Connor MacDonald was in a pensive mood. He was on reception duty again at the hotel he ran and owned with his Aunt and sister. It was usually a job his Aunt cherished and coveted because she was such a chatterbox, but since his chef had let him down once more, at the last minute and because neither Connor nor his sister, Lucy could cook for toffee Aunt Morag was now promoted to head chef. A job she had had to do several times over the last few months. Lucy was far better off helping their Aunt since he was a hopeless klutz when it came to kitchen duties. This left him to man the reception. Not a bad job, but he could think of a thousand other jobs he could be doing on a Sunday night. He could have asked someone else to come in on their day off, but he never liked doing that. He would never ask any of his staff to do something he wouldn't be happy to do.
Most of his staff took Sunday evenings and Mondays off since this was the time they were least busy; however there had been a heavy, early snowfall and most of his weekend guests from the weekend wedding had decided to stay an extra night. In fact the only ones that had left were the Honeymoon couple who'd had a flight to catch. He was therefore in the position of having a full Hotel on a Sunday night which was virtually unheard of in the winter. A hotel full of guest all wanting dinner meant a busy night for his chef but the guy had let him down again.
Connor sighed heavily. He was going to have to do something about that chef. If the man hadn't been such a damn good cook then he probably would have been given the shove months ago. He consistently let them down when the Hotel was particularly busy. How was he supposed to run a business when one of his most important members of staff kept ditching them with whatever lame excuse he could come up with at the time? Connor checked the post it note that his Aunt had stuck to the desk. He snorted. The message read "Says his Grandmother died! That must be the third one this year!" She could be very sarcastic sometimes.
Connor ran his fingers through his short, dark auburn hair as he chuckled at the message written in his Aunt Morag's unmistakable handwriting. His green eyes scanned the desk for any other messages. She had a habit of sticking them all over to "make it more interesting" for whoever they were for, like a kind of treasure hunt. She was a little bit touched, his aunt: lovely natured, kind, generous, dedicated and formidable at times, but touched none the less. In fact, at times throughout his childhood Connor had thought his Aunt was completely off the map loopy. The rest of the time he and his sister had thought she was a witch: a good witch, but a witch just the same. He still loved her dearly though.
She had been his greatest source of support when he had inherited the Hotel, business and title of Laird, from his uncle, her husband, even though she was in mourning herself. That had been four years ago: four years of hard work and lots of stress to get to this point where they were running a successful business that was doing reasonably well. If he could just find a good, reliable chef then things would be hunky dory.
Connor's attention was brought back to the here and now by the sound of a man clearing his throat. It was not an impatient noise, rather a polite attempt to gain attention. Connor's eyes lifted to regard the interruption to his thoughts. In front of the reception desk stood a pale and tired looking; unshaven and dishevelled young man. He was tall; almost six foot, Connor reckoned, and he had a mess of dark brown almost black hair that appeared to be attempting to escape from beneath the grey, knitted beanie hat that had been pulled so far onto his head it covered his eyebrows.
The man's clothes were nondescript: faded, jeans; grey, well worn, hooded sweater with the name of some American University plastered across it. Over it he wore a lined, waterproof jacket of a brand that Connor recognised but had never been able to afford and probably never would. Connor only vaguely noted these things however as the most striking thing about the young man was his eyes. They were quite simply the biggest, bluest eyes Connor had ever seen. They were framed with thick dark lashes that any woman would have killed for.
Connor was momentarily lost for words as he gazed into those deep blue eyes. They looked weary but there was also a sparkle of amusement and Connor realised it was directed at him because he was staring. He quickly closed his mouth to stop himself from drooling and told himself to get a grip,
"Can I help you?" he started to ask, having to stop and clear his throat since the words refused to come, then start again, "Welcome to Loch Leith Castle, are you looking for a room?" Connor was making the assumption, judging by his dishevelled appearance, that the guy wasn't here to have dinner. The young man nodded. He put down the small holdall he was carrying and approached the desk,
"I'm looking for a room for a few nights, maybe longer." The man said in a West Coast American drawl, "I don't have a reservation but a lady in your local village store recommended you. Do you have anything?"
"We are busy," Connor explained, with a slight grimace, "Unfortunately we only have one room available tonight."
"Unfortunately?" the young man asked, "That doesn't seem unfortunate, in fact it seems very fortunate to me."
"It's only unfortunate because it happens to be the Honeymoon suite." Connor warned him. The young man looked away and muttered something under his breath that sounded very much like "Appropriate." He turned back and gave Connor a wry half smile,
"I'll take it." He said, "I don't care how pink or fluffy it is or how much it costs, as long as it has a bed and a shower." He sounded tired, worn out and Connor noticed how pale and drawn he looked,
"I'll only charge you regular rates." Connor was shocked that the guy would think he would be charged the full Honeymooner's rate. He knew some hotels that would charge double for a last room and a late booking, but Connor was simply glad to have a full Hotel on a Sunday night, "I have to warn you though, that it is booked out for next weekend for an actual Honeymoon so if you're planning on spending longer here then would you mind if we asked you to move later on in the week?" Connor hated asking this. Loch Leith Castle was a popular Wedding venue and their Honeymoon suite was almost always booked at weekends.
The guy nodded in understanding, "I don't know how long I'm gonna stay, but if I am still here then I'll move. I'll move as soon as you have another room available so you're not rushing to get that one ready."
"That would be great, thanks." Connor said brightly. He got out some standard booking forms for the young man to fill in and placed them onto the desk with a pen, "If you'll just fill these in I'll get your key and book you in."
The young man leaned over the desk, pulling off his hat, revealing the rest of his dark hair. He ran his fingers through it as he began to fill in the first form. The action caused Connor to bite his lip. God this guy had amazing hair; he was amazing looking full stop. Again he told himself to get a grip. He couldn't be doing with lusting after the guests. His life was difficult enough as it was without that added complication. That thought did not stop him catching his breath and admiring from afar.
He surreptitiously glanced at the form to see the guy's name, Gabriel; jeez he even had a great name. He'd never met anyone called Gabriel before. He watched as he filled in his last name, Gadenski. Shit, even his last name tripped of the tongue. Gabriel Gadenski, Gabriel Gadenski he repeated in his head. Now there was a name that wasn't easily forgotten.
Gabriel filled in the first form and handed it to Connor. He unfolded his wallet and handed Connor a credit card. Connor couldn't help noticing how shaky Gabriel's hand was as he took the card from him. He seemed to realise that Connor was watching him and placed his hand flat on the desk to steady it. He hung his head with a very shaky sigh,
"Are you alright?" Connor asked with concern. Gabriel nodded,
"I'm fine. I'm just tired, I've been travelling for twenty four hours straight and I just need…" he stopped and Connor realised he was taking a deep breath to calm his emotions. Tears had pooled in his lovely eyes and Connor had the sudden urge to hug him. The young man turned away and wiped his hand across his eyes, flushing with embarrassment, "I just need a good night's sleep." He sighed softly, as if to himself. When he turned back to face Connor the tears and any trace of sadness or upset was gone from his face, replaced with a broad, one hundred watt smile. Connor could see, however, that it did not touch the young man's deep blue eyes. Connor returned the smile with what he hoped was a more genuine one, all the time wondering what this guy's story was,
"I hope you sleep well tonight then. It's nice and peaceful here."
"That's just what I need." Gabriel continued to smile, some of the weariness returning to his face.
Connor handed him back his card and gave him his room key,
"I'll show you your room." He said standing up and walking around the desk to stand in front of Gabriel, who was forced to step back and look up at the taller man, "Do you have any bags?" Connor asked,
"Just this one." Gabriel went to pick up his small holdall but Connor beat him too it. The young man looked a little startled and was about to protest but Connor held up his hand to belay it,
"This is a family run establishment." He began, and then he pointed beyond them to the restaurant that was beginning to fill with guests, "Right through there is my sister and my Aunt getting ready to serve dinner. If they hear that I let someone as tired looking as you carry his own bags up to his room they would both have my hide and probably sell it to make a kilt." Gabriel laughed in surprise, smiling the first genuine smile Connor had seen and showing a double row of perfect teeth that Connor had somehow expected since everything about this guy was perfect. Hollywood perfect, since the address he had filled out on the form was Beverly Hills, California.
Connor flicked his eyebrows comically, flashing the man a grin that would have probably melted rock. He was nothing if not charming and was going to enjoy laying some of that Scottish charm on this particular guest. After all, as Laird, it was his duty to be as welcoming as he could to visitors to his small corner of the World.
He escorted Gabriel up to his room and deposited his bag just inside the door. Gabriel looked around the suite nodding appreciatively. There was no hint of pink or fluffy. The large room was dominated by a large, luxurious four poster bed and was decorated subtly and aptly for a seventeenth Century castle with muted tartans and dark, thick drapes to warm the stone walls. To the side there was a door leading to the bathroom, that appeared to be particularly luxurious. At the opposite side of the room was a door leading out onto a private balcony,
"The balcony overlooks the Loch." Connor explained, "There are chairs and a table out there for alfresco dining, but it's a little cold for that tonight." He sounded regretful and Gabriel gave him a bemused look,
"There's a foot of snow outside, and it doesn't show any signs of stopping. If you ask me a little cold is a gross understatement." Gabriel smiled, but Connor could see he was trying to work out if he was being serious or not. The young man shivered just then and Connor jumped over to the large fire place, already laid with logs ready to light. He flashed Gabriel a smirky grin as he did, trying to convey that he wasn't being serious,and that he in fact found it difficult to be serious about anything. Gabriel's small chuckle and slight flush to his cheeks made him think that he had got the message across,
"You can light the fire yourself if you want, or I can do it for you." Connor told him, indicating the enormous stone fire place and log fire as if Gabriel wouldn't have noticed it as he walked in the room, "It has a device to light it," Connor continued, "you just press a button, saves a lot of matches, paper and swearing." Gabriel chuckled again,
"I can't imagine you swearing at all." He said through his grin, now Connor couldn't be sure if he was being serious or sarcastic. He smiled at having the tables turned on him,
"I've been trying to give it up." Connor quipped, "but it's an addiction." He smirked, "Or an affliction depending on who you ask."
"That your Aunt and a hide kilt thing again?" Gabriel asked, laughing,
"Oh yes, Aunt Morag can't abide swearing." Connor laughed, "Do you want me to light the fire?"
"No, thanks, I think I can manage." Gabriel assured him. It was a polite but obvious dismissal and Connor acknowledged it with a curt nod,
"Will you be wanting any dinner?" Connor asked, "It's being served right now but I can have something sent up to you if you want."
"That would be great, erm…" Gabriel seemed to be fishing for a name,
"Connor, my name's Connor." Connor held out his hand and Gabriel gripped it, smiling,
"Nice to meet you, Connor, I'm Gabriel," He said, "Thanks for carrying my bag; I'll be sure and let your Aunt know you did it so you can stay in her good books." Connor chuckled,
"Thanks." He turned to leave. At the doorway he turned back, "Just call reception when you're ready for food. There's a menu on the bedside table. And you can order breakfast tonight too and let us know what you want and when you want it. Have a good night." He called as he stepped into the corridor and shut the door.
Gabriel called out his thanks and then realised that he had let the guy leave before he could tip him. Somehow he got the impression that he might not have appreciated a tip, though. The young man's shoulders slumped and he let out a long, shaky breath. He gazed about the room, a look of pure exhaustion on his face. He sat heavily down on the bed and buried his face in his hands. Suddenly his shoulders heaved with a sob that he could no longer hold back. Tears fell unchecked from his eyes. He lay back on the bed in a foetal position, and cried himself into an exhausted sleep.