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Authors: Anne Marie Rodgers

Talk of the Town

BOOK: Talk of the Town
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Talk of the Town

ISBN-10: 0-8249-3211-0
ISBN-13: 978-0-8249-3211-4

Published by Guideposts
16 East 34
th
Street
New York, New York 10016
Guideposts.org

Copyright © 2013 by Guideposts. All rights reserved.

This book, or parts thereof, may not be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the written permission of the publisher.

Distributed by Ideals Publications, a Guideposts company
2630 Elm Hill Pike, Suite 100
Nashville, TN 37214

Guideposts
,
Ideals
and
Tales from Grace Chapel Inn
are registered trademarks of Guideposts.

The characters and events in this book are fictional, and any resemblance to actual persons or events is coincidental.

All Scripture quotations are taken from
The Holy Bible, New International Version
. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc. Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide.
www.zondervan.com

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Rodgers, Anne Marie.
 Talk of the town / Anne Marie Rodgers.
  p. cm.–(Tales from Grace Chapel Inn ; 41)
  ISBN 978-0-8249-3211-4
1. Sisters–Fiction. 2. Bed and breakfast accommodations–Fiction. 3. City and town life–Pennsylvania–Fiction. 4. Pennsylvania–Social life and customs–Fiction. 5. Domestic fiction. I. Title.
 PS3573.I5332T35 2013
 813.54–dc23

2012029303

Cover design by Müllerhaus
Cover illustration by Deborah Chabrian
Interior design by Marisa Jackson
Typeset by Aptara, Inc.

Printed and bound in the United States of America
10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1

Acknowledgments

I
 n loving memory of my Teddy Bear. In my heart, you walk on four legs. I miss you, little man.

—Anne Marie Rodgers

Chapter One

T
he late March day in Acorn Hill, Pennsylvania, was bright and beautiful. Alice Howard tilted her face to the sun, enjoying the fresh air and the promise of warmer weather to come. March had come in like a lion, but the past few balmy days had been close to the “goes out like a lamb” part of the adage.

“Are you sure you don’t mind raking those leaves?” asked Jane, Alice’s younger sister, as she came out of the stately Victorian home that the Howard sisters had turned into a bed-and-breakfast after the death of their father. “I’ll be happy to do it when I get back.” Carrying a large covered basket, Jane paused on the sidewalk. Dressed in pale yellow linen trousers and a billowing white poet’s shirt, she had put up her dark hair in a casual twist. Draped around her neck with an elegance Alice admired was a patterned scarf in the same shade of yellow as her pants.

“How could I mind?” Alice asked. “It’s such a beautiful day. This is a wonderful excuse to be outside.”

Jane smiled. “It is a lovely day, isn’t it?” Her smile dimmed a bit. “I feel so bad for Mrs. Smeal. A broken ankle is no fun at any time, but it’s especially bad now when she’s longing to get out and do some work on her flower borders.”

Penelope Smeal was a fellow member of Grace Chapel, the small white church near the center of Acorn Hill, the little town where Alice, Jane and their older sister Louise had grown up. Jane and Mrs. Smeal, an elderly widow, had bonded over their love of gardening. Ever since Mrs. Smeal had taken an ugly spill on her front steps after a late-season ice storm, Jane visited her every Sunday after church, taking a casserole or some soup that could be heated and eaten later. A chef of some repute, Jane delighted inn guests, friends and family with her delicious dishes.

“You’ve been such a good friend to her,” Alice said. “Father would be proud of you.”

“And of Louise too,” Jane added as their sister’s vintage white Cadillac came to a halt in the driveway. “Mrs. Smeal loves it when Louise comes along and plays a few pieces for her. She’s a big fan of Mozart.”

“Are you ready, Jane?” Louise called through the open car window. She waved at Alice. “I envy you. It’s a beautiful day.”

Alice smiled as she called back, “The sun feels marvelous. Have a nice visit and say hello to Mrs. Smeal for me.”

As her sisters settled themselves and drove off along Chapel Road toward town, Alice surveyed the yard. Since Jane had returned home from San Francisco to help run the inn, the landscaping around the house was beautifully groomed and especially attractive. This year, the beds along the sidewalks already were a riot of color. Crocuses in shades of deep purple, lavender, yellow and white, sunny daffodils and bright red tulips had begun to bloom. Tiny purple grape hyacinths, commonly referred to as bluebells, sprang up in profusion.

Near the porch, Jane had planted two Hellebores, a large-leafed plant that, astonishingly, began to bloom in late winter, earning the name “Lenten Rose.” The long-lasting blossoms were large and came in varied shades of pink, rose, white, green and mauve. Jane was fond of cutting them and floating them in crystal dishes for table decorations.

The forsythia hedge at one side of the house was glowing like sunbeams, while lilac and mountain laurel buds swelled in preparation for a beautiful display a bit later in the spring. Mountain laurel, the state flower of Pennsylvania, often were quite large and unruly, but Jane had found a miniature that bloomed in a clear candy pink. The little shrub with the pretty, starburst blossoms was very near the top of Alice’s favorites.

Alice worked for the next hour in the front yard, using a narrow rake to pull leaves out from behind the foundation shrubs. Twice, she took the wheelbarrow full of sodden leaves back to the compost heap that Jane had established behind the garden.

When the leaves were disposed of, Alice picked up the rake and the other tools. She was just about to return everything to the garden shed when an expensive-looking black car turned in to the inn’s driveway, its engine purring smoothly.

The driver braked when he saw Alice and rolled down his window. “Hello,” he said. “Are you the proprietress of Grace Chapel Inn?”

Alice stripped off her work gloves. “One of them, although you might not know it to look at me,” she said, smiling. She walked toward the car. “I’m Alice Howard. My two sisters and I run the inn together.”

“Maxwell Alexander Vandermitton.”

“It’s a pleasure to meet you, Mr. Vandermitton.” She saw that the man in the driver’s seat was quite young, perhaps in his early twenties. His dark, wavy hair was cut in a neat, short style, and he wore a white shirt with a button-down collar.

“Your establishment is most attractive,” he told her. “It has a very period feel.”

“One of my sisters researched the original colors,” she told him. “The body of the house is a shade called cocoa and the trim along the roofline is eggplant.”

Maxwell Vandermitton smiled. “Prosaic names for such appealing colors.”

Alice laughed. “That’s true, but we are quite pleased with the results.” She paused for a moment. “What can I do for you?”

“I am in need of lodging.”

“I can help you with that,” Alice told him. She stepped back a pace and pointed. “You can park in the lot at the back of the inn.”

Maxwell nodded. “Is there a garage? This is a brand-new Beamer.”

“I’m sorry, but there isn’t. I believe your car will be safe here, if you are concerned about someone stealing it.”

“One can’t be too careful,” he told her. “This car is attractive to thieves. It retails for seventy-four thousand dollars. My father gave it to me when I received my master’s degree.”

“Goodness,” said Alice faintly. “That’s … quite a gift. You must have done very well.”

“I graduated summa cum laude from Penn with a graduate degree in positive psychology,” he told her. “That’s the University of Pennsylvania,” he added.

“A member of the Ivy League. Congratulations.” Alice was impressed. “Exactly what is positive psychology?”

“It is a new branch of psychology that focuses on the empirical study of such things as positive emotions, strengths-based character and healthy institutions.”

“I see. It sounds quite interesting.”

“Oh, it was. Now I’m at Stanford working on my doctorate—or I was. I’ve taken off this semester to do research.”

“Heavens! You must love school.”

Maxwell’s expression seemed to grow a bit melancholy and he shrugged. “It’s something I’m good at.”

“Clearly.” Alice smiled. “I’m sorry. I’ve been peppering you with questions.” She pointed toward the back of the house. “While you park the car, I’ll clean up. I’ll meet you at the reception desk in a few minutes. Just go in the front door.”

Mr. Vandermitton nodded. “Thank you very much.”

After she replaced the tools in the garden shed, she hurried inside. As she went up to her room, she reflected on the young man’s formal speech. She probably could count on one hand the number of people she knew of Maxwell Vandermitton’s age who would use the words “proprietress” or “lodging.”

More accurately, she knew no one like him. She was acquainted with a great many pleasant young people, but he was so courteous that she found his manner somewhat distracting.

Quickly, Alice washed her face and hands, then donned khaki slacks and a white, short-sleeved blouse before hurrying downstairs.

Mr. Vandermitton was standing at the desk.

“Thank you for your patience,” she said, drawing the reservation book toward her. “How many nights would you like to stay with us?”

“I wish to book your best room for a month.”

A month! How can a student afford that?

She cleared her throat. “A month?”

Maxwell Vandermitton nodded. “Yes.”

As she perused the reservations for the next few weeks, Alice thought of the extravagantly expensive sports car and decided that Maxwell must be relying on family money. Glancing again through the reservations, she found that there were no rooms that had not been booked for some part of the upcoming few weeks.

There were two groups booked for the Sunset Room who had not asked for a specific room, unlike the honeymooning couple who had requested the Garden Room. Perhaps she could switch those two groups into other open rooms. If she did that, then she could offer Mr. Vandermitton the Sunset Room for the length of his stay.

“All right,” she said, making notes at a furious pace. “The Sunset Room is at the front of the house and has a private bath.”

Maxwell’s eyebrows went up and his hazel eyes widened. “Don’t they all?”

Alice shook her head, smiling. “Many bed-and-breakfasts have rooms that share a common guest bath. We have two with private baths and two that share one.”

The young man shuddered. “Please, do book me into … what did you call it? The Sunset Room. How quaint.”

Alice decided to take that as a compliment. “Thank you. My sisters and I redecorated and named the rooms before we opened for business.” She finished checking him in, noticing that he had signed in as Maxwell Alexander Vandermitton III. As she handed him the key to his room, she said, “Here you go. I’ll show you to your room.”

As she led him up the stairs and turned toward the Sunset Room, Maxwell said, “Where is your bellboy? My bags are still in my car.”

Alice stopped at his door. “We have no bellboy, Mr. Vandermitton. If you need help with your bags, I can assist you.”

The look on her guest’s face was comical to behold. “No bellboy,” he said faintly. “Goodness. Are all country inns like this?”

“For the most part,” Alice said cheerfully. “It’s a much more personal experience than staying in a hotel.”

“Where they have bellboys.”

She laughed. “Yes.”

He nodded, and then he shrugged. “I suppose I can bring up my luggage myself.”

“Mr. Vandermitton—”

“Please, call me Maxwell.”

“Maxwell,” Alice amended, making herself a mental note of his use of his full name rather than the nickname Max. “I have to confess that I’m curious about how you heard of us and why you chose an inn when you are not accustomed to this type of accommodation.”

The young man shrugged. “I read about a bed-and-breakfast in a wine magazine and thought I would try one. I chose yours from a list of Pennsylvania establishments that I narrowed down according to the local population.”

“The population?”

“Yes. I wanted to stay somewhere quite rural.”

Alice chuckled. “We most definitely fit that description. Although I believe you will find that Acorn Hill has all the amenities you require as well as an abundance of charm.”
Goodness, I sound like a tour guide!

“I’m sure it shall be quite satisfactory,” Maxwell said. “Quite satisfactory. Can you direct me to a good dining establishment?”

“In Acorn Hill, we have an excellent supper club called Zachary’s, which you might enjoy,” Alice told him. “There also are several very nice restaurants in Potterston. I have a list at the desk if you’d like a copy.”

She showed him the room, then went into the bath to be sure there were fresh towels and toiletries in place.

As she came out, she said, “You’ll have to tell me more about your research another time, Maxwell. Your specialty sounds very interesting.”

Her new guest turned quickly from opening the laptop computer case he had been carrying. He appeared to be oddly flustered as he said, “Oh, I never discuss my work until I am ready to present it.”

“Oh.” His abrupt rejection left Alice nonplussed.
What is the proper thing to say in response to that?
“I see. Well, I suppose I’ll leave you to settle in. If you’d like that list of dining establishments, come find me. I’ll be in either the library or the kitchen.”

“Thank you, Miss Howard. Your hospitality is appreciated greatly.” His smile transformed his serious young face and made him quite handsome.

Alice headed back downstairs. She smiled to herself, shaking her head. What an unusual young man. It appeared that Maxwell Vandermitton was used to a very different lifestyle from her own. Costly sports cars, bellboys and monthlong stays at an inn. She could not wait for Jane and Louise to return so that she could tell them about their long-term guest.

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