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River guide and canoe builder Reed Daniels stands by as his lifelong friends pair off. After all, he’s waited this long for the right woman… what’s a little longer? But when newcomer Carly shows up at the gang’s bonfire, he’s mesmerized. Could she be the answer to his prayers?
Water-sport enthusiast Carly Thorbergsen is starting over in Riverbend. Hired as a canoeing and hiking guide, she’s ready to focus on work and leave the personal stuff behind. That is until the competition, Reed Daniels, offers her a ride in his cedar-strip canoe. No resisting that!
But no matter how much they have in common, Carly can’t erase her past, and Reed is bound to discover the truth. When a date finds Carly and Reed running rapids on the outside of the canoe, they come face to face with the real reasons their new relationship might capsize.
“Please tell me today was better than the rest of your week.”
That might require lying. Carly Thorbergsen rolled her shoulders and shook her head at her cousin. “No wonder Neil Maddrey couldn’t find anyone local to fill the position at Base Camp Outfitters. Everyone in Riverbend knew he was an idiot, right?”
Brittany plucked her phone off the table and swiped it on.
“Just the fact you’re ignoring me proves I’m right.” Carly sighed. “I’ll survive until I can find something else.” Or move on. That was definitely an option. That’s how she and Dad had survived for years. There was always more to see in Canada’s west.
“Okay, the man does have a bit of a surly reputation. I’ll grant you that. But the job itself sounded right up your alley. Taking tourists out on Sandon Lake in a canoe. Leading day hikes into the mountains. You won’t spend much time with Neil once your orientation is done.”
Hopefully. Carly crossed the small living room into the apartment’s galley kitchen. Good, there was still some of the sun tea she’d made yesterday. “Want a glass?”
“You put honey in that, didn’t you? I’ll grab a diet cola, thanks.”
Because a zero-calorie diet coupled with a gym membership and a jog every day was healthy? Brittany couldn’t be more than a size two.
Carly’s idea of a good time didn’t mesh with her cousin’s. Eat healthy and play outside a lot was Carly’s motto. Let the chips fall where they may. Which meant sometimes consuming actual chips from actual potatoes. Oh, the horror.
Brittany reached past her for a cola and a container of chicken breasts. “These have been marinating all day. I’ll grill them and we can put them over salad. Sound good?”
Carly’d been paddling all day in the hot sun, not sitting in an air-conditioned library. She could inhale an eight-ounce steak and a baked potato without blinking. “Sounds good. Mind if I make myself a sandwich while you cook?”
“Be my guest.”
Weren’t they past the guest stage? “Hey, I bought some groceries.” Even though she was sleeping on the living room floor until she could get her own place. If she stayed in Riverbend.
“I know, I know.” Brittany carried a pair of tongs and the chicken to the patio door then stepped out onto the third-floor balcony. “This will be really good. I promise.”
Carly didn’t doubt it. It sounded great, but not enough. She headed into the kitchen, slathered peanut butter on two slices of sourdough, and followed her cousin out to the tiny balcony. In the distance, the Sandon River flowed southward, curving around the town of Riverbend. Hills crowded the horizon. The locals called them mountains, but they were nothing like the glacier-clad peaks in the Rockies near Jasper. She could make out gaps between the hills where other creeks and rivers joined the Sandon. Farther up the valley lay the lake.
She closed her eyes. Traffic was muted this far from the busier streets. A hummingbird zoomed to the feeder at the neighbor’s balcony. The chicken breasts sizzled on Brittany’s portable grill. A gentle breeze loaded with the fragrance of mock orange caressed her face. Peace. She could almost taste it.
“A bunch from the church’s singles group are getting together tonight. Want to go? Meet some people?”
Carly glanced at her cousin. “Um, maybe? What’s the scene?”
“Swimming in the river. Bonfire. S’mores. Guitars.”
With every word, Carly relaxed a bit more. “Oh, that sounds awesome. My kind of night out.” She had to admit it didn’t seem to match Brittany, though. Her cousin would hate to break a nail outdoors.
Brittany shot her a look. “Yeah, it would be. Not that many unattached guys, but what do you expect in a town this size? Sometimes I think I should’ve gone to college in Calgary or even Castlebrook instead of staying here.”
“Why didn’t you?”
Her cousin shrugged. “Because Joseph was staying. And then we broke up anyway.” Brittany grinned and arched her perfectly-plucked eyebrows. “But I hear he’s back in Riverbend for the summer.”
“And you want to see him.” Carly drained her glass of iced tea.
“Of course. But my gang often does this on Friday nights in summer. You’ll like them. Just stay away from Joseph. Oh, and forget Reed Daniels. He’s the hottest looking guy and ice cold in every other way.”
Check. And check. “What time is the get-together?”
“You’re seriously into this.”
“Why not? I like rivers and s’mores. Unless all the guys wear pants pulled up to their armpits and taped-together glasses, it should be fun.”
“Evan says bring chips and pop.” Brittany scrunched her nose. “No junk food for me, but I’ll take a few cans of diet cola along.”
Right. Must preserve that size two at all cost.
Valerie Comer’s life on a small farm in western Canada provides the seed for stories of contemporary inspirational romance. Like many of her characters, Valerie and her family grow much of their own food and are active in the local foods movement as well as their creation-care-centric church. She only hopes her creations enjoy their happily ever afters as much as she does hers, shared with her husband, adult kids, and adorable granddaughters.