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A NineStar Press Publication

Published by NineStar Press

P.O. Box 91792,

Albuquerque, New Mexico, 87199 USA.

Dala Horse Inn

Copyright © 2017 by Ellen Jenkins

Cover Art by Natasha Snow Copyright © 2017

Edited by: Jason Bradley

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced in any material form, whether by printing, photocopying, scanning or otherwise without the written permission of the publisher. To request permission and all other inquiries, contact NineStar Press at the physical or web addresses above or at

Printed in the USA

First Edition

December, 2017

Warning: This book contains sexual content, which may only be suitable for mature readers.

Dala Horse Inn

Ellen Jenkins

Table of Contents

Dala Horse Inn

About the Author

Tilde stood at the sink in her empty kitchen, scrubbing dishes on autopilot while she watched the snowstorm outside. The light from inside cast an orange glow on the swirling snow. It was entrancing to watch, and she was too exhausted to stay focused on the dishes. The sooner they were done, the sooner she could sleep, but the water in the sink was already turning cold. She forced herself to look away from the snow for a moment to give the brittle old plate in her hand a last rinse, the water washing away the soap to reveal a farm scene painted in blue on the porcelain. Tilde set the plate in the drying rack carefully, so that it didn’t bump too harshly against the rest of the plates already drying there, and reached into the water to pull the plug.

The sink drained slowly. She needed to take another look at the pipes once her family left and things settled down. There wouldn’t be any guests for the week after New Year’s, and she would be able to fix up the Dala Horse Inn in peace.

Tilde dried off her hands on the towel hanging from the front of the oven and yawned, jaw popping, blinking out at the swirling snow. In the distance, light moved, illuminating more of the storm. Tilde leaned forward over the sink and tried to see the source of the light. It might be one of the neighbor’s boys on a snowmobile, but that would be reckless bordering on stupid in this weather.

It wandered out of view from the window above the sink, disappearing again into the storm. Tilde walked to another window and jumped in surprise when the light reappeared much closer, driving down the road to the inn.

Tilde hurried to the kitchen’s outside door and crammed her bare feet into the spare pair of snowshoes she kept there for emergencies. Her coat was hanging on the rack by the door, still a little cold from the last time she’d been outside, and she pulled it on over her apron before pushing out into the night.

It was bitterly cold outside the safety of the inn. Tilde shoved her hands deep into her pockets and hurried through the deep, fluffy snow toward the parking lot. Tilde swore as some spilled into her shoes, melting against her bare skin.

The car pulled into the last free parking spot. Tilde hurried over, struggling against the falling snow. The closer she got, the more familiar the car was. All the family members had already arrived, though, so it couldn’t be anyone who was supposed to be here.

The silence when the engine turned off was overwhelming, the snow swallowing all ambient noise.

“I’m terribly sorry, but the inn is full,” Tilde called.

The door to the car was pushed open, sticking a little in the cold, and a tall familiar figure climbed out. It was dark out in the snow, but Tilde would recognize Emma anywhere.

“What the hell are you doing here?” Tilde demanded and blushed crimson. Emma always made her nervous, and Tilde ended up saying the rudest things. She tried to be nicer, but Emma seemed to delight in her rudeness, and Tilde had no idea what the rules were with friends with benefits. Emma was the first one she’d ever had. Before she could apologize, though, Emma was speaking.

“Tilde! I’m so glad you’re awake. I thought for sure you’d be asleep at this hour. Any chance I could stay for the night until the storm passes?”

“The inn is full,” Tilde repeated. It was a family holiday reunion. Every guest room had a relative in it, ready to judge how she was running the inn after the passing of her grandfather. She hadn’t had the heart to ask any of her staff to stay on for the holidays when they had families of their own to attend to, so she was running the whole operation herself.

“I don’t mind sharing.” Emma grinned, and Tilde was helpless to that smile that promised wicked, wonderful things.

“My family’s all here,” Tilde tried again, half-convincing herself. The anxiety of trying to run the inn perfectly was giving way to those Emma-related butterflies in her stomach.

“I’ll be gone before anyone wakes up,” Emma promised. “My headlights aren’t enough to keep driving in this snow, I can barely see.”

Tilde really didn’t want to see her injured. She gave in to the desire to be around Emma. Maybe a little relaxation would make the rest of this week easier to handle.

“Come on in.” Tilde sighed.

“You’re a lifesaver,” Emma said, pulling a backpack out of the passenger seat and locking up the car.

“I didn’t think you’d be back until the summer,” Tilde said. The tension in her body was melting away just from having Emma around.

“One of the ranchers I work with called. Turns out her dog dug up a fossil and has been running around with it. It freaked out her husband, and she didn’t want any conflict before Christmas, so she asked us to come pick it up.”

They walked back toward the inn. The Christmas lights were on, little points of white light outlining the old building. Her grandpa had designed and built it to look like his childhood home in Sweden, but big enough to be a fully functioning inn. The red paint was bright against the snow, even in the darkness. Pride swelled in Tilde’s chest at the sight, as it always did. The forest around them was dense and the Dala Horse Inn stood like an oasis of warmth in the winter.

“You drove all the way here for one fossil?” Tilde asked. It was a good six-hour drive out here from the city when it wasn’t snowing.

“I’ve done dumber shit than drive through a winter storm for a fossil.” Emma laughed. Tilde rolled her eyes, remembering all the summer days Emma had arrived at the inn injured after a fall at the dig site. “And we wanted to know where the dog found the fossil so we can look there in the summer. If we waited too long, the rancher might not remember exactly where it was. It was supposed to be a day trip, but then they invited me for dinner, and by the time I was leaving, the sun was already setting.”

Tilde let them back in through the kitchen door, stomped the snow off her boots, and shoved her coat back onto the hanger. Emma followed suit, though she struggled with the laces of her shoes, fingers clumsy with the cold.

In the light of the kitchen, Tilde could see that Emma had just as many freckles now as she did in the summer. She wondered if they ever went away.

Emma got her shoes off and wiggled her toes in the warmth of the kitchen air.

“Oh, that’s nice.” She sighed, eyes closing as she basked in the heat.

Tilde’s ears turned pink. She walked over to pantry to keep herself from staring at Emma.

“Do you need food?” Tilde asked, falling back on her routine. Grandpa had always offered guests food, no matter the hour.

“The rancher fed me so much I think I might die if I eat more,” Emma said. Somehow it sounded like an apology.

“What about something to drink?” There was some glögg she’d made up yesterday as a test run before anyone arrived. She’d need to make another batch soon.

“I can’t say no to that,” Emma said. Tilde pulled the half-full bottle out and poured it into a saucepan to heat up on the stove. Emma came over and sniffed it, hip- bumping casually against Tilde’s. “What is this?”

“Glögg,” Tilde said. “Family recipe.”

“What’s in it?”

“Port, whiskey, rum, and spices.”

“Jesus,” Emma said. “I’ll have a whole mug of it.”

Tilde laughed. “It’ll be better once it’s warm, give it a few minutes.”

Emma jumped up to sit on the counter next to the stove, her feet swinging off the edge. Tilde would yell at anyone else for doing that, but from Emma, it was endearing. At least she was cleaner now than she usually was after coming in from a dig site. She was used to Emma tracking mud all around the inn when she first arrived. All the paleontologists who came to the inn were covered in dirt when they arrived, usually fighting over dibs on the showers and eager to be clean for the first time in days.

Emma was tired and seemed content to savor the warmth of the kitchen.

“I didn’t think I’d see you until next summer,” Tilde said, trying to keep Emma awake.

“I was happy when the boss asked if anyone would be willing to come pick up the fossil.” Emma smiled a small soft grin. Tilde’s heart did something funny in her chest.

“How is everyone?” Tilde asked. The glögg was just starting to simmer at the edges, so she turned off the heat and pulled down two mugs from the cabinets. They were the chipped ones, not nice enough for guests, that Tilde used for herself. Her grandfather had hand painted little Dala horses on the sides of them and she couldn’t bring herself to throw them away.

“They’re good. The undergraduates are all home for the holidays. The boss is working late as always. The school is making some adjustments to the Paleo program’s structure, so he’s busy. Anna got into a doctoral program on the West Coast, so this will be her last summer with us for a while.”

Tilde handed her a mug, and Emma traced her thumb along the little red Dala horse.

“I remember these cups,” Emma said. “I haven’t seen them in years.”

“Watch out for the chip,” Tilde warned. Emma sipped the glögg, made a surprised noise of pleasure, and took a long, deep pull.

“Damn, that’s nice.”

“Grandpa’s recipe,” Tilde said. All of her grandfather’s recipes were the best.

The grandfather clock chimed in the hallway. Emma tilted her head to the side, listening as it chimed twice. Tilde felt the exhaustion seep back into her bones.

“Where is everyone else? I know it’s late, but Austin was always a night owl,” Emma said.

“Everyone is home for the holidays. It’s family only right now.” Tilde sighed. “My grandfather used to clear out the inn of everyone except family for the weeks around Christmas. We would turn it into one giant house for the extended family, invite everyone over. Twenty-three Swedish-Americans snowed in with no one but my grandfather to cook the whole time. He loved it. It became this big tradition. This is my first time hosting it without him.”

“You’re taking care of your entire family without any help?”

“It’s a lot, but Grandpa left the inn to me, not anyone else. This is my chance to prove that he made the right call.”

“I wish I could stick around to help out.”

“No, I couldn’t accept help even if you could. Grandpa nearly threw a fit when my brother tried to bring his best friend once. It’s family only. I have to honor that. He liked having just relatives here for a week. ‘Makes the whole place really feel like home,’ he said.”

“Shit, I’m so sorry to show up, then. I don’t want to cause you any trouble.”

“Don’t be,” Tilde said. “I’m so stressed out right now, and seeing someone who’s not family is really helping. I don’t have to work too hard to impress you.”

“I’m very easy to impress,” Emma said, her voice deeper. Tilde remembered just how easy it was to please Emma, how easy it was to coax those sweet noises from her even when Emma’s body was bruised and battered from fieldwork. She remembered how soft her skin felt over her hard muscles, remembered tracing the edges of those bruises with her lips. Tilde blushed, cheeks tingling.

Emma hummed, reaching up to cup Tilde’s cheek and tug her close against the counter, between Emma’s legs. She stole Tilde’s still-full cup from her hands and set it down.

“Is this sweet blush for me?” Emma asked, running her thumb along Tilde’s cheekbone. Tilde tried not to lean into her touch too much, tried to maintain some composure. Emma was always like a heady wine to be around. “You didn’t drink any of your glögg so I think it must be. What a pretty sight.”

A shiver of pleasure ran down Tilde’s spine.

Emma leaned in and pressed a kiss to Tilde’s cheek, then lower, to the underside of her jaw.

“Let me show you how much I appreciate you letting me stay the night?” Emma kissed her way to the spot behind Tilde’s ear and sucked hard. Tilde gasped, tipping her head back to give Emma more access, hips jerking forward against the counter, Emma tightened her thick thighs around Tilde’s waist.

“That’s a terrible line,” Tilde tried to scold, but it came out breathy.

“Let me help take off some of that stress and some of these clothes.”

“That line is even worse. I can’t believe it’s working.”

“As long as it works.” Emma released her legs from around Tilde and pushed her back slightly so she could slide down off the counter. Then Emma hoisted her into the air, and she had to stifle a surprised yelp as Emma carried her out of the kitchen to the bedroom and kicked shut the door.

Tilde woke up with Emma plastered across her back. The air in her room was freezing, but thankfully Emma was putting off heat like a furnace. She burrowed deeper in the sheets and Emma’s embrace.

The budget for remodeling the inn hadn’t stretched far enough to fixing up Tilde’s single-pane windows, and the cold seeped steadily into the room. Usually, the first thing she did in mornings was take a shower to warm back up to a normal human body temperature. Today, though, the warmth Emma was providing almost tempted Tilde to linger in the comfort of her bed. Almost.

Tilde yawned, her jaw popping, and sat up in bed. She checked the clock on the bedstead and was surprised to find it was almost time for her alarm to go off. Lately, she’d been up almost an hour early. She felt well rested. It was all very disconcerting, waking up warm and happy and comfortable. She scowled.

It was brighter in her room than usual, the sun already climbing. The storm apparently had abated enough that no clouds were obscuring the light. Tilde was glad she’d drawn the curtains last night so it wasn’t blinding in her room. Hopefully, the good weather meant some of her relatives would go out adventuring instead of staying inside and forcing her to play hostess all day.

She dragged herself out of bed and stretched. Goosebumps rose on her skin from the sudden shock of cold air.

There was a soft knock at her bedroom door.

“Tilde, dear?” her grandmother called. “Are you up?”

“Yes, Grandma. Do you need something?”

“Tilde?” Grandma called again, a little louder now. Her hearing aids probably weren’t in yet. Tilde put a bathrobe on and yanked open the door to the bedroom.

“I’m up, Grandma,” Tilde said loudly. She made sure Grandma could see her lips since she had half learned how to lip-read as her hearing left her. Grandma wasn’t looking at her lips, though. She was staring behind Tilde at the bed.

“Oh, fuck,” Tilde said very quietly. She turned around to see Emma curled up on the mattress, thankfully tucked under the covers so only her face was showing.

“Hi,” Emma said, projecting her voice so Grandma could hear. She stuck a hand out from the sheets to wave at Grandma. Tilde would find it cute, except her skeleton was currently trying to climb out of her body in a panic.

“Hello,” Grandma said and glanced up at Tilde. “Darling, introduce us.”

“Emma, this is my grandmother,” Tilde said, her voice coming out as a croak. She cleared her throat. “Grandma, this is Emma, my…girlfriend.”

“Emma, your girlfriend,” Grandma repeated.

Tilde wanted to die a little bit.

“Didn’t Tilde tell you about me?” Emma said. “Tilde, how could you? We’ve been dating for six months!”

The band on Tilde’s chest eased ever so slightly and she sucked in a deep breath. She was going to return this favor fivefold the next time they were alone. Emma was the best.

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