Holiday Affair
hospitality company. They’re called Edgware. You might have heard of them?”
    “They’re big. Your cousin hooked us up with them.”
    “It’s almost a done deal,” Robert rushed on, all business now. “All that’s left is for the B&B to undergo a mandatory anonymous evaluation, just to prove that we’re all shipshape—”
    “Which, of course, we are!”
    “—and the deal will go through. It’s worth big money.”
    “ Really big money,” his grandmother emphasized hastily. She gave a firm nod. “Believe me, hospitality companies aren’t exactly lining up to invest in small inns like ours, especially these days, and especially around here. It’s only because our all-inclusive holiday vacation concept is so unique—”
    “We were featured on Good Morning, Kismet !”
    “—that The Christmas House is under consideration at all. This is an opportunity we can’t afford to pass up.”
    They both stopped for breath, seeming to have run out of chatty arguments for selling the B&B. Uncertainly, his grandparents glanced at each other. Then, hopefully, at Reid.
    A certain tension filled the air. It felt a lot like the anxiety Reid sensed whenever one of his adventure travel clients had been less than truthful with him. Maybe about preparedness. Maybe about fitness. Maybe about his or her goals for undertaking a wilderness trek. Either way, it wasn’t good.
    At the fireplace mantel, Reid paused too. He thought about what he knew so far. Then, with sudden insight, he turned.
    “You staked your new retirement house on this deal.”
    His grandparents swapped uncomfortable looks.
    “You literally can’t afford to pass this up,” he added, “because you’ve already spent the money you’ll get from the sale. If it goes through.” He turned. “I’m right, aren’t I?”
    Silence descended. Amanda reached for another cookie.
    Snowflakes drifted past the windowpane, making Reid shiver. It was warm inside, especially by the cheery crackling fire, but his reaction had nothing to do with the wintery weather—and everything to do with the abrupt letdown of the adrenaline rush that had brought him here. He’d been so fraught with worry. So determined to take charge. And now…Now he was merely baffled.
    Why would his grandparents gamble with their future this way? Staking the B&B was crazy—especially if there were hoops to jump through before the sale could be finalized. A “mandatory anonymous evaluation” sounded like a pretty big hoop to him.
    If the Edgware franchising deal fell through, Betty and Robert would be out of luck—and unable to pay for their new retirement home in Arizona, too. Given the current real estate market, they’d be unlikely to sell the B&B to anyone else.
    “You have to understand.” His grandmother wrung her hands, her wedding rings sparkling. “You’re our very last hope, Reid.”
    “Hope for what?” He frowned, still confused.
    “For helping us sell The Christmas House!” his grandfather said. “We need you to handle things—to make sure the sale goes through as planned. That’s why we called you.”
    “But I don’t know anything about real estate.”
    “You don’t have to!” his grandmother hurried to assure him. “All you have to do is make sure things run smoothly while the secret Edgware evaluator is here. It will be a piece of cake.”
    “Then you should do it. You’re the ones with experience running a B&B,” Reid pointed out—reasonably, he thought.
    “If we try to do it, we’re likely to get all sentimental. Again,” his grandfather said. “And we’ll end up cancelling the deal. Again. This time, as you said, we can’t do that.”
    Because our retirement depends on it. They didn’t have to say the words aloud. The truth was evident. “Then don’t cancel.”
    “It’s not as simple as that.” Patiently, his grandmother folded her hands in her lap. “The evaluation has to happen at Christmastime, because that’s when the B&B is at its best.

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