Recap of Chapter 16: When an old flame threatens Haze’s security, Jake struggles to set things right. Haze is hurt and stubborn until Sydney helps pave the way to understanding. Finally, Haze agrees to hear his side of the story and they make up just in time to celebrate Christmas together.

After the lazy days of the holidays, Haze was ready to focus on art again. Typically, inspiration came in waves—sometimes her creative side went dormant while she concentrated on daily distractions. But when she was in the thick of a creative surge, she hardly made time to feed herself, let alone sleep. Crowley proved to be a good equalizer, as his need for walks and regular mealtimes necessitated breaks. And Jake was quick to remind her to pay attention to her human needs. The gentle rhythm of a balanced life was an easy thing to drop into, and Haze had taken a lot of time off lately, just enjoying life and being in love.

During that downtime, Jake helped her select and plant bulbs along the fence in her compact little yard, and ready the shrubs and trees for winter. He also made a box in the kitchen where there was good light for fresh herbs. She protested that she was no gardener, but he won that argument based on two things: herbs in a box did not qualify as gardening, and he was around enough to ensure their survival. What a luxury it was to pick rosemary, basil, parsley and sage for cooking. Plus, the pleasant aroma was an unexpected perk.

It took a while to get to sleep the night before. The wind howled and shook the trees, freeing the last of the pinecones with a violence that sent them colliding against every surface with a bang. The effect was unsettling, but despite the struggle, Haze eventually managed to fall asleep and awoke infused with newfound energy and inspiration. The minute she stepped out of the bedroom, however, she could tell something was off. The light was all wrong. It was as if a dark cloud hovered low over her cabin. She stopped in her tracks. Could it be that overcast outside? Did it snow? She crept into the living room and gasped. The entire studio was surrounded by pine boughs, blocking the view from every window and the front door as well. She quickly slipped on a sweater over her pajamas, stuffed her feet into boots and scurried out the back door.

Jake was in his wood shop, toiling on a large custom cabinet job that would take weeks to complete. He freed a hand to answer Haze’s call. “Well, hello there!” he said, putting the phone on speaker and picking up a sanding block.

“I may have a bit of a problem,” she said. “Actually, I’d say it’s a very big problem.”

Jake picked up the phone. “What’s going on?” he asked, concern in his voice. He could tell that Haze was outside and on the move. “I’m standing outside looking at an enormous pine tree that has fallen and landed right on top of my house. Specifically, on my studio… and front door… and half of my kitchen. Did I mention it was a really big tree?”

“Wow!” Jake said. “Did it do any damage?”

Haze was walking around the edges, trying to grasp the enormity of the problem. “I don’t think so. It’s just blocking everything—my front door, every window, part of the driveway. It missed my car, thank God! Any suggestions on what I should do?”

“Well, if it didn’t do any damage, it needs to be cleared off. The good news is you won’t need any firewood next year—maybe even this year if it was standing dead.”

“Okay. That’s good. So how do I get this giant tree off my cabin and into a stack of firewood?”

Crowley grabbed hold of a low branch in his teeth and pulled. It was still attached. He growled and shook his head, but it wouldn’t break free. He tried another and another.

“You call the guy with the chainsaw and the big muscles,” Jake said, laughing.

“Any suggestions?”

“I’m talking about me, silly. And you just did call.”

“You have a chainsaw or axe or whatever, and you know how to do this?”

“Please! What do you think?”

She smiled. “I think I’m incredibly lucky. So, does this mean that you’ll come over all lumberjack-like and wrestle this tree into submission? For me?”

“That’s exactly what it means.”

“Will you wear a flannel shirt and big boots, and can I watch?” she teased in a husky voice. “Wait, will you get all hot and sweaty and rip off your shirt?”

“It’s January, Haze, and freezing. I’ll probably wear a big jacket. But I like where your mind is at. Can you wait until after lunch?”

“Absolutely! I’m so happy that you are such a manly man and willing to help.” She giggled.

“I didn’t say it wouldn’t cost you,” he teased.

“Oh, I’ll pay. I’ll pay whatever you ask. Like, if you asked me to… ”

He interrupted. “Don’t start that kind of talk or I won’t get anything done—here or with the tree. I’m gonna get back to it. You just think about what to feed me, ’cause chainsaw work is hungry work.”

“Deal,” she said, relieved. She called to Crowley, who was dragging a long branch across the driveway, and went inside.

Jake showed up with everything he needed to remove the big tree and got right to work. He began by clearing the branches, throwing the slash into a pile. Crowley treated it as a big game of fetch, attempting to pick up bigger and bigger branches. He chewed on pinecones and generally ran around in a heightened sense of adventure.


Luckily, it was a tall tree, but not too big around, so progress was fast. It turned out that it was, indeed, standing dead and therefore dry enough to burn for this season.

“You’re in luck,” Jake said, unloading the bundle of rounds from his arms. “These small rounds don’t even need to be split. And the few that do won’t take long. But that’s for another day.”

“That’s a lot of wood,” Haze said, assessing the growing pile. “What do I do with all of that?” she asked, pointing to the slash.

“You leave it alone for a bit and then we get a chipper over here and turn it into mulch.”

Haze came forward and tucked herself against his chest, wrapping her arms around him. He had a log in each hand and was covered in sawdust. “You’re the best!” she said, smiling. “There isn’t anything you don’t know how to do, is there?”

“I don’t know about that.” He dropped the logs and wrapped his arms around her. The warmth between them was intoxicating.

“Seriously, though, how did you get to know so many things? You do all the manly things, and you can cook. You garden and even make amazing things out of wood—dressers and cabinets from raw materials. I half expected you to say that you wanted to make outdoor furniture from this tree.”

“Well, if you want… ”

“I’m kidding!” she replied, pushing on his chest playfully. “Now, come inside. There’s a pot of jambalaya on the stove with your name on it and some sourdough wedges and cheese.”

He threw his head back. “That sounds amazing! I’m starving!”

Jake wrestled a huge stick away from Crowley and stood on the porch, slapping the sawdust from his clothes. Haze was at the door, watching with admiration. The way he was with animals and work and life was almost unbelievable. Handsome, strong, knowledgeable—everything about him was like a checklist from a how-to book on picking a good man. And here he was, using all those good man skills on her behalf.

She stopped him at the threshold and drew him into a warm kiss.

“Mmm. What was that for?” he asked, pulling her close.

Full of love and gratitude, Haze gazed into his eyes, “For being you.”