Welcome to the Second Chance Inn! If you’re in need of a cold beer, pub grub, rock and roll, a game of poker, or a place to hang your hat, come on in and stay awhile. Be sure to ask about our B&B and Happy Hour Specials!
In need of a new start, Bostonian accountant Mackenzie Chance arrives in Hawthorn, South Dakota determined to restore the rustic inn she’s inherited from her grandfather. She never expects world renowned rocker Ace Blackburn, her unrequited first love, to turn up at the door just as a blizzard begins. Much less the irresistible attraction they share when she welcomes him inside.
While the snow piles up, they bare their souls, soon becoming lovers as they plan to turn the Second Chance Inn into a place where employees, customers, and tourists can renew or reinvent themselves.But when the storm ends, will they see their plans come to fruition, or lose everything when the past she’s left behind returns with a vengeance?
Second Chance Inn—Hawthorn, South Dakota
A cold, February wind bit through Mackenzie’s parka as she stood before the ramshackle inn that had become her home for the foreseeable future!
“Grandpa, did you really want me to save your bar?” she asked no one, looking up at the gray sky. The winds kicked higher, the howl in the distance through mountains, trees, brush, and the Cheyenne River seeming to warn her to turn back while she still could.
No, she was not going to be scared away from her new home. She was not going to turn back or overthink or let her maternal grandparents guilt her into returning to Boston because they’d never approved of Grandpa Gunnar.
In its heyday, the Second Chance Inn had been frequented by locals, bikers, truckers, hikers, veterans, tourists, and campers wanting a break from the road on their way to either Deadwood or Sturgis. Her grandfather had also offered lodging, hot showers, pub-grub at night, and the biggest grand slam breakfast in the county.
Now, it was hard to see through the years of age to the beauty of the yellow pine and oak facade. Modeled to resemble a combination saloon and hotel dating back to the Wild West, the original building was three stories high and expansive, with a balcony atop the front door and a boarding house added ten years ago.
Closing her eyes, she inhaled. The scents of pine and pending snowfall made her long for a warm fire and a game of checkers or chess with Grandpa Gunnar. Or, if it were warm, they’d sit on the front porch and talk about anything and everything.
Oh, the memories that washed over her from the times she’d spent with him growing up, especially the summer before she’d gone to college when she’d experienced her first love and heartbreak.
Where was Ace Blackburn now, she wondered? When they’d first met had not only been in college, he’d been destined for far greater things than the simple life in Hawthorn, South Dakota. If she’d known how famous he’d become at the time, she might not have crushed on him as hard. Or set herself up to disappointment when she’d stumbled upon him with a woman on a great big Harley.
Still, as she opened her eyes, finding herself looking up at dark, gray skies, she wished she was seventeen again. If she was, her parents would still be alive. Perhaps she’d have made better decisions, career choices, relationships, she didn’t know.
The bite of wind against her face had her looking back at the older-model Chevy conversion van she’d bunked down in during her drive from Boston. Behind the van was an enclosed trailer packed with everything she’d need to make the inn her home until she could reopen it to its former glory.
In hindsight, it’d been a wise decision to sell her BMW to buy the van, trailer, and supplies outright. As she’d stayed at campgrounds, she’d been able to save on hotel expenses, got a month-to-month smartphone, and used cash to pay for gasoline.
It wasn’t that she’d done anything wrong or needed to avoid a paper trail. She’d simply wanted a clean break from New England. When she was settled and had the chance to look about the inn, she’d plan the next phase of her life.
Looking way up to the roof, she laughed. Her grandfather had had a wicked sense of humor. After the First Chance Inn burned down, he’d moved way out in the middle of nowhere, turned to the community to rebuild, then had a gigantic sign placed as high as possible so truckers and drivers could spy it a mile off the main highway. Over time, it’d read SECOND CHANCE ‘N, as the I and the first N had worn away and he’d never had it fixed. Maybe she’d get a new one, maybe she wouldn’t, time would tell.
“I hope you’re up there in Heaven, Grandpa. If I take a wrong step, guide me to the right path, okay?”At that moment, snow began to fall. To her, it was a sign that Grandpa Gunnar heard her. There’d been nothing he loved more than winter and everything that went with it.
***An Hour Later***
As she dusted the bar with Pledge, lifting and moving her electronics, making a quick pass with her Swiffer behind it so she could relocate her bags and bins from the middle of the floor, Ace Blackburn continued to sing, his lead guitar riffs second to none, keeping her company as the wind blew against the inn. Fortunately, the foundation was sound, she had food, shelter, warmth, and everything she’d need to wait out a snowstorm. As a native New Englander, she was more than capable of fending for herself during bad weather.
With her tummy growling almost as loudly as her music, Kenzie picked up her dust mop. Promising herself to take a break for a late-day lunch and text her friend Payton, she walked to the far side of the room and began sweeping.
Enjoying the rock music that accompanied her task, she completed the first pass of the floor. Though looking at the microfiber cloth, it was going to take several passes before she could break out the steam mop! With that in mind, she traced her way back to the kitchen for a fresh microfiber cloth.
Still singing along with Dead Man’s Hand, she jumped clear out of her skin when loud banging resounded from the front door. Who would be at her doorstep when it was snowing outside?
Why worry? It wasn’t as if Hawthorn was a hotbed of illegal activity. She was sure there was crime and troublemakers, but more than likely it was the town’s mayor or a neighbor checking in.
More pounding sounded at the door, this time met with a voice that she never, ever, in her wildest dreams thought would overpower the playlist on her laptop. “Hey, Mackenzie Chance? It’s Ace Blackburn. I used to work for your grandfather, remember? Can you open the door? Come on now, it’s freezing out here.”
No! No way. It was her imagination. He was not at her door.
“Mackenzie? You okay in there? Please tell me I don’t need to call for an ambulance or something.”
Certain she was going to find nothing but cold wind and a face full of snow, Kenzie took her mop with her. What she’d do with it, she’d no idea, especially as she heard a curious rumble outside. Was that thunder?
“Hold on a sec,” she shouted, uncertain it was necessary, though the howl against the windowpanes increased. As did the rumbling, rolling thunder. Holy cow, it really was thundering.
Quickly, she unbarred the door, cracking it open, only to discover that it wasn’t her imagination. Ace Blackburn stood in the doorway, his long dark hair and badass leather jacket covered in snow.
“Hi, you gonna let me in, sugar?” he asked in that sexy, gravelly voice that could tempt a saint to sin. “Or are you about to beat me with that stick?”
“In your hand. What the hell is that?”
“It’s called a sweeper or a dust mop, whichever you prefer. I’ve been cleaning the floor.”
“Okay. You gonna open the door all the way or hit me with that thing? If you choose the second option, please don’t hit anything vital. Someday, I’d like to have kids.”
“What?” Completely stunned, she was certain he was some sort of an apparition made from a snowstorm that was, in fact blowing, howling, and sending icy flakes through the door into her face.
“Never mind, sorry. Please, invite me in, the storm’s getting worse. Swear, I won’t hurt you.”
“I know,” she said.
“In that case, lower the sweeper thing and let’s make nice.”
“Not making anything with you,” she murmured, hoping the rush of wind and ice prevented him from hearing her suddenly pounding heartbeat.
Telling herself to calm down, she stepped back and let the door swing wide. In a flash, he was inside, the door closed and barred as he stomped snow off his boots.
“Let’s start over,” he said, sticking his hand out, the sleeve of his jacket riding up some, exposing an array of tattoos running from the back of his hand upward, beneath his sleeve.
Holy moly, did he have to be so hot, even when his straight shoulder length raven-black hair was dusted with snow? With his chiseled, devilish features and a seriously sexy well-trimmed mustache and goatee, she wondered if he hadn’t just fallen out of heaven itself. Even his deep brown eyes were molten.
“Nice to see you again, Mackenzie,” he went on, the ink catching her attention was the two black eights, two black aces, and unknown hole card, fanned out on the back of his hand. Known as poker’s dead man’s hand, the cards were supposedly held by Wild Bill Hickok when he was shot in Deadwood. Ow, hell, just when she thought she was going to handle this without freaking out, the lack of lunch and the heavy lifting made her feel dizzy. Next thing she knew, the world went gray, then black.