Anything For LoveBy: Melissa Foster
The Bradens & Montgomerys
(Pleasant Hill – Oak Falls)
Love in Bloom Series
BEAU BRADEN GUIDED his rental truck around ruts and wild brush on the road that led to the Sterling House, a rustic inn located in the Colorado Mountains. He planned to spend the next four weeks shoring things up at the inn as a favor to his relatives Hal and Josh Braden. The umbrella of trees thickened, and sunlight splashed through in fits and spurts, eventually disappearing altogether, creating a tunnel-like expanse. It was like driving into a scene from Where the Wild Things Are. Beau had delayed his arrival for months, waiting to escape his hometown until the ghosts of his past came back to haunt, as they did every year at this time. It had been years since Sterling House had functioned as an inn, and the owner, Charlotte Sterling, didn’t seem to mind the delay, though she’d taken forever to respond to phone calls, texts, and emails. He didn’t know much about her, other than that she was a writer. Given the overgrown road, he was beginning to wonder if she actually lived there or if he’d have the place to himself.
He didn’t care if he had to live among grizzlies. The job had gotten him the hell out of Pleasant Hill, Maryland.
The tree-bound tunnel birthed him into a virtual paradise. Beau stepped on the brakes at the top of a long driveway, taking in acres of sprawling meadows and picturesque mountains. Trees dotted the landscape, so vibrant and full they looked painted in place. At the end of the driveway, three stunning stories of glass, stone, and cedar overlooked a heart-shaped lake, with breathtaking views in all directions. Grand terraces adorned the structure like open-ended invitations, filled with possibilities.
He coasted down the empty driveway, thinking he might actually have the luxurious inn to himself after all. Perfect. There was a time when he’d thought his small hometown was the perfect mix of city life and rural surroundings. That had gone to hell in a handbasket a long time ago. But this? This was nirvana. Plenty of work, no family around to suffocate him, no dodging the haunted looks in friends’ eyes. And four weeks from now he’d be on his way to Los Angeles for a job far away from the skeletons of his past.
As he stepped from the truck, he pulled out his phone and glanced at the waiting text messages from his family. He wasn’t surprised to see several from Jillian and Jax, his younger twin siblings, the most emotional of them all. Each of his five younger siblings were different, ranging from the meticulous and thorough Graham, to too-macho-for-his-own-good Nick and wildcat Zev. As the oldest, Beau had always been the one to take care of his siblings, but this time of year they hovered—or rather swarmed—with well-meaning words and offers of distraction. He loved them, but nothing could take away his guilt for causing Tory Raznick to lose her life.
He pulled up Charlotte’s text and read the cryptic instructions as he grabbed his bags. Come whenever. I’ll have a room ready for you. My wing is downstairs to the left. I’ll be in my office. Knock first. She’d added a winking emoji, making him wonder what kind of woman she was that she couldn’t arrange whatever was going on behind closed doors around his arrival. Not that he was a saint, but self-control was not an issue.
He rang the doorbell, and when it went unanswered, he tried the door. Surprised to find it unlocked, he pushed it open and then tried the doorbell again, listening for the chime. Answered with silence, he mentally added it to his list of repairs and stepped inside the spacious mansion. He noticed a stairwell leading downstairs just off to his right and set his bags on the floor, taking a moment to get his bearings. Expansive stone and glass walls, exposed-beam ceilings, iron and antler chandeliers, and a beautiful stone fireplace added a wealth of character. His footfalls broke the silence as he walked by a study and dining room, both adorned in rich, dark wood. He admired a red-carpeted staircase leading up to the second floor. The ornate balusters had lost their shine, and he made a mental note to bring them back to life. He crossed the room and gazed out the doors to the terrace, trying the knob. Unlocked. It was easy to imagine the inn bustling with activity, children playing in the wildflowers while their parents mingled nearby. He meandered into the enormous kitchen, which was definitely in need of some TLC. Another unlocked door led to a terrace overlooking the rear of the property. He stepped outside and shook the railing, which was already on the list of repairs his relatives had given him.