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Unforgettable (Naughty and Nice series #10)

Unforgettable (Naughty and Nice series #10)

No room at the inn? What about in her heart?

Widower Dudley Rose has been away a long time but has returned home to find a country inn where his home should stand, and the unforgettable woman that drove him to leave making up his bed for strangers there. A Naughty and Nice standalone regency romance short story.

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Main Tropes

  • Friends to Lovers
  • Second Chances
  • Reunion

Synopsis

After her husband’s death left her a tenant in her own home, Lucy Thorne’s future was bleak. Turning neighbor Dudley Rose’s long-abandoned home into a thriving tourist destination was not her idea, but it did temporarily solve one of her problems. Yet with every year that passes without seeing Dudley again, Lucy has stubbornly clung to the hope he’d return. If he did, he would discover that he was dearly longed for.

Widower Dudley Rose has returned home after ten long years, possessing a fortune but with no one to spend it on. However, in his absence, his property has become a popular travelers’ inn and run by the very woman who drove him to leave the sleepy village. What’s more astonishing is that the unforgettable Lucy Thorne is now a widow…and even more tempting than in his dreams. Does Dudley stand a chance to win her heart, or must his love continue unrequited?

Intro to Chapter One

Mrs. Lucy Thorne pulled the black velvet curtain aside in the Rose Inn’s front entrance hall and stared out into the shadows of the night. A carriage was due at any moment to offload its passengers, but the usual service was running late. On time or late, there was going to be a problem tonight. 

The Rose Inn had no chambers left to let to anyone with good money to spend. There was only seating room available in the parlor, but precious little of that, too. She hoped the carriage carried no one important who expected a proper bed and the privacy of bedchamber. There was nothing she could do to meet their demands for better service. The holiday season was just beginning and soon they would be utterly run off their feet.

She almost hoped there was trouble on the roads again, and that the carriage would not come at all, but most likely they were merely delayed, which meant she and her helpers could not seek their beds anytime soon. 

But one day soon the carriages would stop coming altogether. The bridge farther downstream would be rebuilt well enough that carriages could cross it again. The Rose Inn and those who depended on the income from it were nearly done for. 

Lucy firmly pushed that constant worry aside and let the curtain fall to keep out the growing cold. She fiddled with the material, though. One of the few features that she’d insisted must remain at the Rose Inn from its earlier days as a family home was the mourning black touches hanging about the place. A reminder to all that the inn could not last forever. 

The man who had once lived here was gone for now and life had continued without him, but his ownership could not be forgotten. 

Lucy was certain he would come back one day.

In the meantime, she worked hard to make this grand old home a place of wonder and comfort for her guests after a long and tiring journey. A happy place to make wonderful memories so that they might return for a second or even third stay with them. Guidebooks were being written about the luxury of staying here now, and the tranquility of the natural surrounds travelers might enjoy, too. The inn was nearly full to the rafters tonight because of their growing reputation. However, with the weather taking a sudden evil turn, Lucy could not rest on her laurels and enjoy their success. Everyone was thoroughly chilled through and wanted something from her. 

“Mrs. Thorne?”

“Mrs. Thorne?”

“Mrs. Thorne?”

“I’ll be right there,” Lucy promised each guest who called out to her, rushing toward the kitchens where her neighbors slaved over the hearth. “Where is that fresh barrel of ale?”

Even as the words left her lips, Mr. Argyle and Mr. Drummond struggled to roll a full barrel through the rear door. “It ought to be allowed to sit and settle for an hour,” Drummond warned her with a disapproving expression.

“There’s no time, I’m afraid,” she replied, hurrying to the fireplace where a pot of claret was being warmed and giving it an unnecessary stir.

Argyle, the oldest of her neighbors, filled a tankard and took a healthy swallow. “It’ll do for that lot,” he announced with a slight grimace for the flavor.

Drummond filled a dozen tankards from the barrel and handed them off to another to distribute among the travelers. The ladies in the sitting room would be offered wassail soon, and she neatly counted out a number of plain glasses for them, leaving two pair of wooden goblets in reserve. They had been a wedding gift to her from the true owner of this building, Mr. Rose, and Lucy and her friends were the only one’s to use those.

“The family that came in last are settled in your home instead of here,” Drummond advised in a low tone as he came to stand at her side. He picked up a wooden goblet and turned it in his hand. “They won’t breathe a word of it should they be asked by certain parties, either. They will slip back in time for breakfast. I’ll make sure they are not seen.”

“Thank you,” she whispered, sharing a conspiratorial smile with him. 

“Certain parties” meant Mr. Cecil Horton, Lucy’s tightfisted landlord. Horton, the wealthiest man in the district, disapproved of the inn, but he was not above attempting to profit from it. Last time she’d let out her home instead of sleeping in her own bed herself, Horton had found out and demanded a cut of the guest fee. She’d learned to be discreet about such matters ever since. 

There was always a greater demand for beds than existed at the inn. Guests were sometimes housed with her neighbors, at least with those who owed no rent to Cecil Horton. The Rose Inn had the greatest number of bedchambers of any house in the village. Horton had always coveted the place for that reason. He wanted to be the most important man for miles around; a man everyone bowed down to.

After the tankards had been delivered to the thirsty patrons, there were still several rooms and chairs to be made up for the night. Lucy trudged upstairs, tired after a long day. She could have asked one of the local ladies to remain behind to help her, but they had their own homes and families to care for, while Lucy had no one. The entire village was involved with the activities of the inn throughout the year. But the heaviest responsibility had rested on Lucy’s shoulders from the very beginning. 

Opening an inn in her neighbor’s abandoned house had not been her idea. But it had become the most logical solution when carriage after carriage rolled into the village, with each coachman begging for any available beds for their passengers for the night. It was fate and ill weather that had destroyed a bridge downstream, diverting all carriage traffic to the high road and their quaint little village had thrived as a consequence. The disaster had made her village extremely popular with tourists and travelers alike, and her neighbors had all taken advantage in some way.

One conducted walking tours to the nearby mountains, another directed guests to views more suited to artists, several of the local women served tea and biscuits in the natural beauty of their pretty gardens, and an older gentleman who lived alone offered a room for late night gambling or drinking.

Lucy finished one room, wrote a guest’s name upon the slate nailed to the door, and moved on to the next chamber. She paused, her hand upon the latch. 

Mr. Rose’s room. The best chamber in the entire house. The room she always hated stepping into for the emptiness of it.

“Mrs. Thorne! A word if you please,” Mr. Horton called out behind her.

Lucy turned quickly, though dreaded having to speak with her landlord. He’d started coming around the inn more of late, complaining of some situation or another that somehow always seemed to put her tenancy in peril. 

She pasted a smile on her face. “Good evening, Mr. Horton.”

Horton was a few years her senior and yet acted like an old man in many ways. He disliked change, hated the noise of newly arrived carriages and visitors, and criticized everyone. The man approached her, his eyes glinting with anticipation, his hand stretched out. “Rent is due.”

Lucy had been expecting him for this but far earlier in the evening, and she had been ready all day. Horton only sought her out late in the evenings, frequently getting in her way. He’d also started lingering in the taproom in the afternoon, causing her to avoid that area of the inn, but since he paid for every tankard, she couldn’t complain or ask him to leave. He spoke often of the perils of travel with guests and despaired the loss of tranquility in these parts to anyone who would listen. 

His fingers stretched out to her, rubbing against each other greedily. Lucy handed over the next quarter’s rent promptly. He insulted her by counting it in front of her and, seeing the payment lacked nothing, put the money away with a sour expression twisting his mouth. “I see you’re doing well,” he noted.

“The inn is,” she corrected him. Lucy made enough money from the inn to pay her rent to Horton, feed herself, and buy herself new clothes every other year. She was paid a reasonable amount for her efforts, but no more than anyone else who toiled under this roof for as many hours. Argyle and Drummond believed Lucy was mad to do so much for so little compensation. Yet the bulk of the income must be kept aside for rent to be paid to the owner of the house, if Mr. Rose ever showed his face in the village again.

Horton nodded. “Yes, yes. The inn has become quite the moneymaking scheme.”

“Mrs. Thorne!” Argyle called up the stairs urgently. 

“Coming,” she called down and edged around Mr. Horton. “Excuse me. Duty calls.”

Horton did not give way, and she found herself uncomfortably blocked by his body. The powerful scent of ale on his breath alarmed her. She felt a touch on her hip and slapped his hand away impatiently. “That’s enough of that, sir. I have work to do.”

Horton snickered. “The inn only exists because of my benevolence and soon it will be mine.”

Her eyes lifted to his. “You’ve heard from Mr. Rose?” 

“Perhaps I have.” He leaned close. “We could talk about it in private tonight.” 

Lucy tried not to show her revulsion at the invitation from the man who’d once been her husband’s closest friend. Since the death, Horton had made some suggestive comments to her, but had never made a direct advance until tonight. Although desperate to hear news of Mr. Rose’s continued good health, she’d not make any arrangement to speak privately with Horton. “Another time, perhaps. Do give my regards to your sister and tell her I look forward to our chat over tea tomorrow.”

Mrs. Thorne?” Argyle roared up the staircase.

Horton edged a little closer. “I’ll call on you tomorrow.”

Tomorrow Lucy would be here, working. 

“Excuse me.” Lucy squeezed past Horton, and their bodies brushed in a way that utterly revolted her. A widow living alone had so little protection from men like Horton, who thought her desperate enough to accept their scandalous advances. She hurried for the safety of her friends and neighbor, Argyle, and Drummond too. They were the best of men—and the safest to be around at such a time. She fairly flew down the stairs to answer Argyle’s summons. “Yes?” 

Argyle looked up at her, then his gaze moved past her to the stairs as Horton descended and requested his hat, coat, and gloves. “A guest is demanding to speak to whoever is in charge of the Rose room.”

“It is almost ready,” she promised. If not for Horton, it would already be prepared. She waited for Horton to stroll out of the inn’s front door before rushing back up the stairs again and entering Mr. Rose’s bedchamber. 

It was the work of a moment to sweep hot pans over the sheets and fluff the pillows. The room had grand proportions and a pleasant outlook on a sunny day. But it had been abandoned for a long time. There was no hint of Mr. Rose’s cologne lingering on the air anymore. 

Lucy caught her breath as she straightened and turned—only to find herself observed.

Drummond was standing at the door, a look of concern on his face. “You looked pale when you came down. Horton’s visit bothered you?”

“It’s nothing to worry about,” she assured him. 

“We could become engaged,” Drummond offered, not for the first time, either. “He’d leave you alone then. Or you could marry Argyle. He’s asked you to marry him a dozen times now.”

“I cannot do that to either of you,” Lucy said as gently as she could.

Drummond pulled a face. “Rose should never have left you.”

“He did not leave me. He left all of us,” she muttered. Despite being married to another, Dudley Rose had been the love of Lucy’s life…though she hoped he never realized that. They had both been married to other people, in fact. When she’d discovered her affliction, she’d done everything she could to hide it. Argyle claimed to have always known. Thankfully, her husband had never suspected while he’d lived.

“What will you do about Horton?” 

“Next quarter-day rent is a long way off. Until then, I will do my best to never let him catch me alone again.”

“We’ll do our part, too. An engagement might be enough to warn him off for a while, but a marriage would be better. Think about it and let one of us know,” Argyle offered, and then slipped away.

Drummond and Argyle were her favorite bachelors, but she could never marry either one, and she’d already told them so and why. She could not deny them the chance of finding someone special to love and be loved by. Love was rare and precious. 

She closed the door to the Rose room and heaved a heavy sigh, Then she walked a circuit of the inn’s public rooms, sweeping her eyes over every corner, and every chair containing a guest to make sure all was as it should be. 

Drummond was in the thick of things, as usual. Promoting a longer village stay, the unparalleled views from vantage points only he could show them, and the prospect of more and better ale to be had tomorrow. The man thrived on meeting new people coming to the inn. 

One day, before the bridge was fixed, she sincerely hoped a carriage would bring ladies to love Drummond and Argyle. So far, it was a wish for them that remained unfulfilled, as was her own—that Lucy might hear of Mr. Rose. Sometimes, she feared he might be dead in a gutter somewhere and that she might never see him again. 

Still, she couldn’t forget him. She never wanted to either.

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Naughty and Nice Series

Flirty, dirty, wicked romance. These naughty and nice regency romance romps are quick reads—novella and short stories.
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