Home > The Country Guesthouse (Sullivan's Crossing #5)

The Country Guesthouse (Sullivan's Crossing #5)
Author: Robyn Carr

Forever—is composed of nows.

—Emily Dickinson


Hannah Russell loved the rented cabin she and her colleagues were staying in—it was exquisite. The upscale, relatively new five bedroom/five bath house was in the woods on a lake and had a huge deck from which there was an amazing view of the Rockies. Well, during the day when the sun was out. Just now it was raining. Make that sleeting. By morning there might be nothing but a sheet of ice covering everything. For tonight, there was a blazing fire, and a mixture of rain and ice pelting against the roof and windows.

The cabin was the only part of this retreat she loved. It was her company’s leadership training and team building retreat. Her third one. And she was over it.

Hannah’s boss was really into organizing these professional growth retreats off campus, far away from their daily grind. Of course, he didn’t attend—but he sent his executives and their teams. Their cell phones and laptops were collected upon arrival, the TVs were not turned on, no radios allowed, no contact with the outside world. They were forced to communicate face-to-face and leave their workaday worlds behind. Dave, director of marketing, said, “I had less withdrawal in drug treatment.” Then there were a series of group sessions and exercises. Hannah, you’re going to fold your hands over your chest and let yourself fall backward, trusting Tim to catch you. This was quite challenging as she didn’t trust Tim to respond to an email in a timely manner. And when he finally did, it would lack accurate information. The only thing about Tim she was sure of was that he would take her job if he had an opportunity.

Of course, Tim didn’t catch Hannah. “I think I broke my tailbone,” she said, rubbing her behind. “I’ll need an ambulance. Someone call an ambulance.”

“We’re not allowed to use our phones,” Tim said.

There had been a time or two she had to admit she actually got something out of one of the retreats, but it was usually no more than she could get out of a book, blog or TED Talk. It usually depended on the effectiveness of the moderator. If the moderator was motivating, inventive, experienced and encouraging, there could be some bonding and a few principles to take back to the job, helping them work together more efficiently. That was almost a bad thing—if their sales numbers went up, Peter, the CEO, thought the retreat made the difference and would instruct HR to schedule another one. But if their moderator was a thirty-year-old former beauty contestant in tight jeans who flirted with all of the male employees, like this one did, it was doomed.

This particular retreat was scheduled to last five nights. Hannah and the moderator, the only women, each had their own bedrooms while the men doubled up. The large two-story house with a loft also had a library, a bar and a wine cellar. The bar and wine cellar were locked. On the second night, Todd, Wayne and Dave were in one of the bedrooms passing around a couple of joints while Tim quite noisily banged the moderator in the master suite.

The timing of this retreat wasn’t good. Not only did Hannah have a lot of work she’d like to catch up on, her relationship with her fiancé had been strained lately. Wyatt was a little prickly for unknown reasons. They were planning a wedding that would take place in six months and seemed to disagree on everything. She was starting to wonder how couples survived wedding planning. But right now if she had a free weekend, she should spend it with Wyatt, injecting their relationship with a little love and attention, see if she could find out what was irritating him so much. If she had to travel for work, which she frequently did, she would at least be able to talk to Wyatt on the phone. This trip pissed her off. She’d told Peter it was a bad time. Peter told her to take one for the team.

The team appeared to be getting high and getting laid while Hannah was becoming increasingly annoyed.

She decided to pick the lock on the hall closet door to find her laptop and phone. She packed up her things. Now would come the challenging part—aside from some hiking they had planned that the weather had ruined, they weren’t going on outings. A van had brought them from the Denver airport and would return to pick them up at the end of the retreat. She wasn’t going to be walking anywhere. But she now had a phone. And a computer, though no Wi-Fi password. Tim and the moderator were still going at it and the other guys were killing the Doritos and potato chips, after which they would sleep the sleep of the stoned. She looked at her old itinerary on her cell phone, called the car service that had provided the van and arranged to be picked up at 6:00 a.m.

She didn’t leave a note. Let them think a bear had gotten her.

She sighed a big sigh as she made her escape. She instructed the driver to take her straight to the airport. A few miles into the drive she saw a campground with a store, on the other side of the big lake. The campground looked vacant but there was a light on in the general store. She said to the driver, “Stop over there and if they have coffee, I’ll buy you a cup.”

“You’ll be charged for a stop,” he said pleasantly.

“It’ll be worth it,” she said. “How do you like your coffee?”

“Just black, ma’am.”

The sign on the door said the hours of operation were from nine to five, but the door was unlocked and a bell jingled when she swung it open. “Hello? Anybody home?” she called out.

“Well, what have we here?” a man said. “Only the ducks are out in this weather.”

She walked toward the back. “It seems to have stopped raining,” Hannah said. “Are you open? The sign says...”

“Barely, but I lit the stove and I have the coffee ready. I was worried about the trees—that was some ice storm last night. If they’re covered with freezing rain they can break off in big chunks—it’s awful. Where you coming from at the crack of dawn?”

“Oh, I was at an Airbnb on the other side of the lake and I’m running away, but I won’t get far without coffee. I hired a car to take me back to the Denver airport.”

“What’s the matter, girl? Didn’t that air thing work out?”

She laughed and said, “The place is beautiful and comfortable and the views are stunning, but I was with a bunch of men at a corporate retreat. They confiscated our laptops and phones and forced us to play psychological games aimed at making us better corporate team members. A worthy thought, but next time I think some of my staff should have a retreat teaching them how to get their work done. That would be so much more helpful.”

“Cream or sugar?”

“I think both. I’m celebrating my escape. And one black for my driver.”

“If you’re celebrating, you should have a sweet roll or muffin,” he said.

The door opened and a woman rushed in. “Sully! There’s a big black SUV parked out—Oh,” she said. She patted down her hair and pulled her hoodie closed. She seemed to be wearing her pajamas and boots.

“We were just getting acquainted, sweetheart. I’m Sully,” he said, sticking out a hand to Hannah. “This here is Helen, who I left asleep when I snuck out.”

“I’m Hannah. I was telling your husband, I was at an Airbnb on the other side of the lake for a corporate retreat—me and a flirty female moderator and a bunch of men. And I decided last night, I’ve had enough.”

“Was it dreadful?” Helen asked.

“Yes,” she said. “Plus, I have a fiancé at home. I’d rather spend my time with him than four men who all think they should have my job.”

“And if you don’t mind—what is your job?” Helen asked, pouring herself a cup of coffee.

“Don’t take offense at Helen, girl. She’s particularly nosy. If you’d rather not—”

“I sell hospital equipment for a major distributor. Not bandages or bedpans—more like everything from MRIs to prosthetic joints. I’m a sales manager, which means I have a team working for me.”

“I bet you were at Owen’s place,” Helen said. “He must be traveling again.”

“I honestly don’t know whose house it is. But I’d love to stay in that place when there aren’t any work-related people on the premises. What a great place it would be to recharge.”

“Let me ask you—were there a lot of stunning, artsy photographs and lithographs on display?” Helen said.

“Yes! You know the owner?”

“Well, he’s a neighbor. A well-known photographer. He’s won awards for his work, but he travels so often he finally found a way to make his trips slightly less economically painful—he rents out the house. Look him up sometime—his name is Owen Abrams and he does astonishing work.”

“The house is stunning,” Hannah said.

Sully provided two coffees in to-go cups. “Now, you want a little pastry to go with that?” he asked.

“A couple of muffins, please. It was very nice meeting you both. What do I owe you?”

“Consider it a treat, it’s so nice to meet you. Come back and see us in your leisure time,” Helen said. “Sully has cabins for people not inclined to camp or rent a big house.”

But Hannah was thinking about that house—that lovely, large, beautiful house. The best thing in the world would be to convince Wyatt to take some time off and rent that house for a couple of weeks. It might help mend their relationship. Or failing that, she had girlfriends... Hannah had been working so hard the last several years. Wyatt had as well, but his job as a pharmaceutical sales rep was considerably less stressful than hers as a sales manager. He had only himself and his accounts to worry about while Hannah had to worry about her entire team. He made less money, but he seemed more carefree. Maybe because he was living in Hannah’s house, rent-free.

Hannah had been climbing the corporate ladder for years and was a little burned-out, yet she made too much money to quit. Wyatt’s suggestion was that she see someone about her depression. She hadn’t thought of herself as depressed just because she wished they could be alone together and talk the way they used to.

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