Authors: Clarice Wynter
Awakened in August
copyright 2013, Clarice Wynter
Cover art by Niina Cord
This is a work of fiction. All names, characters, places, brands, media and events are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously and are not to be confused with fact. Any resemblance to living persons or events is merely coincidence.
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All rights reserved. Without limiting the rights under copyright reserved above, no part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form, or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise) without the prior written permission of both the copyright owner and the above publisher of this book.
Once again with gratitude to: JB Lynn, Jean Cooper and Niina Cord for helping me to see this project through and to fans of the series, thank you for spending time in Spring River Valley with me.
“I’ve wanted to get my hands on you for two years, Riley Thayer, and now you’re finally mine.” Lydia Richmond cradled her office phone on her shoulder and hitched one hip onto the corner of her desk while scrawling her signature on the bottom of the reservation form on the clipboard she balanced on one knee.
“Why does that sound so sinister?” The voice on the other end of the line was the same sexy baritone she remembered from law school, but now she detected a weariness that her former classmate hadn’t possessed back when they’d swapped notes and attended all-night study sessions in the campus common room. He laughed softly, and she thought of his sparkling blue eyes and how oftentimes the mischief in them had been at odds with his studious nature.
“Probably because you’re mortally afraid of relaxation. I must have told you half a million times that you needed
to have a little more fun in your life. Let me guess, you took the bar a week ago and now, finally, you feel like you can let your hair down.”
“Who says I have any hair left?”
Lydia feigned shock. “Oh no, not that gorgeous golden hair? Don’t worry. I’ve got some elixirs that will grow it all back.”
“Ugh. You’re still into potions and witchery? Now I
Lydia made a face and set the clipboard on the desk behind her. “If you mean, do I practice spiritual medicine, biofeedback, and swear by organic food…then yes. I’m still what you city folk would consider a witch. But I promise not to put any hexes on you while you’re in my clutches. Tell me, how did you convince your jailers—I mean your bosses—to let you have two whole weeks off?”
The slight hint of amusement left Riley’s voice. “Actually, I was ordered to take a vacation.”
Lydia let the phone slip off her shoulder into her hand. “A major law firm ordering their star recruit to take time off? Why? Did they catch you sniffing correction fluid in the supply closet?”
“No…doctor’s orders not partner’s orders. I had…well, sort of a—”
“A breakdown?” Lydia clutched the phone. From the moment she’d met Riley at law school five years earlier, she knew his drive and determination to succeed would take him far, but she’d also worried the same relentless attention to detail and his inability to relax would do him in long before he got his name on anyone’s letterhead.
“No, not a breakdown.”
“I can hear you rolling your eyes. If it wasn’t a breakdown what was it?”
“A little bit of…well, I had chest pains. I went to the ER last Friday, and they ran some tests.” His casual tone sounded forced.
“Oh, Riley. I’m sorry. What did they find?”
“Nothing…nothing serious. Anxiety, they said. Stress.”
“Those are the precursors of something serious.”
“Well, don’t you sound like just like my doctor? So…I’m under orders to take two weeks off and do nothing. I was going to just hang around at home, study some briefs, read…but Lily called me and gave me a thirty-minute lecture on why I needed to get away from everything.”
Lydia’s friend Lily Jarvis worked at Lakeside Hospital, in the ER. Lydia had introduced her to Riley during a seminar they’d gone to at the hospital while they were in school. “I’ll have to call her and thank her.”
“She walked me through filling out the reservation form, and now I’m going to go to a Green Solutions Relaxation Retreat. She insisted it was the best place in the world to get over stress.”
“She goes on a retreat once a year. I’m making a note as we speak to comp her a seaweed wrap and full body massage on her next trip.”
“Can I skip those?”
“Trust me, by day three, you’ll be begging for them. Don’t sell this short, Riley. You need it. You’re what—a month short of thirty? And you’re having chest pains?”
“Stress. Just stress. Everybody has stress.”
“Not everybody ends up in the ER with their stress. You need to do something about it now before it eats you alive.”
He sighed, a sound she’d heard so many times before when they’d argued over their differences in lifestyle. His regimented, full-court press approach had gotten him a law degree, a job at a premiere firm, and pretty soon the right to affix the term Esquire to his name. Her more organic views had led her to quit school halfway through her second year and sign on as a Retreat Coordinator for Green Solutions. She’d never make the money she would have if she’d finished her degree and took the bar, but she could be fairly certain stress would never put her in the emergency room. He used to call her flighty, a tree-hugging hippie, and she’d used to call him uptight, the guy with a stick up his…
“Well, Lyd, I’m putting myself in your hands for two weeks. As long as you promise not to turn me into a toad, I’ll do whatever you tell me I have to do to relax and feel better so I can get back to work.”
your goal? To get back to work?”
“Sure it is. What
my goal be? Wait, don’t answer that.”
“Maybe learning how not to work yourself to death?” She couldn’t help herself, the words slipped out.
“I’m not going to work myself to death. At least not in the next two weeks. Anyway, the reason I called was because the reservation package I have says I can’t bring my car. Do I really have to go on the bus that leaves from your office?”
“That’s right. No driving.”
“Uh…what about emergencies?”
“We have cars at the retreat. If you have to leave for a real emergency, someone will take you.”
“Hmm. I’m not totally comfortable with that.”
“Listen, by day three you won’t care if you ever get behind the wheel of a car again. Trust me.”
“What exactly happens on ‘day three’?” he asked, skepticism creeping into his voice. She’d heard that same tone from so many guests at the retreats, and none of them had ever complained once they got a real taste of the peace and quiet at the Green Solutions resort.
She grinned wickedly, certain he’d hear it in her voice. “That’s the day your tree-hugging brainwashing is complete.”
“You’re not instilling any confidence in me.”
“You just said you were going to put yourself in my hands. Give me
“All right. I’m all yours.”
“He he he.”
“Stop with the creepy laughing.”
“I’m not creepy laughing. That’s my real, witchy laugh. We don’t cackle anymore, you know.”
“Great. I feel better already.”
“No, you don’t, but by the time I’m done with you, I guarantee you will.”
* * * *
At least a dozen times over the next two days Riley had considered cancelling his trip. Despite his doubts that two weeks in the relative wilderness of the Adirondack Mountains would somehow turn him into a loose-limbed, dream-catcher-weaving, campfire-singing free spirit without a care in the world, he showed up in front of the Green Solutions office on Downing Street at seven a.m. on Saturday, overstuffed duffle bag in hand, a new pair of aviator sunglasses shielding his eyes from the brutal rays of the early August sunrise.
The bus that pulled up a few minutes later to greet him and the two dozen other tired-looking corporate souls who’d signed on for this “journey of self-discovery” at least had the common decency not to belch exhaust at them. He wondered if it was some kind of a hybrid in keeping with the Green Solutions motto of Earth First, and that led him once again to worry about how he’d get back to town if there was an emergency at the firm that required his attention. He hoped when Lydia said they had cars, she hadn’t meant something that needed to be plugged in and recharged every half mile.
With that concern in mind, he allowed himself to be shuffled to the back of the crowd, secretly wishing they’d run out of seats before they got to him, and he’d have to go home to work on some case files while he awaited their sincere apology and a refund check.
Why had he done this again? Oh, because Lily Jarvis, who was a genuinely nice person despite her militant, hospital-sponsored health guru attitude, had managed to scare the crap out of him about this chest pain thing. She hadn’t really meant to, he was sure, but her lecture about sudden aneurisms, coronaries, and arterial…something or others that resulted in painful death had, in fact, made him realize he needed to breathe some ultraclean air, eat a couple of organic meals, and sleep past dawn for a few days in an effort to center his thoughts, regulate his pulse, and generally get his head on straight before he took up residence in the
cushy office his boss Mason Esterhause had promised him.
How bad could it be? The brochure mentioned nature walks, Tai Chi classes, five-star dining, and stunning natural vistas. How long had it been since he’d been stunned by a vista visible anywhere but on his computer screen?
Someone ahead of him in line to get on the bus mentioned something about Internet hot spots, and he imagined he could already feel the stress melting away. I least I can check my e-mail, he thought.
Then he looked up and saw Lydia.
She appeared in the doorway of the bus in a grass green company T-shirt and white shorts. Her brilliant smile was genuine and lit her soft brown eyes with warmth. This was the girl he remembered from law school, but back then her blond hair hadn’t been streaked with sunlight and her skin hadn’t glowed with health the way it did now.
Slowly, Riley lowered his glasses to get a better look at her while she called out names and checked them off on a clip board. When she got to him, and his final chance to slip away unnoticed and go back home evaporated, something pinged in the middle of his chest. This wasn’t the uncomfortable tightness that had sent him to the ER a week ago but a sharp stab that felt a little more like pleasure than pain. He’d just encountered the first of those stunning vistas the trip promised. How could the next fourteen days be all bad?
“Right here, hi, Lyd.” He raised a hand, and though he wouldn’t have thought it possible, her smile brightened. Rather than hand him a braided nylon lanyard and a welcome packet, as she’d been doing with the other guests as they climbed aboard the bus, she strode over to him, threw her arms around his neck, and hugged him.
Caught off guard, he wrapped his arms around her waist and, for just a second, lost himself in the fresh-air-and-wildflowers scent of her hair.
“I’m so glad to see you. I was worried you’d change your mind,” she said, her firm but supple muscles tightening around him.
“Nope. I’m a hundred and ten percent committed to learning how to relax.”
She pulled back and eyed him. “How many times did you have your hand on the phone ready to cancel? Be honest.”
“I swear I didn—okay, three or four.”
She nodded, her lips twisting in a wry smile. “You can’t fool me. I’m psychic like that. I can see it all over your face. You’re thinking ‘Oh no, Miss Granola is going to make me go bird watching and catalog mushrooms,’ aren’t you?”
He had, in fact, quite often referred to her as Miss Granola when they had classes together. He still wondered why she’d chucked a brilliant future in law to ride a bus to the boondocks with a handful of overworked cubicle dwellers who probably all wished they’d booked a week in Cancun instead. “Actually, I’m thinking about that massage you promised me.” He winked, and heaven help him, she blushed.