“Good afternoon. You’ve reached the Four Seasons Resort, Vail, Colorado. How may I direct your call?”
I took a deep breath. “Hi. I checked out early this morning. My reservation was for ten days, but I only wound up staying two nights. Is there any chance you might still have my room available? Or any room, for that matter? My flight was canceled because of the storm.”
“Let me take a look. What’s your last name?”
“Appleton.” I shook my head. “Actually, the reservation was under Ellis. My fiancé’s last name.” Or ex-fiancé. But I’d let her call me Mrs. Ellis at this point if it meant I could have a place to sleep tonight.
“Give me one moment and I’ll check.”
I sat down in the lobby of the Best Western, the third hotel I’d been to in the last two hours. It was dumb of me to check out this morning. Though, at least I was consistent. After making the bad decision to go on my previously planned honeymoon alone, I’d brilliantly decided to check out only two days into the trip…without looking at the weather report for Vail. When I arrived at the airport, I had no idea that a blizzard was on the way. But the airline had assured me my flight was still scheduled as planned. And they’d kept their word right up until five minutes before we were supposed to board, when they announced a two-hour delay. Two hours turned into three, and three turned into five, and when we hit six hours of sitting on uncomfortable plastic seats outside the gate, they finally admitted it wasn’t going to happen. Every other flight had been canceled by then. And now, every hotel seemed to be full.
The hotel operator came back on the line.
“Hi, Mrs. Ellis?”
I cringed at being called that, but answered anyway. “Yes?”
“I’m sorry. After you checked out, your room was rebooked. We’re actually sold out for the night because of the storm.”
I sighed. Of course you are. “Okay. Thank you.”
This was just my luck lately. I called four more hotels, until one said they might have a few rooms available. Apparently they had guests that hadn’t checked in yet and were in the process of making calls to confirm whether they would still be arriving today. Rooms would be freed up on a first-come, first-served basis. So I decided to take a chance and head on over. It was already seven o’clock at night, and there was no point in sitting here anymore. Surprisingly, Uber was still running, even though the airport had called it quits hours ago.
Out front, the snow was coming down hard. A giant SUV with snow chains on the tires pulled up in front of the door. I couldn’t check the license plate or get a look at the make and model of the vehicle since it was covered in snow, so I walked over to the car and motioned for the driver to roll down the window.
“Are you Hazel?” the older woman behind the wheel asked.
I smiled. “Yes.”
“Heading over to the Snow Eagle Lodge?”
Even though the next hotel was only two miles away, it took fifteen minutes to get there. By the time we pulled up, the conditions were almost white-out. It couldn’t be safe driving in this anymore.
“God, it’s really terrible out here,” I said as I pulled up the hood of my jacket. “Be careful driving tonight.”
“Oh, I will, honey. The next place I’m driving is home. I only picked you up because you were on my way. Good thing you’re at your hotel now. No one is going to be on the roads tonight anymore.”
Great. This place really better have a room for me.
As I climbed out of the SUV, a gust of snow smacked me in the face, despite the fact that we were parked under the building’s overhang. The wind made it look like someone had shaken a snow globe, hard. Inside the hotel, I wiped flakes from my eyelashes and glanced around the lobby.
This didn’t look good. A line of at least thirty or forty people snaked five rows deep, waiting to get to the reception desk. I sighed and wheeled my luggage to behind the last person. More than half an hour later, I finally reached the front.
“Hi. I called earlier, and the person I spoke to said some rooms might become available, that you were going to contact guests who hadn’t showed and see if they were still coming?”
The woman nodded with a frown. “Yeah. I can put you on our waitlist. But we’re still making calls, and to be honest, it’s not looking too good.”
My shoulders slumped. “Okay. Well, I guess please add me to your wait list.”
The woman lifted a clipboard and set it down on the counter. She thumbed through a few pages and turned it to face me, pointing at the next available line, which was two from the bottom of the page. “Just add your name and cell phone number.”
I scribbled both and let the pages above the one I’d been writing on fan back into place. Noticing the sheet at the top looked just like the one I’d signed, five or six pages down, I glanced through all the papers. There had to be at least a hundred names and telephone numbers.
“Are these all on your waiting list?”
The hotel clerk nodded.
“How many people haven’t checked in?”
“I think about a dozen.”
Oh God. This really wasn’t good. But maybe people had just added their names and left, like in a packed restaurant. Maybe the bulk of people ahead of me on the list had found other hotels.
Turning around, whatever hope I’d talked myself into immediately deflated. Every seat in the lobby area behind me was taken. Some were even sitting on the floor, leaning against their luggage. With very few options, I wandered over and found an empty space on a carpeted area of the floor, not too far from the concierge desk. Though I knew it was futile, I took out my iPad and continued to search for a hotel with availability. Even if I found one, getting there would be a miracle on its own at this point.
The nearby concierge desk had been empty while I scrolled and made calls, but now two women walked over. One I recognized as the manager, since I’d spent a half hour staring at the people behind the front desk while I’d waited in line. The other had on a nametag and held a clipboard. I couldn’t help but eavesdrop on their conversation from where I sat.
“These seven we still haven’t reached,” the manager said. “All of the other rooms have been checked in, or we’ve reallocated them to people from the waiting list.”
The employee flipped through the pages and looked around the full hotel lobby. “Jeez. And this storm is supposed to stick around for days.”
Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed a guy standing on the other side of the concierge desk. His back was to the ladies talking, but he craned his neck, and I thought he, too, might be eavesdropping. Figuring he was probably just as bored as me, I went back to my iPad search—until a few minutes later when I noticed him scribbling something with a pen on the inside of his hand.
What the hell is he doing?
He wrote for a few seconds and then seemed to go back to eavesdropping. The manager had walked away, leaving the employee to make her phone calls. She hung up from one call and dialed again.
“Hi. This is Catherine from the Snow Eagle Lodge. I’m trying to reach Milo or Madeline Hooker.”
The minute she said the names, the eavesdropper scribbled on his hand again.
Catherine continued leaving her message. “I just wanted to confirm whether you’d still be arriving this evening. Your reservation is guaranteed, so we’ll hold it as long as you need. However, if the storm has perhaps caused a change in your travel plans, we do have a long wait list of guests who could use the two rooms you have booked. My number here is 970-555-4000, if you could please return my call at your earliest convenience. Thank you.”
The same thing went on with the next two calls. Catherine left a message and the eavesdropper scribbled. Curious about what he was up to, I kept my eye on him. After the hotel clerk finished making her calls, she went back to the front desk. Eavesdropper picked up his backpack and casually strolled down a nearby hallway. I leaned to watch where he was going, and he eventually pulled up his hood and exited out a side door I hadn’t even noticed was there.
I thought it was odd, but I figured the show was over.
But a few minutes later, a guy with the same ski jacket walked through the front lobby door. He pulled his hood down, and I got a look at his face for the very first time.
Damn, he was handsome. Medium brown hair that was kind of shaggy and needed a cut, full lips, hazel eyes, and tanned skin. His warm skin tone really stood out against the pasty color of most people in Colorado this time of the year, including me. It was a shame I loathed men right now, because he was seriously gorgeous. He dusted some of the snow from the shoulders of his jacket and went to wait in line. It was much shorter now, with only two men in front of him, mostly because people weren’t braving the storm anymore. I had no idea what possessed me to do it, but I decided to get up and wait behind the guy. Maybe I was imagining things to keep myself entertained, but I had the distinct feeling he was up to something.
When it was his turn at the front desk, I moved as close as I could to listen without seeming like a stalker.
“Hi. I’m checking in,” the man said.
“Great. What’s your last name, sir?”
He cleared his throat. “Hooker. Milo Hooker.”
I squinted. The guy was totally full of shit. I knew it!
The unsuspecting hotel clerk punched a bunch of keys on her keyboard and smiled. “I have your reservation right here. Two rooms for two nights, breakfast included. Is that right?”
“Uhhh…” The guy nodded. “Yeah. I booked two rooms. But it turns out I’m only going to need the one.” He looked over his shoulder. “Looks like you won’t have a problem filling the other one, though.”
She smiled. “No, we definitely won’t. I’ll just need a credit card and a picture ID please, Mr. Hooker.”
I waited. This was the moment of truth. If he wasn’t actually Milo Hooker, he was going to have to make up some excuse.
The guy reached into his front pocket like he was going to pull out his wallet. For a second, I thought I might’ve been wrong, but then he pulled out a wad of cash.
“I lost my wallet on the slopes today. Luckily, I had some cash sent over through Western Union before the storm got too bad. Can I just pay cash?”
The young woman hesitated. “You don’t have any ID at all? I’m not supposed to check people in without photo identification.”
Fake Milo poured on the charm. He leaned forward and showed off a set of cavernous dimples. “We could take a selfie together?”
The woman giggled. She actually giggled. “Let me just check with my manager.”
She disappeared into the back and returned with the manager a few minutes later.
A crazy idea popped into my head. She said there were two rooms… I made a spur-of-the-moment decision and approached the counter.
“There you are, Milo.” I rested my hand on the guy’s shoulder. “My flight was canceled. I hope they still have our rooms.”
Fake Milo turned and looked at me with his brows furrowed.
He was going to blow it if I didn’t do something, so I turned my attention to the two hotel employees. “My brother and I booked rooms here for two nights, but I was trying to get out before the storm. Obviously I had no luck. I spent the entire day in the airport. Please tell me you still have my room? I’m dying for a hot bath.”
Milo looked at me, then the hotel employees, then back at me. I smiled and arched a brow. For a second, I almost felt bad for the guy. He looked so bewildered. Since he still seemed to be at a loss for words, I figured I should continue talking. “We went skiing early this morning and had our backpacks stolen. Between that and the storm coming, I figured it was a sign that I should get back home early. Apparently Mother Nature had other plans. We should have two rooms—Milo and Madeline Hooker. Someone actually just left me a message on my cell asking us to confirm. Her name was Catherine, I believe.”
The desk clerk nodded. “That was me. The storm has a lot of people stranded here unexpectedly without rooms, so we were checking in with guests that hadn’t arrived yet.”
The manager looked back and forth between Fake Milo and me. “We’ll have to take a hundred-dollar deposit for incidentals on each room since you don’t have a credit card.”
I smiled. “Of course.”
She nodded to her employee. “Check them in. It’s fine.”
The man next to me still had his mouth hanging open. So I dug into my purse, being careful not to show my wallet, which was supposed to have been stolen, and scooped out all of the cash.
“How much are the rooms?” I asked the clerk.
“Let’s see. With tax, they come to three-hundred-and-forty-two dollars each, for the two nights, and then we have to collect the hundred-dollar deposit.”
Shit. I didn’t think I had that much cash. I counted the money in my hand and slid it over in front of Fake Milo. “Can you spot me forty dollars? You know I’m good for it, bro.”
“Uh, yeah. Sure.”
After we paid and got the room keys, we walked side by side to the elevator bank in silence. It wasn’t until we were alone and the elevator doors slid shut that Milo turned to me. “What the hell just happened?”
I laughed. “We just got rooms, that’s what happened.”
He shook his head. “But who are you?”
“I noticed you standing near the concierge desk and eavesdropping while she called the guests who hadn’t arrived yet.” I reached forward and took the man’s hand, opening it to display blue ink. “You wrote down the names of the guests. I thought it was odd, so I followed you to the front desk to see what you were up to. When you made up that bogus story about losing your wallet so you could justify not having any ID, I knew you were full of shit.” I shrugged. “When the woman said there were two rooms on the reservation, I saw an opening and took it.”
“How did you know I’d go along with it?”
I smiled. “I didn’t. But that’s what made it so much fun!” I covered my chest with my hand. “My heart feels like it’s trying to ricochet out of my ribcage at this moment. It’s been a long time since I did anything risky like that.”
His eyes roamed my face. I got the feeling he still wasn’t sure what to make of me, even though I’d just explained what I’d done. He looked down at my lips, which were still curved in an excited smile.
“Why is that?”
My forehead wrinkled. “Why is what?”
“Why’s it been a long time since you’ve done anything risky? It looks to me like you enjoyed it.”
I blinked a few times, not having expected a question that would tug at my heartstrings, and my smile fell. “I don’t know. I guess I kind of turned into a different person over the last few years.”
Fake Milo’s eyes locked with mine. We’d gone from pulling off a crazy stunt and laughing, to an odd seriousness. His eyes flickered to my lips and back once again. “That’s a shame. You have a great smile.”
Warmth spread through me, and I couldn’t seem to unlock my eyes from the stranger’s—at least until the elevator dinged and the doors opened on the third floor.
“This is us,” he said. “Rooms 320 and 321.”
“Oh. Right. Okay.” I stepped out and followed the signs to our rooms. Since we were, of course, family, they’d put us right next to each other. We stood a few feet apart as we opened our respective doors. As my lock unlatched and I turned the handle to go inside, something dawned on me.
“I almost forgot! I owe you forty dollars for the room.”
He smiled. “Don’t worry about it.”
“No, don’t be silly. I just didn’t have enough cash and didn’t want to hand the woman a credit card when we weren’t supposed to have ID. I’ll just throw my bag in the room and go downstairs to find an ATM. They must have one somewhere.”
“I thought you couldn’t wait to take a hot bath, or was that part of the act?”
I laughed. “No, it actually wasn’t. I wasn’t lying when I said I spent the entire day at the airport. A hot bath sounds pretty amazing right about now. But I can grab your cash first. It won’t take me long.”
Fake Milo scratched at the stubble on his chin. “I’ll tell you what. I’m going to take a quick shower and then go downstairs to the bar for a drink. Take your bath. You can find me there afterward to give me the money.”
We looked at each other for a moment.
“Alright, well, enjoy your soak, sis.”
I smiled. “Thanks, Milo. I’ll see you later.”
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My planned trip for two unexpectedly turned into a trip for one. Rather than let my breakup get me down, I packed my bags and decided a week at a luxury resort was just what I needed.
But one calamity after the next, and suddenly I was stuck without a hotel room, along with a few hundred other people.
It looked like my fancy vacation was about to turn into me sleeping on the hotel lobby floor.
Until I overheard a gorgeous man pretending to be someone he wasn’t in order to steal a reservation from a guest who hadn’t shown up yet.
When I realized there were two rooms, instead of calling him out, I pretended to be his sister. That’s how the story of “Milo and Maddie Hooker” began.
We were the Hookers.
My depressing trip quickly made a U-turn into an adventure.
My fake brother spent the next few days showing me around his hometown. When it was time to leave, neither of us really wanted to go yet.
So, instead of flying back to our respective homes, we ventured on a road trip. At every stop, we’d pick up souvenirs.
But as hot as our chemistry was, we never crossed the line.
Milo knew I’d just come out of a tough relationship and didn’t want to mess with a vulnerable woman.
So instead, at the end of our trip, we made a pact to meet again in three months.
It was always my intention to meet him.
But when I got back home, reality hit in a big way.
And I worried I may have lost my handsome stranger forever.
Was there a place for him in my future?
Vi Keeland and Penelope Ward