Valentine's Day at a family-run hotel in the gorgeous Lake District is causing problems for Harriet...
Harriet’s life is chaotic.
She’s lucky if she catches a rare glimpse of her husband as they pass in the kitchen, they’re both working so hard. When Ollie had taken over the running of the family business the Country Oaks, a seen-better-days hotel in the picturesque Lake District, it had turned their lives upside down.
Now, fighting to keep the place from financial ruin takes all the time and energy they can muster.
And don’t even get her started on her anxiety-inducing teenage daughter who wants to go to the college Valentine’s Day dance with the local bad boy.
When Harriet accidentally pokes a handsome stranger in the eye with her umbrella and has to rush him off to get medical help, she finds herself spending more and more time with him. He’s funny, charming and attentive, everything her husband Ollie used to be… and Harriet feels her life starting to spiral out of control.
As the Country Oaks prepares for a hectic Valentine’s weekend, packed with loved-up guests, Harriet and Ollie are forced to face the realities of their life, their marriage and their future together.
Can they rekindle the romance or has the spark fizzled out and died, never to be lit again?
SPECIAL BONUS CONTENT
You’ll also receive:
· * Four short stories with romance at their heart.
· * Exclusive sneak peek extracts from four romantic comedy novels by Zanna Mackenzie.
· * PLUS – a FREE romantic mystery book
All of this for just 99p/99c!
Alexa polished off the last bit of her muffin. “So, what are your plans for Valentine’s Day then?”
“I’ll be working, while Ollie attempts to charm about forty women,” Harriet replied, her own chocolate chip muffin untouched on her plate. She’d lost her appetite lately.
“Forty eh?” Alexa giggled. “That’s ambitious even for Ollie.”
“I don’t mind. It’s part of his job.”
“Say that as if you mean it,” Alexa challenged. She looked closely at Harriet as she sipped her coffee. “Things are okay with you and Ollie, aren’t they?”
Harriet sighed, pushing a lock of hair out of her eyes. An appointment with the hairdresser to tidy up her unruly auburn tresses was long overdue, but she never had the time - or the money - for such luxuries. “Sometimes,” she paused, choosing her words carefully. “Mostly, I feel as though I’m there purely to be a stand-in for the staff when they phone in sick; to sort the hotel accounts out, oh, and to cook dinner for everyone. I wonder if my husband actually remembers I’m his wife, not just another employee.”
“You guys have been working like crazy since you took on the hotel from his parents,” Alexa reasoned. “It must be tough.”
“I’m used to us both working long hours, it goes with the territory in the hospitality industry, but lately Ollie starts at about five in the morning and finally collapses into bed at around midnight. I’m worried about him. I’m also…” she paused, wondering if she dare admit to what had been on her mind more and more often since Christmas. The full extent of her concerns about her marriage.
“Also what?” prompted Alexa.
Harriet stared out across the lake, today it was shrouded in mist and drizzly rain. She loved the Lake District and had been thrilled to move here from the grit and grime of Manchester when Ollie had taken on his parents’ hotel just over a year ago. Even if it had meant they’d had to sell their gorgeous home and move into the less than salubrious three bedroom flat on the top floor of the hotel.
Alexa reached her hand across the table and placed it on top of Harriet’s. “You know you can tell me anything, but if you aren’t ready to talk, then I understand.”
“I am worried about our marriage, truth be told,” Harriet replied quietly, picking at the edge of a table napkin. “We’ve always done okay in our relationship despite the unsocial hours we’ve both worked. Even when I took time off to raise the girls, we still somehow managed to find time for each other. We talked, we laughed… we kissed. Nowadays, we don’t do any of those things, and I miss them. I miss Ollie. I miss the man I married. I know the responsibility of running the hotel weighs heavily on his shoulders, it does on mine too. It’s a lot of pressure, taking on the business your parents built from nothing.”
Alexa let out a long breath, puffing her fringe out of her eyes. “Have you said anything about all of this to Ollie?”
Harriet shook her head. “No. He’s got so much on at the moment. He looks tired and harassed enough as it is, and I don’t want to add to his already sky-high stress levels.”
“Even so, if you’re worried you should try to…”
“Look, forget I said anything.” Harriet waved a hand in an attempt to end their conversation. “Ignore me. It’s my imagination getting carried away with itself, that’s all. We’ll be fine. It’s one of those phases. Every marriage goes through them.”
“It’ll just be from all the demands of the hotel, he’ll be exhausted. You know how he is. You two will be fine. I’m certain of it.”
“Of course, you’re right.” Harriet nodded and forced a smile. “I’m being silly. I’ll try to persuade him to take an hour for dinner one night soon. I’ll cook something special for us. Imogen is often out with friends straight from college most nights, so it will just be the two of us, the perfect chance to sit down and properly catch up with each other.
“Brilliant idea. You make sure you do that,” Alexa said sternly. “So, going back to your earlier comment about the forty women Ollie will have to charm on Valentine’s Day, I’m presuming you have forty couples booked into the hotel restaurant and he’ll be dishing out the red roses to all the ladies, along with that winning smile of his?”
“Got it in one. With Valentine’s Day falling on a Wednesday this year most people have booked to celebrate on the preceding weekend. Which does mean there’s the slimmest chance Ollie and I might even manage a rushed romantic meal ourselves up in the flat on the big day itself. I’ve got my fingers crossed!”
“Do not take no for an answer. Even if you end up eating at midnight,” Alexa said before getting to her feet. “Sorry, sweetie but I have to get going, lots of errands to sort before I head back to the office.”
Glamourous Alexa ran her own recruitment agency providing temporary staff to local hoteliers. The two women had met at a parish council meeting not long after Harriet and Ollie had moved to the tourist hotspot of Allithwaite and they’d instantly become firm friends.
“No worries. I need to get moving and call in at the visitor information centre on my way back to the hotel to drop off some more leaflets,” replied Harriet, hugging her friend goodbye. “They rang us to say they’d run out and wanted a new supply.”
The visitor information centre was packed to the rafters with people seeking advice on what to do on a rainy February day in the Lake District. Parents with fractious children were perusing the display racks of leaflets in search of places with the potential to keep their offspring amused. Harriet quickly dropped off the hotel’s leaflets with Susie, the young girl who was on duty, and headed for the door, finger poised on the button of her umbrella, ready to click it open as soon as she stepped out into the now-torrential rain. A woman with a double pushchair tried to negotiate the doors at the same time and the buggy rammed into the back of Harriet’s heels. Pain ripped through her leg and foot and she stumbled forward, off balance, her hand slipping on the button and the umbrella springing open in the cramped vestibule.
At first Harriet thought it was her own cry but swiftly realised it was a male voice yelping in pain close by. She turned to spot a man clutching at his right eye, doubled over in discomfort. Quickly, she closed the errant umbrella and dropped it to the floor, realising its impromptu opening must have poked this poor guy in the eye.
“Oh no!” she gasped, racing to his side, hand to her mouth. “Are you all right?”
The man muttered something under his breath she didn’t hear and suspected it wouldn’t be a good idea to ask him to repeat. She took him by the arm and led him back into the centre towards a bank of chairs out of the way of the miserable, rain-soaked tourists.
“Sit down and let me take a look at your eye,” she commanded.
He did as instructed and she reached for his hand, gently pulling it away from his face.
“My umbrella really did get you, didn’t it?” She winched. “Your eye is all bloodshot and watering quite badly. Let me get you to the doctors. It could be iritis.”
The man managed a weak laugh. “Iritis? You just made that up. There’s no such thing.”
“I promise you, I didn’t make it up. Are you a local? I’m sorry, I don’t recognise your face. Are you here on holiday? I think the doctor’s surgery keep a few slots open for visitors who aren’t registered and just here on vacation and get ill or injured.”
“I’ve recently become a local again,” he replied, covering his eye with his hand and grimacing again. “I grew up around here and moved back a few weeks ago.”
“Okay. Are you registered with the health clinic in town yet?”
“Right, we’re off to the doctors with you then, are you all right to walk?”
“Honestly, I’m fine, there’s no need for the doctors,” he protested and leaned back in the chair, resting his head against the wall. “You could make up for injuring me by taking me out to dinner one night this week though.”
Harriet found herself smiling at his cheek and his bravado. “I’d say that’s flattering, but as you can only see with one eye at the moment, maybe it isn’t quite so flattering after all. Plus, I happen to be a married woman.” For a second she wondered why she hadn’t said she was a happily married woman. Slip of the tongue that was all.
He looked her up and down through his one good eye and replied, “I can see you perfectly well, but I confess I hadn’t spotted the fact you’re wearing a wedding ring. Sorry if I offended you.”
She smiled. It actually felt rather nice to be noticed by somebody, flattering, even if it was a total stranger. “Forget about it. It’s fine. Right, I’m taking you to the doctors, and no arguing.”
He got to his feet and swayed alarmingly.
“Steady on!” Harriet reached for his arm and peered nervously at him. “Do you feel dizzy?”
“A little,” he admitted. “My eye is throbbing like crazy. Maybe you’re right and I’d best get it seen to.”
Linking her arm through his so she could ensure he didn’t topple over, she said, “Let’s go. Now.”
Want to read more? Fantastic!