah, but after mowing you have to put the equipment away and lock up. It’ll be at least one before you get to bed and I know you get up at six in the morning. You need your sleep, Natalie.”
“I can sleep when I’m dead,” she said lightly, pulling a notepad out from under the counter and starting to write down what was missing from the drink refrigerators and the snack shelves so she’d know what to drag up from the basement where the items were stored.
“Dead might not be that far off if you don’t start taking care of yourself,” Jan snapped with clear frustration. “I know you’re trying to save money for the addition you want to build, but your health is important. I wish you’d hire a couple more guys to handle the mowing.”
Natalie sighed at the oft-repeated argument Jan gave her, and then rubbed the back of her neck to ease the tension tightening her muscles. “It’s the last week of September, Jan. There’s only another month or so left of the season. It’s hardly worth hiring extra help for that short a time.” Turning away from her, she started counting stock and making notes on her pad as she added, “After that, I won’t have to mow anymore and will get loads of sleep.”
Jan snorted. “Bull. Jimmy leaves for basic training at the end of October and I know darn well you plan to make the restaurant’s take-out deliveries yourself rather than hire a replacement for him. You’ll still be up late, just driving a car rather than the light reel mower.”
“Don’t you have a movie to go to?” Natalie asked, hoping to end the lecture.
Jan clucked her tongue with irritation, but did turn toward the door. “Fine. I’ll go, but only because I’m late meeting Rick. I’ll be discussing this with you again tomorrow, though, so don’t think—”
Natalie looked around when Jan’s words died on a sharp gasp. Seeing her staring out the screen door with wide eyes, she frowned slightly. “Jan? What is it?”
“Adonis,” Jan breathed, moving closer to the door, but making no move to open it. Instead, she stared fixedly out at something.
Curious, Natalie turned to peer out the window next to her, but the umbrellas on the patio blocked her view. Reminding herself to shut them before closing shop, she walked around the counter to join Jan at the door.
“What—?” she began, and then fell silent as her gaze landed on the blond man talking on his phone under the floodlight at the end of the path leading to the clubhouse.
“Is that MacKenzie?” Jan asked, her voice a little breathy.
“I don’t know,” Natalie said slowly, her gaze shifting over the man’s figure in the dark clothes he wore. He was built like a Greek god. Muscular chest and shoulders in the black T-shirt he wore, and sculpted legs in the tight black jeans that rode low on narrow hips. She noted the golf bag slung over his shoulder, but quickly skipped up to the blond hair that was a little longer on the top than on the sides, long enough that several locks fell across his forehead as he lowered his head to listen to whoever was on the phone.
“Lift your head,” Jan breathed. “You’re too pretty to be looking down. Let me see your handsome face again. I— Oh there,” she sighed as he lifted his head and began to speak into the phone. “Dear me. God was having a seriously good day when he made you.”
Natalie couldn’t argue that. God had outdone himself with this man. He was gorgeous, she acknowledged to herself as her gaze slid over his icy blond hair and sharp features. Then her gaze returned to the golf bag over his shoulder and she frowned. “That can’t be MacKenzie. He booked a golf cart. He always does.”
“So, he’s another customer who likes to golf at night?” Jan asked, not taking her eyes off the man. “Is there anyone else booked right now?”
“No,” Natalie admitted, her gaze sliding over the unknown man’s face. “Valerian MacKenzie is the only one golfing right now.”
“Then it must be him,” Jan reasoned.
“Maybe,” Natalie allowed. “But then where’s his golf ca—?” Her question ended on a gasp when Adonis finished his call, and turned to glance toward the clubhouse as he slid his phone into his back pocket. It was Jan’s alarmed squeal as much as the fact that the man’s eyes landed directly on them staring out at him that had her leaping to the side and out of view.
Back plastered to the wall on the left of the door, she turned wide eyes to look at Jan, who was doing the same on the right-hand side. They were both breathing quickly and staring at each other with panic, and then Natalie gave her head a shake and pointed out, “We’re acting like a couple of twelve-year-old girls.”
“I know,” Jan said, a grin suddenly busting out on her face. “Fun, huh?”
“Ridiculous,” Natalie countered on a laugh, and stepped away from the wall.
“What are you doing?” Jan squealed. “He’ll see you.”
“You think he won’t see us when he comes in here?” Natalie asked dryly, crossing in front of the door to walk around behind the counter again.
“Oh damn, you’re right,” Jan said with dismay, and quickly followed her.
The sound of the door opening caught her attention and Natalie shifted her gaze to it just in time to watch the Adonis enter. He was even more gorgeous up close. Taller and more muscular looking too, she thought as her gaze moved over his wide chest and thick arms. Not beefy, brawny arms, but nicely muscled. Beautiful, really, she thought. The man was a walking work of art.
Natalie’s eyes flickered back up to his face, but didn’t quite make it to his eyes. His mouth was just so . . . and his cheekbones were . . . Realizing he had been speaking for a couple of moments and she hadn’t heard a word he’d said, she forced herself to focus on what he was saying.
“—so, I thought I’d best let you know where I left it.”
Natalie pressed her lips together, unsure what he was talking about. She took a moment, trying to find a way to avoid admitting she hadn’t been listening, but then sighed and said, “I’m sorry. You thought it best to let me know where you left what?”
His eyebrows rose slightly, but he explained, “Your golf cart.” When she didn’t respond right away, he added, “As I said, it died on the seventeenth hole. Out of gas, I think.”
“Oh.” She blinked as her brain slowly processed what he was telling her, and then blinked again and said, “Oh no. I’m so sorry, Mr. . . . MacKenzie?” Natalie queried, just to be sure she’d grasped the situation and knew who she was talking to.
“Yes. Valerian MacKenzie,” he confirmed.
“Right. Again, I’m so sorry. Roy usually makes sure every cart is fully fueled before releasing them to clients. I can’t imagine why he—”
“Roy wasn’t the one to set me up with the cart today. It was a young kid. Late teens, early twenties, dark hair.”
“Roy left early,” Jan reminded her, suddenly at her side in the crowded space behind the counter. “He had that appointment with the heart specialist.”
“Right. Timothy set him up with the golf cart,” Natalie muttered with a scowl, and then forced it away and managed a smile for MacKenzie. “I do apologize. Timothy doesn’t usually take care of the carts. He must have forgotten to top up the fuel. I’ll refund you for today’s round and give you a credit for the next one to make up for the inconven—”
“That’s not necessary,” MacKenzie cut in to say. “I just wanted to let you know where your cart is.”
“And I appreciate that, but you’re a good customer and this was an inconvenience. I want to make it up to you,” she said. “It’ll be no trouble to you. You don’t even have to be here for it. I have your credit card on record. I’ll just refund your payment and—”
-return to top