“I chose the path less traveled, but only because I was lost. Carry a map.” Phoebe Traeger
Maddie drove the narrow, curvy highway with her past still nipping at her heels after fourteen hundred miles. Not even her dependable Honda had been able to outrun her demons.
Or her own failings.
Good thing then that she was done with failing. Please, be done with failing, she thought.
“Come on, listeners,” the disk jockey said jovially on the radio. “Call in with your Christmas hopes and dreams. We’ll be picking a random winner and making a wish come true.”
“You’re kidding me.” Maddie briefly took her eyes off the mountainous road and flicked a glance at the dash. “It’s one day after Thanksgiving. It’s not time for Christmas.”
“Any wish,” the DJ said. “Name it, and it could be yours.”
As if. But she let out a breath and tried for whimsy. Once upon a time, she’d been good at such things. “Fine. I’ll wish for …” What? That she could’ve had a do-over with her mother before Phoebe Traeger had gone to the ultimate Grateful Dead concert in the sky? That Maddie had dumped her ex before he’d dumped her? That her boss — may he choke on his leftover turkey — had waited until after year-end bonuses to fire her?
“The lines are lit up,” the DJ announced. “Best of luck to all of you out there waiting.”
Hey, maybe that’s what she’d wish for — luck. She’d wish for better luck than she’d had: with family, with a job, with men—
Well, maybe not men. Men, she was giving up entirely. Pausing from that thought, she squinted through the fog to read the first road sign she’d seen in awhile.
Welcome to Lucky Harbor!
Home to 2,100 lucky people
And 10,100 shellfish.
About time. Exercising muscles she hadn’t utilized in too long, she smiled, and in celebration of arriving at her designated destination, she dug into the bag of salt and vinegar potato chips at her side. Chips cured just about everything, from the I-lost-my-job blues to the my-boyfriend-was-a-jerk regrets to the tentatively hopeful celebration of a new beginning.
“A new beginning done right,” she said out loud, because everyone knew that saying it out loud made it true. “You hear that, Karma?” She glanced upward through her slightly leaky sunroof into a dark sky, storm clouds tumbling together like a dryer of gray wool blankets. “This time, I’m going to be strong.” Like Katharine Hepburn. Like Ingrid Bergman. “So go torture someone else and leave me alone.”
A bolt of lightning blinded her, followed by a boom of thunder that nearly had her jerking out of her skin. “Okay, so I meant pretty please leave me alone.”
The highway in front of her wound its way alongside a cliff on her right. Far below the road on her left, the Pacific Ocean pitched and rolled, fog lingering in long, silvery fingers on the frothy water.
Gorgeous, all of it, but what registered more than anything was the silence. No horns blaring while jockeying for position in the clogged fast lane, no tension-filled offices where producers and directors shouted at each other. No ex-boyfriends who yelled to release steam. Or worse.
No anger at all, in fact.
Just the sound of the radio and her own breathing. Delicious, glorious silence.
As unbelievable as it seemed, she’d never driven through the mountains before. She was only here now because, shockingly, her mother’s will had listed property in Washington State. More shockingly, Maddie had been left one third of that property, a place called Lucky Harbor Resort.
Raised by her set-designer dad in Los Angeles, Maddie hadn’t seen her mother but a handful of times since he’d taken custody of her at age five, so the will had been a huge surprise. Her dad had been just as shocked as she, and so had her two half-sisters, Tara and Chloe. Since there hadn’t been a memorial service — Phoebe had specifically not wanted one — the three sisters had agreed to meet at the resort.
It would be the first time they’d seen each other in five years.
Defying probability, the road narrowed yet again. Maddie steered into the sharp left curve, and then immediately whipped the wheel the other way for the unexpected right. A sign warned her to keep a look out for river otters, osprey – what the heck were osprey? – and bald eagles. Autumn had come extremely late this year for the entire west coast, and the fallen leaves were strewn across the roads like gold coins. It was beautiful and taking it all in might have caused her to slide a little bit into the next hairpin, where she– oh crap—
Barely missed a guy on a motorcycle.
“Oh my God.” Heart in her throat, she craned her neck, watching as the bike ran off the road and skidded to a stop. With a horrified grimace, she started to drive past, then hesitated.
Hurrying past a cringe-worthy moment, hoping to avoid a scene, was the old Maddie. “Dammit.” The new Maddie stopped the car, though she did allow herself a beat to draw a quick, shuddery breath. What was she supposed to say — Sorry I almost killed you, here’s my license, insurance and last twenty-seven dollars? No, that was too pathetic. Motorcycles are death machines, you idiot, you nearly got yourself killed! Hmm, probably a tad too defensive. Which meant that a simple, heartfelt apology would have to do.
Bolstering her courage, she got out of the car clutching her Blackberry, ready to call 9-1-1 if it got ugly. Shivering in the unexpectedly damp ocean air, she moved toward him, her arms wrapped around herself as she faced the music.
Please don’t be a raging asshole …
He was still straddling the motorcycle, one long leg stretched out, balancing on a battered work boot, and if he was pissed, she couldn’t tell yet past his reflective sunglasses. He was leanly muscled and broad shouldered and his jeans and leather jacket were made for a hard body just like his. It was a safe bet that he hadn’t just inhaled an entire bag of salt and vinegar chips. “Are you okay?” she asked, annoyed that she sounded breathless and nervous.
Pulling off his helmet, he revealed wavy, dark brown hair and a day’s worth of stubble on a strong jaw. “I’m good. You?” His voice was low and calm, his hair whipping around in the wind.
Irritated, most definitely. But not pissed.
Relieved, she dragged in some air. “I’m fine, but I’m not the one who nearly got run off the road by the crazy L.A. driver. I’m sorry, I was driving too fast.”
“You probably shouldn’t admit that.”
True. But she was thrown by his gravelly voice, by the fact that he was big, and for all she knew, bad to boot, and that she was alone with him on a deserted, foggy highway.
It had all the makings of a horror flick.
“Are you lost?” he asked.
Was she? Probably she was a little lost mentally, and quite possibly emotionally as well. Not that she’d admit either. “I’m heading to Lucky Harbor Resort.”
He pushed his sunglasses to the top of his head, and be still her heart, he had eyes the exact color of the caramel in the candy bar she’d consumed for lunch. “Lucky Harbor Resort,” he repeated.
“Yes.” But before she could ask why he was baffled about that, his gaze dipped down, and he took in her favorite long-sleeved tee. Reaching out, he picked something off her sleeve.
Half a chip.
He took another off her collarbone, and she broke out in goose bumps — and not the scared kind.
“Salt and vinegar,” she said, and shook off the crumbs. She’d muster up some mortification — but she’d used up her entire quota when she’d nearly flattened him like a pancake. Not that she cared what he — or any man, for that matter — thought. Because she’d given up men.
Even tall, built, really good-looking, tousled-haired guys with gravely voices and piercing eyes.
What she needed now was an exit plan. So she put her phone to her ear, pretending it was vibrating. “Hello,” she said to no one. “Yes, I’ll be right there.” She smiled, like look at me, so busy, I really have to go, and turning away, she lifted a hand in a wave, still talking into the phone to avoid an awkward good-bye, except–
Her phone rang. And not the pretend kind. Risking a peek at Hot Biker Guy over her shoulder, she found him brows up, looking amused.
“I think you have a real call,” he said, something new in his voice. Possibly more humor, but most likely sheer disbelief that he’d nearly been killed by a socially handicapped LA chick.