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Kay Hensel was never much of a nature person. While other kids went to camps out in the woods every summer, learning how to tie knots and start fires, Kay went to STEM camp and learned how to build a hard drive, code, and create different mathematical algorithms for almost any situation. While she would most likely die if she were ever stranded in the wilderness, at least she would be able to calculate how long she could survive with whatever happened to be in the bottom of her purse.
So, the idea of spending two weeks in upstate New York for work was originally a little concerning. They would be in the woods, there was a lake, and she had no idea what the internet connection would be like. When the marketing team at her company, XX Apps, pitched the idea of an in-person two-week singles’ retreat, Kay had pictured white sandy beaches and an upscale resort or maybe rooftop bars in some flashy city where she could stroll through museums or take advantage of some fine dining when she wasn’t working. She imagined waiters in white button-downs and awful khaki shorts bringing cocktails to cabanas where the couples got to know each other after being matched using her carefully created app.
She even, if just for a moment, thought about herself in one of those cabanas, sitting across from a man who looked at her adoringly . . . and didn’t just need her to troubleshoot his computer. The last thing she expected was a rustic place on the shores of Lake George. When she’d looked it up online, it was beautiful, but it was also very outdoorsy, and she had to wonder if she needed a mosquito net for her bed.
But as the GPS in her rental car announced her arrival at Hazel Oaks Resort, Kay thought her fears might have been a little unfounded. It looked more like a massive hunting lodge out of a period piece on television. It was clean and well manicured, the grass around it meticulously cut, and the floral gardens that framed the entryway vibrant. The pictures on the website certainly didn’t do it justice. The dread she’d been feeling before was slowly lifting off of her heart.
As she stopped in front of the wide double doors, a valet appeared, and then a bellhop pushing a luggage cart immediately greeted her. She smiled at both, returning the bellhop’s greeting, and took a deep breath of this lake air everyone raved about. She didn’t feel any superpowers suddenly flowing through her, but she did feel good. Maybe this trip would be as great as her marketing team promised. She moved to the back of the car, popped her trunk, and stepped out of the way, smoothing the skirt of her pale-blue linen sundress.
“Good morning, miss, and welcome to Hazel Oaks Resort,” the valet said as he took her keys.
“Good morning, and thank you.”
The bellhop had already begun collecting her things from the trunk, stacking them carefully on his cart. She took her purse and laptop bag out of the back seat and slung both over her shoulders. Then she followed the bellhop inside the resort, sighing as she stepped out of the sweltering late-June heat and into the cool air-conditioned lobby.
The front double doors were framed on both sides by towering walls of gray stone that held matching fireplaces. Their hearths were empty, but Kay could easily picture them alive in the winter, casting shadows on the high beamed ceiling. To her left was the check-in counter and before her was a set of double stairs, all in a rich dark wood. Above her was a yellow stained-glass chandelier she had to guess was terribly old, maybe even original to the building.
As she made her way to the check-in counter, a young woman with her strawberry hair in an elegant bun strode toward her, her stiletto heels clicking on the hardwood floors.
“Hi, welcome to Hazel Oaks. You must be Miss Hensel, the CEO of XX Apps.” She offered her hand.
“I am, but please call me Kay.” She reached out and shook hands with her, smiling warmly. Kay admired her red lipstick. It matched the little red notebook she was clutching and the heels on her feet. She never felt like she could pull such a bold shade off, but this woman could put on a clinic for making it work.
“Of course, and I’m Natalie Keller, but everyone just calls me Nat. I am the head concierge here at Hazel Oaks, and I’ll be happy to help you with all your organization’s events. We are just so pleased that XX Apps decided to host their Fling for Summer singles’ event here. The whole staff has been talking about it for months.”
“This place is just gorgeous; I think it will be absolutely perfect.” Kay’s tune was definitely changing. While the place may have seemed rustic, she was thinking rustic chic may have been a more appropriate description. Everywhere she looked, gold detail gleamed back at her in the form of vintage crystal light fixtures and framed art.
Nat held out a plastic key card. “I already have your room all sorted. I made sure you got a good one with a stunning view of the lake. Although, to tell you the truth, every room has some view of the lake.”
“Thank you so much. That sounds perfect.” Kay slipped the card into her purse and looked around the busy lobby. A view of the lake was just fine. As long as she didn’t actually have to go into the lake or go on a boat, she’d be fine.
There were a few families checking out, but she noted that more solo guests were checking in, a good sign. They had a list of singles who’d signed up, obviously, but there were probably going to be last-minute cancellations. She assumed those people either could not get up the courage to go or were talked out of it by a well-meaning friend who didn’t believe in the “science” of finding a soul mate. But still, she could see seven or eight potentially single people milling around, checking in, or relaxing in one of the overstuffed chairs near the fireplaces. They reminded her she was at Hazel Oaks to work, not lounge.
“Do you know if any of my employees are here yet?” Kay asked.
“They’re not. You’re the first to check in. But I can have the front desk call your room as soon as anyone from your party arrives, if you’d like?”
“No, it’s alright. They all have my number anyway. Your staff, I’m sure, has plenty to do without having to wrangle them. Thank you, though.”
“We also set aside the conference room for your exclusive use throughout the event. And if you need anything, I basically live at the resort.” She flipped open the red notebook and pulled out a card. “And here are all the numbers where I can be reached if you need me immediately.”
“Great.” Kay liked Nat already. Her level of organization mixed with her professionalism and sweet smile instantly set Kay at ease. She was good at her job.
Nat’s cell rang, and she shot Kay an apologetic look after glancing at the screen. “Sorry, I have to take this. It was nice meeting you. Seriously, please reach out if you need any help. It’s my job to help make sure your event goes smoothly and, between you and me, I’d love to see more couples find their match. My best friend is signed up.”
“The numbers don’t lie. I’ll find your friend the perfect match.”
Nat reached out and placed a grateful hand on Kay’s forearm. She mouthed Thank you and then answered the call before walking off.
Kay followed the bellhop into the elevator, eager to get settled into the lodge and get the lay of the land. She’d be spending two weeks at the resort. Despite being the owner, her main focus would be heading the technical side of the Fling for Summer event. As such, she planned to drop her stuff in her room and then head to the conference room. She could then go over the questionnaire again, making sure the latest version didn’t have any problems or typos before it was sent to the singles the next day.
Her room was spacious, rustic, and charming, but with modern touches like a large flat-screen television across from the queen-size bed, and a charming kitchenette with a coffee maker and mini fridge tucked below the counter. But the highlight was the balcony. As soon as the bellhop left, Kay pushed aside the forest-green drapes and opened the sliding glass door. The breeze coming off Black Mountain was cool, brushing over the clear waters of Lake George, where several boats could be seen, their white sails trying to catch the wind.
There was a little white wrought iron café table and a set of chairs in the corner of the balcony. She slid her shoes off, allowing herself a moment of relaxation before she slipped her laptop out of her bag and began checking the Wi-Fi speed. It was faster than she expected for a hotel, but she still took out her portable Wi-Fi device to ensure her app was secure. Never can tell who is watching with hotel internet.
But the world beyond the screen kept grabbing her attention. Below her, green-umbrellaed tables dotted a patio and people wandered into a garden maze. It wasn’t the type of rambling hedge maze she’d seen in movies, but instead looked to be made entirely of rosebushes, pink and white, vibrant against the greenery. While Kay was originally dubious a lakeside resort could build the type of romance she needed, it was easy to picture her scientifically compatible couples coming together among the blooms. It reminded her of a historical romance where a young lady would run off to the hedge maze to share a very taboo kiss with a rogue she could never imagine actually marrying. A smile came to her face as she thought about a particular series she’d always loved. It’d been forever since she’d picked up a book. She made a promise to herself to take a vacation after the event was over. She’d been working so hard to make sure everything was ready she rarely saw her apartment, let alone had a spare moment to read.
She looked to the lake where a few canoes floated around. Yet another picturesque moment her couples could share. Janine, her head of marketing, had picked the resort, swearing it was perfect for the event. And, when she’d looked online, it’d been hard to imagine. But Janine had never been wrong before. Now that she was seeing it all in person, she knew just why Janine had picked it.
After taking some time to handle a few technical checks, she put everything in her bag to head downstairs. Her team would be there soon anyway, and she wanted to greet them when they arrived. Kay grabbed her things and then went to the conference room.
Kay had been working at one of the long, empty tables for only ten minutes when Janine walked in.
“What are you doing in here?” Her hands were on her slim hips, and she was looking down at Kay expectantly.
Her gaze shot back to the screen as her emails loaded. At least the Wi-Fi in the conference room seemed reliable. “Oh, nothing, just checking on the code and questionnaire for the app I’ve devoted my twenties to build for a company I founded. Why do you ask?”
“Sarcasm is one of your best qualities, but your ability to sink yourself into your work with no regard to the outside world is unparalleled.”
Kay deleted some junk mail, then looked up. “Being a workaholic got this company from being a little start-up in my dorm room to this grand event, so I’m not complaining.”
Janine took a deep breath and sat down on one of the leather swivel seats. “We’ve been coworkers and friends for almost five years now, and I say this with love and respect. You need to get a life.”
Kay paused typing. “Excuse me?”
“We’re here at this beautiful resort and you’re holed up in a conference room, when we both know for a fact that we’re prepared for tomorrow. Go out, experience sunlight. Get a tan.”
“I can’t, I have to—”
Janine held out a hand, stopping Kay’s comment. “The app is fine. It was fine before you left, and it’ll be fine tomorrow. You’re obsessing. The cure for obsessing is fresh lake air.”
Kay thought back to her window, and the view of the resort and the lake. It really did look like something off a postcard. “How about a walk?” Kay offered. “I’ll get out of the stuffy conference room for a bit and then get back to work. Compromise?”
Janine pursed her lips. “Fine, but try and make it a long walk outside. Not just through the halls of the resort.”
“You’re very bossy for an employee,” she teased.
“Then think of me as a bossy friend instead.”
“Yeah, yeah, yeah.” She closed her laptop and grabbed her cell. “I’ll have my phone with me in case you need anything or there’s some kind of crisis.”
“Got it, but there won’t be, and if there is, I’ll handle it.”
“What if there’s a technical emergency? How will you know what to do?”
“Easy. I’m not going to open the app, so there’s no chance of a problem. Bye!”
“Yeah, I’m going.”
She walked to the lobby on her way out and saw a small station beside the front desk with maps and brochures piled in neat stacks. She stepped up to it and a young man with a crooked grin greeted her.
“Hi, can I help you?”
She scanned the brochures. “Maybe. I’m here with the team running the Fling for Summer event and I thought I’d go for a little walk.”
“Well, you can always make an appointment with an adventure coordinator. One of us can escort you around the grounds and answer any questions you might have.”
“I was hoping to explore on my own a little. I wouldn’t want to bother any of you for a quick little tour. I’m only going to be gone like half an hour. What are some must-see places?”
He paused thoughtfully. “Hard to pick just a few. I would say the garden maze, there’s a greenhouse on the mountain that people love, and the nature trails are great. Hudson, the head adventure coordinator, has been working with local historians to clear some of the brush to find all the original parts of the resort in the forest. You know, this was a hunting lodge first, so there are some old wells and parts of buildings out there.”
“Yeah. You can see part of the original stone wall as soon as you hit the walking trails. There’s also a really nice part of the path that opens up to a garden. Well, not a real garden, just a field filled with the wildflowers, but still, it’s a great place for picnics in the summer.”
Kay smiled. If she was going to be immersed in building romance in nature, she had to go all in. “That all sounds lovely. Would it be a serious hike?”
“No, not at all. Just go toward the tree line past the rose maze and you can’t miss it.”
“Um,” she started, trying to ease into talking about her sense of direction. “How easy is it to follow the path? Is it a straight shot? Do I have to make decisions about turns or anything?”
“No, it’s pretty basic.”
“Perfect, I can handle that.” Kay smiled. She’d go see a historic part of the resort, take a picture to show Janine, and then she’d come back to work.
“Great. Let me know if you need any help during your stay. My name’s Jordan, by the way.”
“I’m Kay. I’m sure I’ll be seeing you around.”
“Have a nice walk.”
The day was still a hot one, giving her another reason to miss the AC of her home office. But still, as the sun hit her face, it felt almost refreshing, like it was recharging her. A little different from the fake sunlight lamp she kept on pretty much all year round. She didn’t get outside enough, the real outside, not just the short walk from her house to the subway or from the office to the grocery store. In fact, she couldn’t even remember the last time she’d visited something as basic as a local park. Kay looked down at her wedge sandals and debated changing, but Jordan had said it wasn’t much of a hike. She’d probably be fine. At least she wasn’t wearing heels.
She followed the paved path around the side of the lodge to the back, where the patio and maze were. As she passed the roses, the scent of them surrounded her, adding a delicately sweet note to the smell of fresh water and pine that permeated the air. It would have made for a perfect perfume if she could figure out how to bottle it.
Following Jordan’s advice, she made her way past the rose maze, watching the people by the lake’s edge as she did so. There were families on sailboats and a couple pushing a canoe away from one of the docks that dotted the shore. She’d never been on a boat and wondered if something as simple as a canoe would be a good starting point. Being absolutely in charge of the vessel would be a little more comforting than careening around the water at the mercy of a captain she didn’t know and some cloth that made up the sails on the boats. Well, as long as the water didn’t go over her head. Could she canoe in four feet of water? Better not risk it. She needed to keep her feet on solid ground. What if the lake pulled her to deeper water? No, definitely not a plan.
Kay entered the trail, picking over the sticks and leaves. It was cooler beneath the trees, and she followed the path deeper into the woods. The path forked and she cursed Jordan in her head. She’d specifically asked if she had to make these decisions or if it was a straight shot. Well, he’d said straight shot, so didn’t that mean she just needed to choose the straightest path that looked the least winding?
After all, how hard could it be?
End of Excerpt