Authors: Cindy Bell
opyright © 2016 Cindy Bell
ll rights reserved
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his is a work of fiction
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he soft trill
of a songbird drew Vicky from her sleep. It was nearly spring and the birds were ready for it. The weather was still very cool in the mornings and the evenings, but the days were warming up. As she slowly opened her eyes she felt the warmth of an arm around her. She was still getting used to the sensation. Rather than being startled by it, now she was comforted by it. She remained still for a moment and listened to the sound of Mitchell’s steady breath. It was almost a snore, but not quite. Since he had moved in Vicky had found the sound to be very reassuring. She glanced down at her wedding ring for a moment, as she had every morning since they had returned from their honeymoon. Each time she felt like the luckiest woman in the world. She found it amusing now that she had been so hesitant to move forward with Mitchell.
Carefully, she wriggled out from under his arm. He had a late call the night before and she wanted to let him sleep as long as he possibly could. As a married woman she was becoming a little more domestic, or at least attempting to. She started preparing breakfast for them both. She was just putting the plates down on the breakfast bar when she heard the shrill ring of Mitchell’s cell phone. She knew that meant he had a case. She hurried to pour him a glass of juice. Mitchell rushed around the bedroom getting dressed. When he stepped out he smiled at Vicky. She loved the way he would suddenly stop whatever he was doing when he looked at her.
“Morning, love.” He walked towards her.
“Morning.” She leaned across the breakfast bar to kiss him. “Do you have a minute for breakfast or is it an emergency?”
Mitchell looked at the slightly burnt toast, and runny eggs. “Let’s put it this way, whatever is going on isn’t going to get any worse if I share breakfast with my beautiful wife.” He smiled and sat down at the bar. “Thanks for this.”
“Don’t worry, Chef Henry is going to teach me.” Vicky grimaced as she sat down beside him.
“Vicky, I don’t care what you prepare, it’s always delicious. Besides, you don’t have to make me breakfast, or lunch, or dinner, I can manage it on my own.” He met her eyes. “You don’t have to cater for me.”
“I know that.” She smiled a little. “Don’t let this get public, but I actually enjoy it.”
“It’ll be our secret.” He grinned.
“I just can’t wait until the house is built.” Vicky glanced towards the window that overlooked the rolling grounds beyond the inn’s primary property. She and Mitchell were building a house of their own on the property. All that she could see now was some dirt they had dug up to lay the foundations. Once it was built Vicky’s Aunt Ida would get to move into Vicky’s apartment. It would all work out just fine once the house was built, and there were less occasions of Ida bursting through the door at the wrong moments.
“It will be nice to have our own home.” Mitchell smiled. “I can’t wait to carry you over the threshold.”
Vicky laughed and shot him a light wink. “You’d better get to the gym then.”
“What are you trying to say?” He faked a glare.
“Nothing, sweetie.” She kissed his cheek.
“I better get going.” Mitchell polished off the last of his breakfast. “Stay out of trouble, hmm?” He raised an eyebrow as he looked at Vicky. “No matter what Aunt Ida tries to get you into.”
Vicky smiled mischievously. “Can’t make any promises.”
Mitchell leaned in for a quick kiss and then headed out the door. Vicky watched him go. Once the door closed behind him she began clearing up the dinner dishes. As she washed them she hummed under her breath. It wasn’t often that she had her apartment to herself. She did miss living alone in some ways. But she wouldn’t trade Mitchell being there with her for anything.
Within moments of putting the last dry dish in the cabinet, there was a knock on her door. Of course she didn’t have the opportunity to answer it before Ida opened it herself and strutted into the apartment. She was dressed in a neon green pants suit that reminded Vicky of a slightly off color highlighter. She had to squint slightly as Ida walked towards her.
“Oh, Vicky I’m so glad that you’re home!” She flopped down on the couch. “Do you know who checked in yesterday?”
“Roman Blade,” Ida spoke the name as if it was a poem rolling off the tip of her tongue. “He is staying here, under the same roof as us. Isn’t that amazing? It’s his brief break from the campaign trail.”
“Oh, yes I know he checked in with his campaign manager. He’s running for senator or mayor right?” Vicky frowned. She didn’t follow politics until it was time to vote, at which point she would just ask Sarah who was the most decent candidate and vote accordingly. She trusted her sister, who always kept up on the latest news and politics.
“For governor, Vicky,” Ida admonished. “How could you not know that? Haven’t you seen his dreamy, brown eyes?”
“Aunt Ida, I’m married.” Vicky held up her hand with her wedding ring on it. “No more dreamy, brown eyes for me.”
“Oh please, you can still look.” Ida smiled. “He’s very pleasant to look at. I’m hoping to have the chance to spend some time with him.”
“Aunt Ida, no harassing the guests, remember?” Vicky lifted an eyebrow with a hint of warning in her voice.
“Who’s harassing?” Ida giggled in a girlish fashion. “I’m just admiring him. He’s going to go far you know. It would be best to make a friend out of him. Celebrities already like to stay here, but this could be a chance to break into the political arena. We could host mayors, governors, senators, even the President of the United States!”
“Okay, okay.” Vicky laughed. “I think you’re getting ahead of yourself.” She looked at her aunt with admiration. Ida had her quirky ways, but there was no woman in the world that Vicky looked up to more. She had lived a very adventurous life, and still been selfless enough to sacrifice all of that to take over the parenting role of Vicky and her sister, Sarah, after their parents passed away. She looked twenty years younger than she actually was and acted about forty years younger. Ida didn’t understand the concept of holding back.
“All I’m saying is that we need to take our opportunities when they present themselves.” Ida cleared her throat. “Here we have a future governor under our roof and no one has even offered to give him a guided tour of this historical property or of Highland.”
“It’s not that historical. Sarah already took the campaign manager on a tour of the inn and grounds this morning as they were considering holding some campaign events here.” Vicky smiled. “But, I suppose it wouldn’t hurt to check in on Roman and see if he or his campaign manager need anything. I could do it, but maybe…”
“I would love to! Absolutely! I can’t wait!” Ida jumped up from the couch.
“Just remember, Aunt Ida, if he declines, don’t try to coerce him. He came here for a little break from the campaign trail, not to be pressured.” She met her aunt’s eyes with determination.
“Oh fine, it’s not like I would abduct him or something. Really, Vicky.” She shook her head.
“Remember when that singer stayed here and…?”
“Oh, that was one time, Vicky!” Ida huffed with exasperation and began heading towards the door. “Besides, how was I supposed to know that Mitchell didn’t have a spare handcuff key?”
Vicky shook her head and opened the door for her aunt. The moment she did she heard a piercing shriek coming from the banquet hall.
of the scream made Vicky’s heart stop beating, not because of how loud it was, but because of who she knew it was coming from.
“Sarah!” Vicky gasped her sister’s name and ran towards the shrieking. Ida ran right behind her. The short hallway between Vicky’s apartment and the banquet hall was empty, but the banquet hall doors were flung wide open.
When Vicky ran through the doors she was shocked that her feet squished into soaked carpet. She looked up just in time to be hit in the face by a stream of water.
“Oh!” She cried out in surprise and reached up to shield her face. Ida moved carefully around her and avoided most of the splash. “What is going on?”
Sarah was standing in the middle of a growing puddle in the center of the banquet hall. She was soaked from head to toe, her dress hung soggily from her shoulders.
“Vicky, what are we going to do?” she moaned.
“Turn the water off.” Vicky went running for the back door, but as she crossed the puddle her foot slid in the water. She lost her balance and toppled into Sarah, who also slid in the water. They ended up in a pile, with Ida’s laughter surrounding them.
“Aunt Ida!” Sarah pouted in her direction. “There is nothing funny about this.”
Suddenly the water stopped spraying. It didn’t make up for the soaked carpeting or dripping furnishings, but Sarah sighed with relief.
“I’m sorry, girls. Seeing you two in that puddle just reminded me so much of when you used to make mud pies in the backyard. You even left them in the sun to bake. I once took a big bite of dirt just to make you smile, Sarah.” Ida giggled. “You were too smart to believe me when I tried to toss it over my shoulder when you weren’t looking.”
“I remember that.” Vicky grinned. “Sarah, you would get so angry if people didn’t actually eat it.”
“Oh really?” Ida placed her hands on her hips. “I recall that your way of getting people to eat the pies was to fling them in their face, Vicky!”
Vicky gulped and glanced away quickly. “Hmm, I don’t remember that.”
“I bet you don’t.” Sarah managed a smile. “But this isn’t the time to talk about mud pies. We need to figure out what happened and how to get it cleaned up as fast as possible.”
“I wonder who turned the water off?” Vicky looked back up at the ceiling warily as if she expected it to suddenly spray water again.
The side door that led from the banquet hall to the patio beside the pool swung open. Henry, the chef who ran the restaurant for the inn, rushed inside.
“I just turned the water off to the whole building, so we may get a few complaints if any guests were in the middle of showers.”
Henry was a little out of breath, his cheeks were red. It was clear that he had moved as fast as possible to stop the flow of water.
“Thank you, Henry!” Sarah said. “I can’t believe this happened.”
“I saw the water pouring out from outside. What happened?” Henry frowned.
“I have no idea.” Sarah peered up at the ceiling. “I’m pretty sure that the sprinkler is broken. I don’t know why it went off, or how it could have been broken. We just had an inspection not that long ago. This is a disaster!”
Vicky looked over at Sarah with some concern. She knew that her sister took her role very seriously and that she carried the weight of the inn on her shoulders. Vicky did her best to help out, but her skills were more oriented to party planning and decoration than organization and crisis management.
“It’s going to be okay, Sarah. At least there wasn’t a real fire.” Vicky smiled, hoping to draw her sister into the bright side.
“There might as well have been!” Sarah pressed her foot into the carpet. A fresh pool of water rose up beneath her shoe. “Everything is destroyed.”
“We can dry it out.” Henry gestured towards the kitchen. “I have some large fans.”
“We have more in storage in case the air-conditioner stops working during the summer. I’ll send the new bellboy down to get them.” The restaurant was closed for painting so Vicky pointed to the patio beyond the glass door. “We can set the nice dining area outside for lunch. We’ll just have to add more tables. It’s going to be fine, Sarah. We’ll get it all worked out.”
“I hope so.” Sarah frowned. “I don’t want to have to lose the money for everyone’s stay here, but if we can’t provide the meals we offer then we are going to have to think about giving a discount.”
“Don’t be too hasty with the discounts.” Ida waved her hand in the air. “There’s no reason people can’t eat outside or if they don’t like that, they can have their food in their rooms. Problems happen. Now the important thing is how we fix it. Of course, I can’t help too much. I have to be a tour guide.”
Vicky rolled her eyes at her aunt’s ironclad memory. She wasn’t going to miss her chance at escorting her political crush around town for anything.
“That’s fine, Aunt Ida.” Vicky started pulling off the wet tablecloths from nearby tables. “I can handle this. It’s probably best if you keep our special guest out of the inn for as long as possible. We don’t need a hit to our reputation.”
“I think that’s a good idea, too.” Sarah nodded. “Use whatever you need from petty cash to show him a good time, okay?”
“Oh, Sarah,” Vicky mumbled.
“Within reason,” Sarah added quickly. She glanced at her watch and winced. “I hate to do this, Vicky, but I have a few more guests due to check in and I need to be at the front desk. Do you think you could get things started in here while I take care of reception?” Sarah looked at her sister with a hint of guilt in her eyes.
“Sure, no problem.” Vicky smiled at Sarah. “Just leave it to me. I’ll get someone out here to fix the sprinkler as fast as possible so that we can get the water back on. Just do me a favor and send Blake in if you see him. Remember, he started yesterday?”
“Oh, the kid right?” Sarah frowned. “Are you sure about him, Vicky? He seems pretty young.”
“Sarah, he’s not that young, he’s nineteen. We’re just getting old.” Vicky laughed.
“I guess you’re right about that.” Sarah sighed. “Thanks, Sis.” She walked out of the banquet hall. Vicky tried not to laugh at the way her shoes squished as she walked. Even though the situation was dire, it was still good to find humor in it. Vicky pulled out her cell phone and called the plumber they usually used when anything went wrong at the inn. His phone rang several times before his wife finally answered. Vicky explained the situation quickly.
“I’m sorry, Vicky, Brad’s so sick today, he won’t be able to make it. You could call his cousin, Benny, he could probably help.”
Vicky wondered for a moment what else could go wrong. Then she reminded herself that at least she had another option. “All right, thanks. I hope he feels better soon.”
Vicky took the number for Benny and hung up. Then she called Benny. He answered on the first ring.
“Can I help you?” Benny sounded very enthusiastic.
“I was hoping that you could come out right away. We have an emergency at the Heavenly Highland Inn.” Normally Vicky would never hire someone who she hadn’t first met or researched, but there wasn’t time to be picky. The longer the water was off, the more chance there was of angry guests, not to mention, with no water the kitchen was practically unusable.
“Sure, I can come out. What’s the problem?”
“Somehow the sprinkler head in the banquet hall was broken and it began spraying water. We have the water off now, but the banquet hall is soaked. We need it fixed fast because our guests are without water.” Her tone was urgent as she looked at the dripping tablecloths.
“Oh well, we can’t have that. I’ll be there in fifteen minutes.” Benny sounded confident enough that Vicky felt reassured.
“Thank you, so much!” She willed herself not to think about what the repair bill would be.
Vicky hung up the phone and began gathering the rest of the tablecloths. As she did she noticed that one of them had a dark smudge on it. She stared at it for a long moment. The tablecloths were off-white in color and laundered every day. A stained tablecloth would never be put out on a table. It was impossible to tell what had caused the stain because the water had distorted its original shape. Vicky shook her head and added it to the rest of the pile.
“Ms. Vicky?” A timid voice drifted from the entrance of the hall. Vicky turned to see the new bellboy waiting for her.
“Blake, come in. Watch your step, the carpet is very wet. And please, just call me Vicky.”
Blake nodded and stepped in carefully. Vicky had liked him immediately when she interviewed him. She had interviewed him because they needed someone urgently and Sarah had the day off because her little boy, Ethan, had a Parents’ Day at school. Blake was only working at the inn a couple of days a week, because he was studying horticulture. He was very shy, but extremely polite and seemed quite mature.
“I need you to go down to the storage unit in the basement and bring up as many fans as you can find, please. We’ve had a bit of a problem here and we need to get the banquet hall in shape in time for dinner tonight. Okay?” She smiled at him.
“Basement, fans, fast.” Blake nodded with each word he spoke. “You’ve got it.”
“As quick as you can. You can ask some other staff for help if you need it. If you see Monica, send her in with a laundry cart, please.” Vicky bundled up all of the wet tablecloths.
“Right away!” Blake ducked back out of the banquet hall. A minute later Monica arrived pushing a laundry cart. She rolled it right up to Vicky. Vicky tossed the tablecloths into the cart.
“Thanks, Monica. Listen, when you wash them one has some kind of stain. If it doesn’t come clean we’ll need to replace it. Okay?” She met Monica’s eyes to be sure that she understood. Monica had been with them for some time, but Vicky had noticed lately that she seemed sleepy and distracted. Vicky assumed there might be some personal issues going on at home.
“Yes, I’ll watch for it. Any idea how this happened?” Monica glanced up at the broken sprinkler.
Vicky frowned guiltily. She didn’t want to mention the fact that she was fairly certain that it was her fault.
“I hope the plumber can tell us exactly how it happened.” She looked up at the sprinkler. “I don’t think it could have happened without something knocking into it.”
“Do you think someone on the staff did it?” Monica spoke in a dramatic whisper. Vicky pursed her lips briefly. She didn’t like gossip, especially when it involved the inn’s employees, but she understood that Monica was just trying to get some idea of what had happened.
“No, I really don’t think so.” She swallowed back what she was really suspecting. She knew that she would have to admit the truth to Sarah, but she didn’t want the entire staff knowing that she had done something so foolish. Recently, Vicky had hosted an indoor wedding reception in the banquet hall. She had gone a bit overboard with the decorations. She thought it was very likely that she had hit the sprinkler head with something as she hung it or carried it past. She hoped it wasn’t the case, but she couldn’t really think of any other explanation.