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She drove up I-95 with the top down. The wind whipped through her long blonde hair and she enjoyed the feel of having it loose, rather than pulled tight. Her scalp thanked her for the reprieve. It was a perfect summer day, with the warm sun shining down on her pale skin. She couldn’t even remember the last time she’d taken the time to enjoy the feel of the sunshine, too many hours spent indoors.
This was why she’d chosen to drive up the east coast rather than fly. In the two years since she’d bought her Miata coupe convertible she’d yet to take it for a drive with the top down. It was about time. She needed this. She needed a break.
As she listened to Mick Jagger sing about how you can’t always get what you want, the familiar ping of her cell phone interrupted the radio. The irony was not lost on her. She pressed a button on the console.
“Cassidy St. Claire.” She answered.
“Ms. St. Claire, its Roger. I’m so sorry to bother you on your vacation.”
“I don’t take vacations, Roger.”
“Of course, Ma’am. Well nevertheless I wouldn’t be bothering you unless it was of the utmost urgency.”
“Get to the point, Roger.” Cassidy smiled to herself, everything was of the utmost urgency to Roger.
“It’s Mr. Belfour, Ma’am. He’s trying to back out of the deal.” Poor Roger sounded as if he was at his wits end.
“Has he told you this?” Cassidy questioned calmly.
“Well no, Ma’am, not in so many words. But Carl Jenkins from accounting was at the Tavern Golf Club having dinner last night and Mr. Belfour was there as well. Carl overheard him talking about how he was regretting his decision to sell the hotel, and that perhaps he might hold onto it a little longer until his grandson was old enough to take over. Then this morning Mr. Belfour called requesting a meeting with you. I’m not sure what to do, Ma’am.”
“Set the meeting.”Cassidy instructed matter-of-factly.
“But, Ma’am, aren’t you on your way to New Hampshire?”
“I am.” Cassidy confirmed. “Set the meeting with Mr. Belfour for tomorrow morning at the Grand Highlander, private dining room. Full spread breakfast buffet, mimosas, full staff on hand. I want Mr. Belfour waited on hand and foot, five star treatment. Have Rebecca Gardner meet him, then deliver a message to Rebecca that I’m running late and that I insist they start breakfast without me. Once Mr. Belfour has had his breakfast and has enjoyed the royal treatment deliver another message that I’ve been held up and must reschedule our meeting. That should buy enough time until I get back on Monday.”
“Yes, Ma’am, I’ll call Ms. Gardner and let her know right away.”The relief in Roger’s voice was evident. The poor boy had way too much anxiety for someone so young, but Cassidy still felt confident in her choice to bring him on as an intern. His knack for picking up gossip was unprecedented and in the business world reliable gossip was as good as gold.
“Good work, Roger, I’ll see you Monday.”
“Enjoy your weekend, Ms. St. Claire.”
Cassidy clicked off and once again the music flowed through the car speakers, this time it was the Eagles living it up at the Hotel California. She loved the classics. Cassidy turned it up and sang along as she sped along the highway. It wasn’t long before her phone pinged again.
“Cassidy St. Claire.”
“Cassi, are you seriously going to make me have breakfast with Mr. Can’t-keep-my-hands-to-myself!” Rebecca was not happy with her.
“Becca, he’s an important client. We need that property for the new resort. It’s just breakfast.”
“I swear if he tries to grab my ass one more time…”
“You’ll tactfully avoid it like you always do.” Cassidy finished the statement for her.
“He’s a perverted old man!”
“Who owns a prime piece of real estate.” Cassidy reminded her.
“I know, I know. What’s the deal with the old goat? Why are we doing the whole wine and dine routine again, I thought this one was in the bag.”
“It’s never in the bag until the contract is signed. Mr. Belfour just needs a little reminder of what the good life will be like once he has all that money in his pocket and isn’t being weighed down by a failing hotel. And who better to remind him than an attractive young woman who has a nice ass.” Cassidy laughed.
“Easy to say when it’s not your ass.” Rebecca mumbled.
“I just need you to stall him until I get back. I’ll seal the deal on Monday and we can be done with Mr. Grabby-hands.”
“Thank God! So you really think you’ll be able to wrap this up by Monday?” Rebecca asked, switching topics.
“I don’t see why not. I’m not really sure why the executor insisted that I sign the documents in person, but I am curious to take a look at this bed and breakfast. Who knows, it might be a prime spot. But if it’s not worthwhile then I’ll just arrange for the sale of the property and be done with this whole mess.”
Cassidy wasn’t really hopeful that this would lead to anything other than a weekend distraction and a chance to take her Miata for a long drive. She was already regretting her decision to try to find her biological family. She wasn’t really sure what she’d been looking for when she started the search for her birth parents, but all it led to were a bunch of death certificates and one ailing great uncle, who finally kicked the bucket last week. Since Cassidy was apparently the only other surviving member of the family that meant his estate went to her. He was by no means wealthy, but he had been the owner of a small seaside bed and breakfast, which now apparently belonged to her.
“Do you think you have any other family up there?”
“No. If there was any other family the inheritance wouldn’t be going to me.”
“Oh, I guess that’s true. Well try to relax a little, have some fun. You know, do whatever they do in New Hampshire.”
“Thanks, Becca, see you Monday.”
Cassidy clicked off and once again music flooded the car. This time Carly Simon was wrongfully accusing her of being vain, which was ridiculous because in fact she didn’t think the song was about her at all.
She finally pulled into Cedar Hollow just as the sun was setting. It was a picturesque little New England town, with small shops lining a main street that looked like it belonged in another time. Cassidy traveled down the narrow road, noting that most of the shops were closing with the setting sun. Upon closer inspection she realized that the shops were not touristy gift shops, but rather functional businesses. The downtown strip consisted of a hardware store, grocery, pharmacy, post office and beauty salon. All of which apparently closed at sundown. This little town definitely could not support the tourism that one of her resorts attracted, she thought to herself as she slipped into acquisitions mode.
She pulled into a small corner diner, one of the few establishments staying open, and as she raised the roof of her convertible she couldn’t help but notice the customers inside with their faces plastered to the plate glass window. She wasn’t sure if they were staring at her or the car.
She stepped out of the car and self-consciously stretched out her sore muscles, it had been a long seventeen hour drive up from Chicago. As she walked into the diner some of the customers had the decency to look away, some did not. She used the rubber band that was around her wrist to pull her hair up into a pony tail then twisted it into a messy bun.
“Welcome to Jenny’s, Miss. Go ahead and grab yourself a booth.” The plump, middle-aged waitress behind the counter gestured to the booths along the window.
Cassidy nodded and seated herself in the first booth, squirming a little on the hard wooden bench seat. She couldn’t wait to slip into a warm bath and relax.
“You’re not from around here.” A younger waitress observed as she came over to the table and smiled down at Cassidy.
“No I’m not.” Cassidy confirmed, apparently they didn’t see too many new faces in this small town.
“I’m Melissa.” The waitress told her smiling kindly. Melissa’s pale blonde hair was pulled into a high ponytail which gave her a youthful appearance that was only betrayed by the crinkles around her eyes when she smiled. Cassidy estimated her to be in her mid-thirties.
“Cassidy St. Claire.”
“Oh I heard about you, you’re here to shut down the old Miller place.” Several customers turned in their seats to listen, not so discreetly.
“Well, um, I’m not really sure what I’m going to do with it yet.” Cassidy said honestly. “I only just found out about it last week.”
“Belongs to Ben Riley.” A crackly old voice rose above the crowd and Cassidy turned to see where it had come from.
A grisly old man sat at the counter, his long grey hair and beard forming a wiry halo around his heavily lined face. “Old Man Miller hasn’t run that place in years. It’s Ben Riley who’s been putting his sweat and tears into that place. He’s the one who you’re going to be putting out when you close it down.” The old man continued looking at Cassidy with cold milky eyes.
“I’m not here to put anybody out.” Cassidy assured the room, because at this point every eye in the restaurant was on her.
“Leave the girl alone, Arlis.” The older waitress reprimanded, but she eyed Cassidy warily.
“Don’t mind them.” Melissa whispered. “Can I get you something?” She asked taking out her order pad.
“What’s good?” Cassidy asked looking over the hand-written menu.
“The turkey and gravy is tonight’s special.” Melissa shrugged.
“Sounds good, I’ll have that.” Cassidy agreed.
As soon as Melissa left the table Cassidy pulled out her phone to check her email. She could feel the other patrons watching her every move, but she kept her eyes locked on the screen until Melissa had returned with the food.
Cassidy ate quickly, more eager than ever to just get this weekend over with and get out of this creepy little town. After she finished, Melissa gave her directions to the bed and breakfast. She headed out of town with her mind made up, tonight she would stay at the bed and breakfast, then tomorrow morning she would meet with Mr. Woodard, the executor of the will, to sign whatever papers were required to acquire and then sell the property. Then she was going to get the hell out of dodge.
Cassidy followed the directions out of the valley where Cedar Hollow was located and traveled up a narrow mountain road. The gravel road eventually turned into a single lane dirt road. There were no street lights, no city lights, no houses on this lonely little road. The woods around her were so tightly packed she began to feel claustrophobic. She felt completely isolated and it was creeping her out.
Finally she reached the end of the road and a large dark three story Victorian-style house loomed in front of her. It was too dark to see anything other than the imposing outline of the structure, complete with turrets and spires. It looked like a haunted house. She pulled up shining her headlights across the wide front porch. A single dingy yellow porch light had been left on, otherwise she was surrounded by complete darkness. As she stepped out of the car she could faintly hear the ocean surf off to the right in the distance, but it was too dark to see anything beyond the glow of her headlights.
Slowly she made her way up to the front of the house, feeling like an intruder. This was not the welcoming hotel atmosphere that she was used to. This was dark, and private, and creepy. She walked up the creaky steps and something rustled in the bushes next to the porch making her jump and hurry the rest of the way to the front door. Hesitantly she knocked.
She stood on the threshold trying not to feel like the first victim in a B-rated horror movie. She heard heavy footsteps inside and her breathing accelerated as she watched the handle slowly turn. She had no idea what was going to greet her on the other side of that door.
The Chosen One watched as the sleek black convertible pulled up to the house. The time of reckoning had come. It was finally going to be over. It must be done.
“You must be Ben Riley.” Cassidy said brightly trying to hide her shock. Her imagination had conjured the image of a crusty old loner living in this haunted house on a hill. She had not been prepared for Mr. Tall, Handsome, and Brooding. He glared back at her for what felt like an eternity, but in reality was probably only a few seconds…..
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