Recap of Chapter 23: Since the accident that nearly took his life, Jake had been recuperating at Haze’s house which demanded her full-time attention. With his thoughts on practical matters, such as gardening and making the most of his recuperation, Haze felt haunted by the horrors of what he’d been through and what it would take for him to get back to his former self.

Flitting from room to room, pouring drinks and pushing appetizers, Sydney was in her element. She had dreamed of hosting this book launch and finally that day had come. To say it was just a little local celebration was to greatly underestimate the power of Sydney’s persuasion and her extensive guest list. So popular was this event, Haze’s yard was annexed, along with her kitchen for prep work. The party was a convenient excuse to connect their two yards, so Sydney and Haze cut a pass-through in the hedge and installed an arbor with a gate. The arbor was a custom piece of art in and of itself, made from twisted iron by local artist Josh Bales of Dying Breeds. Sydney and Haze split the cost and marveled that he came up with a design to be beautiful from both sides.

Jessica, Jake’s twin sister, a.k.a. J.M. Peterson, Sydney’s favorite mystery writer, was a gracious guest of honor. Haze found her holding court in a small group by the fireplace. As the group dissipated, Haze replaced her empty glass with a full one. “I told you Sydney is a big fan,” she said, bumping Jessica’s shoulder.

“You were definitely right,” Jessica agreed, spying Sydney holding up a signed copy of the book to a group of onlookers, then pointing to Jessica. She smiled and waved. “And you know what? This gathering was a terrific idea! Beats any big city book launch I’ve experienced.”

Haze nodded. “It’s this town. This town and that woman,” she said, nodding in Sydney’s direction. “They grow on you.” They clinked glasses.

Haze spied Jake in the kitchen. He was grabbing bottles of wine and heading back into the room. Still dependent on a cane, his gait was awkward, but he got top marks for tenaciousness. He stopped wherever people needed a refill, smiling and laughing his way around the room. Even using a cane, he made socializing look effortless. Haze’s heart grew warm at the sight of him.

Jessica nudged her shoulder. “You still look at him like he’s on the dessert menu.”

Haze blushed. “Do I?”

“You do—and you know it. It’s disgusting to behold, actually,” she teased. “I would have thought that nursing my annoying brother back to health these past months would have taken the shine right off of him.”

“Never!” Haze said, shaking her head. “Not Jake. He’s like a shiny, sparkly unicorn every day.” She sipped her wine. “Even months ago, on the days when I wanted to hit him in the head with that bell you gave him, the shine was blinding.” Knowingly taking it too far, she suppressed a smile. “That man is like the sun itself.” They laughed.

“Well,” Jessica said, “I am happy to announce that I now know the feeling.”

Haze gasped. “What’s this? You, the dedicated spinster—the ‘no Mr. Petersen’ has fallen for a guy?”

“Yeah, yeah, I expected some grief from you, but yes, I did. I really did. I admit I have joined the great ranks of people who have found love.” She batted her eyelashes theatrically.

“You’re serious!” She turned toward her, mouth agape.

“I am. I met him in New Zealand. He’s an American. I was on a hike to clear my head from a bit of writer’s block and I bumped into him—literally, knocked him over. Ass over teakettle he went, and all his gear scattered.” She giggled. “It was epic.”

“I’m dumbfounded,” Haze said. “Leave it to you to avoid the normal way of doing things and instead, crash into love.”

“Right? It was his fault for spreading all over the trail like that. I tripped on his bag and smacked right into him.”

Just then, Jake made his way over to refill their glasses. Jessica waved him off. “I’m the boring sober one, drinking Perrier.” She shook her hand, rattling the ice. “I’ve promised my host a performance and I can’t do it tipsy.”

“I heard you two laughing,” he said. “Must be something pretty amusing.”

Jessica threw her arm around Haze’s shoulder. “Just girl talk,” she said with a wink. And then Sydney hailed her to perform. She had promised a reading and now was the time.

Jake leaned against the fireplace in Jessica’s spot next to Haze. “Are you going to tell me what you two were talking about?”

“Oh, it’s just that your devoutly single sister has fallen in love.”

“No,” he said, incredulous. “That can’t be true.” He watched Sydney arrange the guests to accommodate Jessica’s reading.

“Oh, but it is! She said so herself.”

Jake shrugged. “Hmmm! Well, it was bound to happen eventually. What did she tell you about him?”

“Not much,” she replied, and promptly got shushed by the woman in front of her, trying to listen to the reading.

The following day, while Haze and Jake were boxing up glasses and platters to return to Evergreen Rentals, Jessica strolled in and she wasn’t alone.

Haze bumped Jake’s shoulder. “Look who’s here!” she said.

Jessica was holding hands with a tall, shaggy-haired man with round glasses. He wore beige work pants and an untucked collared shirt with the sleeves rolled up. He was good looking and appeared to be age appropriate, but it was hard to tell. The first thing Haze thought was that he looked like Indiana Jones, only slightly nerdier.

“This is Stanley,” Jessica said with a proud smile. “My fiancé.”

“Your fiancé?” Jake and Haze remarked simultaneously, which prompted the visitors to laugh.

Stanley reached his hand out to Jake, “Stan. Nice to meet you.”

Jake was stunned. He shook Stan’s hand. “Did you say you two were engaged? How… I mean wow! I mean… when did this happen?” Jessica and Stan laughed. Apologetic, Haze suddenly remembered to offer them refreshment and invited them into the living room to sit down.

Jake pinched his sister’s arm in the hallway. “What kind of shenanigans have you been up to, Sis?” She shrugged and giggled, then headed toward the living room.

As the story goes, after that first meeting, the two were inseparable. Stan is a travel photographer and was visiting as an opportunity to capture New Zealand’s incredible sunsets and wildlife. Jessica, of course, was there to write her latest on-location mystery novel. They hit it off immediately and were now sharing the story of their adventures with Jake and Haze, who were listening intently, wide-eyed, mouths agape. When Jessica’s novel was complete, she and Stan returned to the states together. A few weeks ago, he had moved into her house in Boulder. So completely immersed in their newfound love bubble, they had told no one until now.

“Incredible!” Jake said. She hadn’t even mentioned Stan until now. Never did his name come up. No mention of him on any of the humorous postcards that arrived, nor in any of the emails she’d regularly sent. No word about him from the rest of the family either. Regardless of how secretive she’d been, this development was good news. “I guess congratulations are in order. Haze, do we have any champagne?”

“Already on it,” she declared, rising.

“Wait!” Jessica said with her hand up. “No champagne for me.”

Haze stopped in her tracks, giving Jessica a questioning look.

Stan drew Jessica’s hand, clasped in his, to his lips. “There’s one more thing we have to tell you.”

“There’s more?” Jake asked in disbelief. He covered his face and flopped back against the cushions in mock exhaustion. “How could there possibly be more?”

Jessica smiled. “I’m expecting.” She gazed at Stan lovingly. “We’re going to have a baby.”