Ella Mayhew's always appreciated the beautiful view of Seneca Lake from the spa window of her family's hotel.But the view improves dramatically when a hot stranger runs across the grounds—shirtless. He's the first man to kickstart her hormones in the three years since she lost her parents, and she doesn't even know his name.
Graydon Locke's on his umpteenth undercover assignment. The routine's always the same: assess a business, recommend it for closure, then roll out before anyone discovers his decisions impact hundreds of lives. He's always believed nothing good comes out of small towns. Why would this one be different? Then he makes two classic rookie mistakes—falling for the sweet, sexy girl who owns the very business he's on the verge of axing. And letting the town's residents get involved in both his life, and his relationship with Ella.
Ella's the best thing to ever happen to Gray, but he's lied to her from the start. If he pulls the plug on Mayhew Manor, the entire town may crumble. Ella couldn't save her parents, but it's up to her to save their hotel. Even if that means turning her back on true love.
Here's a peek at the very beginning:
Tan legs, muscled arms and rippling abs added up to the sexiest half-naked man Ella Mayhew had ever seen. Well, technically not ever. As a massage therapist, she’d seen more than her fair share of half-naked men. Ella liked to think of it as a job perk. People in other careers got to rack up frequent flyer miles, or go to fancy parties and nibble on gourmet delicacies while working. She got eye candy galore. Or at least the possibility of it. And although her demeanor always remained professional, occasionally it was impossible not to notice a stand-out physique from the steady stream of weekend golfers and middle-aged wine enthusiasts who mostly lay on her table.
Like the time a cyclist in training for the Tour de France had spent a week here at Mayhew Manor. Every morning he’d done sprints all around Seneca Lake. Then in the afternoon he’d come into the spa and demand deep tissue massage. His muscles had been so rock hard, Ella needed a massage after she wore herself out working on him. Now that was a body she’d never forget.
She pressed her forehead against the window for a better look. Then cupped her hands around her eyes to block out the light of the spa. So maybe this man jogging by wasn’t the absolute hottest in the universe. But something about him glued her in place, unwilling to miss a moment of his legs and arms pistoning in tandem.
“Aren’t you the one who usually yells at me for gawking out the window?” Brooke DiMucci dug a sharp, acrylic-tipped nail into Ella’s ribs. “And isn’t it you who claims it isn’t appealing to our clients and—holy guacamole, look at that hottie.” Brooke plastered her hands on the next pane over. “Good spotting.”
Ella didn’t bother to deny any of it. She was convinced it freaked out arriving guests to see faces looking at them like zoo animals. And she was equally convinced of the off-the-charts hotness of the man in the loose black shorts headed up the drive. “I saw him jog by about an hour ago. Just from the back. His lats were a thing of beauty. I watched him go the whole length of the parking lot until he turned onto the road.”
“No wonder you volunteered to cover the front desk while I tore my hair out balancing the end-of-month P&L reports. I’d call that pretty devious of you.”
Yeah, they’d been friends too many years for her to be able to sneak anything past Brooke. Didn’t mean she couldn’t try to spin it, though. Ella tightened the bow on the pink paisley scarf around her ponytail. “It benefitted both of us. I call it a good allocation of assets.”
“I call him a good allocation of assets.” Brooke giggled. Then gasped. “Ella, he’s looking right at us.”
Ella did the only logical thing. She dropped to a crouch below the windowsill. Tugged Brooke down to join her on the floor. Upon landing, her legs splayed out, narrowly missing a shelving unit full of Mayhew Manor’s signature grapeseed oil soaps and lotions.
“Hey, these are new capri pants,” complained Brooke. “I don’t want dust all over my ass.”
Ella took another look. White, and sprinkled with tiny blue anchors, they were pretty cute. Especially paired with the boatneck navy top. Only the third of May, barely sixty degrees, and yet already people were embracing all things sailing related. That summed up life on the shores of the largest of New York’s Finger Lakes. But the seasonally adorable pants were not at risk.
“This is a health spa. Sanitation is as key to the client experience as relaxation and harp music laced with bird song.” Ella ran a finger along the spotless baseboards and waved it in front of Brooke. “Which is why the maintenance staff mops twice a day. If there’s any dust on the floor for your ass to pick up, we’ve got bigger problems.”
Brooke looked mollified. For about a second. Then her wide forehead creased into a horizontal question. “Why are we hiding?”
Good question. Ella didn’t know what had caused her to abandon all professionalism and stare at him either time he’d jogged by. And she certainly didn’t know why instinct had dropped her to the ground when their eyes connected. The only thing she did know was that looking at the gorgeous guy scrambled her brain cells worse than the Long Island Teas her friend Casey served by the ladleful every Halloween.
“I’m honestly not sure.”
Brooke hooked her thick, dark bob behind her ears, looped an arm around Ella’s shoulders, and sighed. “Look, Ella, I realize it’s been a while since any man lit your pilot light, so to speak. But dating is the same now as it was three years, three decades, and three centuries ago. When a hot guy looks at you, smile. Don’t duck and cover like you’re a bank robber on the lam.”
Damn it. She hated when her friends reminded her how long she’d gone without a date. They acted like it was a disturbing symptom of a bigger calamity, rather than a choice. Not that Ella actively thought about dating. She didn’t. At all. Not since Disaster Day. Which was probably the problem. But to her it was just another priority that got re-shuffled. To a category of disinterest somewhere below the need to watch the History Channel. Every New Year’s, she resolved to watch more educational television. To spend her evenings learning about the Borgia dynasty or the mysteries of the Mayans. That resolution usually lasted until the first commercial break of the first show. Then she switched over to the Food Network for the rest of the year.
“I’ll file that under valuable advice. Thanks.”
Brooke tapped the toes of her sneakers together. “Does that mean we can get up now?”
“Don’t get up on my account, ladies.” The mellow, baritone voice ended in a laugh.
Ella swiveled around so fast her spine twitched in protest. Oh. God. Sexy, half-naked guy was standing right next to the display of lavender (for the ladies) and eucalyptus (for the men) scented candles. Close enough she could see sweat beading around his belly button. Slowly dripping down the thin trail of dark hair into the waistband of his shorts. If she got on her knees, she’d be at just the right height to lick it off. Which is why she instantly jumped to her feet instead.
Available at Amazon