Authors: Nina Lane
Copyright © 2014 by Nina Lane.
All rights reserved.
This book is a work of fiction. All names, characters, locations, and incidents are products of the author’s imagination, or have been used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons living or dead, locales, or events is entirely coincidental.
Published by Snow Queen Publishing
Cover Design & Interior design by VMC Art & Design, LLC
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Table of Contents
This book is for all the readers who love Liv and Dean West as much as I do. This is for those of you who know the courage it takes to trust your instincts and find your way. This is for the women who love being someone’s girl, and for the men who are your heroes. And this is for everyone who believes in the good things—books, a cup of tea, sexy professors, interesting travels that lead you back home, warm quilts, and perfectly imperfect love.
We loved with a love that was more than love.
—Edgar Allan Poe
ven from thousands of miles away, I can feel my husband. I feel his thoughts brushing against my skin, the beating of his heart in rhythm with mine. I feel him in the world, a powerful, unyielding presence who will forever be my source of safety and warmth. And because of that, the distance between us doesn’t seem quite so vast, and my aloneness not quite so
Mirror Lake is beginning to wake from the hibernation of winter. Colorful, adhesive tulips, butterflies, and robins plaster the windows of the shops lining Avalon Street. The frozen surface of the lake is starting to crack, ice floes melting under the increasingly warm sun. Piles of snow still cap the surrounding mountains and line the streets of town, but the promise of spring clings to the air.
I put a coat on over my jeans and T-shirt and pull my long brown hair into a ponytail before heading outside. I stop at a coffeehouse to get two takeout coffees, then walk to Emerald Street and the Happy Booker bookstore. Big signs in the windows read Going Out of Business Sale.
I push open the door, deflecting a pang of regret. I’d offered to try and help my friend Allie Lyons save her bookstore by applying for a small business loan, but my loan application was denied, and we couldn’t bring in enough revenue to afford the raised rent on the building.
“Welcome to… oh, hi, Liv.” Allie straightens from a pile of books and pushes a tumble of red curls off her forehead. Twenty-seven years old and possessing an undaunted, boundless energy, Allie hasn’t let the loss of her business get her down.
“Morning, Allie.” I indicate that one of the coffees is for her and place the tray on the front counter. “What can I do?”
“I haven’t gotten to the children’s section yet,” she tells me. “The toys and stuff need to be packed up too, but let’s wait at least another week or so. Brent will be here in about half an hour with his truck to load some boxes.”
After taking off my coat, I head to the back of the store where the children’s section is located. The bookstore is closing for good at the end of the month, and we’ve started packing up returnable inventory and organizing sale tables and bins. I pick up an inventory sheet and get to work.
“Hey, Liv, there’s a bunch of freebies in the bin by the windows,” Allie calls. “I’m going to leave them outside starting tomorrow, so take what you want now. There’s something in there about medieval history that Professor Hottie might like.”
“Thanks.” I put a few picture books into a box and go to the bin filled with paperbacks.
I look through the books and set aside the one on medieval literature even though Dean probably already has it. I put a few more paperback novels in the stack.
“When’s he coming back?” Allie asks.
“Not sure yet. This phase of the job lasts until the end of July.” I try to ignore the clenching of my heart at the reminder that Dean is gone.
No, I remind myself. He’s not gone. He’s just
He had refused to leave, at first. It seemed as if nothing—not the dictate that he had to stay away from King’s University, not the threat to his career, not the sexual harassment accusation of a vindictive student—could force my husband to leave my side.
He’d spent the few weeks after the miscarriage hovering around me, desperate to do something to make it better. I soon realized that being there for me was his way of coping with the loss and his own anger, even though I held to the belief that he needed to be away from Mirror Lake. The opportunity to serve as an advisor on an archeological dig in Italy for the next six months was waiting for him, but he wouldn’t accept it, not if it meant being away from me.
Then one afternoon in mid-February, Dean went to King’s University to return some books. He saw Maggie Hamilton, the girl making the false harassment claim, at the library. Though they didn’t speak to each other, Frances Hunter, chairperson of the history department, came to our apartment later that day.
Frances was livid that Dean had dared set foot on campus when he’d been unofficially suspended. And she was even more upset by the fact that Maggie Hamilton’s father had contacted her with threats about obtaining a restraining order against Dean if he didn’t stop “stalking” Maggie.
“If you’re not careful, things are going to get worse than they already are,” Frances warned him. “A restraining order, Dean, for God’s sake. You won’t need a suspension from the university if Edward Hamilton hits you with a legal order forbidding you from going anywhere near King’s University. Do you think for one second we could keep that quiet?”
Then Frances had looked at me. Dean saw that look. And I knew exactly what hard conclusion he’d reached in that one instant—if he left Mirror Lake, if he removed himself as a target for Maggie Hamilton and her father, he had a better chance of keeping the arrows from hitting me. Protecting me was the only thing that could force him to leave.
He left for the airport at dawn the following morning. I could feel the sadness and anger radiating from him, and I almost wavered in my insistence that I couldn’t go with him because of my own responsibilities in Mirror Lake.
But I didn’t waver. He had to leave, and I had to stay.
“I don’t know where we go from here,” Dean said, reaching out to touch my cheek as we stood by the front door.
“I don’t know either,” I admitted. “But why does either of us have to know? There doesn’t always have to be a plan.”
“Yes, there does.”
I turned to pick up his travel bag. I know my husband. He likes plans and schedules. He needs to be in control. He’s accustomed to getting what he wants. The avalanche of recent events—our separation last fall, the miscarriage, and now the threat to his career—hit us both with unimagined and heart-wrenching force.
And he hadn’t been able to prevent or stop any of it.
In that moment, I thought of something I’d written in my manifesto a couple of months ago.
I will remember how it was when we first met.
How I cherished those early months of slow exploration, learning all the spaces of each other’s bodies and hearts. Feeling as if the world had narrowed to us alone, as if nothing could invade our intimacy. The place of Liv and Dean.
I followed him downstairs and out into the cold, gray morning. He unlocked the trunk of his car and hefted his suitcase and travel bag inside.
I watched him—my tall, handsome husband with his dark, rumpled hair and strong features enhanced by thick-lashed, brown eyes. His powerful body and broad shoulders that looked as if they could bear any weight in the world.
“Right here.” He slammed the trunk closed, his shoulders tight.
“Remember the first few months of our relationship and how good we were?”
“I’ll never forget.”
“Me either.” I stepped closer to him. “So I was thinking that when you get back, maybe we could just… date.”
“Like we did at the beginning,” I suggested. “Maybe you could court me a little.”
He looked as if I were speaking a foreign language. I reached out to brush a speck of lint from the lapel of his peacoat.
“On our second date, you told me you’d loved the King Arthur tales when you were a boy,” I said. “Sir Galahad was your favorite. The greatest knight ever. You loved stories about the Holy Grail, Excalibur, Lancelot. Do you remember?”
“In addition to all their adventures, I’m sure the knights did a great deal of wooing their ladies,” I continued. “Wasn’t that the basis of courtly love? You must know something about that.”
“I’ve done some research, yeah.”
I could almost see his mind shift to the comforting ground of scholarship. The tension in his shoulders eased a little.
“The idea of courtly love dates to about the eleventh century,” he explained. “In literature it was a concept of secret love usually between members of the nobility. A cross between erotic and spiritual desire. The knight has to prove himself worthy of the lady’s love by undergoing a series of trials while also accepting her independence. And he does indeed court her with rituals, songs, gifts, elaborate gestures.”
“Sounds promising,” I remarked. “For the lady, anyway.”
“The lady was called the
” Dean said. “She was the exalted, commanding mistress. The knight was the
her lowly but faithful servant.”
“Really.” He reached out to tuck a lock of hair behind my ear.
“This is sounding better and better.” I smiled.
“Yes, it is.” Dean looked at me, his eyes warming. “I haven’t seen that pretty smile in too long.”
Tenderness swirled through me. I brushed my hand over his chest again, feeling the heat of his muscles through his shirt. He bent to press his mouth against mine, a warm pressure that made my blood run like melted honey.
Oh, lovely pleasure.
“Good start, faithful servant,” I whispered.
“Thank you, exalted mistress.” And there it was—that crinkling at the corners of his eyes, the amused twinkle that never failed to lighten my heart.
“Knights often went off on long journeys and crusades, didn’t they?” I asked. “We can think of your trip like that. Except without all the pillaging or whatever.”
“They did travel often,” Dean said. “And always with a token from their lady. So I’ll need something of yours to take with me.”
“A token like what?”
“A scarf or a glove.” He shrugged. “Your underwear, maybe.”
“I am not sending you off with a pair of my panties. What if the airport security agent finds them in your bag?”
He grinned. “Trust you to worry about something like that.”
“Hold on.” I hurried back upstairs to our apartment and into the bedroom. I grabbed an item from a shoebox inside the closet, then went back outside.
“Here.” I held out my hand toward Dean. “A
token of my love and devotion.”
He took the metal disk attached to a silver chain and ran his finger over the engraved Latin quote:
Fortes fortuna iuvat.
Fortune favors the brave.
“Keep it safe for me,” I said.
“I will.” He tucked the necklace into the pocket of his jeans.
“So that’s the plan,” I said. “You’ll court me long-distance. And when you get back, we can go to dinner, the movies, that kind of thing. Dating. It’ll be fun.”
Heaven knew that after the turmoil of recent months, my husband and I needed some
“I would love to date you all over again, Olivia Rose.” Dean put his hand against the side of my neck.
“I’d love it too.”
He moved closer, his deep voice rolling over me. “Give me a kiss, beauty.”
I stood on tiptoe to press my lips against his, my whole being filling with love and the belief that we would soon find our way back to each other. Dean cupped my face in his hands, his lips moving over mine in that perfect way that was both familiar and always new. Then he took me in his arms and pulled me against him in an embrace so tight I felt his heart beating against mine.
When we parted, I took a reluctant step back toward the building. Although I knew he had to go, my soul still cracked a little at the realization that he was actually leaving.