Even in Nora Roberts' world, truth can be stranger than fiction. In the best-selling author's books, the smart, sexy heroines solve crimes, rescue loved ones and always get the guy. And in mountainous Western Maryland, Roberts' new boutique hotel has just as improbable - and rose-colored - a back story.
As a longtime resident of nearby Keedysville, Roberts watched the old inn on Boonsboro's main street, which dated from the 1790s, slowly decline. In 2007, the romance novelist and her photographer husband, Bruce Wilder, who has run the Turn the Page Bookstore Cafe across the street for more than a decade, decided to fix up the old three-story inn, turning it into a romantic, B&B-style boutique hotel.
Then, on a February morning in 2008, just a few months shy of opening day, the hotel suddenly exploded in flames. A propane tank behind the inn had burst; the building was gutted, and all the money, time and hard work that had gone into it went up in smoke.
Almost immediately, Roberts decided to start over, and a year later, Inn BoonsBoro opened to its first guests on Valentine's Day weekend, which happened to coincide with one of Roberts' all-day book signings at Turn the Page. She was signing her latest novel, Promises in Death, which she wrote under the pseudonym J.D. Robb. For the book signing, fans streamed into town, shopped at the inn's gift shop and ate at her son's pizzeria, Vesta.
Meanwhile, the economy tanked.
But as I discovered on a recent overnight stay at the inn, a few things are recession-proof, among them steamy novels and romantic inns. Of course, space-age toilets don't hurt, either.
When I pulled into the parking lot at Inn BoonsBoro on a drizzly Wednesday night, the town was quiet. Innkeeper Suzanne McErlain met me at the door and walked me upstairs to what's known as the Eve and Roarke room. McErlain has an apartment on the third floor, and although Roberts stops by Turn the Page from time to time, she doesn't usually pop into the hotel.
Inn BoonsBoro's rooms are romance-themed, naturally, and all but the penthouse suite are named after fictional couples. This is Roberts land, where the couples live happily ever after. Accordingly, there's a Nick and Nora room (of Thin Man fame) done up in art deco, while Titania and Oberon (A Midsummer Night's Dream) features a canopy bed draped with flowing lavender fabric. Touring the rooms, I noticed copies of the namesake books (and sometimes the movies) left on bedside tables or dressers.
All the rooms, except for wheelchair-accessible Marguerite and Percy (The Scarlet Pimpernel), have deep bathtubs and Toto toilets. These futuristic commodes have motion-sensing lids and bidet-style sprays, seat warmers and even built-in dryers.
The Eve and Roarke room is named after characters in J.D. Robb's In Death novels, which are futuristic, science-fiction police procedurals. The room has hardwood floors, a king-size platform bed, a wall-mounted flat-screen TV and a huge arrangement of fresh flowers.
The odd mix of ultra-modern pieces (smoky Lucite chairs and sconces, deep womb chair and ottoman) and antiques (orange-lacquered dresser, rococo-style mirror) reflects Robb's novels: The setting is mid-21st-century Manhattan, Eve is a tough police detective (with a taste for high-tech amenities) and Roarke is her billionaire husband (who prefers antiques). The bathroom's chrome waterfall faucets, multi-jet shower and wavy-patterned wallpaper up the sci-fi quotient.
The French toast, sausage and berry breakfast, my decadent room and the quiet town of Boonsboro made for a getaway so relaxing, even skeptics of Roberts land might start believing in happy endings.
If you go
Nora Roberts' Inn BoonsBoro (1 N. Main St., Boonsboro, 301-432-1188; innboonsboro.com) has six rooms and two suites. Rooms start at $220 with breakfast. No children or pets.
Roberts' son and daughter-in-law, Dan and Stacie Aufdem-Brinke, own Vesta Pizzeria & Family Restaurant (2 S. Main St., Boonsboro, 301-432-6166), which serves pizzas and huge salads. Vesta, like Inn BoonsBoro, has a sensational story: Its original location was destroyed in an electrical fire in January 2007, eerily echoing a plot point in Roberts' 2005 novel Blue Smoke.
A Roberts-related site in town is Turn the Page Bookstore Cafe (18 N. Main St., 301-432-4588; ttpbooks.com), where she hosts book signings every few months. (The next one is July 11.) .