Authors: Loreth Anne White
December. Christmas Day.
I’m on the lakeshore, near the dock. My down jacket is warm. Snow is falling: those fat, perfect flakes you can catch on your mitt and see the shape of the crystals. The air is still. Icy cold.
I know it sounds odd, but I’ve come down here because this is where I feel them. Here, looking out over this water with the snow-draped mountains soaring up into the clouds on the other side, I feel the presence, or spirit, or whatever you want to call it—memories even—of my father and grandfather. And now Sophia, too.
In my heart I offer thanks. And Christmas blessings. I want them to know, to feel, how complete I am now. I want them to understand how I’ve come home, become myself, become whole, in a way that I never dreamed possible after that terrible, fateful night.
Jeb has his daughter now. And I have them both. We’re a family. Jeb and I plan to marry early next summer. He’s organizing his new business and will reopen the Wolf River rafting and guiding operation. He’s going to hire a manager to live out at the new lodge once he’s built it. Jeb has money saved. He’s a natural entrepreneur, and his energy has been infectious. He had time enough in prison to get a degree in criminal justice, specializing in restorative justice. Already he’s started volunteering with the First Nations group in the next valley. His goal is to be in a position to stop kids with backgrounds like his own from getting into trouble, from being forced to wear a negative label. He explained to me how restorative justice is not about punishment. It’s about understanding the crime, the victims, the damage done. It’s about the community coming together, and it’s about restitution, forgiveness.
Forgiveness is what I needed for betraying his secret. He has given me that. And I have told him that he needs to forgive himself for what happened with his father. The town, in many individual ways, has also asked for forgiveness from Jeb. Sometimes with an anonymous gift left outside our door. Sometimes with a touch of a hand in the supermarket. Sometimes an invitation to join a group. Other times with a direct request: Can you ever forgive me?
Where do things end, and where do they begi
. . .
I still don’t know the answer to that, but because of that terrible event nine years ago, the three of us have come together as a family.
After the “Missing Girls” case, many more women lost their lives. I hope Annie finds her sister. I lift my face to the swirling flakes and almost smile. Annie Pirello—I disliked her on sight. Now we’re almost friends.
He’s behind me, wrapping his arms around me, kissing my neck. I laugh. He smells, feels, so good.
“The kitchen buzzer went,” he says. “Turkey is done. Quinn has finished making the cranberry sauce and icing the cookies. We’re kinda stuck without you now.”
“I thought I’d find you here,” he whispers, then turns me around and he holds my face, kisses me on the mouth. My hands slide into his jacket, into his warmth.
“I love you, Jeb.”
“I know,” he murmurs over my lips. “And I have always loved you. It’s written.”
“Oh, really? And where is this written?”
He laughs, the sound deep and masculine. “My mother would say it’s written in the rings of trees, in the patterns of leaves, and in the sound of water.” He takes my hand. “But why should it matter where it’s written? Come, we’re hungry.”
Wind gusts and the flakes swirl. We walk up to our home, the Christmas tree lights glowing inside. I still haven’t bought blinds. Trixie comes waddling down through the snow toward us. I reach down, ruffle her fur, and I’m glad she was locked in my truck and couldn’t run away with all the noise of helicopter and sirens scaring her. She was sitting there safely, if thirsty, when we came home after our night in the ice cave.
As we slide open the door, Quinn jumps off her stool. “I finished the icing, look!” She runs over, holds out the tray.
She’s made Christmas angel cookies with silver beads for eyes.
“Our first Christmas,” I whisper, staring at the angels.
“One of many,” says Jeb.
And I know we’ve all finally come home.
Bringing a book to life is rarely a solitary endeavor and more often the combined effort of a small community. A heartfelt thank-you to Deborah Nemeth for her early editorial insight and for the galvanizing encouragement. Thank you also to those readers who took precious time to post reviews during what I shall call a “soft launch.” You guys make more of a difference than you can know. Much gratitude to my dear writing friend, Alison Kent, aka Mica Stone, for helping bring this story to the attention of Montlake Romance. To JoVon Sotak for reading the book and extending an offer of partnership. To Lindsay Guzzardo and Deb Taber for the editorial polishing. To the Amazon Publishing teams behind the scenes who made my book look wonderful and who helped put it into the hands of readers. Thank you Toni Anderson and Olivia Gates for kicking my butt on this project when I needed it most. To Roxy Beswetherick and Nell White for the beta reads—you are both my harshest and most valued critics, and you keep that bar raised. And as always, much love and gratitude to my husband, Paul Beswetherick, for his unquestioning and continued support. Of course, I’d be remiss not to mention my hairy muse—the Black Beast who never ceases to remind me how to live purely in the moment—aka Hudson. It wouldn’t have happened without you all.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Photo © 2013 Paul Beswetherick
Loreth Anne White is a multipublished author of award-winning romantic suspense, thriller, and mystery. A double RITA finalist, she has won the Romantic Times Reviewers’ Choice Award for Romantic Suspense, is a double Romantic Times Reviewers’ Choice Award finalist, a double Daphne Du Maurier finalist, and a multiple CataRomance Reviewers’ choice winner.
Lorethhails from South Africa but now lives with her family in a ski resort in the moody Coast mountain range of North America’s Pacific Northwest. It’s a place of vast, wild, and often dangerous mountains, larger-than-life characters, epic adventure, and romance—the perfect place to escape reality.It’s no wonder it was here thatshe was inspired to abandon her sixteen-year newspaper career to escape into a world of romantic fiction filled with dangerous men and adventurous women.
When she’s not writing, you will find her skiing, biking, hiking, or running the trails with her Black Dog, and generally trying to avoid the bears—albeit not successfully. In the summer she will often be on the road, searching out remote camping/fly fishing spots with her husband or participating in tracking and air scent courses with her dog. She calls this work, because it’s when the best ideas come.