He flipped back to Sierra Meadows. “This is close to where I found you that night, when you were… not lost.”
That earned him a small smile. “The night I fell down the ravine. The night you shared your tent.”
“Which has been in heavy rotation in my fantasies ever since.”
“You have some sort of a rescue fetish, Ranger Hot Buns?”
“No, I have a pale blue panty fetish.”
She let out a low laugh. “It was dark.”
“I have panty x-ray vision. God-given talent.”
She laughed again, and the sound warmed him, but he couldn’t take his eyes off her work. “You’re so talented,” he said, truly awed. “You should show these more often. You know Lucille runs an art gallery, right? She’d love these.”
“They’ve always been just for me.”
He met her gaze. “So what changed? Why show me now?”
She paused. “Well, I guess it’s because you let me in. You told me about your childhood, your family. Your past. You’ve counted on me to help Riley.” She shrugged. “You shared yourself with me, so I guess that somehow makes it okay for me to share with you.”
At this, Matt felt his smile slowly fade, and guilt twisted in his gut. She thought he’d opened up, when in fact he’d purposely told her only the good things. What was even worse was that he’d let her think she could trust him, count on him. He liked the idea of her trusting him, a lot, but the last time he’d been down this road, he’d fucked up. Royally. His ex could attest to that. He’d promised not to get attached, but he was.
And suddenly, he wasn’t in the least bit hungry. Suddenly his stomach was burning and churning. Suddenly, he had to go. Be alone. Now. Gently, he pushed her sketch pad back to her.
She cocked her head to the side, eyes on his, clearly sensing a change in him, but just as clearly not understanding what.
As he couldn’t understand it either, there was no way to explain it to her. “Jan’s trying to get your attention,” he said.
She held his gaze a moment longer, eyes sharp. He hadn’t fooled her. But in classic Amy fashion, she took the easy way out and let him distract her. She glanced up at Jan, who was indeed pointing to her watch.
Matt stood up and let her out of the booth. She brushed against him as she did and sucked in a breath at the contact.
He did, too, but he managed to keep his hands to himself, shoving them into his pockets to ensure it. She’s not for you…
Amy hesitated for a moment, and Matt held his breath, though he shouldn’t have bothered. She didn’t press for answers. She wouldn’t, because as he’d counted on, that’s not how she operated. And then there was the bottom line—she didn’t want this any more than he did.
That night Amy went home, running through the light rain to her apartment, hoping the damp had brought Riley back.
She grabbed her mail and dropped it all on the kitchen table. Mostly junk, but there was a manila envelope from New York, and she recognized her mother’s handwriting. She spent a moment staring at the package as if it were a striking cobra before she opened it.
Inside was a short note and a small notebook. The note said:
I’ve had this all these years, but it occurred to me after you called that maybe it’s your turn to hold onto it. Mom
The notebook was identical to her grandma’s journal. She opened it and then realized it wasn’t identical at all. The paper in this notebook wasn’t lined. And someone had filled the pages with sketches. Not in colored pencil, like Amy did, just black charcoal, but the sketches were so eerily similar to her own that Amy sank to a chair, weak-kneed. Lucky Harbor, Sierra Meadows, Four Lakes, Squaw Flats… the images wavered as Amy found herself choked up.
She hadn’t known her grandma could draw.
She flipped through, marveling, swiping her eyes on her sleeve. There was only one picture she didn’t recognize, the very last one—a vista of rough-edged, craggy mountain peaks that was so wonderfully depicted she could almost smell the trees.
This drawing was different than the others. This drawing had a figure sketched in, a woman. Drawn in shadow, she stood in profile on the plateau, the wind blowing her hair and scarf out behind her as she held something above her head. A container. From it came a cloud of dust—
Oh, no. Amy’s heart sank. Not dust. She thought back to the journal entry before, where her grandma had switched from the “we” to “I.”
She’d not been with Jonathon on this journey, at least not a living, breathing Jonathon.
Amy turned to the journal and reread the last entry again.
… standing at the very tippy top, looking out at a blanket of green, a sea of blue…
Amy eyed the drawing. It certainly looked like the tippy top. She opened her map. The highest peak was Widow’s Peak. Her grandma hadn’t left her initials on that mountain.
She’d left Jonathon’s ashes.
I would never settle. I would never stop growing. I would never give up…
Coming here had given her grandma the hope and peace she needed to go on with her life after losing Jonathon. She’d gotten the hope to go on. And the peace to live without him. Amy understood that. She’d followed her grandma’s journey to make a change in her life, too, to learn about herself. To grow.
Baby steps, and like Riley, she was taking them.
She ran her fingers over her drawing of Widow’s Peak. Her grandma had never settled, and she wouldn’t either. She’d never give up. She went through the pictures one last time, and when she finally closed the book, her resolve to finish this journey was renewed. She definitely had hope and peace now, and she wanted the rest. She wanted to find her heart.
Two days later, Amy had a day off and was mountain-bound, equipped with her grandma’s drawings. She’d studied the map and had found a trail called Heart-Stopper. Was it possible that grandma’s “heart” moment had been a play on words? The problem was that the Heart-Stopper Trail ran perpendicular along the Rim Trail, except higher up, along the top of the peaks, from the north rim all along to the south rim in a huge semicircle, connecting the two. The loop that Matt had insinuated was too hard for her. She’d have to break it up into a few separate trips.
Or she could show Matt the drawing and see if he could help.
And she would have—except she kept playing that night in the diner over and over in her head. He’d backed off, and she didn’t know why.
But it was okay. She could figure this out, just like she’d figured all her other shit out.
She cheated by taking the fire roads up past Squaw Flats and Sierra Meadows, straight to the trailhead of Heart-Stopper. It was beautiful, but she felt… off.
That’s because you miss Matt…
How ironic was that? She’d told him not to get attached, and then she’d done it. She’d gotten damn attached.
Not that it mattered, not that it would slow her down. Matt wasn’t her journey. This was her journey.
But though she managed to hike half the Heart-Stopper Trail before she had to turn back, she never found anything specific. Unlike at Sierra Meadows or Four Lakes, there was nothing obvious, nothing in her notes to point out a direct item. And of course, there were a million trees. It was like looking for a needle in a haystack, and she’d had to admit defeat for the day. She got back to the North District Ranger Station just before dark. Matt’s truck was in the lot, and seeing it put butterflies in her belly. She never got butterflies. Damn man. So they hadn’t spoken in a few days, so what? It wasn’t a big deal, and certainly not the reason why she entered the building. Nope, she just needed a new map is all.
And maybe, if she saw him, she’d tell him about her grandma’s drawings. Not that she wanted to see him…
But she did. He was on the phone behind the reception area, his broad back to her. Amy picked out the new map and paid the young ranger-in-training behind the desk while simultaneously trying not to notice that Matt really earned the moniker of Ranger Hot Buns.
He turned and caught her staring. Still on the phone, he arched a single brow.
She waved her map at him and ran out. “You,” she said to her reflection in the rearview mirror when she was in her car and on the road, “are an idiot.”
At home, she showered then joined Mallory and Grace for a night out. They went to the Love Shack, Lucky Harbor’s one and only bar and grill. The place was done up like an old Wild West saloon, complete with walls of deep bordello red, lined with old mining tools. Lanterns hung over the scarred bench-style tables. The bar itself was a series of old wood doors attached end to end. Run by former world sailing champion Ford Walker and Lucky Harbor’s mayor Jax Cullen, the place was never wanting for customers.
The three women got a table and ordered a pitcher of margaritas, which was served by Jax himself. Tall, dark, and handsome, Jax poured them each an iced, salted glass with a smile that could charm the panties right off a nun. “Enjoy, ladies.”
“He’s hot,” Grace said, watching his ass as he walked off.
“Yes,” Mallory agreed. “And very taken by one sweet Maddie Moore, who runs the B&B down the road.” She lifted her glass. “To leaving Chocolate-ville for Margarita-ville.”
Grace lifted her glass. “To new chapters.”
Amy clicked her glass to theirs. “To no good girls tonight.”
They all drank to that, until Grace suddenly choked.
“What’s the matter?” Amy asked, pounding her on the back.
Grace coughed and sputtered some more, then recovered, as in unison Amy and Mallory swiveled their heads to see what she’d been looking at.
Two tables over sat three guys. Three gorgeous guys. Ty Garrison, Dr. Josh Scott, and Forest Ranger Hot Buns, all focused in on the Chocoholics’ table, smiling as if they saw something they liked.
Ty set down his drink and ambled over. He pulled a grinning Mallory from her chair and into his arms, and without a word, planted a long, hot, deep kiss on her. Finally, when surely they had to be out of air, he pulled back. “See you later,” he said with a naughty smile, then guided Mallory carefully back to her chair as if she were a precious commodity.