Tripp Bennett rested one hand on the popup camper like a priest administering last rites.
“Why is this such a big deal?” He blew out a long slow breath. “We’re only moving it across the yard, not getting rid of it. Winter will be here before we know it, and I won’t be able to sleep in it anyway.”
The fifteen-foot camper had been sitting in my front yard since the day I hired Tripp to help with the house three months ago. Today it was leaving its post.
Despite Tripp’s turmoil, this was an exciting day. After months of backbreaking work renovating and converting my grandparents’ seven-bedroom lake house into a bed-and-breakfast, we were done. It was a little bittersweet as well. Opening our doors to guests meant that our time together was about to change in a big way. No more long leisurely nights sitting on the deck watching moonlight ripple off the lake while listening to the goosebump-inducing cries of the loons.
“Take a minute.” I placed a comforting hand on his shoulder, doing my best to remain patient with this process.
I really did understand his distress. Tripp had spent five years wandering the country, never staying in one place for long. Making spur-of-the-moment decisions wasn’t hard for him. Which paint colors or tiles to use in the nine bathrooms? That took maybe a half hour. Hire a chef or let Tripp do the cooking for Pine Time B&B? That took half a second. Tripp wasn’t handing his kitchen over to anyone. Not even me. Of course, I couldn’t cook. Deciding what to do with the little camper, however, took weeks.
Finally, we settled on tucking it along the far side of the detached garage where it wouldn’t be visible from either the house or by cars approaching on the quarter-mile-long driveway. We started the moving process this morning by hauling all his possessions from the trailer up to the attic. This took approximately fifteen minutes. Tripp didn’t own much. For the last twenty minutes he’d been psyching himself up to hitch the thing to the back of his partly red, partly rusty pickup truck.
“Okay.” He blew out one more breath. “I’m ready.”
“You’ve got this.” Good thing I was standing behind him. The rolling of my eyes was anything but supportive.
He hopped into the driver’s seat, put the truck in gear, and backed the camper up like a pro, positioning it next to the garage. Meeka, my West Highland White Terrier, inspected the moving process, barking her approval or giving a scolding yip when something wasn’t done to her satisfaction.
“I’ll get a tarp and cover it—” Tripp paused mid-sentence, squinted, and rushed back to where the camper had been.
“What’s wrong?” I jogged behind him, then saw dead spots in the yard from the wheels. A large rectangle of grass had turned yellow-green from being in the shadow of the popup.
Tripp groaned and swore softly, something he never did. “I’ll do what I can to patch that up. I’ll probably have to fill in the depressions with a little dirt, then throw down some seed.”
“Tonight is our grand opening party. You have guests to attend to. Remember? We hired people to help you with things like the yard.”
“You’re right.” He shook his head in disgust. “I’ll call the yard service to come over and take care of this.”
“They can do it tomorrow. It’s too late to worry about something like this now.”
“I knew we shouldn’t have waited until the last minute. We should’ve moved the thing yesterday.”
I stood on my tiptoes and placed a kiss on his cheek. “I love how you obsess over every little thing around here. That’s why I know this is going to be a great success.”
“Speaking of last minute, where are the tables and chairs?”
We’d ordered ten round tables and a hundred and twenty chairs for tonight. They were supposed to be here by ten this morning. It was almost one o’clock.
“I’m sure they’re on the way, but I’ll call the rental company and find out what’s going on.”
Taking his hand, I led him further out to the middle of the front yard. There, I turned him to face the house. When I had arrived here a little over three months ago, just before Memorial Day weekend, the house . . . no, the entire property was a disaster. The outside of the grand, fifty-year-old lake house desperately needed a new coat of paint as well as some minor repairs. The gardens hadn’t been tended to properly in years. The inside was the worst, though. Vandals had broken in and trashed the place. My grandparents would have been heartbroken by the damage done to their home.
The now lush gardens were back to their original beauty and perfectly accented the fresh storm-cloud-gray exterior and snow-white trim. My friend Morgan Barlow was the best green witch in Wisconsin, which was Wiccan for she had a way with plants. She had come over and given me her opinion on what to do about the landscaping. Then she recommended a few folks from the village who I could hire to make it happen. I swear, all I really needed to do to revive the failing gardens was to have her walk through them. It was like her aura alone was enough to encourage the tired greenery to come back to life.
“Do you remember what this looked like when we started?” I asked Tripp.
“How could I forget? I still can’t believe we got all that done.”
It had been an intense three months of renovations, website design, and spreading the word that Pine Time Bed-and-Breakfast would be opening . . . sometime in August. We made it, but just barely. Tomorrow was September first. Our first guests were checking in this afternoon for the long Labor Day weekend.
Honestly, if someone would have told me a year ago that I would be leaving my hometown of Madison, Wisconsin, and moving to the tiny Northwoods village of Whispering Pines, I would’ve laughed in their face. But after less than a week of living next to the pristine lake, among a community of people who cared more about their neighbors than themselves, I knew I was never leaving. The villagers had gathered around Tripp and me during the restoration and offered tons of help getting the place ready. To repay them, we were having a grand opening barbecue celebration for them tonight. Tourists were welcome as well.
As we stood there, beaming at our beautiful house and feeling like proud parents, the distinctive rumble of an expensive automobile sounded through the trees from up the driveway. We turned to find a sleek, shiny black sports car approaching the house.
Tripp’s mouth dropped open. “I think I’m in love.”
“What is that?” This car was super sexy. Low to the ground, as sports cars tended to be, it had an almost predatory look to it like a wolf or panther on the prowl.
Tripp wiped away a little dribble of drool from the corner of his mouth, “That is an Aston Martin Vanquish.”
I looked up at him, amused. “How do you know that?”
He blinked at me, confused by the question. “I’m a guy. Knowing these things is in our DNA.”
Since he was in little-boy-on-Christmas-morning mode, I let the somewhat sexist explanation go. “What would something like that cost?”
“A few hundred.”
I expected him to laugh and then tell me the real price, but he just kept staring and drooling. Who paid multiple six figures for a car? We watched as the vehicle backed in next to my tired, twenty-year-old Cherokee—which cost multiple three figures—and a man just as long, dark, and sleek as his car, unfolded from the driver’s seat.
Six foot one, early-thirties, light-brown skin, pale-blue eyes, wavy black hair to the collarbone, shoulders wide enough to take on the weight of the world.
This guy looked like he’d just stepped out of a Dresden Files book. Or maybe he was a dark angel. I half-expected black wings to sprout from his back.
“Who is he?” I asked.