Hold It Close (MacAteer Brothers #3) - ML Nystrom


I rolled over and blinked myself awake. No need for an alarm anymore, as my body was used to these early mornings—not that I needed to wake for the daily grind of work. I’d left my job and career in the banking industry to become the sole owner and manager of a quaint little country inn in the mountains of North Carolina. Some people told me it was stupid to leave a lucrative money-making career and take a chance on something so different. My ex-husband attempted to explain to me why it was a terrible idea. I heard his words and understood his concern, but his opinion didn’t count since our divorce.

I stretched my arms over my head, and my spine aligned itself with an audible snap-crackle-pop. My thirty-sixth birthday sat just around the corner, and even though I didn’t consider myself old, I did have the need to take better care of myself. Investment banking was a great career, and I was good at it, but the toll it took on my body and my marriage had driven me to the point I needed to make a change, or more like make an escape, before I became another statistic. George Barnum, another banker and my mentor, had dropped dead of a heart attack. He had lived on a daily diet of cigarettes and coffee and consumed antacids by the handfuls as he sat in front of his computer screens. He was always the first one in the building and the last one to leave. I saw him wear the same clothes several days in a row and suspected he stayed in his office overnight a few times when markets were running hot. One afternoon, he bellowed out of his door for his assistant to go on a Starbucks run, and when she came back, he was slumped over his desk. Gone. He was only forty-five.

That sent me a wake-up call about my own life. I either stress ate or didn’t eat at all. I spent more time at the office than at home. My husband and I were more roommates than a couple. Holidays and vacations rarely happened, and when they did, at least one Skype conference took place. My stomach started rebelling regularly with choking reflux. I kept an economy-size bottle of Tums and liquid Maalox in my desk, my car, and my nightstand. Nicotine stained my fingers, and Red Bull became my drink of choice. After George died, I saw the way my life mirrored his. Unless I changed something, I might very well be the next statistic.

A year later, I found myself divorced and the proud owner of an old farmhouse property just outside of Asheville, North Carolina. I’d quit smoking and discovered the joys of having a full eight hours of sleep at night.

“Alexa, play Styx, ‘Paradise Theater.’”

“‘Paradise Theater’ by Styx on Amazon Music,” my trusty little speaker announced.

My bladder couldn’t wait. I slid out of bed and padded on the balls of my feet to avoid as much cold floor as possible. The toilet seat was cold too, and I finished my business quickly. The heat came from a small oil furnace and was spotty at best. My little cottage sat behind the main building, and the plumbing worked well enough for the time being. Sometime soon, everything would need updating, but for now, I put my time, money, and effort into making my new business venture successful. This meant repairing, designing, installing, and furnishing the old farmhouse I bought into a thriving bed-and-breakfast. My ex and I had owned a high-end condo in Charlotte, with another one at the Outer Banks where we kept our boat. He bought me out of all the property, and I downsized to this small one-bedroom cottage with slow drains and outdated fixtures. I felt I got the better deal.

“Alexa, what’s the weather today?”

“Today’s forecast will be snow flurries with a high of thirty degrees and a low of seventeen degrees.”

“Thank you.”

I giggled. Manners were drilled into me a long time ago by my mother and grandmother. Some people said it was weird to thank a virtual personal assistant that came in the form of a three-inch electric hockey puck. I guess old habits die hard.

It was Christmas morning, and I planned to head out a little later to my sister and brother-in-law’s place in the mountain city to spend the day with them and their two children. Maybe we would go sledding or build a snowman if there