It wasn’t exactly my idea of a fun assignment—go inspect a low-performing plant and shut it down so we can outsource fabrication and packaging overseas. It would save a fortune in production costs, but it was a miserable job taking away people’s livelihood. It wasn’t what I set out to do in my career.
I pulled in to a parking lot before an old Victorian-styled building complete with white gingerbread scrolls on the eaves and a fanlight over the door. The Beaumont Estate, the tasteful brass plaque read. I shouldered my bag and went inside. Maybe my accommodations wouldn’t be as bad as I had feared.
The desk clerk was a knockout. A mane of fiery red hair waving over her shoulders, all curves and a sweet smile. She lifted her eyes from the book she was reading, marked her page with a slip of paper and looked at me. She gave me a dazzling smile that made my blood hum in my veins. God, she was gorgeous. My body lit up at her grin and I smiled back at her giving her my flirtatious best.
“Good evening,” she said, “Welcome to the Beaumont. Is it your first time as our guest?” she asked. Her voice was lower than I expected and just as sexy as the rest of her.
“Yes, I’m afraid so. I’m new in town,” I said.
“Well, I’ve lived here all my life. I know the best spots for bass fishing, and there’s a hill south of town where the sunsets are incredible. If you want fine dining, your upscale restaurants are over in Pendleton, but we’ve got Cecil’s Bar & Grill here in town. They do terrific steak dinners and the queso is… Well, if Meg Ryan had been eating that instead of a sandwich in When Harry Met Sally, she wouldn’t have had to fake it, if you know what I mean.”
Her sly smile was enough to undo me. She had just offered to take me bass fishing, which I wasn’t remotely qualified to do, and alluded to an onscreen orgasm. This was my kind of woman.
“Then I should go try that queso. I’ve never had an orgasmic appetizer before. I feel like I’m missing out,” I said.
“You should,” she agreed. “And maybe I’ll run into you there.”
“I certainly wouldn’t turn down a friendly face,” I said.
“I’m Maggie Carson, owners’ daughter. I run the daycare out by the factory, but I pitch in here sometimes. You need anything while you’re staying with us, you just let me know.”
“Nice to meet you, Maggie. I’m Jeremiah,” I said.
I held out my hand for hers. She shook my hand, that gorgeous smile still in place. I wanted to kiss her. The thought caught me as much off guard as the touch of her hand, small and soft in mine. The sizzle ran up my arm like I’d been shocked. I fought the urge to pull her closer, to lean across the desk, put my hands in her hair and kiss the smile off her face.
This trip to the backwoods just started looking a lot better. I hadn’t had a lover since my breakup with Lydia months ago. I didn’t do casual sex or hookups, but a week with Maggie Carson felt like an exception. I never reacted this way, like a teenager, to some woman I’d only just met. The chemistry even in our handshake was palpable.
“Let me see here, what’s your reservation under?” she said, tapping the screen of a tablet.
“My name is Jeremiah Leeds. It was booked under the Hadley Corporation,” I told her.
Just like that, her smile slipped. When it returned, it was a dimmer, more formal version.
“Here on business then. You won’t be needing a tour guide,” she said, her voice cool. She had just rescinded the nine o’clock queso invitation when she heard my company name.
“Do you have some connection with Hadley?” I asked.
“Just that more than half the county relies on the factory for our livelihood. And you’re here, if I’m not mistaken, to shut it down.”
“I’m not at liberty to discuss my project,” I said, my tone matching hers.
“You’ll have to go on Amazon to order crime scene tape for when you’re done. The lumberyard here doesn’t sell ‘police line do not cross’. And you’re basically here to commit murder. Of my whole town. My mom had you booked on the second floor at the back, but I’ve moved you to the third floor, with a nice eastern view of the sunrise. Curtains would spoil that pretty view, so I hope you like waking up early,” she said briskly and handed me a key.
“Do you have bell service? Elevator?”
“The elevator is only for disabled accessibility. You look able-bodied to me,” she said.
“Thanks for noticing,” I said, “Are we still on for queso?”
“Oh, I wish I could,” she said with a saccharine smile, “but I just remembered I have an appointment.”