Neither Steve nor Brandon look crushed when you thank them for the kind invitation, but say you already have plans.

“Let me guess? You’re staying in with wine and a book?” Brandon says with a grin.

It’s a little uncanny how quickly he reads you.

“A lady never tells,” you quip back—and make a mental note to tell Lucy that you actually managed to come up with a witty response in a timely manner, not hours after it was needed.

The next day you take your rental jeep out and spend hours exploring various gravel roads, with a map from Jo that highlights pretty spots and keeps you from getting lost. Your favorite discovery is an isolated lake, reportedly called “the glory hole” and you understand why entirely: it’s a deep blue bowl with walls of luscious green pines and distant mountains.

The best part is that there’s absolutely no one around. You feel like a kid as you strip down to your undies and bra and jump off the dock again and again. Finally, utterly exhausted but somehow simultaneously more relaxed than you’ve been in months, or even years, you climb out of the water one last time. You lay like a cat in the sun until dry, then head back to River’s Sigh.

On the way, you stop at a little old-fashioned “general” store, where you buy a big bottle of cheap wine, a chocolate bar spiced with chili, three kinds of cheese because you couldn’t pick just one, and some locally grown, crazily fragrant strawberries. You’re so excited for your date night, you can hardly bear it. (And this is something you vow not to confess to Lucy—that you had an opportunity to go out with two different cute guys and opted for your cabin alone with a book instead.)

Your cheeks hurt from smiling so much, which seems a little weird, seeing as you’ve been alone all day, but what can you say? You obviously really, really needed this holiday—more than you even knew.

It’s still sunny and warm when you arrive back at Rainbow cabin, so you decide to go on an impromptu book-picnic. You grab your eReader from your bedside table and stuff it, a knife, a plate, and a wine glass into a basket you found in the kitchen, then add the goodies you purchased earlier.

As you step out onto the porch, a light breeze tinkles through the sparkling glass wind chime. Your heart squeezes a little. It really is a magical place.

You walk along one of the paths you noticed earlier, following the chuckling burble of moving water as it gets louder—and are rewarded when the trail ends at a pretty creek. You step through an archway of leafy green trees and find a sandy area of ground with a large smooth rock to lean back against. Perfection!

Saving your munchies for later, you’re well into your first glass of wine and so engrossed in your book that you almost don’t hear it at first. A grunt. Then an unmistakable sigh. Your whole body tenses. There are bears around here—

You strain your ears, listening hard. You hear . . . what? A papery, whispery sound—wait a minute! As a fairly recent convert to eBooks, you’d know that noise anywhere! It’s the sound of someone turning pages in a paper book—and super close, obviously, as it’s not the loudest sound in the world.

“Hello?” you call tentatively. “Is there someone there?”

The surprised growl of a response—“What the—” is unquestionably human. And male. You don’t know if you’re relieved exactly. A face appears from around a big tree, practically right beside you. Then a tall, lanky body in jeans and a worn-looking but clean white cotton shirt with a mandarin collar.  You’re surprised again—but this time by an unexpected thrill of attraction. What is with you?

“I’m sorry, I thought I was alone here.” The furrow in the man’s brow suggests confusion rather than grouchiness. You like his slightly unkempt hair—honey brown waves almost to his shoulders, like he’s a wild forest poet or something.

“Are you all right?” The man’s voice has changed, is almost alarmed. “You’re very flushed.”

Sheesh. Thanks Face, you traitor, you think.

You nod and try to breath normally and wonder what is up with you. You’re usually crazy, yes, but not . . . insane.

You motion toward your basket. “I’m from the B & B. I was just reading, planning on a picnic.” You’re not sure why you’re telling him all that—but then again, anything’s better than talking about why you’re blushing of all things.

“Seriously?” The sexy stranger seems genuinely surprised now too—but he’s not red faced, which seems unfair. “Me too.”


“Yeah. Bread and olives—that’s what I brought to eat, I mean. I’m reading Whitman.”

Whitman. Figures. If the fiery inferno raging in your cheeks is any indicator, you’ve gone even redder. There’s no way you’re going to tell him what you’re reading. And besides, it’s not like you haven’t read classics or don’t still read them from time to time . . . you just have a diverse palate.

“Small town contemporary romance,” you blurt—and wish you could die. Why do you always have to say whatever you’re thinking?

The man laughs, appreciatively, not derisively. “Whitman was a romantic too. I think he’d approve—and it’s definitely the right setting for it.”

Neither of you say anything else for a second, and except for the mumbling creek, it is absolutely quiet. The moment seems full of expectation though, like it’s announcing a chance that if passed on will be forever lost.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

Voting is now closed, but your choices were:

OPTION 1: Do you ask the handsome stranger to join you? Bread and olives would really complement your meal, after all.


OPTION 2: Do you tell the handsome man to enjoy his night and return your delightful book and let him get back to his?

Tune into THE CHOICE, PART to see what you do next.