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Welcome to the Creek

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Chapter 2

Hollymount Inn & Spa

Sophie pulled up outside the inn and parked her car in one of the many allotted spaces. She picked up the coffee and finished the dregs of it then brushed down the front of her top in case there were any crumbs from the delicious cookie before she climbed out. She smoothed down the front of her skirt and blouse again, grabbed her bag and hurried in.

At the reception she was greeted by a surly man who was small and slim, and way over dressed. He knew who she was before she introduced herself and walked away with a wave for her to follow him to an office in the back.

Without offering her a drink or informing her when the interview would begin he left the room and closed the door behind him. She looked around the room at the tasteful décor, the familial style pictures of the staff, the small desk only big enough for a computer with two leather armchairs either side making this seem less like an office and more like a home.

Sophie felt herself relaxing and breathing a little easier when the door opened. She turned to see a middle aged woman walk in with a wide inviting smile so she stood and stuck out her hand in a greeting.

“Oh! So formal! Let's be official then, I’m Nora, the owner.”

“Sophie, prospective employee!”

Nora chuckled and waved Sophie back into her seat as she rounded the table and sat down. “So you just arrived in town?”

“Yeah, I’m sorry I’m late I was signing papers for a new place to live.”

“Oh? You found something already?” Nora said excitedly.

“Yeah it’s a small house on Cherry St.”

“Lovely! Well you know there is room and board here for senior staff members if they need it.”

“Yeah you mentioned that on the phone call, but I prefer not to live in house.”

“Oh I understand that, I’m the very same. You need a change of scenery in the evenings.” Sophie nodded. “So you’ve decided to give our little inn a chance?”

“I think it’s more like you decided to let me have a chance with your inn!”

“Not at all, you are saving me from having to sell it. I just can’t keep up with it anymore, and with my daughter having moved down to Kerry, I just want to be down there, spending more time with the family.”

“Understandable of course.”

“So last we talked you were still living in California. But you mentioned you had family from this county?”

“Yeah, my mum was from Mayo, but moved to America when she was eighteen." Sophie looked around the room and smiled. "I grew up in a small town just outside San Francisco. My parents still live there. But I have an aunt and a few cousins in Westport. ”

“Ah its nice to have family near by.”

“Mmhmm,” Sophie said noncommittally but Nora didn’t miss it.

“C’mon, let me show you around the place," she said after a short pause.

They walked around the inn and Nora introduced her to all the staff. They walked the grounds around the small lake in the sun and back towards the spa that was located on the other side and Nora showed her the facilities. The swimming pool and sauna, small gym and massage room. The hall for fitness classes and meditation as well as the mud room other body treatments and then introduced her to the rest of the staff.

They made it into the inn just before lunch. Nora led her over to a table in the centre of the dining room and they sat.

“Fiona is our head chef. She will join us for lunch.”

Before Sophie could respond a short slim woman with a wild head of red hair that was being held at bay with a bandana, came charging in with a tall tray of small sandwiches and desserts.

“Oh wow!” Sophie exclaimed.

“High tea!” the red haired woman exclaimed excitedly and she clapped her hands as she sat down. “This will bring people to the inn in droves!” Fiona shook hands with Sophie and sat down as another waiter brought in tea. “I'm Fiona."

"I gathered."

"So, how do you like The Creek?”

“Well, the whole seventeen hours I’ve lived here have been pretty eventful!”

“Oh?”

“I’ve been running around trying to get a place to live, managed to sign papers for a place on Cherry St.”

“Oh I love that street, with all the cherry blossoms!”

“Then I had a run in with some stranger who was roaring at me for parking too close to his truck.”

“Who?”

“I didn’t catch his name.”

“Let me guess…” Nora said with a smile. “Tall guy?” Sophie nodded. “Flannel shirt?” Sophie paused to try and remember what he had been wearing then nodded again and looked over at Fiona who giggled.

“Black baseball cap?" Fiona said then added "Backwards baseball cap?”

“Yeah, who is this guy?” Sophie looked between them both as she asked.

“Surly expression?”

“Scruffy almost beard?”

“Beautiful smile?”

“Amazing eyes?”

“Oh the lashes too!”

“And his ass…wonderful, wonderful ass!” Fiona was laughing now without trying to hold it back.

“Ok…who is this guy you are talking about?”

“Jake Gaffney. He owns the bakery in town.”

“Owns it?”

“Yeah, owns it, runs it, lives above it. It’s basically his life.”

“Apart from Ellie,” Nora corrected.

“His wife?” Sophie asked carefully.

“No, his kid.”

“Oh, he’s a single dad?”

“Yeah.” Nora reached out and took a selection of sandwiches onto her plate. “Terrible shame what happened there.”

Not wanting to pry Sophie restrained her almost uncontrollable urge to ask them to continue, but it seemed Fiona had no such need for it.

“They were dating I think about a year when she got pregnant?”

“She was all wrong for him!” Fiona said as she took a sandwich and bit into it. “She was a travel photographer.”

“Nature, it was nature photographer.”

“Whatever, she was never going to stay in our town for very long.”

“About a month after she had the baby, she up and left,” Nora’s voice lowered as she continued with the taboo subject. “Jake was out of town for the day, when he got back, she was gone. The baby was in the crèche.”

“She left Jake and the baby behind? And never came back?”

“She comes and goes actually. I think she had been back about 4 times since Ellie was born.”

“She has stayed here on a few of those occasions too.” Nora leaned forward when she spoke, as if the information she was sharing was confidential. “Not at the apartment.”

“What age is Ellie?” Sophie asked, storing all the info they shared for later inspection.

“She just turned 14. I baked a cake for her birthday last week.”

“14?” Sophie almost choked. “He did not seem old enough to have a 14 year old kid.”

“Oh they dated young. I think he was 19 or maybe 20 when they had her.”

“Wow!” Sophie bit into another sandwich and tried to recall the memory of her encounter with the stranger and put it together with all the information she had just been told. “And they never married?”

“No,” Nora said with a sorrowful smile. “I heard he asked her when he found out she was pregnant but she turned him down.”

“Oh…” Sophie responded and looked away for a moment as if to give the moment the weight it deserved.

“So Jake lives with Ellie above the diner and pretty much every woman in The Creek is waiting for the signal.”

“The signal?”

“His signal to let us know when he is ready and available.”

“Oh right, like the bat signal.” Sophie chuckled.

“Yeah,” Fiona said, chuckling and covering her mouth. “But instead of the shape of a bat, it would be the shape of his-”

“Fiona!” Nora swatted her arm with a shocked look that melted into a smile and the three of them giggled.

They ate lunch and finished the desserts then Fiona returned to the kitchen to help with the rest of the lunch orders. Nora walked Sophie back out to her car and surprised her by pulling her into a tight hug before she climbed in.

“I knew I was going to be right about you,” she whispered as she hugged her. “You will look after this place, the way it deserves to be looked after.”

“I’ll do my best.” Sophie smiled and climbed into her car.

“So how about ten am tomorrow and we’ll start going over everything.”

“Great. I can’t wait to get started.”

“Go, go home, get settled in and I’ll see you in the morning.”

Nora waved as she turned and went back into the Inn as Sophie drove back into town. She delivered the notarized papers to the real estate office and picked up the keys to her new home.

She walked from room to room, admiring it all in the new light of ownership then one by one carried all the bags and boxes into the living room. She brought linen and a suitcase of clothing up to her room and made the bed. She unpacked some of the clothes and admired them in her wardrobe. A thrill of delight coursed through her, snagged only by the ever present worry of having signed her first mortgage.

Back in the living room she started to tackle the boxes of DVDs but only managed to get halfway through when her hunger pangs became too powerful to ignore. She strolled into the kitchen, checked the boxes of food she had but other than dry pasta and various condiments there was nothing edible. An image flashed into her mind of the handsome bakery owner and she wondered if the place was still open. She glanced at the clock on the wall and thought any bakery worth its salt would be open just after six.

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