Happy March! We are just six short days from the release of Secretly Inn Love and I am thrilled to be able to share Ryann and Elijah’s whirlwind romance with you. To celebrate the completion of the series, Truly Inn Love, the story that kicked off it all, is on sale for just 99 cents. Grab your copy today to get to know all the Alden siblings before baby sister Ryann’s story comes out.
Where to find Truly Inn Love
Where to find Secretly Inn Love
Cartoon pandas with innocent faces alternating with soft blue and purple snowflake designs were not what I’d normally find alluring, but on the petite brunette standing in front of me, it somehow worked. Even though we’d barely exchanged a handful of words and I was likely a little delirious after driving twenty hours in the past two days, something about the woman pulled me in. And those eyes… deep emerald tones that stood out even more framed by her thick, dark lashes.
I shook my head. Getting distracted by the pretty worker at an inn was not on my agenda. Finding the muse that had escaped me for months on end now was my top and only priority. “Thanks, I’m really sorry for dragging you out of bed.”
She shook her head, and soft chocolate curls tumbled over her shoulder. “Your timing was pretty good because I’m wide awake.” She motioned to her right. “Let me show you to your room.”
I picked up the backpack I’d brought in with me. “Should I move my car first?”
She rolled her gaze to the ceiling as she stood with one foot on the bottom riser, as though I’d asked a complex question that required a lot of thought. After a few seconds, she waved her hand dismissively and turned to lead the way up the steps. “It’ll be fine for now. I’ll leave a note for Cade, so he doesn’t get in a mood over it.”
Being cramped in the same vehicle for so many hours was never as evident as when I tried to force my legs to climb the stairs. Muscles that had been cramped into the same position for so long screamed against what was normally an act that took zero consideration, but now required a mental pep talk to accomplish.
And damned if the room wasn’t on the top floor. A fact I only realized when she didn’t take the turn down the hallway when we reached the landing and instead began the trek up the next flight. She stopped outside of a door that had a wooden tree hanging at eye level and the words “Woodland Suite” etched into the material.
Quaint. Cozy. And a world of difference from Nashville, the bustling city I’d called home for more than five years.
The young woman held her hands together tightly. “Here’s your room,” she said, releasing her white-knuckle grip long enough to gesture to the entrance. Her voice was lower than it had been downstairs, and it took a few minutes before it registered that it was because of the other occupants nearby, likely asleep. The husky tone held melodic notes that made me want to ask her to read me the phone book just to hear more.
“Is Cade your husband?” I hadn’t really planned on asking that, but the question tumbled out of my mouth with no input from my brain.
She twisted her face into an equally horrified and disgusted expression. “What? Ew, no, gross. That’s my sister’s fiancé.” She rolled her eyes. “Which he will eternally be since they can’t manage to decide on a wedding date.” With a wince, she ducked her head and mumbled something I couldn’t decipher.
Wholly misplaced relief fused through my shoulders. “Thank you for your time and for letting me disrupt your sleep, Ms…” It was a cheesy lead-in to get her name, but the classics were classics for a reason.
A dazzling smile lit up the face I didn’t think could be any more beautiful, and a dimple appeared on her right cheek. “Alden. Ryann Alden. My sisters and I own this inn. Well, technically, we inherited it from our aunt and uncle—” A deep crimson stained her cheekbones. “Sorry, that is a lot more information than you were looking for.” She took a few steps backwards. “Have a great night, Mr. Hansen. If you need anything, there is a brochure beside the bed with information on how to reach us.”
Before I could respond, she disappeared down the stairs, and I opened the door with a sigh. Weariness settled over me nearly as soon as the latch clicked into place. I dropped my backpack and coat into a pile on the floor and all but launched myself onto the bed. The downy comforter and decadent mattress probably felt a hell of a lot better than it really was with the deep-seated exhaustion.
Within seconds, my lids clamped firmly shut and I fell into a heavy, deep slumber with my shoes, jeans, and thick long-sleeved shirt still on. Dreams of sparkling jewel-toned irises teased my subconscious as I slept.
The sweet smell of maple mingled with smoky bacon created an enticing aroma that greeted me as I slowly made my way back to the land of consciousness. My stomach simultaneously growled its appreciation for the indulgent wake-up call and its displeasure at focusing on my trek the day before and ignoring things like meals.
I stood and stretched my aching muscles before stripping off my clothes and leaving them in a trail behind me as I made my way to the attached bathroom. Like the rest of the inn, it was modest but decorated in a subtle yet welcoming I. And it was a far cry from the decadent master suite that had come in the mini-mansion I’d bought a few years prior. It had taken more than five years of living in the country music metropolis before I’d finally been willing to commit to something more than a six-month condo lease.
Yet, another two years after signing on the dotted line, the place—despite it being what most people would consider a dream home—didn’t manage to hold the warmth and comfort I was looking for. Something more like my childhood home. Just like the so-called friends and romantic interests who made every connection with a calculated purpose to further their own career or love life. My name may not be commonly known, but I was close enough to those who were to make me a prime target for cunning wannabes. It had only taken being burned a handful of times for me to learn the tough lessons. Those social circles weren’t like the small town where I’d been raised.
Spending more time in the house and wandering the grounds attached to it had done nothing for the block that continued to frustrate me every day. The words and notes that had once flowed so easily were stuck somewhere in a vortex between my subconscious and my fingertips.
Warm water sprayed over me, and I scrubbed the body wash provided by the inn over my skin, every cell finding a level of invigoration and new life as I went. The refreshing lemongrass of the soap was as energizing as the shower itself and had me whistling as I stepped out onto the green memory foam bath mat that all but hugged my feet. On the cream granite sink counter, a small rustic frame housed a note alerting guests that the toiletries and gift basket accessories were all locally crafted by small businesses.
A smile tickled my lips at the perfect topping on this small-town aesthetic. Maybe the diversion to Willow Falls and this inn would be the refresher I so desperately needed.
I took the stairs two at a time to move my rental before it caused any issues, but the aromas that had tempted me when I first woke were much stronger and more insistent, pulling me toward the dining room.
A young girl in fitted black pants and a glaringly bright white button-down shirt that was in stark contrast to the deep brown of her skin tone greeted me with a wide smile. “Hi, would you like to join us for breakfast?”
My rumbling midsection was screaming in the affirmative, but I shook my head. “I came in late last night, so I didn’t put in a reservation.”
Her long, coiled ponytail brushed her shoulder as she tipped her head back and laughed. “Those just give a general idea of who is interested in eating in. Ryann still makes more than enough to feed everyone.” She gave me an exaggerated wink. “Even a lumberjack like yourself.”
Emerald irises flashed in front of my mind’s eye at the mention of Ryann’s name. I ducked my head, ran a hand over my beard, and looked up at her. “Was it the height or the facial hair that landed me that little title?”
She gave me a once over before leading me to a table. “Both. My name is Kacey, by the way, and I’ll be your waitress. So what’ll it be to drink? Coffee, OJ, or something else?”
“Coffee and an iced water, please. Extra lemon. What’s on the menu? It smells amazing.” I sat my keys on the table and remembered the entire reason I came downstairs. “I need to go move my car real quick, I just kinda… left it right out front.”
Kacey waved at me dismissively as she crossed the few feet to the buffet against the wall and poured two glasses for me. “I saw it when I came in and it isn’t blocking anyone. Eat first. Ryann made stuffed French toast topped with strawberries, hash browns, and bacon.”
Much slower than my ravenous appetite wanted, I methodically ate every morsel and barely resisted the urge to ask for seconds. I needed to make sure I fit behind the steering wheel after my brief stay was over.
Kacey returned with a satisfied smirk as she surveyed my damn near crystal clean plate. If it hadn’t been a horrible display of poor manners that would have certainly alerted my mother’s instincts from a few hundred miles away, I would have licked any remaining drops from the china. “Looks like your meal was adequate.”
I leaned back in my seat and patted my abdomen. “More than. You’ve got one hell of a chef in there.” And one I wouldn’t mind getting to know a little better if I were here for any longer than a night. I blinked rapidly and gave my imaginative head a shake. I’d spent all of fifteen minutes in her presence, far too soon for my brain to traipse down that particular path. Even if the brief flash of her dimple managed to haunt the recesses of my mind. As well as conjuring ways to make that appear again.
Love at first sight was best left out of the real world and securely locked into the songs I was contracted to write. And at this stage, even a simple date was out of the question. I had fourteen days of solitude and focus ahead of me, and any hint of distraction needed to remain firmly off the table.
A resolution I carried long enough to gather my keys and move the oversized rented SUV into the parking lot behind the inn. I grabbed my other suitcase from the back before heading back inside and nearly colliding with the girl I’d just sworn to ignore.
“Oh, I’m so sorry.” She held a hand against the front of her purple and black chef’s jacket. Her focus zeroed in on the handle of the case I was wheeling behind me. “Are you checking out already?” Her voice held a hint of disappointment I couldn’t help but find charming.
I gave a small chuckle. “Ah, no, opposite actually. Moving in a little more.” I held up my phone with my free hand, which still displayed the weather app I had been checking. “Looks like the storm is parking itself right over my route home, so I’ll be here at least tonight.”
The smile that spread across her face lit up her entire countenance. “Oh, that’s good. Great.” She waved her hand as her cheeks flushed. “I mean that you got here and avoided the bad weather.” She took a couple of steps backwards and gestured to the kitchen on the opposite side of the inn. “I’m making roasted pork chops and apples with butternut squash risotto for dinner.” She lifted one shoulder. “If you’re interested.”
A strand of dark chocolate hair that had escaped her tight ponytail brushed against her face and the deep green pools sparkled back at me with a mixture of mischief and excitement. I answered honestly as she put a little more distance between us, not breaking eye contact. “I’m definitely interested.”