“Oh, sorry.” Someone bumped into me from behind.
I glanced back, seeing the cutest little boy standing behind me. Bright blue eyes that looked almost like teardrops. Wavy blond hair, and freckles spread all over his tan face.
This was Cyclone.
I was dumbfounded.
He’d been about to run past me, but when I turned to him, he skidded to a stop and stared up at me. He looked me up and down. “Who are you? Where’s your uniform?”
He thought I was staff.
Well, maybe I was. “Hey, kid.”
He frowned, his nose pinching up, then he thought about it and burst out laughing. “Kid. I like that. I’ll call you Girl.”
“Cyclone!” Marie hollered from inside the kitchen. She was coming toward us, waving. “Come here.”
He saw her, gave me a wave. “Nice knowing you, Girl.” He took off running into the kitchen.
He was laughing as he weaved around everyone. Two people lifted up their trays for him. Another toppled over, the tray of food spreading everywhere on the floor. The tray itself shattered into pieces.
About three people were yelling. One staff member was holding back a smile, and still more were just shaking their heads in resignation. The far door was shoved open and he disappeared.
“Marie!” One of the other women was coming our way, her face tight in anger. “He cannot come in here. He’s messing up our entire operation. That tray alone cost over sixty dollars, not counting the food loss.”
“I know. I know, Theresa.” Marie stopped before she got to me. “I’ll talk to Mistress Quinn, but you know Cyclone.”
“Seraphina wasn’t like that.”
“But Matthew was.” Both women shared a look. The other one groaned as Marie added, “He was worse, if you remember.”
“Yes, yes.” Theresa wasn’t happy. “I know, I know.” Her eyes caught on me and she stopped. She jutted out her chin. “Who is this?” She looked me up and down. “She doesn’t wear a uniform, and I’ve not heard of any new staff joining us.”
“She’s…” Marie frowned at me.
I stepped forward, time to do my part. “I’m a friend of Kash—” I’d been about to say Kash Colello, but that wouldn’t sell the part. “Kash’s. He told me to look for Marie while he was working.”
At the mention of Kash’s name, a hush fell over the kitchen.
I’d been standing there, being invisible moments ago, but his name had everyone watching us.
“Coming!” someone yelled on the other side of the door. When the door person didn’t answer, they yelled again, “Coming in—” The door was pushed open, and smacked into the door attendant, who was staring at me. “Whoa—agh!” The tray hit the person’s back, and the staff member caught it, but not the dishes. Two more plates clattered to the floor, shattering.
Theresa whipped around, the spell broken. She threw her arm up. “Mick! Pay attention.”
I was rooted in place, still feeling their attention as they got back to work.
Marie sidled up closer. I dropped my voice. “Why?”
For the first time since I saw her, a pitying expression graced her face. “Come with me. I’ll explain a bit more.”
Great. I couldn’t tell my new family that I was family. I couldn’t tell the staff who I wasn’t, and Marie was feeling sorry for me. For some reason, I didn’t think that was a good sign. What wasn’t Kash telling me?
We moved farther down the hallway before I glanced back over my shoulder. “What was going on in the other room?” But I was more distracted that I had just met my brother. Cyclone. He said I could call him Kid.
We were off to a good start. Then I realized he might never know who I was.
Pain sliced through me, cutting me deep, splitting me in half, and I had to stop a second.
“Come, come.” Marie motioned me to keep going. “I’ll answer all your questions in my office.”
I tried not to dwell on a sudden emptiness that took root in the middle of my chest. Down a hallway, another. We were weaving to a far corner. The sounds of the kitchen faded until it was only the sounds of our own feet on the floor. “Here we go.” She paused before a door, punching in a code.
The door opened, and I was hit with the smells of cake and candy.
She waved me in, going to sit behind a desk that was piled high with paperwork.
This was obviously Marie’s place, and after meeting her at Kash’s villa, I expected to find an office room that was pristine and clean. Instead, her own desk was filled with papers and files. A counter was in the corner, filled with goodies and candy. Vanilla cake on a platter. There was a large table in the middle of the room, where crafts had been started and left behind. A pile of beads were spread out over one end, with wires next to it as a bracelet, half made, was abandoned. In another corner were three gaming chairs on the floor. A PlayStation was hooked up beneath a television, the consoles resting on the floor between the chairs and TV. A bag of chips was scrunched down between two of the chairs.
She had filing cabinets in another corner, covered in picture frames.
A half wall jutted out so I couldn’t see what was on the other side, but the back of a desk chair had been rolled out.
The room was large, more resembling an elementary school classroom than the office of someone who managed the staff at Peter Francis’s estate.
“Come in, come in. Shut the door.” She waved at me, impatiently.
I sat on the chair across from her desk, sinking into it.
She was watching me, already riffling through some of her papers, and the ends of her mouth were pulled in. I tried not to feel her disapproval, but it was hard. It washed over me like a hot wave of embarrassment.
She motioned around the room behind me. “That’s for the children. They like to come in and spend time here.”
“Cyclone and Seraphina?”
“Cyclone.” She was nodding as she spoke. “Seraphina, if she can sneak away from Victoria or her mother. And some of the other women bring their children if they’re sick or school is closed. The master and mistress are very accepting if the staff don’t have day care options in case of an emergency.” She waved around her office again. “They come in here. We call in a day care worker if there’s enough children, but you are right.” Her eyes paused on me, looking over a piece of paper. “It’s mostly Cyclone, and if he has a friend over at times. His parents like him to have friends here. Seraphina too, but her friends prefer her own wing rather than in here.”