Georgiana Bennet knew for a fact that every successful and happy city was in need of an ice cream shop. She’d done the research and the math, and she’d done them properly, which was the only way she knew to do anything.
Thus, her Bennet’s Creamery, in a prime location next to Amaz’n Steamboat Family Fun Park in Steamboat Springs, Colorado, was a successful cog in the community machinery. It had wide-ranging loyalties as a small business. If only it weren’t in serious danger of becoming boring.
She was far from her beloved ice cream parlor when she parked her car and turned off the navigation system. Gone were the views of snow-capped mountains and her favorite ski run, Heavenly Daze. Instead, she gazed past the narrow condo she’d rented online to the summery blue shimmer of Lake Okoboji, Iowa. The lake looked far too serene to hold the magic that she’d attached to it when she’d been young. But it was her last hope. If the lake didn’t provide a miracle this week, her creamery was history. She couldn’t run it without a sense of taste or smell. She couldn’t run it if she couldn’t distinguish lemon from pineapple or sweet from sour. Fair or not, the lake needed to take this seriously.
Speaking of the lake, Georgiana lifted her sunglasses to peer at the far shore, but dropped them back into place at the glare. What if she damaged her eyesight from harsh UV exposure? She only had three senses left, after all, which meant being overcautious was a luxury beyond her means.
The alarm on her watch chimed, and Georgiana reached for the bag of candy. The idea to try flavored candy to gauge her sense of taste had struck in the early hours of her long drive. What flavor was next? Cinnamon? She scanned her chart. Cinnamon it was. With a practiced hand, she wrote the time and opened the piece of candy. She closed her eyes in concentration as she rolled it around her mouth, feeling it click against her teeth. Her reflex system worked wonderfully, praise be, by producing saliva on cue. Finally, she held the candy still with her tongue and breathed deeply through her nose, but not a nuance of scent settled there.
Opening her eyes, she plucked the candy out and stuck out her tongue to the vanity mirror. Yes, it was the expected red. The package had boasted the hottest of hot cinnamon, guaranteed to make one’s eyes water. Everyone’s, it seemed, except hers.
She closed the mirror and snapped the sun visor back into place. The doctors weren’t sure what would bring her senses back. By process of elimination, she now knew it wouldn’t be cinnamon. Might as well have been fluff for all the flavor it held. The familiar disappointment surged through her. Hour after hour, day after day, month after month it had pitted itself against her optimistic nature. It was winning. She groaned and slowly leaned forward, thumping her forehead against the steering wheel with quiet, efficient, and satisfying thuds.
Someone knocked on her window, and she nearly dropped the wet candy. “Georgiana Bennet?” a man asked through the glass.
He appeared to be in his late twenties. His University of Okoboji t-shirt looked comfortably faded, but his face was creased with concern. Must be her landlord. She hadn’t expected him to be her age. The pain on her forehead was merely an echo of the loss that tormented her, but she pasted on a smile and opened her door.
“Are you Meehow?” She stood, holding out her right hand while dropping the sticky candy behind her with the other. “I’m Georgiana, your renter for the week.”
His gaze shifted from her forehead to her eyes. “It’s Michal.” He took her hand and held it. “You must’ve talked to my grandmother. She uses the old-world pronunciation.”
Georgiana was taken by surprise at the warmth that ran from his hand up her arm. She wondered briefly, as she gazed up at him, which old world he referred to, but decided it must be an Eastern European area. He thoroughly looked the part of a romantic artist.
“How was your drive from Colorado?” he asked.
His eyes were blue, and his hand was big around hers. The heat rolled over her clavicle and down across her chest to her belly. She tugged free and fought the urge to cross her arms.
“Long. I-80 got me halfway through Nebraska, then all those stairstep turns, finally headed north at Sioux City.” With a quick breath, she bent to retrieve her rental agreement from the passenger seat. “Here you are. I’m sure everything’s in order.”
A smile tipped the corners of his lips. “That’s not necessary. I’ve got the electronic copy.” He held up a set of keys on a floatable key ring. “Let me show you around.”
For all that he moved and spoke with leisurely grace, the tour didn’t take long. One bedroom and one bathroom up narrow stairs. The kitchen and living room open on the main floor. Georgiana listened intently to the directions for the appliances and the thermostat although her gaze wandered repeatedly to the large picture window framing the lake.
Michal followed her gaze the tenth time it strayed. He straightened, closing the oven door. “You seem anxious to be out on the water. Wanna see your ride?”
She tried to contain her excitement, really just tried to act her age. Not that twenty-seven was that old in years. But she didn’t think she’d ever been a young person. This quest to relive her first taste of a Gnutty Bar, the origin of her fascination with ice cream, had driven her for days. She was giddy with wide-eyed eagerness as she locked the back door and followed him across the lawn to the lake. The sun was warm and energizing. She wanted to fling out her arms and let her troubles slip off like an unwanted sweater.
“I can’t get over how blue the lake is,” she said.
“It’s a beauty, isn’t it?” He smiled over his shoulder. “It’s a glacier lake. Deepest natural lake in Iowa.”
The narrow dock creaked and rocked under their steps. He stopped at the small fishing boat bobbing gently. She smiled her approval. It looked perfectly quaint and vintage. She was gazing at it with something akin to maternal pride when her watch alarm startled her.
Michal raised his eyebrows. “Is this a bad time?”
“It’s an old alarm. I don’t need it anymore.” She shut it off and glanced longingly at the boat.
Humor lit his gaze. “It looks like you’re ready for these.” He held out the key chain. “The big key works the condo’s front or back door. The small key is for the boat.”
She took the offered key chain but hesitated.
“Climb onboard, and I’ll show you how to run it.” Michal kicked off his flip flops, tossing them into the boat. “Then you can go.”
The use of a boat had been a large part of the appeal of this rental and the sooner she knew how to get around, the quicker she’d begin her real work of trying to save her shop. But it occurred to her that a Gnutty Bar wasn’t all she needed. She glanced across the water to the far side of the lake. For one thing, where was Arnold’s Park from here?
Michal covered his uncertainty with a polite smile when she stayed on the dock.
She cleared her throat. “Could I bother you to take a ride with me?”
He glanced toward the house where the corner of his truck was visible. “Well, I—”
“I promise it won’t take long,” she said. “If you could show me how to get to Arnold’s Park, I’d really appreciate it.”
He blinked. His right hand covered the watch on his left wrist as if he were calculating something. “Okay,” he said slowly. “I could do that.”
Giving him her best smile, she scrambled into the boat and started to sit in the passenger seat, but he gestured to the captain’s chair. The boat rocked as they changed places. He showed her how to clear the gasoline fumes and start the engine, then untied them from the dock and took a seat.
His voice was low and calm as he directed her away from the dock. She glanced over to see if his hands were clenched in a death grip, but he looked relaxed. Once they were on the open water, she gave the little boat the gas. They skimmed over the surface. Michal’s hair blew in the wind, and his arm glistened with spray where it rested on the edge. She thought he looked like livin’-on-lake-time in the flesh.
“You seem to know what you’re doing. Have you driven a boat before?” he asked.
“I’ve driven a lot of snowmobiles. Same concept, right?”
Under his direction, the park grew larger and larger. She could see the Ferris wheel and the vintage roller coaster.
“There’s a no wake zone ahead,” Michal said over the whine of the engine.
It almost hurt to slow down now that they were close, but she pulled back the throttle and idled across the last yards to the dock. She slid into the boat slip without bumping the wood, and Michal’s eyebrows rose. He hopped out and tied them off.
Georgiana didn’t notice. She was lost in the sounds of the park. It looked the same as it had years ago when her parents had brought her here for the week that’d changed her life—when an ice cream bar had changed her life. But the sounds made it all real. Laughter swelled with the slide and swoosh of metal roller coaster wheels. The slap of water against the dock behind her echoed the squeals of children and above it all rose the strains of music. The only things missing were the smells and taste. But that was why she was here after all.
Michal tilted his head and offered his hand to help her from the boat. “Have you been here before?”
“Oh. Yes.” She beamed up at him. “And I want ice cream. My treat.”