UPDATE: Unlikely Merger is NOW available! We will offer
the book FREE on Kindle July 1-July 5, 2015!
the book FREE on Kindle July 1-July 5, 2015!
In case you're joining us for the first time, you may want to catch up with previous chapters:
Unlikely Merger: Chapter One
Unlikely Merger: Chapter Two
Lakeview Inn, Watkins Glen, New York
Mercy punched in the familiar numbers in her cell, walking over to the wall of windows in the airport terminal in hopes of a stronger signal. At the sound of his voice her shoulders relaxed.
“Uncle Thomas? Do you have a minute?”
She heard his baritone chuckle. “For you, Mercy, always. What’s going on? You’re out of town, right?”
Mercy looked out the window to where a crew worked on deicing a small plane. Beyond the airport were rolling hills adorned with what looked like powdered sugar. “That’s why I’m calling. I landed at the Elmira-Corning Regional Airport in Upstate New York, waiting on my ride to take me to the Lakeview Inn.”
“Oh, right. Watkins Glen. Did you know Seneca Lake is the place to go for record breaking weight with lake trout? I’ve got friends who said it’s nothing to get a twenty pounder right out of Catherine’s Creek, thanks to the Seneca waters.”
Mercy looked to the dossier peeking out of her carry-on. “That’s what I’m afraid of. Lakeview Inn was your recommendation when Daddy was sick. Madeline put the report together, but I don’t see the charm. Am I here to scout the fish for you, because it’s winter? Snow everywhere. I won’t be much help. Did you get caught up in the name of the place and thought of trout expeditions?”
“You’re at the airport, right?”
“You haven’t even made it to Schuyler County yet, correct?”
“No, I haven’t been to Watkins Glen yet. But the dossier …”
“Darling, your Daddy taught you better than that. Don’t judge based on one report or a rural airport. Let God lead you and use all your senses. There’s much to see. Listen to the people. That’s what’s made Lacewell Limited successful. We know this is new for you. I understand you’re nervous. I promise, you’ll know what company is meant for LL when it’s time. Your Heavenly Father is a God of clarity. He will show you.”
Mercy sighed and turned. A man in jeans and a Carhartt jacket held a paper with a Sharpie-created sign. She read her name. “The driver’s here. I understand what you’re saying. I’ll give this a fair shake.”
Another chuckle. “That’s all we ask. You have a great time. Love you, girl.”
She said good-bye, clicked the phone off, and grabbed her carry-on as she walked over to the man with the paper. Most of the prospective companies that she’d visited so many years ago with her dad sent drivers who wore suits or even a tuxedo. This guy wore faded jeans and a tired red baseball cap that bore the inn’s name.
“Hi. I’m Mercy Lacewell.” She put her bag down and extended her hand while he gave a firm shake. “I have a bag coming off the plane, but other than that, I’m ready.” With her mind full of questions about what this inn could offer, she started toward the baggage area, her driver keeping pace without saying a word.
The conveyor belt started, only a handful of people waiting. As soon as she saw her brown suitcase with the pink tag, she reached for it, but the man with the heavy coat picked it up. “I’ve got it, Miss Lacewell. Shall we go?”
Mercy bit her lip. “Yes. No. Wait.”
He put the luggage down and tilted his head. “Everything okay?”
“Not yet. I’m not doing any of this like Daddy or Uncle Thomas. They are so good at this, and I’ve already messed up. Please forgive me.”
The man furrowed his brow. “For what?”
“I didn’t even ask your name. I apologize.”
He chuckled and picked up the suitcase. “No apology necessary nor any need to be nervous. I believe we’ll both have a sense whether this business deal should move forward or not. I’m at peace either way. And, I’m Landon Gates.”
She shook her head. “Oh, Mr. Gates. I’m so sorry. This is so unprofessional of me.”
“No worries, Miss Lacewell. Shall we go? And you can call me Landon.”
The two started walking an even pace toward the lot. Mercy focused on his smile. “Okay, Landon. If you call me Mercy.”
Within minutes they were in a black 4x4 pickup that had Lakeview Inn etched on the driver door. Mercy took in all the signs as they exited the airport, the little town called Big Flats. Even with snow gently falling, the driver navigated the country roads to Route 86 without a problem.
Mercy reached for her notebook and pen. “Do you mind if I ask some basic questions about Lakeview Inn?”
He turned on the wipers, but replied quickly. “Not at all. You’ll excuse me if I keep my eyes on the road, but I can answer questions.”
She clicked the pen a couple times and cleared her throat. “What do you think is the inn’s biggest strength?”
Landon clicked his tongue a couple times before answering. “It’s like family. The customers come back every year because they know they matter. We offer something for everyone all year long. I think that speaks volumes. Don’t you?”
“Yes. Lacewell Limited looks for qualities like that. What do you think is the biggest weakness?”
He turned the blinker on as soon as the sign for Route 14, Watkins Glen appeared. “Spread too thin.”
Mercy bit her lip as she stole a glance at his five o’clock shadow, something she’d never focused on before. Until now. “Is there a specific reason why? Employee turnover? Customer growth?” She paused and glanced his way. “I’ve prayed really hard about Lakeview Inn. I want the most comprehensive perspective I can get.”
Landon gave her a quick glance with his lake-blue eyes. “I don’t mean to sound cryptic, but we’re almost there. I think once we reach the property you’ll see what I mean by spread too thin. I try not to overwhelm the staff, but we’re a small group on an expansive piece of land. We’re intentional about making everyone feel like family because we feel they are. We’re nothing without them.”
Listening to him reminded her of the conversations between her father and Uncle Thomas. Even with the biggest corporations, they felt every person deserved to be treated with value and personal attention.
“I have to say Mr.—I mean—Landon, that you’ve piqued my curiosity about Lakeview Inn.”
He pointed to her right. She saw the fading but quaint sign welcoming her, aptly named Lakeview given the steep hill they were on leaving Watkins Glen and overlooking Seneca Lake. “Let’s get you settled, and then I thought we’d have dinner on site. You eat meat, right?” He flashed another grin that brought her heart rate back up again.
“I do.” She remembered not long ago during her Caribbean cruise a kind pastor asked her the same question. If Landon Gates was as nice as Brent Teague, it was going to be a good week.
Mercy couldn’t resist another bite of her dessert that Landon called the Wegmans Ultimate Chocolate Cake. She’d already polished off the Tuscan burger he ordered from the Italian restaurant down the road. Despite her dwindled appetite, she couldn’t resist that chocolate-y goodness as she sat across from him in the large knotty pine kitchen. “I can’t buy enough of that dessert. The housekeeper calls it ‘crack cake’ because it’s addictive. Even our chef favors it over his own. I gave him the night off, by the way. He’s been putting in a lot of overtime.” He pushed another piece toward her.
She waved her hands. “Oh, no. I couldn’t. But I have to say, the local food is amazing here. You’re blessed to have a chef and great places to utilize. Now I’m so full I wonder if I should have taken the tour first.”
Landon reached for his napkin and wiped his mouth. “No worries. I have one of the young adults who volunteers here ready to give your tour via sleigh ride. Actually, my sister, Kaili. There’s a bit to see, so I thought this would be a fun way to capture everything we’re about.”
Mercy looked up. “Sleigh ride? That sounds magical. I look forward to meeting your sister, too.”
He chuckled. “Great. Families have the option of renting snowmobiles, snowshoes, or scheduling a sleigh ride to get them from one activity to the next. I thought we could cover the most territory with the sleigh.”
The thought of being bundled up next to Landon Gates warmed her as she put down her fork and pushed back her plate. “That sounds wonderful. Let me get my coat and boots. Where do I meet you?”
Landon stood and walked behind her chair. “The foyer’s fine. Meet back in ten?” He helped her with the chair and directed her to the spiral staircase. As she stood and moved beside him, their elbows grazed. Mercy stepped back as the energy passed between them.
Once aloft and settled, Landon took a heavy blanket and covered her legs. After checking over the sleigh and petting the horse, Kaili climbed to her compartment. Blonde pigtails flopped in front of her face, seeping from under an ice-blue knitted hat. She snapped the reins, and the animal started the slow stroll.
“Kaili and Martin, a volunteer here, are my groundskeepers and all-around life savers. They are part of the reason why I’m looking into Lacewell Limited coming in. I manage close to a hundred acres with the inn and year round activities. It’s a lot. My passion is training people with special needs for employment here. I’d love to develop a center onsite where everyone learns skills but also has a place to stay if they need it. I can only do so much, you know?” He adjusted his gray beanie.
Mercy fidgeted with her gloves. “This is purely a business question, not how I feel at all. Why you? Why can’t you continue Lakeview Inn’s daily operations and let someone else in the community handle the special needs aspect?”
Landon’s Adam’s apple bobbed. “Kaili had a slight stroke at birth that left her with some cognitive delays and a slight limp. Our parents are gone. Before Mom passed, she challenged me to participate in the ministry where Kaili learned life skills as a teen. I realized there wasn’t much hands-on training or even jobs after graduation. I started hiring graduates for kitchen help, maintenance, inn greeting, housekeeping, things like that.” He bit his lip for a moment. “I’ve been praying for a while and the time feels right to take this step.”
Mercy held onto the side as Kaili slowed the animal to a stop. She kept her focus on Landon, his bright blue eyes sparkled every time he mentioned his sister. She also loved hearing that he was a praying man. “But they need additional life skills training, correct?”
“Yes. I’ve found, even with my sister, there are issues like banking that they aren’t quite equipped to handle. I’m overwhelmed with what it takes to book families, keep the activities up to date, market to new clients, and pay bills. I’m sure there are things that Lacewell Limited knows to do that I haven’t thought of. I’d love to hand the reins over to someone who can take Lakeview Inn further than I can, so I can move forward with Kaili’s Hope.”
Landon climbed out and extended a hand to Mercy. They were on another hill overlooking all of Seneca Lake. Lights dotted the famed Finger Lake from below.
As she stood by his side she tried to drink everything in as a businesswoman. Upkeep costs. Marketing. Branding. But the little girl inside her saw the gorgeous horse and kind man wanting to give his time and talents at a beautiful, quaint resort that captured her heart.
“Hey, Kaili. Did you bring what I asked?” Landon’s husky voice vibrated against the cold winds.
Kaili elbowed her brother as she ambled past him, a giggle escaping as she walked behind the seat. “Told you I wouldn’t forget. Can you help me?”
Landon nodded and joined her. Together they pulled out a long wooden object.
“Is that a toboggan?” Mercy grinned. It was the perfect hill for it.
The younger girl nodded. “Yep, Miss Lacewell, it is.”
Mercy trudged through the snow to join them. “You have to call me Mercy.”
Kaili smiled, her grin a little crooked, but beautiful just the same. “Okay. Mercy.”
Landon walked to the front of the sleigh. “Three nights a week, weather permitting, we have outdoor activities.” He took a walkie-talkie from the front of the sleigh. “Martin, turn the flood lights on.” He put the device down and turned back to Mercy. “It’ll take him a moment. We have sledding, snowball fights. It’s hard to see now, but tomorrow I’ll take you to the pond. We use that for skating and fishing.” He held the sled upright. “So, Mercy, wanna ride?”
There was something about the sparkle in his eye and dimples as he smiled that made the offer impossible to resist. She faced the petite blonde beside her. “Do you want to ride?”
Landon’s sister looked to her shoes as she shook her head. “No, thank you.”
Landon nodded. “It’s okay, Sis. I know you don’t like sleds. When we’re all done with the tour, we’ll show Mercy the best part of our nights. Remember what that is?”
She lifted her head, wearing an ear-to-ear grin. “Hot chocolate!”
He chuckled and maneuvered the toboggan. He gestured for Mercy, and she sat in the front. A chill went down her spine when his boot lightly tapped her leg as he wiggled on the wooden board. He leaned in, his breath warm against her face. “Ready?”
Mercy nodded. “I think so.” She closed her eyes.
“Kaili, meet us at the bottom, okay?”
Before Mercy heard a reply, the sled was moving. She opened her eyes to see strings of lights outlining not just a path, but a wide view of the property. Even at a fast clip she could tell there was a lot to do at Lakeview, though the wind and spraying snow forced her eyes to close.
The ride ended gently at the bottom where Landon helped her to stand. “If you look over there, that’s the pond. And way over there, we have a driving range for our non-winter months.”
“There truly is a lot to do here. Are these all established events, or did you add on?”
They started walking to the right where trees crowded the scenery. Landon jammed his hands into his coat as they followed the lit path. “My parents had the pond, and Mom always had cocoa available. I added the driving range and made sure our walking paths were wheelchair accessible. I know it’s night, but I just wanted to show you the entrance. A lot of people from the village came to help construct the wooden walkways. Now families can enjoy nature walks.”
“Where did you get the funding?”
I reached out to some of the NASCAR drivers. About eight miles away is the famed road course. It’s the most generous sport around. When I contacted some of the teams and explained my mission, very kind donations poured in.”
He certainly seemed to be a good steward of the property and the finances, both things her father and uncle would want to hear more about.
“What indoor things do you do?”
“We have a room filled with board and some electronic games. One of our volunteers is retired. She gives a cooking lesson twice a week. You’d think being on vacation no one would be interested, but they rave about Rhonda’s pies. We have Uno tournaments, scavenger hunts, and movie nights.”
Landon stopped at the edge of the trail. A wide wooden path wound down and disappeared. Even in a wheelchair Daddy could navigate a nature walk throughout the premises. What an amazing concept that people with disabilities could enjoy the breathtaking views. God, forgive me for judging an opportunity based on a small airport.
“So, what are your impressions so far?”
The jingle of the sleigh bells drew closer. She inhaled deeply, savoring every bit of pine fragrance around her. “You have definitely captured the essence of a place that values family. I obviously have to look at numbers and observe more operations, but everything so far is positive.”
He helped her in the sleigh once more, and within a minute, they were trotting back to the inn. As Mercy chatted with Landon and Kaili, she couldn’t help but see Lacewell Limited embedded somehow into the tapestry of the business.
And deep down, she fought the urge to call Uncle Thomas and beg him to not only green light and fast track the project, but make her the lead, so she could return to this place that was so full of heart.
Mercy awoke the last day of her trip to the smell of bacon in the air as she snuggled deep into quilts Landon’s mom had made. After a few lazy moments in bed, she climbed out, showered, and finished packing her suitcase before walking down the spiral staircase one last time for breakfast. She gripped the staircase as she braced herself for good-byes.
Kaili was the first to shyly greet her. “Good morning.” She smiled.
“Good morning.” Mercy took a seat in the breakfast nook and watched her wander over with a plate full of food.
“Enjoy.” The sweet girl turned and went into the kitchen where Chef Paul, one of the few paid staff, was most likely making more pancakes.
Mercy enjoyed a few bites of bacon before Landon came through the main entrance, stomping the snow off his boots. Their eyes met, and he waved and headed her way, tugging off his ball cap.
“I wish you could stay. I’d love to take you on a snowmobile ride. I just saw two deer.” He took a seat across from her and put the red cap next to him.
Mercy glanced at her watch. “I wish I could. The good news is you gave me great information to take back to my dad and uncle.”
Landon flashed a smile. “Great. That was my prayer. So, ready for your ride to the airport?”
Her throat tightened as she stood and reached for her bag. Landon bent as well, reaching toward her luggage. She stepped back when their hands touched.
“I’m ready to tell everyone at Lacewell Limited what an amazing business this is and that I see great potential.” In Lakeview. In Kaili’s Hope. In Landon.
“I’ll keep praying. Before we go, the crew has a little something for you.” He held Mercy by the shoulders and gave her a gentle turn. There was Chef Paul, Martin, Kaili, and about half a dozen of the young adults Landon mentored standing in a line.
“This is for you.” Kaili stepped forward and handed her a glass paperweight shaped as a sleigh.
Mercy blinked double time to keep the tears at bay. “You guys. This is so thoughtful. Is this Corning glass?”
Kaili nodded, that grin as wide as when Landon mentioned hot chocolate.
Mercy put down the bag and held the gift to her heart, her voice shaky. “I promise you I will treasure this just as I will my time here. I loved every minute.” She locked eyes with Landon.
“We hope you can come back soon with your family.” His voice was low, almost a whisper.
Martin stepped forward. “Come back tomorrow?”
Mercy giggled and started her hugs with him. “I would love that, Martin, but I have to go home.”
When it was time to embrace Kaili, their hug lingered as Landon’s sister held tight. “I don’t want you to go, Mercy.”
Mercy glanced at Landon.
He wiped the corner of his eye.
She returned her gaze to the younger girl. “I know, I had the best time. I promise I’ll return as soon as I can.” She squeezed Kaili’s hand.
Landon picked up Mercy’s suitcase and faced her with a dimpled grin. “You better.”
From the Authors of Unlikely Merger
Wednesday, June 10
Carole Towriss: Landon’s Home Watkins Glen
Fay Lamb: Meet the Heroes of Unlikely Merger: Landon Gates
Fay Lamb: Meet the Heroes of Unlikely Merger: Landon Gates
Tuesday, June 9
Marji Laine: Human Icicle
Julie Arduini: If We Could Have been Part of a Company Merger
Carole Towriss: Dustin’s Detour Bellville Texas
Betty Thomason Owens: Unlikely Merger in Progress
Jennifer Hallmark: Sacred Journeys by Carole Towriss
Monday, June 8
Marji Laine: New Job, New Direction
Julie Arduini: Unlikely Merger Authors Share Their Corporate Experiences
Betty Thomason Owens: Introduction to Unlikely Merger
Carole Towriss: Mercy’s Home The Mile High City
Fay Lamb: Unlikely Merger: Behind the Scenes of the Newest Write Integrity Press Multi-Author Novella
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