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Mitch was one of Kellen's men. Skilled woodworkers, electricians, maintenance and handy workers didn't have to come to Washington in the wettest, darkest, most miserable time of the year, so when Annie appealed to Kellen for a chauffeur, Kellen had in turn appealed to Mitch. Mitch, who had been driving long hours for a trucking company, leaped at the chance to work at the resort.

He was the first of her people to arrive at Yearning Sands.

Now he opened the door and Hammett hopped onto his cushion on the floor. Mitch dried the dog, then picked Annie up and deposited her on the seat.

"Thank you, Mitch. When Leo comes out, will you help him with the bags?" she asked.

"Of course, Mrs. Di Luca." Mitch backed out of the car.

"That boy is so formal," Annie said to Kellen. "I've told him to call me Annie, and he won't."

"He's from the South. Houston. Things are more formal there. He still calls me captain."

"Half of the staff call you captain." Annie patted the seat. "Won't you come in and sit for a minute?"

Kellen shed her rain poncho and handed Mitch the umbrella before easing inside. She took a second towel and dried Hammett some more, then scratched him under the chin. As she stroked his soft head, the anxiety she felt about taking charge of the resort faded.

Mitch shut the door, encasing the two in quiet leather luxury, and walked around to put the wheelchair in the trunk.

Annie shivered, and Hammett abandoned Kellen to snuggle closer to Annie's legs.

Annie took Kellen's hand in her cold, fragile fingers. "Every day you've been a blessing. I never dreamed anyone could pick up the hospitality business so quickly."

Kellen couldn't explain. She didn't even understand herself how she could meet a person and forever after see them as a list of attributes, or view two timelines and mentally integrate them, or take four spreadsheets and shuffle them through the circuits of her brain and instantly come up with ways to improve operations. It was a gift.

She touched the scar on her forehead. A gift that had come at a great price. "Business I understand," Kellen said. "The guests and the staff are the challenge."

"You are very private."

For good reasons.

"Yet you handled people when you were the officer in charge of moving men and goods around a war zone," Annie said. "No one's shooting at you here. This has to be easier."

"The people I managed in the Army had one thing in common—they were soldiers.

We were united in one goal—to come out alive."

Annie laughed. Probably she thought Kellen was joking.

"We—my military friends and I—are all of us grateful that you've welcomed us so generously."

"Leo says I take in strays." Annie looked startled at her own insensitivity. "I'm not trying to say that you're a..."

"It's all right. I understand. Since my discharge, I have been adrift. It's difficult to go from being part of a close-knit
military community to being...alone."

"I can promise, you'll never be alone again."

Another odd statement from the normally diplomatic Annie. Perhaps leaving on vacation made her lose her usual delicacy. "The staff we left in place for you to manage is well trained. Everyone is up-to-date on their first aid certifications, and they can handle all the jobs—although some better than others. We have very few scheduled
guests incoming, so hopefully difficulties will be few and far between." With an expression of dismay, she knocked on the limousine's rosewood interior. "Now, why did I say that? I've doomed you to difficulties."

Kellen shook her head. "I'm not superstitious." I'm simply afraid of the darkness that stalks me in my own mind.

"At least there are not too many children scheduled as guests," Annie said. "That will make it easier for you."

"Wrong time of the year. Not many school vacations. But it doesn't matter. I don't mind children. I've just never learned how to handle them." No point.

Annie asked, "Who do you foresee as your greatest challenge?"


This excerpt is from the paperback edition.
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