“You’re right. I don’t want to have a somber first date. How about you tell me something fun and silly? What was your first Halloween costume that you begged for, that you loved?”
Gray cracked his neck, rolled his eyes. “I don’t know. You might not want me anymore if I divulge that secret.”
Was he insane? “Trust me.” Ella pointed at the water, now mirroring the streaks of orange and pink in the sky. “I could jump in the forty-five-degree lake right now and still burn for you. No matter what you tell me, I’ll still be ready to knock this table over and jump on you. Just say the word.”
Gray dropped his head, then craned his neck sideways that gave her a flash of the adorable young boy he must’ve been. “Promise not to laugh?”
“No,” she said, already primed to giggle. And glad that he’d so easily rolled out of his pensive mood.
He reached back to retrieve the bottle and top off their glasses. “Come on, if this was a real first date, you wouldn’t laugh at me. You’d be too busy trying to figure out how soon you should slip that sweater off your shoulder. Now’s a good time, by the way. So cut me some slack.”
Happy to oblige, Ella twitched her shoulder and felt the slither of her sweater dip down her arm. “Okay. No laughing. I’ll even put my wine down so I’m not tempted to do a spit-take.”
“Thanks.” After a big sigh, Gray spread his hands. “When I was six or seven, I was Prince Eric from The Little Mermaid. I liked to re-enact that scene where he skewers Ursula with his ship. I wore my black rain boots, jeans, and tied a red sash around my waist.”
Oh. Oh my. It was Fate. Maybe. Maybe she was reading too much into it. But Ella had to tell him. Because this tiny coincidence shook her straight to her core. “I was Ariel. Once as a little kid, and again in high school. I adore that movie.”
“Maybe we’ll have to watch it together one night.” Standing in a half crouch, he leaned over the table to drop a line of kisses along the edge of the shoulder she’d exposed. Moving up to her ear, Gray growled, “Or better yet, pretend to watch it while we neck.”
“I’m good either way.” The tingles running through her weren’t just from his kisses. It was possibility shimmering across her body. They were great together. She and Gray meshed. They challenged each other. Even though she hadn’t admitted it to him yet, they were both crazy for each other. So why not pursue a relationship that lasted past the end of his vacation? Why not make him a permanent part of her world? It wasn’t desperate. It wasn’t irrational. When two people were so perfect for each other, it would be foolish not to find a way to stay together. Ella just had to figure out how to make it happen. And she had absolutely no idea where to start.
Ella Mayhew’s always appreciated the beautiful view of Seneca Lake from the spa window of her family’s hotel. But the view improves dramatically when a hot stranger runs across the grounds—shirtless. He’s the first man to kickstart her hormones in the three years since she lost her parents, and she doesn’t even know his name.
Graydon Locke’s on his umpteenth undercover assignment. The routine’s always the same: assess a business, recommend it for closure, then roll out before anyone discovers his decisions impact hundreds of lives. He’s always believed nothing good comes out of small towns. Why would this one be different? Then he makes two classic rookie mistakes—falling for the sweet, sexy girl who owns the very business he’s on the verge of axing. And letting the town’s residents get involved in both his life, and his relationship with Ella.
Ella’s the best thing to ever happen to Gray, but he’s lied to her from the start. If he pulls the plug on Mayhew Manor, the entire town may crumble. Ella couldn’t save her parents, but it’s up to her to save their hotel. Even if that means turning her back on true love.