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Go Gently

Dedication

 

To all those who believe in magic and the power of love.

Thanks to my friends in Cornwall who are never too busy to answer my questions.

To Sara, my friend and fellow author, who cheered me on during the writing of this book.

The invocation Sarie uses in the Teinmlaida is by Tira Brandan-Evans, an adaptation of The Lorica, better known as St. Patrick’s Breastplate, and is used with her permission.

The words for Tom Bawcock’s Eve are by Robert Morton Nance 1873-1959. The work is considered to be in the public domain.

 

Chapter One

 

 

Laurel Rowan paced the weathered front porch, scanning the range road for the rooster trails of dust Chance’s truck would throw up. She heaved a sigh and leaned on the thick log railing, letting the wind blow through her hair. Impatiently, she straightened up and whirled around. Snatching her large bag off the bench by the wall, she rummaged for her cell phone. Chance was never late, why would he pick today of all days to not show up on time?

Her pony tail swished behind her as she stalked over to the post at the top of the stairs and leaned a hip against it. She glanced at the cell phone screen before starting the call to check how many bars were showing.

“I’m just turning in the lane.” Chance answered before the phone barely had a chance to ring.

The sun flashed off the windshield as the blue pickup came around the last bend at the top of the small coulee. Dust settled as he stopped in the yard. Laurel tossed her phone back in the bag and looped it over her shoulder before she jumped down the three shallow steps. Waving, she ran lightly across the grass toward him. Chance stepped out of the cab and removed his hat, slapping it on his thigh. The November sun slanted across the prairie, highlighting his strong features and intensifying the blue of his eyes.

“Where’s Carlene? I thought she was coming with us.” Laurel glanced at the empty cab.

“She changed her mind.” Chance shuffled his feet and dropped his gaze.

“What do you mean…changed her mind?” She pressed him for more information.

“Dang it, Laurel. I told her I didn’t want her to come.”

“What? Why would you do that?”

He mumbled something she didn’t catch, slapped his Stetson back on his head and climbed into the truck.

Laurel yanked open the passenger door, threw the bag onto the seat and swung up into the high cab. She fastened her seat belt and turned toward the boy behind the wheel. He’d stuck sunglasses on his face and she couldn’t read his expression.

“C’mon, spill. What’s up with you?”

“Ain’t nothin’, let it lie, will you?” Chance started the truck and slid it into gear.

“It is so something. You think I can’t tell when something’s bothering you? You and Carlene have a fight?” Laurel poked him in the arm with her finger.

“Leave off, I’m trying to drive.”

“You tell me right now or I’m getting out right here.” She made a show of reaching for the buckle of the seatbelt. Strong fingers closed over her hand, stopping her motions. Startled, Laurel looked down at the tanned hand that covered hers before meeting his gaze. The truck rolled to a stop as Chance engaged the clutch. She swallowed hard, discomforted by the intensity in his face.

“Don’t be an idiot.” A dark flush coloured his cheeks under the day old stubble. “Ever since you got back from England last year, you’ve been different somehow. I never know what you’re thinking any more…” His voice trailed off and he released her hand. Dipping his head so the brim of the Stetson threw his face into shadow, Chance released the clutch and allowed the pickup to gather speed.

“Oh, okay, I guess.” Laurel rolled the window down, using it as an excuse to look away from the boy she’d known all her life who was suddenly a stranger. “I thought Carlene wanted to come and meet Gramma Bella. I just know I’m going to find her today.”

“If we find her, there’ll be plenty of time for Carly to visit her with you. What does your dad think of all this, anyway?”

She hesitated before answering. “Dad doesn’t exactly know where I’m going today. He thinks we’re just going into Lethbridge for the day.”

“You think that’s wise, Laurie? Your dad’ll be madder than a wet hen when he finds out.”

“Don’t call me Laurie,” she protested. “You know I hate that name.”

“Okay, Laurel, what are you going to tell him when he finds out? And he will,” Chance continued when she opened her mouth to protest. “Mister Rowan is not a stupid man and you, missy, couldn’t keep a secret if you tried.”

“I don’t know, but Mom is on my side…and I can so keep a secret, so there.” She resisted the urge to stick her tongue out at him.

He snorted in disbelief. “Can not.”

“You still didn’t tell me why you came by yourself.”

“Leave it alone, Laurel.” Chance slowed at the end of the lane and glanced both ways before pulling out onto the paved highway.

“C ‘mon, spill it.” She poked him in the ribs hard enough to make him wince.

Flashing her an angry glance, he sighed and shook his head. “Fine. I told her not to come so I could spend some time with you. Alone.” His jaw clenched.

“What?” Laurel struggled to process his words and the meaning behind them.

“We used to hang out together, now it’s like you don’t have the time of day for me anymore.”

“That’s just plain stupid and you know it.” Heat rose in face. “We spend tons of time together, we still belong to all the same clubs. I just don’t get what you’re so fired up about.”

“You used to be over at our place all the time. Seemed like I couldn’t turn around without trippin’ over you. Now I never see you unless you’re with Carly.”

“I guess maybe I just grew up a bit. You always acted like you were mad at me for trailing behind you. One of your friends called me your buckle bunny last spring. I’m nobody’s buckle bunny.”

“Yeah, I straightened Ty out about that. You never let a bit of name calling bother you before, though.”

Chance quit talking and concentrated on the road, but Laurel was pretty sure he still had something stuck in his craw.

“All you ever talk about to Carly about is that guy in Cornwall.

“He’s my friend!” she defended herself.

“Friends with benefits?”

“Are you freaking kidding me? That’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard. Get your mind out of the gutter, Chance Cosgrove.”

“The way you carry on when you get an email from him, you can’t blame a guy for thinking it’s more than just friends.”

“Shut up, Chance. Just shut up.”

Laurel scrunched down in the seat as far as the seatbelt would let her and refused to look across the cab at the driver. The vehicle slowed as they went through Lundbreck.

“Do you want to stop for anything? This is the last place before we head north into the mountains.”

Laurel shook her head, still refusing to look at him. Out of the corner of her eye she saw the rise and fall of his shoulders as he shrugged. Once out of Lundbreck he picked up speed again. At the junction of Highway 3 and 22, Chance turned north on 22. The road wound its way through the towering mountains, the poplar trees were bare of the brilliant gold leaves, leaving only stark branches showing against the blue green of the conifers. Usually, Laurel loved this drive but her annoyance with Chance soured the experience. It was the last time this year she’d be able to go this way before the National Parks closed the highway at Highwood House.

Chance seemed as disinclined to talk as she was. She plugged her MP3 player into the dock and set it to play to break the awkward silence. No luck with getting a radio or cell phone signal this deep in the wilderness.

 

 

* * *

 

 

Two and a half hours later Chance pulled the pickup into the parking lot by the Shell in Bragg Creek. “Where do we go from here?”

Laurel pulled the crumpled envelope out of her pocket and smoothed it out. The return address was a bit smudged, but it was still legible. “It’s on White Avenue, number one-thirty-two.”

“Do you know where that is? What street are we on now?” Chance craned his neck to read the street sign. “We’re at Balsam Avenue right now.”

“No idea, I should have brought a map. There’s the post office, let’s ask there.” Laurel opened the door and slid down out of the truck. “Are you coming?” She turned to look at Chance.

“Nah, I’ll just wait here.” He switched off the truck.

“Suit yourself.” Laurel shrugged and turned her collar up against the wind whipping through the tiny parking lot. She ignored the surge of irritation. Chance had a burr under his saddle, that was for sure. What was so difficult about coming with her to the post office? And what was with his acting jealous of Coll? Reaching her destination, she pulled open the door and banished all thoughts of Coll and Chance. Today was about finding Gramma Bella.

There was no one waiting so Laurel smiled at the lady who was sorting mail behind the counter.

“How can I help you?” The woman set the bundle of letters down and came to the counter.

“I need to know where White Avenue is and how to get there from here.”

“Where are you parked?”

“Over by the Shell station.”

“Go out onto Balsam and turn right, at the stop sign turn right again. Then take the first right, that’s White Avenue. What address are you looking for?”

“One-thirty-two. I think my gramma lives there.”

“What’s your grandmother’s name?” The woman peered at Laurel intently.

“Bella.” She shuffled her feet, unnerved by the directness of the post mistress’ stare.

“Humph, Bella never mentioned having a granddaughter. Fact is, the woman never talks about her family, come to think of it.”

“So, she does still live here?” A thrill of excitement spiraled through her as she waited for the response.

The woman nodded. “Her place is just outside of town. Follow White Avenue out past the old trading post and along the river. Just as you go up the hill, there’s a point of ground that sticks out, the driveway is on your right before the crest of the hill. Be careful turning in, people drive way too fast on that stretch of road.”

“Thanks,” Laurel called. She almost raced out the door, the ratty envelope clutched in her hand.

“I got directions,” she announced when she re-joined Chance.

“Where do we go from here?’ He turned on the ignition and slid the shifter into first gear, the clutch still depressed.

“Go out onto Balsam, which is right there, and then turn right at the stop sign.” She pointed at the busy corner.

The truck reversed and after Chance made the right turn, he glanced at Laurel. “Which way now?”

She consulted the notes she scrawled on the back of the envelope. “Take the first right, it should be White Avenue.”

They stopped at the four way stop and waited their turn. “Yeah, the sign says White Avenue. So far so good.” Chance made the turn after the large truck coming down highway 22 went through. “Look for street numbers, will you, Laurel?” The narrow road was hemmed in with tall spruce and fir and still looked a bit the worse for wear from the huge flood of June 2013. A number of damaged houses were up for sale.

They passed the Barbeque Steak House. “We’re at fifty. There was a sign on that restaurant we just passed.”

“Keep looking, I hope we’re going in the right direction,” Chance sounded doubtful.

“There was no other way to go, this road started at that four way stop.” Laurel continued to watch for street signs. Another restaurant was on the right. “Bavarian Inn, seventy-five White Avenue. The post office lady said to watch out for an old trading post, it must be further along.”

“Look, there’s the river.” Chance pointed ahead where the thick growth of trees thinned out.

“There’s the trading post.” Laurel bounced with excitement as the pickup rounded a wide curve in the road. The land rose sharply upward on the left, the road ran beside the river on the right.

“This is where they filmed a lot of that old TV show, North of 60,” Chance remarked.

“I didn’t know that,” Laurel said. “Okay, when we get to that bit of hill up ahead, the driveway should be on the right part way up. Lady said we can’t miss it.”

Half way up the hill a gate stood open at the end of a short drive. Chance pulled in and let the engine idle. “Now what? Are you sure this is the place?”

“The address is right,” Laurel said.

Chance killed the engine and turned to look at her. “Do you want me to come with you or would you rather do this on your own?”

Laurel swallowed, her mouth suddenly dry. “What if she doesn’t remember me? Or doesn’t want to talk to me? Maybe we should just go home.”

“I didn’t drive almost three hours for you to turn tail and run, Laurel.” Chance glared at her. “C’mon, I’ll go with you”

Feeling like a hundred elephants were sitting on her chest, she got out of the truck and came around the front to join him.

“Ready?” he asked.

“Not really, but let’s do it anyway.” Laurel found it hard to get the words past the lump in her throat.

Three broad shallow steps led up to a small porch. Laurel raised her hand to knock, but hesitated. A hundred doubts racing through her thoughts. She half turned to run back to the truck, but then whirled back and knocked loudly on the red painted door.

Chance moved nearer until his shoulder touched hers. The contact was reassuring and helped calm her anxiety and steady the racing of her heart. They waited a moment or two, but there was no response. Laurel knocked again and stepped back a pace. After a few minutes of silence, she looked up at Chance and shrugged.

“She must be out.” Laurel’s voice wavered a bit.

“Maybe,” Chance agreed.

 

 

 

Chapter Two

 

 

“Are you looking for Bella?” The woman’s voice startled Laurel so badly she took a quick step backward and would have landed on her butt at the bottom of the stairs if Chance hadn’t stopped her fall.

“Yes, is she home, do you know?” Chance answered for Laurel as she couldn’t seem to get any words to come out of her mouth.

“Depends on who you are,” she replied enigmatically.

“I’m her granddaughter, Laurel,” she squeaked, having finally found her voice.

The woman walked toward them and leaned on the fence separating the two properties. A slight frown creased her forehead. “Didn’t know Bella had a grandchild. She never talks about her family.”

“My dad and her had a fight a long time ago. I found out where she was from a friend,” Laurel explained.

“Well, you’re wasting your time. Bella isn’t here.” The neighbor lady turned to go back to working in her garden.

“Is she going to be back soon?” Laurel persisted.

“Not for me to say. Bella doesn’t like people knowing her business.”

“Please.” Her throat felt tight and her eyes stung with unshed tears. “I really need to talk to her. I have a message from an old friend of hers.”

The woman straightened up and came back to the fence. “No need for theatrics, young woman. Tears won’t get you anywhere with me. Where do you live?”

“What’s that got to do with anything?” Chance demanded.

“A body can’t be too careful with personal information. How do I know you’re who you claim to be?”

“I live on a ranch near Pincher Creek. It belonged to my Grampa D’Arcy and he passed it on to my dad,” Laurel volunteered.

“Hmmpf” the neighbor lady mumbled. She stood for a minute with her head down, twirling the end of her hoe in the dirt. “What’s your momma’s name?”

Chance took Laurel’s arm and pulled her toward the truck. “C’mon, this isn’t getting us nowhere. Let’s go back to the post office and see if she moved recently and left a forwarding address.”

Laurel dug in her heels and pulled free of his grip. “Anna, Mom’s name is Anna. Now are you going to tell me if Gramma Bella is around or not?”

The neighbor lady heaved a huge sigh and leaned the hoe against the fence. “You might as well come over and have some tea. It’s a long story.”

“Really? This is still her place?” Excitement lent a high pitch to her voice. “We found her, Chance. We found her.” Laurel danced in a circle around him.

“Hold your horses, Laurie. Wait and see what the woman has to say before you get all fired up,” Chance cautioned.

“Don’t be such a sceptic, and don’t call me Laurie!”

“Are you two coming or not?” The woman stood with her hands on her hips and a stern expression on her face. “You can leave your vehicle where it is, young man. Nobody’s going to bother it.” She tramped toward the back door of her house.

Laurel let herself through the little gate built into the low fence between the yards. “C’mon, Chance. I don’t want to go by myself.”

“Fine, but I don’t think we’re gonna get anything worthwhile out of her.” He followed Laurel through the gate and down the stone path.

“Come in, come in,” she waved them toward a bright yellow table in the centre of the room, “sit wherever you like, just watch out for Gemma, that cat loves to sleep on the chairs.”

Silently, Laurel sat at the table after dutifully checking the chair for sleeping cats. Chance sat opposite her and raised an eyebrow in amusement.

“I’m Ally, I promised Bella I’d look after her place for her. Why are you two looking for her again?”

“When I was in Cornwall, when my mom was so sick, I stayed with an old friend of my gramma’s. I found some old letters from Gramma Bella to Sarie. She’s the lady I stayed with. She told me Gramma is still alive,” Laurel explained.

“Why would you think she was dead?” Ally appeared astounded.

“Because my parents led me to believe she was. They never actually said it, they just implied it and never clarified if what I thought was true was really the truth.”

“Must have been some argument your father had with her.” Ally leaned closer, a gleam in her eye at the thought of juicy gossip.

“It was over my grandfather,” Laurel said bluntly, but offered no more explanation.

“He’s dead though, isn’t he?” Ally prodded.

“Grampa D’Arcy is gone, yes,” Laurel agreed. There was no way in hell she was going to mention Vear Du to the woman.

“Where is Laurel’s gramma, then?” Chance broke into the conversation. “You said you’re looking after the place while she’s gone. Where is she?”

Laurel sent him a smile of thanks for steering the conversation back on track.

“Well, now that’s a story, isn’t it?” Ally poured tea into the three mugs before setting the pot on the table. “Your grandmother is quite an interesting woman with a very eccentric outlook on life.”

“You sound like you don’t like her all that much,” Laurel declared. Chance put a hand on her arm to remind Laurel to keep her temper in check.

“Quite the opposite, my dear, quite the opposite. Bella and I get along famously. We’re like two peas in a pod.” Ally laughed and sipped her tea, blue eyes smiling at her over the rim.

“So, tell us the story,” Chance demanded.

“Drink your tea, son. I’ll tell you what I know in good time.”

Laurel dutifully lifted the mug to her lips. Chance took a swallow of his and promptly spit it out.

“What is that stuff?” He wiped at his shirt front. “It tastes like swamp water.”

Laurel giggled and handed him the towel Ally threw on the table.

“Devil’s Claw tea, it’s good for you,” Ally told him.

“I’ll stick to water, thanks.” Chance shoved the mug as far away from him as he could.

Laurel took another sip. It wasn’t as bad as Chance made out, but it was different than anything she’d had before.

Ally settled down in a chair at the head of the table and looked from one of them to the other. “Where to begin, where to begin…” she mused.

“Try the beginning,” Chance prompted.

 

 

 

Chapter Three

 

 

“Bella came here not long after I did,” Ally began. “At first she kept to herself, but after a while we became friends. She never talked about her family much, or why she decided to move here when she could have stayed on the ranch. Over time she confided in me a bit, but only little things. She loved your mother, Laurel, and she doted on your father. I could tell just by the way she talked about them. It wasn’t often she mentioned them, though. I only know your mother’s name, and that Bella’s father arranged a marriage with a rancher near Pincher Creek. He packed her onto the ship and washed his hands of her. I think she missed her home in Cornwall and being near the sea. I’d see her lots of times sitting down on the banks of the river listening to the water rush by.”

“Can you get to the point and tell us where she is?” Chance interrupted the torrent of words.

“Yes, please, can you tell us where she is?” Laurel pleaded.

Ally paused and stared hard at Laurel, who repressed the urge to squirm under the scrutiny. Apparently having made up her mind about something, Ally took a deep breath and let it out slowly, the air hissing softly between her teeth.

“Bella came flying over here all in a tizzy, asking if I would keep an eye on her place while she was gone. She was right upset, almost in tears, and frantic to get on the road as fast as possible. Of course I told her I’d watch the place. It’s no trouble at all, really. Anyway, she lit out of here like a cat with its tail on fire. I haven’t heard from her since.”

“Where did she go?” Laurel ground her teeth in frustration.

Ally looked at her queerly. “Why to the airport, of course, dear.”

“She flew somewhere?” Laurel clenched her hands into fists in her lap.

“Yes, young lady, she did. How else could she get to England in a hurry?” Ally waved her hand across the table toward Laurel and Chance. “Come now, drink up your tea and I’ll tell you what I know.”

Laurel groaned inwardly. Getting information out of Ally was like pulling hen’s teeth. Dutifully, she took a sip of the tea. Chance eyed the concoction and pushed his cup further away from him.

“Not thirsty, sorry, m’am,” he apologized.

Ally settled back in her chair and stroked the huge orange cat that sprang into her lap.

“As I was saying, Bella came charging over here all upset. I couldn’t understand what she was going on about until she calmed down some. An old friend of hers called with some bad news. Somebody Bella cared about was sick or hurt. Maybe she said they were missing? I don’t rightly recall the details, though the up-shoot of it is, Bella went running off to England.”

“Did she say who called? Was it Coll?” Laurel leaned forward in her chair. “Did she mention who was in trouble?”

Chance snorted and frowned at the mention of Coll’s name and Laurel laid a hand on his knee under the table warning him not to interrupt now that the woman seemed to be on a roll.

Ally scratched the big tom under the chin and her forehead crinkled as she frowned. “It was a funny name she told me, a friend from when she was young—”

“Sarie, was it Sarie who called?” Laurel broke in.

“It’s not polite to interrupt someone when they’re speaking,” Ally reprimanded her. “They sure don’t teach manners in school anymore, do they” She caught Laurel’s gaze and raised an eyebrow.

“I’m sorry for being rude,” she apologized to the older woman. “But was it Sarie who called?”

“Thank you, dear. Apology accepted.” She took a sip of tea. “Yes, I do believe that’s the name she kept repeating. Sarie, is it. Short for Sarah, I presume.”

“I’m not sure what her real name is, she just goes by Sarie.”

Do you know where in England she was headed?” Chance turned the conversation back to the matter at hand.

“Her old home, where she grew up. Some odd name…Penwith, Pendeen…it started with pen, at any rate.”

“Penzance? Is that it? I’m pretty sure she grew up in Penzance, ‘cause Sarie lives near there and Emily, another one of her friends, still lives there.”

“Yes, dear, I think you’re right. It was Penzance.”

“Who is missing or hurt? Did she tell you anything about that?” Laurel twirled her mug of tea between her palms, watching the pale green liquid swirl like a tiny whirl pool.

Ally reached across the table and put a hand on her arm. “Stop that, girl. You’re going to spill on my nice clean tablecloth.”

Chance pushed his chair back and stood up. “We gotta go soon or we’ll never get home in time for chores.”

“Don’t be in such a hurry, young man. I don’t get many visitors and I’m enjoying your unexpected company. But if you’re in such a hurry…it was another odd name. I thought she was saying ‘oh dear, oh dear’ but apparently she was saying—”

Vear! She was saying Vear Du, wasn’t she?” Laurel stood up in her excitement.

“Why, yes, that’s exactly what she kept repeating. Such an odd name. Is it male or female?”

“It’s the man she was in love with as a teenager, before she came to Canada.”

“When did she leave?”

Laurel smiled at Chance. She could always trust him to get to the point. Caught up in trying to pry information out of the woman, she’d totally forgotten to find out how long Gramma Bella had been gone.

“Let me see if I can remember exactly when she left.” Ally paused and looked over Laurel’s head for a minute or two. “Yes, it was right near Hallowe’en, so about two weeks ago. Bella called it some weird name, though instead of Hallowe’en.”

“Guy Fawkes Day,” Chance suggested.

“No, it wasn’t that. It sounded like Sowen, but she said it had nothing to do with pigs. Your grandmother was more than a bit odd sometimes.”

“She meant Samhain, it’s spelled nothing like it sounds, but that’s what she was talking about. It’s one of the cross quarter days and it used to mark the beginning of a new year in the old Celtic calendar. It’s a time of year when the veil between the worlds is thin and those who have passed on can come back and visit. In Mexico they call it the Feast of the Dead and leave offerings on the graves of their loved ones.

“If you say so, dear. That’s all a little beyond me, I’m afraid,” Ally replied.

“We really gotta get going, Laurel.” Chance edged toward the door.

“I’m coming, just give me a sec.”

She waited until the door swung shut behind him before she spoke.

“Thanks for letting me know where Gramma Bella is, Ally. And thanks for looking after her place while she’s gone. Now I know where she is, I’m gonna come and visit as often as I can. Even if Dad doesn’t approve.”

“In that case I look forward to seeing more of you, Laurel. Now you better scat or your boyfriend’s gonna leave without you.” Ally patted her arm.

“He’s not my boyfriend,” she protested.

Ally laughed. “A body would have to be blind not to see the way he looks at you. Take it from an old lady, that boy has feelings for you.”

“Thanks again, I really do have to get going, but I wanted to let you know how much I appreciate the information.”

“Run along, dear.”

“Bye, and thanks again.” Laurel opened the door and ran down the shallow steps. Chance had already turned the truck around with its nose pointed at the gate. She got in and hardly had the door shut before the pickup was rolling forward.

 

 

 

Chapter Four

 

 

“What do you think, Chance? She’s kind of an odd duck. I wonder if I should call Sarie, or Coll. They should know if Gramma Bella is back in Penzance.” Laurel tucked a foot underneath her and half-turned toward Chance.

“Sure, go ahead and call Coll, if that’s what you want.” His lip curled and a frown darkened his face. “Why not call the girl you met over there, Ashleen, or something?”

“I could, I guess. I might call her anyway. What’s wrong with me calling Coll?”

“Nothing, I guess,” he muttered. “If your gramma really is in Cornwall, what are you gonna do?”

“I don’t know, this is getting more complicated by the minute. I was counting on her being home when we got there. I can’t tell Dad, he’ll go postal when he finds out I’ve even been looking for Gramma.”

“”Can you talk to your mom, then? Will she understand better?” Chance took his eyes off the road long enough to glance over at her.

“Yeah, I’m gonna tell Mom as soon as I get home. She’ll know what to do.”

“You wanna stop and grab a sub or something in town before we head out?”

Laurel nodded and Chance pulled into the small plaza by the gas station. After a quick meal, they headed toward Pincher Creek. Chance seemed disinclined to talk, so Laurel was left alone with her thoughts.

It was dark by the time Chance dropped her off. She waved good-bye before taking the steps in one leap. The lights were on in the kitchen and her dad’s office. Laurel pussy-footed down the hall past the open door of the office. In the kitchen, Mom was chopping vegetables at the counter.

“Hey, Mom.” She grabbed a can of pop from the fridge and sat down at the table. “Can I help with anything?”

“Nope, I have everything under control. Did you find what you were looking for in Lethbridge? You were gone longer than usual. You and Carly lose track of time?” Anna Rowan pushed a lock of hair off her forehead with the back of her hand.

“No, actually, we didn’t go to Lethbridge.”

“Was there something in Medicine Hat you wanted?”

Laurel shook her head. “We didn’t go to the Hat, either. It was really weird, though. Carly didn’t come, it was just Chance and me.”

‘Is Carly sick or something?” Mom caught her gaze across the kitchen island.

“No, Chance asked her not to come. He said he wanted it to be just him and me. And he got all prickly every time I mentioned Coll’s name. What’s up with that?”

Anna laid the paring knife down and came to sit at the table beside Laurel. “Why do you think he’d do that?”

“Beats me, we’ve been friends forever, and the three of us always do things together.”

“I think Chance is interested in you, sweetie. Has he asked you to go out with him?”

“No! I mean, I like him and all, but not that way. It’d be like kissing my brother or something.” Laurel made a face and grimaced.

“Just keep it in mind, that maybe the boy sees you as more than a friend now that you’ve all grown up a bit.”

Laurel nodded and snagged a banana from the bowl on the table.

“So, if you didn’t go to Lethbridge or the Hat, where did the pair of you go?”

“Chance drove me up to Bragg Creek.” She watched her mom’s face carefully for her reaction.

“What did you find in Bragg Creek? What made you want to go there?” Anna frowned and got up to move back to the counter, avoiding looking directly as her daughter.

“I went looking for Gramma Bella, I know she’s not dead,” she blurted out.

“Your father and I never told you she was dead, where did ever get that idea?”

“Mom, look at me. You both let me believe she was dead, not just moved away. When I was visiting Sarie, I found a bunch of letters from Gramma Bella to her. The return address on the latest one was Bragg Creek.”

“I wish you’d mentioned this before and not gone haring off to find her on your own.”

“I didn’t think Dad would let me go if he knew where I was going. Mom, what did they fight about that upset things so badly that she moved out and nobody ever mentioned her again?”

“I’m afraid that’s something you need to ask your father about. Now tell me, did you get a chance to speak to Bella?”

“She wasn’t home. The neighbor lady said she went off to Cornwall in a big hurry about two weeks ago.”

“Cornwall? You’re sure the woman said she went to Cornwall, not London?”

Laurel nodded. “Ally, the next door neighbor, said Gramma Bella got a call from Sarie that someone was in trouble, and then she left in a big hurry.”

“Hmmm, ...

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