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From This Day, Page 2

Nora Roberts

  B.J. flushed with anger. “I have been managing the Lakeside Inn for nearly four years. If there’s a problem, I shall be delighted to take it up with you here, or in my office. If you require a room,” she gestured toward the open register, “we’ll be more than happy to oblige you.”

  “B.J. Clark?” he asked with a deepening frown.

  “That’s correct.”

  With a nod, he lifted a pen and signed the register. “I’m sure you’ll understand,” he began, raising his eyes again in fresh study. “Your morning activity on the baseball diamond and your rather juvenile appearance are deceptive.”

  “I had the morning free,” she said crisply, “and my appearance in no way reflects on the inn’s quality. I’m sure you’ll see that for yourself during your stay, Mr. . . .” Turning the register to face her, B.J.’s stomach lurched.

  “Reynolds,” he supplied, smiling at her astonished expression. “Taylor Reynolds.”

  Struggling for composure, B.J. lifted her face and assumed a businesslike veneer. “I’m afraid we weren’t expecting you until Monday, Mr. Reynolds.”

  “I changed my plans,” he countered, dropping the pen back in its holder.

  “Yes, well . . . Welcome to Lakeside Inn,” she said belatedly and flicked a pigtail behind her back.

  “Thank you. I’ll require an office during my stay. Can you arrange it?”

  “Our office space is limited, Mr. Reynolds.” Cursing Betty Jackson’s blackberry jelly, she pulled down the key to the inn’s best room and rounded the desk. “However, if you don’t mind sharing mine, I’m sure you’ll find it adequate.”

  “Let’s take a look. I want to see the books and records anyway.”

  “Of course,” she agreed, gritting her teeth at the stranger’s hold over her inn. “If you’ll just come with me.”

  “B.J., B.J.” She watched with an inward shudder as Eddie hurtled down the stairs and into the lobby. His glasses were slipping down his nose, his brown hair was flopping around his ears.

  “B.J.,” he said again, breathless, “Mrs. Pierce-Lowell’s T.V. went out right in the middle of her cartoons.”

  “Oh, blast. Take mine in to her and call Max for the repair.”

  “He’s away for the weekend,” Eddie reminded her.

  “All right, I’ll survive.” Giving his shoulder an encouraging pat, she guided him to the door. “Leave me a memo to call him Monday and get mine in to her before she misses Bugs Bunny.” Feeling the new owner’s penetrating stare in the back of her head, B.J. explained apologetically. “I’m sorry, Eddie has a tendency toward the dramatic, and Mrs. Pierce-Lowell is addicted to Saturday morning cartoons. She’s one of our regulars, and we make it a policy to provide our guests with what pleases them.”

  “I see,” he replied, but she could find nothing in his expression to indicate that he did.

  Moving quickly to the back of the first floor, B.J. opened the door to her office and gestured Taylor inside. “It’s not very big,” she began as he surveyed the small room with desk and file cabinets and bulletin board, “but I’m sure we can arrange it to suit your needs, for the few days you will be here.”

  “Two weeks,” he stated firmly. He strolled across the room, picking up a bronzed paperweight of a grinning turtle.

  “Two weeks?” she repeated, and the alarm in her voice caused him to turn toward her.

  “That’s right, Miss Clark. Is that a problem?”

  “No, no, of course not.” Finding his direct stare unnerving, she lowered her eyes to the clutter on her desk.

  “Do you play ball every Saturday, Miss Clark?” He perched on the edge of the desk. Looking up, B.J. found her face only inches from his.

  “No, certainly not,” she answered with dignity. “I simply happened to be passing by, and—”

  “A very courageous slide,” he commented, shocking her by running a finger down her cheek. “And your face proves it.”

  Somewhat dazed, she glanced at the dust on his finger. “I was safe,” she said in defense against a ridiculously speeding pulse. “Wilbur needs an optometrist.”

  “I wonder if you manage the inn with the same tenacity with which you play ball.” He smiled, his eyes very intent on hers. “We’ll have a look at the books this afternoon.”

  “I’m sure you’ll find everything in order,” she said stiffly. The effect was somewhat spoiled as she backed into the file cabinet. “The inn runs very smoothly, and as you know, makes a nice profit.” She continued struggling to maintain her dignity.

  “With a few changes, it should make a great deal more.”

  “Changes?” she echoed, apprehension in her voice.

  “What sort of changes?”

  “I need to look over the place before I make any concrete decisions, but the location is perfect for a resort.” Absently, he brushed the dust off his fingers on the windowsill and gazed out. “Pool, tennis courts, health club, a face lift for the building itself.”

  “There’s nothing wrong with this building. We don’t cater to the resort set, Mr. Reynolds.” Furious, B.J. approached the desk again. “This is an inn, with all the connotations that includes. Family-style meals, comfortable lodgings and a quiet atmosphere. That’s why our guests come back.”

  “The clientele would increase with a few modern attractions,” he countered coolly. “Particularly with the proximity to Lake Champlain.”

  “Keep your hot tubs and disco lounges for your other acquisitions.” B.J. bypassed simmer and went straight to boil. “This is Lakeside, Vermont, not L.A. I don’t want any plastic surgery on my inn.”

  Brows rose, and his mouth curved in a grim smile. “Your inn, Miss Clark?”

  “That’s right,” she retorted, “You may hold the purse strings, Mr. Reynolds, but I know this place, and our guests come back year after year because of what we represent. There’s no way you’re going to change one brick.”

  “Miss Clark.” Taylor stood menacingly over her. “If I choose to tear down this inn brick by brick, that’s precisely what I’ll do. Whatever alterations I make or don’t make, remain my decision, and my decision alone. Your position as manager does not entitle you to a vote.”

  “And your position as owner doesn’t entitle you to brains!” she was unable to choke back as she stomped from the office in a flurry of flying braids.

  Chapter 2

  With relish, B.J. slammed the door to her room. Arrogant, interfering, insufferable man. Why doesn’t he go play Monopoly somewhere else? Doesn’t he already have enough hotels to tinker with? There must be a hundred in the Reynolds chain in the states alone, plus all those elegant foreign resorts. Why doesn’t he open one in Antarctica?

  Abruptly, she caught sight of her reflection in the mirror and stared in disbelief. Her face was smudged. Dust clung to her sweatshirt and jeans. Her braids hung to her shoulders. All in all, she thought grimly, I look like a rather dim-witted ten-year-old. She suddenly noticed a line down her cheek, and lifting her hand, recalled Taylor’s finger resting there.

  “Oh, blast.” Shaking her head, she began to quickly unbind her hair. “I made a mess of it,” she muttered and stripped off her morning uniform. “Looking like a grimy teenager and then losing my temper on top of it. Well, he’s not going to fire me,” she vowed fiercely and stalked to the shower. “I’ll quit first! I’m not staying around and watching my inn mutilated.”

  Thirty minutes later, B.J. pulled a brush through her hair and studied the new reflection with satisfaction. Soft clouds of wheat floated on her shoulders. She wore an ivory dress, nipped at the waist, belted in scarlet to match tiny blazing rubies at her ears. Heels gave her height a slight advantage. She felt confident she could no longer be mistaken for sixteen. Lifting a neatly written page from her dresser, she moved purposefully from the room, prepared to confront the bear in his den.

  After a brief excuse for a knock, B.J. pushed open the office door and slowly and purposefully advanced toward the man sitting behind the desk. Shovin
g the paper under his nose, she waited for his brown eyes to meet hers.

  “Ah, B.J. Clark, I presume. This is quite a transfiguration.” Leaning back in his chair, Taylor allowed his eyes to travel over the length of her. “Amazing,” he smiled into her resentful gray eyes, “what can be concealed under a sweatshirt and baggy pants. . . . What’s this?” He waved the paper idly, his eyes still appraising her.

  “My resignation.” Placing her palms on the desk, she leaned forward and prepared to give vent to her emotions. “And now that I am no longer in your employ, Mr. Reynolds, it’ll give me a great deal of pleasure to tell you what I think. You are,” she began as his brow rose at her tone, “a dictatorial, capitalistic opportunist. You’ve bought an inn which has for generations maintained its reputation for quality and personal service, and in order to make a few more annual dollars, you plan to turn it into a live-in amusement park. In doing so, you will not only have to let the current staff go, some of whom have worked here for twenty years, but you’ll succeed in destroying the integrity of the entire district. This is not your average tourist town, it’s a quiet, settled community. People come here for fresh air and quiet, not for a brisk tennis match or to sweat in a sauna, and—”

  “Are you finished, Miss Clark?” Taylor questioned. Instinctively she recognized the danger in his lowered tones.

  “No.” Mustering her last resources of courage, she set her shoulders and sent him a lethal glare. “Go soak in your Jacuzzi!”

  On her heel, she spun around and made for the door only to find her back pressed into it as she was whirled back into the room.

  “Miss Clark,” Taylor began, effectively holding her prisoner by leaning over her, arms at either side of her head. “I permitted you to clear your system for two reasons. First, you’re quite a fabulous sight when your temper’s in full gear. I noticed that even when I took you for a rude teenager. A lot of it has to do with your eyes going from mist to smoke, it’s very impressive. That, of course,” he added as she stared up at him, unable to form a sound, “is strictly on a personal level. Now on a professional plane, I am receptive to your opinions, if not to your delivery.”

  Abruptly, the door swung open, dislodging B.J. and tumbling her into a hard chest. “We found Julius’s lunch,” Eddie announced cheerfully and disappeared.

  “You have a very enthusiastic staff,” Taylor commented dryly as his arms propped her up against him. “Who the devil is Julius?”

  “He’s Mrs. Frank’s Great Dane. She doesn’t . . . she won’t go anywhere without him.”

  “Does he have his own room?” His tone was gently mocking.

  “No, he has a small run in the back.”

  Taylor smiled suddenly, his face close to hers. Power shot through her system like a bolt of electricity down a lightning rod. With a jerk, she pulled away and pushed at her tumbled hair.

  “Mr. Reynolds,” she began, attempting to retrieve her all too elusive dignity. He claimed her hand and pulled her back toward the desk, then pushed her firmly down on the chair.

  “Do be quiet, Miss Clark,” he told her in easy tones, settling behind the desk. “It’s my turn now.” She stared with a melding of astonishment and indignation.

  “What I ultimately do with this inn is my decision. However, I will consider your opinion as you are intimate with this establishment and with the area and I, as yet, am not.” Lifting B.J.’s resignation, Taylor tore it in half and dropped the pieces on the desk.

  “You can’t do that,” she sputtered.

  “I have just done it.” The mild tone vibrated with authority.

  B.J.’s eyes narrowed. “I can easily write another.”

  “Don’t waste your paper,” he advised, leaning back in his chair. “I have no intention of accepting your resignation at the moment. Later, I’ll let you know. However,” he added slowly, shrugging, “if you insist, I shall be forced to close down the inn for the next few months until I’ve found someone to replace you.”

  “It couldn’t possibly take months to replace me,” B.J. protested, but he was looking up at the ceiling as though lost in thought.

  “Six months perhaps.”

  “Six months?” she frowned. “But you can’t. We have reservations, it’s nearly the summer season. All those people can’t be disappointed. And the staff—the staff would be out of work.”

  “Yes.” With an agreeable smile, he nodded and folded his hands on the desk.

  Her eyes widened. “But—that’s blackmail!”

  “I think that term is quite correct.” His amusement increased. “You catch on very quickly, Miss Clark.”

  “You can’t be serious. You,” she sputtered. “You wouldn’t actually close the inn just because I quit.”

  “You don’t know me well enough to be sure, do you?” His eyes were unfathomable and steady. “Do you want to chance it?”

  Silence hung for a long moment, each measuring the other. “No,” B.J. finally murmured, then repeated with more strength, “No, blast it, I can’t!? You know that already. But I certainly don’t understand why.”

  “You don’t have to know why,” he interrupted with an imperious gesture of his hand.

  Sighing, B.J. struggled not to permit temper to rule her tongue again. “Mr. Reynolds,” she began in what she hoped was a reasonable tone, “I don’t know why you find it so important for me to remain as manager of the inn, but—”

  “How old are you, Miss Clark?” He cut her off again. She stared in perplexed annoyance.

  “I hardly see . . .”

  “Twenty, twenty-one?”

  “Twenty-four,” B.J. corrected, inexplicably compelled to defend herself. “But I don’t see what that has to do with anything.”

  “Twenty-four,” he repeated, obviously concluding she had finished one sentence and that was sufficient. “Chronologically, I have eight years on you, and professionally quite a bit more. I opened my first hotel when you were still leading cheers at Lakeside High.”

  “I never led cheers at Lakeside High,” she said coldly.

  “Be that as it may—” he gently inclined his head “—the arithmetic remains the same. My reason for wanting you to remain in your current position at the inn is quite simple. You know the staff, the clientele, the suppliers and so forth . . . during this transition period I need your particular expertise.”

  “All right, Mr. Reynolds.” B.J. relaxed slightly, feeling the conversation had leveled off to a more professional plane. “But you should be aware, I will give you absolutely no cooperation in changing any aspect which I feel affects the inn’s personality. In point of fact, I will do my best to be uncooperative.”

  “I’m sure you’re quite skillful at that,” Taylor said easily. B.J. was unsure whether the smile in his eyes was real or in her imagination. “Now that we understand each other, Miss Clark, I’d like to see the place and get an idea of how you run things. I should be fairly well briefed in two weeks.”

  “You can’t possibly understand all I’ve been trying to tell you in that amount of time.”

  “I make up my mind quickly,” he told her. Smiling, he studied her face. “When something’s mine, I know what to do with it.” His smile widened at her frown, and he rose. “If you want the inn to remain as is, you’d best stick around and make your sales pitch.” Taking her arm, he hauled her up from the chair. “Let’s take a look around.”

  With all the warmth of a January sky, B.J. took Taylor on a tour of the first floor, describing storage closets in minute detail. Throughout, he kept a hand firmly on her arm as if to remind her of his authority. The continued contact made her vaguely uneasy. His scent was musky and essentially male and he moved with a casualness which she felt was deceptive. His voice rolled deep and smooth, and several times, she found herself listening more to its cadence than to his words. Annoyed, she added to the layers of frost coating her tone.

  It would be easier, she decided, if he were short and balding with a generous middle, or, perhaps, if he had a
sturdy mole on his left cheek and a pair of chins. It’s absolutely unfair for a man to look the way he does and have to fight him, she thought resentfully.

  “Have I lost you, Miss Clark?”

  “What?” Looking up, she collected her wits, inwardly cursing him again for possessing such dark, magnetic eyes. “No, I was thinking perhaps you’d like lunch.” A very good improvisation, she congratulated herself.

  “Fine.” Agreeably, he allowed her to lead the way to the dining room.

  It was a basic, rustic room, large and rectangular with beamed ceilings and