Wild Ice(4)

By: Rachelle Vaughn

“Twenty. The property is long and narrow and runs horizontal to the house. There’s a creek straight back that runs along the edge of the property. On a clear day, the peak of Mt. August is visible to the north.” She peered into the distance looking for the mountain.

JD didn’t care about the mountain. As majestic as it was, he’d seen enough of Mt. August in Red Valley to last a lifetime. What interested him were the twenty acres of tranquility around Teal Manor.

His eyes swept over the land and when he looked to the left, he noticed that a small cottage sat nestled in the trees. It was closer to Teal Manor than he would’ve preferred, but it didn’t look like anyone lived there anyway. JD wouldn’t have even noticed it, but one of the windows glinted in the sunlight and caught his eye. Maybe he and Mel could live there instead. It certainly wouldn’t be as daunting as the oversized mansion. “Is the cottage included?”

Joan sighed as if the sale depended on her answer. “No, I’m afraid not. The property line ends right before it on the north side.”

“Does anyone live there?” JD squinted, but it was hard to get a good look at the place with all the trees surrounding it.

“I’m not sure if it’s currently occupied or not. I can find out for you,” she offered eagerly.

“That won’t be necessary.”

They stood in silence for a moment as JD watched flocks of geese fly overhead. Despite the constant quacking, it seemed rather peaceful out here. How could it not be? It was miles away from civilization.

“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.