Emily fumbled with the keys, losing her grip and dropping them in the snow. Great. Add another checkmark to her crappy day list. She tugged off her mitten with her teeth, retrieved the fallen keys, and unlocked the door of the cabin.
Her grandparents’ cabin was nestled in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado, a thirty-minute drive from her apartment in Denver. It was among a half-dozen that circled a lake and that were used mainly in the summer.
The roads had been clear, but a light snow had started to fall on her way up the pass, and Emily’s compact car had practically slid into the driveway of the cabin. Thick flurries now fell from the sky, covering the cabin and the surrounding trees in a blanket of sparkling white snow and ice. It was breathtakingly beautiful and only made Emily’s task that much harder.
The air was still. The only sound was the light whisper of the door opening across the floor, and a flurry of snowflakes accompanied her as she stepped into the cabin. Her breath misted in the air as she turned up the thermostat, hoping the old furnace would work quickly to heat the space. The cabin consisted of a large room combining the kitchen and living area, two small bedrooms, a bathroom, and an attic loft.
Dropping her pillow and tote bag on the table, she looked around the sparsely furnished room and tried not to cry. Tonight would be the last night she’d spend in her grandparents’ cabin, a place that felt as familiar to her as her own home and held the happy memories of her growing up years.
As their only child, the property had gone to her mother last spring when Nana had passed away and her mom had tried to keep up with the taxes and monthly upkeep, but just couldn’t do it anymore. Not wanting to lose the cabin, Emily had scraped up enough to help with some of the bills—she’d even gone to the bank to try for a loan to buy the property itself, but couldn’t make it happen.
Her mom had never been one to attach emotional significance to things, or people for that matter, if her recent divorce were any indication. She’d told Emily the property could either be a drain on all their finances or a windfall of cash, and she’d prefer the money, so she’d put the cabin up for sale. Then she’d left Emily to take care of packing it up and cleaning it out.
Her mom had been working with the realtor and taking care of the paperwork, and the new owner took over later this week. The cabin had been bought by a company called Sunshine Investments, who, according to the realtor, planned to tear down most of it and start over. Gut the place, he’d said. Modernize it.
Ridiculous. The best part of the cabin was the history, the quaint charm of the antique fixtures and the feeling you got of stepping back in time when you walked through the door.
Back into a simpler time. Before new bosses and eviction notices. Before bad breakups, and before her dad had walked out on her mom.
Crossing to the big picture window, she shed her boots and jacket as the room warmed up. Looking out across the frozen lake, she swallowed back the lump in her throat, and let the memories wash over her. Memories of summers spent here with her grandparents, swimming in the lake, making cookies, falling in love. Memories of Logan.
She’d fallen for Logan Chase the first instant she saw him.
She’d been sixteen that summer, and her parents had sent her to spend the season with her grandparents at the cabin. Her mom and dad were already having trouble back then. They were always arguing about something, and she’d been glad to escape their drama and spend the summer at the cabin.
She remembered the feeling of freedom as she’d hugged her grandparents and taken her things to the second bedroom. Not even taking the time to unpack her suitcase, she’d thrown on her swimsuit, grabbed a book, and headed for the lake. She’d heard the laughter first, a few kids messing around on the dock.
Then she saw him.
Logan had stood at the end of the dock, casually leaning against the railing. He wore a pair of cut-off jean shorts, and his skin already glowed with a healthy tan. He was tall and his dark hair was a little too long. He looked about her age and was so ridiculously cute that it almost hurt to look at him.
He saw her walking down the dock and smiled.
And that was it. She was lost. She might as well have handed him her heart, because from that one moment when he’d smiled that goofy grin at her, it belonged to him.
“Hi, guys,” she’d said, fiddling with her long, dark braid and trying to sound casual as she waved at Kyle and Brooke, kids her age she knew from past summers. From the looks of the intimate playfulness between them, it seemed her friends had become a couple since she’d seen them last.
“Hi, Emily,” Brooke said, giving her a hug. “We heard you were coming back for the summer.” She pointed at the other two boys. “This is Logan. He just moved here. And you remember Kyle. He’s my boyfriend now.”
Kyle waved, more interested in checking out her bikini than making chitchat.
She’d filled out since the summer before, and she tried not to hunch her shoulders.
Logan nodded. His eyes stayed on hers as he gave her another heartbreakingly handsome smile. “Hey. Kyle might be somebody’s boyfriend, but I’m not. You know, just in case you were wondering.”
She’d smiled back, too tongue-tied to think of anything clever to say. She was terrible at flirting, but this boy seemed to be a pro. Great. He was probably one of those bad boys who had an old motorcycle and smoked.
But she didn’t care. She just wanted to look at him, be in his presence, and have him smile at her again.
They’d spent the afternoon swimming and laughing, and by the end of that night, he’d held her hand. By the end of that week, he’d kissed her, and by the end of that summer, he’d been her first. She was head over heels in love, and the best part was that he loved her too.
Or so he’d said.
Logan was easygoing and a hard worker. He got along well with her grandparents and had a job working at the local diner with his mom. The minute he got off work, he headed for the lake to see her, and they spent most of the summer sneaking up into the loft of the cabin, talking and kissing and making plans for the future.
They used to lie on the floor of the loft and look through the slats of the banister, and watch the activity on the lake through the corner of the window. Emily loved to dream of filling the cabin wall with windows and making the loft into a bedroom where she could wake up every day to the gorgeous view.
Logan just loved to dream, period. His mom was a single parent, and she worked long shifts at the local diner. He’d always had a job, using his income to help support them. They moved around a lot, he’d told Emily, always following some great new job his mom had heard about. It was usually the same job, just in a different town, in a different restaurant.
Logan had said he dreamed of marrying Emily, and having a steady place to live and a good job. The whole white-picket-fence deal. He said he could picture it in his head, and he talked of elaborate plans of exactly what their home would look like and how many kids they would have and what kind of dog they would get.
He’d filled her head with images of a life together and promised he would love her forever. Promised they wouldn’t drift apart, even though they lived in different towns. And promised that he would find her after graduation.
Except none of his promises came true. That first year, his letters and phone calls dwindled, and by the time she made it back to the cabin the next summer, he’d moved away. His mom had gotten another job and no one was exactly sure where they’d gone.
She’d spent that summer heartbroken and moody, escaping into books and spending more time with her grandmother.
Another year slipped by with no word, and by the time she left for college the next summer, she’d chalked it up as a teenage fling. She’d rationalized that it was just puppy love and they’d been kids and drifted apart, and she’d put any thoughts of Logan out of her mind. Yeah, right.
Well, she’d tried to forget him, tried to forget their time at the cabin and the promises he’d made.
Over the years, she’d moved on, studied, dated other boys, and created a life. Right now, it wasn’t much of a life to brag about, but she was still here. Still getting out of bed every morning and putting one foot in front of the other.
This probably wasn’t the best time to take stock of her life. She was pushing thirty, hated her job, and had just been evicted from her apartment. And now she was mooning over lost love, a teenage dream that had failed to happen. A boy that had broken her heart.
It was hard to believe that over a decade had passed since she’d seen Logan, and yet the memories were so fresh in her mind. She wondered what he would look like now. Would she even recognize him?
She shook her head. It was time to put past fantasies behind her and deal with the realities of the present. Starting now.
A shiver rolled through her as she looked out the window. The snow was falling harder, fat, fluffy flakes of white swirling in the sky. The woodbin was full, and she hoped a fire would help warm the room and chase away some of the memories.
She crumpled newspaper and stuffed it between the logs, then set small pieces of kindling on top and lit them with a match. Grandpa Hank had shown her how to build a fire. He’d shown her so many things: how to fish, how to tell which plants were poison ivy, and how to make pancakes. He’d been one of the good guys.
Grandpa had been the kind of man that gave you faith in marriage and made you believe that good men were out there. He and her grandmother had given her an example of what marriage was supposed to be like, how loyalty and love and respect were supposed to look.
Not like her parents. They were always fighting over something. She tried to stay out of it, keeping her distance and refusing to play the pawn in their latest argument. Even though they lived in the same town, she only saw her mom once every few months, and her dad less than that.
A few months back her mother had invited her for supper. Before they ate, she’d shown Emily her newly remodeled bedroom. The walls were painted pink, and silk flower arrangements and candles vomited up from every surface.
Emily had gaped at the room. “What’s Dad going to think of this?”
“Who cares?” her mother had said. “He left me two months ago. We just signed the divorce papers last week.”
Yeah. That was how her mother had broken the news of their divorce to her daughter, with pink walls and floral print throw pillows. How dysfunctional was that?
No wonder she didn’t have a boyfriend. Between her parents’ terrible example and the trust issues Logan’s betrayal had given her, most of her relationships were doomed from the start.
Hopefully, the good marriage gene skipped a generation and Emily would someday find a man like Grandpa and have a shot at a marriage like he and Nana.
Which brought her back to one of the reasons she was here. She crossed the room, wiping the dust from her jeans. Digging in her tote bag, she pulled out a hammer, a flashlight, and a small crowbar, and headed to her grandparents’ old bedroom.
Emily had spent a lot of time with her grandmother in her final days, and Nana had told her that she’d lost her wedding ring. The last time she’d remembered seeing it was on her nightstand in the bedroom of the cabin.
Earlier that summer, Emily had made a couple of trips up and searched the whole cabin for the ring. She’d looked under every surface and pulled out every drawer. She’d found two buttons, four dollars in change, and an issue of Reader’s Digest from February of 1972. She’d thought she found it once, but it turned out to be a single gold hoop earring.
Frustrated, she’d almost exhausted her ideas. But the last time she’d been up here, she had moved Nana’s bed to sweep, and noticed a good-sized crack in the floorboards by the headboard. Hoping the ring had fallen through the crack, she’d brought up tools this time to check.
Somehow her quest to locate the ring had taken on a deeper meaning, as if finding it would somehow bring her closer to her grandmother or offer her the strength to let go of the cabin.
Kneeling on the floor, she wedged the claw of the hammer into the opening and pulled back. The board came loose with a loud crack, and she fell back, landing hard on her bum. Oh crap!
It was a good thing the inspection had already been done. Sorry, Mr. Corporate Buyer, didn’t mean to rip up part of your floor.
What was she worried about? If Mr. Sunshine Investments was planning on gutting the place, he was probably going to rip out this floor anyway. The cheery corporate name mocked the buyer’s intentions, and anger filled her as she imagined a backhoe knocking down the cabin walls.
She took a deep breath, trying to put thoughts of the evil buyer out of her head and focus on her task.
Leaning forward, she shined the flashlight into the opening on the floor. All she saw was dirt and cobwebs. There was no way she was sticking her hand down there. She took the end of the hammer and pulled it through the dirt, shining the light at the soil.
There! A glint of gold. She scratched at the dirt and unearthed a gold band. Cringing and praying a spider (or worse) didn’t run over her hand, she reached down and plucked the band from the soil.
She’d found it. She couldn’t believe it. Rubbing the dust from the band, she held it up, reading the inscription of her grandparents’ wedding date. The ring was obviously well worn, but the gold still shone bright.
Holding back tears, she slipped the ring on her finger and held her left hand up, envisioning Nana as a young woman on her wedding date getting ready to marry the love of her life. Thoughts of Logan hovered at the edge of her mind, but she pushed them away, her focus instead on imagining what it might have been like for Nana to have been married all those years.
A lone tear escaped, running down her cheek, and her heart ached as she desperately missed her grandparents.
Thump! Thump! Thump!
The sound of loud banging on the front door of the cabin startled her.
Who the heck could that be?
She hadn’t heard a car drive up, and most of the cabins were closed for the winter. Looking around for a weapon, she grabbed the hammer and stepped into the living room.
Forgetting about the ring and her grandparents, she crept to the front door, holding the hammer shakily in front of her.
This time she jumped and let out a tiny squeal of fright. She inched to the window and peered out.
A tall man dressed in ski gear stood at the door. He wore a black cap pulled low over his forehead and a ski mask across his face. Sunglasses covered his eyes.
He held ski poles, and a set of cross-country skis lay haphazardly in the snow where it looked like he’d kicked them off.
The man pulled down his mask, exposing a scruff of dark beard. “Hello! Listen, I’m not lookin’ for trouble, I just lost my dog and wondered if you’d seen it.”
Oh right! The old “can you help me find my puppy?” routine. Did he have a van too? What about some candy? How dumb did he think she was?
And yet. Something about his voice seemed familiar. The way he said “trouble.”
“Can you keep an eye out for him?” the man yelled. “I was cross-country skiing and he took off after a deer. He’s a good dog. He won’t hurt you.”
It couldn’t be! Not after all these years. She’d been thinking about him, surrounding herself with old memories. Her mind was just playing tricks on her.
Don’t even consider opening that door.
“Okay, then. Thanks anyway.” He turned, heading for his skis. Something about the way he moved. Could it be?
Her heart pounded in her chest as she yanked open the door. “Logan?”