Tara Blevins is in desperate need of a second chance after her son’s death. But will she find it in the old lodge left to her by her cousin, or the man who broke her heart by promising her he’d love her forever.
Nothing about Tara and their troubled past adds up in Devon McAllister’s mind. Tara acts like he’s the one who broke off their relationship, yet nothing could be further from the truth. Devon tells her that after she left Second Chance, he wrote her several letters and gave them to her cousin to mail. When she didn’t respond to them, he believed he had his answer.
Was it all just a horrible misunderstanding? Why would Lisbeth want to keep them apart? And what might have happened if they’d each had a chance to read those letters.
Tara Blevins topped the final mountain before Second Chance, Montana and the little town spread out in the valley below her. She hadn’t been back here since that last summer. The hurt she thought she’d dealt with long ago resurfaced.
I’ll wait for you forever…Her high school sweetheart, Devon McAllister, had promised right before Tara’s father took her away the summer before her senior year.
But Devon hadn’t waited for her even a year. When she’d returned home to her great-cousin’s lodge the following summer, Tara had learned the ugly truth. The boy who had promised her forever, the one she thought she’d spend the rest of her life with, was seeing someone else. Devon had broken her heart.
Tara drew in a breath and shoved aside that painful memory. What happened between her and Devon was so long ago and she wasn’t an impetuous teenager anymore. She was a grown woman and she’d come back home to heal.
Learning that she’d inherited the old Second Chance Lodge from her great cousin Lisbeth wasn’t a surprise. After all, there was no one else to leave it to.
After thirteen years of being away, coming home seemed like a sign. Maybe she had one more second chance in her after all.
She drove through town and up Second Chance Mountain to the lodge. After rounding the last snake like curve on the treacherous mountain road and the lodge materialized through the foggy afternoon. The massive three story Ponderosa Pine full log house was breathtaking against the snowy backdrop of the mountain.
Two weeks had passed since she’d learned of the inheritance. Her cousin’s attorney had tracked her down, told her she was the last remaining relative of her great cousin Lisbeth Daniels, and sent her the keys to the lodge.
Regret hung in Tara’s heart. She hadn’t visited her cousin since that fateful summer ended and that was something she’d always been sorry for. Lisbeth had no family of her own. She adorned Tara and her father and yet visiting Second Chance after what happened with Devon was just too difficult.
Tara couldn’t remember the last time she’d spoken to Lisbeth. She had no idea her great-cousin was even ill. The attorney’s note had been brief and dry. Lisbeth had closed the lodge a little over ten years earlier when she was no longer able to run the place by herself. Lisbeth had chosen to live lout the remainder of her life up here all alone.
When Tara had called the attorney to let him know she received the letter and to ask questions, she’d found out he knew very little about his client only that she’d died from complications due to heart problems. He’d warned her about the place needing some repairs and told her she might want to wait to move into it until they were completed.
Tara hadn’t listened. She was in desperate need of a new beginning. With Christmas quickly approaching, marking the two year anniversary of her son’s death, she couldn’t bear to stay in Texas and face it by herself. So she’d packed up what meager possessions she owned and headed north, ignoring the attorney’s warning that it might be best to wait until the spring thaw before venturing this far north on her own.
The journey through most of the northern states had been nerve-wracking to say the least, but the last hundred miles had kept her eyes glued to the road ahead and her hands white knuckled on the steering wheel. Tara couldn’t help but wonder if she’d made the worst mistake of her life by traveling to Montana in the dead of winter.
Now, looking at the lodge in the light of a dreadfully gloomy afternoon, she still wasn’t so sure she’d made the right decision.
Tara slowly pulled into the drive and parked the truck close to the porch. The lodge stood like a majestic lady from by gone days, stoically weathering the cold December day. She was what the attorney was talking about. The place was showing multiple signs of neglect and her worries increased.
“I’m sorry, Lisbeth. I should have kept in touch,” Tara whispered into the cold winter day, her breath chilling the windshield in front of her. Nothing about the empty lodge reminded her of the summers she’d spent here as a child. The joy she had those final three years as a teenager when she’d come to live at the lodge full time while her father worked a logging job two states over.
“It’ll be okay,” she tried to reassure herself. This was her chance for a fresh start. It had to be okay. As brave as those words sounded, nothing could be further from the truth. She was terrified of ending up alone like her great-cousin.
Tara grabbed the small amount of groceries she’d purchased earlier in the day and hurried up the front steps. The snow that had followed her most of the way through Montana continued to come down harder.
Her hands shook as she stuck the key in the lock, opened the door, and saw the place for the first time.
There were dust cloths covering most of the furniture. Lisbeth’s attorney had told her he’d have someone give the place a good cleaning. He’d been true to his word. The pine wood floors shined. The aspen ceiling soared fifteen feet in the air. An enormous antler chandelier hung majestically from it. She remembered how impressed she’d been the first time she’d seen the chandelier and the lodge. She felt the same way now. Even with its obvious signs of neglect, the place was stunning and for the first time since Max’s death she felt like she was going to be okay.
Tara dropped her groceries on the kitchen island and walked through each room of the downstairs while something she hadn’t considered before occurred to her. This was the first time she’d ever truly lived alone. Throughout her college years she’d had roommates, and then she and Mark had married. Even though they’d pretty much been living separate lives these past two years, he’d still been in the same house. Now it was just her up here on the mountain top all alone.
She shoved the uneasiness aside and returned to the kitchen where she went about doing the menial task of putting away the small amount of groceries. She’d do a more thorough shopping once she knew what was needed at the lodge.
With the groceries put away, she went back outside to carry in the rest of her belongings.
Tara remembered that the lodge had ten guest rooms on the second and third floors. At one time, the place was always filled to its capacity. During those final years that she’d lived at the lodge full time, Tara had loved helping her cousin out with the cleaning and the cooking. She got to meet people from all over the world.
And she and Devon had fallen in love.
Don’t go there, she warned herself as she dropped her bags in the master bedroom on the first floor. Crying over what might have been thirteen years earlier was foolish. She’d lived her life. Fallen in love with Mark. They’d made a beautiful baby boy together. After what had happened to Max, mourning the loss of her first love seemed downright self-centered.
Tara closed the bedroom door and went back to the great room. The thought of unpacking was about as appealing as heading back down the mountain. Still, it was barely dark out and she had too much time on her hands. She decided to explore the rest of the lodge.
Besides the kitchen, master suite, and formal dining area, there was a room off the great room that Tara had always loved. The library.
She opened the door and felt the chill of room embrace her. Off to the right, a wall of windows faced out to where the slopes of the ski resort had once been. Tara glanced out at the sagging ski lifts. At one time, the Second Chance ski resort had been rated one of the best in the country. Some of the wealthiest people in the world came to the lodge to ski each year.
Tara let the velvet curtains fall away and turned her attention to the rest of the room she had once loved. Bookshelves covered two of the walls. On the opposite side from the windows was the enormous woodstove was the center point of the room. She remembered the winters spent in front of the stove watching the fire burning brightly through the glass window.
Like the rest of the first floor, the library had been cleaned until it shined. Drop cloths covered the leather sofa and chairs. She took them off. The last time she’d seen her cousin had been that summer before she and her father left for their new home in Blair, Washington. Lisbeth had been sitting on that very sofa. She’d tried to hide her sadness, but Tara was certain there were tears in her eyes. Lisbeth had told her so many times that she considered Tara the daughter she never had.
Tears filled Tara’s eyes. “I’m so sorry, Lisbeth. I was a coward. I should have insisted that I come back to the lodge even though dad was against it, and I was afraid of running into Devon. You deserved better from the both of us.”
With the bitter memories of her own failures too heavy to bear, she left the room and headed up the grand staircase made from native Aspen trees. There were five bedrooms and two baths on the next two floors. She opened each door and peeked inside at the familiar rooms.
The third floor was where her room had been. She went inside and glanced around. Everything was the same as it had been when she’d stayed there. It was as if Lisbeth hadn’t changed a thing. Tara went over to the bed and felt under the mattress. Her old diary was right where she’d left it as well. She opened it to the last pages and read what her younger self had written there. She’d poured her heart out in that diary. Described in her best sixteen year old words what it felt like to lose the boy of her dreams.
Dear Me, it hurts so bad…
Tara remembered her cousin telling her once that she’d wrote in a diary as a child. She’d told her it was like writing a friendly letter to oneself. Lisbeth told her she always addressed her entries to Dear Me. That was the reason why Tara had started writing as a child. She’d wanted to be just like Lisbeth.
I can’t believe he’s seeing someone else.
Foolish. How young and foolish she’d been back then.
Tara closed the book and took it with her as she left the room.
At the end of the hall, an additional set of stairs led up to the attic. A window at the end of the hall gave a different view of the mountain behind the house. Outside, the sun was low on the horizon. An alpine glow set the mountain ablaze with color. She’d forgotten how spectacular it could be. Half way up the mountain, there had once been a small chalet that served as a place for skiers to warm themselves in front of a fire and order warm drinks. She could just make it out. It looked as if it had seen its better days.
Her cousin’s attorney had told her with the closing of the Second Chance ski resort, there wasn’t anywhere close for people to come and ski. Most of the tourist had stopped coming to the area. It had a direct effect on the economy.
Would she ever be able to do what her cousin had done on her own? The thought of running the lodge seemed overwhelming and ridiculous. She was a doctor, not an inn keeper. Besides, she wasn’t anywhere close to being ready to deal with those type of problems. She was still healing.
Tara glanced up at the stairs leading to the attic. She loved exploring the room as a child. She’d gotten into so many adventures back then, not to mention trouble. Her cousin had finally taken to locking the door after a while to keep Tara from snooping.
She hesitated a second longer then hurried up the stairs without considering the fact that Lisbeth might still have left the room locked. She stood in front of the door and turned the doorknob. It opened in her hand and she stepped inside and flipped on the lights.
The room was freezing and she could see her breath. This was the one room that the cleaners hadn’t visited. The room that ran the length of the lodge and was covered in several inches of dust.
Old furniture and knickknacks was stuffed in every nook and cranny. There were dozens of old boxes marked Christmas decorations. Tara remembered how amazing the lodge was at Christmastime. Her cousin used to go all out.
A challenging idea took life inside of her. It was almost Christmas now. What if she did the place up like it was in its glory days? It would certainly make the holiday less dreary. The idea took life and for the first time in a long time, she was excited about something. She was taking a step forward. Tomorrow, she’d go out into the woods behind the house and find the perfect Christmas tree.
Tara opened the first box marked Christmas and it was filled with dozens of tree ornaments from years past. The next one held Christmas lights tied neatly in a circle. In all, there were more than ten boxes and enough decorations to make the lodge look festive again.
She took the boxes down to the first floor great room. Once she had finished carrying down the last of the boxes, Tara went back to the attic to turn off the lights. She glanced around one more time. An old trunk in the corner captured her attention. She remembered it from the past. She’d always loved how beautiful it was.
When she went over she noticed something that was never the case in the past. The trunk was unlocked. As a child, she’d tried to get her cousin to show her what was inside, but it was the one thing that Lisbeth kept from her.
Now, Tara almost felt guilty about opening it. Her cousin had obviously wanted to keep whatever was inside to herself. Still, Lisbeth was gone and Tara desperately wanted to know more about the woman who had been like a mom to her for so long.
She slowly opened the trunk’s lid. The box was filled with old clothes stuffed inside. She frowned as she took out each piece. There was nothing special about them. So what was so secret that Lisbeth hadn’t wanted her to know about them? Beneath the stack of clothes, a beautiful wedding dress was neatly folded in a clear plastic box. Tara stared at it in awe. She’d never seen anything so beautiful. Her own wedding dress was lovely, but this one was like something out of a magazine.
Was it Lisbeth’s? In all the years she’d known Lisbeth, she’d never once heard her cousin talk about getting married. Had she planned to marry at one time? If so, what happened to change her plans?
Tara took the dress out of the box and held it up to the lights. The strapless sweetheart gown had a silk organza bodice was covered with delicate bead work and layers and layers of tulle made for a voluptuous ballroom skirt and train. Although the dress had yellowed slightly through the years, it was still stunning. Now, she was even more curious about Lisbeth’s past.
Beneath the tulle veil, she noticed something else. What appeared to be a stack of books tied neatly together with a white ribbon?
Tara took the books out and realized they were diaries dating back to when Lisbeth was a small child. In one of the books there was an aged black and white photo of a dark haired man standing next to a young Lisbeth. They were smiling together in front of the lodge.
On the back was written,
Lisbeth and Edward, summer of 1962.
Lisbeth couldn’t have been more than seventeen when the photo was taken. Who was this young Edward to her cousin?
Tara put the dress back in the trunk and took the diaries and the photo downstairs.
In the great room, she uncovered the furniture and pleasantly surprised that most of the pieces were still in good condition. Tara was much too wired to think about sleeping although she was exhausted down to her core from the long drive.
Instead, she made cocoa and built a fire in the massive stacked stone fireplace.
Curled up with a warm cup of chocolate and the photo sitting next to her on the sofa, Tara opened the last diary. It was dated five years before the photo was taken.
Dear Me, I can’t believe it… Tara read the familiar greeting and smiled.
Father hired the most handsome boy I’ve ever seen to help out around the lodge. His name is Edward Parker and he has such pretty eyes. He’s tall and fit and the kindest young man I’ve ever met. I hope he stays. I really like him.
Tears welled in Tara’s eyes at the sweet admission from her cousin. She’d seen photos of Lisbeth when she was younger. She was a beautiful young woman. Petite, with honey blond and eyes as blue as the Montana skies. Something that Tara and her father shared with her. No doubt a family trait.
She read the next passage dated two weeks later.
Dear Me, I’m sorry it’s been so long since we talked, but these have been the most magical days of my life. Edward and I have gotten to spend a lot of time together. He takes me on long walks through the woods and father loves him as well. He says Edward is a hard worker. I don’t think father knows how I feel about Edward, though. I’m sure he wouldn’t approve.
She read through several more entries until she reached the one that made her smile.
Dear Me, I think I love him and I believe he loves me too. I’m so happy, but we can’t tell father just yet. He thinks we’re too young for such feelings.
Hearing the youthful Lisbeth talk about her love for Edward made the bitter ending of Tara’s own romance that much harder to accept. She and Mark had been that madly in love once.
They’d met when she was in med school and he was clerking for a judge. They’d snatched moments of time together whenever they had a break, and she’d known she wanted to spend the rest of her life with him. When Max was born, her life finally felt complete. She’d taken a leave of absence for a while until Max for five. If only she’d known that would be the last year of his life. She would have done so many things differently.
Tara got to her feet, scooped up the diaries, and shoved them in a drawer. She couldn’t think about Max and not want to scream at how unfair it was that she was still alive and her precious baby boy had died.