During ball season,
anything can happen—
It’s ball season in Vienna, and Maria Wallner only wants one thing: to restore her family’s hotel, the Hotel Wallner, to its former glory. She’s not going to let anything get in her way – not her parents’ three-decade-long affair; not seemingly-random attacks by masked assassins; and especially not the broad-shouldered American foreign agent who’s saved her life two times already. No matter how luscious his mouth is.
Eli Whittaker also only wants one thing: to find out who is selling American secret codes across Europe, arrest them, and go home to his sensible life in Washington, DC. He has one lead – a letter the culprit sent from a Viennese hotel. But when he arrives in Vienna, he is immediately swept up into a chaotic whirlwind of balls, spies, waltzes, and beautiful hotelkeepers who seem to constantly find themselves in danger. He disapproves of all of it! But his disapproval is tested as he slowly falls deeper into the chaos – and as his attraction to said hotelkeeper grows.
This book is set in 1878 Vienna with the first chapter the 1877 New Year’s Eve Ball at Hotel Wallner.
Maria Wallner is the current manager of the hotel, she lives there with her mother and grandmother, but the hotel has been passed down through daughters starting with her great grandmother Theresa Wallner. It flourished under her grandmother, Josephine, but unfortunately under her mother Elizabeth the property had gone to near ruin. Maria is determined to bring the Hotel back to its original beauty and popularity, beginning with this ball.
There are plenty of scandals but the one that involves her parents, Elizabeth and Heinrich is one of the biggest as they dance and flirt in front of his wife. Maria pleads with her half-brother Macario ‘Mac’ to get his mother to leave but she won’t because Count von Kaufstein is there and his son is engaged to Mac’s sister Annalise. Needless to say there are many more affairs and such going on.
There is also this thing about the Wallner woman finding not her man but ‘the man’. Supposedly, this man would father the next daughter to inherit the hotel but wouldn’t necessarily stick around.
Earlier on this day Eli Whittaker had checked in to Hotel Wallner, it’s the only clue in his investigation of the stolen codes from the United States. He’s puzzled by the population’s one-track mind when it comes to Balls. He’s there to work, not party.
He’s out observing the activities of the early morning when Maria shows up and stands in the middle of the road looking back at the hotel.
This is a favorite scene.
The champagne was turning her sentimental, she thought as she stood, laughing to herself, but there was one more thing she wanted to do before she slept.
She wanted to toast the grande dame herself.
Taking the bottle with her, she wound her way out of the hotel, waving at Abraham, her head footman, standing alert at the front desk, and swung out the wide double doors into a crisp winter morning.
The sky was cold and blue overhead, and people dressed for work mingled with those in ball gowns and evening suits still enjoying the evening prior. The street was still closed for the night, as both the Hotel Wallner and the Hotel Hoffmann, across the road and two doors down, had hosted New Year’s Eve balls, so it was quieter than usual, no shouting drivers and clattering horse hooves.
Somewhere up the street a violinist scratched out a waltz, and Maria hummed along. She pulled her velvet evening coat around her shoulders and wove her way across the narrow Innere Stadt street the hotel faced, to the square across from it.
In the summer the wide tree in the middle cast lovely, leafy shade over the four wrought-iron benches; now it was bare, the benches frosted. Still, a man sat on one, his wide shoulders hunched against the cold.
This was where she wanted to end her triumphant night: across the street from the pink and white facade of the hotel, admiring its five magnificent stories. Maria spared a glare for the Hotel Hoffmann, tipping her nose in the air at its pretentious marble columns.
“No magic,” she said, scornfully, then dismissed it entirely, turning back to her hotel. “Not like you, darling.”
She stepped out onto the cobblestone street and raised her bottle. “To you,” she said, tipping it against her lips.
She heard the warning too late. By the time she heard the horses’ wild cries and the shouts of the driver, she could only freeze, watching the carriage bear down upon her.
Time hung slowly. She noticed everything. The whites of the horses’ eyes. The panicked expression of the young nobleman who’d lost control. The scream of a nearby woman.
And then something grabbed her arm and pulled, and she ran into something hard, and time moved once more.
Gasping, she stepped back, her head spinning from shock and champagne. Her stomach was suddenly extremely unsettled, and for a moment that took all her attention.
A man was talking to her. Touching her. The hard thing had been him, and even now he was steadying her with his hands. She looked at his hands. She looked at his chest. Finally, she looked up at his face.
He had stopped talking and was looking down at her with an expression halfway between concern and irritation.
He had dark, chestnut hair, styled sternly, and deep-set brown eyes. His skin was pale, his jaw sharp and clean, almost harsh. A severe face. Except for his mouth.
She blinked. His mouth . . . was absolutely luscious. Wide and sensual and, at the moment, caught in a rigid frown.
That mouth, she thought, is pure sin.
It had been— she tried to calculate quickly but for some reason the numbers were rather fuzzy— at least a week since she’d had a man in her bed, which wasn’t really that long, but planning the ball had been very stressful, and that mouth looked very stress relieving, and really the arms around her were pleasantly strong, and she had the vague feeling he might have just saved her life, which she had never experienced before and was discovering was every bit the aphrodisiac tawdry novels would have you believe, and she did need to test out her linen closet concept; after all, what kind of hotel manager would she be if she offered her guests an experience she hadn’t thoroughly vetted first—
And then, with no warning at all, everything rushed back in. The sound of the street, the smell of the frost, the faint strains of the violinist, and most importantly, the color of his hair.
Her stomach flipped again.
He’s handsome, in a way. Ooh yes. Dark-haired, definitely dark-haired.
“No,” she said. “They were joking.”
“Are you all right?” He spoke in careful, American-accented German. A foreigner then. An incredibly gorgeous, dark-haired foreigner.
“No,” she said, pushing his hands away. He retracted them immediately.
“You’re not all right?”
The Hotel Wallner was back. Well, almost back. And the two occultists had simply been teasing her— they had wicked senses of humor—
Yes, but have you ever known them to lie about what they saw?
Maria gulped. “I’m fine,” she said, cautiously, putting a hand on her stomach. It occurred to her that she had, perhaps, drunk too much champagne.
“You shouldn’t have been in the street,” he said, disapprovingly. Well. The words were disapproving. The mouth was . . . mmm. Stern.
Stop it, she told herself. Stop it right now.
“The street is closed to carriage traffic,” she said faintly, as her mind spun through everything Madame Le Blanc and Frau Heilig had said. “That carriage shouldn’t have been there.”
The thing to do was to leave. On the off chance— on the off chance that Fate was an absolute bitch.
“I’m fine,” she repeated. “No need for dark-haired men whatsoever. Thank you.”
She tried to step away, but apparently her legs were still weak, and she stumbled. He caught her before she landed on the ground.
Strong. He was very strong.
She sighed in annoyance. “Yes, I see,” she said, either to Fate or Madame Le Blanc, she wasn’t sure. “He’s very strong and tall and good-looking and that mouth is indeed quite something, but he’s not the man.”
“I— have no idea who you’re talking to,” he said, the impatience in his voice clear. “I think you’re drunk.”
“Yes, hold on to that. Good. Irritation is good. Just dump me on the ground and leave me. That’s the wisest course of action. Above all, though, we cannot sleep together.”
He dropped his hands. She staggered, but remained upright.
His expression of horror was— rather delicious actually. No, not delicious. Absolutely not.
“That will not present any difficulty,” he said, and then he bowed crisply, and, bless him, walked away.
Diana Billers. Hotel of Secrets (Kindle Locations 278-325). Kindle Edition.
Although he saves her life, Eli doesn’t introduce himself and neither does she. It’s not until later when he saves her live once again that they truly meet.
Now obviously there is attraction between these two, but Maria and Eli are fighting it hard.
There are several incidents that are life threating, and others damaging to the hotel as these two embark on a very interesting relationship while he’s investigating.
I couldn’t put this book down, it’s quite the journey for everyone involved. The journals that begin each chapter give insight into the Wallner women and their lives, times, and scandals. Every page draws you deeper into the intrigue of the times and a step forward into the mystery and relationships that are somehow entwined.
5 Contented Purrs for Diana!
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I think the best way to you about myself is to tell you about the things I love. So here’s a completely inexhaustive list: I love my husband, my dog and cat, my family, and my friends. I love ballet–both watching it and taking adult beginner classes. I love hiking alone, writing in gardens, and jumping in waves. I love Los Angeles, where I live. I love reading–it’s my oldest passion and my favorite.
And I love playing pretend, which is, for me at least, the thing underneath all the words and writing. I love living in worlds I’ve imagined, and I love meeting every new character who walks into them. I hope you’ll love them too.