Chapter 2 is called:
After driving through the night Nick was completely exhausted, but he hadn’t wanted to stop. Part of him said to keep pushing and just get there. Get to the woman who always put him in his place when he was wrong, and praised him when he was right.
To the woman who would know the right thing to say to him to get him out of the hole he’d just dug.
His parents were too close to everything that had happened in the last year. His grandmother would be more of a neutral party. She would be able to see both sides of the story and tell him where he went wrong and how to fix it. How to fix his life.
Maybe he just wanted to hand it all over to someone else for once so he didn’t mess up again. Or maybe he wanted to be that teenager again with little to no responsibilities.
He should have listened to his parents years ago when they cautioned him about building his company too big and too fast and never giving himself a chance to live. A chance to enjoy life.
His grandmother was the epitome of take no bull, no holds barred when it came to her grandchildren. Her ways weren’t always conventional, but she knew what was best for those around her.
It was exactly the attitude he needed right now. Someone else to call the shots so he could put it behind him.
Pulling in front of the log cabin on Lake Placid, Nick looked around at the beauty surrounding him and just paused. Took a moment to reflect and look at how peaceful everything seemed.
He’d been here at least once a year his entire life. Summers were spent here when he was a child, weeks at a time, if not a month. Just him and Rene on the lake, running wild.
Then when he got older, his visits weren’t as long, but they were more frequent. A week in the winter for skiing, a week in the summer on the lake, a week in the fall admiring the scenery.
Lake Placid might be small compared to Richmond, but it made up for it in serenity, peace, and quiet.
Nick took a deep breath, got out of his car, and walked toward the front door. The door opened before he could even knock and there she stood. The love of his life. Or one of them. His mother was right up there with his grandmother. But no one held a candle to his grandmother.
No one—except possibly another woman…the one that disappeared twelve years ago and hadn’t been heard from or seen since.
“It took you long enough,” his grandmother said, looking at him sternly.
He dipped his head like a child being caught lying about taking the last piece of cake even with the chocolate smeared on his face. “I had work to do.”
“Don’t you always.” She held the door open wider for him. “We both know that isn’t true, but you needed to do what you could in order to run away from it, right?”
Nick walked up and stopped in front of his grandmother, her hair a light brown and cut in a shoulder-length bob, looking much younger than her seventy-five years. She’d always been active and fit, and looked no less than that now.
He reached toward her and hugged her tight, needing that reassurance only she could give, regardless of the fact he wanted to argue he wasn’t exactly running.
“How did you know I would come?”
“You always end up here when you’re battling something.”
Yeah, he did, she knew that, and she knew him well. She kissed him on the cheek. “Come on in. You look like hell. Let me get you something to eat or drink at the very least.”
“Thanks. I drove through the night, so I’m beat. Coffee would be good.”
“No coffee for you,” she said firmly. “It will only keep you up. You need to sleep. I’ll make you a sandwich. We can chat while you eat, then you can bring your stuff to your old room and take a nap.”
He smiled. She was still bossing him around and he didn’t mind in the least. This was why he came.
“Yes, ma’am,” he said, knowing she would swat her hand at him.
She did, then said what she always did, “Don’t ma’am me. I’m not Southern. If you can’t call me Grandma, then call me Trixie.”
“You know I can’t call you Trixie without laughing.”
There was something about the name Trixie—short for Beatrice—that made him think of prostitutes working a street corner or turning tricks, and his grandmother knew it.
He’d once slipped and told her that when he was in his teens. She’d laughed so hard at him then, and whenever she knew he was down or needed a laugh, she’d tell him to call her Trixie, knowing he couldn’t.
“Have a seat on the couch then, and I’ll go make you some lunch.”
So he did what he was told and sat on the couch in her living room, then looked around. The house hadn’t changed much since he was a kid. A few new pieces of furniture but not much more. The same light blue paint on the walls, the same hardwood floors, and the same big brick fireplace.
He was always at peace here. Always so relaxed. It was no wonder he ended up here, or that his grandmother had expected him.
Less than two minutes later, she brought him out a plate with a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and glass of milk. The same thing she’d fed him for years on his first day of a visit.
He wanted to remind her he was thirty-two, not twelve, but didn’t. He just picked the sandwich up and took a healthy bite, then a big swig of milk.
“So tell me what’s on your mind,” she said.
“Not much. I just need a breather. Can I stay here and work for a bit?”
“You can stay as long as you like. You know that. How are you holding up?”
“I’m fine. I wish everyone would stop worrying about me. Kendra is the one everyone should be asking about. I’m just the jerk that canceled the wedding.”
“You aren’t a jerk, Nick. If you didn’t love her, then you didn’t. You can’t force yourself to feel something for someone just because you want it. It’s there or it’s not.”
“It wasn’t there,” he said sadly. “I tried, I wanted it, but I couldn’t do it. She didn’t deserve to be led on the way she was. I thought having her as my wife would help. I thought she could put me on track, personally and professionally, but that was wrong and selfish of me to think that.”
“You didn’t lead her on, Nick,” his grandmother argued.
“How do you know?”
“Because that isn’t who you are. Leading her on would have been if you actually went through with the wedding even knowing you couldn’t give her what she wanted. She pursued you, and we all knew it. But deep down she isn’t the one for you, and we all know that, too.”
“I thought I wanted the same thing she did. I guess I do, but I don’t want it with her. Maybe I’ll never find the person to have it with. Maybe that person isn’t out there anymore.”
He’d had it once and threw it away. That was his biggest regret. Trying to find it with someone else only fed that guilt and regret more.
“Thinking and knowing are two different things. Be thankful you called it off now instead of trying to fix a mistake later down the road. Time will heal everyone.”
“I guess.” But time still hadn’t healed him. “Why do you keep looking in the kitchen? Are you expecting someone? A hot date?” he asked, joking.
Though the thought of some older gentleman calling on his dear old granny was making the sandwich turn in his stomach, he couldn’t understand why she was acting so antsy.
“No, I’m not expecting a hot date. You know better than that. Us Millers love only once. I lost my love twenty years ago. No one will ever replace your grandfather. And you know your mother and father were just meant to be. My Susan always knew who she wanted and who she loved, and she chose well with your father. So I’m thinking you Buchanans are the same.”
“Not me though, right? I didn’t do a good job of choosing.”
“You haven’t chosen yet, so don’t say that.”
He didn’t believe it though. Or maybe his grandmother was right. Maybe he was destined to have one soulmate and he’d lost her. Maybe he’d never find another.
“I guess time will tell. But for now, I’m going to get my clothes out of my car and go take a shower, then sleep. Don’t let me sleep too long. Wake me for dinner and I can take my best girl out for taking such good care of me.”
“You always were a charmer. I’ll let you do that.”
Mallory Denning rushed down the hill toward the dock and her waiting kayak, holding her breath the entire way. She didn’t even waste the time to put her life vest on…just threw it on top of the kayak, climbed in, pushed away fast, and headed back toward her own house a mile away.
She normally visited Trixie a few times a week and today was no different. She’d been stuck on work and needed some fresh air. Trixie always helped her get through it and relaxed her enough to get back on track.
But when she opened the back door, she’d heard Trixie talking. She stood back a few feet in the kitchen to see if Trixie had company or was on the phone.
Then she heard another voice. A male voice. A voice she hadn’t heard in almost twelve years. It was manlier now, but she still recognized it. The voice of her past, the voice of her dreams, the voice of her first love.
The voice of the boy—no, man now—that broke her heart.
Trixie always told her when family was coming for a visit. A forewarning for Mallory to stay away. To not be seen by anyone on the lake or in town when they were here.
It was always inconvenient to hide for weeks on end, but she was used to it by now.
Why hadn’t Trixie told her Nick was coming? She wondered what he was doing here. She knew all about his upcoming wedding and how it ended. Trixie always kept her informed, even though Mallory didn’t ask and didn’t want to know.
That was a life she’d put behind her and she didn’t need it to be relived. Part of the reason she still hid. No one from her past knew she was alive. No one knew anything but Trixie.
Still, she’d have to find a way to talk to Trixie and see how long Nick planned on being in town. She wasn’t prepared to stay in her house long. Since she’d overheard Nick was going to shower and take a nap, she figured she better run into town and stock up on food and anything else she needed now and not risk being seen.
What could he be doing here? Why did he have to come? And why did she have to hear his voice?
It would be exactly twelve years in a week since she’d left Richmond. She’d thought she’d done a great job hiding all this time.
Now Mallory was worried this unexpected trip of Nick’s might unbalance her. She wasn’t sure why, but she felt it deep in her soul.
Her world was going to be turned upside down once again.