Wild Ice

By: Rachelle Vaughn

“Well, Mr. Mason,” Joan prompted. “What do you think of the property?”

JD crossed his arms over his chest and went for the metaphoric jugular. “Why has it been sitting on the market for so long?” He knew it would be the toughest question for her to answer. After all, Joan was here to talk up the house, not to point out its flaws.

“The remote location is probably the main reason,” she replied thoughtfully. “The idea of being so far from town doesn’t appeal to all buyers. I just don’t think the right person has come along yet.” She looked at him hopefully.

JD eyed her with a scrutinizing scowl. Any other time, he might have been nicer to her. She wasn’t bad looking and he couldn’t rightly fault her for trying to make a hefty commission from the sale. It was just that too much had happened to him this past year and his tolerance for niceties was at an all-time low.

“How much is it listed for again?” he asked, not really caring what the answer was. Anything to distract her from any further romantic intentions.

“One point four million. But as you know, the house has been on the market for quite a while. I’m sure I could negotiate a lower price,” she added in a rush.

“Offer them the listing price.” He wasn’t in the mood to haggle, and the stench of her perfume was starting to give him a headache.

The look on Joan’s face was priceless and definitely worth making the long drive from Red Valley for.

* * *

JD paid cash for Teal Manor, and after a quick escrow, he moved in. Even after closing the deal, Joan McKinnon had made an excuse to see JD again by dropping off extra copies of the closing paperwork “for his records.” JD made it crystal clear he wasn’t looking for a relationship and didn’t see her or her wobbly stilettos again.

Mel seemed to like the new house well enough. After a thorough sniff through the place, he settled with a contented sigh into his dog bed by the fireplace in the living room. Even though they were in a new house, Mel knew the routine. He knew there wouldn’t be any hikes along the creek or sticks thrown in the field or walks along the dirt road. Last year, they had both accepted the fact that things had changed permanently.

JD brought very few belongings to Teal Manor and unpacking didn’t take long. He stowed his hockey gear in the four-car garage, hung his clothes in the massive walk-in closet, and put his toiletries in the medicine cabinet.

There was only one box he wouldn’t unpack. Instead, he shoved it toward the back of the closet out of sight and shut the door. He didn’t know why he’d brought it with him, but what the hell else was he supposed to do with it?

Downstairs, when he was finished unpacking his DVDs, JD looked around the living room and his eyes settled on the overstuffed recliner in the corner. It looked like a good place to wither away and die.

Chapter Two

Cora’s Cottage

Six months later

Lauren Bennett’s car bumped along the dirt road toward the Red Valley National Wildlife Refuge. The desolate road was lined with popcorn flowers, yellow star-thistle weeds, and sagging wire fencing. She’d been driving for three hours, but it felt more like five. The drive was longer than she remembered, but in her defense it had been six years since she’d made the trip to Hayley’s Point. Lauren had been away for too long.

The further north she drove, the more the sounds of the noisy interstate faded away. To the average person, Red Marsh Road looked like an ordinary road off the freeway with nothing special to offer besides a way to reach point B from A. But Lauren knew it was much more than that. It was the path to a magical place where inspiration was found, dreams were stoked, and birds sought refuge.

She felt different now compared to the last time she’d driven down this long and dusty road. She’d found love, graduated from college at the top of her class, had her heart broken, and she’d grown as a person and thrived, despite the natural inclination to become bitter and denounce love altogether. A lot had changed in her life, but her dream of studying birds in their natural habitat remained as steadfast as ever.

Arriving in Hayley’s Point was a bittersweet moment. Lauren was excited to see the cottage again, but her happiness was overshadowed by the fact that her aunt wouldn’t be there. Poor Aunt Cora had passed away, leaving the cottage to Lauren in her will. Lauren wasn’t expecting to inherit anything from Cora Colwater, so when estate attorney, Bernard Templeton, contacted her, she was just as surprised as everyone else in her family who didn’t inherit anything from Cora.

Although Aunt Cora never mentioned him before, Bernard Templeton must have been a friend of hers because otherwise Lauren couldn’t imagine leaving important documents in his care. Mr. Templeton was frazzled and disorganized to say the least.

After arriving at his office, Lauren had waited patiently for what seemed like an eternity while he dug through the mountain on his desk looking for Cora’s file. Paperwork was by no means her specialty, but Lauren knew there had to be a better way than whatever “system” Mr. Templeton was currently using. He was so flustered that Lauren had to fight back the urge to straighten his desk and help him find what he was searching for. Instead, she sat back, clasped her hands in her lap, and waited until he found the file so he could read her Aunt Cora’s last will and testament.