Liam knew why Wesley hadn't told her the full truth. He'd asked Wesley to keep his involvement in the inn quiet. Just another half lie to add to all the others.
It looked like it was time for one secret less.
"Actually, Wesley and I own the inn together. All these months, you've been working for both of us."
Christie felt her eyes widen at the news. She narrowed them again as she glared at Wesley's far-too-attractive brother. It was just one surprise after another around here, wasn't it?
"Why didn't Wesley tell me you own the inn with him?"
"I never planned on coming back to run it," Liam said, "so it wasn't relevant."
Last night, he'd told her he'd sold his business in Boston and that he was looking for something new to work on. Could running the inn be what he meant? Because she wasn't at all sure that she could work with a man like him bossing her around.
"No, I suppose it wasn't relevant to you," she said, not bothering to keep the sarcasm from her voice. "Only to your employees, who have no idea you've been Wesley's silent partner all these years."
A muscle began jumping in his jaw, and she waited for him to defend himself, to point out that Wesley was just as much at fault for not telling her the truth. Or, possibly, to apologize for keeping her and everyone else in the dark.
Instead, he simply said, "Now that the situation has changed, I'll need you to show me everything about running the inn."
She couldn't stop her eyes from widening again at the thought of having to spend big chunks of time in close quarters with Liam.
Just then, a couple came down the stairs carrying a baby. "I hope we didn't keep anyone up last night," the woman said. "Janie has some trouble sleeping out of her usual crib." Her husband was trying to manage all of their bags and the car seat and bottles on his own, but he was clearly having a difficult time.
Christie was incredibly glad for a reason to move away from Liam. "Don't worry about a thing. Your room was in the corner, and I'm sure no one heard her crying. If it would help, I'd love to hold Janie for a moment while you get your things packed up and into the car."
"Oh, that would be wonderful. Thank you!"
Christie's heart squeezed as she looked down at the baby's big blue eyes and sweet little mouth. "Hey there, pretty girl. I hear you're quite the traveler." When the baby started to fuss, Christie made funny faces to get her giggling, then told her mother, "The two of us will be just fine until you have your hands free again."
When the phone behind the counter rang, Christie shifted the baby to her right hip and picked up the line.
"Absolutely," she said to the caller, "we'd love to be a part of your wedding plans in July. I'm a little bit tied up now, could I call you back in a few--" She paused, listened. "Oh, I see. You need to do it right this second?" She looked over at Liam, who was the only one in the room without his hands currently full, and a devil landed on her shoulder. Before she could stop herself, she said, "I'd be more than happy to book it all with you right now. Could I put you on hold for ten seconds and then we'll get started?"
When they agreed, she put the phone down, walked over to her new surprise boss, and handed him the baby. "Keep her entertained for a few minutes, would you?"
Liam looked utterly, supremely uncomfortable. But, amazingly, the little girl snuggled in closer to him, her soft blond hair falling across his upper arm as she gave him an adoring coo. Christie almost snorted at how quickly he had the baby caught up in his spell.
By the time she got off the phone with another summer wedding booked, the couple and their baby were gone. But Liam remained.
She'd never pushed at a boss like that, had never deliberately gone and done something she knew would get her in trouble. But, for some crazy reason, he'd brought that out in her. A little bit of the daredevil. It hadn't been on any kind of grand scale, but frankly, she was more than a little surprised to realize it was there at all.
And, even crazier, instead of apologizing for it, she let another devil jump onto her other shoulder. "I've decided how we should start your training."
He raised an eyebrow. "How?"
"By cleaning the bathrooms."
Liam didn't like cute. He never had.
He wanted the people he worked with--men and women both--to be direct. To the point. But never, ever cute. So why, then, was he constantly wanting to grin around this woman?
Liam hadn't shadowed anyone since his first college internship at a venture house. But given that he was considering an offer to acquire several more lakefront inns throughout the Northeast, hands-on was the way to go. He'd need to understand every single part of the business in order to have a true sense of whether he could run it at peak profitability. Starting with the bathrooms.
"Sounds good to me."
"It does?" She looked more than a little thwarted by his easy agreement. Had she been hoping to get to him?
This time, he was the one letting a grin loose before he knew it was coming--or could stop it.
"I didn't think I'd ever see it," she said, so softly he almost didn't hear.
He shouldn't want to move closer. But it seemed that some things were uncontrollable, his reaction to her most of all. "What didn't you think you'd see?"
As thrown off his game as he'd ever been, he told her, "People don't say things like that."
"I have no edit button," she agreed as embarrassment shot across her face. "I obviously need one."
Right then, a woman who was probably in her early twenties came in. "Sorry I'm a few minutes late. Last night's snow made it harder than I thought to get into town."
Christie introduced him to Alice, but as she stepped away from the front desk, her cheeks were still pink as she met his eyes. "Looks like you and I are free to head upstairs."
Hating the way the light had gone out of her eyes, he said, "I spoke out of turn just now, Christie."
She simply shrugged, trying to act like it was no big deal. But he could tell that it was, when she said the one thing guaranteed to make sure he paid for the way he'd just spoken to her.
"I'll let you tackle the toilets."
"No one is ever going to complain about our standards of cleanliness," he told her a while later. "That's for sure."
Liam's face hadn't been this close to the porcelain since his early teenage drinking days. And though he worked out daily, he hadn't done this kind of awkward physical work in a very long time either. The truth was, he rarely even had to make his own bed. Either his housekeeper took care of it, or he was in a hotel with service.
One thing was certain: He'd be leaving way bigger tips in the future.
Christie didn't respond, but from her profile as she wiped down the bathtub, he could see a small smile was finally back on her face. Her natural beauty was radiant enough that even with her hair pulled back into a ponytail and a smear of soap across her left cheek, he couldn't take his eyes off her.
Being down on his knees on one of the inn's bathroom floors should have been as strange as it got in Liam's world. But it was far stranger to realize that the inside of his chest felt off-kilter too. As though muscles that had rarely been worked were trying to move again.
She looked over her shoulder at what he'd done. "You're really good at that, you know. Thank you for giving it your all."
She held out a hand to help him up off his knees, and before he could think better of it, he took it and stood. But he didn't immediately let her go. How could he when the touch of her skin sent electric sparks of heat shooting through him--and her lips had opened into a tempting O of surprise?
Maybe if he'd had any control whatsoever around her, he would have dropped her hand and gotten the hell out of the too-small bathroom. Instead, he found himself reaching out with his free hand to brush away the bubbles on her cheek.
He didn't just hear her swift intake of breath; he felt it reverberate through her jaw t