Love was in the air as spring announced the impending, jubilant arrival of summer, with melting snow cascading down the mountainside, creating trickles in some places and streams in others. Wildflowers were springing up where the warm sun kissed the ground, while birds, returning from their winter flight south, heralded their arrival home with triumphant chirping.
Megan McCormick was somewhat engrossed in a couple strolling hand-in-hand just ahead of her as she munched on an icing-filled chocolate chip cookie. The cookie was her favorite, fresh from the bakery down the street. But even more than a cookie connoisseur, Megan was an avid people-watcher, and this couple intrigued her. Caught up in each other, they were oblivious to observance.
The young couple must have been affected by the springtime bounty of love, for they stopped every several feet to touch, to whisper or to simply smile into one another’s eyes.
Megan gazed at them wistfully. Though the tender scene was one stories were made of, it aroused unwanted memories and caused her heart to ache. She had been in love—once. She had been a complete fool. A blind fool. One who should have known better.
Stop it. She regained control of her tortured thoughts. You have rehashed this so many times. She was wiser now and would never be taken advantage of again. Men simply were not to be trusted, and romance was just a story. Trumped-up love for novels that were sold to dreamers who walked around with their heads in the clouds. As for Megan, her feet were now planted firmly on the ground. She held little hope—or desire— of ever being knocked over by a dashing prince on a white steed.
Womp! Megan’s bottom hit the pavement. Her packages went sailing. Arms flailed desperately as she tried to catch herself. Her packages scattered everywhere.
A rather large pair of hiking boots was planted beneath the contents of some of those purchases.
Megan’s gaze trailed upward, past the long length of a masculine frame and the very broad shoulders, until she was staring into the most incredible, concern- filled, gray eyes she’d ever seen.
‚Are you all right?‛ a deep voice asked.
Everything except her pride.
‚I think so,‛ she mumbled as heat rose to her
‚Are you hurt?‛
Certainly! However, she refused to tell him where. Instead, Megan shook her head.
‚Here. Let me help you up.‛ Two strong arms hoisted her to her feet.
Flushing, Megan peered into eyes that were now twinkling with amusement. Was he laughing at her? Jaw tilting and back stiffening, Megan huffed. ‚It is not funny; you really should watch where you’re walking.‛ How dare he laugh at her?
"You are absolutely right. I beg your pardon.‛ He sounded sincere enough, but why was he wearing that ridiculous grin?
Resisting the urge to rub her aching bottom, Megan self-consciously ran her fingers across her hair which, except for a few escaping tendrils, was still in a tidy bun. Her sunglasses had slipped down her nose, so she pushed them back up.
"Um, you have icing smeared above your lip and uh<chocolate on your teeth." The brick wall cleared his throat. He was trying not to laugh.
She was wearing that fresh, chocolate chip, icing- filled cookie. Megan looked around for something to wipe her face.
"Here." The brick wall extracted a clean, neatly folded bandana from his pocket. He handed it to her without even a twitch of the lips or a twinkle in the eye.
"Thank you,‛ Megan muttered, as she wiped her mouth.
"Um," He pointed to the left side of his mouth. As she did so, he rubbed his nose. And She rubbed her nose, and then lifted her well-arched eyebrows at him.
"I believe that’s it."
Thank goodness! Megan began dusting crumbs from her shirt.
"Oh." She groaned. Scattered packages littered the sidewalk. Why had she chosen to purchase lingerie today?
Wall-with-legs bent over, at the exact moment she did, to help retrieve her stray packages.
"Excuse me." He winced.
"Sorry," she muttered, rubbing her forehead. Well, this was like a slapstick comedy and a cliché one, at that.
Megan held up her hand. "I’ll get them, thanks."
He walked to the torn bag of dog food, lifted it, and came back to her with the bag balanced effortlessly on a broad shoulder.
"I’ll take that." She shifted the packages. "Really, I can handle it," she assured him, looping bags on her arm.
He, however, didn’t seem very convinced.
'The least I can do is carry it to your car. We don’t want you having any more mishaps.‛ He was grinning again.
As much as Megan did not want his help, it appeared she needed it. She knew when to concede. Sometimes.
If he was a lunatic bent on doing her harm, he’d already had ample time. More than likely, he was a tourist, because she didn’t recall bumping into him before. She rolled her eyes.
He was probably vacationing with his wife and kids who were either shopping or waiting for him in one of the popular mountain cabins or chalets. Megan walked a few paces ahead, which was no easy task considering one of his strides equaled two of hers.
"What breed?" his voice filled the space. "I beg your pardon?"
"What breed of dog do you have?"
"Oh. A Great Dane," she answered. "Big dog. What’s his name?"
"What-is-his-name?" He repeated himself slowly, spacing his words out.
"Sir," she answered again.
"What-is-his-name?" The voice behind her not only slowed but also became louder.
Megan stopped and was nearly bowled over again as he collided into her. She whirled around to find she was only able to speak into his chest, which lost some emphasis. She backed away, looked up, and repeated his actions, slowing her words and talking loudly. "His-name-is-Sir."
He laughed. "Sir?"
"What else would you call a dog his size?" She raised her brows.
"Good point," he admitted, flashing straight white teeth. Much to her chagrin, her heart skipped a beat. Whoa there, girl. You are much too level-headed to be swayed by a handsome face and a great smile. You’ve sworn off men. Especially married ones.
After unloading the dog food into the back of her SUV, he extended his hand. "I’m Lee Grainger. I do apologize for getting in your way, and hope you’ll not suffer any bruises."
Ashamed of herself for blaming him, she extended her hand with a humble grin. "I’m Megan."
His large hand completely swallowed her smaller one. Lee Grainger gently turned her hand over in his palm, revealing mild abrasions mixed with a small amount of gravel.
"You’re hurt. We need to get these cleaned up."
She shook her head. "No, I’m fine really. I should have been watching where I was going. I’ve learned a lesson about trying to carry too much while eating a cookie. Anyway, I appreciate your help." She climbed behind the wheel of her vehicle. "I promise to tend to these cuts as soon as I get home."
"I’m supposed to be in Laurel Ridge a little while; perhaps we’ll run into each other again sometime," Lee said, eyes crinkling with mischief.
Smiling at his play on words, Megan waved as she pulled off. When she glanced in her rearview mirror, he was staring after her. A man with a sense of humor. A rare trait these days.
Later that evening, Megan sat on an antique leather sofa wrapped in a well-worn afghan, a gift from her grandmother. Sir’s large tan head rested contentedly in her lap, as she sipped hot cocoa, and stared into the fire blazing in the stone fireplace.
Megan had abandoned work at the computer. She was having great difficulty concentrating. She had a deadline for her latest copywriting project, but she just couldn’t focus. After two hours, she gave a sigh of resignation and opted for a cup of cocoa instead.
"Sir, I think that fall earlier today rattled my brain." At the sound of his name, the animal looked up with understanding brown eyes.
She stroked his head gently; Sir listened with his usual attentiveness.
"I know I swore off men, but what‘s the chance of meeting someone who will love me? Someone who enjoys the same things I do, solitude, quiet walks, and peaceful nights spent by the fireplace. I’ll tell you what the chances are, Sir—they’re slim. I’d certainly need to have help from someone else." Megan looked heavenward.
Sir’s head turned, his ears perked.
"Why?" Megan responded to Sir’s unvoiced question. "Because the person I’d be interested in is probably enjoying the solitude of a cabin right now, in front of a fire with his golden retriever."
Her gaze roamed around her home. She admired the openness of the rustic design, which included an ample kitchen and dining area. She loved the oak cabinets with plenty of counter space and a breakfast bar. The floor plan also boasted a great room, which was where she was now seated. Along one wall of the living space was a massive stone fireplace bordered on each side by floor-to-ceiling windows. The rear wall held French doors leading out to a wrap-around porch, which offered a breathtaking view of the surrounding mountains and the valley below.
The first floor was completed by a small bedroom and bathroom. The second story held a loft area where Megan’s desk was set up, although more times than not she worked at the table on the main floor. Just beyond the loft was a large master bedroom with a fireplace and a bathroom of its own.
Her perusal lingered on the oak floors she had stripped and refinished. It had been a backbreaking task that seemed to take forever, but she had been so proud when the job was finally completed.
Megan purchased the log cabin on a whim, as a twenty-fifth birthday present to herself. She had happened upon the place accidentally while visiting Cindy, an old high school girlfriend. She had come up for a couple of weeks in the summer and fallen completely in love with the area as well as the cabin. After some careful consideration, she decided the cabin would be a wise investment. Not only would it provide her a regular vacation spot so she wouldn’t always have to stay with Cindy and her husband, but she could also use it as rental property for the many tourists who frequented the Smoky Mountains. Because it was less than a half-day’s drive from Atlanta, she could also use it for weekend getaways.
However, shortly after the purchase, she’d left the city and life she had known. She moved into the two- bedroom cabin, nestled on the side of the mountain, and had one of the most incredible views in all of Laurel Ridge, the fulfillment of all her secret longings.
Sir whined, jumped up, and went to the front door.
"OK, OK." Megan said, getting up to retrieve his leash. "But, you’ve got to make it quick; it’s chilly tonight."
Sir wagged his tail, his cropped ears perking up.
He was the first dog she had ever owned. He, too, was purchased on a whim, within two weeks of her moving into the cabin. She had no regrets about either choice. Determined to change her circumstances, she had decided to stop dreaming about things she longed to do and actually do them. Megan made a fresh start eighteen months earlier and she refused to look back.
"Come on, boy," she said to her large, loyal roommate when she had the leash secured on Sir’s collar and the door open. "How about that walk?"
The dog’s excited response nearly yanked her off the front porch. Sir bounded down the steps on a mission.
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