“Stay where you are,” Olivia instructed, pointing to the spot where Morgan stood.
“This is a momentous occasion,” Hope said, her voice somber. “We all need to be here to welcome our first guests.”
“Our first paying guests,” Charlotte teased, her eyes filled with mirth.
“After all the money we spent on renovations, we’re going to need some loot,” Fancy said with a sigh. “Those bills made me weak in the knees.”
Renovating Savannah House had been costly. Thankfully, their benefactor, Miss Hattie Alexander, had left the six women a large sum of money in her will to complete the renovations for her beloved Savannah House. Miss Hattie’s generosity and vision continued to astound Morgan. Although the renovations had cost a staggering amount of money, it had been worth it to achieve a more updated resort while still maintaining the air of historic elegance. She still couldn’t believe that Miss Hattie had bequeathed the legendary inn to the six of them.
As the first guests walked in—Mr. and Mrs. Craig Swann from Atlanta, Georgia—all six women greeted them effusively. Olivia checked them in at the front desk, and after giving them their room key, steered them toward their honeymoon suite after reminding them about the welcome reception. Over the next half-hour, more guests began to arrive. There was an electric pulse radiating in the air.
If Morgan had to describe it with one word it would be joy. She and her best friends were experiencing an honest to goodness dream come true. Being a chef was everything Morgan had dreamed about ever since childhood. Although she’d had a big gig at a restaurant in Paris, this new position and partnership with her girlfriends felt earth shattering.
Morgan knew she should be on top of the moon, and although she felt happy and grateful about being part of something so wonderful as the relaunch of Savannah House, there was something pressing on her heart strings—an ache that couldn’t be soothed no matter how she tried. She had attempted to stuff it down, stomp on it…light in on fire. Anything but to feel this relentless weight hanging around her neck. But nothing seemed to work.
Luke. The very thought of him caused a groundswell of emotion to rise up inside her. Just thinking about him created a feeling of such longing she feared it might choke her.
The ache of missing him never left her. He was still there, firmly etched on her heart. And even though he wasn’t hers anymore—maybe he’d never been—she still yearned for him. She still hated herself for not being brave enough to reach out for the brass ring…for Luke.
“Luke. You came!” The sound of his name being called out by Callie caused her to swing her gaze to the front door. Luke stood in the entryway, looking way more handsome than she remembered with his dirty blonde hair, warm hazel eyes and leanly-muscled physique. He was wearing a black leather bomber jacket and jeans. Clearly, he had ditched his suit and tie for more casual clothes.
She watched with her heart in her throat as Luke crossed the threshold and entered Savannah House. He was actually here. If she wanted to, she could reach out and touch him.
“Luke,” Morgan whispered as she heard Callie let out a squeal and then watched as she threw her arms around her brother.
“I wanted to be here to wish all of you a heartfelt congrats.” He held Callie tightly against him. “This is an amazing achievement.” Morgan couldn’t help but wish she could switch places with Callie. It had been forever since Luke had held her in his strong arms.
Luke locked gazes with her, and for an instant, it felt as if everything else faded away. It was just the two of them standing there looking at one another. Her first instinct was to throw herself into his arms just like Callie had done. But she knew better. If she allowed herself that one moment of pure abandon, then everyone would know her secret—the one she had been harboring for an eternity. She was gloriously, painfully, sickeningly in love with Luke Duvall. And she had been for more years than she could count.
A sigh escaped her lips. Her feelings didn’t amount to a hill of beans in the scheme of things. Luke wasn’t hers anymore. He was dating Violet, who was sweet and beautiful and a society princess. According to Callie, there had been talk of an engagement. Oh how that knowledge burned in her soul. It had almost broken her to pretend as if all was right in her world. She had fled Savannah once before because of Luke. If he married Violet, there was no way she could imagine staying on in Savannah. The pain would be acute.
In one hand, Luke held a bouquet of multi-colored roses. Morgan was shocked that Callie hadn’t crushed them all with her exuberant hug. In Luke’s other hand was his guitar, which made her curious. Was Luke going to be singing here today? It wasn’t something he did very often anymore. His father, Lionel, had forced him to make a choice—Duvall Investments or his singing career. In the end it hadn’t been much of a choice. Luke had always been a dutiful son seeking his father’s approval. She had no doubt in her mind that the decision had crushed Luke’s soul.
“Flowers!” Fancy said in a gushing voice.
“A rose for each of you,” Luke said as he began handing single roses out to each of them. Pink. White. Red. Yellow. Lilac. And orange.
“Aww. You’re a sweetheart,” Olivia said, reaching out and accepting the yellow rose.
One by one Luke handed out all the roses until he was left with a single red rose. He walked toward Morgan, quickly filling the distance between them. “Last but not least. For you, Morgan,” he murmured, his hazel eyes warm and inviting. Morgan knew looking into Luke’s eyes was a dangerous thing to do. It was quite possible that she could tumble straight over the edge by staring into their depths.
“It’s beautiful. Thank you, Luke,” she murmured, trying to keep her tone cool as ice. She was trying desperately to make sense of the expression etched on Luke’s face. Why had he given her a red rose? Red roses signified romantic love. Was she reading too much into it? None of the others seemed to be giving it a second thought, other than Fancy, who seemed to be studying her.
“I know how much you love red,” he answered, a smile tugging at the corners of his lips. The color red had been a longstanding joke between them. Luke had always teased her about getting a candy red sports car like a corvette or a Porsche. Luke knew better than most that fancy cars in flashy colors weren’t Morgan’s thing, although on occasion she liked to wear a red pair or shoes or accessorize with a cherry red purse.
As soon as Luke walked away, Fancy turned and met Morgan’s gaze. Fancy raised her eyebrows and pointedly look at the red rose. Morgan’s heart rate began to beat at a fast rhythm. Fancy knew something! Clearly she had been paying attention to the exchange between her and Luke. She’d known her friend long enough to realize that Fancy’s pointed look meant something.
“What?” she whispered. “Why are you staring at me?” she asked Fancy.
Fancy leaned in, presumably so the others wouldn’t hear her. “Case hinted at something between you and Luke, but I told him he was way off-base. Seems my husba
nd-to-be was right,” Fancy said with a satisfied grin.
“This isn’t the time to discuss this,” Morgan answered in a low voice. “Let’s save this discussion for later.”
“You’re lucky guests are arriving,” Fancy hissed. “Because as one of your best friends in the world, I want answers. I need answers! Heaven knows you guys knew all of my business. It was dragged out in the Savannah gossip rags for heaven’s sake.”
Morgan felt relieved that Fancy could now make reference to the drama that had imploded her relationship with Case. There was a time when the wounds had been so raw that no one had dared mention it. It had been a touchy subject. The “scandal” had revolved around Fancy’s platonic relationship with a male friend named Marc Cabron. When Marc had fallen in love with Fancy and Case had discovered that his fiancée was spending time with another man behind his back, he had broken things off with her. Although Fancy had never cheated on Case, lines had been crossed. Time and faith and prayer had resulted in their reconciliation, engagement and a wedding they were planning to hold at Savannah House. They were now blissfully in love and both had put the past firmly in the past where it belonged.