Authors: Alannah Carbonneau
The man shook his head. “From the city?”
I shrugged. “It matter?”
“For your survival out here, probably.”
“Who says I’m looking for a place to survive?” I asked without thinking before the words were out of my mouth. I snapped my mouth closed as his eyes, already so dark, darkened.
“You looking for a place not to survive?”
“I’m looking for a place to sign in.” I said flatly. “I didn’t pay to spend six months here to be interrogated by you.” Actually, I didn’t pay at all - but he didn’t need to know that.
“Six months?” He practically sputtered and again, he looked me up and down before taking another glance at my car. “You might get a rock to your windshield driving on these roads for six months.”
I raised a brow of my own. “Uh huh. I probably will.” I leaned in to whisper. “But guess what?”
He leaned in slightly and growled. “What?”
“I’d probably get a rock to my windshield driving on city roads just the same.”
The man leaned away as though appraising me. “Alright little lady, I get it. You can handle yourself out here.” The man pointed to the little shop I’d deemed as the place to sign in and said, “You sign in there. My fiancée Reese is working the desk right now. She’ll give you a key and directions to your cabin. I’m sure a strong woman like you can find your way without help, unless that mouth of yours is all talk?”
“Do you try to keep all your customers so happy?” I asked sweetly with only a bite of sarcasm in the undercurrents, but I knew he heard it, because he grinned.
“Nope.” He tipped his chin as he walked past me calling. “Only a select few like you, do I take any interest in.”
“Uh huh.” I muttered.
He added over his shoulder, winking. “I don’t know how you came to be here, but I know it wasn’t happenstance. You’re going to change things - and by way of your attitude, I think you’re the perfect woman for the job.”
I didn’t know what he meant by that, but he was walking away, so I decided that our spitting of nails was over - until next time. Shaking my head, I grinned as I took the steps of the now confirmed check-in shop. My heeled boots clapped against the wooden stairs, and for the first time in my life, I wished I hadn’t worn heels. They really had no place here, but I didn’t torture myself with things I couldn’t change as I pulled open the door and stepped through. The scent of apple and cinnamon hit me hard and my eyes zeroed in on a mug of steaming water - that had four, nope, five bags of tea sitting in the cup.
Holy, in the name of excess
- my thought was cut off by a woman’s voice.
“I know it smells in here - but he won’t let me drink coffee and I just needed something strong and this tea is great!”
My eyes flickered from the overly excessive mug of tea to a little brunette woman who was sitting behind the desk in a comfortable chair. I could see she was sitting with her legs crossed, and her socked feet were shoeless. It wasn’t only the lack of shoes that struck me as odd, but it was the fact that the socks she wore were a bright blue and fluffy! I felt as though I were looking at the cookie monsters feet, rather than a woman’s - and even more importantly, a woman working the desk of the Wild Land Ranch I was supposed to be staying at for the next
I mean, the people here were weird! The man outside had been less than accommodating and even less welcoming. I was willing to bet that this blue socked, apple cinnamon tea drinker - or hoarder - was his fiancée. Did I say weird? Seriously, was it something in the water?
“I’m Reese, it’s nice to meet you?” Her words dropped off in a question for my identity.
Yep! She was the interrogators fiancée. Great, the people here really were nutty.
“I’m here to check in.” I said before giving her my name and smiling forcedly. I really did not want to be here. “Hadley Grades.”
“Oh great!” She beamed excitedly. “You’re the one here for six months! Oh, that is soooo awesome!”
Whoa, so her fiancé was a total ass and she was friendly as a kindergarten teacher. Again, weird!
“Yeah.” I flashed another smile, although I was sure this one let her know how uncomfortable I was. “That’s me.”
“Oh.” Her smile fell a little. “I suppose I’ll get you your key. Logan, my fiancé is just outside - he never wanders very far from me while I’m here - he will get you settled into your cabin.”
“Yeah, I met him.” I said dryly. “He’s a real gem that one!”
She cocked her head to the side and pursed her lips. Then her eyes dragged over me in much the same way her fiancés had. I shifted uncertainly and wondered fleetingly if this crazy Wild Land Tour place housed a bunch of psychotic people. And my Dad was afraid I’d try drugs in the city. Ha!
“Was he an ass?” She didn’t let me answer as she huffed. “It’s obvious you’re from the city. Pay Logan no mind he’ll warm up to you eventually. He always does.” She waved it off, but I had a feeling she was going to chew into the man later. Damn, I almost felt bad for the sucker. “When I first met Logan, the man made me question what I was doing here.”
“He has that effect on people.” I replied smartly, again, before I’d thought the words through.
Thankfully, Reese laughed. It was a real and full laugh and I felt the defenses I desperately wanted to remain in place weaken in their stand. Oh, I didn’t want to like it here. I wanted to get these six months done and over with so I could return to the live I’d always planned on living.
“You’re funny!” She laughed again. “I like you.”
“Hmm.” I didn’t know what to say to that. As I said, I didn’t want to like her. “Can I um, get my key? I had a long trip and I’m pretty tired.”
“Oh crap!” She palmed her forehead. “I swear, pregnancy brain is killing me.”
“You’re pregnant?” I felt my brows rise as my eyes dropped to her belly. Her sweater was a bit baggy, so I couldn’t see a belly, but the woman was tiny.
“Yeah, almost four months.” She smiled softly as she rubbed her belly, flattening the sweater over what I could see was a perfectly round stomach. “I’m so excited!”
This time, my smile was real and when I spoke, my voice croaked. “Congratulations.”
Reese’s honey colored eyes settled on me and her smile waned. “Thank you, Hadley. A year ago, in May, I was a ruin. Finally, because of this Ranch, I’m in a good place.”
I don’t know what possessed me to ask her, but before I could stop myself, I’d spoken. That seemed to be happening a lot lately - my mouth running before my brain had a chance to play catch-up. “Why were you a ruin?”
“Two days from now, on May twentieth, two years ago, my first husband passed away in an accident on his way to work.” Her eyes misted, but she smiled through her emotion. “I contacted the Ranch last year in May, desperate to find somewhere to heal my broken heart. I felt so impossibly hopeless...” her eyes pleaded with me to understand - little did she know, I did. Michael had passed away on May ninth. That was nine days ago. Nine days ago, when my brother stole my sandwich, was the last time I would ever see him.
My eyes misted and my throat felt tight. Reese noticed and something that resembled familiarity flashed in her eyes and her fingers pressed against her lips.
“Oh!” she gasped. “Oh, Hadley...”
I shook my head, mainly because I couldn’t speak.
Reese continued. “I’ve been here since August last year. As uncomfortable as you must be right now, please know that the people here are friendly. I won’t ask you any questions, because I know how painful they can be - but I want you to know I’m here for anything you need. All you have to do is call.” She slid a card with her number on it over the counter and with shaking fingers I pushed it into my pocket.
“Thanks.” I whispered and I meant it.
After Reese had given me my key, I’d made my way through the winding roads lined in tall trees to the cabin I’d seen on the map she’d also given to me. After debating on whether she wanted to place me beside the river or the horse stables, I’d spoken up and asked that she place me next to the water. It was apparent that there was a choice between the two and I’d always been a lover of water. Never in my life had I ridden a horse and I didn’t know if the stables would smell bad. It was a no brainer choice - water was best.
Reese had assured me that I had the cabin that was closest to the river and also most private - which I appreciated. Apparently, my cabin was the one they tried not to rent if they didn’t have too as it was closest to one of the Donnelley brother’s house. I had no idea where the house was, but I assumed if I took a walk down the road that passed by my cabin, deeper into the woods, I would find this house.
The cabin was small - and I mean it was really small. I doubted the entirety of it was any larger than my bedroom at home, but it was lovely, so I didn’t bother expending any amount of energy on that fact. There was a small porch attached to the front of the house. The half to the right of the door was covered and the other half was open to the elements. There was a small wooden swing sitting in the covered area with beige cushions and soft pink throw pillows resting in the nook of the arm rests. Two white painted high backed wooden chairs sat on the other side of the porch, slightly facing toward each other.
The railing was lined with hanging flowerpots that clung to the wood and on each corner of the roof was a hanging wicker basket filled abundantly with pink flowers. Sitting next to the base of the stairs leading up to the porch, beside the gravel walkway, was another large barrel filled with draping vines and flowers. Behind the cabin was lush forestland that I was certain had plenty of walking trials. I couldn’t wait to find the one that led down to the river.
The inside of the cabin was quaint. It was so far from the lavish existence I had always known, that for a moment, I honestly didn’t know what to do with myself. The living area was small with only enough room for a couch and a chair. There was a small coffee table centered between the couch and the fireplace. The kitchen was on the far side of the cabin (if you could call it far) and it was plain. There was a small pantry in the corner and all of the appliances were white rather than the stainless steel I was used to seeing in kitchens. The countertop had a creamy gloss top that, although it wasn’t granite, was the only part of the cabin that didn’t look quite so rustic, but still, it fit. Everything was perfectly tied in and I just loved it all. There was a small bathroom that was also wood, but the towels were white and soft pink. I had a feeling that a woman decorated this cabin and I wondered, if a man had ever stayed here alone - because it certainly was feminine.
Across the hall from the bathroom, was the bedroom. It was more of a closet. And by the size of the closet that was in the already closet-sized room, I knew I was going to have troubles with getting my clothing to fit. It was a good thing that the dresser lining the wall at the foot of the queen sized bed, was nearly the entire length of the wall. The bed, which was covered in a soft beige duvet had light pink sheets peaking from beneath the brown and there was another pink knitted quilt draped over the rustic footboard. A small wooden nightstand with a simple, beige capped lamp, stood off to the side of the bed that had been pushed up against the wall with the window to conserve the already limited space.
By the time I’d unpacked my clothing into the closet and dresser and shoved my suitcases beneath the bed, I didn’t quite know what to do with myself, so I decided I’d lay down. And then I got to thinking about Michael, and how I missed him, and how I would never know the man I’d always believed he would one day become.
My heart ached.
...Michael drove fast over the freeway and I grinned as the summer air washed over my face from the open passenger window. My feet were hanging from the window and my toes were playing with the mirror on the side of the truck, wind filtering through the spaces of my toes.
“You’ve got it all, Had.” Michael spoke low and I glanced up at him, surprised.
“What are you talking about?”
“You’re beautiful, kind, and spirited. You’re the perfect package. I know you’ll do great things, kiddo.”
I scowled. “Don’t call me kiddo, Mike. I’m less than three years younger than you.”
“You’ll always be kiddo to me, Had.” Mike leaned into the dash and the sound of Imagine Dragons flooded the space. For a moment, I just watched my brother sing along with the throaty allure of Demons, and wondered what on earth went through his mind.
Then, he flashed the brightest, most contagious grin at me, and I forgot what I was thinking about and what he’d said as I giggled. That was the thing about Mike. He was infectious. He was so beautiful, so perfect, and always so happy, that it was hard not to forget things when you were with him - like how important it was to just be responsible.
My voice flowed alongside his as we sang together...
A persistent banging sounded into the foggy sleep filled haze of my mind and I pulled myself into a sitting position. For a moment, complete disorientation forced my heart into a near painful kind of racing and then I remembered where I was. The Donnelley Ranch. The place of Wild Land Tours. The hell my father had banished me to.
Grumbling low under my breath, I swung my legs over the side of the bed to pad across the tiny cabin to the front door, where the banging had never ceased to expire. Scowling at the person on the other side of the door before I even laid my eyes on them, I pulled open the heavy wood door.
“Hadley Grades! It is so nice to finally meet you!” An older woman pushed her way past me into the little cabin, already chattering as though we were long lost friends before I even got a word in. “I used to know your mother. She and I went to school together up until grade nine. Then she moved to Toronto, but we’ve kept in touch.” She gave a small harrumph before waving her hand and continuing. “I was so excited when she contacted me and asked if I had an opening for you here!”
?” I stuttered, practically feeling my jaw hit the floor. “You knew my mom? I mean, my mom was the one who sent me here?”