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  • Writer's pictureBree Kraemer

Kneaded, coming soon!

::This is unedited::


It was one thing to love what you did. It was another entirely to spend every waking moment with your family and still love what you did.

That was Decker’s life.

His family owned and ran The Maple Ridge Resort, soon to be The Maple Ridge Resort and Spa. The spa part was due to open in less than two weeks after nine months of construction and a small setback in the form of an electrical fire.

Maple Ridge had been in his family for generations, starting as a small fishing area and growing into what it was today. His mom and dad were still technically in charge, but Decker and his siblings ran the day-to-day show. Barrett handled the fishing, Emmett was the money guy and Nina ran the store and the event center, and soon the spa. That left him to be in charge of the hotel side of things.

A job he could do in his sleep.

He’d loved talking to guests since he was a little kid. Finding out where they were from, telling them all about the history of Maple Ridge, and making sure they were happy, were all part of the fun. He’s easily moved into the role of resort director after college where he’d studied hotel management.

It was hard to believe it had already been ten years of him being in charge.

Ten years of guests and fun and spending time with his family. Ten years of growing the resort to what it was now and making them one of the top destination spots in the midwest.

He’d never been more thankful that he’d come to his senses and told the girl he’d thought he’d loved to fuck off.

Amber had wanted him to leave this place, and this town, to go somewhere else. Somewhere fancier and more important. He’d almost done it too, but he’d figured out who she really was before it was too late.

And thank God he had. Maple Ridge was his home and he loved every second of living there. Even the ones in the winter when there was two feet of snow on the ground and he was freezing his ass off.

He was standing outside the new spa, looking into the completely empty room. In another hour, the place would be bustling with staff whose job it was to make it ready for opening day. They had a soft opening planned in two weeks for family and friends, with the real opening a week later. As far as he knew, Nina had hired all the staff and things were all set.

“Looks good doesn’t it.” His brother, Emmett, strolled up to stand next to him.

“It really does. You would never know that only two months ago there was a fire.” The fire had happened when it was still under construction from some faulty wiring. It hadn’t really been anyone’s fault, but Nina and Morgan, who at the time was the electrician, but was now Emmett’s fiance were both stuck inside. Thankfully, there had been no major damage and both Morgan and Nina were relatively unharmed.

“If I never hear the word fire again, it’ll be too soon.” Emmett shook his head. “I still wake up in a cold sweat every now and then with memories of that night.”

“Really, if you think about it, you have the fire to thank for you and Morgan getting together. Without it, who knows how long it would have taken you to make a move.” He smirked at his brother.

“Fucking asshole,” Emmett said with no real anger.

“How’s Morgan doing? I haven’t seen her all week?” Morgan was an electrician who had taken over her father’s business when he was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.

“She’s busy, which is good and bad. Bad for me because I have to share her with the clients. Good for her and the business though. She was so afraid that people would balk at the idea of her taking over for Bob but that doesn’t seem to be the case. People are welcoming her with open arms.”

“That’s great news. How’s Bob doing?” Bob Perry was Morgan’s birth father who she’d only found out about in the last year. Since his Alzheimer’s diagnosis, things had gone downhill. He’d had several strokes and for the most part, didn’t know who people were.

“He’s pretty much the same since his lucid spell ended. Morgan and his wife, Laura are looking into facilities for him because it’s just too much for Laura to care for him around the clock.”

It had been weird seeing Bob decline so fast. Decker had known him his whole life and now he was a shell of his old self. “If you need anything from me, I’m always here.”

“I appreciate that.” Emmett was back to looking like his happy self after months of looking run down. Although he was still sporting the beard he’d grown after the fire. “How are reservations going for opening weekend?”

“I haven’t checked today, but yesterday we were holding steady at about eighty-five percent. If I had to guess, we’ll be at or close to capacity.”

“Thank fucking God,” Emmett said, shaking his head. “We put a lot of money into this spa and while I did the numbers and knew it could pay out in the end, I’m really hoping we can turn a profit sooner rather than later.”

“It won’t fail. In fact, I think it’s going to be a huge success. People are excited. I’ve even had some summer guests who have booked rooms for winter just to come back and enjoy the spa. Not only that, but we are already seventy percent booked for Christmas. That never happens this early.”

Relief showed on Emmett’s face.

“Nina will never let us live this down you know?” Decker said.

“Fuck if I care,” Emmett said. “Not only does it make the resort more money but the spa also brought me Morgan. Nina can soak up all the glory for all I care.” Their sister wasn’t known for her subtly so there was no way she wouldn’t bring up how right she was all the time. “Speaking of Nina, she’s looking for you.”

Decker groaned. “Did she say why?” Usually, if Nina was looking for him, it was because she needed something. And Nina’s favors were never simple or easy.

“Nope. But I did buy you a little bit of time by saying that I thought I saw you down by the lake.” Emmett grinned.

“Fuck you, asshole. Now she's going to be pissed that you sent her on a wild goose chase.”

“I do what I can.” With those parting words, Emmett turned and left.

If Nina was looking for him, he might as well find her and get whatever it is she wanted over with. Pulling out his phone, he sent her a quick text.


I hear you need me for something.


Where are you?


Standing in front of the spa.


Fucking Emmett.


Don’t leave, I’ll be there in three minutes.

Decker answered a few emails while he waited for Nina to arrive. True to her word, he saw her coming toward him three minutes later.

“Did you clock how long it takes you to get from place to place here or something?”

“No need to time it, I’m just that good.”

“You really need to work on your self-confidence.” He rolled his eyes. Nina was nothing if not full of confidence.

“I’m not in the mood, Deck. Remember David, the person I hired as the head massage therapist? Well, David decided that he needed more vitamin D in his life and headed for California leaving me, along with the spa, in the lurch. Now we are two weeks from opening and short a very important staff member, who might I add, already has appointments lined up.”

“I take back all the mean things I thought about you in the last five minutes.”

Nina scrunched up her face. “What the fuck, Deck. Why were you thinking mean things about me?”

Oops. Maybe he should have kept his mouth shut. “Do we really have time to get into that right now?”

She narrowed her eyes. “Fine, but when you least expect it, I’m going to remember this conversation.”

He had no doubt. “What do you need from me? I can start calling applicants, do some pre-screening interviews.”

She waved a hand in front of her face. “I’ve already narrowed my choices down to two people. Neither one is actively looking for a new job, but I’ve personally had a massage from both of them in the past and thought they were very good at their jobs. Since I only want the best for the spa, I need to start there.”

“How exactly are you planning to get to people who aren’t looking for jobs?” His sister might be a magician at getting him to do things but this was on a different level.

“I haven’t totally figured that out yet. Which is where you come in. I need you to go and get a massage from each of them. I’m too close to the situation and afraid maybe they aren’t as good as I remember. You love nothing more than a good massage and will give me an honest opinion.”

He did love a massage and it had been a few months since he’d had the chance to get one. “I can handle that, but I still don’t see how you’re going to tempt them to come work for us when we haven’t even proved ourselves?”

“Oh, ye of little faith. You go get two massages and leave the rest to me.” She handed him an envelope. “I made you appointments with each person. One today and one tomorrow.”

He shook his head. “You know, I do work.”

She waved a hand in front of her face. “I already talked to mom and she is going to work reception while you’re gone. Since she did it for years before you took over, I think we can trust her.”

“How in the hell do you have time to organize all this with everything else you’ve got going?” Nina ran the event center and since it was summer, weddings were in full swing. Add in that she was planning her own wedding in just a few short weeks and the opening of the spa, and he had no idea how she had time to breathe.

“I’m just that good.” She smiled brightly. “It also doesn't hurt that Donovan keeps me blissfully satisfied.”

“Ugh, no. No, no, no. Why must you always bring up your sex life.”

“I didn’t say anything about sex.”

“Semantics. You know as well as I do that you were talking about being satisfied from sex.”

“You said it.” She gave him a smug look.

“I really fucking hate you.”

“You love me and you know it. Now go get a massage and report back to me.”

When she was gone, he opened up the envelope to see that his first appointment was in less than an hour at a place that was a good thirty minutes away.

He shouldn't have been surprised.

Instead of being annoyed, which was useless, he made quick work of getting back to his office for his keys. He didn’t linger to talk to any of his family or the staff. There was no time. The drive was smooth and traffic-free, which was usually how it was in where they lived. In the southern towns or in the cities, traffic tended to get heavier but even then, it was never too bad. He arrived at the small massage parlor with ten minutes to spare.

From the paper Nina had given him, his massage was with someone named Corey. The info also stated that Corey had been a massage therapist for over ten years but had moved around a lot. He’d only been at this particular establishment for about a year.

That fact stuck out in Decker’s mind.

They needed someone who was willing to stick around, not someone who picked up and left after a couple of years.

He was led to a small room, where he undressed and got up onto the table. The atmosphere was calming, but there wasn’t much in the way of aesthetics in the room. Only a couple of candles and some essential oils. At their spa, each customer could ask for what scents or sounds they wanted to make the experience fit each guest.

He heard a knock and then the door opened. “Good morning, I’m Corey, your massage therapist. If you’re ready, I’ll go ahead and get started.”

“Sounds good,” Decker said.

Corey had strong hands and did a good job of hitting spots that seemed especially tense. He seemed very adept at knowing the body and using that knowledge to make the customer happy.

The downside was that he was chatty.

Way too chatty.

When Decker got a massage, he liked to fall into a deep state of euphoria. That was not possible with Corey. He clambered on like a hairstylist, barely taking a breath.

When the massage was over, he dressed and left, one hundred percent sure that Corey wasn’t right for Maple Ridge. Not only did they need someone steady, who was willing to stay around for years, but they also needed someone who understood that a massage was not the time for conversation.

Decker didn’t care how good the person was at the actual massage. If they couldn’t understand that part of the reason people got massages was for relaxation, then they weren’t right.

Back at the resort, he went in search of Nina. When he didn’t find her in the event center, he checked the store. While she wasn’t there, his dad was.

“What are you doing here?” It wasn’t unusual to find his dad anywhere on the property helping out or working, but the store was one of the last places he’d expect to see him.

“The new girl had an appointment and since Nina is so busy with the spa and weddings, I offered to help out.”

“Her name is Violet dad and she’s been here a month. At some point, you're going to have to stop calling her the new girl. Not to mention that she’s only ten years younger than you. So I think girl might not be the right word.” They’d hired Violet to manage the store after Nina poached Tina, who just so happened to be his new sister-in-law's mom, to work at the spa.

There had been a lot of moving pieces at the resort in the last few months.

“I’ve known Violet Ballenger since she was born. She doesn’t care that I call her the new girl. I think she might actually like it.”

He’d also known Violet his whole life and his dad was probably right.

She was just happy to have the job and something to do now that her kids were all grown and living in other areas.

“Have you seen Nina?”

“Last I heard, she was in the spa?”

“I looked there and didn’t find her. She’s also not in the event center.” He huffed out a frustrated breath. The least she could do was be available since he was doing her a favor.

“If Donovan was here, I’d be inclined to say she was with him,” his dad said.

And then it clicked. He’d seen Donovan’s truck when he’d pulled in. “He is here,” he said, shaking his head. “And I know just where to find them.”

For the last few months, anytime Donovan, his soon-to-be brother-in-law, and the current fire chief was around, Decker always seemed to catch them making out in a certain closet off the back room.

And they weren’t the only ones. He’d found Barrett and Eden there a couple of times and lately, Emmett and Morgan.

It seemed everyone in his family was getting some.

Everyone but him.

At least he hadn’t walked in on his parents.

That would be the last straw.

He maneuvered through the lobby and toward the back. When he got closer to the closet, he heard some movement, confirming his hunch. Giving the door a hard rap, he stood back and waited for them to emerge.

“Go away,” he heard Nina say between a fit of giggles

This was not what he wanted to be doing.

“Either come out now or I’m telling mom.”

The giggling stopped and seconds later the door flew open as Nina straightened her clothing. “What do you want, Decker?”

“Don’t you two have a house?”

Donovan, who didn’t look the least bit embarrassed being caught making out in a closet stepped up behind Nina. Presumably, he was making himself presentable. “I would like it known that this wasn’t my idea. I only came for lunch.”

“I’m sure she twisted your arm.” Decker rolled his eyes. “Do you want to know about the massage or not?”

“Oh, yes,” Nina said. “Corey is good, right?”

“At the massage part, yes. At understanding that I don't want to listen to him talk for an hour, definitely not.”

“I know he’s talkative, but I thought I could make him understand that we won’t accept that here. Make strict rules for him to follow.”

“Maybe.” Decker shrugged. “But it turned me off. That and all the job-hopping.”

“We might not have a choice. I need to hire someone by the end of next week to give us enough time to get them acclimated to our way of doing business. Even short term is better than nothing.”

“I get what you’re saying, Neen, but we need to be smart about this. People talk and if our head massage therapist isn’t perfect, we could lose future business.”

“What about that woman you had at Eden’s bachelor weekend?” Donovan said. “You raved about her.”

Nina’s eyes lit up. “Shit, I forgot about her. But that’s over an hour away. And she could live even further out. What are the chances that she’d live closer to us or that she’d be willing to move? Not to mention, that’s a pretty upscale place. She might not want to leave.”

This piqued Decker’s interest. “Aren’t we upscale? Isn’t that the kind of employee we want?”

“It is,” Nina agreed.

“So give me the info and I will work my magic.”

“Without even getting a massage?” Nina questioned.

“I guess it’ll depend on if I can schedule one in the next couple of days.” He wasn’t worried. He was good at talking people into things. He did it all day with the guests. Room upgrades, hiking add ons, gift baskets.

Then at night he went into town and used that same skill on the woman of Lyden.

This was his wheelhouse.

Turning on the charm was something he could do with his eyes closed.

Even if that skill had laid dormant for a couple of months.

Ever since his run-in with Amber. The woman he’d loved but had

only been using him.

It was time to turn the charm back on.

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