Coming Next

Coming Next:

She’s back in his life…

But will they end up under the mistletoe?

Emilie O’Shea and her figure-skating troupe find themselves homeless…until a Christmas miracle lands them at a quaint inn in New Hampshire. Emilie is excited—then she discovers the inn’s scrooge-like owner is her ex-fiancé, Nathan Prescott. With assistance from a little boy, an adorable cat and her skaters, Emilie helps Nathan find hope in the season…and hope in their future.

Here’s a sneak peak from Christmas at Prescott Inn, available December 1, 2018:

Sighing, Nathan headed up the back stairs to his office.

And then his afternoon got worse, because outside his closed door was Emilie, knocking softly.

Nathan slowly exhaled, willing himself to be calm—to overlook the fact that he still obviously was hung up on her.

She still wore her hat and the thin red jacket that looked new, but not really warm enough for New Hampshire.

He smiled to himself. This weather would be an adjustment for her. He leaned closer. She smelled like…an unfamiliar shampoo, not her usual ship’s brand. Jarred by her presence, he waited.

She rapped with her knuckles again, her back to him. This time, she pounded on the door, louder and more insistent. “Nathan!” she called.

He cleared his throat. “I’m right here.”

She whirled to face him, her eyes huge.

Don’t show that you care, he told himself.

“How long have you been standing there, watching me?” she demanded.

“Only a moment.” He walked past her and opened the door. With his free hand, he motioned for her to precede him. “Please,” he said, trying to be polite and formal. On his best behavior, but not familiar.

Her lips pursed, Emilie marched ahead of him.

She was angry with him, and he should expect nothing less. She’d been angry with him when they’d last spoken, too. She’d left him sitting alone in the ship’s fancy French restaurant, the engagement ring he’d bought her left behind on the white tablecloth, in its lavender velvet case.

He’d been deeply hurt when she’d walked away. Rejected, though he would never admit what he’d felt to anyone.

Adopting the mild, neutral expression he used when dealing with bankers, real estate agents and lawyers—the banes of his existence—he motioned her to a seat in front of his desk.

“No, I think I’ll stand,” she said stiffly, crossing her arms.

“That’s fine.” He sat in his own comfortable leather desk chair and leaned back. “What can I do for you, Emilie?”

She took a deep breath before answering, as if deliberately calming herself. Then she looked him in the eye. “You can explain something for me, Nathan, because I’m a little bit confused.” She gave him a small smile and a shrug, as if they were back on the ship and she was flirting with him.

He simply gazed at her, not changing his expression a millimeter. He would not be charmed, and as soon as she realized that, the better off they would be.

A crease appeared over her brow, and she frowned at him. “Why did you invite me here, anyway?”

“I didn’t invite you. Nell did. She saw your plight on television and felt sorry for you.”

Nell.” She stared at him with reproach. “Your niece.”

Then he understood why she was upset. He hadn’t told her about Nell.

“She was young and away in college on the West Coast while you and I were dating.”

Dating?

He nodded silently. What did Emilie want to call it? They never had officially become engaged to be married.

“So…” Emilie sat in the chair. “Nell doesn’t know about…our past history, then?”

He shook his head. “No.”

“Why not? Why not tell her before I showed up here to live and work on your property?”

He didn’t answer. He couldn’t answer. Because it’s painful for me to think about it, let alone say it out loud, that’s why.

Emilie sighed. “Nathan, we should talk about this.”

“There’s really no point.”

“There is. I don’t want any awkwardness between us.” She gave him a charming, rueful smile. He knew Emilie—this was one of her “show smiles.” She was on. Performing for him as if he was a guest in her audience.

He would have none of it.

Folding his hands, he leaned toward her over his desk blotter. “You’re here to do a job. You have a show scheduled, I believe, in just about two weeks. I’ve left the details to Nell to coordinate. Anything you need, please see her.”

Emilie’s lips thinned and her chin set. “I need the ice fixed, Nathan. It’s unacceptable.”

Only being able to open half the rink was unfortunate, but it was the compromise with the expenses he’d had to make with Rob, his principle investor, to keep it open at all.

“Sorry,” he said. “It’s as fixed as it can be. What you see is what I have to offer.”

She gaped at him. “We can’t skate on that so-called ice!”

“I saw what you skated on aboard the ship. That surface was quite small.”

“It’s not the size—it’s the unevenness. I need a smoother and more functional ice surface. Anything less just won’t work for my skaters.”

Maybe he should’ve checked Guy’s work. Nathan would consult with him tonight. “Very well. I’ll look into it.”

“That’s not good enough!”

He stared at Emilie. She was bristling with anger. She could be a very protective mama bear when it came to her people. He had loved that about her. He willed himself to stay resolute in the face of her anger. “It will have to be, Emilie.”

“Why are you doing this, Nathan?” she asked between her teeth. “You know we need a dedicated Zamboni driver to work with us.” She shook her head. “Come on, you remember how we operate—an ice technician, more lighting…” She ticked off her requirements on her fingers. “And external heaters—fire pits, I’m thinking, at least for the audience.”

“A Zamboni driver is working with you. I’ll supervise him myself when he clears the ice again to make sure it’s smooth enough,” he conceded. “But that’s all. And you’ll have to wait until I can talk to him later tonight, when I’m not busy. Beyond that, I’ll instruct Guy to prepare the ice each morning before you arrive. But that’s all he can do for you, Emilie. That’s the agreement I made with your production company.

You’re going to judge the quality of the ice, Nathan?”

“I know about preparing ice surfaces. I even drove the Zamboni when I was young. I was trained by the best.”

She threw up her hands. “You never told me any of this!”

“What does it matter?” he asked, suddenly tired. “It will be prepared for you each morning to the proper specifications. That’s all you need to know. Didn’t Nell tell you all of this?”

“No, but I didn’t specifically ask her.” Emilie took in a breath. “She’s doing a great job, by the way, so don’t blame her. She tried to protect you, but I insisted I had to talk to you one-on-one. And why not—because you’re keeping secrets from her.” Emilie took another breath and then shook her head. “You’re making things difficult for no reason. You could have told Nell the truth. You also could have informed me of your plans yourself, rather than keeping me in the dark. Do you think I enjoy being confrontational and causing bad feelings? Because I really don’t. I don’t enjoy it at all.”

True. Emilie preferred pleasing people. And yes, he was keeping secrets, all around.

He closed his eyes and leaned back. Nell didn’t know that he had a past with Emilie. Emilie didn’t know that his inn was inches away from going under.

He wished he could give her everything she wanted, or at least explain why he couldn’t. But his investors had made it clear the information was confidential. He’d taken a risk telling Nell.

“Please, Nathan,” Emilie appealed nakedly to him. “I concede that you have an agreement with my production company, but at least can’t you see about getting us transportation to and from the rink? With all of our gear, it’s too far for us to walk.”

She was right—it wasn’t practical for them to walk. There were ten skaters, plus all of their equipment bags and props. He hadn’t thought about that detail.

But how to address it? He’d stopped the shuttle bus service because of the inn’s money troubles. He could rent her a car, but to balance that expense, he would have to cut something else. And the last thing left to cut was the family shelter program.

He thought of Jason. No. He wasn’t putting that little boy into the cold—not under any circumstances.

There was only one solution.

He squared his shoulders. “You’re right. I forgot to prepare transportation for you. I’m sorry.” He reached into his pocket and took the key off the chain. “You can use my Jeep. I realize you’ll have to take a few trips to get everyone back and forth up the mountain, and I apologize for that, but it’s all I can offer you at this point.”

“Your Jeep? Your personal vehicle?”

“I’m not heartless, Emilie,” he said quietly. “I’m simply practical.”

And as she took the keys from him, looking befuddled, he realized another blunder he’d made. He’d been so intent on protecting himself from being affected by her that he’d forgotten what she had just gone through.

“I’m sorry about what happened on the Empress Caribbean,” he said quietly. “I hope you’re okay after that ordeal.” Really, this should have been the first thing he’d said to her.

She gazed at him softly, shaking her head. “Nathan, what’s become of you?”

“What do you mean?”

“You’ve turned cold.”

Had he? Well, she had no idea what had been going on with him since they’d parted, either in his life or in his heart.

There was so much he couldn’t tell her. About his inn failing, about the fact that his finances were on the ropes, about the feelings he still carried for her…

Don’t think about that.

“I was concerned,” he admitted, “when I saw on the news that the Empress Caribbean had hit a reef. In fact, I checked my phone that day to see if you’d called me.”

Shoot. He hadn’t intended to admit that.

“I thought of you that day, too,” she said softly.

She had?

“The evacuation was traumatic for me, and also for the troupe.” Emilie paused. “I’m ice captain now. Did you remember that?”

“Of course I did.” How could he forget?

“Well.” She exhaled. He could tell she was trying to keep her dignity, too. “Thank you for the sympathy. But the best you can do for me is to help us be successful with our show.”

“Well, as long as your definition of success doesn’t affect my overall costs or my running of the inn, then you and I will be fine.”

“That means we’re in trouble, doesn’t it?” She raised one brow and shook her head lightly at him, gently poking fun. Then she turned serious. “Come on, Nathan, it’s Christmas. Think about the kids in town that we can perform for. Surely they need a nice rink?”

He was thinking about the kids. She had no idea.

“As I said, Emilie, I can host you here as long as it doesn’t add to my costs. That’s what I can offer you in the way of sanctuary. That’s my bottom line.”

“Grinch,” she murmured.

“Call Santa Claus and ask him for help.”

She snorted at him.

But their conversation was at an end.

And honestly, the situation made him sick. He’d love to give her a big beautiful rink with fantastic lighting and a dedicated ice technician like she’d had on the ship.

And he was tired of failing. So tired of feeling low and without hope.

He couldn’t give Emilie what she wanted from him. And what he wanted from her wasn’t even on her radar.

She might see it as him turning cold, but now all he could do was focus on the inn’s cash flow and revenues for this month. Try to meet the demands of his investors. Keep the inn open as long as possible, for those kids’ sake.

And that didn’t involve Emilie or her troupe. They were just a means to an end. They were part of his marketing without cost campaign.

She stood, sensing the meeting was over, as well. He held the door for her. At least now she wouldn’t want to see him again.

Why did that make him feel even lower?

*

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Text Copyright © 2018 by Cathryn Parry; Cover Art Copyright © 2018 by Harlequin Enterprises Limited; Permission to reproduce text granted by Harlequin Books S.A. Cover Art used by arrangement with Harlequin Enterprises Limited. All rights reserved.

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