Authors: Jessica Gadziala
wasn't going to tolerate it. If he thought he was going to breeze
into her inn and start throwing around his weight, insulting the
place that had been her home and her life for the past twelve years,
with no opposition from her, he was in for a big surprise.
tapped her foot restlessly on the kitchen floor, waiting for the
coffee to finish dripping. In all fairness, she had been given ample
notice of his arrival. But that didn't mean she was going to roll
over and take it.
inn should have been hers.
coffee machine beeped and she filled a big yellow mug, which was
actually a soup dish with a handle, grabbed her stack of fliers
listing all of the autumnal events, and walked out toward the
didn't matter that her best friend and her husband had been the ones
to buy it. It didn't even matter that they swore they wanted to keep
the small town integrity of Stars Landing Inn. It wasn't even all the
long overdue redecorating plans. It was the usurping of power. It was
bringing in someone over her head to oversee the renovations. Someone
who could wave off any of her objections. Someone who would take her
manager position she had worked her ass off to get, and roll his eyes
moved behind the reception desk, sloshing coffee down her hand and
cursing. She shouldered the employee standing there, straightening
the papers on the desk, moving the new fliers into the small wire
leaned back against the shelf of quaint cubbyholes on the wall behind
him, watching her move around, all auburn hair and anxious energy.
“You're in a mood,” he said.
turned to him, brown hair and eyes, horn-rimmed glasses. Dressed in
obnoxiously tight skinny jeans and a slim fit blue and white plaid
button-up. She rolled her eyes. “How are you so calm about
helps that I have a horrible work ethic,” Devon winked. “I'm
just here for the paycheck.”
laughed. Devon was rich. Everyone knew it. Why he worked at all was
completely beyond her comprehension.
know... I've done some research on this James Michaels guy,”
Devon said, shrugging. “He's a real ladies man.”
don't care if he's banged every skirt on the east coast,” Emily
said, rolling her light blue eyes.
maybe you can charm him with your... feminine wiles,” Devon
moved out from behind the desk, reaching for an eraser shaped like a
pumpkin, and threw it at him. “Can you at least pretend to do
work today? Shuffle papers, look up when the door opens... that kinda
moved into the room across the hall, a sitting room. The walls had
blue and yellow striped wallpaper with far too many framed pictures
of Victorian scenes. Bookshelves lined either side of the giant
fireplace, overflowing with an assortment of books. Emily collected
newspapers off the light blue chaise lounge, shuffling them together
and placing them on the coffee table.
couldn't sit still. She never could. She always needed to be one the
move, doing something, getting something accomplished. There was
always work to be done.
moved back into the hallway, past the staircase that led to the
rooms, past the dining room, the kitchen. The keys on her hips
jingled as she walked, quick, long-legged. She let herself down the
staff hallway, and moved into a small room that used to be used to
store six Christmas trees, one for each guest room. Until Emily
convinced the owner that that was a bit of overkill.
became her room pretty soon after she showed up in Stars Landing at
sixteen. Homeless and willing to do anything to keep her from having
to go back to her parent's house. And Marion, the inn owner, old
then, pushing sixty-five with a shocking amount of long gray hair and
sharp, dark eyes, had taken mercy on her. Giving her a job cleaning
rooms, mucking out the horse stalls. Giving her a purpose and a place
to sleep. The inn become her home, her passion, her everything.
room was tiny. Barely big enough for her full-sized bed and dresser.
But it was hers. It was the only thing in the world she had. The
walls had been a violent red when she was a teenager, angsty, artsy.
Defiant. Wanting a reaction. But Marion had just cackled, slapping
her on the shoulder and telling her it was going to be a bitch to
paint over when she grew up. She was right. She was always right. It
had taken her two coats of primer and two coats of the cappuccino
color she had chosen to make her adolescence disappear.
walked over to her dresser, opening the drawer and looking for
something to wear. Normally it was just jeans and whatever shirt she
pulled out first. But the arrival of some big city businessman was
making her feel a little insecure about her normal work attire. It
wasn't like her to be insecure, to second guess herself. And she
hated him even more for bringing that out.
eventually settled on a pair of tight black skinny jeans and a thin
gray lightweight sweater. She grabbed her long auburn-colored hair
and pulled it back into a long ponytail. She looked in the mirror,
taking in her pale skin, the light spattering of freckles over the
bridge of her nose. She wasn't going to put any effort into makeup.
What was the point?
walked through the dining room, setting tables, pushing chairs in,
trying not to think. Because if she let herself think, she was only
going to get more angry. She was only going to get herself all worked
up and probably jump down the man's throat the second he arrived.
Whenever that was. Because he hadn't actually given them a time. Or
even a day. No, that would just be too considerate. He had made a
reservation for the entire month.
she got to run around every morning making sure everything was
perfect, changing into professional clothes, looking over her
shoulder whenever she heard a male voice.
were only two days left in the month. He would have to arrive soon.
her patience was absolutely shot.
made her way back into the hall, hearing the bell on the front door,
making her heart jump into her throat. She took a steadying breath
and moved quickly up toward reception.
she said, drawing her brows together. “Maude. What are you
was somewhere in middle age with flawless mahogany skin and a
generous frame. She pulled her black hair into a single braid that
fell half way down her back. She was wearing a bright red dress with
an assortment of multi-colored beaded necklaces that fell in
different lengths from her collarbone to her waist, bouncing as she
was the town psychic. Emily spent half her time laughing at the idea
and the other half trying to pick her jaw off the floor when she
turned out to be correct in her predictions.
for whatever reason... maybe middle age making her soft, she had been
sticking her nose into everyone's love life. Helping to set up three
couples in the past few years. Annabelle and Sam, farmers, neighbors.
Perfectly happy with a little squishy pink baby to love up on. Lena
the town baker and Eric the former ladies man mechanic. Happy.
Obnoxiously so. Known for sneaking off into the woods and having sex.
Emily had accidentally happened across them more than once. And then
there was the sheriff, handsome with his slowly-turning to
salt-and-pepper hair and Viv, Anna the farmer's high maintenance
mother, the unlikeliest couple of all time. But damn if that man
didn't come running when Viv called his name.
Maude said, smiling in a sly way that had Emily squinting her eyes at
her. Maude pulled a book out of her purse, a sordid romance novel
with an embarrassingly typical cover: heaving bosoms, shirtless man,
fancy calligraphy writing. “I'm just... looking for a nice
place to enjoy my smut,” she smiled, moving into the sitting
was a scratching sound, and Emily peeked in to see Maude moving one
of the captain's chairs close to the doorway, giving her a perfect
view into the reception area.
turned to Devon who quickly jumped, putting his hands on the computer
keys, fake typing. “What is that all about?” she asked,
turning to watch Maude, looking as innocent as could be, opening her
Devon asked, looking up, pushing his glasses up his nose, giving her
a blank stare. “Oh, I was busy... working. I didn't see
anything. No suspicious characters moving around furniture and
looking entirely too excited to just spend her day reading literary
porn. Just standing here, minding my business, typing away.”
Emily said, smiling. “because that computer is off.”
Devon exploded, eyes comically wide. “You mean all that work is
lost?” he asked, laughing. He watched Emily for a moment,
shuffling papers she had already shuffled. “So...” he
said, sounding nonchalant. “think I am going to get fired?”
Worried you cant find somewhere else to stand around all day and play
on your phone?” she asked, laughing. She shook her head. “No.
I wont let him fire you. I think he's mostly here to plan our
upgrades. Maybe force us to put something in that the tourists would
like. A pool. Tennis courts. Stuff like that. I don't think he will
be too much involved with how we run the place.”
nodded, looking around. “I miss Marion,” he said sadly, a
fresh wound still.
know,” Emily said, looking around. Everything there reminded
them of her. The awful wallpaper choices, the bland paintings. It
wasn't that she had bad taste exactly, it was just her steadfast
determination to make the whole place feel Victorian. Emily had
always been rather surprised that she didn't insist all the employees
dress in period clothing.
Emily hated the décor. She hated the busyness of the floral
wallpaper and bed coverings. She preferred things neat. All clean
lines. But everything in the inn, since Marion's death, felt like
being enveloped in a warm hug. It was all they had left.
despite disliking pretty much everything, she knew she was going to
fight this city guy tooth and nail on any small change he wanted to
make. Partly out of respect for Marion's memory, partly to show him
that she wasn't going to be pushed around. No one pushed her around.
met Elliott Michael's, right?” Devon asked, pulling her out of
her thoughts. “the brother of this guy?”
Emily said, smiling a little at his memory. Tall, dark, handsome.
I've only seen him a few times. Most of the time when Hannah comes to
visit, he stays at work. But I don't know. He's kind of standoffish.
Very collected. Cold.”
his brother is like him?”
shrugged, moving behind the desk and rearranging things inside the
cubbyholes. “I hope so. He might not be someone I want to share
a beer with, but he seems rational and intelligent.”
hasn't told you anything about the other Mr. Michaels?”
were stories. About when Hannah and Elliott were still just
employee-employer. About her thinking for a short time that she had a
slight crush on James. Who was more sociable. Open. But then she had
fallen for Elliott and there wasn't any more talk about her
gotten bits and pieces. Mostly before they decided to buy this place.
She's been unusually tight-lipped about him since. Which is weird.”
really educated,” Devon supplied, thinking back over his
internet search. “He went to school for like... seven years or
something like that.”