Authors: Sophie Pembroke
Can she make room for love?
When wedding planner Carrie Archer inherits the crumbling Avalon Inn where she spent her childhood summers, she knows she'll do whatever it takes to make it home. With no money for renovations, that means teaming up with her boss to turn the Avalon into a dream wedding venue.
But Carrie has been left more than the Inn–she's also inherited its occupants, including three senior citizens, a single father chef with childcare issues, a panicky receptionist, and one very gorgeous gardener.
So when her cousin Ruth declares her intention to get married at the Avalon on Christmas Eve, Carrie finds herself juggling decorating with dance nights, budgeting with bridge games...and sabotage with seduction.
WARNING: Some sexual content. And sexual frustration...
Nate caught up with her at the foot of the stairs, his bowtie hanging loose around his neck and his tuxedo jacket long since abandoned. “It went well,” he said, his voice soft. He caught the sleeve of her suit, his fingers warm through the fabric. “Better than I’d imagined.”
Carrie smiled. “It did, didn’t it?”
“This is going to work.” Nate sounded so sure, so certain, that for a moment Carrie couldn’t help but believe him.
“We’ll see,” she said, ducking her head to hide her smile.
“Trust me.” Nate bent down and tucked a finger under her chin. “You’ve done wonderful things here.”
Carrie felt her shoulders relax as Nate’s other hand came up to wrap around her waist. Maybe he’d kiss her again.
That would certainly help her sleep.
They were silent, leaning against each other in the darkness of the empty lobby. “You all helped,” Carrie said eventually. “I wanted to do it on my own, but...”
“You don’t have to do everything alone,” Nate said, and his voice was so low and wonderfully resonant against her body, that Carrie found herself swaying forward closer and closer to him.
“I’m starting to realize that,” she whispered.
Room for Love
By Sophie Pembroke
Room for Love
Copyright © 2012, Sophie Pembroke
Edited by Dianne B.
Book design by Lyrical Press, Inc.
Cover Art by Renee Rocco
First Lyrical Press, Inc. electronic publication: May 2012
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This book is a work of fiction. The names, characters, places, and incidents are products of the writer’s imagination or have been used fictitiously and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to persons, living or dead, actual events, locale or organizations is entirely coincidental. The publisher does not have any control over and does not assume any responsibility for author or third-party Web sites or their content.
Published in the United States of America by Lyrical Press, Incorporated
For Simon and Holly.
Writing about love, and family, and friends is a lot easier when you have all three to help you. Much thanks is owed to my husband, for giving me the time to escape into my imaginary worlds, and also the office space to do so. But mostly for making it possible for me to imagine heroes worthy of my heroines.
Thanks also to my daughter, for finally learning to knock on the study door, and understanding that the blue laptop is not for watching cartoons on.
I couldn’t have become a writer without the encouragement of my family. So, from my grandparents to my brothers, from the cousins to the fourth generation, from my aunts and uncles to my nephew, I thank them all. But most especially, I thank my parents, for every single thing they’ve done to help me achieve my dreams. I’d detail them all, but the list would be far longer than the book.
And lastly, thank you to all the friends who read drafts, who asked about the books, and who cared about my ambitions. Especially since you then listened to me drone on and on about writing and edits and why I love romance, without complaint, even in the early hours of the morning after too much wine. You’re the friends I want all my heroines to find for themselves.
Six years away hadn’t improved the Avalon Inn any, Carrie realized, staring out her car window at the crumbling wreck of a building. The roof tiles still sat wonky, the terrace seemed to be sinking into the grass, and moss had crept so far up the building it appeared to have taken over the stonework.
In other words, it looked like home.
The place she’d spent endless childhood summers, reading by firelight or adventuring through overgrown gardens. The scene of her first kiss. Fourteen years old, dressed in Grandma Nancy’s second best silk gown, dancing on the terrace with one of the local boys. He’d sung along to the music, his breath warm against her ear as they’d hidden in the darkness, looking through the window at the women dancing, their long dresses swirling. And along the terrace, they could smell the smoke curling up from the cigars of the men in dinner jackets holding important conversations.
Just through the front door, Carrie knew, stood the ornate, curving main staircase, the site of her cousin Ruth’s many fictional weddings. And somewhere, shoved in the bottom of a cupboard, she’d probably find a dressing-up box holding the endless parade of secondhand bridesmaid’s dresses Ruth had dressed Carrie in for the occasions.
All so, so familiar.
She could almost see Grandma Nancy skipping down the front steps, if she tried. Carrie squinted for a second, before the twinge of guilt that always accompanied the thought of
of absence caught up with her. So instead she turned her attention back to the sound of her boss’s voice coming through her hands-free kit. Because Grandma Nancy would never walk down those steps again, and Carrie had grown up into a professional businesswoman now, no longer an imaginative child.
“Well anyway,” Anna Yardley said, obviously coming to the end of a conversational ramble Carrie had been fortunate enough to miss. “I’m looking forward to seeing it. If it’s as magical as you described, it could be a real asset to the business.”
Carrie winced, looking out again at the faded grey stone building looming over the Welsh valley, trying to see it through Anna’s unsentimental eyes. Trying to see it as the jewel in the Wedding Wishes crown, the dream venue of every bride.
“It’ll need work, of course,” Carrie said, understating for all she was worth. A chill settled in her chest. Suddenly, her well-thought-out proposal seemed rash. Risky. But still the only way she could think of to keep both the Avalon
It was all very well, her gran leaving her the inn. But the money to fix it up would have been useful, too.
“Of course, of course.” Anna didn’t sound concerned. Probably because she couldn’t see the collapsing terrace, and didn’t know about the color-themed bedrooms with their chintzy curtains and pelmets. And Anna wasn’t the one who’d promised to make the inn not just habitable, but luxurious. “But such a fantastic location. Less than two hours from Manchester.”
Personally, Carrie had always thought the Welsh mountains in the distance and the view over the woods from the top bedrooms really made the location. But after five years of working for Anna Yardley, she knew only the practicalities mattered.
“It is convenient,” she agreed, staring harder at the inn, willing the blue window frames to stop peeling. Behind the window next to the front door, a curtain twitched. Carrie frowned. Was someone in there waiting for her? Watching her? She’d called ahead to let them know when she’d be arriving, but she’d assumed that, with no paying guests, the inn would be quiet. But it looked like someone was ready to welcome her home, after all.
“And if it’s too far gone to save, you can always sell it and cut your losses,” Anna chattered on, her voice breezy. “Invest the money.”
Carrie turned her glare onto the phone. Only way the Avalon would be sold was over her dead body. And even then, she’d leave it to Ruth. Her cousin loved the place almost as much as she did.
But Anna wouldn’t understand about the Avalon being home, so there was really no point in saying it out loud.
“What do I know about investments?” she joked instead.
“We-ell,” Anna said, drawing out the words. “I know we talked about you becoming a partner in the company in return for the use of the inn, but really, maybe we should talk about some financial options, instead. Selling the property could buy you a reasonable share, I imagine, and I’m not getting any younger. It might be nice to share the burden...”
Anna sounded quite taken with the idea, so Carrie jumped in to quash it. Fast. “I’d better get a proper look at the place first, don’t you think? Who knows what Gran did to it in the last six years.” She laughed, even though nothing felt very funny. “More importantly, are you sure you’ll be all right on your own this week? The temp... Her name’s Naomi, by the way. She’ll be there at nine tomorrow, and I’ve briefed her thoroughly.”
“I’ll be fine.” Anna brushed her concern away. “I did manage before I hired you, remember? And our next wedding’s not until New Year’s Eve.”
Carrie didn’t point out that times, and business, had changed in the five years since she’d started as an assistant at Wedding Wishes. Once she’d become vaguely competent at the wedding planning side of things, Anna had taken a back seat, dealing with the finances and contracts rather than handling distraught brides and double-checking dates on invitations
they went to the printers.
Which was probably why Anna wanted her to become a partner, Carrie thought. To keep herself away from the actual wedding part of wedding planning. Too much joyousness tended to annoy her.
“There’s the engagement party on November fifth, though,” Carrie reminded her boss. These days, betrothal celebrations were almost as fancy as the real thing. “I know it’s a month away, and I’ll be back long before then, but there’s still things that need doing this week. And there’s a couple of meetings with new clients...”
“I’ve got the diary,” Anna reminded her. “And your emails. And all the files.” She sounded insulted now, rather than reassuring. Bother. “I think I can handle it.”
“Yeah. Sure. Sorry.” Carrie tried to sound convinced, and mentally added,
Remind Naomi to blind-copy me on all emails about the Hawkins-Butler engagement party
to her To Do list.
“And I’ll be out there to see your inn a week on Monday,” Anna added, making Carrie wince again.
“Looking forward to it,” she lied, staring out at the Avalon and wondering how much she could reasonably expect to achieve in nine days.
Probably nowhere near enough to satisfy Anna.
* * * *
“I reckon this could be an opportunity,” Jacob said, straightening his pots and pans where they hung from the kitchen ceiling. Nate wondered how it was his cousin had gotten both the optimistic and compulsively tidy genes in the family, and still hadn’t inherited their grandmother’s horrendous cooking skills.
“How, exactly?” Nate boosted himself up to sit on Jacob’s clean-enough-for-surgical-work counter while his cousin’s back was turned.