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Letters to a Secret Lover
She had officially been driving forever. So long that her shoulders were sore, so long that her fingers felt as if they were locked around the wheel and would have to be pried loose if she ever stopped. And she would stop soon, one way or another. The gas needle was dangerously near E. She'd failed to notice that the last time she'd passed through a town, and she'd been sure another would pop up by now.
Like maybe the one she was heading for. Moose Falls, Montana.
Which, it appeared, lay in the complete middle of nowhere.
Thick, tall pine trees lined each side of the narrow, twisting two-lane highway—and they'd been pretty for a while, so warm and green and voluminous. Then it had gotten dark, and now they were closer to scary. Run out of gas here and you are so screwed.
Thank God for the CD player—from which John Mayer kept her awake and humming along—because she hadn't picked up a radio station in a long time. And she didn't even want to think about cell phone reception, or the lack thereof.
She'd stayed calm so far—she'd stayed calm all the way from Chicago, across Iowa and South Dakota and Wyoming and much of Montana. She'd stayed calm and cool and determined. She hadn't been afraid of traveling such a vast distance alone, or of checking into a motel by herself the last two nights. She hadn't even been afraid when she'd driven over long, lonely stretches of road where she'd also known her cell phone would be useless if needed. So even as she glanced vaguely skyward through the windshield and thought, Please, God, let mereach Moose Falls before this car runs out of gas, she decided this was no time to start being scared, either.
Instead, as the strains of "Stop This Train" filled the car, she occupied her thoughts with memories of her Great-Aunt Millie and the letter she'd written to Lindsey last summer. Aunt Millie had lived in Moose Falls for over thirty years, moving there to start a new life after her husband's death back in the seventies. She'd met her beloved John there back in 1957, and though he'd migrated east to be with her, the little town had apparently always stayed special to Aunt Millie. Lindsey now suddenly understood the immense courage making such a big move by herself must have required as Aunt Millie's words played through her mind, where they had become branded.
John and I weren't blessed with children before he passed, and I suppose I ended up treating the old canoe livery on the lake here in Moose Falls like the child I never had. So I admit to loving it a little too much, and maybe that sounds like the babble of a crazy old woman . . . but after John's death, I found my soul here, Lindsey. You visited here once as a little girl—do you remember?
She did. Fondly.
Your mother brought you the summer you were five and you stayed for three wonderful weeks. You loved the place, although I'm sure you were too young to remember.
True, she was thirty-four now and didn't recall it clearly—just pleasant bits and pieces.
I'm getting on in years, Lindsey, and I'd like to leave the old place to you in my will. I could die in peace if I knew you would value it, make it your own, see that it's kept up. I know it's a world away from your busy life in the city, but maybe that's the beauty of it? Perhaps you could use a place to escape every now and then? Think about it and let me know.
Lindsey had thought about it—for about five seconds—and kindly turned her great-aunt down. After all, her and canoes? Could there be a wackier combination? She didn't think so, and certainly Garrett was not a back-to-nature sort of guy—in fact, he'd pooh-poohed the idea practically before she'd gotten it out of her mouth. So the whole thing had seemed like a rather ridiculous notion.
And maybe it was still a ridiculous notion, but when a photo of her and her apron and a dessert-covered Garrett had promptly shown up on the Internet and in Chi-Town Beat, when for the first time in her life she did suddenly feel the need to escape . . . for some reason she'd thought of Moose Falls and the vague but peaceful images stuck in her head from that long-ago trip.
Of course, Aunt Millie's letter had been stuck in her head, too. Sure, it had seemed easy to dismiss her as being dotty and unrealistic—had she really thought Lindsey would come to Montana to rent out canoes?—but when Aunt Millie had passed away less than six months later, Lindsey had been forced to suffer the sobering knowledge that she'd let the woman die without fulfilling her last wish.
Heck, it probably would have been kinder to just take the livery, let Aunt Millie pass on, and then sell it. But she hadn't even done that—she'd simply sent back a letter explaining she wasn't really a canoe kind of girl and suggesting Aunt Millie find someone else.
Aunt Millie's body had been shipped back to Illinois for burial next to John, and as she'd been laid to rest beside him a few months ago on a blustery January day, a hard pit of guilt had settled in Lindsey's stomach. Lindsey's parents had been deeply disappointed in her reaction to Aunt Millie's gift—in truth, far more disappointed than they'd seemed at having their daughter plastered all over the Internet wearing only an apron. And they'd fully supported her decision a few days back to toss some clothes in a suitcase and set out by car to Montana.
None of which quite made sense to her, now that she thought about it. What sane parents wanted their daughter driving fifteen hundred miles alone across a desolate prairie? Even Lisa, her older, married, elementary-school-teaching sister, had thought it was a good idea. Despite the loving support they'd all shown, Lindsey could only conclude that her family was in as much shock over the whole debacle as she was and thought it would be good to get her out of the Chicago limelight for a while.Letters to a Secret Lover. Copyright © by Toni Blake. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.