Jack Smith hired Kara Lane to be the manager of The Lake House based only partly on her management skills. He fell for her at first sight but only allows himself to talk to her via email and, eventually, phone calls. His burns—the physical ones he suffered as a teenager and the emotional ones that followed—has made him gun-shy where women are concerned. Kara knows he’s avoiding her, but she’s fallen in love with him and she’ll do whatever it takes to convince him they belong together.
Kara Lane surveyed her domain. She’d only been in Summerland for a month and today was her first official shift behind the desk at The Lake House, but she felt as if it belonged to her, as if she was mistress of the whole place.
She’d left home three thousand miles behind, leaving her creepy ex-fiancé, his equally creepy family, and her mother without a single regret.
And now here she was in paradise.
The owner—who preferred to be known as Mr. Smith and dealt with her only via email—had scouted her from her job as general manager of a small resort in a lakeside tourist town in Ontario. His needs, and his restrictions, had been clear.
He and his company were finishing construction on a first-class, albeit small, resort and they needed a general manager.
Kara had been in the midst of a messy break-up in her small hometown when she’d received an email from Mr. Smith. At first, she’d been suspicious. But the re line had tempted her: We’re looking for the perfect GM for a new resort in the Okanagan.
She’d had to look up the Okanagan because she’d never been west of Winnipeg. It looked gorgeous—and very, very far away from the mess her life was in.
It sounded too good to be true, but the body of the email with that perfect re line pulled her in enough to hit reply. It said their scout had stayed in the resort she managed, that she was just the kind of person they were looking for, that they offered a competitive salary and benefits, and that—thank God—the resort was a whole five provinces away.
It was those five provinces that had initially drawn her in, but the whole package finally sold her, despite the weirdness involved in dealing with an owner who spoke to her only via email. The negotiations were tough but fair, the contract itself was more than she could have expected, and the photographs of the resort simply blew her away.
Smith Resorts was a first-class company and Mr. Smith was well-known for his ability to buy land and build resorts in locations that were right on the verge of taking off. When he committed to a place, others almost always followed.
The building, all warm cedar and brick, nestled into a large tract of land right on Lake Okanagan, as if it had grown there organically. A private beach sloped down to the water where a tiny marina held jet skis, kayaks, canoes, and a single, lovely cruiser. A jewel of a restaurant-bar held down the beach end of the main floor of the building.
Most of the hiring was finished by the time Kara arrived in the Okanagan, and the manager’s suite was ready for her. The banging and construction dust filling the resort might have driven some women crazy, but not Kara. She loved it. It made her feel like she had a small part to play in the preparation of the resort for its first guests. Mr. Smith planned a big opening the weekend of July 1, Canada Day and traditionally the first day of summer holidays. Kara had worried about that, concerned that he planned to concentrate all their efforts on summer visitors.
Over her years working in Niagara-on-the-Lake, she’d learned that one season—no matter how profitable—did not a successful resort make.
Mr. Smith disabused her of that notion.
Before she had a chance to email him with her concerns, she received another message setting out his ideas to lure guests for the other three seasons, and asking for her comments. Heaving a sigh of relief, she settled down with her laptop and laid out her revisions to his strategy.
Half an hour after she’d hit send, she received his reply.
Great. Let’s merge the two plans and start implementation ASAP. Anything you need, just let me know.
And so she did.
Emails. Texts. More emails. More texts. But, finally, early one morning she’d had enough. She had to talk to him. One of the things she’d learned over the years was that if it took more than three emails or texts to solve a problem, it was time to pick up the phone.
“Kara,” a deep, dark, absolutely delicious voice said.
She’d been right about the elusive Mr. Smith. He wasn’t just smart and organized, the well-respected and brilliant owner of The Lake House and all its companion resorts. He was drop-dead sexy. She didn’t need to see him to know that.
Their first conversation had ranged over almost every aspect of the hotel and its opening. Subsequent chats started with business and then quickly shifted into the personal. Soon, he knew almost everything about her, while she only knew that she couldn’t wait to meet him.
They spoke every day, sometimes two or three times. Her favorite phone calls occurred late at night. His voice didn’t put her to sleep; it drove her wild. She hadn’t met him, hadn’t even seen a photo of him—there weren’t any to be found—but she wanted him in her bed.
Despite the lust, they worked well together.
Mr. Smith had a lot in common with his new general manager. He, too, had a laptop or a smartphone attached to his hand at all times. She kept her whole life on her laptop, and the short version of it on her smartphone. She kept everything related to The Lake House in both places as well.
She’d spent a lot of time working out schedules, rotations, ideas for special events and promos, costs, benefits—analyses of everything that went into running a fifty-suite resort over four very different seasons. All of that information, all of those possibilities lived on her laptop, which she backed up to an external hard drive twice a day.
Settling into her glass-fronted office behind the reception area, Kara took another look at her to-do spreadsheet for the next three weeks. She was right on schedule, and when she took another look, maybe even a couple of days ahead.
It was good thing, too, because there were always glitches, occasional disasters, or people problems, and having a built-in two-day buffer would ensure that the opening weekend, and the big open house the Thursday before, wouldn’t be derailed by any serious problems.
It was a reality of the hospitality industry that something always went wrong in preparation for a big opening, a special night, or an exceptionally busy holiday weekend. It was as if the forces aligned to make the boiler break down, the plumbing explode, the temperamental chef fall apart and the kitchen implode at a time when it would be most difficult to solve the problems.
Kara grinned. She loved those moments. Fixing problems was her favorite thing to do, and if she were to choose a title instead of general manager, it would be Chief Problem Solver.
She went back to her spreadsheet, enjoying the temporary quiet. The construction guys weren’t in yet and, for now, Kara was the only live-in staff. That would change when her night manager—currently in London to finish up his job there—the maintenance chief, his two assistants, and two full-time security guards arrived.
For now, the solitude allowed her the luxury to explore every cavity of the massive building, to check the work of the contractors, and to get things repaired immediately when she spotted a problem. Her bright pink hard hat—a gift from the general contractor—went everywhere with her, just in case she had to crawl into the not-quite-finished attic space or walk blindly through the drywall dust still sitting in the belly of the building.
The suites were finished and in a couple of days the workers would start the load-in of furnishings and fixtures. Her quick run-through confirmed they’d be on time.
But for Kara? Right now, the unseen spaces were what mattered. The laundry room, the kitchens, the storage space, the staff space. If these worked—if they were well planned, comfortable, efficient—the resort would work at its optimum. If her staff were happy, the resort and its guests would be happy.
As she sent in her daily—okay, her three or four or five times daily—report to Mr. Smith, she wanted to ask if she’d see him at the opening weekend.