Read The Christmas Inn Online

Authors: Stella MacLean

Tags: #Romance, #Contemporary, #Fiction

The Christmas Inn (11 page)

BOOK: The Christmas Inn
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Jack gave him a questioning look. “Are you sure? Your hot date
is due to arrive any minute.”

“My hot date can have a drink with me regardless of which side
of the bar I’m on. Besides, you forget I have privileges.”

“Besides working eighteen hours a day? What other privileges
would you want?”

“I can have the chef send dinner over to my apartment after you
get back.”

“Wow! Are you serious?”

The idea appeared out of nowhere, startling him. Since Anna had
died, he’d never invited anyone other than staff into his apartment. “Certainly.
Why not?”

Jack whistled. “You… She must be special.”

Was she special? Maybe… But whatever ended up happening with
Marnie, he was willing to sit back and and let the evening unfold. “My apartment
isn’t an ideal hangout for anyone over the age of four, and it’s not somewhere
I’d normally take a date.” Remembering her enthusiasm for Ethan, he didn’t think
Marnie would mind being around Ethan’s toys, books and videos. “An adult could
sustain serious injuries climbing over Ethan’s stuff spread over every flat
surface in the place,” he said, ruefully.

“Hey, it’s a start. I’m proud of you, my friend—”

Jack nodded toward the door. “You got company.”

Luke turned, and felt all available blood rush south of his
belt. Standing in the doorway was the most stunning woman he’d seen in a long
while. Stunning and smiling at him. He stood, letting the napkin in his hand
drop to the floor.

She moved across the room, her stride, the provocative angle at
which she held her head, and the shimmering blue of her top joining forces to
suck the air from his lungs.

“I didn’t keep you waiting too long, did I?” she asked, sliding
up onto the bar stool next to him.

He hadn’t a clue what time it was, and he sure as hell didn’t
care. “No, not at all.” Unable to take his eyes off her, he clutched the edge of
the bar and sat down, his head buzzing as her perfume wrapped around him. “You
smell great,” he said.

God! Is that the best you can come up
with?

“Sorry. I must sound like an idiot to you.” He fidgeted with
his glass and watched her face for a reaction.

She touched his arm. “I’m flattered that you like my perfume.
Between you and me, I wasn’t sure when I bought it.... So expensive.”

The skin beneath her fingers tingled, charging his senses. The
space between them seemed to sparkle with excitement. He hadn’t felt like this
for years. He quietly breathed in her scent as he grinned at her. “Worth every
penny, if you ask me.”

“I’ll be sure to tell the salesclerk at Macy’s,” she said, her
eyes alight with humor as they searched his. Her very kissable lips were only
inches from his…memories of their last kiss adding fuel to the fire in his
belly.

“Hello, there, Luke. Some storm we’re having. Where’s Jack?”
Walter Pearson asked as he and his wife, Mae, approached the bar.

Luke slid off his stool and glanced around. Jack had
disappeared. “I’m taking Jack’s place here for a little while,” he said, going
behind the bar. “He wanted to go home and get his wife, Lindsay. She’s days away
from having their son, and he didn’t want to leave her alone, and I can’t really
spare him here. So we compromised.”

“She’s going to stay here tonight?” Walter asked.

“We have five empty rooms due to cancellations, she and Jack
will have one of those. I’m encouraging our staff to stay here if they want to.
It might mean putting up cots in the spa and the library, but whatever works.
It’s one nasty night out there.”

“No kidding! I was coming down the stairs and happened to look
outside. All I could see was blowing snow, and the wind is something else. Does
it snow like this often up here?”

“Not for a long time. The past few years we’ve actually had
some of the mildest winters on record for this region. Not good for the ski
hills, but much easier for the locals to get around.”

He was so relieved to be chatting with Walter Pearson, it was
infinitely less embarrassing than gawking at Marnie. Marnie didn’t seem to be
aware of how gorgeous she was, and he found that a very attractive quality. She
had a whole lot of other great qualities, starting with how unassuming she
was....

I could really like this woman. Really.
Like. Her.

But he had paying customers who were eyeing him quietly as they
approached the bar. He turned his attention to Walter’s wife. “What would you
like to drink?”

“I’ll have a glass of red wine, please,” Mae said.

“And I’ll have a Scotch, neat.” Walter Pearson put his arm
around his wife’s shoulders. The sweet retired couple had been coming to the inn
for the past six years and always insisted on the same suite. Luke enjoyed their
company, especially Walter’s stories about fishing salmon on the Miramichi River
in Canada, told late in the evening after everyone but he and Jack had gone to
bed.

“Coming right up,” he said, taking down a bottle of Talisker
Scotch and opening a bottle of Napa Valley Merlot. As he chatted with the
Pearsons about the weather, he kept stealing glances at Marnie. He loved the way
she slid forward on her stool and watched him tend bar, a smile on her lips.

When Mr. and Mrs. Pearson were settled with their drinks at a
table in the corner, he served the other waiting customers before returning his
attention to Marnie. “And what will you have?”

“I usually have a glass of white wine, but I’ve never
personally known the bartender before, so I think I should be more adventurous.
What’s that?” she asked, pointing to the second shelf where the specialty
liquors were lined up.

“It’s sour apple liquor. You drink it over ice or it can be
part of a martini.”

“I’ve never had sour apple liquor in or out of a martini.”

He ducked his head to look under the counter. “Jack has a drink
recipe file here somewhere. I’ll make one for you.”

“Why don’t you have one with me?”

“I’m drinking Scotch. I don’t think it would make for a good
mix. Besides, my evening is just getting started.”

“Oh…sounds interesting.” She winked at him.

She was flirting with him, and he suddenly was having second
thoughts about how the evening would go. What was wrong with him? He wanted to
spend time with her… “Not interesting, more like…snow-packed. A drink with you
will be the bright spot of my night. After that I have to check on the weather
again, email the guests who canceled and advise them that I’ll be in touch
tomorrow as soon as we know the road conditions. Then I might find a few minutes
for dinner.”

“Why do you have to email the guests? Can’t someone else do
it?”

“They could, but I believe in having personal contact with all
my guests. And sure, I could get Amanda to email them using my email, but that
doesn’t seem very honest. Besides, I want to stay in touch with them. They’re
important to the inn and to me.”

Afraid he sounded old-fashioned, he busied himself with putting
together the ingredients for her drink in a martini shaker. He poured it into a
martini glass and slid it across the bar toward her.

“I always call my clients to remind them of their appointments.
Or I did…”

Was she missing her business? he wondered. “So, you understand
where I’m coming from,” he said, relieved to be talking business.

“I do, and if I were a guest here I would appreciate hearing
from you.” Her glance was both shy and direct, and it occurred to him that he
was really enjoying himself.

“I doubt anyone would start out without checking the weather
first, but so many people rely on their cell phones and messaging systems that I
don’t want to take that chance. And then there’s the snow removal, and keeping
doors clear so that people can get out in the case of fire—”

Damn! He was babbling like a teenager on a first date.

* * *

M
ARNIE
TOOK
A
SIP
OF
her martini as she
listened to Luke’s chatter. He seemed very worried about the storm, his concern
for his staff and guests making her like him even more. “This is a delicious
drink, sort of sweet and sour at the same time. I’d like to have the recipe,”
she said.

“That’s Jack’s department, but I’m sure he’ll give it to
you.”

“Tell me more about Jack. You say he and his wife are expecting
a baby.”

“Yeah, their first. They’ve been trying for years, and they’re
going to be parents any day now.”

Marnie saw the longing in his eyes, the vulnerability, and
wanted to reach out to him. Instead she directed the conversation to other
things, fearful that if she didn’t, she’d find herself behind the bar, touching
him, telling him everything would be all right. “So, he’s bringing her here for
the night?”

“They’re seldom apart these days, with good reason. I’ve kidded
him about moving in here, but I was only half teasing. I’ve never seen two
people more in love,” he said, his tone wistful.

Walter Pearson appeared at her elbow, his Scotch glass in his
hand. “I think I’ll have another,” he said, smiling at Marnie before turning his
attention to Luke. “Isn’t it time you introduced me?” he asked, nodding at
Marnie.

“Marnie, this is Walter Pearson. He’s a notorious cribbage
player.”

“It’s nice to meet you,” she said.

“Don’t get too friendly with Walter or he’ll regale you with
his fishing stories.” The two men laughed as Luke refilled his drink and passed
it to him.

“You two youngsters have a good evening.” Walter raised his
glance in salute.

“I take it he’s a bit of a character,” she said, watching him
return to his seat.

“He is, but he’s also a friend. He was once the head of
Obstetrics at one of the hospitals in Boston…can’t remember which one. He and
Mae don’t have any children but they’ve been involved in all sorts of work with
underprivileged kids around Boston, and still are, I believe.”

“That’s so nice. To care so much about the welfare of
others.”

“It’s the secret to success in any line of work, don’t you
think? Or at least that’s how I see it.”

As he stood across from her, she suddenly became aware of his
height, the width of his shoulders under his sports jacket. She wanted to stay
here and let him keep looking at her just the way he was now. She’d definitely
lucked out. Maybe her bad luck in the man department was about to become
history.

“Starting out, most of my clients in the hairdressing business
were friends from school, or friends of my family. But after that, it was word
of mouth that brought in new clients.”

“So you were good at what you did, with a client list to prove
it. And now you’ve decided to sell your business?”

“I faxed the signed agreement today. I haven’t heard back from
Shane yet.” Then again, she’d turned off her cell phone and hadn’t checked her
messages....

“Congratulations. So, what do you want to do now?” he asked,
and there was genuine interest in his eyes.

No guy in her life had ever asked her what she wanted
before....

“Marnie?” he prompted.

She clutched the stem of her martini glass tightly. “I would
love it if my family would let me run my own life.”

“I take it Scott leads the charge on that front.”

“He does, but the others are right behind him.”

“Why? Have you ever done anything that would make them think
you couldn’t manage your own life? Or am I prying into something that’s none of
my business?”

If Luke had been anyone else whom she didn’t know well, she
would’ve changed the subject, but his interest was genuine. It showed in his
eyes. “No, it’s fine. It all started because my brothers were older, and they
were all fantastic athletes in high school and university. They all went to the
best colleges and graduated at top of their class. Then I came along, and I’m
neither a great student nor an athlete.”

“But you’ve got a successful business, and now you’ll have a
chance to start over doing whatever you’d like. Are you considering going back
to school?”

“Not really. Making a commitment to go back to school means I’d
have to be really sure about what I want to do in life, and I haven’t had enough
time to think that through. I’d always wanted to be a hairdresser, but that’s
not true anymore. And getting the offer to buy out my half of the salon is a
fantastic opportunity that I don’t want to miss. It’s a chance for me to
reconsider what I really want out of life. The trouble is, I’ll be subjected to
so much unsolicited advice from my family this Christmas....”

“And you’re not looking forward to that.”

“I’m not. Oh, and Mom expects me to play Mrs. Claus at her
annual holiday get-together.”

His dark gaze moved over her face. “I’m having a hard time
picturing that.”

“Me being Mrs. Claus?”

“Yeah, it doesn’t fit somehow. The image of you as a little
round woman…”

“I’ll take that as a compliment.”

“I meant it to be one,” he said, his smile warming her all the
way down to her toes. “Your family sounds close, involved in each other’s lives.
I realize that’s not always a good thing....” He wiped the counter and
straightened the swizzle-stick jar.

The silence between them stretched, leaving Marnie suddenly
unable to think of anything but the improbable image of Luke sitting at her
parents’ dining room table. “Sometimes, I wonder if I would have been better off
if I were a boy.”

“A boy? You’d never make it as a boy,” he said, his eyes
teasing.

The fire his gaze ignited deep in her body threatened to rage
out of control. She wanted to jump across the bar and rip his clothes off, run
her hands over every inch of his body. Instead she drew a long, deep breath into
her lungs and forced herself to be calm and smile up at him. “So glad you think
so.”

He leaned across the bar, placing his hands on either side of
hers as they gripped her martini glass. “If you had been a boy this evening
wouldn’t be happening,” he whispered, his lips so close, his eyes capturing
hers.

BOOK: The Christmas Inn
6.82Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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