Mr. Imperfect(5)

By: Karina Bliss

“It appears Muriel remortgaged some years ago but most of the capital was spent on meeting running costs, interest payments and, later, medical bills. When her health started deteriorating she obviously panicked and bet on the track to try to recoup that money.” Don shuffled papers on his battered desk. “Which is exactly the sort of harebrained scheme Muriel would adopt rather than admit she needed help. I’m sorry, Kezia.”

“There’s nothing for you to be sorry about,” she said perfunctorily, still trying to take in the enormity of his disclosure. “No wonder she retained bookkeeping when I took over two months ago.” Swallowing her terror, she asked, “Can I trade out of this?”

“Maybe. If you can come up with a good enough business plan to satisfy the bank and follow it up with solid results.”

“I’ll give you the money you need.” She’d forgotten Christian was there, half hidden by the side wings of an old green leather chair.

“No.” Her response was instinctive; her brain caught up and approved it seconds later.

Christian looked at Don. “How much is it? I’ll write a check now.”

“I said no, Christian. I don’t want your money.”

“I’m not doing this for you, Kezia. I’m doing it for Muriel.”

“Muriel won’t take your money, either,” said Don. “It’s specified in the will.” He put on his glasses and read, “‘Christian Kelly is prohibited from paying off the hotel’s debts.’ This, I think, is where I give you her letter.”

Christian looked at Muriel’s familiar flourish and swallowed a lump in his throat. She’d written to him weekly for fourteen years. This would be the last letter he ever received from her.

My darling, you’re wondering why I won’t let you pay off my debt. Too bad, I’m not going to tell you! I ask instead that you stay in town—yes, I know you hate it but it’s just a few weeks—and help Kezia come up with a plan to reverse the hotel’s fortunes. The place needs an entrepreneur’s skill if it’s to survive another hundred years. Tell Kezia I’m sorry I’ve left things in such a mess but it seemed necessary. God bless you both, my darlings, Muriel.

Christian handed it to Kezia without a word. It seemed necessary? What was Muriel playing at? Had she forgotten he had a multimillion-dollar business to run? Okay, his two partners could carry him for a couple of weeks, but to come back here—a place haunted by memories, most of them bad… He shuddered. Immediately he began thinking of ways to circumvent the will. Hell, if a hotel and tourism magnate couldn’t outwit an old lady, he deserved this penance.

With grim amusement he watched Kezia’s face as she read the letter, before she became aware of his scrutiny and turned away. When she turned back, her expression reflected his resolve. Implacable resistance. “You’re off the hook. I refuse your help.”

Just what Christian wanted to hear. Still, he was inexplicably annoyed. “I don’t want to be involved any more than you want me to be, but it would be respectful to at least consider her last wishes.” He ignored the fact that he had been doing no such thing.

Kezia thrust out the letter, waited until he took it. “I can manage on my own.” It had always been her mantra—more than that, the truth. Now the words rang hollow, but she couldn’t allow Christian back into her life. And she wouldn’t cry in front of him, though she wanted to, very badly. Worse than the prospect of losing her heritage was realizing her grandmother hadn’t trusted her enough to confide her troubles. She lifted her hand to her heart and pressed against the almost physical surge of pain.

“Don, more whiskey.” Christian guided her to a couch with gentle hands, while the older man hurried from the room in search of the bottle. “Relax.” His breath was warm on the nape of her neck. “I have no intention of coming back.”

“Thank God!” He looked startled at her vehemence and Kezia added impatiently, “Surely you realize she’s trying to force us together to salvage a happy-ever-after out of this mess. Why else would she have that curious clause refusing your money?”

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