Holiday Hideout

By: Vicki Lewis Thompson

PROLOGUE




Once upon a time, a middle-aged couple named Ken and Jillian Vickers rented a cozy cottage overlooking Lake Tahoe in hopes that a weekend away would revitalize their marriage. The plan worked so well that they bought the cottage. But it was far too small to accommodate their children and grandchildren, so on Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s, it sat empty.

Ken suggested renting it out for those holidays, which made financial sense to Jillian. But after several seasons, an unusual pattern emerged. Renters routinely left notes expressing their joy at either rekindling an old love or finding a new one during their stay at the cabin.

The consistent theme of the notes fascinated Ken and Jillian, both sociology professors at the University of Nevada in Reno. Perhaps the little cabin had a special effect on couples. If so, Ken and Jillian vowed to collect enough evidence to uncover its secret….



“I STILL SAY you’re taking the concept too far.” Ken Vickers paced the small kitchen. “This is a blatant matchmaking attempt, which will skew the data we’ve collected so far.”

“And I say it’s the ultimate test.” Jillian scooted under the kitchen sink. “Hand me the wrench.”

“But—”

“With this renter, we have a golden opportunity to see if the cabin’s effect is strong enough to override a renter’s preconceived objective. Beth insists she’s stopped searching for Mr. Right. I want to see what happens if we bring Mr. Right to her doorstep.” She wiggled her fingers. “Wrench, please.”

Ken sighed as he leaned down and placed it in her outstretched hand. “You don’t know that Mac is Beth’s Mr. Right.”

“Yes, I do. Besides being a terrific handyman, he’s a nice person. Beth was one of those great students you never forget. They’re perfect for each other.”

“Aside from the fact that he loves it here and her job’s in Reno.”

“So they’ll drive back and forth. It’s doable. And they’ll make beautiful babies.”

“Babies? Jillian, for God’s sake. They haven’t even met and you’re already envisioning babies?”

“You have to admit they’d make a handsome couple, Mac with his dark hair and those startling blue eyes, and Beth with her reddish-brown hair and green eyes. Their kids would be absolutely—”

“What if she doesn’t notice the leak and we end up with water damage?”



“C’mon, Ken. She manages one of the largest hotels in Reno. She’ll notice.”

“I still don’t think this is a good idea. Something could go wrong.”

“I promise you, it won’t.” Jillian loosened the pipe fitting. “Would you please turn on the water?”

With another martyred sigh, Ken complied.

“Good—we’ve got a leak. It’s just enough to get her attention. You posted Mac’s number on the refrigerator, right?”

“I did, but…I don’t know if I can just walk out of here with that pipe leaking. It goes against my instincts.”

“Not mine. She’ll be here in the next hour, and it’s starting to snow.” Jillian eased out from under the sink. “Let’s get going before the roads get too icy.”





CHAPTER ONE




AFTER UNPACKING AND TAKING a long soak in the claw-foot tub of her Lake Tahoe rental cabin, Beth Tierney put on an old sweatshirt and sweatpants along with her sock-monkey slippers. Then she settled down on the living room couch with a glass of wine, a pen and a yellow legal pad.

Before she left the cabin on Sunday, she would have a Single and Proud of It speech for her well-meaning yet interfering family when they gathered for Christmas. Never again would she face a holiday dreading that they’d try to fix her up with a marriage prospect. Pen poised, she debated how to begin.

Now that I’ve turned thirty, I— She scratched that out. No sense in calling attention to her age when that was the first thing they mentioned when they broached the subject of her singleness. As you all know, I used my Thanksgiving break to take stock of my life.

That was better. Her father was fond of telling his children to “take stock of their lives.” She’d reminded her mother of that when announcing she wasn’t going to be attending the family Thanksgiving celebration in Sacramento this year. Her two brothers and one sister—all married even though they were younger than she was—had thought hiding away in a cabin for the Thanksgiving weekend was stupid, and had called her to say so. But her mom and dad had given their blessing.

She glanced out the window where a light snow continued to fall. Good thing she’d made it before the roads got bad. Returning her attention to the yellow legal pad on her lap, she chose her next sentence carefully.