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Rachel Hampton stood on the dark country road where, seven months ago, she'd nearly died. The dog pressed against her leg, shivering a little, either from the cold of the December evening or because he sensed her fear.
No, not fear. That would be ridiculous. It had been an accident, at least partially her fault for jogging along remote Crossings Road in the dark. She'd thought herself safe enough on the berm of the little-used gravel road, wearing a pale jacket with reflective stripes that should have been apparent to any driver.
Obviously it hadn't been. He'd come around the bend too fast, his lights blinding her when she'd glanced over her shoulder. But now she was over it, she
Her heart pumped into overdrive. The roar of a motor, lights reflected from the trees. A car was coming. He wouldn't see her. She'd be hit again, thrown into the air, helpless
She grabbed Barney's collar and stumbled back into the pines, pulse pounding, a sob catching in her throat as she fought to control the panic.
But the car was slowing, stopping. The driver's-side window slid smoothly down.
"Excuse me." A male voice, deep and assured. "Can you tell me how to get to Three Sisters Inn?"
How nice of him to ignore the fact that she'd leaped into the bushes when she heard him coming. She disentangled her hair from the long needles of a white pine and moved toward him.
"You've missed the driveway," she said. "This is a back road that just leads to a few isolated farms." She approached the car with Barney, Grams's sheltie, close by her side. "If you back up a bit, you can turn into a farm lane that will take you to the inn parking lot."
He switched on the dome light, probably to reassure her. Black hair and frowning brows over eyes that were a deep, deep blue, a pale-gray sweater over a dress shirt and dark tie, a glint of gold from the watch on his wrist, just visible where his hand rested on the steering wheel. He didn't look like a tourist, come to gawk at theAmish farmers or buy a handmade quilt. The briefcase and laptop that rested on the passenger seat indicated that.
"You're sure the proprietor won't mind my coming in that way?"
She smiled. "The proprietor would be me, and I don't mind at all. I'm Rachel Hampton. You must be Mr. Dunn." Since she and Grams expected only one visitor, that wasn't hard to figure out.
"Tyler Dunn. Do you want a lift?"
"Thanks, but it's not far. Besides, I have the dog." And I don't get into a car with a stranger, even if he does have a reservation at the inn.
Maybe it was her having come so close to death that had blunted her carefree ways. Either that or the responsibility of starting the bed-and-breakfast on a shoestring had forced her to grow up. No more drifting from job to job, taking on a new restaurant each time she became bored. She was settled now, and it was up to her to make a success of this.
She stepped back, still holding Barney's collar despite his wiggling, and waited until the car pulled into the lane before following it to the shortcut. She'd walked down the main road, the way the car had come, but this was faster. She gestured Dunn to a parking space in the gravel pull-off near the side door to the inn.
He stepped out, shrugging into a leather jacket, and stood looking up at the inn. It was well worth looking at, even on a cold December night. Yellow light gleamed from the candles they'd placed in every one of the many nine-paned windows. Security lights posted on the outbuildings cast a pale-golden glow over the historic Federal-style sandstone mansion. It had been home to generations of the Unger family before necessity had turned it into the Three Sisters Inn.
Rachel glanced at the man, expecting him to say something. Guests usually sounded awed or at least admiring, at first sight. Dunn just turned to haul his briefcase and computer from the front seat.
Definitely not the typical tourist. What had brought him to the heart of Pennsylvania Dutch country at this time of year? Visiting businessmen, especially those who traveled alone, were more likely to seek out a hotel with wireless connection and fax machines rather than a bed-and-breakfast, no matter how charming.
"May I carry something for you?"
He handed her the computer case. "If you'll take this, I can manage the rest."
The case was heavier than she'd expected, and she straightened, determined not to give in to the limp that sometimes plagued her when she was tiredthe only remaining souvenir of the accident.
Or at least she'd thought that was the only aftereffect, until she'd felt that surge of terror when she'd seen the car. She'd have to work on that.
"This way. We'll go in the side door instead of around to the front, if you don't mind."
A man of few words, apparently. Dog at her heels, she headed for the door, hearing his footsteps behind her. She glanced back. He was taller than she'd realized when he sat in the carhe probably had a good foot on her measly five two, and he moved with a long stride that had him practically on her heels.
She went into the hallway, welcoming the flow of warm air, and on into the library. She didn't usually bring guests in through the family quarters, but it seemed silly to walk around the building just to give him the effect of the imposing front entrance into the high-ceiled center hall. The usual visitor ohhed and ahhed over that. She had a feeling Tyler Dunn wouldn't.
"My grandmother has already gone up to bed." She led the way to the desk. "You'll meet her in the morning at breakfast. We serve from seven-thirty to nine-thirty, but you can make arrangements to have it earlier, if you wish."
He shook his head, glancing toward the glowing embers of the fire she'd started earlier. Grams's favorite chair was drawn up next to the fireplace, and her knitting lay on its arm.
"That's fine. If I can just get signed in now and see my room"
"Of course." Smile, she reminded herself. The customer is always right. She handed him a registration card and a pen, stepping back so that he had room to fill it out.
He bent over, printing the information in quick, black strokes, frowning a little. He looked tired and drawn, she realized, her quick sympathy stirring.
"That's great, thanks." She imprinted the credit card and handed it back to him. "You indicated in your reservation that you weren't sure how long you'd want the room?"
She made it a question, hoping for something a little more definite. With all the work she'd been doing to lure guests for the holiday season, the inn still wasn't booked fully. January and February were bound to be quiet. In order to come out ahead financially, they needed a good holiday season. Her money worries seemed to pop up automatically several times a day.
"I don't know." He almost snapped the words. She must have shown a reaction, because almost immediately he gave her a slightly rueful smile. "Sorry. I hope that doesn't inconvenience you, but I have business in the area, and I don't know how long it will take."
"Not at all." The longer she could rent him the room, the better. "Perhaps while you're here, you'll have time to enjoy some of the Christmas festivities. The village is planning a number of events, and of course we're not far from Bethlehem"
"I'm not here for sightseeing." His gaze was on the dying fire, not her, but she seemed to sense him weighing a decision to say more. "That business I spoke ofthere's no reason you'd recognize my name, but I own the property that adjoins yours on one side. The old Hostetler farm."
She blinked. "I didn't realize" She stopped, not sure how to phrase the question. "I thought the property belonged to John Hostetler's daughter."
Who had annoyed the neighbors by refusing to sell the property and neglecting to take proper care of it. The farmhouse and barn had been invaded by vandals more than once, and the thrifty Amish farmers who owned the adjoining land been offended at the sight of a good farm going to ruin.
"My mother," he said shortly. His face drew a bit tighter. "She died recently."
That went a long way toward explaining the tension she felt from him. It didn't excuse his curtness, but made it more understandable. He was still grieving his mother's death and was now forced to deal with the unfinished business she'd left behind.
"I'm so sorry." She reached out impulsively to touch his arm. "You have my sympathy."
He jerked a nod. "I'm here to do something about my grandfather's property. My mother let that slide for too long."
It would be impolite to agree. "I'm sure the neighbors will be glad to help in any way they can. Are you planning to stay?"
"Live there, you mean?" His eyes narrowed. "Certainly not. I expect to sell as soon as possible."
Something new to worry about, as if she didn't have enough already. The best offer for the Hostetler farm might easily come from someone who wanted to put up some obnoxious faux Amish atrocity within sight of the inn.
"That's too bad. It would have been nice to hear that family would be living there again."
She'd made the comment almost at random, but Tyler Dunn's expression suggested that she'd lost her mind.
"I don't know why you'd think that." He bit off the words. "I'm hardly likely to want to live in the house where my grandfather was murdered."
Tyler closed his laptop and glanced at his watch. A little after eighttime for breakfast and another encounter with the Unger family.
He stood, pushing the ladder-back chair away from the small table, which was the only spot in the bedroom where one could possibly use a computer. He must be the first person who'd checked into the Three Sisters Inn for business purposes. Most of the guests would be here to enjoy staying in the elegant mansion, maybe pretending they were living a century ago.
The place looked as if it belonged in a magazine devoted to historic homes. The bedroom, with its canopy bed covered by what was probably an Amish quilt, its antique furniture and deep casement windows, would look right on the cover.
From the window in his room, he had a good view of Churchville's Main Street, which was actually a country route along which the village had been built. The inn anchored the eastern edge of the community, along with the stone church which stood enclosed in its walled churchyard across the street. Beyond, there was nothing but hedgerows and the patchwork pattern of plowed fields and pasture, with barns and silos in the distance.
Looking to the left, he could see the shops and restaurants along Main Street, more than he'd expect given the few blocks of residential properties, but probably the flood of tourism going through town accounted for that. The inn had a desirable position, almost in the country but within easy walking distance of Main Street attractions. It was surprising they weren't busier.
He opened the door. The upstairs landing was quiet, the doors to the other rooms standing open. Obviously, he was the only guest at the moment. Maybe that would make things easier.
Had it been a mistake to come out so bluntly with the fact of his grandfather's murder last night? He wasn't sure, and he didn't like not being sure. He was used to dealing with facts, figures, formulasnot something as amorphous as this.
At least he'd had an opportunity to see Rachel Hampton's reaction. He frowned. Her name might be Hampton, but she was one of the Unger family.
If his mother had been rightbut he couldn't count on that. In any event, he'd understood what she'd wanted of him. The impossible.
He started down the staircase, running his hand along the delicately carved railing. The downstairs hall stretched from front to back of the house. To his right, the door into the library where he'd registered last night was now closed. On his left, a handsome front parlor opened into another parlor, slightly smaller, behind it, both decorated with period furniture.
He headed toward the rear of the building, where Rachel had indicated he'd find the breakfast room. He'd cleared his calendar until the first of the year. If he couldn't accomplish what he planned by then, he'd put his grandfather's farm on the market, go back to his own life and try to forget.
The hallway opened out into a large, rectangular sunroom, obviously an addition to the original house. A wall of windows looked onto a patio and garden, bare of flowers now, but still worth looking at in the shapes of the trees and the bright berries of the shrubs. The long table was set for one.
Voices came from the doorway to the left, obviously the kitchen. He moved quietly toward them.
" if I'd known, maybe I wouldn't have opened my mouth and put my foot in it." Rachel, obviously talking to someone about his arrival. "There was no reason for you to know. You were just a child." An older voice, cultured, restrained. If this woman was hiding something, he couldn't tell.
A pan clattered. "You'd best see if he's coming down, before these sticky buns are cold."
That was his cue, obviously. He moved to the doorway before someone could come out and find him. "I'm here. I wouldn't want to cause a crisis in the kitchen."
"Good morning." The woman who rose from the kitchen table, extending her hand to him, must be Rachel's grandmother. Every bit the grande dame, she didn't look in the least bothered by what he might or might not have overheard. "Welcome to the inn, Mr. Dunn. I'm Katherine Unger."
"Thank you." He shook her hand gently, aware of bones as fine as delicate crystal. The high cheekbones, brilliant blue eyes, and assured carriage might have belonged to a duchess.
Rachel, holding a casserole dish between two oversize oven mitts, had more color in her cheeks than he'd seen the night before, but maybe that was from the heat of the stove.
The third person in the kitchen wore the full-skirted dark dress and apron and white cap of the Amish. She turned away, evading his gaze, perhaps shy of a stranger.