Ruby looked from Cash to Katie, noting how both of them were blushing. Katie was averting her eyes, while Cash looked as if he’d just been beamed by a 2x4.
“Now, Boss,” Ruby said, “you know I wouldn’t corrupt anyone. Especially someone as sweet and innocent as our Katie here.”
Katie sent a death glare Ruby’s way, who just smiled, clearly enjoying the obvious sexual tension between the two of them. Cash suddenly seemed to realize he was just standing in the kitchen, staring at the poor girl.
‘God, she looks terrified. Pull it together, Buchanan! The girl needs support, not someone drooling over her.’ Cash cleared his throat, then slowly stepped closer, making sure his movements were slow and deliberate.
“You must be Miss Jones. I’m Cash Buchanan, owner of Skyheart. We spoke on the phone,” Cash said, keeping his voice soft and gentle. Katie still didn’t look up, but she gave a slight nod.
“It’s nice to meet you, Mr. Buchanan,” Katie said quietly. “Thank you again for hiring me.”
“It’s just Cash, please,” he said, smiling. “Or Boss, but that’s a name everyone’s just started calling me, not a name I picked out for myself.” Katie smiled slightly, still staring at the floor.
“Well, technically none of us picked out the names we’re called,” Katie said. There was a slight pause, then both Ruby and Cash started laughing.
‘Jesus, even his laugh is amazing,’ Katie thought. ‘I’m so screwed. I need to avoid this man like the plague.’
‘God, she’s beautiful, funny, and clearly smart. I just have no idea how to help her be less afraid,” Cash thought, watching Katie wring her hands together. ‘And I have to help her.’
“Boss,” Ruby said, picking up on the tension, “I haven’t given Katie a tour of the big house yet. You wanna show her around while I finish dinner?” Cash looked over at Katie, who met his eyes briefly before looking away.
“I don’t want to take up your time, sir,” Katie said, backing away slightly.
“It’s not a problem at all,” Cash replied quickly. “Besides, I came in here early to meet you before the Hurricane arrives.” Ruby grinned, pulling yet another pie out of his four industrial ovens.
“Yeah, you better give Katie a heads-up about the Hurricane or they might scare her to death,” Ruby called out as he set the pie down on the counter a ways from where Cash and Katie were talking.
“I’m guessing we’re not talking about some freak weather anomaly?” Katie asked. “I feel like I would have heard about hurricanes in Montana.” Ruby and Cash both laughed.
“No, the Hurricane is our not-so-affectionate nickname for the hungry hands,” Cash said, chuckling.
“Those boys come in every night and demolish the place. I’m not sure they even appreciate the exquisite cuisine I make them.” Ruby sniffed loudly, pretending he was stopping himself from crying. “All my hard work, slaving away in front of these hot stoves, and no one even cares. No one says thank you. Just inhale and bail.” Katie couldn’t stop herself from smiling.
“Oh, you poor thing,” she said. “I promise to faithfully thank you after every meal.” Ruby dramatically bent back, holding the back of his hand to his forehead like he was swooning.
“Where have you been all my life?” Ruby asked melodramatically. “Once you tire of these ill-mannered gluttons, we’ll run away together and I’ll finally open up my French bakery.”
“The one you’ve been threatening to open for years?” Cash had a twinkle in his eye as he looked at Ruby.
“I was just waiting for the right partner, someone with class and sophistication,” Ruby replied haughtily. “Is it my fault it took so long to find her? Now go, my doves, explore away! I need to finish my latest culinary masterpiece.” Ruby turned back to the three pots on the stove. Katie had no idea what was in them, but it smelled delicious.
Cash gave her a sweet smile and gestured to the rest of the house. “Shall we?” he asked. Katie looked up at him, gave him a little smile and nodded.
“Okay, well, you’ve obviously seen the kitchen. It used to be less Master Chef quality, but Ruby can be rather picky.”
“Your momma loved the changes just as much as I did!” Ruby called out from the kitchen, not bothering to turn around. Cash chuckled.
“That is very true. Now we have our dining room over here.” He pointed to the room with three long, wooden tables. There was probably enough room to fit over fifty people. “It used to actually be nice, smaller tables, more intimate. Somewhere my family could sit and enjoy dinner and the hands could still fit everywhere. After my folks...” Cash trailed off, staring at the room but not really seeing it, clearly lost in some past memory. After a moment he shook his head and smiled at Katie again.
“Sorry,” Cash said. “Anyway, when I took over, we added twenty jobs, so we basically just turned this room into a mess hall.” He started to walk away, then noticed Katie wasn’t following him. She was staring at the tables with wide eyes, her face pale.
“You all right, angel?” Both Cash and Katie gave a slight jump at the word “angel”.
‘Well, that just slipped out,’ Cash thought, glancing at Katie worriedly. ‘It fits her, but I’m not sure I should be calling her anything other than Katie.’
‘“Angel”?’ Katie thought, glancing at Cash, then quickly looking away. “No one’s ever called me that before. I’m just racking up nicknames, what with “hon” and “sugar”, now “angel”.’ She cleared her throat, obviously flustered.
“Um, I was just,” Katie paused before continuing. “Well, I was just wondering how many people actually work here. On the phone, you mentioned ‘some hands’, but never really specified.” Cash grinned, shoving his hands into the pockets of his well-worn jeans.
“Total’s 53. Well, 54, now that you’re here. We have one of the biggest work crews around,” Cash stated proudly.
The color drained from Katie’s face and she stuck out a hand to grab the back of a chair as she wobbled slightly. Cash frowned, moving over to her.
“Hey, hey, it’s all right, angel. These boys might be loud, but they’d never hurt you. No one on this ranch would,” Cash said gently. Katie shook her head slightly, staring blankly at the room before turning to Cash with a tight smile on her face.
“Of course, Mr. Buchanan,” Katie said in a monotone voice. “I, uh, I know, um, I know I’m safe here.” She was clearly lying and Cash wanted to reassure her some more, but a loud jumble of noise started forming at the front of the house. Katie swung around quickly, staring at the front door, before running back to the kitchen.
‘Shit,’ Cash thought. ‘Now she’s terrified and I can’t to a damn thing about it right now.’ Cash started toward the kitchen, but the loud bang of the front door opening stopped him as a mass of loud, hungry men descended on the house.