He wipes at an imaginary spot on the bar, his brows knitted together. “Yeah. She was.”

“Ethan must have been madly in love with her. She left a hole.”

He squeezes the back of his neck. “They were high school sweethearts. She was the love of his life, and he would have done anything for her.”

I think of the contradictory notes I saw in the book by his bed, then about the note I found inside the novel. I push the thoughts away. Their marriage isn’t for me to analyze or understand. Relationships are complicated. I, of all people, know that. “I imagine she felt the same about him.”

“Maybe once.” He says the words so softly that I’m not sure he intended to let them out. He shakes his head, then his whole body—as if ghosts are holding him in the past and he has to break free. “Don’t tell Ethan we had this conversation, okay? He doesn’t like anyone talking about her unless it’s the good memories.” He forces a smile. “You know, for Lilly.”

“Right. Of course. I’m sorry if I overstepped by asking. I just . . .” Sometimes it’s like she never existed, and other times it’s as if he expects her back at any moment. “I’m sorry.”

“You didn’t,” Jake says. “Anyone in your position would be curious. He just doesn’t want to let himself move on.”

I nod, my heart twisting for Ethan. It aches for Lilly too, but she speaks about her mother in such vague terms that I don’t think she remembers her much anymore. Although I’m sure those first months without her mother were tough, Ethan’s the one who’s still grieving. Lilly’s grief will come later, in the moments when a girl is supposed to have a mother and she finds herself without. When she has questions about her body or is getting ready for prom. When she’s choosing a major or thinks she might be pregnant. When she’s planning a wedding . . .

Those were the tough moments for me, and my mom’s still alive. Or at least I think she is. I give myself a little shake, much like Jake just did. Everyone has ghosts that pull them down sometimes. “Thanks for telling me. I promise I won’t say anything.”

“Are you coming to Thanksgiving?” He surveys my empty plate. Grinning Jake is back now, as if the specter of his sister-in-law was swept from the room. “Because I’m doing a lot of the cooking, and it’s fun cooking for people who enjoy it.”

“I don’t know.” I sigh heavily. “Lilly really wants me to, but I think I’d feel like I was intruding.”

“It’s our family cabin,” Jake explains. “We stay there every holiday—well, as many of us as we can manage. Ethan is on call a lot of holidays, but he got Thanksgiving off so he’ll be there all weekend, and I think everyone else will be too.”

“Maybe I’ll just drive up for dinner and then back to Ethan’s Thursday night.” I finish my water and reach for my wallet. “What do I owe you?”

“Nothing. Family members eat free.”

I laugh. “I’m not family, Jake.”

“You take care of my Lilly. That’s family enough for me.”

I thank him—I’ve probably given Veronica’s credit card enough of a workout this week anyway—and then head out in the direction he indicated.

This town is adorable. Jackson Brews is in the middle of an area filled with bars and restaurants, including the coffee shop and chocolatier, Ooh La La!, where I first met Kathleen.

I head toward the beach, admiring the finely trimmed houses and imagining what they’ll look like decorated for Christmas. When I turn onto Lakeshore Drive, the wind off the water nips at my skin, and I have to loop my scarf around my neck. There’s a pier and a lighthouse in the distance. Another day, when I have more time, I’ll walk out there and investigate. I’ve always loved lighthouses. They’re beautiful, but I’m also drawn to the idea of them—the metaphor of a constant light in the darkness helping you find your way home.

I’m standing there, staring at the lighthouse, when—like a visit from some magical fairy—it starts to snow.

My fingers are frozen and my cheeks go numb, but I close my eyes and let the magic of snowfall wash over me. This little town is stealing my heart with every detail.

The problem is, so is Ethan.

Ethan

My Thursday started with a patient in pre-term labor at three a.m., and I didn’t get a chance to slow down all day. My rounds at the hospital were followed by a day of office visits and my twice-weekly volunteer shift at the local clinic for expectant moms who can’t afford prenatal care.

I’m exhausted and anxious for this time next week, when Dr. Henderson will take calls and I’ll enjoy a short vacation. When I first finished my residency after medical school, I couldn’t wait to have my own practice, but Elena and I quickly found that constantly being on call with only the very rare day off was too hard on our marriage. So, I joined a bigger practice. There are definitely downsides, but I think I’d be burned out if I hadn’t made that change. I definitely get more time with Lilly this way.


Tags: Lexi Ryan Erotic
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