The next heartwarming and inspirational Christmas story by USA Today Bestselling author, Nancy Naigle.
Growing up, Liz Westmoreland dreamed of taking over her grandparents inn located in the small mountain town of Angels Creek only for it to be sold before she ever got the chance. While browsing the internet, she stumbles upon a listing for what looks to be the picturesque inn and it’s set to go to auction. Liz places a bid, and by a miracle, wins the auction. But when she gets there she finds the property in significant disrepair.
When Matt Hardy narrowly lost the inn and property that butted his land, he just hoped it wasn't another city slicker coming to make matters worse after the previous owners gutted the place for an art gallery. But the minute he recognized the sweet, freckle-faced girl from his childhood and heard her plans to reopen the inn, he jumps at the chance to help his childhood crush restore a place where he made so many fond memories.
While working on repairs, Liz and Matt discover her grandmother’s collection of angels in one of the cabins. When the angels start mysteriously showing up all over the inn, she begins to look at them as reassurance—that restoring the inn is what she's meant to do. But when an accident leaves Liz feeling like she made a mistake, will Matt—and the residents of Angels Creek—be able to show Liz that she's found a home? And possibly true love as well?
Liz motioned for Dan to follow her to the kitchen island. “Look at this. I’m sure it’s my grandparents’ old place.”
“You haven’t been back there in what? Twenty years?” Dan pulled the computer closer and looked at the listing.
“Nice. Yeah. Wait. What are you thinking?” Dan lifted his gaze, then cocked his head. “You’re not seriously considering—”
“I’ve been waiting for this my whole life. Angels Rest is practically mine.” Excitement forced her words out in a flurry. “So, how do I do this auction thing?”
“You don’t.” He closed the top of the computer, and handed her a barbecue sandwich. “Not without going to see the condition of the house and checking to make sure you’re not also buying old liens against the place.”
“There’s no time. It goes up for auction in the morning. I’ve read through the FAQ’s, it doesn’t look that complicated. I need to get a proof of funds letter from my banker before I can bid though.”
“You’re going to bid on this place sight unseen? I have to advise against it, Liz. That’s just plain crazy.” Dan ran a hand through his hair. “You’re always talking about situations being a ‘sign’; well, maybe this is a sign that you should let this crazy idea go once and for all.”
“No. It’s not a sign to let it go. Finding out the day before Angels Rest goes up for auction is a sign it’s meant to be.” She scooted closer to him and opened the laptop again. “Look at these. The pictures don’t look so bad. Okay, so it’s overgrown, but that’s cosmetic.”
“Pictures can hide a multitude of problems. Very expensive ones, and the fact that there are only three pictures total is a red flag, especially since only one shows the house. The other is an aerial. You have no idea what it looks like inside.”
“It’s rustic. It’s a timber home, what could go wrong?”
He had a point. “Well, the thing is still standing.”
“You have no way of really knowing that without going and taking a professional with you to check it out.” Dan leaned against the counter. “Why are you so hell-bent on this idea? You’re good at what you do. You have a good life here. Why the heck would you want to move to the mountains?”
“I loved spending time with my grandparents. The mountains are like an old friend to me. The nature. The quiet. I always thought I’d rent rooms out to people, and help them enjoy the area just like Gram and Pop. It was a good and pleasing way of life.”
“You’d be bored out of your skull up there. No shopping. Probably no pizza delivery. You do love pizza.”
“I can make my own pizza.”
He cocked his head.
“I could learn.”
“You love your job.”
“I wouldn’t say I love it. I’m good at it. But I could still do some projects if I get bored. I love that place. It’s why I’ve worked so hard and saved for so long. Every bonus, every raise—I’ve invested it all for this one dream.”
Dan folded his arms. “So that’s why I couldn’t get you to look at a new house last year?”
“Exactly. I told you. I have everything I need here. I’ve got money socked away for a new place.” She raised her eyebrows.
“The right place. The one that I’ve had in my heart since as long as I can remember.”
“But a person in your position should live in a much nicer house in a much better area of the city. Maybe you’d be happier here if—”
“There’s nothing wrong with this house or my neighborhood. Or Angels Rest.”
“I didn’t say there was. Your house will be an easy sell, but I just didn’t think you were really serious about a house in the mountains.”
“You never listen to what I say.” Which was fine, really. It would be a different story if he were her boyfriend, but their relationship wasn’t like that.
“I do listen. Kind of. I guess I just didn’t put two and two together.”
“Well, call it four and help me, why don’t you?” He handed her a plate with barbecue, slaw, baked beans, and corn bread on it. “Do you know how much work a place like that could take?”
“I can take a leave of absence to do the renovation. It won’t be much different from what I do on a daily basis, but instead of opening a mega-retail site I’ll be opening an inn. I can do contract work from up there and do both for a while until I build up a clientele.”
“You really have thought this through.”
“I’ve been dreaming of it for years, Dan.” She walked into the living room with her plate and plopped down on the sofa.
“You just don’t get it. My grandparents owned this inn on the mountainside of Antler Creek. What are the odds of me finding this out the night before it goes on sale?”
He sat down in one of the chairs and balanced his plate on his knee. “One in a million, I’m sure.”
“Right. Each summer,” Liz said, “people came not just to Antler Creek, but to my grandparents’ inn for the fishing and fireside cookouts, and every winter they came for the skiing and Christmas festivities. The inn was known for the best Christmas lights around. You could see them from down in the valley. People came from miles around.” In her mind she was back there, bundled up and excited as people began to join together. “There were carriage rides up the mountain to see the lights up close. Gram would make hot chocolate and her secret-recipe cookies for visitors. I helped. It was magical.”
Dan took out his phone and started typing. “And today the population in Antler Creek is eleven hundred twenty-nine, and twenty-five years ago the population was twelve hundred thirty-four.”
So there wasn’t much growth. That was just year-round population. “A steady population,” she reasoned.
“A stagnant one.”
“It’s not about the population. Or maybe it is. Antler Cree is quaint. It’s the perfect place to relax. I loved spending time there.”
“That was a long time ago, Liz. And you haven’t been back in years. What’s that say about it?”
She shut her mouth. That was a fair point. “It broke my heart a little that my grandparents left it behind. I’d always assumed I’d take it over from them.”
“What will your guests do with their time when they stay with you?”
“All the things they used to. Enjoy nature. Fly-fishing. Antiquing. Hike to the waterfall. Pop led hikes and fishing excursions nearly every week.” Am I really brave enough to do this?
“I guess the waterfall would still be there,” he said. “Are you going to take strangers on hikes in the woods? That sounds like a recipe for disaster.”
“Why not? And fly-fishing on the stream was amazing in the summer. I used to be quite good at it.”
He sighed. “You know I’m not going to wade out in cold water and fish, right?”
She shrugged. This wasn’t about the two of them. He knew that too. “You can visit. I promise to have Wi-Fi.”
His mouth tugged to the side the way it did when he was disappointed.
“Be happy for me,” she said. “Please?”
He sucked in a deep breath. “I’m still not saying this is a good idea, but if you’re going to do it be careful. The sale is as-is, where-is, so if you win, you’re stuck with it even if it’s a hunk of termite-ridden rubbish.”
“I hear you. You’ve made your point, but I’m also stuck with it if it’s exactly like I remember, and that would be awesome.” She grinned so wide her lashes tickled her cheeks.
“I head to Denver tomorrow night for my cousin’s wedding,”
Dan said. “Are you sure I can’t talk you into coming with me instead? It’ll be a great party and a fun long weekend. Could save you six figures.”
She’d declined the invitation weeks ago. “No thanks. I’ve got things to do around here that I’ve neglected the past couple of months while I was working in South Carolina.” She took in a long deep breath, crossed her fingers, and held them up. “Or I might own a new home.” He rolled his eyes, and shoved the last bit of barbecue into his mouth. “I’ll be back Tuesday. Keep me posted.”
The next morning, Liz had met with her banker, submitted her proof of funds, and finished her entries on the auction portal with little time to spare before the auction began.
Like Dan, her banker had given her a speech about buying a property at auction sight unseen. He hadn’t seemed any less concerned when she mentioned that she used to spend every summer and winter there as a kid, and that she had a good feeling about this. It might have sounded like an impulse purchase to him, but she’d been wishing, hoping, and planning for this for years. It was surely meant to be. It didn’t really matter what his personal thoughts were. This was her decision, and her money, and she had the proof of funds letter in hand. She was set.
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