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Read chapter 1 of my next release Hooked. (unedited)
Trudging up the steps to the lodge, Barrett groaned.
He didn’t have time for a goddamn family meeting and everyone in his family knew that. And yet they scheduled one anyway, probably just to piss him off.
The cool, crisp Wisconsin air swirled around him, and if he was right, and he usually was when it came to weather, they’d have snow in the morning. Snow meant cold, and cold meant that the ice would be ready for fishing.
He couldn’t wait.
While he loved the summers as much as anyone, out on the ice was where he felt most at home.
Before he stepped inside, he turned out toward the lake and took in the view from the lodge. He’d lived there his entire life and it still gave him chills when he took it all in. Ten thousand acres of land that was covered in forests and trees, a lake and a resort that had all been in his family for over a hundred years.
Sometimes he forgot how lucky he was to work in such a spectacular environment.
His great, great, grandparents had settled in the tiny town of Lyden, Wisconsin as soon as they’d gotten off the boat from Germany. The lake was good for fishing and the forest for hunting, making it the perfect place to settle. The family soon claimed all the land surrounding the lake, which they’d named Lake Wabash after their home town in Germany. By the mid-nineteen hundreds, they’d built a small lodge on the property for tourists and people who wanted to come up north on vacation.
That was how Maple Ridge was born.
Back then, people came to fish or hunt. They still come to fish, but now it’s more about the experience. The lodge, once small, housing only ten or fifteen people, is now a one-hundred and twelve room resort, with a restaurant on-site, a store, and a banquet facility.
Things sure had changed over the years.
The only thing that hadn’t changed was that the Beckmeyers were still in charge.
Over the years, they’d had people make offers, but this was his family’s life. And they all loved it. Even if they interrupted his day for a damn family meeting.
Finally inside, he took a left and headed for the office area. He was the only one without an office there because he preferred to be outside or in his house. There were too many people in the damn lodge for his taste.
Doris, the phone operator, waved as he passed, strolling into the conference room.
“Couldn’t you have at least changed shoes, Barrett?” his sister Nina grumbled. “Now I’m going to have to get someone to clean up behind you.”
He looked behind him and sure enough, he’d tracked in mud. “We own a damn resort in northern Wisconsin. Isn’t mud part of the experience?”
“Not IN the resort. The mud should stay outside.”
“Next time, just use the back entrance,” his mom said from across the table.
“Come on, Mom, you know Barrett has never used that,” Emmett said. “Remember when you said that the next one of us who came through the front would be grounded for life and yet, Barrett did it anyway?”
“That’s because he likes to stand on the steps and take in the beauty of the place,” his dad said. “And I can’t blame him.”
Resigning himself to dealing with his family, he went in search of coffee. “Can we not make this long? Snow’s coming in and I need to be ready for when our guests—you remember those, don’t you? The people who pay the bills— are ready to fish.”
“This won’t take long,” Emmett said. “We’re just waiting on Deck.”
His brother Decker was usually on time so it was odd that he was the one running late. Deck ran the hotel portion of Maple Ridge, overseeing anything and everything that had to do with the lodge and their guests' comfort. Emmett was the money guy, taking care of the books and making sure they didn’t overextend themselves. Nina handled all the events which ranged from conferences to weddings and everything in between.
Barrett was the fish guy. In the summer, helping guests in the fresh waters of Lake Wabash and in the winter, ice fishing was the main event.
Their parents still contributed, his mom Ada running the restaurant, and his dad Karl in charge of the hiking. But they’d taken big steps back over the years, allowing their kids to take over.
Along with the members of their family, they had over a hundred year-round staff members who worked at the resort. In the summer, it was even more. Maple Ridge was a huge part of the economy in Lyden, and they took that seriously.
“Sorry, I’m late,” Decker came running in. “The electric in the east wing is having issues again and I had to talk a guest down.”
“It’s time we do something about that,” Karl said. “It’s been going on long enough.”
“I’ll make some calls,” Emmett said. “But first, Nina has something she wants to run by us.” Emmitt indicated toward Nina.
“You guys all know that I’m working to bring in bigger events year-round. Not just in the summer or for ice fishing. We need to fill this place up in September and October along with March through May. I think I found a way to do that.” She clicked something on her computer and a picture appeared on the screen at the end of the room.”
“Maple Ridge Resort and Spa,” Barrett said out loud. “You want to make us a damn spa?”
“Barrett, let your sister talk,” his mom said.
“I don’t want to change anything that we already have going on here, I just want to add to it. How many times have we had men bring their wives with them and while the men fish, the women just hang around in the lodge? What if we gave them something to do? And it wouldn’t only be for guests of the hotel. We could sell day passes to anyone in town or traveling through.”
“It’s not a bad idea,” Decker said. “I get asked all the time if we offer massages from both women and the men. Especially when we have corporate retreats.”
“Emmett,” Ada said,” I’m guessing you’ve priced this out?”
“I have and while it’ll take a good amount of money to pull off, the revenue it will bring in the future far outweighs the cost.”
“Seriously?” Barrett stood. “This is getting out of control. People come here to fish and get away from the craziness of their lives.”
“That’s not all they come here for, Barrett,” Decker said to him. “I see these people day in and day out, you only see or talk to the people who are fishing. Families come here to relax and reconnect. Couples come here to fall back in love and businesses come here to plan and have fun. A spa would be an asset.”
He sighed. He wasn't against growing and changing with the times, but he hated to think that one day, they’d find a way to phase him out. The fishing used to be the big draw, but as the years wore on, fewer and fewer people came to fish.
Where would that leave him?
“Bar,” Nina said softly. “This is a good thing. And I think we could tie it into you.”
His head snapped up. “How?”
“If people knew they could fish and then afterward, they could get pampered, we might be able to sell it. Maybe some sort of dirty and clean package.” Her eyes went wide and she immediately started typing on her computer. “God, that’s good.”
“That’s a great idea,” Karl said. “We need to make people see that we have something for every part of them. The part that likes to fish and be with nature and the part that wants to lie on a table and let someone rub them down.”
“Ew, Dad, do you have to say things like that?” Emmett shuddered. “No one wants that image in their head.”
“We sure raised a bunch of prudes, didn’t we, Karl?” Ada said. “I can’t imagine their faces if they knew what we got up to last night.”
“Come on!” Nina shouted. “That’s just disgusting.”
“I’m with her,” Barrett said.
“Prudes. All of you.” Ada laughed. “So what do we think? Spa or no spa?”
“I’m in,” Decker said.
“Me too,” Emmett followed.
Karl looked at Ada. ”Your mom and I are on board, Barrett?”
He hated being the odd man out. He was close to his siblings and if they thought this was a good idea, he was willing to give it a try. “What the hell. Build a spa, what do I care?”
“Oh thank you, Barrett,” Nina came around the table, hugging him from behind. “I promise, this is going to be a good thing.”
He patted the hand that was on his chest. He never was able to say no to her. “Just don’t ask me to try out foot scrubs and lotion. That’s where I draw the line.”
“You don’t know what you’re missing,” Decker said.
As brothers, they looked almost exactly the same. Both of them were tall, with dark brown hair and dark brown eyes. But that was where the similarities ended. Barrett loved being outside, his choice of outfit, jeans, and boots. Decker liked his desk and always wore a suit and tie.
In fact, the only time he wasn’t dressed fancy was when Barrett and Emmett took him out fishing. During those times, Decker was just as dirty and grimy as the rest of them.
He understood Deck’s need to be dressed nice, he was after all he was the face of the resort. But the resort was in northern Wisconsin, surrounded by forest and the lake and land as far as the eye could see. Who cares how he dressed?
“Now that that’s out of the way,” Karl said, “I have one more thing before we all go back to our jobs.”
“If this has anything to do with that time Emmett snuck out and took your car, none of us are talking,” Decker said.
It was a longstanding joke within their family. Ever since the incident had happened, their parents had been trying to get one of the kids to tell them what had happened that night. All three of them knew what Emmett had done that night, and not one of them was going to tell. Not even fifteen years later.
“This doesn't have anything to do with that,” Ada said, “although if one of you was willing to confess, a change in the will could be up for grabs.”
“Don’t even try to tempt us,” Nina said. “We’re a sealed vault and you’ll never get it out of us.”
“Back to what I was going to say,” Karl said. “Your mom and I are thinking of taking a few weeks off this winter.”
“What?” Nina said. “What do you mean taking time off?”
“A vacation, Nina,” Ada said. “We’ve never done that and your dad and I were thinking it might be nice to go somewhere warm for a little bit.”
Emmett, always worried about the money, said, “Winter is a busy time here. Is that such a good idea?”
“We know it’s busy and we promise that we will train and make sure we have people in place to take over. Hell, James can already do my job with his hands tied behind his back and your mom has Kay who is more than willing to take over the restaurant.”
“Guys,” Barrett said quietly. “If mom and dad want to take a vacation, we should let them. Each of us takes time off here and there, and yet, I can’t ever remember a time since we were young that they have.”
Nina softened. “Barrett’s right. It’s just hard to think of this place without you.”
“Maple Ridge runs like a well-oiled machine,” Ada said. “And anything that comes up, we know you guys can handle. Why else would we feel so comfortable taking time away?”
Barrett couldn’t imagine Maple Ridge without his parents. but he knew the time was coming when they would step back and let him and his siblings have full control. It was both scary and exciting at the same time.
“If that’s all,” Decker said, standing, “I have to go make sure everything is ready for the Smithers family.”
From his daily briefings, Barrett knew they had a big wedding on site this weekend and that included some ice fishing for the groomsmen, if the ice was frozen, which he was pretty sure it was.
“I better head out too,” he said. “I’ll check the ice but when I checked yesterday, it was frozen and ready for the season.”
“Let me know for sure,” Nina said. “Otherwise, I have some alternatives for the guys but I knew from the father that they’d much rather ice fish.”
Each of them disappeared, going back to work. Running a resort this size was a huge undertaking and they had to trust that each of them was doing their part or things would get messed up.
As the oldest child at thirty-four, Barrett had been working at Maple Ridge the longest. He’d started at fourteen, all of them had, and while his parents made sure each of them knew all the inner workings of the place, his true love had always been fishing. He knew everything there was to know about fishing and especially ice fishing but his parents said that if he wanted to take over, he needed to go to college.
He’d balked but eventually gave in and did two years, getting an associate’s in fisheries sciences. At the young age of twenty, he took over the fishing part of Maple Ridge and had been in charge ever since.
The place had changed a lot in those fourteen years. They’d added on the event center, expanded the store, and done a full remodel of the lodge itself. The ten cabins that were on site, had been upgraded and just last year, he’d talked the family into adding two new ice houses.
The business was booming, at least from a monetary perspective. So he couldn’t really complain.
And really, he didn’t have anything to complain about. He loved what he did and he loved his family. As strange as it was to some people, they all got along well and his brothers were his best friends.
Nina was a pain in his ass, but wasn’t that what sisters were for?
One of the best parts of his life was his home. When they’d each turned twenty-three, their parents had given them a one-acre lot of land to build their own homes on. Barrett hadn’t wasted any time building his. He’d been sick of living in his parents’ house with everyone else. There’d been no privacy and no freedom from prying eyes.
He’d picked an acre of land that was surrounded by trees and that was as far from his parents’ house as he could get. It was literally on the other side of the property. Some days, it was hard to believe he’d lived there ten years already. He still felt like a young man who had his whole life in front of him.
Other days, he felt every one of his thirty-four years.
Getting old sucked, that was for sure.
When he was in his twenties, he’d go into town after a hard day's work, grab a beer, hit on a beautiful woman, and maybe end up at her place. Now, all he wanted to do after being on the lake all day was hang at his house, watch TV and go to bed early.
Hell, how long had it been since he’d even gone into town? A month? Maybe two? Why go into town when he had everything he needed at the resort? Even his groceries were now delivered so that he didn't have to trek out.
The only thing the town offered was women.
And he did miss them.
If it had been a couple of months since he’d been into town, it had been several more since he’d actually had sex. Unlike Decker, who had no problem sleeping with a different woman weekly, Barrett was getting too old for that. He didn’t want to be tied down to one woman, but he also wanted the ease of sex with someone he knew rather than dealing with someone who was virtually a stranger.
That, in part, was why it had been so long since he’d had sex.
His only relief the last few months had been his right hand and the internet. And that just wasn’t cutting it.
It was time he went to town. If not for himself, for his dick.