“I want to ring it, Mama!” Charlotte pulled on Sara’s arm, and she bent down to lift her daughter up so she could reach the small silver bell that sat on the counter.
“That’s good.” Sara set her back down after she’d hit the bell several times in a row.
Trevor eyed the front sitting room of the B&B suspiciously. “Are you sure this is a hotel?”
“It’s a bed and breakfast.” One that Sara hoped would have a vacancy.
“So you come here and get a bed and breakfast?” Trevor did not seem to share his mother’s desire.
Sara craned her neck to see if she could detect any movement toward the back of the house. There was a sign above the bell that said Ring for Service, which both she and Charlotte had done, but she wasn’t sure if anyone had heard it. So she called out, “Hello!”
“When can we go to the haunted castle?” Trevor had been begging to go to the attraction since Deb had mentioned it being haunted.
“Not today, maybe tomorrow.” Today, she wanted to go down to the lake and see the exact spot where the picture of her Grandma Betty had been taken.
Plus, if they went to the “haunted” castle this early in the game, Sara would lose any leverage to ensure that baths were taken, bedtimes were smooth sailing, and backtalk was kept to a minimum. Bribing your child may be frowned upon in some parenting circles, but it had always worked like a charm for Sara. Her kids already outnumbered her two to one, so she would take any advantage she could get.
She’d written several popular blogs about that very subject. She’d had an overwhelmingly positive response, but the backlash was equally impressive. Whenever she’d discuss the “trolls” as her sister called them, Shelby would remind Sara that she never claimed to be perfect, thus the tagline, figuring life out one f word at a time.
Her sister was very proud of herself for that one.
“Well, hello there.” A slender, cheery older woman appeared from the hallway. “What can I do ya for?”
“Hi, I was wondering if you have a room available.” Sara internally crossed her fingers, toes, arms, legs, and eyes that the answer was yes.
The woman sucked in a breath through her teeth as she cringed. “Actually, this week has been booked solid for the past eight months. What with the festival and all.”
Sara’s heart sank like the Titanic. Now she had to find somewhere else for them to stay, which could prove difficult since this wasn’t a sprawling metropolis. However, the real reason this news had affected her so much was that she wouldn’t be staying in the place her Grandma Betty had. For some totally illogical reason, she’d blindly believed that she would. Fate, and all.
She should’ve known better. This was her life, not a fairytale, even if the entire town was themed as one. And if there was one thing she was used to dealing with, it was disappointment.
Pasting the brightest smile she could manage, she took Charlotte’s hand. “Okay. Thank you anyway.”
“But,” the rail-thin woman said loudly as she lifted her hand holding up her pointer finger. “We had a last-minute cancellation just an hour ago, so there is a room available.”
Way to bury the lead.
“There were actually two, but the owner just blew into town, so it’s down to one.”
Sara briefly wondered what the deal was with the ‘blowing into town’, it was the same term that Deb had used, but she quickly recovered. “Oh, okay. Great. I’ll take it.”
She was going to stay at the same place Grandma Betty had stayed. Maybe her luck was changing after all.
The woman moved behind the counter and pulled out a book with the word Reservations printed in bold letters on the front. “I’m Karen, by the way. Karen Carpenter, not the singer.”
The smile that Sara had pasted on her face was now there with no effort at all. “Hi, I’m Sara Kellan, and this is Trevor and Charlotte.”
“Well hello, Trevor and Charlotte. It’s so nice to meet you.”
“Got the washer fixed,” a tall, imposing man barked as he walked behind Karen.
“Whoa…” Sara heard her son whisper beside her.
Not acknowledging his comment, Karen nodded in the man’s direction. “And this is my husband. Sylvester, not the cat.”
Sara liked this woman’s style. If Karen had never done standup, she’d missed her calling. Sara could easily picture her waving to a crowd in front of a mic saying, “I’ll be here all week, folks.”
“You don’t look like a cat,” Charlotte observed. “You look like a bear. A big bear.”
“I’m sorry,” Sara rushed to apologize for her daughter’s comment.
Thankfully, Karen and Sly both laughed and took it in stride. Sly continued chuckling as he mumbled something about having to check on the AC unit and headed out the front door.
When her husband left, Karen winked at Sara’s daughter as she leaned over the counter. “You know what? I think you’re right, Charlotte. He’s a big teddy bear.”
Charlotte beamed up at the woman. There was nothing better in the life of a three-year-old than getting the right answer to something.
“Mom, look!” Trevor shouted excitedly, pointing his arm straight out toward the hallway. “I told you we’d see the man again.”
Ever since they’d left the gas station, Trevor had insisted they would see Stranger Danger again. Well, he called him the man, but Sara knew who he was talking about.
Goose bumps broke out on the bare skin of her arms before Sara even lifted her head. When she did, her gaze was met with green eyes so deep she could easily drown in them. Sara’s heart may have sunk when she’d thought there was no room at the inn, but the second their gazes met, it not only resurfaced, it rode the choppy waters of arousal.
“Oh, y’all know each other.” Karen clapped her hands. “Well, why didn’t you say so? I’ll give you the friends and family discount.”
“No!” Sara jumped to correct her. “Don’t. I mean…we don’t. Know each other. He just filled up my tires.”
Karen’s thin brows shot up and her eyes widened. “Okay.”
The second the words came out of Sara’s mouth, she realized they sounded like a euphemism for bow-chicka-bow-wow and she wished that she could take them back. First speechless and now flustered—two things that Sara Kellan never experienced—yet this man had reduced her to both by his mere presence.
“He has the same tattoo as my dad,” Trevor explained, shrugging his shoulders as if that cleared everything up.
“Right.” Karen nodded, her eyes shooting back and forth between Sara and the man.
As much as Sara’s heart and hormones were rejoicing at this new development, she tried to keep her head on straight and not get sidetracked by the sexy grin Stranger Danger—who apparently found this run-in amusing—was giving her.
Hoping to get out of this awkward situation with a shred of dignity, Sara pasted a smile back on her face. “So if we could get the room at the regular price that would be great.”
“Great,” Karen repeated. “We have the Crown Jewel suite—”
“They can take the King suite.”
It had only been an hour since she’d heard that baritone voice say he just couldn’t drive away knowing her tires were low. But somehow, hearing him speak again, she realized she’d missed it. That deep rumble was a sound she could all too easily get addicted to if she wasn’t careful.
“Oh, okay.” Karen tipped her head to the side. “I thought you said you’d be staying in the—”
“And the discount.” The finality in his tone left no room for argument.
But that didn’t stop Sara.
“No…I can’t… I don’t need…” She shook her head as she turned back to Karen, knowing that it was her only hope of finishing a sentence. “No discount, but thank you.”
When Karen didn’t look convinced, Sara blurted out, “I don’t even know his name.”
Wow. That was her big defense. Closing her eyes, Sara did an internal facepalm.
“Oh, well I can fix that,” Karen chirped. “Sara, Charlotte, Trevor, this is Austin, not the city. Stone, not the rock.”
Oh boy, even his name was sexy.
“You stole my line.” Austin grinned at Karen, who blushed and giggled like a schoolgirl as he crossed the entryway in two large strides. When he stopped in front of Sara and the kids, he held out his hand to Trevor.
“It’s nice to officially meet you, Trevor.”
“Nice to meet you, Mr. Stone.” Trevor shook his hand and looked up at Sara. “See, Mom. I told you he’s not a stranger. His name’s Austin.”
“Hi, Austin.” Charlotte held her hand out.
Normally, Sara’s baby girl was really shy, but apparently Austin’s charm wasn’t just limited to women of Sara or Karen’s age, it worked on the preschool crowd as well.
Squatting down so that he was closer to Charlotte’s height, he took her tiny hand in his. “Hi, Charlotte. It’s very nice to meet you.”
The dimple that appeared on Austin’s left cheek when he smiled and greeted her daughter, whose face lit up like she’d just been given a puppy, had the choppy waters of arousal crashing through Sara turning into a tsunami. Her palms dampened at the thought that she was up next in the introduction handshake tour. She tried to brace herself for impact as he stood and turned his very palpable attention to her.
It didn’t work.
When he wrapped his large fingers around Sara’s slim hand, a jolt of bliss shot straight to her lady parts, and she sucked in a startled breath and her knees wobbled like she’d just done two hours of spin class.
What the eff?!
She would not be writing about this in her blog…but not because it didn’t warrant it. Nothing could’ve prepared her for what the innocent contact made her feel. With one touch, this man had given her more pleasure than she’d felt in…a long time. She wouldn’t be writing about it because she had no idea how to put into words what was happening.
“Sara,” Austin spoke her name with as much awed reverence as Trevor had held for the castle.
Or maybe that was just how she’d heard it through her brain’s lust filter.
“Austin.” Sara hoped no one noticed that his name came out sounding like she was doing her best Marilyn Monroe impression.
Thankfully, before she had a chance to get good and embarrassed, Mommy duty called.
“I have to go potty,” Charlotte announced loudly.
Austin released Sara’s hand, but as she reached down to take her daughter’s, she could still feel an imprint of tingles where they’d been skin to skin. Instead of a ghost limb, she was experiencing a ghost hand hold.
“Okay, sweetie.” She squeezed Charlotte’s hand, hoping to erase the imprint he’d left. It didn’t work. “Is there a bathroom that we can use?”
“Absotootles,” Karen exclaimed a word that Sara was pretty sure didn’t exist in the dictionary as she grabbed a key hanging off one of the hooks behind her. “Follow me, Kellan family.”
As Sara and the kids walked behind Karen, she explained that breakfast was at seven a.m., and that there was a communal pantry open twenty-four hours that guests were welcome to. Sara found she was only half-listening. The other part of her was focused on the fact that, just like the ghost hand hold, she could feel Austin’s stare on her. It was a physical sensation that ran from the top of her head down to her toes.
Which was crazy. First, since she didn’t have eyes in the back of her head, she wasn’t even sure if he was looking at her. Second, even if he was, there was no way she could actually feel it.
Not able to stop herself, Sara glanced over her shoulder and, sure enough, Austin’s green gaze was pointed directly at her—boy oh boy, could she feel it.
Yeah. She was in all kinds of danger.