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Authors: Stella MacLean

Tags: #Romance, #Contemporary, #Fiction

The Christmas Inn (4 page)

BOOK: The Christmas Inn
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Hesitating, he gently tugged on his son’s legs. “No. No, of
course not. At least most of the time you don’t. But as of tomorrow night, the
inn will be filled with couples. It’s our Christmas Getaway event and it’s meant
for couples wanting to enjoy the romantic holiday away from all the stress of
Christmas preparations. I’m sure the person doing the reservation would’ve told
you that.”

She couldn’t stay here because she was single? Was this covered
in the Constitution? It had to be. She had a valid reservation because her
brother wouldn’t make that kind of mistake. But why was she wasting time talking
to someone who was clearly a lot more handsome than he was gracious?

“Look, I drove all the way up here. I have a reservation and
I’m going to check in.” With that, she opened the door and strode into the
lobby. Immediately, Henry jumped up and ambled in behind her, his nails clicking
on the hardwood flooring.

Under different circumstances she would’ve stopped to admire
the fabulous Christmas tree filling the main hall with the scent of balsam and
outdoors, but she had to determine if her brother had made a mistake. If there’d
been some mistake with the reservation, she’d be forced to return to Boston. If
that was the case, surely they could help her find a place to stay somewhere in
the vicinity as she was too tired to drive any farther. She walked to the desk
off along one wall and rang the antique bell resting on the gleaming
mahogany.

A woman appeared, dressed in a classy black dress, a smile
warming her angular features. “How may I help you?” she asked.

“I’m here to check in. My name is Marnie McLaughlan, and I have
a reservation.”

A frown knitted the woman’s perfectly tweezed eyebrows as she
scanned a printout. “Could you wait just a minute?” she asked before
disappearing into an office down the hall.

The man she’d met outside came in with his son, his expression
neutral as he edged past her and went into the same office. Henry promptly
settled in behind the reception desk, his chocolate-brown eyes pensive.

Was everyone in this place either frowning or looking far too
serious for such a lovely day? What was the problem with them? She was here, and
all she wanted was a pleasant room with a soft bed and a deep tub.

She’d gone over the questionnaires before she left Boston, and
there was a section covering the reception desk. She’d be sure to give them a
failing grade on how they received guests. Only the little boy and the dog had
shown her any true courteousness so far.

She resisted the urge to tap her foot as she gazed up at the
vaulted ceiling with its dark wood and hanging brass light fixtures. No wonder
Advantage Corporation wanted this place checked out. No hotel employee should be
this unpleasant with a paying guest, regardless of what plans had been made for
activities at the inn.

She was left to twiddle her thumbs for a few minutes longer,
and then the man reappeared without the child, the woman trailing behind him.
His smile was back on his face.

“I’m Luke Harrison, manager of The Mirabel Inn.” He held out
his hand, a welcoming smile on his face.

Now, that’s more like it.

The warmth and the firmness of his touch drew her in despite
his recent behavior. So this was the manager of The Mirabel Inn. His penetrating
gaze could prove dangerous should he have reason to believe that she was
anything other than a paying guest. The last thing she needed was for him to
suspect that she was doing a private assessment of his operations. It would
probably be a good idea not to press him over his preoccupation about her
traveling alone. The less involvement she had with the man over the next few
days, the better.

“It seems we’ve made a mistake. You’re right, you do have a
reservation, but I’m afraid the only room available is on the third floor.
Unfortunately, it’s very small and the bathroom doesn’t have a Jacuzzi tub. It
is not up to the standards of the other rooms here and is seldom used.”

“Does it have internet access?” she asked.

“It does, but only because it’s about to be converted to an
office.”

“Well, as long as it has a bathroom—”

“We’re sorry about this situation. We don’t normally rent that
room. If you’d like, we can call another inn just a couple of miles down the
road. The Chancellor is very intimate and offers the best of everything,
including a four-star dining room. They have a vacancy, and we’d be more than
happy to compensate you for our mistake.”

Obviously she preferred a full-size room to what sounded like a
broom closet with a bathroom. But she didn’t have a choice. She had to stay at
The Mirabel Inn. Still, she could indulge her curiosity. “Does the Chancellor
have a spa?”

“No, it doesn’t. Was our spa part of your reason for choosing
The Mirabel Inn?” he asked, pleasure lighting his handsome features.

He was clearly proud of his spa. “Yes, it was.”

“That’s really too bad. But this is a very popular season of
the year, and we’d like you to have the best experience possible during your
stay at our inn. We could, of course, offer you a certificate toward booking
another time. We would be pleased to provide the Ambassador Suite, should you
decide you prefer the accommodations of the Chancellor Inn for this visit, and
then return for another visit here.” His eyebrows lifted, his parted lips
showing off his perfectly straight teeth.

She wished she could agree to his offer—the chance to see him a
second time adding to the appeal—but there was her brother to consider. “No, I
prefer to stay here. I’ve read so much about your inn.”

He nodded slowly. “Then welcome to The Mirabel Inn. I do hope
you have a pleasant experience here with us,” he said, giving her a forced smile
before turning on his heel and marching out of the lobby. Henry issued a mammoth
dog sigh as he followed the man down the hallway.

The woman in the black dress stepped forward. “I’m sorry about
this. You are travelling alone, correct?”

Marnie stared at the woman in disbelief as she yanked her cell
phone out of her purse. The minute she got to her room she would get Scott on
the line and have him deal with these people. With the way they were acting
toward her, she’d happily get back in the car, find a gas station and get out of
here. “What is the big deal?” she muttered.

The woman started to say something, then thought better of
it.

Marnie leaned closer to read the woman’s name badge. “Amanda
Buckland, is that correct?”

“Yes…”

“Mr. Harrison didn’t seem very pleased when I refused his offer
to switch inns.”

The woman passed Marnie a form for her signature. “Mr. Harrison
is anxious that each guest have the best possible experience while staying at
The Mirabel. He’s simply concerned for you. Starting tomorrow, the only guests
here will be couples.”

An inn full of romantic couples—just her rotten luck. But there
was the spa, and hiking and good food, and a timeout for her. “Not to worry. I
understand. I’ll be as quiet and discreet as possible. I won’t interfere with
your special Christmas event.”

“We have a large clientele who come here for pampering and
socializing with other guests. Our manager simply wants each guest to enjoy his
or her experience with us.” Amanda pursed her flawlessly painted lips.

“I understand.” In truth, as gorgeous as Mr. Harrison might be,
what the manager of this inn wanted came in last on her list of priorities.

“Mr. Harrison is a lovely man and a great manager. Everyone
here at The Mirabel likes him, and of course Ethan is such an adorable little
boy. We’re like a family.”

The whole family thing didn’t live up to its billing as far as
she was concerned. Yet, she had a job to do and she would do it.

Amanda passed her an antique key embossed with a coat of arms.
“I hope you have a wonderful stay with us, and if there’s anything any member of
the staff can do for you, please don’t hesitate to ask. I’ll show you to your
room.”

“That’s not necessary. I’ll get my suitcase and go up by
myself. Room number 311, right?”

“Yes. If you’d like someone to park your car for you…”

“That would be nice.” Oh, she could get used to this sort of
luxury very quickly. She imagined the spa and what treats awaited her there. She
intended to indulge in all of them.

Amanda pulled the long velvet pull cord hanging at the back of
the desk area and a bell tolled somewhere deep inside the building. “Again,
please enjoy your stay, and let one of the staff know if you need anything.”

Marnie got her bag from her car, gave her keys to a young man
who was waiting outside for her and then headed up the stairs to the third
floor. The wide-angled staircase, carpeted in heavy paisley-patterned carpet,
led to a much narrower stairway leading to the third floor. Reaching the top of
the stairs, she faced a narrow corridor with a tall window at the far end. Her
key clutched in her hand, she huffed along down the hall, dragging her suitcase
until she found her room. Unlocking the door, she discovered a narrow room made
even narrower by the slope of the roof.

Although the room was small, it was a decorator’s dream. The
double bed, bracketed by two brass lamps, was covered with a heavy brocade
bedspread in shades of cream and gold. The walls were covered in antique
fleur-de-lis wallpaper, and the carpet beneath her feet was a rich shade of
blue, and so thick she nearly stumbled on it.

She put her suitcase down on the luggage rack at the foot of
the bed, catching a glimpse of the tiny bathroom as she did so. But neither the
size of the room nor the bathroom mattered as she kicked off her boots, pulled
back the bedspread and sank onto the mattress, her head coming to rest on a
pillow that felt like a cloud. Somewhere in the back of her mind, she remembered
that one of the questionnaire sections related to the comfort of the bed, and
she’d be sure to give the inn a perfect rating on that feature.

But it had been a long drive and she needed a short nap before
dinner....

* * *

L
UKE
SAT
AT
his desk, staring at
Marnie McLaughlan’s reservation. It was made out to a Mr. and Mrs. Scott
McLaughlan, and yet she’d shown up here alone…and no wedding ring. Where was Mr.
McLaughlan? Amanda said he’d been very friendly and so disappointed when she
didn’t have a vacancy that she’d felt sorry for him, and offered him the room on
the top floor. But why hadn’t he arrived with her if he was so anxious to come
here? His wife hadn’t made any mention of him or when he’d be joining her.

It didn’t make sense. He tapped the desk, his mind running over
the possibilities.

His concerns aside, he’d been surprised to find Ethan hanging
off the woman’s leg when he got to the front of the house, but she seemed to
take it in stride. What could have been an embarrassing situation had turned
into a pleasant interlude with a beautiful woman. And with her heart-shaped face
framed by short, dark curls and her well-toned body, Marnie McLaughlan was
gorgeous
and
sexy....

Her husband probably planned to arrive later, a simple enough
explanation, and he hadn’t offered her much opportunity to explain why they
hadn’t arrived together. He’d simply find a diplomatic way to learn when her
husband was going to join her, because otherwise, a woman alone meant problems
from seating arrangements in the dining room to any activities planned for the
next few days. Married couples, especially the wives, came to this event because
they wanted to escape and spend time with their husbands. It was essential that
there be no disruptions this year—and a woman as beautiful as Marnie McLaughlan
could prove to be a serious disruption.

He was still distracted by the problem of Marnie when Jack
Fowler, the bartender, appeared at the door. “You look awful, my friend. What’s
up?”

“We’ve got a single female guest for the next three days,
unless her husband decides to join her.” He picked up the reservation, and noted
down Scott McLaughlan’s number. “And we have thirty couples who’ve registered
for the Christmas Getaway event, most of them arriving tomorrow. I wanted this
thing to go off without a hitch. I’d like to really promote it next year and
maybe build a little momentum around our programming for the winter months. The
last thing I need is a beautiful woman making the wives feel on edge or
jealous.”

“I hope she’s not one of those women who likes to hang out at
the bar. The last one of those just left yesterday and I’m exhausted,” Jack
grumbled.

Luke knew what he meant. Although the bar was popular with the
guests because of Jack’s charm, in addition to the quality and variety of the
liquor offerings, no one appreciated a guest wanting to spend the night getting
drunk. In Jack’s case, he had another reason for wanting to see his guests leave
the bar at a reasonable hour. His wife, Lindsay, was expecting their first child
and was anxious about the delivery, especially with respect to getting to the
hospital on time. Jack didn’t like leaving her alone and had worked mostly day
shifts until this week.

“I don’t know anything about her except that the reservation
was for two, and here she is, all checked in and ready to enjoy her stay…alone.
Her husband insisted that the small room was fine for them. I can’t shake the
feeling that something else is going on here.” Restless, he picked up a steel
pen, one his parents had given him years ago.

“I assume she’s beautiful.”

“That, too.”

“I take it you tried to convince her to reconsider?”

“I suggested the Chancellor but she refused. It seems she’s
very interested in our spa.”

“Well, then I wouldn’t worry. Her husband will probably show
up,” Jack said, rubbing his hands through his short-cropped brown hair. “Maybe
she and her husband had a fight, and she decided to come on her own, hoping he’d
follow her and they could have great makeup sex.”

BOOK: The Christmas Inn
13.1Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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