Up to Me

Up to Me

by Christi Barth

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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.

100,000 words

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781426898518
Publisher: Carina Press
Publication date: 06/23/2014
Series: Shore Secrets , #1
Format: NOOK Book
Sales rank: 141,148
File size: 418 KB

About the Author

  • Christi Barth writes sassy, sexy and smart contemporary romances. She earned a Masters degree in vocal performance and embarked upon a career on the stage. A love of romance then drew her to wedding planning. Ultimately she succumbed to her lifelong love of books and now writes contemporary romance. Christi is lives in Maryland with her husband.

Read an Excerpt

Tan legs, muscled arms and rippling abs added up to the sexiest half-naked man Ella Mayhew had ever seen. Well, technically not ever. As a massage therapist, she'd seen more than her fair share of half-naked men. Ella liked to think of it as a job perk. People in other careers got to rack up frequent flyer miles, or go to fancy parties and nibble on gourmet delicacies while working. She got eye candy galore. Or at least the possibility of it. And although her demeanor always remained professional, occasionally it was impossible not to notice a standout physique from the steady stream of weekend golfers and middle-aged wine enthusiasts who mostly lay on her table.

Like the time a cyclist in training for the Tour de France had spent a week here at Mayhew Manor. Every morning he'd done sprints all around Seneca Lake. Then in the afternoon he'd come into the spa and demand deep tissue massage. His muscles had been so rock hard, Ella needed a massage after she wore herself out working on him. Now that was a body she'd never forget.

She pressed her forehead against the window for a better look. Then cupped her hands around her eyes to block out the light of the spa. So maybe this man jogging by wasn't the absolute hottest in the universe. But something about him glued her in place, unwilling to miss a moment of his legs and arms pistoning in tandem.

"Aren't you the one who usually yells at me for gawking out the window?" Brooke DiMucci dug a sharp, acrylic-tipped nail into Ella's ribs. "And isn't it you who claims it isn't appealing to our clients and—holy guacamole, look at that hottie." Brooke plastered her hands on the next pane over. "Good spotting."

Ella didn't bother to deny any of it. She was convinced it freaked out arriving guests to see faces looking at them like zoo animals. And she was equally convinced of the off-the-charts hotness of the man in the loose black shorts headed up the drive. "I saw him jog by about an hour ago. Just from the back. His lats were a thing of beauty. I watched him go the whole length of the parking lot until he turned onto the road."

"No wonder you volunteered to cover the front desk while I tore my hair out balancing the end-of-month P&L reports. I'd call that pretty devious of you."

Yeah, they'd been friends too many years for her to be able to sneak anything past Brooke. Didn't mean she couldn't try to spin it, though. Ella tightened the bow on the pink paisley scarf around her ponytail. "It benefitted both of us. I call it a good allocation of assets."

"I call him a good allocation of assets." Brooke giggled. Then gasped. "Ella, he's looking right at us."

Ella did the only logical thing. She dropped to a crouch below the windowsill. Tugged Brooke down to join her on the floor. Upon landing, her legs splayed out, narrowly missing a shelving unit full of Mayhew Manor's signature grape-seed oil soaps and lotions.

"Hey, these are new capri pants," complained Brooke. "I don't want dust all over my ass."

Ella took another look. White, and sprinkled with tiny blue anchors, they were pretty cute. Especially paired with the boatneck navy top. Only the third of May, barely sixty degrees, and yet already people were embracing all things sailing related. That summed up life on the shores of the largest of New York's Finger Lakes. But the seasonally adorable pants were not at risk.

"This is a health spa. Sanitation is as key to the client experience as relaxation and harp music laced with bird song." Ella ran a finger along the spotless baseboards and waved it in front of Brooke. "Which is why the maintenance staff mops twice a day. If there's any dust on the floor for your ass to pick up, we've got bigger problems."

Brooke looked mollified. For about a second. Then her wide forehead creased into a horizontal question. "Why are we hiding?"

Good question. Ella didn't know what had caused her to abandon all professionalism and stare at him either time he'd jogged by. And she certainly didn't know why instinct had dropped her to the ground when their eyes connected. The only thing she did know was that looking at the gorgeous guy scrambled her brain cells worse than the Long Island Teas her friend Casey served by the ladleful every Halloween.

"I'm honestly not sure."

Brooke hooked her thick, dark bob behind her ears, looped an arm around Ella's shoulders, and sighed. "Look, Ella, I realize it's been a while since any man lit your pilot light, so to speak. But dating is the same now as it was three years, three decades, and three centuries ago. When a hot guy looks at you, smile. Don't duck and cover like you're a bank robber on the lam."

Damn it. She hated when her friends reminded her how long she'd gone without a date. They acted like it was a disturbing symptom of a bigger calamity, rather than a choice. Not that Ella actively thought about dating. She didn't. At all. Not since Disaster Day. Which was probably the problem. But to her it was just another priority that got reshuffled. To a category of disinterest somewhere below the need to watch the History Channel. Every New Year's, she resolved to watch more educational television. To spend her evenings learning about the Borgia dynasty or the mysteries of the Mayans. That resolution usually lasted until the first commercial break of the first show. Then she switched over to the Food Network for the rest of the year.

"I'll file that under valuable advice. Thanks."

Brooke tapped the toes of her sneakers together. "Does that mean we can get up now?"

"Don't get up on my account, ladies." The mellow, baritone voice ended in a laugh.

Ella swiveled around so fast her spine twitched in protest. Oh. God. Sexy, half-naked guy was standing right next to the display of lavender (for the ladies) and eucalyptus (for the men) scented candles. Close enough she could see sweat beading around his belly button. Slowly dripping down the thin trail of dark hair into the waistband of his shorts. If she got on her knees, she'd be at just the right height to lick it off. Which was why she instantly jumped to her feet instead.

"Hello. Welcome to the spa at Mayhew Manor." There. Not awkward at all. Nothing more or less than the same greeting she gave every client who walked in the door. Except usually her palms weren't clammy. And her heart didn't usually speed up.

"I'm not familiar with New Agey stuff. But I see you were on the floor. Did I interrupt yoga or meditation or something?" Amusement crinkled the corners of his blue eyes.

Just sexy gawking and drool time. So clearly telling him the truth wasn't an option. Ella racked her brain for something to say. But it felt all fizzy with lust, like a bottle of soda that had been shaken for, oh, at least forty minutes.

"Nope. No interruption." Brooke stood, wiped off her hands. "We were just checking out the baseboards. Making sure our maintenance staff is at the top of their game. Sanitation is as key to the client experience as relaxation and, um, harp music." Then she favored him with a sanctimonious smile.

Ella couldn't believe Brooke had quoted her to impress the half-naked hunk. Wait. Of course she could believe it. Brooke had a shotgun-pellet approach to dating. She fired a wide blast and hoped something hit. And after all, why wouldn't Brooke make a move? Ella hadn't shown any interest in the opposite sex in three years. Calling dibs probably seemed immaterial. Gratitude for proof that her hormones were coming out of their coma should be enough for Ella.

"I'm Brooke DiMucci." She thrust out her hand.

"Graydon Locke." He wiped his hand on the side of his shorts before shaking. Then he offered it to Ella. With a smile that brought out the sparkle in his blue eyes as much as sunlight reflecting off Seneca Lake on a clear day. "And you are?"

"Ella." His hand engulfed hers. Big. Hot. How could she get this excited about a simple handshake?

He didn't let go. "Just Ella?" One of his dark brows lifted up in a question. Yet another attribute to put him in the super-duper sexy column.

"Just Ella," she repeated. Revealing her last name always led to a laundry list of questions. Did she own the hotel? Did she grow up in the Manor? Why was she working as a massage therapist instead of running the place? Ella didn't mind answering, in general. But she'd quickly discovered those conversations led to delayed appointment starts. It only took a week of running almost an hour behind before she decided to stick to her first name.

After a squeeze, he let go. "Well, then you can call me just Gray."

Was he flirting or teasing? Or both? Ella was too rusty to be certain. But she looked down at her flared denim skirt and lightweight pink sweater, visible through her unfastened spa smock. Normal work clothes. Comfortable enough for spending all day on her feet next to a massage table. Whereas Brooke looked adorably sexy. Obviously he wasn't flirting with Ella. It made far more sense that Gray simply had a natural, easygoing charm.

"What can we do for you today?" Brooke gestured for him to follow her to the reception desk. Ella trailed along like the tail of a comet, following Gray's gravitational pull. "Are you a guest here at the hotel? Did you want to book something for later in your stay?"

"I'm almost a guest." He looked at his watch, a big one with all sorts of gauges and gadgets that pegged him as a runner as much as his easy lope. "Got here a while ago, but it was too early to check in. Went for a run to kill time until I could register."

Although she didn't run the hotel, Ella did know every inch of it. Knew the rhythms and the schedules right down to what order the maids used to clean and restock a room in the shortest time. Her parents had encoded it in her DNA every bit as much as her green eyes and brown hair. Ella didn't even need to consult the clock hanging above the desk. She could tell check-in had begun from the increased lobby sounds: the clatter of luggage carts over the threshold, an up-tick in elevator dings, and a cheerful din from the gathering guests.

"Sorry about the delay. I can have a bellhop come and meet you here. He can retrieve your luggage from your car." Ella lifted the phone, ready to expedite the process.

Gray shook his head, locked his midnight gaze onto Ella, then put a hand on top of hers and lowered the phone back to the desk. "I'm in no hurry."

In her estimation, that slid the scales back over to full-on flirt. Now what? "Would you like to see our list of services?" Not exactly a come-on. But she was out of practice. And there was still a chance she could've read him wrong. Better to err on the side of caution.

He shrugged. "Not sure. I've never had a massage."

"Never?" Ella gasped. It seemed impossible. She remembered forming back-rub chains back in high school choir. Whether through friends, family or professionals, she couldn't imagine someone going their whole life without getting so much as a neck rub.

"Not even once. I always thought just lying down while someone poked at me was a waste of time."

She couldn't let him continue to wander through the wilderness of ignorance. He had to learn that massage wasn't a luxury. It was a necessity, as helpful and healing as prescription meds. "But massage is so good for you. It stimulates lymph flow, which enhances the immune system. Increases flexibility, lessens depression, improves circulation, releases endorphins and of course, eases sore muscles."

"Amazing I didn't keel over long ago without it," he said, tongue in cheek.

Brooke tsked her tongue against her teeth. "You can get off your soapbox now, Ella. This is your chance to convert him. Don't blow it by talking him to death."

Whoops. Her love for massage unfortunately flipped her into lecture mode all too often. "Sorry. You're right." Ella smiled—hopefully disarmingly—at Gray. "How about I give you a five-minute chair massage? For free?"

"So you can get me hooked, and then charge me through the roof?"

"America is a capitalistic society. I won't apologize for our rates." Whoops. She had one foot on the soapbox, about to hop back on again. People didn't realize all the hidden costs to massage. The insane amount of laundry generated by using a minimum of four towels and a set of sheets on every single client. Candles and aromatherapy oils and scrubs and lotions. The expense of heating all the individual rooms and the beds and the sauna/steam rooms and—

Ella smiled again. This time, more in an attempt to calm herself than to calm Gray. "I will guarantee you'll get your money's worth, and walk out of here feeling relaxed and happy."

"You guarantee happiness?" Gray looked her up and down. "Who in their right mind would turn that down?"

She might've oversold a bit. The happiness came with an hour-long massage, not a five-minute neck rub in a chair. But it was too late to back down. "Come with me."

They kept a massage chair in the prep room for just this purpose. To lure and engage the wary and nervous types. Ella led him into the room of deep, mint green walls and shelves stocked with towels the paler shade of ripe chardonnay grapes. The Finger Lakes were most famous for their wine. Just about every business around Seneca Lake played up that connection. Mayhew Manor even put out their own line of red, white and sparkling wines. Of course here in the spa, they only served cucumber water and herbal teas.

"Before we begin, let's cool you off." Reaching into a cooler, she retrieved a small, wet towel from a bed of ice cubes. "I can tell from the red in your cheeks that you're still overheated from your run. This has been soaked in peppermint oil. It'll lower your temperature and refresh you."

She hesitated for a second. If he was any other client, she'd wipe him down herself. But he wasn't a full-fledged client. Not yet. They weren't in a treatment room, he wasn't lying down, and if he hadn't just finished a run, he'd still be fully clothed. Right now, he was just a guy whose bedroom eyes flip-flopped her tummy. And simple physical attraction could be, with a little concentration, simply ignored. Ella handed over the towel. "Here you go."

Shaking it out of its tidy roll, Gray vigorously rubbed it over his chest, neck and forehead. She'd scrubbed at shower scum with less force than he used. "I smell like a candy cane," he complained.

Oh. God. The vision of licking him, sucking on him, streaked through her mind. Any more thoughts like that and she'd need to dab at her own flushed cheeks with the icy towel. No way could she ignore this visceral attraction. So it had to stop. She'd give him the five-minute rub and that would be the end of it. If he signed up for a full massage, Ella would get one of the other therapists to do it. Everything about Gray poked holes in her professional detachment.

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Up to Me 4.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 7 reviews.
Andreat78 More than 1 year ago
After being practically driven out of town because of his father's actions, corporate hitman Graydon Locke loathes small towns. It doesn't matter how quaint, how heartwarming the town is, he wants no part. On assignment in upstate New York, Gray is undercover in the small town of Seneca Lake. He's there to learn about Mayhew Manor, specifically whether the company he works for should take it over. His first day there, though, Gray meets Ella, "just Ella", and is instantly taken with the pretty, witty massage therapist. The two quickly become close, knowing that their romance will only last as long as Gray's in town. That attraction continues to flame, and when Gray learns that "just Ella" is actually Ella Mayhew, the owner, it's too late to control the fall-out. Relationships formed under deception are always iffy for me. The premise is kind of great, and I love the conflict it creates. But I always have to worry if the powerful man will, in fact, help destroys his woman's business. This has actually caused many books and movies to completely lose me. I don't care how charming Tom Hanks was in You've Got Mail, he helped close Meg Ryan's business, and peeps, that ain't cool. Though this remains a question throughout Up to Me, I was still heavily invested in the story, assuming that a trusted romance author wouldn't do me that way. I was heavily invested in Up to Me because of the characters. I just couldn't help but like Ella and Gray. Ella is a woman who's struggling to keep her family's business afloat, and working to move forward in her life. Three years prior, Ella's parents were killed -in front of her- in a tragic accident. Due to conflicts in her future, she and her parents had a bit of a temporary strain in their relationship, and Ella feels responsibility. Because she feels her bad choices caused the accident, Ella consults "the journal" when she needs to make decisions. I'm not going to go into details on the journal, but I loved this touch to the story! The people of Seneca Lake lifted her up in her time of need and sorrow, and the kinship she feels with the community was very sweet. Despite his duplicity, I really liked Gray as well. Gray is a man with a complicated background, not one of his doing but one he's paid for regardless. He's in an awful position with Ella and his job, one he never intended to start. I actually felt sorry for Gray, knowing that he wants to help Ella, keep his job and support the one person he feels obligated to. He keeps his head and his integrity in this crazy situation, even though he feels enormous pressure from all sides. And oh, he does know how to make a woman melt. Of course, you know the big reveal is always around the corner, and when it did, I felt like my heart was in my stomach. The author did a nice job of making me feel equal sympathy for both parties. The fall-out was ugly, and I had no idea how the issues would be resolved in a way that felt believable to me. A good hero needs to grovel when he's done wrong, needs to earn his way back into good graces. I will say that I came out of Up to Me with a smile and iPad intact. Up to Me is a good start to the Shore Secrets series. Given that there are several interesting characters, we have great potential for the future stories. I'm crossing my fingers that Ward and Piper are up next!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Kept my interest and I laughed out loud a lot! Loved it
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Barb-TRC More than 1 year ago
Up to Me by Christi Barth is the first book in her new Shore Secrets series. I have read most of Christi’s books, as she is a master at writing sweet lighthearted romances, with wonderful couples, friendships and great secondary characters. Up To Me is no different. I really enjoyed this fast fun relaxing read that takes place in a small town, with all of its charm. Ella Mayhew is our heroine, and you immediately find yourself caring very much for her. Ella is the masseuse in the hotel she owns, since she prefers working in her spa, rather then running the hotel, Mayhew Manor, which was left to her by her deceased parents. I really love these books that take place in small towns, where everyone knows everyone’s business. After the tragic death of her parents, Ella went into a shell, doing her work and meeting with friends (the whole town loves her), with no ambition to take control of her life. Instead, she would always follow whatever her friends or townspeople advise her to do in a unique way that you have to read to understand. Cute. Gray Locke is our hero, and he has a secret. He is at the resort spying to get information and help institute a hostile takeover of Mayhew Manor, with Ella losing everything, and the town going down with it. But the moment Gray meets Ella, and she puts her hands on him and gives him a quickie (massage lol), he is lost. Gray begins to try to romance Ella, though he knows he will be there only two weeks, and soon he begin to have second thoughts about hurting her. Gray hates his job, but he needs the money to take care of his ill mother. What follows is a sweet charming romance, with a sprinkle of humor along the way. What happens when Ella finds out why Gray is really there? Will Gray do his job and help take away the hotel from Ella? This was a beautiful romance that was slow to build. Though both had lustful feelings for one another from the start, they decided to go slow and learn about each other. Christi did this so well, not rushing the sex, and allowing this romance to grow. Gray helps Ella become more confident and sure of herself, thereby becoming the leader that she was meant to be. But will she forgive him? I really enjoyed Ella’s friends, though many of them were a little too quirky for me. However, it was nice that they all stood by Ella, which is what real friendship is all about. This also added to the humor of the story. As the romance built to where they both finally succumbed to their lust, it left me anxious to where it would end. I loved both Ella and Gray, and to Christi Barth’s credit, I could not put down the book, as I needed to know what would happen. I wholly recommend you to read Up To Me, as it is a very nice romance, small town atmosphere, good storyline, great friends, and a great couple.
GraceDZ More than 1 year ago
Small-town pride rules deep in the first book of the Shore Secrets series.  Graydon Locke really had no idea what he was in for when he went on assignment to check out Seneca Lake’s beloved hotel. He didn’t know he would fall head-over-heels for the hotel’s owner, which really puts him into a super complicated situation. Gray and this town have their secrets, and secrets always make themselves known eventually, don’t they? I very much enjoy reading contemporary romances set in small towns. If done well the reader gets that feeling of being fully immersed into the setting, and that is what I got from Up to Me. I finished this book wishing and wanting to visit Seneca Lake. Christi Barth did an amazing job setting up the lovely scenery for this charming story.  I also love it when an author spends the time coming up with something creative, like the unique way the townspeople ask for and offer advice to one another. I was left with just the right amount of interest to want to know more about the other characters. I’m hoping to see their own stories play out in the next books. Who is next? I truly hope it’s maybe Ward’s story! Ms. Barth also made the quirkiness to the build up to Gray and Ella’s first date actually work for them. Their pairing had some pretty sweet tension and a unique factor as well, which I thought was very cute.  Up to Me is my first time reading something from Christi Barth. She certainly swept me away to Seneca Lake! This is a delightful start to a new series. *I was gifted a copy of this book.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I started reading UP TO ME the day it came out and quickly lost myself in the world of Mayhew Manor, a modern-day castle on the shores of Seneca Lake in wine country. Let me tell you, I am dying to take a swim in the perfect-for-making-out rock-lined pool in the Manor, I would kill for a big cup of coffee at the General Store, and I WANT A GLASS OF WINE from the Manor vineyard. I also wouldn't mind some spirits from the distillery, owned by a small town hottie and excellent hero bait. Yes, indeed, Christi built an engaging small-town world, and I can't wait to visit it again! If you like your books heavy on the romance, you'll love UP TO ME. Although the hero and heroine indulge their senses and don't shy away from admitting the down-and-dirty realness of their attraction, the actual full-on naked stuff happened later in the book than I was expecting. At first I was impatient. The hero, Graydon Locke, is an amazing kisser. My mouth watered as I read the make-out scenes. I wanted them to do the deed! But then I was charmed by the old-fashioned, delightful romance going on before my eyes. *sigh* I kept racing ahead (because I'm a dirty bird) but I may have to read it all over again. Just so I can appreciate how well it was put together, anticipate the next books, and swoon over the truly perfect last sentence. Swoony romance, real heat, and a charming small town world make this a fantastic read!
DiiMI More than 1 year ago
When a normal undercover business assignment becomes the elephant in the room, Gray finds that not only has he found a good candidate for a business acquisition, but he has found the perfect LOVE acquisition for his heart. How far can he take this budding romance when he knows he is living a lie? Ella has nothing left in her life but the resort her parents left her, the resort that meant the world to them, that she never appreciated or wanted in her quest to be independent and blaze her own trail. The small town she lives in has its own quaint charm and that “everybody looks out for everybody” attitude. They also have a very unique tradition that means the world to Ella. Gray never had an idyllic childhood and his cold-hearted approach to business, life and relationships has finally met its match in the heat and passion of all things Ella. When the lies are revealed, how will the cards fall? What will this quirky town say about it? Will Ella’s shaky foundation be rocked back to its knees or will Gray find a way to turn fix the wrongs he’s been part of and embrace the ways of a small town? Up to Me by Christi Barth is an enchanting and mostly lighthearted read, no over the top angst, no overdone drama, just wonderful reading that tells a story of love between two people with ghosts in their pasts who come from two different worlds. She has created an almost idyllic world filled with small town charm that seems impossible to find today. Her characters are unique in their own way, while still being believable. Ella is stronger than she knows and quite possibly stronger than Gray in many ways. If you are looking for a romantic read that is filled with heat, humor, a little quirkiness and a good plot, not to mention a good set up for future romance, Up to Me will make for a nice summer escape!