“It looked the best of the lot in
,” Lydia said in a discontented way. “But, Quill, that spread was almost ten years ago. Design’s moved on since then.”
“Oh, I don’t know. I’ve always believed in the Platonic ideal, myself. There are some shapes, some combinations of color and line that are eternal, don’t you think?”
Lydia didn’t answer. They walked the rest of the way to the room in silence. Quill used her master key and opened the door to the Provençal Suite, then stepped aside to let Lydia enter. “This room has always seemed exceptionally restful to me. I hope you find it so.”
Quill had used the blues and yellows of classic French country design in the bedspread, the drapes, and the several area rugs that lay on the floor. This room—like five others in the Inn—had its own fireplace, and a view of the falls through the French doors that led to the outside balcony.
Lydia walked restlessly around the living area. “It’s very nice, Quill. But it’s so nineties! I suppose that’s what comes of holing yourself up in a backwater for the past ten years.”
“Hemlock Falls isn’t a backwater.” Quill bit her lip. This, she reminded herself, was the woman whose checkbook had saved the Inn. She made an effort to sound reasonable. “The Inn’s on the New York State historic buildings register, you know. It’d violate the spirit of the architecture to . . . just what do you think it should look like, anyway?”
“Simplicity,” Lydia said. “My design team for the show is going to puke. They’re devoted to me. We think alike. I can’t imagine what’s going to happen when they see your kitchens. But I can tell you right now what they would like to see here. What I would like to see here. Bare wood floors, polished to perfection. A platform bed instead of this four-poster monstrosity. Built-in cabinets, hidden in the walls. And all those grotesque lights and ornaments and pine-tree crap downstairs? A single strand of white lights would be far, far better.” Lydia waved her hand in the air. “Keep the damn firs in the forest.”
“It seems awfully cold,” Quill ventured. “And joyless.”
Lydia stared sharply at her, poked her head into the bathroom, kicked at the pile of suitcases on the floor, then flung herself onto the four-poster bed and closed her eyes. “I’m exhausted. We had to fly up on a commercial jet, you know. Ours developed some kind of engine problem. And the plane was jammed with fat people and screaming kids.”
“How difficult for you,” Quill said politely.
“You have no idea.”
Quill let the silence drag on. Then she said, “We keep birch logs in the baskets by the fireplaces. If you’d like to get a fire going, I’ll send someone up to get it started.”
Lydia covered her eyes with one hand and sighed deeply.
“I’ll let you freshen up a bit, shall I? And ring downstairs if you’d like anything.” Quill straightened the vase of fresh roses Doreen had placed on the coffee table and looked around the room once more to make sure that everything was in place.
“Quill?” Lydia said.
“I’m sorry.” Her voice was dry. “I used to be nice. It’s just . . . you don’t know what it’s like.”
Quill couldn’t find anything to say to this. She headed out the door.
Dina sat in her accustomed place behind the waist-high reception desk, absorbed in a textbook. She looked up as Quill came down the stairs. “There you are.”
“Here I am,” Quill agreed. “Here are the two of us, as a matter of fact. Where is everybody else?”
Dina marked her place in the text with a yellow sticky note and closed it. “Mr. Fred Sims checked in just before Mr. and Mrs. Kingsfield got here and just after the
crew checked in. Quill?”
“I’m right here.”
“The director is the single most handsome guy I have ever seen in this life. He is hot.”
“Okay,” Quill said agreeably. “Has he ousted Davy Kiddermeister in your affections?”
“I am not kidding. And no one ever said Davy was hot. I mean, he’s hot, but not in a good-looking way.”
“Anyway, this Fred Sims is
hot. Not by a long shot. So, where was I?”
“Planet Dina?” Quill suggested.
“Mr. Kingsfield bombed on out of here to check out the cross-country skiing. The production crew checked in before them because the Kingsfields sent them on by train. This was because of all the equipment. They hauled all this stuff in just after you went into the Chamber meeting.”
“I suppose I should go and welcome them.” Quill sat down on the leather couch. Mike kept the fireplaces in the public rooms alight in the wintertime, and she frowned into the flames.
“You could, I suppose,” Dina said cautiously, “but they were fussing about getting the shoot ready so they might be pretty busy. On the other hand, you have to see this guy Ajit to believe it.”
“The shoot,” Quill said. “I’d forgotten about the shoot.”
“You know, the
cable show. When you had the staff meeting about all the changes that were going to happen, you said we were leasing out the Inn as a set for
’s new TV series. Well, you said it
happen if you and Meg and Kingsfield Enterprises came to an agreement. And the crew’s fussing around trying to find a place to set up.”
“Right.” Quill sighed. “I guess I shoved all that to the back of my mind. I suppose that’s why Lydia thought she could complain about . . . Dina? Do
think our Christmas decorations are hokey?”
“Outdated, passé, and corny? You don’t think, for example, that we should throw out all the pine trees and my little decorated houses and animals and put up single strands of pure white light?”
“There’s single strands of pure white light all around Peterson’s used car lot,” Dina said. “So you can see all the used cars if you decide to buy one at night, I guess. And in operating rooms, so you can see the guts of people that are getting operated on. But if you ask me, and,” she said, pushing her glasses up her nose, “you just did, I think our Christmas decorations are fabulous.”
“So do I.” Quill jumped to her feet. “So I’ll go find the crew and tell them how
I am that Loathsome Lydia has decided to lease the Inn for her show. And that if they touch one of my handmade ornaments, they’ll die! Where are they, by the way?” She froze, as a sudden, horrible thought stuck her. “Not in Meg’s kitchen?”
Good Taste is
a cooking show. So yeah, they’re in the kitchen.”
“Yikes.” Quill grabbed her hair and tugged at it. “Why didn’t you say something? How long have they been in there? Has Meg thrown anyone out?”
“I haven’t heard any explosions,” Dina said. “Yet. Don’t look so worried.”
“I’m not worried.” Quill wondered why it was so annoying to have someone tell you that you looked worried, especially when you were.
She forced herself to walk calmly through the dining room and not run madly off in all directions. Maybe Meg wasn’t smacking innocent heads with her eight-inch sauté pan. Maybe pigs could fly.
She even paused and smiled at the few remaining diners. Four of the thirty tables were filled with late lunchers lingering over coffee, and in the case of one elderly couple, a couple of brandies. She checked, as a good, responsible innkeeper should, the readiness of the dining room to receive more guests, just in case business picked up. The unoccupied tables had been cleared, then reset with clean cutlery, glasses, and linens. And with the last of the Christmas decorations up the day before, she had to admit the room looked wonderful. She rotated the color of the tablecloths according to the time of year—and, she admitted to herself, her own particular mood. This Christmas, she’d decided on a heavy cream, with an underskirt of taffeta striped in green. Each centerpiece featured sprays of holly in a low crystal lotus bowl. Three slender green tapers were nestled in the middle. The tree in the corner adjacent to the wine cabinet filled the room with the welcome scent of pine. Outside the long windows facing the gorge, a feathery snow was falling. Quill looked at the room with an objective eye and thought:
Lydia Kingsfield is nuts. The room is warm and happy. She’s an idiot. And I didn’t even
her in high school.
A crash and a shriek from beyond the double doors to the kitchen jerked her attention to the present. The
crew had found Meg. Or perhaps it was the other way round. Quill stiffened her spine, walked into the kitchen, and found Meg collapsed in the arms of the most gorgeous male Quill had even seen, both of them bent over with laughter.
“Hey to you, too.” Meg straightened up, gave the gorgeous male a kiss on the cheek, and bushed herself off. “Have you met Ajit? Ajit, this is my sister, Quill.”
Quill extended her hand. “Welcome to the Inn at Hemlock Falls.”
“I’m Ajit Hadad.” He was tall and superbly conditioned, and he moved like a dancer. He wore his black hair a little long, and it sprang back from his classic features like birds’ wings. Dina was right. He was gorgeous. Too gorgeous to paint, as a matter of fact. Quill preferred more irony in her work. “I’m Lydia’s director. And it’s an honor to meet you, Ms. Quilliam. I’m a devoted admirer of your work, especially your acrylics. As for what you’ve done with this wonderful old place.” He gestured widely. “It’s magnificent!”
Quill blushed and lapsed into confusion.
“She doesn’t know what to say when people talk about her painting,” Meg said kindly. “Or when she gets compliments about the Inn. But she’s glad you like it. Bernie and Benny like it, too, Quill. It was the first thing they asked about when they came into my kitchen.”
A short man in his midthirties—who reminded Quill of the ’60s movie star Albert Finney—a very tired Albert Finney—gave Quill a beaming smile. “I’m Benny Pitt. Set design. And I have to tell you I just love what you’ve done with the place, too. It’s classic Victoriana. Never goes out of style. And this is my partner in life, Bernie Armisted.”
“Fabulous,” the man next to Benny agreed. “I’m Bernie Armisted who would be Bernie Pitt, if there were any justice in the state of New York, which there is not. Costumes. We’re the two Bs. You can tell us apart because I’m the better-looking one.” He was slim, rangy, with tousled dark hair and day-old stubble on his chin.
“Actually,” Quill said, “You’re both . . . um . . . ”
“Gorgeous,” Meg said cheerfully. “Loathsome Lydia hasn’t changed a bit. She still doesn’t like keeping company with plain old ordinary human beings. Everything around her has to be beautiful. The diva with the cheekbones and the cornrow braids over there is LaToya Franklin.”
“She looks like Naomi Campbell, doesn’t she?” Benny said. “Only much better-natured, thank God.”
“Just call me the Assistant,” LaToya said with a soft smile. She wasn’t as tall as the supermodel, but she had the same kind of slim, imperial elegance. “I’m Ajit’s assistant. And Lydia’s assistant. Not to mention the Bs and Zeke, too. The assistant qua assistant, that’s me.”
“Oh!” Quill said, remembering. “You were on Zeke’s television show last year.”
“That’s right. I won the big corporate job over all those fierce competitors.”
“This job?” Quill asked, then immediately regretted the surprised emphasis on the adjective. Assistant on a cable TV show didn’t seem like a big corporate job. Perhaps things had changed since she’d moved away from New York. To this backwater, as Lydia called it. “Backwater my foot!” Quill said aloud, to general bewilderment.
“Of course not this job,” Bernie said, as though explaining things to a small child. “You notice Zeke never announces for how long the winners keep that big, fat paycheck and the corner office? You worked there for how long, sweetie? A month? Longer than any one of the others. She had to leave to make room for the next one. Zeke doesn’t talk about that on TV.”
LaToya spread her hands in a “that’s life” gesture. “And she was good at what she did there,” Benny went on with wry indignation. “She’s good at everything she does. We’re lucky to have her here.”
LaToya rolled her eyes. “And to think how my mamma sacrificed to get me that Harvard MBA. But I love you both, darlings. I’d love you, too, Ajit, if you weren’t better looking than I am. And the job’s not so bad, Quill. At least I’m in television. I’ve got to start somewhere.”
Meg clapped her hands together, “And these, as I started to tell you guys before my sister waltzed in and interrupted me, are the members of
Quill sat in her accustomed chair by the fireplace, and, with some bemusement at the dramatic change in her sister’s attitude, watched Meg introduce the kitchen staff. The reason for her sister’s good humor became clearer after the introductions were over, and everyone had found a place to lean, stand, or sit.
“Ajit,” Meg announced, “is going to remodel my kitchen. For free!”
Quill opened her mouth and closed it again. Then she bent over and looked at the color of her sister’s socks, that excellent barometer of her sister’s moods. The socks were sort of a blushy pink. Like a newborn. A color receptive to new experiences. Then she said, “You don’t mind changing the kitchen?”
“Mind? You’ve got to be kidding me. This kitchen’s driving me crazy.”
“But, Meg, you did the layout yourself when we bought the Inn. I thought you loved the kitchen!”
“So I did. More than ten years ago. Up until then, I’d cooked in other people’s kitchens. It’s different when you’re in charge. For example, the stove”—she pointed at the ten-burner Aga by the kitchen doors—“should be right where the prep table is.”
“We’ve got a dual-fuel Garland on a truck headed this way even as we speak,” Benny said. “And we’re going to surround it with two prep sinks and acres of countertop. Then we’ll be able to rip out the wall ovens between those windows and put in a bread hearth.”