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A shiver of excitement went through Marigold Sherwood as she slowed her van to a crawl. After a six-hour trip from Boston, she was finally driving down Main Street in the little town of Hawk's Lake in the Adirondack mountains.
She soaked in the charm of the huge Victorian houses, with their gingerbread trim, emerald-green lawns and picket fences, and felt a stirring ofdare she say?happiness.
During this two-month hiatus from her high-pressure job, she wantedneededto rejuvenate her spirit, relax her body, reinvent herself. Rediscover who Mari Sherwood actually was.
She was hoping that she'd find all those R-words in the place she'd always been happiest: Hawk's Lake, where she'd spent many childhood summers.
Daffodils, hyacinths and tulips waved in the breeze along every spare patch of dirt and lined every path as far as she could see. Bright yellow for-sythia bloomed in every yard, and the lilac bushes were budding.
She longed to be out of her rented van and walking in the sunshine. It had been a long time since the frenetic pace of her life had allowed her the time to take a leisurely stroll in the sun or smell the scent of flowers on the breeze.
Stopping at an intersection, she waited for several girls on bicycles to cross and glanced down to check the address on the map that her assistant, Julie, had printed out for her. The real-estate office should be right about here.
Mari slid into a parking space in front of one of the Victorian houses that lined Main Street. She climbed out of the van and stared at the sign on the lush green lawn that said Brian Hawkins Real Estate. Under his name, in white letters, was CPA, Notary.
Brianwas a member of the celebrated Hawkins family, descendants of the town's founder. They owned the grandest cottage on Hawk's Lake, although she'd dearly loved her own family's sum-merhouse, Sherwood Lodge.
Every June when school let out, she couldn't wait to return to Hawk's Lake and launch into adventures with Melanie, Jack and Brian Hawkins, and every September she hated to go back home to Boston. But around the seventh grade, it was Brian she couldn't wait to see again. He was the one who could make her heart race and her cheeks heat with just a glance.
And it was Brian who broke her heart when she was sixteen.
She paused to study the cream-colored Victorian in front of her. It had once been the home of Pamela's Perfumerya fabulous place for a young girl to visit.
As she climbed the stairs, she was immediately drawn to the gazebo-style, rounded corner of the front porch. She stood in the middle of it and could almost taste the lemonade and sugar cookies that Mrs. Newley, the owner of the perfume store, had served whenever she and Melanie, Brian's younger sister, came to visit. They'd sit at a small table and talk for hours, making up stories of adventure and intrigue, sipping their lemonade and pretending they were sophisticated and grown-up.
Mari paused inside the front door and took a deep breath. Maybe it was just her imagination, but she thought she could catch the scent of all the perfumes, sachets and candles lingering in the air.
An elderly woman looked up from her computer screen. "If it isn't little Marigold Sherwood! Welcome back to Hawk's Lake."
"Mrs. Newley? I was just thinking of you!"
"It's been a long time." Mrs. Newley got up from her desk and walked toward her. "Brian told me to expect you today." She embraced Mari in a warm hug.
"It's good to see you again. Just looking at your house brings back so many wonderful memories."
"So, how have you been, Mari? Are you married? Do you have any children?"
Mari's gaze shot to her left hand, where a marquis-cut diamond had once perched. A pang of disappointment settled in her stomach. "I've been fine. And no, I've never married. And no children."
Mrs. Newley shook her head. "What's wrong with those men in Boston?"
The face of Jason Fox, ex-fiancé and corporate climber, flashed before her, and Mari glanced at her bare ring finger again.
Forget him, she reminded herself.
"What happened to your perfume shop?" Mari asked, changing the subject.
"I wanted to travel moreto visit my children and grandchildrenso I sold the house to Brian Hawkins for his real-estate business. When he saw how difficult it was for me to leave the house in which I'd lived my entire life, he suggested that I stay. Guess you could say that I came with the house." She giggled. "Brian Hawkins has a heart of gold. Always did."
Mari remembered when Brian had gone back over his entire paper route, knocking on doors, because he had an extra paper and was afraid that he'd forgotten someone. Or the time when he'd worked as a cashier at Clancy's Grocery Store, and a little boy was short of money for milk. Brian had tossed his own money into the register. Mari doubted that it was the first or the lasttime he'd covered someone who was short.
Yes, Brian had a heart of gold.
Except when it came to her.
"So you work for Brian, Mrs. Newley?"
"Then, would you happen to have the key to my old cottage? And I must have papers to sign, if Julie, my assistant, hasn't already taken care of that."
Just before she was getting ready to leave Sherwood Enterprises for this vacation, Mari must have signed her name thousands of times per day. It was all a blur.
"I can help you with the key, but Brian has your paperwork. He should be here soon." Mrs. Newley looked at the grandfather clock in the corner. "He had a closing at one of the buildings on Main Street."
"I can't believe that it's been twelve years since I've been here. How is Brian?"
"Well, he's still single. If I were only thirty years younger!" She laughed. "I don't know why he never settled down." She went to a desk, slid open a drawer and began searching through little manila envelopes. "It's in here somewhere. I should have gotten it ready, but I've been so busy."
So Brian had never married.
Mari didn't hear much of what Mrs. Newley said after that. She was reminiscing about the pink plastic diary she used to keepthe one in which she'd doodled colorful hearts with the initials M.S. & B.H. inside.
As Mari waited, she wondered if she'd even recognize Brian, and if he was still as serious as he'd been when they were kids. If that big Stickley desk behind a wall of windows was his, it was perfectly organized, without a stray piece of paper anywhere. It was the exact opposite of her hideously cluttered office and desk in Boston. But neat, tidy and organized was exactly how she remembered him.
Over the years, she'd often thought about their first kiss during her last summer at Hawk's Lake. She was sixteen, and it had been a glorious June day. They were eating blueberries right off the bush. Brian had been telling her how much he missed his mother, who had died earlier in the year, and they both were reminiscing about her delicious pies. When his voice cracked in sadness, she'd put her arms around him. Then he'd kissed her. It was a soft, tentative kiss at first, then increased in pressure until Brian moved away from her, a shocked expression on his face. The touch of his lips had haunted her dreams ever since.
A door creaked open behind her. "I'm back, Mrs. Newley."
Mari jumped, bumping into the man behind her, knocking a beverage out of his hand.
"Oh, I'm sorry." She pulled a pack of tissues from her purse and squatted down to wipe up the spill from the hardwood floor.
Then she looked upright into Brian Hawkins's turquoise eyes.
As she rose to her feet, he towered over her and she saw that he was impeccably dressed in a tan suit that hung perfectly from his frame. His tie matched the color of his eyes, and his hair was just as black and thick as it was when they were kids.
There was still something about himsomething that made her heart race and butterflies flutter in her stomach. He was studying her with such intensity that she felt her cheeks flush.
One thing was certainthe gawky boy had turned into a very masculine and sexy man.
"Loosen up, Brian," she remembered saying many times as she'd mussed his hair, running off as he chased her. "Live a little."
If only she'd taken her own advice.
"Welcome back to Hawk's Lake, Mari." He held out his hand and they shook as if they were business acquaintances instead of old friends. His hand was warm and welcoming, yet she felt herself longing for a hugjust for old-time's sake.
It had nothing to do with a desire to be held in those muscular arms.
"Thanks, Brian. It's been a long time." She couldn't take her eyes off him. "How's your family? Everyone doing well?"
"Pop's retired, but we still can't keep him away from Hawkins's Garage. Melanie remarried and has a new baby, and her son, Kyle, is almost seven now. Jack builds custom stock cars when he's not racing them himself."
She studied him as he spoke. What happened to the glint of restlessness that had always lurked in his eyes? Granted, a lot of years had passed, but she'd still expected a little of the adventurous Brian she remembered. That Brian was ready to take on the world, but now he seemed reservedor maybe he was just content.
"And what about you? How've you been?" Mari asked.
"I run this real-estate office. I also do the books for just about every establishment in town, and I run the business end of Hawkins's Garage and pitch in and do whatever else I'm needed to do in this village."
His voice turned flat, and his eyes lost some of their sparkle. He didn't seem all that happy.
Playing a hunch, Mari said, "As I recall, you wanted to leave Hawk's Lake and move to New York to work in finance. Didn't you ever move?"
Mari knew that Brian would have needed to relocate if he'd wanted a job that suited his dreams. There was nothing in these mountains other than gift shops, marinas and small lodgings and restaurants for tourists. There were simply no Fortune 500 companies in the Adirondack Preserve.
His smile dimmed, and he stuffed his hands into his pockets. Mari now knew for certain that she'd touched on a sore subject.
"For a while. I spent several years at a brokerage firm on Wall Street, but then I was needed here, so I came home."
"Why didn't you ever go back?"
"And leave all this?" he said, gesturing to the beautiful scenery outside. "Like I said, I was needed here."
Mari could hear the sarcasm in his voice.
"Sounds like you've been busy," she said, trying to redeem herself for whatever she'd said to upset him. "I'll bet you're happy that you came back to this fabulous place."
"Fabulous?" He raised an eyebrow. Before she could try to decipher his meaning, he abruptly turned to Mrs. Newley and held out his hand. "Could I have the keys to Sherwood Lodge, please?"
A warmth washed over her like the sun peeking through the clouds. "You still call it that? That's a nice surprise."
"Mari, you know how it is up here.