• Carla Buchanan

BGGM Entry 5: Sunday, December 13, 2026

This is a work of fiction. Any names, places, characters, and happenings are solely products of the author’s imagination or fictitious retellings. Any likeness to actual events, locations, persons living or dead, is coincidental.

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**Readers 18 and up only please**.

It’s strange how the world doesn’t stop simply because you discover a device that can allow a person to travel to different universes, different versions of reality. It’s strange how we still have to deal with the problems that come along with real-life even while carrying around such a big secret. The discovery of the MV Generator doesn’t keep planes from being rerouted because of weather and it also doesn’t mean my brother can’t go from being a model citizen to a man who will soon be the subject of town gossip.

I sigh heavily the morning after I visit Anson Valley’s police station to ‘help’ my brother who, it seems, has already helped himself to being in a relationship with two women at the same time. I shake my head when I think about his pregnant wife, and his mistress, screaming at one another while the cop handling the case took the report and tried to mediate while the chief of police, who is also Valentine’s sister, looked on shaking her head.

I know she won’t be the one who spreads the word about what’s happened, that task will proudly be that of police dispatcher, Perla Anderson, who will surely twist the facts to make the story better when she decides to tell it. Twenty-four hours from now everyone in town will have heard whiffs of the story but no one will actually know the truth of what happened.

The truth starts with my brother’s wife, Ripley, deciding to surprise her husband with lunch since he was stuck at school supervising the end-of-year cleanup and sanitization of the campus. She ended up being the one who was surprised when she walked in - yes, the door was unlocked - and found my best friend straddling my brother’s lap. When they scrambled apart, Ripley realized they were having sex. The angry screaming started before either of them could cover themselves, and by the time they did, Ripley had left the office and made her way back out to the parking lot where she proceeded to key my best friend’s car and then spray her in the face with mace when she tried to get near to stop her. Kendall was so pissed off by the mace, and what Ripley had done to her car, she revealed a secret that she and my brother have been keeping for the past eight years - that my best friend’s daughter, my goddaughter, is also my niece. That bit of news didn’t go over well because less than a second after Kendall sputtered out their secret, Ripley punched her in the face. The punch made Kendall lose her balance and fall to the cold, hard parking lot concrete but not before hitting her shoulder and head against the side of her car on the way down. Kendall sprained her wrist trying to stop her body from further damage when she bounced off the car and hit the ground. After that, Kendall decided to call the police despite my brother’s pleas for her not to do so.

Ripley had vandalized my best friend’s car, had assaulted her, and sprayed her with mace - not that I blame her for doing so. But even though Kendall probably deserved what Ripley did to her, the officer who arrived couldn’t ignore the fact that Ripley broke the law. The officer arrested Ripley and called a paramedic for Kendall. I guess the sprain wasn’t bad enough for her to go to the hospital because she was already at the station wearing a brace on her left wrist when I arrived. She was filing her report against Ripley as Joseph sat off to himself looking stressed and haggard. By the time all was said and done I managed to convince Kendall to let the officer tear up the report and admit that she deserved exactly what she got and more. Joseph promised to pay for the damage to Kendall’s car and to pay any medical bills she might incur from the paramedics’ treating her.

“That’ll be -”

“Put it on my tab,” I hear Valentine’s voice interrupt the cashier at Anson Cafe late Sunday morning, taking me away from my thoughts. I turn to see him dressed as though he’s been to church. He’s wearing a black suit without a tie and he looks so damn sexy in the suit that all I can think of is the suit not being on him. Underneath is a stark white shirt that brings attention to the smooth dark skin of his face with its ruggedly handsome features and neatly trimmed facial hair that I can recall brushing against my face as we kissed. His suit is covered by a black overcoat, and his hand is attached to a young girl who looks to be about ten. The girl is the spitting image of her mother, Brenna Oliver, except with light brown skin and a few freckles dotting her nose and face. There’s not a hint of Valentine in sight save for the wild curly hair that looks much like his sister’s hair looked when she was a little older than Valentine’s daughter. She is wearing a stark white hooded fur coat with the designer emblem at her right shoulder. It’s the emblem of a very expensive outwear brand that makes weather adjusting clothing for the winter and summer months. I’m sure I’ve seen the coat Valentine’s daughter wears in one of the company’s ads, as well as the rest of her outfit. The girly, flouncy dress is cute on her but what makes me smile are the chunky boots on her feet that are in complete contrast to the girliness of the rest of what she has on. I love it. A pair of boots here, a too-short skirt there… it was how I rebelled as a girl as well. My clothing became so much a part of me, a part of my self-expression, that I chose to turn it into a career. My smile gets wider when I think about what Brenna probably thinks of such shoes when every shoe she had was one with a heel except for the shoes she cheered in. Brenna often bragged about not owning any other tennis shoes, saying the only exercising she does - yoga - doesn’t require her to wear clunky, ugly shoes on her feet.

“That’s not necessary,” I say to the cashier, turning back to the young woman who stands there with amusement laced within her features. She is looking back and forth between us like she’s trying to figure out how we might know one another but surely coming up empty. “I can pay for our food,” I add.

“This morning’s sermon was about being a cheerful giver. Allow me to be a cheerful giver,” Valentine insists. He doesn’t wait for me to respond. He turns his attention to the cashier. “Give Breanna and me the usual and like I said… add whatever they bought to my tab,” Valentine says and then reaches into the inner pocket of his coat to remove some bills he has there. He takes the bills, walks closer to where I stand at the cash register and places the bills into the tip jar.

“Thanks, Mr. Trudeau,” the cashier says and then turns to me, grinning in thanks like I had something to do with her large tip. “You know principal Anson’s sister?” The young cashier asks, again, like we couldn’t possibly know one another. “I honestly thought you didn’t know any women, definitely not the mayor’s daughter,” the girl says and tries to hold back a laugh. “Hey… your name is Christmas and he is Valentine. If you had babies you could name them something like Saint and Patrick,” the girl rambles which makes me wonder if I was so all over the place as a teen. I then realize the jump she’s made from ‘do you know her?’ to babies. Of course, my mind betrays me by returning to that other universe and briefly wondering what my mother told her Christmas and Valentine about the event or if she kept it to herself. I wonder what the baby that version of me was pregnant with would look like and if that version of me is happy with her life.

It’s only then that I notice that Kendall’s daughter and Valentine’s daughter know each other as they have ignored our exchange with the cashier and are chattering away about whether or not they’ll be attending summer camp again. I then hear Kendall’s daughter, Elisa, tell Valentine’s daughter that I’m her aunt from California. I realize she’s called me her aunt all of her life, and now it isn’t just an endearment she uses.

“Yes, Thalia, I know Principal Anson’s sister who is also the mayor’s daughter,” Valentine says with exasperation and I’m forced to cover up my smile. I cannot believe that Valentine Trudeau has become the ‘old’, moody guy who is considered a loner and a recluse. He’s got a teenage girl calling him ‘mister’. It’s strange to say the least. “She and I went to high school together. We were good friends,” he says and then looks to me like he’s asking me if it was okay to reveal that piece of information.

“We were actually more than that,” I say, acknowledging the secret relationship we had in public for the first time ever.

“You dated?” The girl asks, popping up from behind the glass case with a chocolate and vanilla croissant clutched between a set of plastic tongs.

“No,” we both say at the same time, both of us not wanting that rumor to get back to Brenna and potentially cause him any problems.

“BFF’s then?”

“Yes,” I say quickly. “The very best of friends,” I say and then meet Valentine’s eyes. There’s nothing friendly about the look he’s giving me, and I shiver at his effect on me. I push out a relieved breath when the guy making the drinks calls out my name to let me know the drink portion of my order is ready. I start to move past Valentine, but he steps in my path at the very last second. I almost run into him, making him have to steady me, his hands on me leaving me a little breathless.

“Is everything okay? I mean with Kendall and Ripley and your brother?” Valentine asks. He took me to the police station and had dropped me off at the door. He waited a few minutes, came inside, and made his way to his sister. They disappeared into her office after that, and this is the first time I’m seeing him since then. I haven’t been to the cabin or back to Valentine’s house since, choosing to drive Kendall to pick up her prescription and watch my goddaughter so Kendall could rest.

“No, it’s not okay but it’ll have to be for her,” I say and glance over at Elisa whose name I should’ve questioned before now. I’d accepted that my friend wanted to honor my mother because she was my friend, not because Elisa is her granddaughter. “It’ll also have to be okay for the baby Ripley is having soon…” I shrug. “Am I wrong for feeling sorry for my friend but not as much for my sister-in-law? I mean, I’ve grown to love Ripley because she’s my sister-in-law, but I don’t like her very much. I love Kendall, I like her, I consider her my family and I don’t want to see her hurt.”

“Take care of your friend,” he whispers. “No one will fault you for that,” he says but he’s wrong. My father will be disappointed in me for not siding with my family. He’ll want me to side with Ripley since I’m sure he’ll talk my brother into making things right with her. He’s all about optics, making our images as flawless as possible after the stain my mother’s departure left behind. “I went out and made sure the crew put your mother’s things where you wanted. I don’t have the key with me, so I’ll return it to you later. The weather will be warmer over the next week so the roads will be clear for a while.” He then fumbles through his next words saying, “You and the, uh, fiancé, should be good to travel in and out of town as you please. By the way… you look beautiful in the engagement photos.”

“The what…?” I ask but as soon as I do it’s as if the words have conjured him up. My phone starts to sound off and I know from the ringtone it's Beau. He’s probably telling me what time his flight will be landing after being rerouted and forced to land in Colorado. Though, he could be asking me if I’ve seen the engagement photos or read the online article with the details of the announcement.

“Here’s your order Christmas,” the cashier, Thalia, says staring at Valentine’s hands still gripping my arms.

I thank Thalia and reluctantly pull away from Valentine. “Elisa, come on so we can get back before your mother wakes up. She’s going to need that smoothie for sure.”

Valentine chuckles as both girls come over to us. “The ‘morning after’ smoothie?” Valentine asks. I nod and then get all tingly at seeing Valentine interact with his daughter. He kisses her atop her hood-covered head before he says, “You already know Elisa. But this is a good friend of mine from high school,” Valentine says to his daughter. “She’s best friends with Elisa’s mother.”

“Wait…” Breanna starts, her face lighting up. “You’re Creating with Chrissy,” the young girl says, surprising me with the name of my style blog. She grins widely, turning to her father. “You know Creating with Chrissy?” The girls ask excitedly, and I’m flattered and surprised all at the same time. “Oh my God, Daddy, you never listen to me when I’m talking,” the girl says and rolls her eyes away from her father and allows the green eyes she inherited from her mother to land on me. “I read your style blog. I used your suggestions to decorate daddy’s house for Christmas. I’ve read every post,” Breanna says and my heart swells tenfold. “I didn’t know you live here, in Anson Valley of all places.”

“I told you,” Elisa says and then turns to me. “She didn’t believe me when she showed me your picture and I told her I knew you,” Elisa says to me.

“I know her too,” Valentine adds to the conversation and then winks at his daughter like he should get points for introducing her to me. “Breanna, meet my good friend, Christmas Anson.”


A few minutes later I’m getting into Kendall’s car to head back to her townhouse and my phone sounds off again. Once I’m settled into the car, I check my phone and a smile covers my face when I see the words. I only briefly wonder how he got my phone number before I grin down at his message. I just needed to say that my wife is the most beautiful woman in every world. If you need anything at all you know how to find me.

Goodness… every time I have any sort of encounter with Valentine, those butterflies return. They take flight, and I shake my head at myself for allowing him to get to me this way. I then set off for Kendall’s townhouse without texting him back. As soon as I pull into her assigned parking space my phone goes off again. A soft smile curves the corners of my lips, and I try not to think too much about the fact that it disappears when I see that the message is from Juliette Lacoste asking that Beau and I post a selfie to social media to follow up on the engagement announcement. She specifies that my father’s cabin be in the background and to make sure I say that in the caption. The idea is to show that you acknowledge your engagement but you’re too busy being in love to make the announcement that big of a deal, Juliette’s text says about the feelings she wishes for the pictures to evoke.

I don’t respond to Juliette, nor do I respond to Valentine. I instead continue on my mission to make my friend feel better after she drank herself drunk to fend off her emotional pain instead of taking the pain relievers prescribed to her. She chased shots of tequila with red wine as she told me about how she and my brother got close after they ran into each other at a college party in Atlanta. Joseph was already dating Ripley at the time but had been willing to break up with her for Kendall after they dated a while. He was ready to become serious within their first few months of ‘dating’. Kendall wasn’t ready to settle down, and my brother is the settling down type, so they went their separate ways. Kendall found out she was pregnant with Elisa a couple of months after the last time they slept together but she didn’t tell Joseph until she was forced to. He had a rideshare driver drop him off at her apartment - he was drunk - and he saw her visibly pregnant, nearly seven months along. He begged her to marry him when he found out, but Kendall isn’t the kind of woman who gets married ‘for the kids’. She is independent and stubborn and would call herself a feminist. She would never allow her daughter to see her in a marriage for a reason other than love.

But I can’t be too mad at my brother. He might have kept this a secret but if the way Kendall has talked about Elisa’s father over the years is anything to go by, Joseph has been a good father. I always knew that would be the case, I’m just sad that such good news is tearing our family apart. No, I guess it’s not Elisa who is tearing my family apart but rather the fact that Joseph is very obviously in love with Kendall. He’s so in love with her that it has caused him to throw his morals aside and act in a way that’s in opposition to his usual loyal, kind, guy-next-door personality. Though, I guess when it comes to matters of the heart and love, people can sometimes act out of character or compromise on what they thought was a steady moral compass.

“Mama, I saw Breanna at the cafe,” Elisa says excitedly, and at a volume that makes my miserable-looking friend wince in pain. She’s standing at the counter with a coffee mug in her right hand, looking down at her brace like she can’t believe it’s there. More likely, she can’t believe she blurted out the truth like she did and is regretting her actions. My friend might be independent, she might be a free spirit, but she’s not evil and she’s not a homewrecker. I’m guessing she loves my brother just as much as he loves her.

When Kendall looks up at us, a relieved look covers her face. She puts her mug down and takes the smoothie. She immediately takes a sip from the smoothie as I sit the drink carrier on the counter. She closes her eyes as if the hangover concoction has instantly made all of her symptoms disappear and she kisses my cheek when I present her with the bag of pastries. “She’s going to summer camp and I want to go too. So please think about it, okay,” Elisa pleads before she takes her own drink.

“That is something we can discuss,” Kendall says so much like a mother who acts like a mother it makes me smile since she’s always insistent that she is nothing like other moms. “But it’s just December. Summer is some months away.” Kendall was the one who always said she’d never have kids and was sure Valentine and I would have half a dozen by the time we were thirty.

As if that’s a good enough answer for her, Elisa makes a sound of triumph exiting the dining area with her frozen hot chocolate, a strange choice when it’s freezing outside. She doesn’t waste any time leaving the grown-ups alone to go upstairs to her room to do whatever it is eight-year-olds do in their rooms. “Be careful with that drink. Do not spill it, Elisa,” Kendall yells in warning and gets a half-hearted assurance from Elisa that she will be careful as her feet stomp quickly up the stairs.

“So, who was the encounter with? The evil witch Brenna or the charming beau, Valentine?” Kendall asks, wondering which of Breanna’s parents I saw this morning, but she should already know since I didn’t come back cursing Brenna’s name. I roll my eyes before grabbing my coffee with a little cream and lots of sugar just how I like it. “You see what I did there? I used both of your boyfriend’s names together. I guess I’m not s hungover as I thought,” Kendall says with pride which forces a groan from my lips. I grab the bag with the chocolate and vanilla croissants and follow Kendall into her living room where she sits heavily onto the mauve corduroy couch and lets out a very audible sigh. “By the way… cute engagement photos. Though, last I checked, you were thinking of breaking up with Beaumont Lacoste. So, this is an interesting turn of events,” she says and then takes a long pull from the straw in her drink. “From your expression and general good mood, I’m guessing that you’ve seen Valentine and that he was also the one at the AC,” she says referring to Anson Cafe. “And while I might’ve been dealing with my own shit, I didn’t miss Val’s appearance at the police station yesterday. You two had been together, hadn’t you?”

“Beau proposed in front of a party full of his parents’ friends and family,” I say. “You know me. There’s no way I could embarrass him by saying no. I just didn’t think that Juliette Lacoste would be so… ready. She had us posing on a beach less than a week later when I thought I would have plenty of time to come up with a way to let Beau down easily. And as far as V… that’s a long and complicated story,” I say but the smile that follows is everything my friend needs to know which is probably why she asks her next question.

“So, you still want to break up with Beau, then?”

I blow out a breath, not wanting to answer her. “Things are so complicated now,” I say and then go into the story I wasn’t able to tell her last night since she was busy telling me her own story. I tell her about the engagement and the fact that Beau thought it was funny that I still intend to pursue my dream to work on a movie set as the lead wardrobe designer. I tell her about how Juliette has taken over the planning of the wedding like it was what my mother would’ve wanted or something. I tell her about getting to town and how stupid I was not to let the guy put the chains on the tires and about the small wreck. I go on to tell her that Valentine of all people came to rescue me, and she guessed correctly that the new sensors Samanda Trudeau put into the mountain face were how someone knew to come find me.

Kendall laughs hysterically at the fact that fate sent Valentine after me and ends up regretting the gesture because doing so irritates her hangover symptoms. “So, the first person you see when you get to town is your high school crush slash secret lover? Something like that would only happen to you,” she adds and laughs again.

“Oh, I think you’ve got me beat in the ‘something happening’ department,” I say. I shake my head. “I still can’t believe Elisa is Joseph’s.”

“She’s mine,” Kendall snaps but then sighs and adds, “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t take this out on you. It’s just that… now that I’ve finally fallen in love with him, I can’t have him. I was so proud to say I wasn’t the kind of woman who jumps at the chance to be a wife and mother. I was so stubborn and set in my ways. I was so independent that I think I might’ve missed my opportunity to give Elisa a stable family life.”

“But you didn’t love him then,” I say knowing it’s the truth without Kendall needing to say so. “You’d never agree to marry someone you don’t love. But he’s been good to her, right? I don’t need to go find him and be the third woman to curse him out in a day, do I?”

“I like how you redirected the conversation away from you and the little love triangle you have going on. Very smooth. But, yes, your brother always makes time for Elisa. Ripley and I don’t run in the same circles, so we rarely cross paths. She’s a ‘Brenna’ type,” Kendall says, and I know exactly what she means. Brenna was the kind of girl who needed attention from every male even if he was taken and she wanted every female to be jealous of her. I can imagine Brenna being a pageant mom, or a cheer mom, or the mom of the homecoming queen. It brings a petty smile to my face to know that Breanna probably isn’t giving her what she wants. The girl I met was edgy, bold, with a little tomboy on the side. I can tell she’s a daddy’s girl, especially if she was considering coming to Anson Valley for the summer to go to summer camp. I would’ve guessed a choice between the beaches of Hawaii and the humidity and boredom of Anson Valley would’ve been no choice at all. I can’t say my choice would’ve been Anson Valley. “She doesn’t have any kids, at least not yet,” Kendall continues talking about Ripley, her light brown skin suddenly looking a little green. She’s probably thinking about the fact that soon Ripley will have a child, one who will take time away from Elisa. I’m sure she’s worried that Joseph will leave her and Elisa behind to be with his new family. “I don’t have to worry about Elisa talking about Joe to the wrong person because my life doesn’t overlap with hers. Though, you’d be surprised at how much kids don’t discuss their parents,” Kendall says. “Speaking of Ripley… Have you heard about the lawsuit?” She asks and I have no idea what she’s talking about. “Your face says you haven’t which means they still haven’t decided what they want to do.” Her words scare me a little. Speaking of Ripley? What the hell has my sister-in-law done? “I’m assuming you’ll be informed if they decide to go forth with it, but the rumor is that Ripley doesn’t appreciate what Val has done with the Anson Cafe franchise. She thinks only someone with the last name of Anson, or someone related to the Anson’s by blood or through marriage, has the right to use the Anson name in any business venture. She feels as though Valentine should’ve come to your family and got permission to use the name, or he should’ve changed the name. But I doubt she has a case since she’ll have to prove that when people think of Anson Cafe, they think of the Ansons of Anson Valley, GA. People around here might argue that to be the case but I doubt you’ll be able to walk into an AC in any other city and be able to say the same,” she goes on. “The reason I know so much about it is that my boss’ wife is friends with Ripley. His wife is a lawyer and Ripley asked her if she has a case.” Kendall chuckles and adds, “My boss said that he doubts she has a case but the pettiness and messiness of it all makes for a good news story. He’s ready to do a whole editorial piece on whether or not the town sides with Ripley or Valentine. I admit it’s going to be the biggest controversy this town has seen in a long time, probably big enough to make people forget about what happened yesterday.”

“No. I doubt that. Yesterday was pretty crazy,” I say. “And I should be mad at you,” I add, and confusion makes her stop her descent to her straw.

“At me? Why? It was your crazy -”

“You lied to me,” I accuse, interrupting her. “You told me you were in Atlanta, but you were over at the high school doing gross things with my brother.” I sit back, not seriously mad at her. I’m mad at myself. My stomach drops and I shake my head. My eyes close and then I shake my head again as my thoughts swirl all over the place - mainly to the marriage that will automatically stop any lawsuit in its tracks and the fact that Valentine probably knows this.

He’s not playing you, Christmas. He’d never do that to you; I try to convince myself but can’t really trust him even though I want to. I haven’t seen him in a decade. People change. No. I know Valentine. He’d never use me like that. He’d never use me or try to charm me to stay with him just so he doesn’t have to deal with a lawsuit, would he? Because, as it stands, I’m his wife. As Valentine’s wife, as an Anson, a lawsuit for the reasons suggested by Ripley would be null and void.

“Wait… Why’d you get so quiet?” I open my eyes and Kendall sits forward. “You’re not really mad at me, are you? I -”

“Ripley and Joe have no case and your boss has no story, at least not one about a lawsuit against V,” I say, cutting her off. I groan, placing my head in my hands. “Because…There is an Anson tied to the Anson Cafe franchise by marriage.”

Kendall’s face scrunches, her journalistic mind going through all the possibilities in a matter of moments. Her hand then comes up to her mouth and she says, “You bitch!” I start to laugh because it’s an endearment, not an insult. “I’m not the only one who's been keeping secrets. But… Oh my God, Chrissy. You’re married to Valentine,” Kendall screams and I shush her. “How long? Why wasn’t I invited?” She chuckles and says, “Hell, Anson Valley might as well be called Pine Valley because this town is something straight from a 90’s soap opera.”


“You know you didn’t have to do this,” I say to Valentine when he stops his truck in the driveway of my father’s cabin. “I could’ve called my brother. Though, he might not want to talk to me right now. By now I’m sure the whole town knows about what happened at the school and they know I chose to leave the police station with Kendall and not my brother. Oh, and speaking of Kendall… she knows,” I say not having to spell it out for him. “There’s more to the story, but that’s not important right now,” I say still needing time to consider my feelings about the lawsuit Ripley had inquired about. I don’t want to think that Valentine might try to use our marriage to get himself out of the lawsuit, but it would be naive to not consider that.

“You’ve heard about the lawsuit rumors, haven’t you?” Valentine asks knowingly and I nod. I sigh and then he nods as well like he understands what that means and what I might say next. However, he holds up a hand to stop me saying, “I know it crossed your mind, and you don’t have to confirm or deny this, but I know your initial thought was that my insistence we stay together has something to do with a potential lawsuit. I want to stay together because I love my wife. No other reason.”

Why does he have to be the kind of person who says exactly what’s on his mind? It throws me off because people aren’t normally like him. Though, I admit Beau is sort of like Valentine in that way which is probably why I don’t take severe offense to the things he says to me. I’d rather he be honest than not.

“V… I believe you. I do. But the timing…” my words trail off when a car pulls into the driveway and parks next to Valentine’s truck as if finishing my thought for me.

I don’t recognize the car, nor can I see who’s inside because of the tinted windows. Though, I probably should’ve guessed it was Beau since his call earlier was to tell me he was surprising me by getting to Anson Valley earlier. I listened to the message he left but I didn’t really ingest what he said in that message until this very moment when I see Beau’s form unfold from the back of the vehicle.

The tint on Valentine’s windows is too dark to see inside but I don’t miss the slight frown that comes to Beau’s face when he hears the faint whine of the truck’s electric engine. His head then turns toward the cabin, his lips turn down into a frown like he never pictured anything so rustic-looking. However, his immediate judgment about the place is mistaken because the place has every modern amenity. My father, like him, would never have it any other way.

Beaumont Lacoste looks like a fish out of water but isn’t dressed much differently than Valentine had been that morning when I saw him at Anson Cafe. However, where Valentine had appeared as though his sex appeal could fit in any environment, anyone would guess that Beau isn’t from Anson Valley, and he isn’t used to a place like this.

“Well, he doesn’t look like an asshole at all,” Valentine comments, and I groan, realizing what I have to look forward to where Valentine is concerned. He won’t tell Beau that he and I are married but he also won’t be shy about his intentions because he was never shy about voicing his feelings for me when we were teens. It wasn’t his decision for us not to date and it wasn’t his decision to keep our close friendship a secret. If it was up to him, he would’ve broken up with Brenna and dated me instead, but a relationship with Valentine Trudeau wasn’t something of which my father would have ever approved. I told him to stay with Brenna so we would always be within one another’s orbit. Valentine was often around at events Brenna dragged him to, at least he was at the events that weren’t sanctioned by the school. He wasn’t the kind of guy who had school spirit. He hung out with me at his mother’s trailer on ‘away’ game nights, and on ‘home’ ones he’d wait for me to finish doing my thing with the dance team for half-time, and then we’d go somewhere and eat the tea cakes his mother would make for me on the nights I danced.

Yes, his mother knew about us. So did his sister and brother. They never mentioned our close relationship to a soul. They knew my father might make me stop seeing him if anyone ever found out and told him. I never asked Valentine if he told them to keep our relationship to themselves, but I like to think they did so on their own. I like to think they all understood that fighting with my father over my relationship with Valentine was not the way for me to assert my rebelliousness.

My rebelliousness came from my clothes, my refusal to be the cheerleader while my brother was the star athlete, my choice to be on the fringes of the popular group, and my refusal to get excited about events like cotillions and pageants. Those were things I could do that wouldn’t stress my father out too much. He barely knew how to raise a girl and it wouldn’t have helped for me to defy him on the things that mattered to him the most. Who I dated mattered to him. If I got good grades mattered to him. The way I acted in public mattered to him. People thinking he was a good father raising well-behaved, obedient children who were normal and didn’t cause him problems even though their mother walked out on them was what mattered to him.

All of those things still matter to him.

Noble Anson would be severely disappointed if he knew the entire truth of his children’s lives.

“I’m sure there are those who’d say you were once the town asshole with your brooding and your leather jackets and your obnoxiously loud motorcycle,” I return but don’t speak up in defense of Beau. He’s barely been in town a few minutes and he’s already judging. The press of his lips into a thin line suggests he’s already thinking of ways to persuade me to leave even though he knows I plan to stay until shortly after the new year.

“Like they say,” he starts, “it takes one to know one.” Valentine then chuckles again. I open the door to get out, shaking my head at Valentine. The opening door catches Beau’s attention, his unimpressed face switching instantly to a charming smile when he realizes it’s me. His smile quickly dissolves when he looks past my shoulder to see Valentine already rounding the front of the truck.

Why is he getting out of the truck? I think, thinking this can’t get any worse. But it does when Valentine reaches into his pocket and says, “You might need this to get inside. I’ll grab your bags and bring them in. You go ahead.”

“That’s okay, buddy, I have things under control,” Beau assures Valentine and then begins to walk toward Valentine. He’s reaching in his pocket, probably for his wallet, and that’s confirmed when he does just that and retrieves a twenty. “Just put the bags on the driveway. I’ll have my driver take them in for us.”

“You won’t need a driver, Beau. I have a rental. It’s just being serviced right now,” I say.

I look over to Valentine for confirmation of that since the truth is I haven’t thought about my rental car since I left it behind pinned against the mountain face. I had no idea if Valentine had it towed or what and he never thought I needed to know, he just took care of it for me. I open my mouth, close it, and then glare when Valentine takes the twenty from Beau and stuffs it in his jeans pocket. He shrugs and smirks, and I blow out a slow breath of frustration.

I wrap my hand around the key and wonder how Beau convinced himself so quickly that the man who just reached into his pocket and handed me the key to the cabin is just the ‘driver’. But that’s exactly what he’s done, not a hint of jealousy in sight.

Does it make me petty that I want Beau to be a little jealous upon seeing me get out of another man’s car and have that man hand me the key to my home? I’m sure it does but for some reason, I’m a little irked by him and his unflinching confidence in himself and me. He thinks the path he’s laid out for our lives is so perfect that I’d never dare get off it or take an indefinite detour.

“He’s been hired already, Chrissy. It’s fine,” Beau says about the driver. He snakes his arm around my waist and pulls me into him like Valentine isn’t even there. “Did you see the announcement?” Beau asks and then continues talking before I can say anything. “Mom says she’s getting calls about people wanting to do interviews and shoots leading up to our big day and she also wants you to call her so you can set up some dress-shopping appointments together. Several designers have already reached out to her wanting to design your dress,” he says. He then stares, waiting, and when I don’t respond he laughs. “You’re speechless. I can tell,” he says, which is the truth but not for the reason he thinks. He thinks an overwhelming sense of excitement has taken my words but it’s more like an overwhelming sense of being overwhelmed… with dread.

In all honesty, I want nothing to do with planning a wedding, the recognition that will come with being a politician’s wife, and I don’t want to be interviewed by anyone unless it’s about my business and what I do. In all honesty, I’d rather be exploring mine and Valentine’s new theory about what might have happened to my mother. I want to read every word in every journal related to the MV Generator and discuss what I’ve read with Valentine. He’s the only one who understands the side of me who grew up without a mother. He’s the only one I’ve been able to be completely honest with about my mother. Having had his own father walk out on his mother and siblings to go have another life, he was able to relate to me in a way no one else could other than my brother and there was no way I was going to share my feelings about our mother with him. Not that my brother wouldn’t be sympathetic to my feelings. But he’s always been on my father’s side. He agrees that my mother had a breakdown and walked away in a fugue state. They think her breakdown doesn’t allow her to remember us or return to us. They think their explanation is the simplest, and most likely, which makes no sense coming from two rational, logical men.

“We should… uh… go inside,” I say when Valentine appears after seeing Beau’s affection toward me and walking away. “You’re not used to this weather,” I say and I’m sure I hear Valentine chuckle as he walks past us and over to the porch where Beau’s driver is walking back from after depositing Beau’s one suitcase that has his toiletry bag attached to the top. I know Valentine is chuckling because he thinks I’m babying him but I’m speaking as a person who knows Beau and knows he hates being cold. He complained the entire night of our engagement photoshoot and kept mentioning that it’s ridiculous to be on the beach, at night, in December. He was right to complain but that doesn’t change the fact that I know he hates being cold.

“Neither are you,” Beau comments, stepping away from me and pulling his leather laptop bag onto his shoulder. “I know you can’t wait until you’re back where you don’t have to deal with this hellish weather,” he adds, already making his case for me to leave sooner than later. “I don’t think humans are meant to be this cold.”

“Here,” I say. I reach into my pocket, removing the key Valentine just handed to me. “Go let yourself inside. I need to speak with… my driver for a moment. He’s handling the rental car situation for me.”

Beau takes the key, gives me a peck on the lips, and walks to meet his driver. He says something to the man that the man nods to while I wait for Valentine at the front of his truck.

“You didn’t leave the charging table and device out in the open, did you? You put the device in the basement with everything else?”

“No,” he says, his expression turning sheepish. “I lied about putting it inside. The device, its components, and the notebooks are over at my place. I knew you wouldn’t want it where your father and brother might accidentally come across it. I didn’t want you to have to explain why you turned on the charging table.”


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