Erik Alexander Kingsley.
Thinking about his name made her gasp. He was a man not easily forgotten, regardless of time or distance. Hearing his name spoken brought those memories to life again.
Mia shuddered and then composed herself. Nobody knew her history with him, whose name she wouldn’t utter or think. It can’t be him, she thought. ~Or can it be?~
Mia feigned disinterest. “Do you know the man, Auntie?”
“I do,” she replied conversationally. “Mr. Kingsley’s family owns a handful of properties in the US, Caribbean, and Dubai. They also have hotels around Europe and the US.
“His family also owns a bank. That’s what made them rich. He is English, born and raised in England.”
Adelia snorted. “Glad to know I have an answer to the mystery of their family’s wealth.”
“Indeed. I didn’t know this myself until I met Erik,” Leanna admitted.
“Where did you say you met him?” Mia pressed with interest.
“Oh, it was at a business event. After my husband passed away, I took over as his representative.
“I’m only a board member nominally since the shares are now under my name. They very occasionally invite me to represent him,” she informed bitterly, then waved her hand, moving her story along.
“Anyway, the young man was there, and one of my business associates introduced us.”
“And how long ago was that?”
“Maybe a year or so,” she answered. “Why do you ask, sweetie? Have you met him as well?”
Mia was quiet for a moment, debating whether to tell her aunt or not. The memory of their first meeting seemed fresh in her mind like it was yesterday.
She understood why her aunt nearly swooned while thinking about him. She’d had the same reaction back then.
His handsome features and those deep blue eyes hypnotized you into overlooking the darkness within.
Irresistible and alluring, within moments of their eyes meeting, she was his prey. His ravenous gaze caged her until he looked away.
Should I tell her? she thought again, nearly giving up one of her secrets this past year.
Luckily for Mia, Adelia announced they were close to the cabin, pulling her out the chokehold of her memories and a man she wished never to meet again.
The road leading toward the cabin was mostly made of gravel and dirt. But the mushy sound of the wheels told her it had turned to mud from the recent rainfall.
When they pulled up, Mia felt a rush of euphoria.
She’d had the idea that its roof would be made of straw and held up by thin, decrepit wooden walls. But the house standing in front of her looked more like a decent farmhouse than a small cabin.
Rather than straw, the roof was tiled with red clay. The walls were made of wood and painted creamy white. The front porch was also painted white to match the cabin.
A stone chimney was perched on the left side, where smoke was evident.
“My grandson was tidying up the place for ye before I met ye out on the docks,” Adelia said as she parked the car close to the porch.
“Richard is here? I thought he would have gone back last year.” Leanna peered at Adelia with surprise.
“No, he’s here. He decided to stay and manage the Tavern for me. But he’s…” She trailed off and coughed to change the subject.
“Aye, we should head inside and get ye two warmed up. Ye must have been traveling air, land, and sea for the past twelve hours.”
Leanna took notice of Adelia’s abrupt dismissal of the previous topic and decided to go along.
“We did. Though it’s not my first time, it’s always exhausting, especially at my age. And I’m sure Mia’s tired as well.” She glanced at Mia with a weary smile.
Mia beamed, opting for silence rather than making an offhand remark.
They all got out of the truck, and Mia followed behind her aunt.
Her eyes scanned the cabin curiously. She kept her thoughts occupied by thoroughly contemplating how she and her aunt would survive for three months.
The last time she left the city and lived in a remote area such as this was at her grandparent’s home. Even then, their place wasn’t devoid of close neighbors.
She could hardly see the next house from where she stood outside the truck.
It was then the front door of the cabin burst open. She stared at the new person. A tall, lean man walked out down the front porch.
He wore a wool sweater with a white polo shirt underneath and jeans. Given the weather, he wasn’t out of place in his cozy outfit. The breeze was chilly enough for snow to fall rather than rain.
As he approached, Mia caught sight of his facial features. His full dark brown beard covered most of his face, but it didn’t betray his age. He was young, between his late twenties to early thirties.
“Richard!” Adelia waved over at the man. “Come and help us with the bags and greet Mrs. Leanna Stanton and her niece, Mia Harnett.”
Richard walked up and stopped within arm’s length, holding out his hand to them. “I’m glad to see yer trip went smoothly, ma’am.” He paused and turned to Mia. “Miss Harnett.”
Mia studied him and his outstretched hand for a moment. She cleared her throat and then shook it briefly. “Nice to meet you, Mister, um, what’s your name again?”
“Richard McKenzie, ma’am.”
Mia let go with pursed lips. “Mr. McKenzie.”
There was an awkward pause as they studied each other’s appearance closely. Somehow time stood still as they stared.
It was then Mia noticed more of his features. The soft crinkle at the edges of his eyes and their hue. There was a bit of light left, and she caught a glimpse of a shade of green and yellow in them.
He has lovely eyes, she thought, ~but they can’t compare with…~ As the thought crossed her mind, she felt herself going rigid.
Adelia cleared her throat, bringing the two newly acquainted youths out of their ogling.
“The luggage is in the car, mo ghràidh,” Adelia informed Richard.
Mia noted the unfamiliar words—language, really—she used. But then, she got distracted when Adelia gestured toward the cabin. “And ye two, please come with me. Let Richie handle the heavy lifting.”
Leanna grinned at her niece and gave Richard her business smile. Yet underneath her facade, she noted her niece’s worried expression. “Thank you, Richard. It’s lovely to see you again.”
Richard coughed, peering briefly at Mia, before turning back to Leanna. “Ye too, Mrs. Stanton. I’ll fetch yer things. Please head to the house and warm up. I already got the fire going.”
“Thank you again, Richard,” Leanna said and gazed back at her niece. “Let’s go, Mia. Your nose is red as cherry now,” she added teasingly and then marched ahead.
Adelia was already waiting by the porch.
Mia quietly walked away from Richard with a quick backward glance, following closely behind her aunt’s shadow. She watched the young man’s silhouette heading around the trunk, pulling out the luggage.
She turned her attention toward the cabin, hearing her aunt’s footsteps on the wooden stairs. Its quirky characteristics brought the ghost of a smile to Mia’s lips.
She first noticed the lemon yellow curtain peeking through the wooden French window. Walking up the porch, she saw the coffee table with two wooden chairs facing each other, dominating the right corner.
In front, the door made her look twice. It had an odd color of red—the same shade as blood.
As she entered, the floorboards creaked with every step.
The cabin felt small. When they entered, the door opened directly onto the living room. Yet, it wasn’t too cramped. It reminded her of the old apartment she’d had in college.
Her first impression was not what she expected. The place had a sense of normalcy, something she knew her aunt lacked, living lavishly in the city.
Looking at the place more, she noticed the velvet couches facing the chimney had knitted pillow covers. Her eyes wandered toward the fireplace, which hissed and crackled as the flames grew brighter.
Across the hall, the dining table was furnished with oak and mahogany. On the far side was the kitchen, which was lined with a granite countertop and had a stove and a sink made of stainless steel.
Lamps were stationed strategically around the room, suffusing the cabin in a warm glow.
This wasn’t the home of a widowed multi-millionaire, yet here they were.
Mia had judged her aunt by whom she’d married. She had nearly forgotten she was her mother’s sister, someone who grew up with a minimum-wage professor as a father and a dressmaker as a mother.
This was a familiar homely set-up, reminiscent of her childhood.
Mia understood why she visited this place more often than her other houses. It truly was a home, not merely an imitation of what she thought a home should be.
For that reason, her aunt made this her home for three months, going back every year. With enough financial support to do it, Mia might have done the same.
With every passing minute, she grew more accustomed to the cabin’s charms—and what it actually meant to be away from her past life.
“Where are our rooms, auntie?” Mia asked. She continued assessing the area while moving further in until she stood in the middle between the living room and the dining table.
Leanna gestured toward two doors in the right corner. “You can take the one by the kitchen, Mia. The bathroom is the door in the middle,” she replied.
Nodding, she turned and walked away, eager to see her private quarters.
Her bedroom was what she expected from a cabin: a single bed on the left corner with a tall wooden dresser beside the door and a vanity table across from the bed with a mirror and a chair tucked underneath.
She went to the dresser and started pulling the two drawers, hoping to see something mysterious. To her disappointment, it was empty.
She continued her search at the vanity table, pulling the drawer in and out, finding nothing again. Her inspection was abruptly halted by a knock on the door.
“Mia, your things are in the living room. Do you need help moving it in?”
She sighed in relief, hearing her aunt’s voice across the door. Somehow, she expected someone else.
Her interest in the newly introduced young Scotsman caught her off guard. But she’d be lying to herself if she said he wasn’t more attractive than most men his age. The thought surprised her even more.
How long had it been since she found anyone attractive besides? She shook her head, pushing off the memory.
“I’ll be right out, Auntie. I can get it myself,” she called out after closing the bottom cabinet.
Mia glanced around the cozy and compact room one last time, smiling at the closed window across from the door. At least she had access to fresh air if the room got stuffy.
When she joined her aunt, Adelia, and her grandson, Richard, they were huddled by the main door. The luggage was placed near the couch, half scattered on the floor.
With a creaky floorboard, making it difficult to sneak up on anyone, everyone turned in her direction once she arrived. Mia smiled shyly like she’d been caught doing something mischievous.
“I’ll get my things and start unpacking. I might go to bed early and skip dinner,” she informed them, moving toward her things.
“Oh, nonsense. Don’t you dare skip a meal, Mia. Adelia’s going to prepare us something before she and Richard head back to the farm.”
Leanna turned to her confidant. “What are we having for dinner, Adelia?”
The old woman smiled and met Mia’s gaze. “I’m making shepherd’s pie with one of my family’s recipes. It’s one of yer aunt’s favorite dishes.”
“Oh! You’re making that tonight.” Leanna took a deep breath. “I can smell you haven’t started yet. Would you be able to do it now? We can just have sandwiches. Mia loves a classic BLT sandwich.”
Adelia scoffed. “I can do it, Leanna. Don’t ye worry about it. I’ll be done once ye’ve both cleaned up and unpacked.”
She glanced briefly at her wristwatch. “And I have some time on my hand. It’s no worries.”
“If it’s all right with you, then it’s fine with me.” Leanna grinned and walked up to Mia. “And you, my dear, are having dinner with us?”
She arched her eyebrow in challenge, though her question was not open to refusal.
Mia pursed her lips in defeat. “Fine. I’ll be glad to join you.” She started pulling her bags from the pile, grunting as she did. “I’ll start unpacking now.”
It was then Adelia nudged her grandson, pulling him out of his stupor. “Richie, go on. Help the lass.”
He jumped like he’d been drenched in cold water, half-ran toward Mia and took the bags out of her hand.
“Here, let me,” he said before she could protest. He then headed toward her room, not waiting for her offer.
Mia grabbed the last of her things, which didn’t weigh as much as what Richard was carrying, and followed him a minute later.
Leanna and Adelia watched the two with apprehension. They finally let out a sigh as the two disappeared from the living room.
When they were alone, Adelia finally asked her a question—something she couldn’t say with Mia present.
“Will her being here change anything?”
Leanna’s smile ceased. “I hope so. If not, I’m afraid there is nothing we can do for her but pray she’ll recover herself.”
Adelia sighed and stared at where Mia and Richard were. “I pray she will, my dear.”
“And Richard? Is he okay?” Leanna asked in turn.
“I’ve prayed for him daily. But I’m not sure he’ll recover as I have.”
“He’s a strong young man, Adelia. Since my last visit, I assure you I see some progress in him.”
“Are ye sure? Because he’s looked the same to me since he came back.”
Leanna smiled. “I am. And truly, all we can do for them is pray.”
“I shall add yer dear Mia in my prayers from now on.”
“Thank you, Adelia.”
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