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Stupid skiing accident.
He'd unknowingly skied over a patch of hidden ice and had catapulted into a tree. He supposed he ought to be thankful that his injuries weren't any worse than a broken leg and a slight concussion; but at the moment, he didn't feel very blessed.
The whole incident still frustrated him every time he thought about it—which was every time he tried to move.
Growing up in the Rocky Mountains, he'd been skiing almost as long as he'd been walking. Didn't it just figure that the one day a year he allowed himself some downtime to get away from the lodge and pursue an activity he was passionate about, he had to go and get hurt.
Even without his injury, he was already angry at himself for taking time off at all, what with the recent fire that had laid waste to the day care on Morning-way Lodge property. Pop and Nate, Vince's interfering younger brother, had ganged up on him, insisting he not cancel his plans.
So much for heeding Nate's advice, he thought sardonically. Ever since they were children, Nate had always managed to get Vince into trouble, yet another instance of an entire lifetime of strife between him and his brother.
Vince was still frowning when the bell over the front door suddenly rang out. He glanced up, adjusted his rectangular black glasses and pasted a polite smile on his face. No matter how out of sorts he was, he still had a job to do. People depended on him, and no matter how he felt, he would not let them down.
A petite redhead whisked in and delicately stamped her feet on the mat just inside the front door, then brushed her free hand down her slim blue skirt. In her other arm she firmly clutched a black leather satchel. She was wearing some kind of spiky high-heeled shoes, which Vince privately thought wasn't the best idea, given that there were several inches of snow on the ground.
What kind of woman made such an obviously foolish judgment call? Either she was brand-new to Colorado, or simply too stubborn to give up her heels for something practical. If he'd had to guess, based on the determined look in her eyes, Vince would have to go with the latter.
"It's freezing outside," she commented as she tossed her mop of unruly, shoulder-length red curls with a tart flip of her chin. She had large, copper-penny eyes and an engaging smile, and she carried such an aura of untapped energy about her in the way she moved that she made him tired just watching her.
After she was satisfied she'd removed all the snow from her shoes, she glided toward the desk, so lightly that it seemed to Vince her feet barely touched the ground, and yet her riotous curls continued to bounce around her shoulders.
"I'm Melanie Frazer."
Her smile widened, if that were possible, showing two perfectly straight, dazzling lines of white teeth. A Garfield grin, Vince thought; a smile that was at once so confident and friendly that it lit up the entire room, but which carried just the slightest hint of mischief. She thrust her hand forward to shake his, and then pursed her lips thoughtfully as her gaze dropped to his crutches.
All at once, she scrunched up her face so that the freckles brushing her nose and cheeks seemed to dance and snatched her hand back before Vince had the chance to move at all, much less make any kind of awkward attempt to shake hands with her, given his crutches.
"Sorry. I didn't realize you " She let the rest of her sentence drop off as her brow knit even further. "I imagine it's probably difficult for you to shake hands with anybody right now."
It was an obvious statement, but also a thoughtful one, Vince thought. Most people wouldn't have considered how unwieldy his crutches made his movements, especially ones that required the use of his hands.
Or walking, but that was a different matter. He hoped he wouldn't have to embarrass himself by hobbling around where she could see it, given how clumsy he was with the clutches. Whatever the learning curve was on these things, it was too high for Vince.
The woman shrugged, almost as if she'd been reading his thoughts. As quickly as her disconcerted expression had appeared, it was gone in a blink; replaced by the same pretty smile she'd shown him earlier, so honest and genuine that it reached her lustrous eyes.
"Melanie Frazer," she repeated, emphasizing each syllable slightly, as if he were hard of hearing. Her right eyebrow lifted and lowered. She was staring intently at him, clearly expecting
He didn't know what she wanted. Or who she was, for that matter, although she clearly thought he should.
He'd already checked the register for guests arriving today, and her name wasn't on it. She could be a passing traveler who mistook the lodge for a bed and breakfast, which happened from time to time, but Vince didn't think so. He had the impression that maybe she was about to attempt to sell him something, although she had offered no more than her name.
"BBS. Boulder Business Services?" she prompted.
Vince shook his head, but Melanie's statement reaffirmed his notion that she was some sort of salesperson. However, she wasn't acting like this was a cold call. She was clearly under the impression that he should know what she was talking about, but he didn't have a clue. As far as he could recall, he had never heard of her company before.
It occurred to him that someone at some other lodge might be waiting for her. In her defense, there were several establishments tucked along the highway, although most of them were closer to Estes Park.
Still, it was a stretch to believe she'd made such an error, given the fact that Morningway Lodge wasn't exactly right off the highway. More like off-off, built privately, farther into the woods. And she was acting so completely and utterly sure of herself that Vince wondered if his own judgment was a little off-kilter.
He shook his head again. "I'm sorry. I really don't know who."
She leveled her gaze at him and cut him off. "The sign outside says Morningway Lodge." She indicated the direction with a tiny jerk of her chin.
"And you are Vincent Morningway."
It wasn't a question, but he nodded anyway.
"Perfect," she said, nodding back at him and placing her hands palms down on the front desk. "Then I'm definitely in the right place."
Vince adjusted his weight on his crutches and leaned back. He had the oddest impression that she was invading his personal space, even though all five feet three inches of her was still standing on the opposite side of the counter. This had to be the most unusual conversation he'd ever had, and it was definitely the most remarkable. To say he was confused would have been an understatement.
The bell rang again, crashing into Vince's thoughts. His gaze automatically flashed toward the front door. His younger brother, Nate, burst through, his face flushed from the cold bite of the outdoor air and his breath heaving as if he'd been running.
"Ms. Frazer," he stated, jogging up to Melanie. "I'm Nate Morningway. And I'm so sorry that I'm late."
The man who approached Melanie was clearly military—or rather, ex-military, as his hair was growing out and he had a day's worth of stubble on his cheeks. He looked years younger than Vince, although the two were clearly related, both with strong, chiseled facial features, firm jaws and similar muscular builds.
Nate reached for her hand and pumped it vigorously.
"Gracie—that's my baby girl—apparently took my car keys off the table when I wasn't looking." He grinned self-deprecatingly. He seemed to be the type of man who relied upon his inherent charm to get him where he needed to go. Not like his brother, Vince, who, even upon their short acquaintance, struck Melanie as somewhat stiff and unyielding.
"I guess I left the keys too close to the edge," Nate continued. "I looked for them, but for all I know, they're in the bottom of Gracie's toy box. Anyway, I finally gave up the search and decided to jog over to meet you. It's only a mile or so."
Melanie chuckled, half at the humorous story Nate was relating, and half in relief that someone actually knew who she was and, by extension—hopefully—why she was here. Vince's bewilderment and the odd way he had reacted when she'd mentioned her name and the company she worked for had thrown her off a little bit.
"I'm the guy who hired you," Nate explained.
"My file says my services are for Vincent Morningway," she stated, a little confused.
Her hand tightened on her satchel. She was prepared, as she always was upon embarking on a new project, and she knew she wasn't wrong about this. Vincent Morningway. Morningway Lodge. Built to accommodate families of those recuperating at a nearby physical rehabilitation hospital, she recalled from the research she'd done.
"Yes," Nate agreed easily, and then poked a thumb toward Vince. "That's him. Vince Morningway—my older brother," he said in a teasing tone of voice.
"Vince," Nate continued as a formal introduction, "this is Melanie Frazer. She's going to be your new business consultant. She's here to—"
"Excuse me?" Vince interrupted, sounding exasperated. "Give me some frame of reference because I don't know what you're talking about. What did you do this time, Nate?"
At first Melanie thought Vince had taken offense at Nate's off-the-cuff jesting, but upon reflection, she decided it was more than that. Vince's words were no less than an accusation, and sounded strained and harassed. Melanie's gaze immediately switched to his direction.
Vince was glaring daggers at his brother, and the muscle in the corner of his jaw twitched rhythmically, a probable indication that he was genuinely annoyed with Nate.
"What did you do this time?" Vince demanded.
For some reason Vince's change in demeanor struck Melanie as odd and out of character for him. It was a complete turnaround from her initial assessment. He'd appeared fatigued, maybe, but not cross. He'd been perfectly polite with her, and his gaze was kind.
As was her habit—possibly a bad one—she had already formed an opinion about the man she'd be working with. She'd had too much personality profiling training, she supposed.
The first thing she'd noticed when she'd entered the lodge was how endearingly disheveled Vince looked. Although his smile was strained at the corners, his bright blue eyes were clear and friendly. His sports coat was several years out of style, and his hair looked like he'd combed it with a firecracker.
Dark brown hair tumbled over his brow, and Melanie noted the single streak of silver coursing through it, a telltale sign as to how stressed and overworked the man really was; that, and the lines of fatigue that marred his brow, only slightly concealed by his rectangular black-rimmed glasses, probably the only contemporary piece of his entire wardrobe.
Still, he was a good-looking guy, all things being equal. And if nothing else, his currently tousled appearance was a clear indication of how useful her services could be for him—or rather, for Morningway Lodge.
"I can help you," she assured him.
Obviously his younger brother thought as much, or he would never have hired her. Vince simply didn't yet comprehend what her business could do for his business. In her experience, a few simple changes in one's business practices could translate to a substantial savings in both time and money—the investors', the family's bottom line.
On BBS's intake form for Morningway Lodge, presumably filled out by his brother, she'd discovered that Vince didn't use a computer—for anything. Not even his financials. Given that information, she guessed he probably didn't even know what a smartphone was, never mind how to use it to improve his business practices. Talk about the dark ages.
"This is going to be good for you," Nate insisted, and Melanie had to agree.
Melanie was about to spread some serious light into Vince's world, like the sunshine breaking through the clouds after a storm. All it would take her was six short weeks and a little cooperation from Vince.
Mentally, she ticked off the most crucial items, knowing she would make copious to-do lists as soon as she'd taken a real look around, her being a perfectionist and all. She would organize his workspace and streamline his paperwork, mostly onto computer spreadsheets, saving him an enormous amount of time in the long run. She would show him how to enter his financials on a computer, giving him greater accuracy as well as saving him time. If she thought it would help him, she'd introduce him to a smartphone, or at least a digital organizer.
"I'm not inclined to anger," Vince said, his brow furrowed. He wasn't going to make this easy for her, but tough cases were her specialty.
She sighed inwardly. She suspected Nate had sprung this idea on Vince with no forewarning, and she couldn't blame him for his annoyance and confusion.
That being said, she could do without the extra hassle of trying to justify what she was here to do for him, or else face the serious possibility of losing this account entirely—not a good way to get a promotion in her company.
Patience wasn't exactly one of her virtues. She wasn't the type to sit still and wait, especially with a very attractive promotion—which she'd worked hard for—just one project away.