Authors: Gerri Russell
FLIRTING WITH FELICITY
ALSO BY GERRI RUSSELL
Tempt a Knight
Knight to Desire
Laird for Christmas
Laird of Mine
FLIRTING WITH FELICITY
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters,
organizations, places, events, and incidents are either products of the
author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.
Text copyright © 2015 Gerri Russell
All rights reserved.
No part of this book may be reproduced, or stored in a
retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic,
mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without express written
permission of the publisher.
Published by Montlake Romance, Seattle
Amazon, the Amazon logo, and Montlake Romance are
, Inc., or its affiliates.
Cover design by Laura Klynstra
Library of Congress Control Number: 2014912339
“The most beautiful people I’ve known are
those who have known trials, have known struggles, have known loss, and have
found their way out of the depths.” —Elisabeth Kübler-Ross
For Mom. You are one of those beautiful people,
and I thank you for teaching me how to deal with life’s ups as well as the
downs. You are always my inspiration.
Never in her wildest dreams had Felicity Wright expected
the day to turn out this way.
Vern Barron Bancroft was dead.
On suddenly shaky legs, she entered the Bancroft Hotel’s
lobby and made it as far as the front desk before she had to stop and clutch
the wood counter for support. The Seattle-based hotel bustled with guests, but
Felicity only felt a sick cold in the pit of her stomach.
She’d been in the hotel’s lobby at least a dozen times a day
while working in its restaurant as the head chef. She’d taken her simple life
for granted. She’d taken Vern for granted. Now everything had changed.
“You okay, Felicity?” Edward McMasters asked with concern as
he came to stand beside her. He looked every bit the part of the hotel manager
with his short, gray-peppered hair and his classic black suit. He nodded at
guests as they walked past them toward the elevator that would take them up the
seven-story building to their rooms. “That meeting with the lawyers took a long
time. Don’t tell me that cranky old man found some way to leave you all his
Felicity stiffened, the muscles of her shoulders going rigid
before she forced herself to relax. “Vern wasn’t cranky. He was lonely.”
people came to his funeral this morning.
Not one member of his
family had come to bid him farewell. And after the funeral only she had been
present at the reading of the will. A will with only three beneficiaries: his
caretaker, her, and a nephew. Did the man have any other family? She had no
idea. She knew almost nothing about him, except that he’d lived at the hotel,
dined in the restaurant each night, and liked her cooking. Felicity’s throat
thickened. She would miss seeing Vern at the restaurant each night. “Vern
wasn’t who we all thought he was.”
Edward frowned. “What do you mean? Who was he?”
“The man we all knew as Vern Barron was really Vernon
Edward’s eyes rounded as he looked around the lobby of the
hotel named for its owner. Edward reached for Felicity’s arm, whether to
comfort her or to steady himself she wasn’t certain. “
Bancroft? One of Forbes 400’s wealthiest Americans?”
Felicity nodded, still dazed by the knowledge that her
friend, her visitor each night at the restaurant and longtime hotel resident,
was a billionaire. Vern had needed not only special meals for dietary reasons,
but more attention than most of the other guests. As a result of their nightly
chats, he and Felicity had grown close. But not once did he mention his
financial status. And she’d never assumed anything more than that he was a
lonely old man with sufficient funds to keep him in a place where he felt
“Why did he call himself Barron?”
She shrugged. “Turns out Barron was his middle name. He
obviously wanted his privacy.”
Edward’s grip tightened on her arm. “What did his lawyers
want with you?”
“He left me the Dolce Vita—”
Edward gaped. “He left you the restaurant?”
“And the hotel.” The lawyers had informed her she was now a
multimillionaire, if she took into account the hotel property, assets, and
income. Her heartbeat raced at the thought. Felicity quickly squashed the
rising panic with a steadying breath. Vern would not have wanted her to freak
out over his gift. He would have wanted her to accept her new fate and move on
just like he’d told her to do last week after the horrible review she’d
received in the
is like that, Felicity. I’ve learned in my many years the only thing that works
is to accept what happens and move on
,” Vern had told her.
No drama. No hysterics. That’s what Vern would expect.
“Oh my God!” Edward’s voice cut through the din in the lobby,
bringing a sudden silence to the room as guests and staff turned to stare. “Are
you serious?” he asked in a softer voice.
Felicity could only nod.
“What are you going to do?” Edward asked as the people around
them resumed conversations.
“I don’t know,” she replied, her voice uneven as she looked
around. She knew nothing about running a hotel. She only knew how to run a
kitchen. And now all this was hers.
An aching sense of loss moved through her. It was three years
ago when she’d first met Vern. He’d asked to see the chef and then challenged
her to cook something for him that tasted good while still being healthy for an
old man with diabetes and cholesterol issues. From the moment they’d met,
something about the sadness in his eyes had touched her heart. They’d talked
for a few minutes, and as they talked, he gave her what she would learn later
was a rare smile. The man was lonely, and in her, that night, he’d found a friend.
He’d been a friend to her as well, offering her fatherly advice even though she
never asked for it.
Her breath escaped in a trembling sigh. Vern was gone. His
advice at an end. The world seemed a lesser place. But in the end, he’d given
her a piece of himself, his heart, and his legacy. Tears burned at the back of
her eyes, but she refused to let them free. She would cherish that gift, and
try to make Vern proud.
Felicity fixed her gaze on Edward and tried to smile. “Please
tell me you’ll stay on as manager while I figure all this out?”
The hotel manager’s smile flashed white against his wrinkled
face. “Absolutely, boss.”
His words fell like a life preserver in the storm of
self-doubt that had broken around her since leaving Vern’s lawyers’ office. Everything
be all right. She could learn how to run a hotel and make the owner’s decisions
for the restaurant. She could hold everything together, not just for herself,
but for every person who worked at the Bancroft. They’d become her family. She
had to be strong and clever. She had to work harder and find a way to be worthy
of the gift Vern gave her.
Felicity frowned. “How did Vern keep you from knowing he was
“He was a tricky old coot, I’ll give him that. He would only
ever talk to me over the phone,” Edward smiled. “For three years, he pulled the
wool over my eyes.”
“He fooled all of us.”
“That he did,” Edward said. “But in the end, we can only
respect his need for privacy. I know I do.”
“I guess I do, too,” Felicity agreed.
Edward studied her. “You okay if I leave you alone?”
“I gotta go tell Marie.” Edward’s hazel eyes brightened. “She’s
going to be floored by who Vern really was.” He gave Felicity’s arm a final
squeeze, then turned to head toward the elevator to find his wife, who worked
as the head of housekeeping.
Between Edward and Marie, the rest of the employees would
know the news within the hour. Felicity doubted any of them would challenge her
new status as owner. They were, after all, her friends. But then again, Destiny
Carrow had called herself a friend when she wrote a horrible review about the
During one of Felicity’s nightly talks with Vern while he
dined in the restaurant, he had reminded her that if she wanted anything in
this world, she had to hold on with bulldog tenacity until she got it. She’d
won and lost many battles over the years. This was only one more.
Excitement sizzled along Felicity’s nerves. She forced her
feet to stay firmly planted on the floor when the desire to do a happy dance
had a hotel.
owned her own restaurant.
She was now the boss of her own
kitchen. Though she had never been fired before, that fear had lingered in the
back of her mind for years. What would she do if she didn’t have a job? How
would she support her father and pay for his medical needs?
Owning her own hotel, she could never be fired or see her
restaurant shut down as was often the case in the food industry. The Dolce Vita
had had a better chance of surviving the ups and downs of the industry since it
was attached to the hotel, but owning both the hotel and the restaurant would
definitely increase the certainty of a job long term.
And, with a little more help from her staff, she might
actually be able to do something for herself for a change, like shopping, or
going to a movie in the middle of the afternoon, or going out on a date. A real
date . . . that was something she hadn’t done in ages. The possibilities
swirled inside her as she turned and came to a sudden stop against the solid
wall of a man’s suit-covered chest. At the feel of his muscular form against
her body, her stomach did a giddy flip. A woodsy, manly scent filled her
“Are you okay?” The rich sound of his voice rocked her.
Felicity swallowed roughly as she took a step back. “Sorry!”
She reached out to brush away any wrinkles she might have caused in his suit,
then stopped herself as she realized touching him would only make things worse.
She snapped her hand back and met his gaze. Eyes blue as the deep ocean focused
Felicity let out a slow breath. The man was drop-dead
gorgeous—his jaw strong and defined, his cheekbones high. And he had the
tiniest hint of a dimple in his left cheek.
“Miss, I asked if you were okay.” At her continued staring,
an easy smile came to his lips. Lips made for long, hot kisses.
“My fault. I should’ve been paying closer attention.” She was
paying attention now.
She’d never had the time to indulge herself in the kinds of
things other girls did. Her responsibilities were too many, her fears too deep.
But in her new circumstances, with this guy, she might make
an exception. He was definitely something to look at. Her mouth went dry at the
thought of the well-muscled chest beneath his shirt. But he was more than just
handsome. Confidence shone in his eyes. And why wouldn’t he be confident? The
black pinstripe suit he wore probably cost more than her entire wardrobe.
The thought brought an answering smile to her lips. “Welcome
to the Bancroft Hotel,” Felicity said, with what she hoped was a mix of
friendliness and authority.
He raised a brow. “You’re with the hotel?”
Felicity stood a little taller, grateful she’d chosen her
favorite black sheath dress for Vern’s funeral and her meeting with the
lawyers. The stranger’s gaze slid down the clean line of her body to her
sensible shoes and back up again. His gaze was warm, sensual, and inviting.
Heat infused her skin as she nodded. It had been years, more than she’d like to
admit, since she’d been this close to any male who had caught her interest. “Will
you be staying with us for a while?” she asked with a catch in her throat.
“I’m not sure.” His gaze left hers to search the lobby. “Could
you tell me where I might find Felicity Wright?”
Her breath faltered. “You’re looking at her. Why?”
His deep blue eyes searched hers with suspicion. “I pictured
you being older.”
A flush warmed her cheeks. “Excuse me?” Okay, so the man was
incredibly hot, but why would he come looking for her? No one came looking for
her unless they had a problem with their meal. But that would be easier to
believe if the restaurant were open for business at that moment.
“My uncle recently died here. I understand you knew him.”
“Vern Barron—I mean Bancroft—was your uncle?” The soft jazz
that played in the lobby suddenly faded, and the lights dimmed as her own
heartbeat pounded in her ears.
The nephew listed in the will.
He nodded without a show of grief.
“His funeral was today,” she said, stating the obvious as she
assessed the man before her. Was he affected at all by the loss of his uncle?
Or was he here to challenge what Vern had given her?
“My flight was delayed, or I would have been here for the
services.” A flicker of remorse darkened his eyes. “I’m going about this all
wrong, forgive me.” He extended his hand. “Blake Bancroft.”
His deep voice rumbled through her with a devastating effect.
As needlelike chills worked across her body, Felicity accepted his hand. The
feel of his skin against hers caused another wave of chills to consume her. “Nice
to meet you,” she replied, fighting the urge to pull him closer.
What was wrong with her? Was she that out of practice with
men? It had been almost a year since her last disastrous date and almost two
years since she’d kissed a man. An eternity since she’d gone beyond kissing . .
. She swallowed roughly. Oh, how she could savor this man. He was better than
any sweet treat she might whip up in her kitchen.
He released her hand, and she suddenly went cold. “We have
much to discuss, but not yet, and not here.”
At his words, reality returned. Blake Bancroft stood before
her. Vern’s nephew. Fear and grief mixed into a knot in her stomach. He’d come
to challenge the will.
“Vern’s lawyers said the will was legitimate.” She reached
into her pocket and pulled out a folded sheet of stationery from the Bancroft
Hotel that had been attached to the will. The lawyers had given it to her as if
she would know what to do with the message:
“Take care of the Bancroft,
Felicity. You’ll know what to do.”
She passed the note to Blake. She had no idea what she was
supposed to do. Last week her life had been simple. Her biggest worry at the
hotel had been whether the special she served that day would be well received.
Today, there was so much more. What that “more” entailed, she had yet to find
out, but she was certain the man before her was not going to make things easy
In that moment, Felicity had never felt so alone.
stronger than you think, Felicity. You always have been. You’re going to be
The words Vern had spoken to her on the day before he
died came back to her. She straightened. “I’m not sure what else there is to
discuss, Mr. Bancroft. If you want to know more about your uncle’s last days,
then I’d be happy to talk with you. If you’re here because of the hotel, then
you can talk to my lawyers.”