Welcome to Heywood, Oregon where three lost women find healing, hope and love under the bright light of the town's old Star Inn this Christmas season.
Amanda Star’s father always wanted her to come into the family business, and run the majestic old Star Inn with him but she had bigger plans. She’s a high-powered executive in the multi-national Halston hotel chain. One more promotion—which she expects to get by Christmas—will make her the youngest vice president in Halston history and she’s got her sights set on the CEO job.
Then she inherits the Star Inn. With no time to be away from her job, she impatiently rushes home to list the beautiful old bed and breakfast for sale. Now that she’s here she’s swamped with sweet memories and keen regret. Her father has made the inn a safe haven where weary travelers can get away from their hectic lives, and Amanda, working 10-hour days and living on coffee and antacids, desperately needs that safe haven.
As Amanda struggles against the lure of home, she also is reunited with an old classmate: Anthony Carter, a handyman with a guarded heart. Hurt before by a woman who saw his contentment and pleasure in building and living on his own land as a lack of ambition, Cart reluctantly finds himself drawn to a woman who wants so much more than a man with callused hands and sawdust in his hair. A woman who came home for Christmas and badly needs to stay. With the help of Angel Rafferty, the front desk clerk and a lifelong friend of Amanda’s parents, can Cart help Amanda realize the hospitality industry is far more than spreadsheets and bottom lines in time for Christmas?
About the Author
Mary Connealy writes fun and lively "romantic comedy with cowboys" for the inspirational market. She is also a bestselling author of full-length book series including: Wild at Heart, Trouble in Texas, Kincaid Brides, and Sophie's Daughters. Mary is a RITA and Christy Award finalist and a two time winner of the Carol Award.
Read an Excerpt
Room at the Inn for Christmas
By Mary Connealy
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2016 Mary Connealy
All rights reserved.
Star Inn Bed & Breakfast
Thursday, December 22
Getting to Heywood, Oregon, from Los Angeles by plane had taken so long with plane delays and a layover that Amanda Star could have almost driven. But flying seemed faster ... and Amanda's life was all about faster.
She snapped a glance at the time on her iPhone. "Eight p.m. A wasted day."
Snow fluttered down, fat flakes that flashed in swooping arcs into her headlights. The wintery beauty tugged at her. She hadn't seen a single flake where she lived in LA and she missed it. But instead of letting the pleasure of it seep in, she told herself she was glad she hadn't had to worry about winter weather anymore. And thank heavens she'd flown, so she was only on the road for an hour.
Not that the roads were particularly bad. The blizzard that had swept through the area in the last few days had left deep drifts, but the roads and streets had been scraped and salted.
She pulled her rental car into Heywood. It was a week before Christmas, and the quaint little town looked like a Thomas Kinkade painting. Warm, snowy, welcoming. The town square trees were covered with white twinkle lights that turned it into a Christmas wonderland. Her breath caught at the sight of the gazebo. It was lined with lights, all beautiful, gleaming white. It was so familiar.
Four long years since she'd been home. She didn't want it to be as charming as she'd remembered.
And there it was. Her breath caught again.
It shone from the spire above the turret year-round, but right now, with the whole town decorated for Christmas, the glow was spiritual, like a star in the East.
A guiding light, leading her home. Leading her to the Star Inn.
Her last trip home had been Christmas her senior year of college. The year her father had made it very clear Heywood was her past, not her future. Then she'd taken the job in LA, and from then on when she got lonely for her father he'd come to her. She'd never been welcomed home again. There's nothing for you in Heywood, her father's long-ago words whirled through her mind as her rental car approached the old inn.
Her eyes slid down from that bright star to the beautiful front porch, rich with evergreen swags and red bows. Candles shone in the windows.
She'd grown up in that huge, lovely house. A blessed childhood where she felt like the princess in a castle. And then she'd left, and never come back.
And she wouldn't be here now if she could have avoided it.
Amanda parked on the street, already calculating how to cut the length of her stay at the Star Inn. She was pushing her luck being gone from work this long, especially with a move into the corporate offices waiting in the wings. It was Thursday night. She'd get everything done tomorrow, then leave Saturday morning. The Beverly Halston Hotel was always short staffed on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, so she'd be needed at work.
Knowing that a promotion awaited her back in California helped her fight down any old sentiment. She stepped out of the rented Lexus and buttoned her cashmere Burberry trench coat. For a second a wave of embarrassment washed over her. She'd definitely dressed in her best big-city clothes.
She'd wanted to show everyone she'd made it. Vera Wang caramel wool pants and a silk blouse in the same shade, which brought out the freshly updated lowlights in her blond hair. Gucci boots just a shade darker than her clothes, and a purse to match. She'd shopped hard to find boots that didn't have three-inch heels because that made her six one and she didn't like towering over people, although this once, for her visit home, it might've been okay. She didn't worry much about ice in Southern California. But she knew she might be walking on snowy sidewalks up here in Oregon. She held the lapels of her coat's collar closed, not so much to ward off the chill of the weather as to ward off the chill of dread.
She left her Louis Vuitton luggage in the car and pressed the lock button. Most people didn't even lock their cars up here, or at least they hadn't used to. But it was a habit from her years in the big city.
She stiffened her spine and studied the inn, fighting the allure of that wide front porch; its railings, all lit up, seemed to be arms welcoming her home. There were lights on behind the windows of the grand front entrance, framed by a porch that wrapped all the way around the old Victorian mansion.
Her nerves were so bad her hand went unerringly to the bottle of antacids in her purse. A roll didn't get her through the day, so she'd taken to carrying a whole bottle. She popped one and swore off coffee — for the fourth time this week — then forced herself to think of her other life. Her real life.
She'd walked away from a backbreaking workload in LA managing the Halston Beverly Hotel; now as she walked up the stairs she forced her eyes away from the inn and checked her phone for messages — there were a bunch of them. Three minor fires had sprung up in the eight hours since she'd been gone. Their head chef had cut his hand badly and the staff was scrambling to replace him. A concert, canceled when the lead singer was arrested, had been delayed and the whole band and their entourage, which took up an entire wing of the top floor, demanded they be allowed to stay an extra day. A billionaire's daughter had shown up demanding a room in the fully booked hotel, and when she'd been turned away she'd threatened them with Daddy's lawyers. There were feathers that needed smoothing on all fronts.
Amanda reached for the front doorknob without really seeing it. As she swung wide the mansion door, the scent of evergreen and cinnamon was the first thing she noticed. It drew her eyes up from her phone. She saw the magnificent oak registration desk and the towering Christmas tree flanking it on the left, blazing with lights. Memories broke over her like waves, until she thought they might send her to her knees.
Her phone slipped back into her purse as she went on a journey back in time.
"It's Christmas at Star Inn." She breathed the words into the huge entry that rose two full stories. Closing the door to keep out the cold, she stood and soaked in every familiar detail.
She was ten when Dad and Mom finally allowed her to run the beautiful golden-oak registration desk. To Amanda's left was a majestic Christmas tree. As always, it reached the railing on the second floor. With a pang, she remembered as a child going out to the tree farm every year with her father and picking the biggest, bushiest tree they could find. It glittered with white lights and was hung until every inch of the tree was covered in ribbons and ornaments in the best Victorian over-ornate style. What a celebration they had made of decorating for Christmas every year, and they'd always started with this tree in the front entrance. A bright star glowed at the top. From her earliest memory, it had been Amanda's job to perch it up there. She'd stood on the second floor and reached the treetop easily. Mom and Dad had used the star theme every chance they got.
Amanda let all the old memories soak into her soul. Family and guests, precious ornaments and delicious food. Love — she remembered how much she'd loved the Star Inn all year-round, but especially at Christmas.
The stairway was on her right and more richly scented fresh greenery adorned the banister in a fat garland that draped along the stair railing all the way up, then followed it along the second-floor balcony. From up there, guests could step out of their rooms, gaze down on the foyer and enjoy the decorations and lights. It was especially beautiful at Christmas, but the front entrance to the Star Inn was always lovely.
The desk was unattended — as was often the case. It gave her a bit of time to look around. The beauty of this room eased into her bones and loosened the tension in her shoulders and neck.
Tension so familiar and constant she didn't know she had it until it was gone.
Besides the tree and lights, the entrance sported a collection of Christmas décor that'd been gathered over four lifetimes. How many families had roots that deep? There was Victorian furniture, ornaments and figurines.
Four lifetimes. The number of generations of Stars, her family name, who had owned and operated the Star Inn. Four if you counted her, and maybe she didn't count.
Ignoring the twinge of hurt, salted with grief for her father, she let her gaze trace the lush boughs lining the banister on the elegant stairway that led to the second floor. The pine swag was adorned with bright red ribbons shaped into bows as big as dinner plates, with the long crimson ends trailing down, and shining red balls in clusters of three that looked like overgrown holly berries. She recognized poinsettia leaves and evergreen branches from blue spruce trees, Douglas firs, holly plants, bittersweet, winter berries, boxwood, cedar and the cones from what looked like a ponderosa pine; she knew there were a lot of them around town. She'd helped Mom and Dad gather the cones and adorn the stair railing when she was a kid.
The wide variety of different trees and other plants made the garland look and smell doubly rich. For a treacherous moment she wished she'd been here to help put up the Christmas decorations. It had been a lovely family ritual full of memories and laughter and occasionally a few poignant tears. Who had done it this year? It sure hadn't been a member of her family, because she was the only one left. And the old Victorian mansion was no longer her home. Dad had made that very clear years ago when she'd moved away.
She'd made her choice.
As she unbuttoned her coat and shrugged out of it, she faced the truth — that she had to come back. And she wished like crazy it hadn't been at Christmastime.
She'd come home to his funeral, but Dad had his own arrangements all in order and paid for, right down to the songs they sang at his funeral and the layout of the memorial bulletins. And he'd made sure she knew it. He'd reduced her part of laying her father to rest to that of an observer. Which gave her nothing to distract her from grief.
Amanda had driven in and out the same day, hurting too much to do more than shake a few hands at the graveside and a few more at the church luncheon afterward. It had been all she could do, to attend that luncheon. It was too rude to consider skipping it. But seeing her hometown and old family friends and knowing she didn't belong here had deepened her pain to near torment.
She'd very deliberately taken streets into and out of town that didn't pass the Star Inn.
Most likely everyone in town thought she was an unfeeling, ungrateful, unloving child. It was better than if they knew the truth, that she was devastated beyond any ability to survive well-meaning neighbors.
She hung her coat on the hooks to the side of the front entrance that had been there for three generations. She tucked her gloves into one pocket and her scarf into the other. A habit that stretched back to childhood.
Everything about this place spoke to her of a great family tradition that had faded its way down to one lonely woman. Her.
She had no one here in Heywood. No one anywhere. Every square inch of this house broke her heart. Because from top to bottom it was Dad and Mom, both gone now forever.
There was no one left.
"Mandy! You're home!"
That whirled her around to face the door to her right, just this side of the stairway. It led to the dining room and on to the kitchen and the family living quarters.
"Anthony Carter." She forced a cheerful tone while her stomach did a sickening twist. She'd so hoped she wouldn't see him. Hoped he'd taken a few days off for Christmas. But he was a part-time handyman at the Star and meeting had probably been inevitable. He was just as tall; his angular jaw and straight nose were just as perfect. His eyes were a strong cobalt blue and his shoulders were definitely broader. He'd taken over his father's cattle ranch and Anthony's hours of hard work showed. He had filled out in all the best ways. His dark hair looked like that of a man with little spare time to get regular trims.
Her old high school friend-who-was-not-a-boyfriend. No matter how badly she'd wished he would be.
Until she'd changed her whole life around, a new career goal, a new home.
"Folks call me Cart these days, Mandy." He came straight for her with his perfect smile, a dimple by the corner of his mouth, his blue eyes flashing with such pleasure it was clear he had no idea how terribly he'd hurt her. But then she'd always known that, hadn't she?
She'd never been happier to be on a tight schedule. There would be no time to renew an old acquaintance.
He swept her up in a hug with arms so strong it was impossible not to be impressed. She rested her hands on his shoulders. The soft flannel of his red and green plaid shirt invited her to keep touching. She most certainly did not wrap her arms around him and did her best to keep her smile in place as he swung her in a complete circle.
Her feet touched down.
Keep it light. Keep it cheerful.
She slapped at his shoulders. She had a smile on her face to keep the slap teasing. "Folks call me Amanda these days, Cart. Hmmm. ... Cart? Really?"
This time, when he reached for her, his shirt swung open a bit, so she could see the dark green thermal shirt underneath. His worn faded jeans and Red Wing work boots seemed odd on the Anthony Carter she'd grown up with. Cart was a cowboy boots kind of guy, and Amanda bet that he probably still wore them out at his ranch.
She couldn't control the shiver that went through her when he took her hand in a friendly grip. He'd always meant too much to her, and she'd meant nothing to him.
"Come on back. Angel is in the kitchen."
And now her heart melted. From broken over her parents, to embarrassed and awkward with Cart, to melted ... all in a few seconds.
Her poor heart was taking a beating.
She focused on the melting part because that was pure pleasure.
"I talked to her on the phone yesterday and told her I was flying in."
The smile faded from Cart's face. "She told me. Flying in Thursday night late, flying out Saturday morning early. So you're listing the Star Inn for sale four days before Christmas? Nice gift for the holidays."
Amanda hoped she could do it faster, so she'd bought tickets that could be changed. "I haven't listed it yet but I've talked with the Realtor."
"Benji? You talked to Benji? He's the only Realtor in town. We don't even use the word 'Realtor.' We just say 'Benji' and everybody knows what we're talking about."
"I forget how small towns are." She heard the snap in her voice, and he gave her a sharp look and dropped her hand. She fought to hide how much she missed his touch.
They went through the same door Cart had emerged from and stepped into the dining room. The huge mahogany banquet table stood, lined with sixteen antique oak chairs. The table was cleared and its dark brown surface gleamed, but Amanda knew that it would have a festive red tablecloth for breakfast tomorrow. Down the center of the cloth and around the edges would be the poinsettia leaves Mom had stitched in metallic golden threads.
Mom had poured her whole heart into this bed-and-breakfast; Dad, too.
"Mandy!" Angel Rafferty burst out of the swinging door to the kitchen, her arms thrown high and wide, her bright red reading glasses hanging from a chain around her neck. Her short white blonde hair was in its usual spikes. Her shirt was a wild splash of Christmas reds with handkerchief points that hung to her knees. A ring on every finger — thumbs included — and ten stacked bracelets in all colors and sizes. Her earrings were dangling miniature Christmas tree bulbs, red of course. She was a little plump, just enough to attest to her fine cooking, and bursting with energy that left people in awe.
Angel enveloped her with a hug as bright and warm as she was.
Unlike with Cart, Amanda held on tight. Since Mom had died when Amanda was twelve, Angel was the closest thing she'd had to a mother.
Mandy might have no family left, but maybe there was one person who well and truly loved her.
Angel took Amanda by the shoulders and pushed her back, held her at arm's length. "My beautiful girl. Seeing you blesses my heart."
Turning to stand beside Amanda, Angel slid an arm around her waist and swept her along to the back of the house. "Come on with us, Cart. We've got a lot to talk about."
"I'm really exhausted, Angel." Amanda had no desire for a long, cozy chat. "I'll sleep in Dad's quarters." As if she had any hope of sleeping. "We can talk in the morning."
It didn't even slow Angel down.
They reached the kitchen and Amanda found herself plunked down on the cushioned bench seat of the breakfast nook. High-backed oak benches on each side of a broad oak table. The nook was built into a bay window — a real bay window that was more than just glass curving out and back. The whole outer wall of the house curved to make almost a little room with the facing benches and the big table.
Excerpted from Room at the Inn for Christmas by Mary Connealy. Copyright © 2016 Mary Connealy. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
This is one book in a series that are all centered around the Star Inn. This one seemed like the perfect place to start with an introduction to the Inn, it's family, and the town of Heywood. And it was a great place to kick off. This story starts off on a roll with Amanda returning to clear up her father's estate after his death. She's a big city girl that's always on the go. When she runs into her old crush, Anthony, she's in for quite a surprise. Not just because he's hot as all get out and seems genuinely happy to see her (at least at first), but his appearance is the first in a string of lies that begin to unfold. Now, I won't be giving too much away when I say that Amanda is about to find out that pretty much everything she heard after she moved to the city about her hometown and family was all lies. Really big lies. She is perfectly devastated and confused, her reaction was everything it should have been. But Anthony doesn't really buy it. Why didn't she come see for herself, or call, or something. Eventually the two find their way through the sea of lies and come up with a reason for why they were told to her. I really really really didn't buy the reason. None of it felt right, and they even admitted that they were just guessing. But it threw a hole into the story that I had a hard time getting out of. I kept going back to "why?" And I never got an answer that seemed even remotely believable to me. I've already dove in to the next books in the collection. I'm excited to see what happens at the Star Inn this holiday season. **This book was received in exchange for an honest review**
A story of miscommunication and misconceptions and also of determining one’s values, purpose in life and then finding both love and home. The blurb explains the storyline so I won’t go into that here. This is a sweet predictable novella that has a happy Christmas feel to it. I was not smitten by either one of the main characters but really did like Angela. Thank you to NetGalley and St. Martin’s Press for the copy of this novella. This is my honest review. 2-3 Stars