Goodbye Gifts

Castle Mountain Lodge, Book 5

He’s not looking for anything serious.
She likes things just the way they are.
Falling in love couldn’t come at a worse time.

Driven and hardworking, Carmen has spent her whole life building a career she loves and it’s always been enough for her. Hasn’t it?

Dylan’s always been business focused himself. Now more than ever, he needs to focus on the future. But even the busiest workaholics can use a little distraction, and that’s all spending time together is—a distraction. Nothing more.

What neither of them counted on was falling so hard for the other. Especially when a relationship couldn’t come at a worse time for either of them. But when it comes to love—sometimes there is no such thing as perfect timing.

* * *

Dear Reader,
Ever since I started writing the Castle Mountain Lodge series, I’ve known that Carmen–the ever present Customer Services Manager–would have her own story. I really enjoyed writing her story of love and discovery and I hope you enjoy it, too!
And I want you to know, despite the title of the book, this isn’t ‘Goodbye’ for the Castle Mountain Lodge, just…’See you later’.


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Other Books in the Castle Mountain Lodge series

Unexpected Gifts

Book 1

Hidden Gifts

Book 2

Unexpected Endings

Book 2.5

Mistaken Gifts

Book 3

Secret Gifts

Book 4

Tempting Gifts

Book 6

Holiday Gifts

Book 7

Promised Gifts

Book 8

Accidental Gifts

Book 9

The Castle Mountain Lodge Collection: Books 1-3

Box Set 1 (Books 1-3)

Christmas Gifts Collection

Box Set

The Castle Mountain Lodge Collection: Books 4-6

Box Set 2 (Books 4-6)

The Castle Mountain Lodge Collection: Books 7-9

Box Set 3 (Books 7-9)

The Castle Mountain Lodge Collection: Books 1-9

Box Set 4 (Books 1-9)

Read an Excerpt

Carmen Kincaid took a deep breath and looked over the main lobby of Castle Mountain Lodge. In her role as customer service manager, it was her job to make sure everything was going smoothly, and after a quick scan, everything seemed to be in order. Guests were enjoying their coffee by the fireplace, others were milling about, getting ready to go on outdoor adventures, and at the front desk…Carmen’s gaze froze on a customer who was leaning over the desk, looking more than a little agitated.

She pasted on the smile she’d perfected over the years, straightened her blouse and headed over to the front desk to see what was going on.

“Quinn,” Carmen said, with a quick smile in the guest’s direction. “Is everything okay here?”

Quinn, her best desk clerk, looked up from where he’d been frantically tapping at the keys and said, “Carmen. I’m sorry, but I can’t seem to find Mr. Jansen’s reservation and he—“

“I’m booked for a family suite,” the guest said, his agitation level rising.

“Would it be okay if I took a look?” Carmen smiled at both Mr. Jansen and a relieved-looking Quinn and moved around the desk. After a few quick keystrokes, she looked up from the computer screen, and to the waiting customer. “Mr. Jansen,” she said, sweetly. “I have your reservation right here. It looks as if you booked for a family suite, next weekend.” She tilted her head in sympathy.

The man, whom a moment ago had been insisting she’d personally screwed up their reservation, looked down, the expression on his face changing in an instant. Despite the fact that he’d been rude to her, Carmen felt for him. His wife and two kids behind him looked exhausted, and clearly, it’d been a long drive up the mountain.

“Next weekend?” He ran his hand through his hair, leaving it sticking up at odd angles. “But we’re here now, and the kids…what am I going to do? They’ll be so disappointed.” He glanced back to his family, before turning his focus on Carmen, pleading with his eyes.

“Let me see what I can do.” Carmen gave him a sympathetic smile and turned her attention back to her computer screen. It was a good thing they were into their slow season at Castle Mountain Lodge. Autumn always was a nice reprieve between the busyness of summer and the bustle of the winter ski season. Carmen knew without looking she’d be able to find something for the Jansen family, and after a moment, she proved successful. “I have a room,” she whispered, and quickly added, “It’s not a suite, but it’s the next best thing. It’s a family loft, with two beds up, and a comfortable living space below.”

“I’ll take it.”

“Absolutely.” Carmen took the man’s information, and with a few more keystrokes, she finished the check-in and handed him his welcome packet.

“Thank you so much,” he said. “I’m sorry I was a—“

“It’s not a problem, Mr. Jansen.” She kept her smile in place, the way she always did. “Honestly. It was my pleasure, and I do hope you and your family enjoy your stay at Castle Mountain Lodge. In your packet, you’ll find a list of activities that I’m sure the kids will enjoy.”

She watched as they made their way across the large, timber-framed lobby, towards the bank of elevators. There was no doubt in Carmen’s mind that Mr. Jansen and his family would find the relaxation and rest they’d come to the Lodge looking for. There was something about the air in the mountains that relaxed even the tensest people.

Carmen set to work adjusting the reservations in the computer, and checking room availability. She hadn’t received the phone call confirming her parents’ visit yet, but it was coming. For the last three years, since Carmen had gone to work at the Lodge, they made a point to come visit for a long weekend every October. It wasn’t necessarily a weekend Carmen looked forward to.

She clicked a few buttons and reserved her parents a nice suite with a view of the ridge. With any luck, they would be preoccupied with their stunning surroundings and less focused on their daughter’s lack of husband.

Their weekend visit was bound to be filled with questions about when she was going to give up her “little job” and settle down with a nice boy, or at the very least, go to college where she could meet a nice boy. Just thinking of the way her dad was going to drill her about her future plans, while her mother listed all her friends’ young, eligible sons she should meet was enough to fake some sort of deadly illness.

But, Carmen knew better. Nothing would distract her mom and dad from their annual visit. Since she flat-out refused to come back for Christmas, or any other time, it was their duty as good parents to smother their only child with love.

She sighed, and put her head down on the front desk for a moment.

“Working hard, are you?”

The voice jolted her up and Carmen looked directly into the eyes of Trent Harrison, the general manager of the Lodge. Carmen snapped to attention and smoothed her dark hair behind her ears. “Mr. Harrison,” she said. “I’m so sorry. I was just…well, I—“

“It’s fine.” Trent waved away her explanations. “And I told you to call me Trent. Besides, I’m not going to be your boss for much longer.”

“That’s right,” she said. It’s not like it was a secret that Trent was leaving to go run a high-scale resort with his brother in a few weeks. What was the secret was who would be filling his position. “You must be excited about your new opportunity,” she said. “And you know I refuse to call you by your first name when we’re working.” Her smile was warm, because outside of work, they were friends, but Carmen liked to keep some sort of professional distance during working hours. So far, it’d served her well in her career. She’d only been at the Lodge for three years and had already worked her way up to customer service manager and with any luck, she’d be a candidate for Trent’s job, too.

Trent laughed, his handsome features crinkling in humor. “That’s one of the things that’s so great about you, Carmen.” He ran a hand through his blond, slightly wavy hair. “You’re nothing if not professional.” He leaned across the desk and lowered his voice. “I hear that you’re in the running for my job.”

Her stomach flipped, but not because of his proximity. She knew more than one woman who’d love the chance to hook up with Trent, but she’d never been interested in dating anyone she worked with. Or anyone at all, really.

“That’s what I’m told,” she said. Word had filtered down to her last week that she was one of the candidates for the job.

“Did you also hear that I get to choose my replacement?”

Carmen’s heart started beating double time and she blinked hard. “What?”

“Would I lie to you?” She raised her eyebrows and tilted her head, causing him to laugh again. “Okay, I might. And maybe I’m exaggerating a little,” he continued. “But I do get a say in the final selection. I’m told that my opinion matters a great deal. And I’m keeping my eye on you.” He winked dramatically and she had to laugh.

“I’m sure you are.” They’d always been easy friends, not in small part due to her ability to dodge his advances.

He grinned and took a quick look around before changing  the subject. “I actually was hoping to ask you something, Carmen. Totally unrelated to work.”

Carmen’s smile faltered. Trent’s affairs at the Lodge were legendary. He didn’t date; in fact, in the three years she’d been there, she’d never heard of him dating at all. His affairs, however—that was a different story. So far, she’d managed to keep their relationship professional, probably in no small part due to the fact that she insisted on professionalism with everyone she worked with. Friendly, yes. But there was no way Carmen would ever entertain the thought of dating anyone who worked at the Lodge, particularly someone in a management position. Not if it would risk her career.

“You know I don’t—“

“Oh, don’t worry. I would never dream of asking you out,” he said.

She shot him a look.

“Not that I wouldn’t want to,” he added quickly. “But I’m not an idiot, Carmen. And only an idiot would bang their head against that wall. I know your policy on dating at work.”

Carmen smiled again and nodded. “Okay, then what would you like to ask me?”

“I think you’re going to like this.” Trent stood up and stretched his shoulders. “My brother is coming to stay at the Lodge for a few days. Maybe a week, if I can convince him to enjoy himself a little bit. Anyway, I’m going to be busier than I’d like what with wrapping things up around here and all. I was hoping maybe you would show him around a bit.”

“Show him around?” Carmen got a sinking feeling in her stomach. And the distinct impression that there was more to his request than he was saying.

“Yes,” Trent said. “No one knows the ins and outs of Castle Mountain like you do, and who better than a beautiful woman to keep him company?”

And there it was. The reason Carmen didn’t feel good about her boss’s request. She tipped her head and assessed him. Despite Trent’s reputation as a bit of a womanizer, he’d never been anything but respectful. She must have heard him wrong.

“What about Bo?” she suggested. “He knows the Lodge much better than I do. And as the outdoor activities director, he’s the perfect choice.”

Trent smiled a little and looked at his feet. “Look, Carmen. I don’t usually do this type of thing, but I was kind of thinking Dylan would enjoy the company of a woman.”

Carmen pretended to ignore him. “Well, as we know,” she said, “where Bo is, Morgan is.” They were Castle Mountain Lodge’s resident lovebirds, and good friends of Carmen’s.

“I was thinking more along the lines of a single woman,” Trent said.

As a reflex, Carmen’s hand shot out and she smacked his arm. “Trent Harrison,” she said. “What type of girl do you think I am?”

Trent’s head snapped up and a look of pure mortification took hold on his face. “Oh, God, Carmen. No. Not like that. I just really want him to enjoy himself a little, go out, laugh. That type of thing. I don’t mean anything sleazy by it.”

She narrowed her eyes and assessed him for a moment. “Really?”

Trent held up two fingers. “I swear.”

She shook her head and considered her options. There weren’t many. “I don’t know, Trent. Like you said, I don’t date, and my parents are coming next weekend for their annual visit and with working and—“

“Please, Carmen. I won’t take no for an answer. And I’m not looking to marry my brother off or anything. I just really need Dylan to have a little fun before we jump into the fire with the Springs. Besides, he’ll probably be gone by the time your folks come.”

“Trent, it doesn’t feel right and—“

“It’ll even be fun for you,” he continued. “You work too hard as well, and if you do get the position as general manager, well…”

Her breath caught in her throat and for a minute, Carmen thought she might actually be sick. “What do you mean?” she asked slowly.

“Just that if you do happen to get the position,” he paused and raised his eyebrows, “that you’ll be very busy for the next little while.”

Her instincts told her that wasn’t all he meant by his comment. “I’m a long shot for the manager position,” she said softly.

Trent leaned in again and lowered his voice before he said, “Remember, I do play a role in the selection of my replacement and it would be an easy decision to choose a candidate who goes above and beyond the call of duty. If you get my drift?”

Carmen swallowed hard. She got his drift all right.

“Think about it,” he said.

A group of giggling women came through the main doors and Trent stood up, adjusting his jacket. He stepped aside and said, “I’ll totally owe you, Carmen. We’ll talk soon.”

She watched him walk through the lobby and disappear down the hall that led to the banquet room.

Did that really just happen? Trent didn’t really just tell her she had to take his brother out if she wanted the promotion, did he? Not in so many words, but that was definitely what was implied, right? Unless she’d been reading too much into it. That was probably it; she’d probably just thought he was saying something he wasn’t.

Thoughts swirled through her head so quickly, she couldn’t focus on just one thing.

She shook her head in a desperate attempt to clear her mind, and focused on the women who were checking in. It was easier to bury herself in work. It always had been.

* * *

Dylan Harrison had only been at the Lodge for twenty minutes, but it was all he needed to decide the mountain resort was exactly the type of experience he wanted to recreate at the Springs, the resort he was opening with his brother in only a few more months.

“So, what do you think?” Dylan’s brother, Trent, came up behind him and slapped him on the shoulder. “It’s pretty magnificent here, isn’t it?”

Dylan turned and gave his older brother a brotherly punch to the arm. Trent may be a year older, but Dylan had never missed an opportunity to remind him that he was bigger and stronger. “Hey, man. It’s good to see you.”

“And you, kid.” He raised his eyebrows. “All of you. Getting a little soft, are you?” As soon as he said the words, Trent dodged the punch he’d known was coming. It was part of their routine. Big brother gave little brother a hard time. Even though it was far from the truth, and they both knew it. Dylan was in excellent shape, a solid wall of muscle; he was definitely not in any danger of getting soft around the middle.

“Hey,” Trent said. “Come on. I have so much to show you.”

Their greetings complete, they walked together across the lobby and past the check-in desk where Dylan’d left his bags. Trent led him directly to the picture window that framed the back of the room. Despite the fact he’d seen plenty of mountains before, and had spent his fair share of time exploring them, the view took his breath away. There was nothing quite like being there—it was spectacular—and the construction of the Lodge showcased it beautifully.

“It’s amazing,” Dylan said truthfully. “I can’t wait to see the rest of it.”

“There’s lots of time,” Trent said, “since I convinced you to stay for a bit. And really, I can’t believe you’ve never been up here.”

Dylan took one more look at the view, and turned to his brother. “Neither can I. But maybe if you’d told me how amazing it was up here, I would’ve come a bit sooner.”

The truth was, Trent had told him how impressive the Lodge was, on more than one occasion. In fact, they were building a lot of their own business venture on how things were done at Castle Mountain, but Dylan had never made the time to visit his brother. Working sixty-hour-weeks, didn’t leave much time for anything else, not even family.

Trent gave him a look, and Dylan was sure he would be on the receiving end of a lecture about how hard he worked and how he needed to relax a little and live his life. Instead, Trent smiled and said, “Come with me. There’s someone I want you to meet.”

Dylan shrugged and followed his brother to the check-in desk where a stunning woman with long dark hair stood behind the desk. She didn’t immediately notice them as she was busy tapping on her keyboard, but when Trent cleared his throat, she popped her head up with a well-practiced smile. Dylan was pretty sure he saw that smile wobble when she recognized Trent, but it only lasted a second.

“Trent,” the woman said. “What can I help you with?”

“Carmen Kincaid, I want you to meet my little brother, Dylan.”

Dylan extended his hand and locked eyes with the most stunning eyes he’d ever seen. They reminded him of a glacier-fed mountain lake he’d hiked to once, so cool and green, and beautifully compelling. “Carmen,” he said, enjoying the way her name felt on his tongue. “It’s nice to meet you.”

Her eyes flicked shut for a split second before she put her hand in his and he gently squeezed it. He had to resist the ridiculous urge to kiss it. There was something very compelling about the dark-haired beauty. He’d have to settle for a handshake.

“Likewise,” she said. “Welcome to Castle Mountain Lodge. Trent has only told me a little bit about you. But he did mention you’d never been here before. I hope you enjoy your stay.”

There was something about her eyes that Dylan could not look away from. “I’m sure I will,” he said. “So far I like everything I’ve seen.”

Dylan wished he could think of something wittier to say, but words totally eluded him. He held her gaze, and to his surprise and distinct pleasure, she didn’t look away. He didn’t let go of her hand right away, enjoying the warmth and weight of it in his own. It was only when Trent cleared his throat that Dylan remembered his manners and with an apologetic smile, he released her.

“Carmen is the customer service manager here,” Trent said. “She’s a huge asset to the Castle Mountain Lodge team, and she’s actually being considered to fill my position after I’m gone.”

Dylan thought he saw Carmen blanch, but whatever emotions had passed over her face were gone, replaced by a warm smile she aimed in Trent’s direction. Dylan had the sudden and insane urge to pull her back so she was facing him with that smile. Their whole life, Trent always got the girl, while Dylan played the role of the wingman. Not that Trent kept the girl very long. He wasn’t known for his long-term relationships. And it wasn’t that his older brother was better looking than Dylan either, he knew that. He also knew it was easier to play the sidekick role, because he didn’t have time for women in his life anyway. And even if he did, women seemed to pick up his vibe of indifference, and kept their distance.

“Well, congratulations,” Dylan managed to say. “That sounds like a great opportunity.”

“Thank you.”

The three of them stood awkwardly for a few moments before Trent said, “Carmen really has a reputation of going above and beyond for the Lodge, don’t you, Carmen?”

She narrowed her eyes at Trent, and Dylan had the distinct impression he was in the middle of a private issue.

“Well,” Dylan said uncertainty. “That’s great. In fact, that sounds like exactly the type of person we need at the Springs. Any chance we can convince you to move?” He was joking, but both Trent and Carmen looked taken aback, so he added, “Or at the very least, maybe you can give me some tips about what to look for?”

Trent smacked him on the arm. “That’s a great idea, brother. Isn’t it, Carmen?”

They both looked towards Carmen. Dylan had just been making small talk, but now that the invitation was out there, he did think it was a great idea. Any excuse to spend more time with her.

“In fact,” Trent said. “Maybe you could show him around the Lodge a little bit, too.”

He saw the uncertainty cross her face, and Dylan held his breath that she’d say yes. Suddenly, he wanted nothing more than to spend some time with the beautiful woman in front of him, and he couldn’t remember the last time he’d felt like that about any woman.

She looked between the brothers, a question in her eyes. “Actually,” Carmen said after what seemed like a very long time. “Trent beat me to it, but I was going to ask you if you’d be interested in meeting me for a drink later so I could point out a few of the finer points of the Lodge. What do you think?”

What did he think? He thought it’d been awhile since he’d been asked on a date, and the very last thing he needed while he was at the Lodge was the distraction of a woman, but at that moment he couldn’t think of anything he’d like more.

“We do have a lot of business to take care of while I’m here,” Dylan said. He couldn’t even believe the words that came out of his mouth. He should be jumping at her invitation, but old habits die hard. And work came first.

“I’m sure you can sneak away at some point, Dyl,” Trent said. “We have the meeting with the Braxtons later, but maybe after that?”

Dylan nodded, and locked eyes with Carmen. That cinched it. “Sounds great,” he said. “It would be nice to hear about the inner workings of a resort like this from someone besides my brother.”

She smiled, and ducked her head a little, causing a strand to fall over her eye. Dylan stuffed his hands in his pockets to keep from reaching out and tucking it behind her ear.

“So later, then?” she said.

“Sounds good.”

Trent and Dylan left Carmen alone to finish her shift, and more importantly to them, so they could get ready for the first of what were going to be very important meetings.

Trent showed Dylan the meeting rooms where they’d be conducting the majority of their business, including a makeshift office area for Dylan.

“I knew you’d want your own space, little brother.” Trent waved his arm around the boardroom with a printer and a few office supplies set up on one end. “It’s not much, but it’s better than working out of your room. Plus here, you have a view.”

And what a view it was. Dylan turned and stared out the window at the majestic mountains. Even with all the time he’d been spending in Cedar Springs, the small town where the Springs resort would be based, Dylan hadn’t had much time to actually enjoy the mountains and all they had to offer. Even just staring at them seemed to be enough to bring down his blood pressure and give him a moment to relax.

All Dylan had been doing lately was working. While Trent had hung on to his full-time job, Dylan had focused solely on getting the construction of the Springs resort going, and pulling together the financing they’d need to complete the project on time. Together, the brothers were building one of the biggest resorts in the Rocky Mountains, based around a little known naturally occurring hot spring that up until recently had been a local secret.

He was so lost in the view, Dylan failed to keep up with Trent’s chatter about their impending meeting. It took him a moment, but Dylan focused on the task at hand.

“Everything’s ready on my end,” Dylan said. “We still have an hour or so?”

“About that.” Trent looked at his wristwatch. “I need to run and take care of a few things. But you should find everything you need in the room next door. The Braxtons will be here in just under an hour and we can get started. If you need anything else, don’t hesitate to give the front desk a call. Carmen will take care of anything you need.” Trent wiggled his eyebrows and if he’d been standing any closer, Dylan would have punched him. “She’s hot, right?”

Of course he agreed, but he wasn’t going to give his brother that satisfaction. Instead, he shrugged.

“You can’t fool me, little brother.” Trent laughed. “She’s a hottie and I know you think so. I’d have to disown you if you didn’t. And lucky you, she seems interested. Not that I know why.” He rolled his eyes. “But maybe you can have a little fun while you’re here? You work too hard.”

“I’m fine,” Dylan said. “Besides, I could say the same for you.”

“Maybe,” Trent said. “But you’re the one going for drinks with Carmen. Not me.”

Before he could reply, Trent left to take care of his business, and Dylan was left alone. He knew he should be using every moment he had to prepare things for the meeting, but he couldn’t keep his mind off the dark-haired beauty with the intense eyes, and the promise of spending more time with her.

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