Spring has come to Madison Creek,
along with stormy weather
and foolhardy choices.
Her Life Was at a Crossroads and About to Veer Off in an Unwanted Direction
Bekka Winters hung up the phone. Ethan, her brother, needed her help filming a music video for his new music production studio. She stared at her already packed bags. Why not? She’d just graduated from college and didn’t exactly have a job to go to. Besides, a music video might look good on her resume when she looked for real work.
Stephen Gaines couldn’t believe Ethan had called him after their last blow up. They’d been music partners once. Stephen had ruined that. It was his expertise to wreck relationships especially those he had with women. Fortunately, Ethan didn’t know about him and Bekka. She was the one woman that had broken through to the deep parts of his heart. If only… how many times had he said that in the past? A fresh start is just what he needed.
Bekka’s mind bubbled with ideas for Ethan’s studio. Not to mention she couldn’t wait to see Ethan and Haley, the woman who’d captured her brother’s heart. But when she pulled into the drive and saw the familiar fancy car that Stephen drove, her heart dropped. There was no way she’d let him back into her life.
Here's a sneak peek...
A week ago, when Bekka Winters pulled into the Madison Creek Bed and Breakfast, she almost turned around and headed back home to Marquette, Michigan. Except, there was nothing for her at home. The only promising opportunity that presented itself since she’d finished college last year was her brother’s plea to come to Madison Creek and help him film his first music video.
Ethan, her younger brother by one year, hadn’t mentioned that he’d also invited Stephen Gaines, his best friend and the bane of her existence. Well, bane might be stretching things a bit. But only a little.
Bekka watched as that bane of a man clumsily gathered her camera equipment into his arms. His golden hair, usually spiked with some kind of glistening gel, now hung flat across his sweat-dotted forehead.
She shot him a warning glare. “You break one—”
“I got it.” Stephen quipped, slinging one of the light stands over his shoulder. “I’m here to help.”
What a joke. She spun away from him, scanning the woods to make sure she’d not missed any of the cameras she’d set among the trees. The sun broke through the towering beech, burning away the lovely mists enshrouding the bushy spruce. What a great morning to capture the vision she’d created in her mind the moment Ethan played his new violin piece for her. A faerie king, calling to his queen in a mystic wood. The land surrounding the old Victorian Inn provided a perfect setting. She couldn’t wait to see what they’d captured.
While her brother and his fiancée, Haley Madison, returned to the big house to change out of their costumes, Bekka finished gathering her gear. She’d used every piece she owned, hoping to capture enough footage so they’d not need to do this again.
Ethan had never been a real fan of cosplay. Bekka used to coerce both him and Stephen into her Live Action Role Playing, or LARPing, games back in high school. They consented, more likely out of boredom than out of any real joy of acting out adventures. And Haley, it seemed, was not a fan of any kind of play acting. In the week Bekka spent with her brother and his girlfriend, she’d found the woman about as sincere as they came.
“Anything else?” Stephen Gaines struggled with the tripods. He waited beside the path, his mouth set in that amused grin she found so annoying, yet, also so endearing. Why had the years blessed him with a more muscular build and rugged good looks than she remembered him having back in high school? Did it matter? She’d found him hard to resist back then, as well.
Bekka said nothing, hating the fact that she actually needed Stephen’s help getting her gear back to the recording studio. She also hated how she’d needed his help to record Ethan playing his violin while she followed Haley, dressed as an ice queen, through the woods.
Slipping one of the camera bags onto his other shoulder, Stephen’s gaze lingered on the backs of Haley and Ethan as they headed toward the Victorian, arm in arm. “I think E-man is still a little put out with me.”
“Maybe you should keep your opinion to yourself.” Bekka tried hard not to be jealous of her brother’s new relationship. She truly was happy for him. And Haley, a fudgie from south Texas, was a gem.
“Ethan asked,” Stephen defended as he trudged after her, his muddied boots slipping on the damp, leaf-covered path. “If he didn’t want an honest answer, he shouldn’t have asked what I thought of her.”
Bekka came to a dead stop and whirled around, her brows scrunched in a scowl. Sometimes he was such a snob. “Haley Madison is not ridiculous. Of all the things to say.”
“Please.” His gaze locked on the sky, which was only a few shades lighter than his cornflower blue eyes. A bit of stubble covered his strong jawline. Once she’d overheard him telling Ethan that he shaved in the evenings so there’d be a nice bit of growth in the morning to help him keep up his rugged good looks. What a pretender! Another reason he annoyed her. Even if he was right about his rugged good looks.
Bekka started walking again, not liking how he always stared so intently at her. Nor her reaction to that look. He might be ruggedly handsome, but he was a weasel dressed up in a navy crew sweater and slightly worn jeans that always hung low on his hips.
Stomping through the woods, she found the little footpath that joined the trail leading to Ethan’s portion of land. He had purchased the farm and old burned-out barn from Haley and had managed to transform the two-story building into something amazing.
Her gear banged into her ribs and hip making her wish she’d driven her little hybrid over. But the May morning was a pleasant one, the first after a week of rain. She’d feared they would never get a decent day to actually film the video. Then yesterday, she’d taken an early stroll around the woods along the creek and knew the conditions were perfect for what she’d wanted to do. Even more than she’d actually hoped for since the rain cooled earth emitted wisps of lithe fog. No need for artificial additions to the video.
She smiled, sending up a silent thank you to the Lord. If Stephen wasn’t following, she would have thrown up her hands in praise, but she had no desire for his mocking jokes today.
His jogging footsteps hurried to keep up with her swift pace. If she walked any faster, she’d be jogging. Casting up a silent prayer, she also begged the Lord to help Stephen find something else to occupy his time today. She didn’t need or want his help on this project.
“Come on Beks,” He managed to fall into step beside her. “Admit it. You have to keep yourself from laughing at that terrible twang and being called ‘sugar’ and ‘darlin’. I mean, what is E-man thinking?” He shifted the tripod to his other shoulder. “Why are you looking at me like that?”
“I can’t decide if you’ve become a real snob over the years, or if you’re jealous that Ethan found someone to fall in love with.”
His mouth gaped open like a bass. He sputtered, “I’m not… jealous. Please.”
If that were the case, then why did his pretty blues look everywhere but at her? He reached for his shirt pocket and pulled out a pack of those nasty cigarettes.
Before he could shake one free from the box, Bekka sent her deadliest glare at him. “Don’t even think about lighting up one of those around me. If you’re going to do that, then you can walk back there. No less than twenty feet away.”
He returned the cigarette and stuffed it back into his pocket. “Sorry. I plan to quit.”
“Planning and doing are as far as the North and South poles, mister.”
“Suppose so, lady.” He blew out a long sigh. “I hate when E-man is mad at me. Last time he didn’t speak to me for nearly a month.” He chewed on his thumbnail.
“Then stop doing things you know he doesn’t appreciate. What kind of person tells his best friend that he thinks his girlfriend is dumb?”
“I never said she was dumb. She’s not. Just… odd. That’s all. Nobody is that happy and energetic all the time. And don’t get me started on some of her outlandish phrases. Like, happy as a puppy at its mother’s teat. Seriously? Is that how they actually talk in Texas?”
Bekka laughed, despite how hard she tried not to. “No, I don’t think so. The last mission trip I went on had a group from Houston. They had some of her drawl, but none of those delightful sayings. Think that’s all Haley. I’m sure she does it to get a laugh.”
“Delightful? Really Bek?”
“Really. I like her.” Sure, at first she’d been a little skeptical, but Haley had quickly won her over with her generous heart and bubbly personality. Bekka understood why Ethan fell for her. Haley was lively and funny, and one couldn’t help but smile over her quirky antics. “I can’t wait to see what kind of footage we got.”
“You’re going to cut that last part out, right?”
They’d reached the deck of the studio. Ethan had salvaged the unscathed parts of the old building. From the outside, it still looked like a barn, but the front was a wall of glass windows going up to the second floor where he’d built a narrow balcony.
Some of his church friends had helped to stabilize the walls and close it in. The inside was far from finished but functional for what they wanted to do. Upstairs, he’d built two bedrooms and a bath for guests. He and Stephen occupied those rooms at the moment. Another balcony came off the upstairs bedrooms in the back, along with stairs descending along both sides of the barn. Once Ethan and Haley were married in December, he planned to join her in the big house.
Before she could answer Stephen’s question, the glassed door of the barn-studio swung open as Nick Prater, barreled out. “Whoa! Sorry Miss Bekka.” He bobbed his head. “Mr. Stephen. I got the extra big screen set up as you asked.”
Nick was a computer technician in training at the local college. He’d recently become engaged with a girl named Sage Dolan who worked for Haley in the bed and breakfast restaurant. Ethan had hired him to help around the property in return for room and board.
“Thanks, Nick.” Bekka beamed a smile at him. “I hope it didn’t make you late for class.”
As if on cue, a horn beeped from the drive.
“No, I’m good. See ya!” He waved and bounded for a white Saturn. A cute red-headed girl with a pixie face waved at them. Bekka returned the wave. She turned to Stephen. “You can set the lights by the door. I’ll put them away later.”
His fingers brushed over the pack tucked in his pocket.
“Go have that nasty smoke you’re dying for.”
“Am not.” His tone came out defensive. “Besides, I promised to help you.”
She didn’t want his help. What she found ridiculous was his constant presence. Ever since she’d arrived, it seemed he was always right at her side. The only time she could ditch him was when she hid in the little room she rented at Haley’s bed and breakfast.
The last thing she needed was the awkward distraction Stephen Gaines caused with his hovering. “I got this. I’m just going to load the clips we took and see what I have to work with.”
“What we have to work with,” he corrected, jerking his thumb at her, then at his chest. “I promised to help, and I am.”
“So you said.” Like he ever kept a promise. “You don’t know anything about video graphics.” She didn’t have the patience or desire to train him. The farther away she stayed from him, the less chance she had of being suckered by his deceitfully charming personality again.
“Maybe not, but I know what’s expected in a top-quality music video. Besides, I want to help.” His pleading blues sent daggers into her heart.
No, no, no, she’d not be taken in by him again. She’d traveled down that road and wasn’t foolish enough for a repeat.
“You need me Rebekka.” He followed her inside and set her gear down near the sitting area which consisted of a battered brown sofa and two matching cushy chairs. Folding his arms over his chest, he insisted, “I know the music industry and what’s expected. Ethan needs this video to be top of the line. That’s why he called both of us.”
She slowly exhaled, her bravado deflating with the truth of his words. This was important, and it needed to be the best possible product if Ethan was to get his recording business off the ground. She knew the mechanics, but not the business. Not like Stephen did. “Fine. I’ll work on loading the clips onto my laptop, then you can go over the scenes on the big computer.”
A slow, sultry grin pulled at his full lips. “Sounds like a plan, lady.”
She once loved kissing those full, soft lips. Never again. She blinked, breaking the trance she’d fallen into. Darn him! No wonder he never had trouble finding women to fall all over him. Well, she’d not allow herself to plummet again. She would work on one side of the room and leave him to the opposite side. “While I upload, you can put my lights away for me. Make yourself useful.”
“My pleasure.” That rotten, evil smile mocked her determination to keep her distance.
Stephen Gaines checked again to make sure he’d not missed any of the lighting equipment. He glanced at Bekka who sat on the worn sofa with her feet curled beneath her and the laptop propped on her lap. She pushed a strand of dark brown hair behind her ear. Was her hair as silky as he remembered? She’d certainly grown more beautiful during her years of traveling on mission trips and getting through college.
She glanced up, catching him staring.
Undaunted, he moved to the desk chair and sat. “Did I follow your directions and keep the camera still enough?” They’d filmed most of Ethan’s part before Bekka went to follow Haley through the woods. All he’d needed to do was to film the moments before Haley arrived and their meeting. Bekka wanted several different shots for some reason. He didn’t know the mechanics. His expertise would come toward the end of the finished product.
“I’ve uploaded all the pictures I took and two of the clips. You can pull them from the cloud on that computer.” Her soft gray eyes never left the screen.
Stephen knew with absolute certainty that Rebekka Marie Winters mildly tolerated him at best. She had every right to hate him, but he’d hoped after all these years, she would have forgotten his stupid mistakes. Ethan had forgiven and forgotten. Stephen spun the chair to face the computer, annoyed at the ache stabbing his chest. Happened every time he remained too long in the same room alone with her. Luckily, they’d managed to keep those meetings few and far between, until now. They’d never talked about what happened between them. Or almost happened. He’d been such an idiot!
Of course, his life had been nothing but a series of screw-ups. He was sure the trail of casualties stretched out for miles behind him.
Ethan talked about God opening and closing doors. His friend was adamant that when he wrecked his car here in Madison Creek, it was God slowing him down so he’d redirect where his life was going. God might show favor to the Winters family, but He’d never shown any favor to the Gaines.
Clicking the cloud icon, Stephen searched for the new file Bekka had just created. About ten pictures opened. He clicked on the first one, eyes widening at what she’d captured.
A beam of sunlight fell right on Ethan and his fiancée as they stood embracing and staring into each other’s eyes. Bekka happened to catch them right before they’d kissed. The passion in that moment and the light surrounding them took his breath away.
There was no denying that his friend was truly and madly in love with the woman in his arms. And she loved Ethan back equally. Already, they practically acted and functioned like a seasoned married couple. They worked together on everything they did.
Maybe Stephen was jealous.
He glanced over his shoulder at Bekka. What he wouldn’t give to find a girl he could have that kind of relationship with. At one time, he’d thought perhaps she might be the one… but then Ethan put a stop to that idea. Stephen would not risk his friendship with Ethan, again. The Winters clan had been the only true family Stephen had.
However, maybe during this project with her, he could at least attempt to make amends and restore their friendship. He’d never forget how she got him through that dark time in his last years of high school during his parent’s divorce. Life had become too unbearable for him.
And then later, when Dad couldn’t stand his life anymore and ended it, Ethan was there every moment, helping him, encouraging Stephen to not give up. They’d formed their musical team, The String Brothers, the following year while in college. Ethan insisted he needed Stephen to make a go at stardom. They had a future in music, but they needed to stick together.
Stephen tapped a pen on the desktop. He studied the picture. His friend had never been this happy. Not only because he was in love, either. Ethan’s dreams of making his own music, of opening a recording studio while his parents built a travel lodge on the farm property had sparked a light in his best friend that was almost contagious. Stephen had been biding his time, waiting and watching to see how he could help. The video was a start. But other ideas were dancing around his head. They might actually be able to make a real go at this if they pooled their resources. And Stephen had a nice little lump of resources sitting in a bank from his recently acquired trust-fund.
Straightening in the desk chair, he jotted a couple of notes on a piece of scratch paper. First, if he was going to stick around, he’d need to make things right between him and Bekka.
He’d apologize. Which meant he’d have to swallow down his fear and be the one to bring up that night. Sucking in a long breath, he opened his mouth to catch her attention at the exact same moment Ethan breezed in still wearing his elfin garb.
“Ah,” Bekka finally managed a smile. “The king returns. What took you so long?”
Sure, for her brother she had a smile and playful words.
Ethan pointed his finger at her. “Next time you need to make sure Haley wears better shoes. She was chilled to the bone wearing those slippers.”
Bekka waved her hand dismissively before returning her focus to the computer. “Her red ropers wouldn’t have complimented the costume. And I took several shots of her feet. It’s not that cold today.”
Ethan slid out of the dark blue, knee-length jacket that Bekka had made for the shoot and draped it over the back of the couch where she sat. She was a marvel at making costumes among her many other talents.
“Not for us,” he snapped, loosening the buttons on his white shirt. “But she’s not used to our weather and gets sick easily. He headed for the stairs leading up to the loft. “I’m going to shower and hope this gunk comes out of my hair.” He pointed to the silvery streaks painted into his hair. “There’ll be heck to pay if it doesn’t.”
The door to his room closed with a bang.
Bekka shut her laptop and shoved it into her bag. “Sounds like I better make myself scarce. I’m going over to check on Haley and finish uploading the videos over there. I can make her some herbal tea that will help.” She hung the bag over her shoulder and slipped into her sneakers.
Stephen propped his feet up on the edge of the desk. “It will come out, right? All that glitter stuff you painted in his hair?”
She smirked, and his heart did a happy flip. “Eventually.”
Stephen had to laugh. “Want me to text you when he’s done ranting?”
As fast as the smile appeared, it disappeared. “Whatever.” She rushed out the glass door to her blue Prius and was soon driving away. From upstairs, the water cut off.
A moment later Ethan bellowed. “Rebekka, I’m going to wring your neck!” The shower started again.
Stephen rubbed his hands over his face. He’d really missed those two and was glad to be back to the only place that ever felt like home: with the Winters clan.