With a few groans and sighs, the old building settled down for the night. Under the star-washed sky its stone walls glowed, rising up over Boonsboro's Square as they had for more than two centuries. Even the crossroads held quiet now, stretching out in pools of shadows and light. All the windows and store fronts along Main Street seemed to sleep, content to doze away in the balm of the summer night.
She should do the same, Hope thought. Settle down, stretch out. Sleep.
That would be the sensible thing to do, and she considered herself a sensible woman. But the long day left her restless—and, she reminded herself—Carolee would arrive bright and early to start breakfast.
The innkeeper could sleep in.
In any case, it was barely midnight. When she'd lived and worked in Georgetown, she'd rarely managed to settle in for the night this early. Of course, then she'd been managing The Wickham, and if she hadn't been dealing with some small crisis or handling a guest request, she'd been enjoying the nightlife.
The town of Boonsboro, tucked into the foothills of Maryland's Blue Ridge Mountains, might have a rich and storied history, it certainly had its charms—among which she counted the revitalized inn she now managed—but it wasn't famed for its nightlife.
That would change a bit when her friend Avery opened her restaurant and tap house. And wouldn't it be fun to see what the energetic Avery MacTavish did with her new enterprise right next door—and just across The Square from Avery's pizzeria.
Before summer ended Avery would juggle the running of two restaurants, Hope thought.
And people called her an overachiever.
She looked around the kitchen—clean, shiny, warm and welcoming. She'd already sliced fruit, checked the supplies, restocked the refrigerator. So everything sat ready for Carolee to prepare breakfast for the guests currently tucked in their rooms.
She'd finished her paperwork, checked all the doors and made her rounds checking for dishes—or anything else out of place. Duties done, she told herself, and still she wasn't ready to tuck her own self in her third-floor apartment.
Instead, she poured herself an indulgent glass of wine, and did a last circle through The Lobby, switching off the chandelier over the central table with its showy summer flowers.
She moved through the arch, gave the front door one last check before she turned toward the stairs. Her fingers trailed lightly over the iron banister.
She'd already checked The Library, but she checked again. It wasn't anal, she told herself. A guest might have slipped in for a glass of Irish or a book. But the room was quiet, settled like the rest.
She glanced back. She had guests on this floor. Mr. and Mrs. Vargas—Donna and Max—married twenty-seven years. The night at the inn, in Nick and Nora, had been a birthday gift for Donna from their daughter. And wasn't that sweet?
Her other guests, a floor up in Wesley and Buttercup, chose the inn for their wedding night. She liked to think the newlyweds, April and Troy, would take lovely, lasting memories with them.
She checked the door to the second-level porch, then on impulse unlocked it, and stepped out into the night.
With her wine, she crossed the wide wood deck, leaned on the rail. Across The Square, the apartment above Vesta sat dark—and empty now that Avery had moved in with Owen Montgomery. She could admit—to herself anyway—she missed looking over and knowing her friend was right there, just across Main.
But Avery was exactly where she belonged, Hope decided, with Owen—her first, and as it turned out, her last boyfriend.
Talk about sweet.
And she'd help plan a wedding—May bride, May flowers—right there in The Courtyard, just as Clare's had been this past spring.
Thinking of it, Hope looked down Main toward the bookstore. Clare's Turn The Page had been a risk for a young widow, with two children and another on the way. But she'd made it work. Clare had a knack for making things work. Now she was Clare Montgomery, Beckett's wife. And when winter came again, they'd welcome a new baby to the mix.
Odd, wasn't it, that her two friends had lived right in Boonsboro for so long, and she'd relocated only the year—not even a full year yet—before. The new kid in town.
Now, of the three of them, she was the only one still right here, right in the heart of town.
Silly to miss them when she saw them nearly every day, but on restless nights she could wish, just a little, they were still close.
So much had changed, for all of them, in this past year.
She'd been perfectly content in Georgetown, with her home, her work, her routine. With Jonathan, the cheating bastard.
She'd had good, solid plans, no rush, no hurry, but solid plans. The Wickham had been her place. She'd known its rhythm, its tones, its needs. And she'd done a hell of a job for the Wickhams, and their cheating bastard son, Jonathan.
She'd planned to marry him. No, there'd been no formal engagement, no concrete promises, but marriage and future had been on the table.
She wasn't a moron.
And all the time—or at least in the last several months—they'd been together, with him sharing her bed, or her sharing his, he'd been seeing someone else. Someone of his more elevated social strata you could say, she mused, with lingering bitterness. Someone who wouldn't work ten and twelve hour days, and often more—to manage the exclusive hotel, but who'd stay there, in its most elaborate suite, of course.
No, she wasn't a moron, but she'd been far too trusting and humiliatingly shocked when Jonathan told her he would be announcing his engagement—to someone else—the next day.
Humiliatingly shocked, she thought again, particularly as they'd been naked and in her bed at the time.
Then again, he'd been shocked, too when she'd ordered him to get the hell out. He genuinely hadn't understood why anything between them should change.
That single moment ushered in a lot of change.
Now she was Inn BoonsBoro's innkeeper, living in a small town in Western Maryland, a good clip from the bright lights of the big city.
She didn't spend what free time she had planning clever little dinner parties, or shopping in the boutiques for the perfect shoes for the perfect dress for the next event.
Did she miss all that? Her go-to boutique, her favorite lunch spot, the lovely high ceilings and flower-framed little patio of her own townhouse? Or the pressure and excitement of preparing the hotel for visits from dignitaries, celebrities, business moguls?
Sometimes, she admitted. But not as often as she'd expected to, and not as much as she'd assumed she would.
Because she had been content in her personal life, challenged in her professional one, and the Wickham had been her place. But she'd discovered something in the last few months. Here, she wasn't just content, but happy. The inn wasn't just her place, it was home.
She had her friends to thank for that, and the Montgomery brothers along with their mother. Justine Montgomery had hired her, on the spot. At the time Hope hadn't known Justine well enough to be surprised by her quick offer. But she did know herself, and continued to be surprised at her own fast, impulsive acceptance.
Zero to sixty? More like zero to ninety and still going.
She didn't regret the impulse, the decision, the move.
Fresh starts hadn't been in the plan, but she was good at adjusting plans. Thanks to the Montgomerys the lovingly—and effortfully—restored inn was her home and her career.
She wandered the porch, checking the hanging planters, adjusting—minutely—the angle of a bistro chair.
"And I love every square inch of it," she murmured.
One of the porch doors leading out from Elizabeth and Darcy opened. The scent of honeysuckle drifted on the night air.
Someone else was restless, Hope thought. Then again, she didn't know if ghosts slept. She doubted if the spirit Beckett had named Elizabeth for the room she favored would tell her if she asked. Thus far Lizzy hadn't deigned to speak to her inn-mate.
Hope smiled at the term, sipped her wine.
"Lovely night. I was just thinking how different my life is now, and all things considered, how glad I am it is." She spoke in an easy, friendly way. After all, the research she and Owen had done—so far—on their permanent guest had proven Lizzy—or Eliza Ford when she'd lived—was one of Hope's ancestors.
Family, to Hope's mind, ought to be easy and friendly.
"We have newlyweds in W&B. They look so happy, so fresh and new somehow. The couple in N&N are here celebrating her fifty-eighth birthday. They don't look new, but they do look happy, and so nice and comfortable. I like giving them a special place to stay, a special experience. It's what I'm good at."
Silence held, but Hope could feel the presence. Companionable, she realized. Oddly companionable. Just a couple of women up late, looking out at the night.
"Carolee will be here early. She's doing breakfast tomorrow, and I have the morning off. So." She lifted her glass. "Some wine, some introspection, some feeling sorry for myself circling around to realizing I have nothing to feel sorry for myself for." With a smile, Hope sipped again. "So, a good glass of wine.
"Now that I've accomplished all that, I should get to bed."
Still she lingered a little longer in the quiet summer night, with the scent of honeysuckle drifting around her.
When Hope came down in the morning, the scent was fresh coffee, grilled bacon—and if her nose didn't deceive her, Carolee's apple-cinnamon pancakes. She heard easy conversation in The Dining Room. Donna and Max, talking about poking around town before driv...