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Nantucket Scene
Denise Hunter, romance author Denise Hunter, romance author
 
Mending Places
Howard Publishing
Book 1 of the 
New Heights Series
March 2004

Chapter One

Hanna Landin maneuvered her 4x4 through Jackson, Wyoming, sighing when the upcoming light turned red. She hated being late. Not only was it rude but it smacked of irresponsibility, an attribute she did not wish to demonstrate, today of all days. Her stomach twisted in knots. What if Keith said no? She suppressed the thought. Failure was not an option.

She drummed her bare, blunt-cut nails on the steering wheel, willing the light to change. Suddenly church bells pealed in the distance, invading her vehicle with their liquid notes. Fear snaked up her spine, and she choked down the bile in her throat. Jamming the radio volume up, she drowned out the bitter reminder of her tardiness with gospel music. Still, revulsion burned like acid in her stomach. She mustn’t think about it now. Had to concentrate on her meeting with Keith. A horn blared behind her, and she accelerated through the green light, shoving down the old memory that threatened to surface once again.

When she finally reached the bank, she spotted her brother-in-law at his desk and hurried across the sterile floor on shaky legs. “Good morning, Keith. Sorry I’m late.”

He clasped her extended hand. “That’s okay, Hanna, have a seat.” He gestured to a vinyl chair opposite his cluttered desk. “Natalie said you’re thinking of refinancing the lodge and taking out an equity loan. Is that right?”

“Yes, that’s right.” She placed her folders on the desk, catching one as it slid off the mound. She wondered if Natalie had told Keith the extent of their financial problems.

Hanna cleared her throat, hoping to eliminate the quiver in her voice. “I’d like to initiate an advertising campaign and provide additional services for our guests. Business has been down the last few years, especially with all the improvements on the Majestic.”

Keith reached for a folder. “May I?”

“Of course.” Noting he’d immediately reached for the profit-and-loss statement, Hanna launched into her practiced speech. “As you know, Higher Grounds Mountain Lodge provides a rustic atmosphere that tourists, especially those from the city and suburbs, find charming. Guests are transported back in time, yet our facility provides all the comforts one expects when on vacation.”

His silence urged her on. “What we’ve lacked in the past is marketing. Grandpop did things the old-fashioned way, relying on word of mouth and fliers for business. But if Higher Grounds is to compete with the Majestic, we need to advertise nationally. Show people another way to vacation in the Tetons.”

“I’m a little surprised by the loss you’ve shown the last three years. Nat told me things were rough, but I had no idea . . .”

Panic swelled in her leaden stomach. “That’s why this campaign is so important. I’ve already listed the lodge in the Christian Bed-and-Breakfast Directory. That alone should draw new customers.”

She handed him the marketing folder. As he skimmed the pages, she toyed with her grandma’s ring, zinging it along the gold chain. She watched the frown lines pucker under his receding hairline and felt another surge of panic. No other bank would loan them the money or even refinance for that matter. Keith was their last chance. She knew it was a lot to ask, even of family. But still, she had to try.

“Your plans to increase business might work. Then again, they might not.”

She dropped the ring and opened her mouth to speak. He held her off with a raised hand.

“When your grandfather built Higher Grounds, it was a risk. But there was no other lodging in the area. Now you’re competing with the Majestic.”

“They do have more to offer, but you can’t deny our lodge is located on prime property. And with some changes, we can provide activities for our guests too.” She handed him another folder. “I’d like to hire a trekking guide. Tourists from the city want to explore the Tetons, but many are afraid to venture off by themselves. We have a beautiful lake we’re not utilizing, as well. I’d like to purchase some watercraft. Also, a shuttle to and from the airport would be nice.”

Her breath froze in her lungs while he scrutinized the pages. What would she do if the lodge failed? Her eyes scanned his face, and she thought it seemed thinner, as if he’d lost some weight.

“Your plans are sound, and you’ve been meticulous with your detail. But you’ve been in the red for three years, Hanna.”

Stuffing down the anxiety, she rushed on. “If you’ll turn to page four, you’ll see my projections for increased business, which the advertising is sure to provide. With the income from additional guests, we’ll easily be able to afford the payment.”

Keith continued reading, flipping through the pages slowly until Hanna thought she’d expire from anticipation. Higher Grounds couldn’t survive another season like the previous three. They’d already made every possible cutback. If she couldn’t find a way to increase profits, the lodge didn’t stand a chance. She resisted the urge to massage her temples.

Keith cleared his throat and ran a hand through his thinning hair. His expression divulged the dreaded answer. “Given the lack of profit over the last three years, no bank could take this risk. I’m sorry, Hanna, I don’t see how I can do this.” Regret seasoned his words but did little to lessen their impact.

“Isn’t there something you can do? I know I can increase business if I just had the capital to advertise, but I can’t do that without the loan.”

“Does your grandmother have anything put away?”

She’d already jogged down that path. Gram had a pittance for retirement, and the way things were going, she’d need every bit of it. Hanna’s parents were in no shape to contribute either, and neither of her sisters was in a position to help. Paula and her husband, David, were too deeply in debt with that huge house of theirs, and Natalie and Keith had their own bills as well, especially since Natalie had quit work to stay home with their boys. Hanna shook her head, searching his eyes for some sign of concession and not finding it. “Gram’s not doing well.” She winced inwardly. She’d promised herself she wouldn’t resort to this.

His forehead furrowed again. “Is she sick? Why didn’t you say something, Hanna?”

Guilt flooded over her. She ducked her head, toying with her leather purse strap. “No. I’m sorry for worrying you, I shouldn’t have said anything. She just hasn’t been herself lately.” A glance at his face revealed skepticism. “Really, it’s nothing to worry about.”

What would she do now? How could she go home and tell Gram it was over? That Higher Grounds couldn’t pay its bills, that they had no money in reserves, that the business her grandparents had started would go under?

She couldn’t.

“We’ve never been late with a payment, Keith; you know we have excellent credit.” She hated to beg, but the thought of facing Gram emboldened her.

“I know you do, but—” He paused and released a sigh that seemed to come from his toes, then he flipped to another page and studied the numbers.

Her breathing stopped. Was he reconsidering?

“Are you sure Gram isn’t willing to sell?” he asked. “The profit would be enough for her to live very comfortably.”

“No. She wants me to save it. It’s important to her. To me. And she wants the property to be passed on to me and Nat and Paula. As an inheritance.”

He rubbed his hand over his jaw line. “I’ll tell you what. I’ll give it some thought, talk to my loan committee and see what we can do. But I can’t make any promises, Hanna.”

Tingles darted through her as oxygen once again pumped through her body in massive doses. She extended her hand across the desk. “Thank you, Keith, I really appreciate this.”

He stood, returning her handshake. “I should have an answer for you in a few days.”

“I’ll be waiting.”

Hanna tried to be patient, but the next couple of days were agonizing. She stayed busy, though. The chores around the lodge kept her hopping. She cleared away the layer of dead aspen leaves and raked flotsam from the beach area. She was toting a basket of sheets through the main room when the phone rang. She picked it up at the front desk.

“Higher Grounds. May I help you?”

“Yes, this is Meg Dodier from Star One Realty. I was wondering if I might speak with the owner of the lodge, please.”

“This is Hanna Landin. My grandmother is the owner, but I’m the manager. How can I help you?”

“Well, I’ve recently acquired a client who’s expressed an interest in your property. I was wondering if you’d ever considered selling.”

“Well, no, not really.”

“I see. Well my client is prepared to offer quite a bit for the property, Ms. Landin.” The woman named an amount that pushed Hanna’s eyebrows up a notch. “Would you at least consider the idea?”

“I don’t think so, but thanks for calling.”

“I’d appreciate it if you’d run the offer past the owner. She might feel differently.”

“She doesn’t. I do wish you the best of luck with your client, though.”

She hung up the phone, but before she could even retrieve the laundry basket the phone rang again. This time it was her sister.

“Hey,” Nat said. “Just wanted to let you know I talked to Keith last night about the loan thing.”

“What’d he say? I’ve been dying over here.”

“He’s been quiet the last couple of days, and I couldn’t get much out of him. Doesn’t like to talk about work with me anyway, so . . . anyhow, last night he seemed really pessimistic when I brought up the lodge. Said things didn’t look good as far as profits and all that.”

Hanna’s mood took a dive. “Oh no. It doesn’t sound like he’s going to do it.”

“Well, wait a minute. After that, I started talking all about your plan for the lodge, the advertising and trekker and everything. I told him about how good you are at that stuff, about how you were always in charge of planning activities and fund-raisers in high school. Remember that mega–garage sale fund-raiser? Anyway, I told him how successful you were and how you always achieved everything you put your mind to.”

“What’d he say?”

“Well, mostly he just kept reading the newspaper, but I think he heard some of it. He seemed more optimistic about it when I turned in for the night.”

“Oh, I hope so. Hey, would you believe a Realtor just called? Someone is interested in buying this property.”

“Really? I wonder why someone would want an old lodge that’s in the red. No offense.”

“Thanks. No, I think they just wanted the property. They’d probably rip the building right down.” She told Nat the offer.

Nat gasped. “Wow, Hanna, are you sure you don’t want to at least consider that?”

“I can’t believe you’d even say that.”

A click sounded on the phone.

“Oh, I have another call,” Nat said. “You know I didn’t mean anything by that, right?”

“I know, I’m just stressing.”

They said good-bye, then Hanna grabbed the laundry basket and started toward the laundry room.

A glossy brochure on the edge of the dining room table caught her attention. The words “Majestic Mountain Retreat” stopped her. Hanna dropped the basket and reached for the pamphlet. She flipped through the pages, absently counting them as she went. Color photos and graphics of the Tetons and Jenny Lake arranged in eye-appealing order lay flat on the page, interspersed with recommendations of former guests. It was wonderful. It was awful.

“Mrs. Eddlestein?” Hanna called absently into the kitchen, then began reading the introductory paragraph on page two. Founded in 1982 . . . privately owned . . .

She raised her voice a notch. “Mrs. Eddlestein?” The housekeeper was kneading a lump of dough, a denim apron hugging her Aunt Bee figure.

“Mrs. Eddlestein!”

The woman turned with a surprised smile. “No need to shout, dear.”

Hanna’s emotions teetered between aggravation and amusement. She bellowed her question. “Where did this brochure come from?”

The housekeeper swept a knuckle across her cheek, leaving a trail of flour. “The Wilmingtons left it behind.”

Great, they’ll probably stay there next trip. And why not? The ad was impressive. Four pages, full-color, the works.

She breathed a prayer that her plan for increasing business this summer would work. “Maybe we should have a new brochure done up.”

“We have a brochure?”

Hanna sighed. “The one on green paper.”

“That’s not a brochure, dear, that’s a flier.”

She scanned the list of amenities and services on the back cover. Two restaurants and a lounge, an indoor and outdoor pool, laundry facilities, a children’s program, horseback riding, planned activities. No wonder everyone visiting the Tetons stayed there. She wanted to stay there.

“Any word on the loan, dear?”

Hanna shook her head. “I’m starting to get worried.”

The woman tucked in the corners of her mouth and turned back to her dough.

“What’s wrong?” Hanna asked.

Mrs. Eddlestein’s eyes skittered to the Majestic brochure in Hanna’s hands, then she sighed. “Honey, do you really think it’s worth it? Taking out that big loan? The Majestic is so popular, and I just worry that you and your Gram have taken on too much.”

“You know how much this lodge means to us. It’s worth everything we’re risking and more.”

Hanna flung the offending piece of literature onto the table. “Besides, what would we do without you around to cook and dispense advice?”

Mrs. Eddlestein flopped a flour-coated hand in her direction. “Oh, posh, you’d get along just fine without me.”

Hanna smiled, then hefted the basket and strode to the laundry room. She pulled the washer knob with a click, starting the flow of water, and carefully dispensed a capful of detergent.

Her grandmother appeared with a wad of sheets and began stuffing them in the washer. “No sense in doing half a load, I always say.” Her voice crackled with age.

“Thanks, Gram.”

The woman patted her granddaughter’s back, then disappeared into the kitchen.

She heard Gram address Mrs. Eddlestein over the gush of water. “I’m going to get the mail.”

Hanna cringed; Gram had gotten the mail twenty minutes ago.

The phone rang as she closed the washer lid.

“It’s for you, Hanna,” Mrs. Eddlestein said. In a stage whisper she added, “I think it’s that brother-in-law of yours.”

Gram was slipping into her cardigan, and Hanna laid a hand on her arm. “Today’s mail is on the table, Gram.”

Hanna picked up the phone. “Hello?”

“Hi, Hanna, it’s Keith.”

Her stomach slid down to her toes. “Hi there.” She gripped the phone and squeezed her eyes shut. “Please tell me you have good news.”

“Well, you’re in luck. I do. The committee approved. We just have to sign all the papers.”

The breath she didn’t know she’d held rushed from her lungs. “You’re kidding.”

“Nope. It’s going to happen.”

“Oh, Keith, thank you so much. I know no other bank would do this for me.”

“Don’t be too thankful, Hanna. The loan committee wants to shorten the mortgage to twenty years instead of thirty. So even though you’re getting a killer interest rate, your payments will actually go up.”

Her nerves faltered. “Oh.”

“It’s a risk. You’ll have to increase business by about 38 percent over last year. If you can’t make your payments, you’ll be worse off than ever because you’ll lose the lodge altogether.”

“I know, but that won’t happen.”

They talked about a few details, set up a time to sign papers, then she thanked Keith again before hanging up.

“We got it?” Gram asked.

“We got it!”

Mrs. Eddlestein came over for a group hug, and they all ended up with flour on their clothes.

“What were you talking to Keith about when you said, ‘That won’t happen’?” Gram asked.

“He was just reminding me what would occur if we can’t make our payments. But don’t worry, we’ll be fine.”

She refused to even consider the thought. Because the consequences were too awful.


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