One thing everyone could agree on was that it was very, very interesting that he was renting Mia Devlin's little cottage. There was no consensus on what it meant, only that it was a puzzler. Islanders, hoping to gather more nuggets, found reasons to drop into Cafe Book or stroll into the lobby of the hotel. Nobody had enough gumption to ask Sam or Mia directly, but there was plenty of watching and hoping for some excitement.

It had been a long, slow winter.

"Still handsome as sin and twice as deadly. " Hester Birmingham confided this information to Gladys Macey as she bagged Gladys's weekly supply of groceries at Island Market. "Strolled in here big as life and twice as bold, and said hello to me like we'd just seen each other a week ago. "

"What did he buy?" Gladys questioned.

"Coffee, milk, dry cereal. Whole wheat bread and stick butter. Some fruit. We got bananas on special, but he passed them up and paid dear for fresh strawberries. Bought himself some fancy cheese and fancy crackers and some bottled water. Oh, and some orange juice in a carton. "

"Not planning on doing any cooking or cleaning for himself from the sound of it. " Confidentially, she leaned closer to Hester. "I ran into Hank from the liquor store. He says Sam Logan breezed in and bought up five hundred dollars' worth of wine, some beer, and a bottle of single malt scotch. "

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"Five hundred!" Hester's voice lowered to a hiss. "You think he picked up a drinking problem inNew York ?"

"Wasn't the number of bottles, but the price," Gladys hissed back. "Two bottles of French champagne, and two of that fancy red wine you-know-who favors. "

"Who?"

Gladys rolled her eyes. "Mia Devlin. Heaven's sake, Hester, who do you think!"

"I heard she kicked him out of the bookstore. "

"No such thing. He walked in and out again under his own steam. I know that for a fact because Lisa Bigelow was in the cafe having lunch with her cousin fromPortland when he was there. Lisa ran into my daughter-in-law at the Pump 'N Go and told her the whole story. "

"Well . . . " Hester liked the first story better. "Do you think Mia will put a whammy on him?"

"Hester Birmingham, you know Mia doesn't do whammies. What a thing to say. " Then she laughed.

"But it sure will be interesting seeing what she does do. I think I'll go put these groceries away, then go buy myself a new paperback novel and a cup of coffee. "

"You call me if anything develops. "

Gladys winked as she rolled her loaded cart away. "You can take that to the bank. "

Sam was well aware that tongues were wagging. He'd have been disappointed if they hadn't. Just as he'd expected to read trepidation, resentment, and puzzlement when he called a morning meeting with all department heads at the hotel.

Some of the trepidation eased when it became clear that a mass firing was not on the agenda. And some of the resentment increased when it became clear that Sam intended not only to take an active role in the running of the hotel but to make some changes as well.

"In season we run at near capacity. Off season, however, our occupancy rate drops sharply, often dipping to under thirty percent. "

The sales manager shifted in his seat. "Business is slow on-island in the winter months. Always has been. "

"What's always been doesn't apply," Sam said coolly. "The goal, for now, is to increase the guest rate to sixty-five percent off season within the year. We'll do that by offering more appealing packages to conventions, as well as weekend and weekly getaway packages. I'll have memos regarding my ideas in those areas on your desk by end of week.

"Next," he continued, flipping through his notes, "a number of the rooms require renovation and re-dressing. We'll begin next week, with the third floor. " He glanced at his reservations manager. "You'll make the necessary adjustments. "

Without waiting for acknowledgment, he flipped another page. "We've had a steady decline in our breakfast and lunch business over the last ten months. Data indicate that Cafe Book is nipping off our usual business in those areas. "

"Sir. " A brunette cleared her throat, adjusted the dark-framed glasses on her face.

"Yes? I'm sorry, your name?"

"Stella Farley. I'm the restaurant manager. If I can speak frankly, Mr. Logan, we're never going to be able to compete with the cafe and Nell Todd. If I could - "

She broke off when he lifted a finger. "I don't care for the word never . "

She took a deep breath. "I'm sorry, but I've been here the last ten months and you haven't. "

There was a deep silence, like a unified holding of breath. After a beat, Sam nodded. "Point taken. And just what have you learned in the last ten months, Ms. Farley?"

"That if we want to bring back business and generate more of it during the breakfast and lunch hours, we should counter-program. The cafe offers casual and casual gourmet. A relaxed atmosphere and, well, fabulous food. We need to offer an alternative. Elegance, formality, romance, an upscale atmosphere for a business meal or a special date. I sent your father a report and a proposal last fall, but - "

"You're not dealing with my father now. " It was said so flatly, so smoothly, none of the resentment showed. "Get a copy on my desk by this afternoon. "

"Yes, sir. "

He paused. "If anyone else has run ideas or proposals by my father over the last year, they should copy me by end of week. I want to make it clear that I own this hotel now. Own and run. While my word will be final, I expect input from my department heads. I'll have memos to all of you over the next several days, and expect your responses to same within forty-eight hours of receipt. Thank you. "

He watched them file out and heard the mumbling start before the door was closed. One woman remained behind in her seat. Another brunette, she wore a simple navy suit and practical pumps. She was nearing sixty, had worked at the inn for more than forty years. She slipped off her glasses, lowered her steno pad, and folded her hands.

"Will that be all, Mr. Logan?"

Sam lifted an eyebrow. "You used to call me Sam. "

"You didn't used to be my boss. "

"Mrs. Farley . . . " His eyes cleared. "Was that your daughter? Stella? Jesus. "

"Don't swear in the office," she said primly.

"Sorry. It just didn't connect. Congratulations," he added. "She was the only one with guts or brains enough to say anything worthwhile. "

"I raised her to stand up for herself. They're scared of you," she told him. Boss or not, she decided, she'd known him since he was a baby. If her daughter could speak her mind, so could she.

"Most of the people who were in this room haven't ever so much as seen aLogan . For better or worse, this hotel's been run by proxy for a decade. " There was just enough acid in her voice to let him know her opinion was worse. "Now, you drop in out of nowhere and stir things up. You always were one for

stirring things up. "

"It's my hotel, and it needs stirring up. "

"I won't disagree. TheLogans haven't taken enough interest in this place. "

"My father - "

"You're not your father," she reminded him. "No point in using him as an excuse when you just finished making sure to get that point across yourself. "

That rap on the knuckles made him nod. "All right. Then we'll say I'm here now, I intend to take plenty of interest - and make no excuses. "

"Good. " She opened her steno pad again. "Welcome back. "

"Thank you. So" - he got to his feet, wandered to the window - "let's get started. The flower arrangements," he began.

He put in a fourteen-hour day, eating what passed for lunch at his desk. Because he wanted to keep his business local, he met with an island contractor personally and went over his renovation requirements. He instructed his assistant to order updated equipment for his office, then set up a meeting with the head of Island Tours.

He re-ran figures, reviewed proposals, refined and solidified random ideas. He knew just how much it would cost, in hard capital and in man-hours, to implement his plans. But he was in for the long haul. Not everyone would think so, he admitted when he came to the surface and rubbed the stiffness out of the back of his neck. Mia wouldn't.

He was grateful he'd had so much on his plate through the day: It had helped keep thoughts of her at bay.

But he thought of her now, and remembered how he had felt the shimmer of her power flutter around the edges of his mind the day before. He'd pressed back at it, poked through it momentarily. And had seen her, clearly, kneeling in her tower room, her body washed by pale gold light, her hair a fiery fall to her shoulders.

Her birthmark, the tiny pentagram high on her thigh, had shimmered. He had no doubt it had been that momentary jolt of desire that had allowed her to snap the link between them so quickly, so easily.


Tags: Nora Roberts Three Sisters Island Romance
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