If you haven’t read the PROLOGUE yet you can check it out first.
Standing Behind It
Two Months Later
“What are you doing here?” Duke Raymond asked his twin sister, Kelsey, who was walking into his restaurant. “Don’t you have a business to run?”
“I’m working,” Kelsey said. “Just like you are.”
It was nine on a Monday morning in early April. His restaurant, Duke’s, would be opening for business at eleven thirty. He was here going through inventory and placing orders for his specials this week. Or at least trying to.
“Yeah, but you sit in an office, not me.”
Kelsey co-owned and managed a CPA firm with their mother. She was the furthest from the tourist industry on the island.
Their ancestors had founded Amore Island many generations ago. Duke was from Patricia’s side, one of the twin daughters of Malcolm and Elizabeth Bond who’d married well but didn’t get as big of the Bond fortune as their three brothers did.
There was money in his branch, trust funds too, but everything they had they’d worked for and continued to do so.
He always knew what he wanted to do in life and was thrilled there was money there for him to buy this restaurant over three years ago and get it started.
His sister had stepped right into their mother’s business and did everything for him and for a lot of their cousins on the island too. On the outside, not many knew there was more than his restaurant and his mother’s CPA firm that would go to him and Kelsey. But his father who was from the Bond side had multiple business ventures and investments on and off the island too.
“Which is why I’m here so we can meet,” Kelsey said. “Do you have some time to talk?”
“I do,” he said. “Do you want something to eat? I’m sure you haven’t had breakfast yet.”
“No,” Kelsey said. “Why would I eat when I knew you’d offer to make me something?”
He laughed and walked to the kitchen, knowing his sister would follow him. She had a key to his restaurant and had let herself in, then all but scared the shit out of him when she called his name before entering his office. At least she gave him a heads up, not something she did when they were kids and she wanted to sneak up on him.
When they were in the kitchen, he asked, “What do you want?”
“An omelet sounds good,” she said.
He pulled out the eggs and veggies that he knew she liked, found some bacon and ham to go with it. He’d load her up to the point she wouldn’t be able to eat the rest of the day. And she’d eat the full plate even though she was a tiny thing.
It was a game they played. She’d clean her plate because she’d always say it was the best thing she ever ate and it couldn’t go to waste.
He pulled the rubber band out of his pocket and tied back his long dirty blonde hair. Tonight when he was working he’d have a bandana on his head to keep the sweat from his face too, but for now, it wasn’t needed.
“What’s on your mind that you are here this early?”
“I’ll get to that soon,” Kelsey said. “You ready for the wedding on Saturday?”
Their cousin Penelope Rauch was marrying Griffin Zale at Penelope’s hotel, Atlantic Rise. He’d lost track of the family tree at this point. His grandmother and Penelope’s grandmother were twin sisters. His father, Kyle Raymond, and Sophia Rauch were first cousins. What he was to Penelope at this point didn’t make a difference to him. They were blood like he’d always felt of everyone.
It seemed like his family were shacking up like bunnies in heat around him lately, finding significant others, getting hitched and having kids.
Or in Penelope’s case, having the child first.
“Yep,” he said. He was cracking eggs into a bowl and set them aside while he speed cut through peppers and mushrooms. The bacon was in the oven already. He’d rather put it in there and have less of a mess to clean up. “Just need to make sure there are no stains on my suit.”
Kelsey laughed at him. “You need to buy another one. If I have to keep buying a new dress for these things you need more than two suits and shirts.”
“No one pays attention to me,” he said. He was glad of that fact because he lived in his chef’s clothing most of the time. Or jeans and a T-shirt like now. In the summer, it’d be shorts. His wardrobe didn’t change much.
“That’s right,” Kelsey said. “The men have it easy.”
“Unless you are trying to impress someone there, why do you care? Looking for some single man to land?”
“Please,” Kelsey said, waving her hand. “Like I’m going to pick up some man at a family wedding. I’m fine the way I am. Just like you.”
“Seems to be the story of our lives. We are young yet,” he said. “At least I am.”
“We’re the same age,” she argued. “Thirty-two isn’t old. But I guess you’re right. It is when you’re a woman.”
“Talk to me about business while I work,” he said.
“Sure,” Kelsey said. “I emailed you your monthly reports. You know things are going well. They always are. Even during the winter when it’s the slowest.”
“It’s good to have the best food on the island,” he said, smirking. He was cocky enough to say it and stand behind it, but he also knew it was a higher end restaurant in terms of cost. Most people came to him for a special night out and not a fast meal.
Well, not true. They’d come at lunchtime more often, but dinner was a completely different menu. He’d planned it that way on purpose so that people felt they could come and not be handcuffed by their wallets to sample his food.
“I tell everyone that,” Kelsey said. “You know I spread the word for you. That’s the bulk of your marketing. Maybe at some point you could splurge for some more than you do.”
He sighed. He’d heard this before. “I’ll look into it. I don’t have time. I talk with the hotels and we exchange things that way.”
Like his cousins. Penelope and Emily at Atlantic Rise. Hunter Bond at The Retreat. Eli at Bond Casino.
Hell, even his cousins Bode and Drew with their retirement community, he’d been talking with them about putting things out for future tenants. He could make it work. If he could find the time.
“You do,” Kelsey said. “And it’s cost effective.”
“You get off on words like that, don’t you?”
“I don’t need my brother asking me what I get off on,” Kelsey said.
“Geez, Kelsey. Cut the shit. You always do that to me.”
He didn’t need to think of his sister being with a man or anything at all related to one.
“It’s fun to get you worked up.”
He dumped the eggs into the hot pan, then followed it up with the vegetables, ham and cheese. He had two pans going at once. Might as well make one for himself while he was at it.
“You always did like to yank my chain,” he said, moving to the oven and checking on the bacon. He knew it was done. Everything was timed in his head and he was never wrong.
He pulled it out and set it down, then went back to finish up the omelets.
Once he had their plates completed, he carried them out to the bar. They could sit there and talk.
Kelsey helped herself to orange juice. She knew where everything was. She’d been behind the bar a time or two helping out when he’d been short staffed. The same with his parents. That was what family did. They were there for each other.
“Mmm,” Kelsey said. “You made mine as big as yours on purpose and now I’m going to feel sick all morning when I finish this, but it will be so worth it. I just won’t eat until dinner later.”
Exactly what he’d thought she’d say. “Tell me why you stopped over this morning other than me feeding you.”
“You told me that three years into Duke’s you were going to start looking at other opportunities on the island.”
“I did,” he said.
He wasn’t jumping on anything. It had to be right. The right location, the right building that didn’t need too much work. The right style of fare he’d want to offer. Once he found the place, the food would come next. He wasn’t tied into anything.
“I might have an opportunity for you.”
“Are you selling real estate now? I thought that was Drew’s domain.”
“Very funny,” Kelsey said around a mouthful. “No. I’ve got a client. They own a pub on the south end. Less than a mile from Juliet.”
Amore Island’s south port was Juliet, the north Romeo. Everything tied back to the lore and legend of the island of love at first site. Or fate. Or whatever other tales had been spun from it over the years.
Duke never believed any of it, but it seemed a lot of his cousins were proving him wrong.
“Are they looking to sell? What’s the name of the place?”
He was aware of every restaurant on the island. Best to know his competition.
“Southside Pub,” she said.
“I’m familiar,” he said. “They opened shortly after I did.”
“Yes,” Kelsey said. “Stan and Louisa Breaton. They are retired educators from Plymouth. It’s their second career. Really nice couple. They live on the island. They’ve had a cottage in their family for years.”
“Did they have any experience in running a pub? Or at least cooking or working in one?”
“No,” Kelsey said. “It was a dream they had. To them, they wanted to just break even. They had their pensions and were comfortable. If they were able to take a paycheck and keep people employed and bring business to the island, they were happy enough.”
He supposed he could understand that thought.
No, he couldn’t.
To him, he put everything he had into what he did. To his craft. That was what he thought of it as.
“It’s not going well?” he asked.
“No. I think they got what they wanted for the first year or so, but this past winter things were rough. It’s a lot of work and time, as you know.”
“It’s not a cushy forty-hour-a-week job. Not even ten months a year if they were teachers.”
Kelsey grinned. “Louisa was a high school principal, Stan a superintendent. Hardly forty hours or ten months, but still not the same as running a pub.”
Duke nodded. “They want to sell?” he asked. “I’d have to check it out and get a feel for the place. See their books. You know that.”
“I do,” Kelsey said. “And I can tell you anything you bought up I’d go over and since I do their books, I wouldn’t lead you astray. I think they just don’t know how to run a restaurant. It seems they get enough customers, but their food costs are crazy high. Their staffing costs too. They’ve had a lot of turnover on top of it.”
“So they are paying more to get people to stay?” he asked.
“That and their prices are low too. There isn’t anything wrong with that.”
“There is if they don’t know how to figure out their margins,” he said.
“That is part of it,” Kelsey said.
“Have you eaten there? How is the food?”
“Not bad. It’s not your quality by any means,” Kelsey said. She was more than halfway through her omelet.
“Hardly,” he said.
“Here’s the thing,” Kelsey said. “They aren’t even sure if they want to sell. Well, that isn’t the case. They want it to go to someone that will make it what they thought it could be. They know you’re my brother. We were talking. It’s an odd proposition they are offering.”
He looked up from his plate. “How odd?”
“They’d be willing to let you run the pub for a period of time. Let’s say spring to fall.”
“The busy season,” he said. “They want me to run their business so they can profit? Hell no.”
“No,” Kelsey said. “Hear me out. They’d turn it over to you. You’d run it and take the profits. You’d take all the food expenses and payroll. You aren’t buying anything. They will cover whatever debt there is for this period of time in terms of loans they’ve got. To them, they put themselves into that and wouldn’t pass it to you. If you are doing the work, you don’t have to pay their debt.”
“Let me get this straight,” he said. “I walk in let’s say the first of the month and take over every expense starting that day. I get the profit along with it?”
“That is what they offered to me,” Kelsey said.
“That’s nuts,” he said. “What are they getting out of it?”
“Satisfaction that something they had an idea for can work and they just can’t do it? I’m not sure.”
“It seems too good to be true,” he said. “And it feels as if I’m taking advantage of things too.”
“Well, not really,” Kelsey said. “They don’t have a lot of debt. Just the loan on the building more than anything.”
“If I agreed to do that, it’d have to be part of the monthly expenses that I cover,” he said. That was only fair in his eyes. It’d be like paying the rent for the building.
“I knew you’d say that but didn’t tell them. I’m just passing on the information.”
“I’d be crazy to not consider this. With their permission, give me what you know I’ll need to look at. Revenue and expenses. I’ll go try their food out this week and get a feel for the business and how it flows.”
“You can change all of that,” Kelsey said, running her fork over the last piece of egg on her plate.
“I can. It’s if I want to.”
“The location is good,” Kelsey pointed out.
“I know that,” he said. “Which is why I’m considering it all. Get me that information and then I’ll reach out to Hailey if I decide to move forward. It all has to be drawn up and signed regardless.”
Hailey Bond was the family attorney. As he said, he didn’t do anything half assed.
Kelsey stood up. “This meeting went exactly as I expected. Along with your monthly financials in your email are all the information you’d want on Southside.”
“You knew I’d agree to look it over,” he said, picking up her empty plate.
“Of course I did,” Kelsey said, laughing. “Neither one of us is stupid. Reach out when you’re ready to talk more.”
He watched his sister walk out of his restaurant in her navy pants and pumps, her light green sweater with her dirty blonde hair flowing across her back.
They might be twins, but they didn’t look all that much alike.
Yet they did think the same for the majority of their lives.