Chapter 1

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"Anya, the couple in Room 9 need more towels."

And just like that, Anya's little bubble of quiet was burst.

It was her own fault. She had forgotten to leave her walkie-talkie behind when she left the inn. She had moved 20 feet out of its constant rotation and she had made it ten minutes without being needed.

She let the first summons go. Anyone could get towels. Even the occupants of said Room 9, if they were smart enough to check underneath their sink.

It was the second summons that pulled on her sense of responsibility.

"Hey, Anya. Eve's looking for you."

At the sound of her grandmother's name, Anya let a sigh slip through her lips. Her eyes fell to the boots on her feet and the scattering of hay all around her. She took one last deep breath of the smell of fresh air, livestock, and peace that filled every inch of the antique barn around her. It was her one refuge from the wonderful chaos that existed 20 feet behind her.

She gave Tammy one good scratch behind the ear and the cow responded with a small 'moo' in return to show her appreciation. Her nose followed Anya's hand as it reluctantly withdrew itself from Tammy's head. Tammy's moo was less friendly calling after Anya as she turned her back on her old friend and heeded the calls coming from her walkie-talkie.

Anya passed the bucket of feed she had been using as an excuse to see Tammy to Frank, the man in charge of running the barn. With his customary silent nod of farewell, Anya wrapped her warm wool coat closer around her as she bent her head to meet the chill wind that rushed at her the second she stepped out of the confines of the warm barn.

She managed to lose most of the manure that had accumulated on her snow boots during her short excursion by stomping along the worn path that ran between the kitchen and the bright red barn situated only 20 feet from its back door.

Anya got two summons during the trek. One sounded like Gloria asking for a question about booking an extra guest and something about turnips. The other one came from Michaela asking for assistance at the front desk. Ignoring both the inn's chef and her cousin's request for assistance, Anya knew Eve's summons held priority over both.

Anya managed two seconds within the confines of the inn's kitchen before being bombarded with requests of assistance. With waitstaff and other employee's waiting on, Anya barely managed to stomp the snow off her boots. There was no time to shake off her outerwear or even hang up her jacket. It would take up too much time.

It was the Christmas season in Vermont and Anya ran the highest-rated inn in the entire Northeast. She didn't have a second to spare.

She swiped the snow from her black hair, gathering it up in a ponytail as she moved. A small herd followed behind her and Anya answered each of their questions as she made her way through the kitchen, past the pantry, barely skirting the inn's main lounge and all its guests by winding through the maze of tables being set for lunch in the dining room.

Gloria had gotten wind that Anya had stepped foot in her territory and came rushing out after her, bringing with her a rolling pin and a cloud of flour, a result of the biscuits being served for lunch.

"Anya! I need an extra bed."

"Can't help you, Gloria. It's the day before Christmas Eve. I don't have a single room free."

Gloria stopped, forcing Anya to do the same. She was the only person Anya would have stopped for. Gloria huffed a brown curl that had fallen free of her chef's hat out of her face.

"He doesn't need a room. Just a bed. Hell, he can sleep on a sleeping bag in the barn for all I care. Anything."

"Talk to Frank. See if he has any time to clean out one of the lofts in the barn. Your friend can sleep there."

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