Romance

Love, Naturally by Sophie Sullivan (Excerpt)

Love, Naturally by Sophie Sullivan

One

A DECEPTIVELY SUNNY SUNDAY

Relationships were a back-and-forth, a seesaw of give-and-take, a money-up-front, rewards-at-the-end sort of venture. Presley Ayers repeated this in her brain as her boss bemoaned her upcoming week off, going so far as to hint that maybe she didn’t want to move up from associate concierge at La Chambre Hotel. She did. She very much did. She wanted to move up and move on. One day. For now, she just wanted Ms. Twain, no relation to Mark, to stop making herself out to be a martyr for switching around some shifts.

I’ve been planning this for months and asked for the time off. Not my problem you forgot, lady.

“I’m assuming it won’t be a problem when I want you to work extra shifts to make up for this when you return,” Ms. Twain said, staring down her nose through her thin wire-framed glasses.

She had willingly jumped through every other hoop, but now Presley simply smiled. “You know I’m always willing to take extra shifts, Ms. Twain. I thought I’d given you enough notice when I booked my holiday in April. I apologize.” She crossed the index and middle fingers on her right hand in her pocket. She wasn’t sorry. She just didn’t want to be fired. Biting her lip kept her from saying any of the words floating around in her brain.

This woman was a primary source of Presley’s sleepless nights. Emmett, her boyfriend of almost eight months, had once mansplained that this was how the game was played. If she wanted to be a success, she needed to show it, not just say it. If she didn’t, someone else would want it more. She didn’t know how anyone could think she wasn’t ambitious, since she’d spent most of her waking hours, and many when she should have been sleeping, at this hotel for the past three years.

“Are you headed out of town? Are you completely unavailable?” Ms. Twain made a note on her calendar, then looked up at Presley from behind the desk where she sat.

“Yes, ma’am. I’m taking my boyfriend to a fishing lodge as a surprise birthday present.” Give and take. Things hadn’t been great lately with both of them working so much and their schedules not matching up. The little time they did spend together was generally with Emmett’s work friends. But this gift would show him she listened, paid attention to the little things. It would be the nudge he needed to take them more seriously. Maybe even consider moving in. That was the endgame. At thirty-one, she’d thought she’d have her professional and personal life cemented by now. Or at least one of them.

Ms. Twain wrinkled her nose, her thinning gray brows pushing together. “Do you fish?”

Not even in the supermarket. “No. But he does.” And it will show him I can get behind his hobbies and interests.

The woman regarded her for several moments, making the back of Presley’s neck sweat. “There’s a seminar in a couple of weeks, the beginning of July, for senior hotel staff. Typically, we recommend one to two assistant staff associates to take part.”

Presley sucked in a breath. She knew all about it, having been passed up for it twice in three years despite her stellar track record with guests and growing persona as one of Great Falls’ local influencers. “Oh?”

Ms. Twain sat up straighter in her high-back chair. For two generations, she and her family had owned the three-and-a-half-but-striving-for-four-star hotel.

“Is this something you’d be interested in?”

Refraining from nodding her head like a cartoon character, she went with, “Absolutely.”

Ms. Twain nodded. “Very well then. I’ll take that into consideration.”

Pulling her hands from the pockets of her pleated black dress pants, Presley curled her fingers into her palms, then loosened them. She didn’t like playing games, especially since she proved herself daily, but it didn’t stop her from smiling as wide as she could.

“I’d really appreciate that. I know I’d do an excellent job.”

As she left the office, her flats felt wobbly, her heart felt full, and her stomach twirled like a ballerina on a roll. Her phone rang as she exited the hotel and climbed into her new-to-her Honda Civic. Practical and pretty. That was her sweet spot. She’d just topped fifty thousand followers on TikTok and Instagram by playing to her strengths. Fancy was nice, but affordable was necessary.

She’d already packed. Emmett was meeting her at the coffee shop located just before the airport. They’d share pie, like they had on their first date, and then she’d show him the tickets and they’d park in long-term and board the plane. She was doing her best not to think about how small the plane would be. A new airline that catered to short flights had offered her two tickets in exchange for promo. At the time, she hadn’t had a destination in mind, but this worked perfectly. As long as the plane does, too. A short bus ride would take them to a ferry, which would bring them to their final destination, Get Lost Lodge. Set a goal, make a plan, achieve success.

Her phone buzzed through the Bluetooth as she drove in the direction of the airport. Don’t say you’re going to be late, Emmett. As a lead advertising exec, he often worked long hours, including weekends and nights.

She pressed ACCEPT on her steering wheel, hoping this time it worked. Her car often glitched in the electronics department.

“Hey,” Rylee’s voice said through the speakers, just a hint of static punctuating the word. Best friends for half a decade, they knew the best and worst about each other. They’d both come a long way since working at a little boutique hotel in Great Falls, Rylee as a line cook and Presley as a bellhop. There’d been an almost instant connection that couldn’t be contained to only working hours.

“Hey. I’m on my way. My stomach won’t settle down.”

“I know you have everything because you’re you, but are you sure you’re ready for this?”

“I am.” It hadn’t been easy to arrange this surprise getaway. Emmett was particular about his space and his things. He never slept at her house, and lately, she hadn’t been spending a lot of time at his. But bit by bit, she’d snuck out some boxers, T-shirts, sweaters, and other necessary items to pack his bag. One of his friends helped a bit when Presley confided her plans. The lodge provided fishing rods and whatever other accessories went along with fishing.

“You’re sure?” She heard the worry in her friend’s normally chill-as-cucumber-eye-patches voice.

Presley knew Rylee wasn’t asking about her covert packing skills but more the whole “great outdoors” piece. She was known online and in person as someone who could recommend a five-star restaurant off the top of her head. A woman with connections to cheap theater tickets and knowledge of the best times to visit the museums. She knew Great Falls city center because she’d grown up in it, but she’d never spent much time hugging trees or planning picnics.

As a kid, she’d begged to sleep outside once, so her parents had let her sleep on the balcony of their apartment. She’d woken up freezing, scared, and uncomfortable. But this wasn’t that. She would spend time on the beach, soaking up the June sun, letting the fresh air work wonders on her skin while showing her followers that vacations didn’t have to be pricey to be enjoyable. Not something Ms. Twain would approve of, but since the woman refused to listen to any of her ideas for the hotel’s social media, Presley did her own thing.


Copyright © 2023 by Jody Holford

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