Authors: Lisa Plumley
Tags: #American Light Romantic Fiction, #Romance: Modern, #Contemporary, #General, #Romance, #Romance - Contemporary, #Fiction, #Fiction - Romance, #Single mothers, #Suspense, #Single fathers, #Hotelkeepers, #Espionage
“They seem…amazingly fine.” Reid smiled at her. “Thanks for corralling Alexis and Nicole. That was nice of you.”
“Well…They insisted they were fine in the dark as long as their PSPs still had juice,” Karina confided. “But between you and me, I think they were relieved to have an adult take charge and bring them here safely with everyone else.”
“Maybe.” Reid doubted it. His daughters were much too independent to behave like normal preteens. They didn’t need Karina’s mother hen routine any more than he did. Thinking better of saying so—and risking hurting her feelings—he jabbed his chin toward the group of chattering children. “Look. They really get along, don’t they?”
“I know. They really do.” Karina gazed at them, then smiled up at Reid. She squeezed his arm. “That’s cute, isn’t it?”
“It’s adorable.” Vanessa broke into their conversation with a know-it-all grin. “Just like I knew it would be. You guys are
the new Brady Bunch! Minus one, of course—I guess you can’t have everything.” She aimed a practical glance at Reid. “The electrician is here, cuz. And things don’t look good.”
Left on her own in the midst of the (newly) candlelit B&B reception, Karina watched Reid leave with Vanessa to consult with the electrician. She’d used candlelight to finish making a few handwritten notes for her Edgware report. She’d made sure her children—and Reid’s—were safe and happy. She’d double-checked with the staff to see if there was anything else she could do to help. There hadn’t been. Now, at loose ends, she snuggled into her warm sweaters, debating what to do next.
If there’d been time—and a stand-in baby-sitter who
probably canoodling with Rodrigo someplace dimly lit and cozy right now—Karina might have gone upstairs and started getting ready for her “date” with Reid. His promise of
still rang in her head, making her feel doubly impatient for their next opportunity to be together. As it was, though, she had to hang around until things were settled here. She might as well—
Her cell phone tweeted out its incoming SMS tone.
Chelsea. A glance at her cell phone screen confirmed it.
Well, there was no time like the present to see what urgent issue had caused Chelsea to text her almost hourly for the past few days. Curious, Karina opened the latest message.
WHERE ARE U
? she read.
DID I DO SOMETHING WRONG
Guiltily, Karina edged to a corner of the B&B’s front room, then thumbed out an answer.
SORRY. WHAT’S UP
OVER came next. Then, I
Feeling shocked, Karina stared at her cell phone. Her ex-husband and his bodacious bikini-clad girlfriend had broken up?
Karina hesitated, waiting for a well-earned bout of schadenfreude to sweep over her. After all, Eric’s fling with Chelsea had caused the breakup of her marriage. It had made him behave like a punk-obsessed, video game–playing idiot. It had upset her children and caused her endless turmoil. Given the circumstances, Karina figured she deserved to feel vindicated.
Instead, she only felt sad. Soberly, she thumbed out another reply to Chelsea. S
, C. C
Almost instantly, her cell phone rang.
Moving toward the hallway, where it might be a little quieter, Karina prepared herself to answer. Maybe the college students she was paid to advise didn’t need her help over Christmas break this year, she realized, but this one
college student did, and Karina intended to do her best to help her. If that meant patching up her eyeliner-wearing ex with his supersexy, twentysomething paramour…well, so be it.
“See? This here’s your problem.” The local Kismet electrician jabbed one callused finger at the electrical panel. He nodded at Reid to make sure he was paying attention, then jabbed again. “You’ve got yourself a one-hundred-amp system here. That’s not enough for all that fancy gadgetry and all those big light displays. What you need to do is heavy up to a two-hundred-amp setup, like your newer houses on the other side of the lake have.”
The other side of the lake.
Where Lagniappe at the Lakeshore was located, Reid couldn’t help noticing. Grr.
“But we’ve been using the same Christmas lights for years,” Vanessa mused. Standing beside Reid and the electrician with a flashlight in her hand, she cast the electrical panel a worried glance. She looked at Reid. “We’ve never had a problem before.”
“Could it be sabotage?” Reid asked bluntly. “Rewiring or tampering? Could anything else have caused this problem?”
“Hard to say.” The electrician scratched his head. “Can’t think why anybody would want to tamper with anything.”
Unfortunately, Reid could. Lagniappe at the Lakeshore would love to shut them down, by whatever means possible. But he wasn’t likely to get very far with that line of reasoning with the kindhearted electrician. The man clearly couldn’t conceive of Kismet’s business rivals harboring any ill will toward each other.
Feeling resigned, Reid agreed to an immediate partial upgrade of the power system. He paid the electrician—out of his own pocket, for the sake of expediency.
“You know, it would save a few watts to take down some of those lights you’ve got all over this place,” the electrician advised. He finished writing an invoice and a work order for a new sub-panel and a power surge arrester, then handed the paperwork to Reid for his signature. “They look nice, sure. But even with the upgrade I’m installing, there’re only so many amps to go around. You’re pushing your luck with these overloads.”
“We’ve never had a problem before,” Vanessa reiterated. “How are we supposed to make this place look like a festive winter wonderland if we don’t have all our Christmas lights?”
“Dunno.” The electrician shrugged. “Use your imagination, I guess. Those orange-and-clove pomanders don’t draw any power, and they look pretty this time of year. My wife makes ’em. They make good gifts too. Fit right in a stocking, nice and neat.”
Reid’s cousin gave a frustrated sound. But Reid only paused, struck by a new idea. The electrician was right. All they needed was a little imagination. Lagniappe at the Lakeshore couldn’t take away their innovation. They could dent their spirits only
the folks at The Christmas House allowed them to.
“Come on,” he told Vanessa. “Let’s leave this job to the experts. We’ve got some Christmas cookies to bake and decorate.”
“But…the power isn’t even back on yet!”
“Prob’ly won’t be for an hour or so,” the electrician specified with a dour expression. “That’s
things go well.”
“That doesn’t matter.” With new vigor, Reid grabbed his coat, then headed outside to one of the B&B’s outbuildings. “For the strategy I’m thinking of, we don’t need electricity.”
The best part of the cookie-baking and -decorating session wasn’t the cookies, Reid realized shortly after he hauled his cousin outside to help him set up. The best part wasn’t the colored sugars, sprinkles, red and green icing, or silver dragées. Instead, the best part was the awestruck looks on the faces of the children as Reid carried in each platter of freshly baked cookies, then set them in the staging areas Vanessa had arranged. One area was for cooling cookies, one was for ready-to-decorate cookies, and one was for finished, fully decorated cookies. There were a few of each type of cookie lined up in each zone already, tempting everyone to start nibbling.
“Hey, be sure to save some icing for the cookies.” Smiling, Reid swiped a dab of frosting from Michael’s cheek. The boy grinned back at him. “You can’t eat all of it between batches.”
“Oh, that’s not a problem,” Michael assured him, licking his fingers. “We can just make twice as much frosting!”
“Good solution.” Amused, Reid double-checked the battery-powered camping lanterns he’d found in the outbuildings. Vanessa had arranged them down the centers of the tables, where they provided plenty of light despite the still-nonfunctioning power.
“Hey, Reid!” Olivia waved at him. “Look what I did!”
He peered at the cookies in front of her. “Is that…?”
“Yes! A gingerbread family!” Proudly, she smiled at it.
Reid did too. He tilted his head. “It looks like—”
“Yep. It’s us!” With her fingers stained red and green, Olivia pointed out various cookies, assigning each an identity. “There’s you, and me, and my mom.” All three featured prominent smiling faces made of icing. “This one’s Michael.” It was small but adorable. “This one’s Josh.” It was stumpy and skewed. The next two cookies were lovingly decorated with sparkling sugar and extra sprinkles. “And these two are Alexis and Nicole!”
“Aww!” His daughters exclaimed, glancing over. “Cute!”
“Nice work, Olivia.” Reid wiped his hands on his bibbed BBQ apron—which he wore atop his jeans and flannel shirt, beneath his puffy, quilted vest—then glanced around the room. The adults were still occupied with some gung ho project of Karina’s in the front room. All the children were here busily decorating. There wasn’t much chance he’d identify the Edgware evaluator here. But Reid couldn’t help looking. He’d been doing it all week. “Keep it up. You’re doing great,” he told Olivia. “And have fun!”
“I will,” Olivia promised. “Oh! Wait!” She tugged his sleeve, then showed him a small pad of notepaper situated at her elbow. Several pages were flipped back, as though they’d already been used. The top sheet showed a handwritten list of worries. A
handwritten list. “I already started my list. See?”
Reid swallowed hard. That was a pretty scary list. But he didn’t want to alarm Olivia. “Good job,” he said. “I can’t wait to read it.”
And help you deal with all those worries, too.
Olivia beamed at him. Reid hoped he could live up to the trust she was so obviously placing in him. But before he could ponder that concern any further, Karina arrived from the other room. Her blond hair looked tousled. Her chin was smudged with frosting. But her smile was as wide—and as beautiful—as usual.
Instantly, Reid felt better—about Olivia’s problems and everything else, too. Whatever went wrong, he’d figure out how to deal with it. He always did. Besides, there was no way he could feel anything less than happy around Karina.
It’s no wonder I love you, Karina.
Even without her writhing half naked in his arms, even with her simply approaching him now, Reid knew it was true. And he was glad. He might not be a man who examined his feelings deeply…but he did recognize those feelings (eventually) when they smacked him upside the head with their intensity.
He wasn’t afraid to express them, either. He might not have wanted other people to tell him how he felt—he swept the room with a grumpy gaze, eyeballing his interfering matchmaker cousin, Nate, Angela, and everyone else who’d advised him—but once Reid knew how he felt, he laid it on the table. Fearlessly.
afraid—a little—that Karina wouldn’t reciprocate those feelings. After all, she
admitted that she was only using him for his body. And she
admitted that she cared about him, too. Although she
approved of his beard.
Contemplatively, Reid stroked it. It
his good-luck beard, damn it. He didn’t care what anyone else said.
“Wow. I can’t believe this worked!” Karina stood beside him, arms folded over her chest, and watched the B&B’s young guests as they went to town decorating Christmas cookies. “What made you think of baking cookies on the barbecue grill?”
“Something the electrician said sparked an idea,” Reid told her. He lifted the edge of his chef’s apron and wiped the icing from her chin. “I figured, if it’s possible to grill pizzas, it should be possible to bake other things on a barbecue grill.”
“And we wouldn’t need electricity to do it. Genius!”
Reid shrugged. “People bake without electricity every day, all over the world. They use tandoors or hornos, shichirins or woodstoves—all kinds of ovens. I knew that already. All I needed was a different perspective to remember it.”
“Well, if you can’t get a new perspective at Christmastime,” Karina said cheerfully, “when can you?”
“Christmas had nothing to do with it.” Reid crossed his arms. “I would have had the same idea at any time of year.”
“Maybe. But would you have had the same impetus to do it?”
He didn’t know what she meant. “Probably.”
“Admit it.” With her eyes sparkling, Karina nudged him. “You wanted the cookie-baking and -decorating session to happen. Vanessa told me how determined you were. She told me what you said.” Here, Karina adopted a he-man stance, with her arms held out at her sides. She lowered her voice—presumably in mimicry of him. “It’s a tradition!” she growled. “We’re doing it!”
Reid smiled. “Funny. But don’t get hung up on thinking I’m secretly sentimental. I’m no Christmas-crazy traditionalist.”
“Sure. That’s what you say
” Karina agreed. “But once you get a load of what I’ve been planning in the other room—”
Vanessa arrived, appearing pleased. “Sorry to interrupt you two lovebirds,” his cousin said. “And by the way, you two look completely adorable together. Have I mentioned that?”
“You might have,” Reid said drily. “Once or twice.”
Karina only smiled. Gently, she squeezed his hand.
“But I thought you’d want to know,” Vanessa went on, “that the electrician is almost finished. Another fifteen minutes or so, he told me, when I went to check on his progress just now.”
“That’s great!” Karina brightened, smiling in the lamplight. “That means the problem is solved then, right?”
“It’s solved for now,” Reid agreed. “We should be set for the rest of the season. But the B&B will need more extensive upgrades later—especially if Edgware wants to split up the suites into smaller rooms and increase occupancy.”