* * *
“Do you?” He reached for her hand. “There’s a second reason for my visit.”
“And that is?”
“A feature of the inn in Good Travelin’. Would be good for business. My head writer’s suggestion. An
Inn For All
The dangled carrot tempted her. A feature might bring interest from potential buyers. If the inn sold she and Davy could vanish. Or could they? Mark knew he had a son. Christa slumped against the counter. What she needed was a pair of iron rods to act as a spinal brace. She had wanted the strength to deal with her hang-sisters. Mark Blakefield’s arrival had added to the problems she faces. She wanted to collapse or hide until all the irritants vanished. That wasn’t going to happen.
Her decision to tell Peggy and Stella their free-loading days were over had promised a storm. Mark’s presence meant a hurricane. She willed her knees to lock. Fainting was not the answer. Mark had arrived and he knew about Davy. Thank heavens her son was in school. She had to find a way to send Mark away before the school bus arrived at three- thirty.
She gulped a deep breath. She should have found a way to tell Mark about the pregnancy. Ten years ago her life had been chaotic and loaded with guilty feelings. The death of her father and step-mother had catapulted her into a life she hadn’t wanted. The inn was hers. There were tons of debts. Her half-sisters were spoiled, frightened and angry. Three months had passed before she’d had time to think of her own needs.
The day she’d realized she was pregnant she had tried to let Mark know. He had graduated and gone to work for one of the magazines his family owned. A secretary reported he was in
Europe and she
wasn’t sure when he would return. She hadn’t left a message. Several more times
she’d called only to learn he wasn’t available.
There had been nothing for her to do but make order out of her hectic life. Keeping her half-sisters out of trouble had been a fulltime job. So had running the inn and caring for Davy. Telling Mark had been pushed aside and while not forgotten, hadn’t been a priority. Now he was here and he was angry.
“Interesting situation,” Peggy drawled. “The man seems determined. You need to think about what he can do for you and Davy. The car he drives screams money. Not to mention he’s hot.”
Stella laughed. “He’s beyond hot. Incandescent, Shoulders like a football hero. Dynamite smile. Killer green eyes. If you don’t want him I’ll have a taste.”
“Stand in line.” Peggy grinned. “How about a double or a triple?” She winked. If I were you I’d hit him for child support. With a wad of cash you can give Stel and me the money for a cruise.” She sighed. “We’re ready for balmy nights and single men.”
Christa pressed her hands against the counter. The desire to slap them grew stronger. “Listen to me. I am selling the inn. You need to find jobs. I’ll give you enough money to rent an apartment and for basic living expenses for three months. You can put your college educations to work.”
Stella shook her head. “No deal. You have to buy us out. If you sell each of us gets a third. Dad had three kids.”
“You’re entitled to nothing.” Christa stared at the door. Though he presented a different problem what was taking Mark so long?
“We’ll take you to court,” Peggy said.
“You don’t get the picture. The inn was left to me by my mother. Until I turned twenty-one Dad was my guardian. I was twenty-one when he died. The inn is mine.”
“I don’t believe you,” Stella said. “I know what Mom told us.”
Christa drew a deep breath. No matter what their mother had said Stella and Peggy had no share in the inn. Christa had paid for their college educations, fed and clothed them. Over the years she had given into their demands to avoid tantrums and her guilt over the days following the accident when no one had known where she could be found.
She wanted to scream. She had avoided this confrontation for too long. The pair had pushed her far beyond her tolerance level.
The door opened. Mark wheeled stacked suitcases to the desk. Christa groaned. He had come to stay. He placed a laptop on the counter. Her heart raced. Anticipation pulsed through her body. Why did he bother her this way? Her thoughts flooded with memories of his kisses and caresses.
“Room key,” he said.
She smiled. “I’m afraid the inn is booked solid through next week. I can give you a list of other places that might have vacancies.” She had to explain the past but not yet. “You could leave and return when there’s room in the inn.”
“Not a chance. We need to talk. I’m not leaving until we do.”
Christa stared at the floor. Why had he come? Was he here to take Davy away?
“He could use one of the cottages,” Stella said.
Christa glared at her half-sister. “They’re closed until ski season.”
“Do they have water, electricity and heat?” Mark rested his elbows on the counter.
The look of determination in his eyes reminded her of their first encounter and the way he’d pursued until she’d agreed to a date. Three weeks later she’d been in love and had agreed to spend a long weekend with him. Those four days had been a whirlwind fantasy of love and laughter. When the web of tragedy had created a shroud of responsibility those days had ended. She stared at her hands. To meet his gaze meant realizing how little her feelings had changed.
“Christa, the cottage,” he said.
“They’re meant for groups.”
“I’ll take one.” He slid his credit card toward her.
He would persist until she agreed. “Do you want to pay for a place accommodating eight to ten just for yourself?” His shrug told her he hadn’t changed. He would pursue relentlessly what he wanted.
“Why not? I can afford to pay. There’s never been anyone to help spend my money.” He brushed a finger over the back of her hand.
Christa felt tendrils of heat spiral along her arms and take root low in her belly. She held her breath but the scent of him seeped to take room through her pores. Would he change his mind when he saw the weekly rate? She ran the card and filled in the amount. “Are you sure you want to do this?”
“Can’t think of anything I’d rather do.” His feral grin sent shivers along her spine. “Haven’t heard those words before. Didn’t you say that to me the day I asked you to spend the weekend with me?” He signed the slip.
She felt like a mouse being toyed with by a cat. Or a woman used by a man whose desire for conquest rode his scent and colored his voice.
He put the pen down. “Send the audience away. Time for us to have a chat.”
Every word jabbed like a needle. How could she fight a man who signed for a thousand dollars a night without checking the amount? “I can tear this slip up and you can go home. There’s nothing to discuss. I chose my life.”
“But you also chose mine. Just because you didn’t intend to marry me didn’t mean I would cede all my rights to my son.”
She looked away. What did he mean? Years ago she would gladly have married him. “I see.” She spoke with more calmness than she felt.
Would he fight for custody?
Christa drew a deep breath and donned her innkeeper persona. “Welcome to Green Mountain Inn. The restaurant is open at six for breakfast. Dinner service begins at five. The dining room closes at ten but the bar remains open and has a limited menu. There is a gift shop carrying the usual plus some local items.” She handed him a key. “Stella and Peggy will show you the cottage.”
“Why don’t you do the honors, Christa?” His deep voice caressed her name.
“I have work to do.” She waved the pair over. “Show Mr. Blakefield to cottage five.” His accommodation was as far from the house she shared with her family as possible.
He pocketed the key, lifted his laptop and grasped the handle of his luggage carrier. “Lead on, ladies. Christa, I’m looking forward to our talk.”
As the door closed Christa sagged like her lungs had lost their air in a rush. What was she going to do? He had a right to be angry but the cold fury in his eyes frightened her more than if he had exploded. Why hadn’t she found time during the past ten years to tell Mark about Davy? She’d never been able to answer the question. How could she resist the temptation to fall in love again?
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