Maybe she should have stayed home this year. Megan absentmindedly touched her aunt's real Christmas tree and sipped her coffee. Which smelled better, the pine tree or the coffee? The holiday decorations made Aunt Mildred's Southern mansion in Savannah, Georgia, look festive instead of big and empty.
Of course, Christmas always felt empty to her.
Megan gently touched one of the crystal ornaments. It looked out of place next to the homemade ones she and her brother Patrick had added over the years. The last ornament they had made as kids was an irregularly shaped star, inside of it a picture of their family before tragedy had struck.
Megan examined the image of her teenage self critically. Her hair was still the same mouse-brown color, although she rarely put it in the ponytail she used to wear in those carefree days. Her brown eyes were still as prominent as ever, but her twenty-eight-year-old self definitely displayed more cynicism than the girl in the picture.
People often said Megan closely resembled her mother, although she didn’t have the effortless charm her mother had. Even in the picture, her mother seemed absurdly happy and vibrant.
She peered at her father’s image. He looked different, too. He was smiling, something he rarely did now. His arm was draped around Patrick, who peered good naturedly at the camera.
“Who took this picture, Auntie?” Megan took the ornament off the tree and showed it to her aunt.
“Aww honey. I imagine a friend or a neighbor.” She peered at the tiny photograph.
“We look happy, even Dad.” For a moment, Megan considered asking her aunt for the ornament.
Then she decided against it. She had pictures of her mother, but she couldn’t bring herself to display them. It tugged at her heart every time she had walked by the Christmas tree this weekend.
Patrick was noticeably absent today. Her brother was usually big on family traditions, but this year, he had taken his girlfriend Tonya to Greece over Christmas. Their father didn’t bother to come to family functions at all. This left Megan and Aunt Mildred, trying to act as if it was a normal holiday.
“I bet Patrick will marry that girl,” Aunt Mildred said.
Megan looked up, intrigued. Her stout little aunt was not shy in voicing her opinion, but she usually did it in a ladylike and delicate way.
“I’ll take that bet. Tonya seemed nice enough when I met her, but Patrick falls in and out of love easily.”
“I think it's different this time. You don't take just any girl to Athens for the holidays,” Aunt Mildred spoke with authority.
“Maybe not.” They would find out soon enough.
“And what about you?” Aunt Mildred turned her shrewd eyes on her only niece. “What’s going on in your world?”
“I’m planning a big launch at work for a new line of lipstick.”
“Lipstick?” Aunt Mildred frowned. “If I want some lipstick, I'll just get it from the store. Why do they pay you to market it?”
Megan sighed in exasperation. Aunt Mildred would never understand what she did at work.
“This isn't a cheap little lipstick. It's a big brand. People will buy it because we're marketing it and making a big splash about it.”
“If you say so, honey.” Aunt Mildred shook her head. “But you could do more with your life, you know.”
“I want to do more. I want to open up my own advertising agency. I know I’m good at what I do.” This was a topic Megan could get excited about. “I have some contacts in the industry who would follow me if I opened up my own shop. The problem is getting the startup capital.”
“How much money do you need?”
Megan tilted her head and stared into space. She knew exactly how much money she needed, but they had never talked about financial matters before. Aunt Mildred wasn’t the type to talk about vulgar things like money, although she was practically swimming in it. But Aunt Mildred looked at her expectantly. What did Megan have to lose by telling her?
“I need two hundred thousand dollars to get off the ground. That would include an emergency cushion. A third of it goes to setting everything up.” Megan talked faster when she noticed her aunt was waiting for more. “I’ve written up the business plan. I even found the perfect office space. I can see it all in my mind.”
Aunt Mildred smiled. “It sounds like you’ve thought about this a lot.”
“I have. But I don’t have the money, nor am I likely to earn it. And getting a loan is tricky for a business. It would be much easier to qualify for a mortgage.”
Megan emptied her cup and set it on the table, careful to use a coaster. Her aunt was the kindest person in the world, but a stain on her beautiful dining table would bring out the worst in her. Living with her aunt as a teenager had taught her this.
“Megan, is there anything else going on in your life?”
Megan shrugged. Her aunt always bothered her about her social life. While Megan had friends, she had never had a proper boyfriend. But that’s what her aunt expected of her—a steady boyfriend who turned into a fiancé and husband.
“I don't have a boyfriend, Auntie. I'm fine. I'm better off on my own. Work keeps me busy enough.”
“I'm kind of glad the subject came up because I don't want to appear as the meddling relative.”
Megan had to suppress a chuckle. Aunt Mildred knew everyone’s business better than they did. She was the nosiest person Megan had ever known.
“Work isn’t everything in life.”
“It is to me,” Megan said flippantly. She meant it as a joke, a feeble attempt to change the topic away from her love life, but it didn’t work.
“Okay, honey. I’m up for making another bet.”
“You want to bet on Patrick’s relationship?”
“No, let’s leave him out of this. I'll bet you two hundred thousand dollars you can’t find a man by Christmas next year.”
It was a good thing the coffee cup sat safely on the table or she would have dropped it. “What?”
“I'm serious, Megan. I watch you, and I know what you're doing. You're almost thirty years old, and you've never had a proper relationship. You don't want to end up like me, old and alone.” Aunt Mildred’s words were light, but her lips were set in a grim line.
“You had a husband, Auntie. And you have Dad, Patrick, and me...” Megan’s voice trailed off. Even she knew it wasn't enough. Patrick was gallivanting off in Europe with his latest girlfriend. And her father was a workaholic, just like her, and even less likely to visit his sister.
“Patrick will settle down and get married, mark my words. He won't have time to come visit me. And you'll end up alone just like me if you don't do something about it now.” Aunt Mildred sat up straighter. “I have plenty of money, and I want to see you settled.”
“This is crazy,” Megan said as she sat down next to her aunt.
Her aunt had to be joking. Megan’s mind whirled with possibilities all the same. She could have her own business before the year was up. But was it worth getting into a messy relationship for?
“Megan, you need to give love a chance. You have nobody. Do you even have a best friend?”
Megan’s thoughts briefly flittered to Desiree. If anyone was her best friend, it was her. But if she was honest, they didn’t spend a lot of time together.
“You don't even have a pet,” Aunt Mildred said.
Their eyes automatically sought Aunt Mildred’s orange tabby, curled up on the armchair in the corner.
“What if I get a pet by Christmas?”
“Not a pet. You need a partner.” Aunt Mildred sighed exasperatedly. “But you probably can’t make it happen, anyway. I’ll have a higher chance of winning the lottery than you winning a bet like this.”
Aunt Mildred knew how to push her buttons. Megan had never resisted a bet. She didn’t always win—like the time she went to Vegas or the time she raced her roommate to get out of paying utilities. But Megan always gave it her best shot, even when it involved holding a spider—she hated spiders, but she would not let her friend Julia make her look like a scaredy-cat in front of the entire third-grade class.
Aunt Mildred’s bet seemed easy in comparison. If she wanted to, Megan could find a guy by Christmas. Finding a man had never been the problem. Keeping them was the actual issue, because Megan wasn’t interested in getting in too deep. She didn’t want to end up like her father.
“You're on.” Megan grinned.
“But it has to be the real thing. A proper relationship.” Aunt Mildred blushed.
“So, all I have to do is find someone and sleep with them?”
“No.” Aunt Mildred shook her head. “Find a man you love and who loves you back. That's the deal.”
“Who will decide if I've won?”
“Sweetie, if you're in love, I will know.”
Megan looked at her aunt thoughtfully. She was sure she could deceive her aunt on that point. If she showed up at Aunt Mildred’s house draped over a nice, young man, her aunt wouldn’t have any reason to believe she wasn’t head over heels in love.
And she could really use the money. Megan thought about her ad agency, and she wanted to do a little happy dance at her good luck. This would be her year. It almost felt like she was robbing her aunt blindly.
“What have you got to lose?” Aunt Mildred held out a treat for Garfield. The cat eyed her carefully, as if he needed to decide if it was worth getting up for. “You have so much to gain. Someone to talk to when you get home. Someone to call when you need help. Someone who'll be there for you. Someone to love. It's worth it, darlin'.”
“Alright,” Megan said with determination. “I'll do it.”
Aunt Mildred smiled brightly and said, “That's the spirit.”
Megan had to laugh at the absurdity of it all. Her aunt was something else.
It was nice to take a break during the holidays to visit her aunt, but Megan’s workload at Ad Alliance never shrank. Back home in Radfield, Texas, she was knee-deep in one high-stress advertising campaign after another, usually for lipstick, make-up, or perfume. At the beginning of January, every client demanded an in-depth look at their marketing campaigns to ensure profits for the New Year would be higher than for the year before.
Her last afternoon meeting for the day was possibly the worst one. The internal campaign manager for Virelli—her most annoying client—was meeting her for coffee downtown. Parking was sparse, but Megan didn’t mind walking past high-end boutique shops and grand bank buildings when a cappuccino was within her grasp.
The door of the bank building opened, and a man stepped into her path on the sidewalk. She stopped.
Megan couldn’t remember the last time she had seen Alex Whitmore, but there was no mistaking the tall, tanned, athletic guy who stood before her in jeans and a polo shirt. He frowned at the paperwork in his hand.
“Alex? Is that you?” Megan approached him cautiously.
His brow cleared as he recognized her. “Oh wow. Hey, Megan, how are you?”
They hugged—a quick, friendly hug any two acquaintances might share. They had never been close, even though Megan had known Alex for years. Alex was her brother’s best friend, and she usually only ran into him at Patrick’s social gatherings. To see him here, removed from any association with her brother, made her look at him in a different light.
She had always thought Alex was handsome, but at this moment she found him practically swoon-worthy with his dark brown eyes and his enormous biceps—which were more than obvious now she had felt them up close.
“Fine. And you? What are you up to?” She tried to read the paperwork in his hand before he deliberately flipped it upside down. A loan application. And by the look on his face, the bank hadn’t approved it.
“Minor setback. Trying to get some financing.” Alex shrugged. “What are you doing here?”
Megan pointed to the coffee shop behind him. “Meeting a client for coffee.”
“You’re still working for the ad agency?” he asked.
“Yep. Are you still taking city folks on adventure tours?”
“Sure am. Wouldn’t trade it for the world.” He was back to his usual cheerful self. “It was nice seeing you.”
She watched him walk away before she continued to the coffee shop. It was a good thing her client was running late because Alex stayed on her mind.
When Virelli’s campaign manager was finally satisfied two hours later, Megan felt drained. Blowing off her gym trip with Desiree this evening felt tempting.
Just then, her phone rang. It was Desiree, the slave driver. So much for skipping the gym.
Megan sighed. “I’m coming. Just got done with a meeting.”
“Hurry, class starts in ten minutes.” Desiree’s voice sounded chipper as always.
As Megan climbed on a bike next to Desiree a few minutes after the start of class, she regretted her decision to go to the gym. Even though the instructor was just getting warmed up, she was already cheering everyone on with a noise that would have made a great rebel yell. If Desiree hadn’t been smirking at her, Megan would have left.
Desiree looked like she belonged here. She was only five foot four, but every inch of her spoke volumes about the amount of time she spent at the gym. Her physique combined with her blond hair and friendly green eyes made her incredibly attractive, and it was a mystery to Megan why her friend was still single.
Their stationary bikes were near the back of the room. Beside them, a wall of mirrors showed Megan her profile. She wasn’t as toned as Desiree, but she was lean with a few curves in the right places. Today, her hair was in a ponytail, which reminded her of the picture inside the ornament. The ponytail made her look younger and less serious.
Megan averted her eyes and used the opportunity to update Desiree in heated whispers. “My aunt is really serious about this. She called me the other day and asked me how many dates I've been on this year.” Megan wanted to roll her eyes, but she barely had enough energy to talk and work out at the same time. “Anyway, I think I’ll just find someone to marry. It can’t get any more serious than marriage, can it?”
“Do you win the bet for marrying a guy?” Desiree looked at her with curiosity, barely out of breath.
“Technically, I’m supposed to fall in love with someone. But who gets married without falling in love first?”
Desiree frowned. “This sounds like a dumb idea.”
“You’ve heard me complain about work, right?”
“Every time I see you,” Desiree said with an exaggerated sigh.
“It will stop when I win this bet. I’ll have my own business and do what I really want to do.”
“Are you sure it’s worth getting married for?”
“Why not? I’ll get a ton of money. And I’ll get a divorce when all is said and done.” Megan shrugged. “Most marriages end in divorce, anyway.”
She had more to say on the subject, but it was getting harder to talk. Why did the blasted stationary bike only have an uphill setting but never downhill? Desiree would hardly break a sweat with her current settings. In fact, it was quite obvious Desiree was enjoying herself, whereas Megan secretly wished for the class to be over before they even finished the warmup.
“This isn’t the only problem with your idiotic plan, but you realize you don’t have a boyfriend, right? It’s not likely you’ll get a proposal this year, much less have a wedding.”
“Thank you so much for your help,” Megan snarled under her breath.
“Okay, fine. Let’s come up with a better idea. What if you find someone and just pretend it’s the real deal? Maybe split the money with them.”
“Oh. That’s brilliant.” Megan stopped pedaling as she contemplated this idea. Why hadn't she thought of this? Half the bet proceeds would still allow her to get her business off the ground, even though it wouldn’t leave much of a financial buffer. And if it was a business arrangement, she wouldn’t have to worry about keeping a guy interested enough to propose. It was the simplest solution.
“Let's kick this into high gear, ladies. Your pedals are getting dusty back there.” The instructor switched the music to Rachel Platten’s Fight Song, a surefire sign the intensity was about to go through the roof. “You, in the back, keep pedaling! You can do this.”
Megan blushed at being called out openly. Everyone stared at her as she sped up. She would never sign up for spin class again, she decided. Even as her body screamed out for a break, her mind went back to Aunt Mildred's challenge. She turned to Desiree, whose face looked as relaxed as if she was just taking a leisurely walk even though her legs worked overtime.
“Who would I marry?” Megan pondered.
“Who could you ask?”
“I have a co-worker. But it would be awkward,” Megan said.
“Can’t be a co-worker. Maybe a friend. Better yet, someone you're not likely to run into again afterward. I would imagine it would be weird, marrying someone for money and then splitting up.” Desiree increased her resistance with the rest of the course participants. “Who do you know who needs money?”
Who needed money?
Megan immediately thought of Alex. She already knew for a fact he needed money. He was the obvious choice. If she could get him to be her husband for a year and pretend to be in love with her, she would share the wealth with him. Even a hundred thousand dollars was enough to get her started.
Megan's feet slowed as she contemplated this newest idea. It could totally work.
“We're not in cool down mode yet. Come on, keep pedaling.” The instructor's voice was shrill enough to be heard above the music.
Megan hunkered down and put her weight on the pedals as Desiree laughed at her. Spin class was much worse than it seemed. Never again.
“I think I'm going to ask Alex,” Megan told Desiree as they walked to the changing rooms together twenty minutes later. Her knees felt wobbly from the exertion. A hot shower was in order. And a relaxing night on the couch.
“Who’s Alex?” Desiree asked.
“My brother’s best friend. I’ve known him for years.”
“How come you’ve never mentioned him before?” Desiree prodded, “I need more details. What does he look like? What’s he like?”
“He’s hot. Outdoorsy, tanned, and muscular.” Megan’s answer came swift. “He’s also the nicest person I know.”
“Do you like him?”
“Not like that.” An old memory, which she had spent years suppressing, resurfaced. The words left her mouth before Megan even realized she had spoken out loud. “He gave me my first kiss during spin-the-bottle.”
“How sweet.” Desiree was definitely a romantic on the inside.
“I hate thinking about it,” Megan said. Why had she told Desiree about this at all?
“Why? What went wrong? Was he a terrible kisser?” When Megan didn’t answer, Desiree planted herself in front of Megan’s locker. “I’m not going anywhere until you tell me.”
“Fine.” Megan took a deep breath. “I had a huge crush on Alex. I wanted the bottle to land on him. And it did. And we kissed. And it was amazing.”
Desiree looked awestruck.
“And then,” Megan’s voice faltered. “And then Dad called us inside, Patrick and I. Mom was sick. She collapsed in the kitchen…”
“Oh honey, I’m so sorry.”
Megan opened her locker. “Anyway, it’s in the past now.” She pulled out her gym bag and slammed the door.
“Did anything else happen with you and Alex?”
Megan shook her head. “We were just teenagers, Desiree. We never dated. It was just a kiss. I’m sure it meant nothing to him.”
“What made you think of Alex just now? Why marry him of all people?” Desiree asked.
“I ran into him today on my way to the coffee shop, and he had just been rejected for a bank loan.” Megan took a deep breath. “He needs money.”
Desiree whistled. “How convenient. And you’re going to swoop in and offer him the deal of a lifetime?”
“Exactly.” She could feel her confidence returning.
“He might have a girlfriend or a wife.”
“He might, but I’ll find out before I ask him,” Megan said. If Alex was married, Patrick would have told her. But he most likely wasn’t single. She shrugged it off. In that case, she would find someone else. “Besides, it’s not like I’m asking him to be in a real relationship. It's easy money.”
“Well, he has to pretend to be in love with you.” When she saw Megan's hurt face, Desiree hastened to add, “It’s not a big deal, but still, something to think about.”
“It's going to be fine. I'll make him an offer he can't refuse,” Megan said confidently.
Desiree’s comment stung, but she had no intention of getting rejected. Why would anyone care about being fake married for a little while? It wasn’t as if she planned to cheat on her tax return or rob a bank.
“But Megan, how will you propose marriage to Alex without it being awkward between the two of you?”
“It's a business arrangement. It's not a regular proposal. Besides, we’re not that close.”
This was decidedly an advantage. Even if marriage turned them into bitter enemies—quite unlikely considering they were barely friends—it wouldn’t affect them much.
Desiree's incredulous gaze made Megan question her own assumptions. “It's not weird, is it?”
“I think it's weird. I really do.” Desiree shook her head. “Are you just going to show up at his door and propose?”
“Yes. That was my plan.”
Desiree whistled. “Well, I can’t say you’re not brave. Good luck.”
What if Desiree was right? Megan thought about her friend’s attitude toward her plan as she walked up the stairs to Alex's apartment. It wasn’t a big deal to visit a friend to catch up on each other's lives, but it was decidedly weird to ask them to marry you when you hadn't ever spent any significant amount of time together. Her finger pushed the doorbell automatically as she reached the third floor.
When was the last time she had seen Alex before the run-in at the bank this morning? Before she could figure it out, the door opened.
“Megan,” Alex exclaimed in his usual exuberant voice. “What a pleasant surprise.” He gestured for her to come inside.
“It's good to see you again, Alex,” Megan said sincerely.
Alex looked good in jeans and a T-shirt—the casual look had always been his style. He was just as athletic as she remembered him from their teenage years. His face had changed little over the years, although it was tanned and weather-beaten now. His hair was the same dark brown color as his eyes.
“What are you doing here?” he asked.
“Well, since I ran into you this morning, I thought it would be nice to catch up. I haven’t talked to you in a couple of months.”
“The last time I saw you, it was Patrick's birthday,” Alex said without hesitation.
“No way. That was back in May. Surely, we've seen each other since then,” Megan said.
He shook his head. “I would have remembered. So, what have you been up to?”
“Nothing too exciting really,” Megan said. “What about you?”
“Come on. That can't be true. You're always doing something, making deals and launching products.”
Megan smiled. Alex was the kindest person she knew, always seeing the good in everyone, even when there wasn't any. And he remembered things about her, although they rarely talked.
“Alex, I make deals for work because I get paid for it.”
“You should be proud of it.”
She shrugged off the compliment. She knew she was good at her job, but it was difficult to get excited about launching lipstick. She’d rather use her marketing skills to promote more meaningful products and services. But she wasn’t here to talk about her work.
She needed to know more about his personal life. Maybe Desiree was right, and he had a steady girlfriend. If he did, her proposal would never work.
At least, some things didn’t change. For one, he still worked as an adventure tour guide.
If it wasn't for Alex, Megan wouldn't even have known such a thing existed. But adventure tour guides were quite popular, making a living by taking city dwellers on outdoorsy adventures. It could be anything from rock climbing to canoeing or swimming with the sharks. Megan shuddered at the thought of the things Alex did every day and seemed to enjoy. She would never understand his desire to look for trouble outside when she was perfectly fine indoors, as long as she had control of a thermostat and a computer.
“What can I do for you? There must be a reason for you to show up at my door.”
She felt herself blushing. She had a reason, but she had hoped to work it into the conversation organically.
“Couldn't I just visit my friend?”
“You could, but would you?”
“Fine. You got me.” Megan nervously ran her fingers through her hair. “I have a proposal for you.”
Alex crossed his arms and leaned against the counter, never taking his eyes off of her. Why did he have to look at her like that? And how come she found herself checking out his impressive biceps for the second time in one day?
He couldn't know her proposal was an actual proposal. And yet, she almost forgot what she wanted to say under his intense gaze. Megan scanned the room behind him to avoid staring into his eyes. His place was messy and disorganized, not because Alex accumulated a lot of things, but because he didn’t spend enough time inside to care about organizing his belongings.
“First, I have a quick question,” Megan hedged. “Do you have a girlfriend?”
“Why do you need to know?”
“You’ll understand in a minute. Do you have a girlfriend or not?”
His eyebrows rose almost imperceptibly. “Nothing serious.”
Megan recognized evasiveness when she heard it, but she decided on the spot his answer was good enough for her purposes. She took a deep breath. She would just say it. Like ripping off a Band-Aid.
“I want you to marry me.” Megan tilted her head and watched his face, but he hardly reacted.
His eyes narrowed, and he frowned as if trying to solve a complicated math problem. “I don't think I heard you right.”
Megan nodded. “I think you did.”
“You're joking, right?”
“Would it be so terrible?” Megan asked in a mocking tone.
“Ha. How would I know, Megan?”
Was she imagining things or was he playfully going along with her suggestion? Megan got up and started pacing the room, shooting occasional glances at him.
“Look, I know it's weird. But hear me out. Treat it like a business proposal, if you will. My aunt and I made a bet. She said she would pay me two hundred thousand dollars if I was in a genuine relationship by Christmas. She thinks I need a man in my life. It's ridiculous, really.”
Megan stood still for a moment and regarded Alex. He watched her every move but remained silent.
“Anyway. I figure two can play this game. There's no way for her to find out how real my relationships are. And what better way to prove I'm serious than to get married?”
“Let me get this straight.” Alex pushed himself away from the counter and took a step toward her. “You want me to marry you and pretend to be in love with you? And you will pretend to love me to get two hundred thousand dollars from your aunt?”
“Yes.” She smiled brightly at him. “Are you in?”
Megan looked at him in shock. Had he just turned her down?
“But wait,” she blurted. “You wouldn't be doing it for nothing. We'd share the bounty equally.”
“I don't care, Megan. That's not how marriage works.” Alex walked over to the open window and took a deep breath, as if the fresh air could dispel Megan's crude proposal. He turned around and looked at her. “Why don't you ask one of your boyfriends to do it?”
Megan suddenly felt annoyed. It was probably Patrick’s fault Alex knew anything about her past relationships. She may have had a number of boyfriends, but she had never had a long-term relationship. She went out with guys to have a good time, but she rarely cared enough to see them for a second or third date. And no man stuck around for more than a month. She didn't let them.
“I don't want to marry just anyone, and I don’t even have a boyfriend.”
“You've had your pick of them, Meg.”
“I don't like any of them. I need someone I can talk to. Someone I don't want to get rid of in a week.”
He chuckled. “You're really something.”
“Will you do it then?” she asked, suddenly hopeful again.
He absentmindedly stroked his chin. “Why are you really doing this?”
“Wouldn't you? It’s a lot of money.”
He slowly shook his head.
Megan felt a little desperate. Alex was her best shot at winning this bet. There must be something she could do to convince him this was a worthwhile endeavor.
“Okay, here’s the thing. I want to start my own ad agency. I’ve wanted to for years. But it requires startup capital I don’t have. This could be my only chance to make it in this business.” Megan gesticulated wildly with her arms. “I love what I do, and I’m good at it. But I hate working for Ad Alliance. It’s not what I want to do for the rest of my life. I have the know-how and the potential clients. I just need capital.”
She looked at Alex imploringly. Surely, he would not turn her down? She couldn’t tell what he was thinking, but he wasn’t exactly jumping for joy.
Did he really think it would be horrible to be married to her? Why did the idea bother her?
“Let me think about it.” Alex’s deep voice interrupted her thoughts.
She nodded, deflated. It wasn’t quite a “no” but it might turn into one. Maybe she should just leave and forget about it. She walked toward the door when she felt his hand on her shoulder.
She turned and looked up at him.
“Let me sleep on it. We can talk again tomorrow. I’m doing a tour at Lockhart State Park. We can meet there afterward,” Alex said.
She frowned. “Are we going hiking?”
“Yes. Wear comfortable shoes,” he said as his eyes drifted to her three-inch stiletto heels.
“Okay,” she said, her spirits rising. He wouldn't invite her to go hiking just to let her down easy, would he?
There was only one way to find out.