“I could never have imagined,” Sam whispered, “so much space, so much sky.”As they bumped along in Will’s pickup, Sam delighted in the snowy fir trees dividing the mud-tracked pastures from the mountains, marveled at the peaks painted indigo and white against the endless, cloudless Montana sky.Will was watching Sam’s profile in the early afternoon sunlight pouring in through the window of his truck. The ends of her chestnut hair, pulled back in a low tail, twirled in the hot air from the dashboard vents. He reached out, caught a curl in his fingers. “Hits me every time I see it.”She was too riveted by the view to notice. “Is that a hawk?” She craned her neck to look out the window.“It’s probably a kestrel, a fal—” he said, stopping short as he looked over at her.Her lifted chin revealed the graying, faded bruise under her jaw, a thick oval marked on her skin. Rage bubbled up Will’s throat, threatened to spill out. The bastard had put his hands on her.Sam pressed her palm against the cold glass. In the distance, three figures on horseback rode a fence line in the foothills.Will tamped down the blaze of violence that burned in his chest.“It’s like another time,” she wondered aloud. “When do we get to Left of Paradise?”“We’re here,” he replied, deftly negotiating the truck around a puddle the size of her Honda. “We’ve been on Ed’s land for about five minutes now. Everything you see is the LP.”“Oh, my god,” she breathed, baffled by the vastness of the ranch.They drove for a few more minutes in relative silence, vintage Peter Buck guitar licks and the rush of hot air from the ancient heaters filling the quiet.They pulled up in front of a cluster of small log cabins.Will killed the ignition and reached across Sam’s lap to pull the door handle. He got a haircut, she thought, noticing the fresh, blunt line at the nape of his neck where the sun hadn’t deepened his tan. The urge to touch was nearly irresistible. Nearly.“It sticks from the outside.” He straightened up in his seat without meeting her gaze.“Oh,” she said, feeling a flush rise on her face.Without the rumble of the truck, the motion of travel, the unspoken loomed between them.“I’ll get the door,” Will said, dropping down out of the cab of the truck and jogging around to the passenger side.He opened her door; she swung her legs out. He reached for her when her feet touched the running board.She took his hand, breathed in the crisp mountain air, and stepped down into his arms. The time, the longing, the distance, the horrible scene with her erstwhile fiancé—all of it blew away on a snow and cattle scented breeze.He cradled her cheek in his palm, searched her eyes. Whisper light, he touched his lips to hers, and the whole world shifted.Will pulled away first, leaning his brow to hers. “Half a year you’ve made me wait for that.”Sam took his hands and searched his face. Satisfied with what she found there, she replied carefully. “Half my life you’ve made me wait for that.”Silence settled between them along with the dust from the truck as she waited for Will's response.Laughing, he gathered her up and swung her around in his arms. “I was an idiot kid. You know that, right?” He set her down and shouldered her duffel. “Come on, Sam. We’ll put your bag in the cabin, and I’ll take you up to the big house to meet Ed.”#Her quads were on fire.They’d been snowshoeing at a jog for an hour, having left Will’s cabin at first light. The only upshot so far to a dawn trek through the timberline forest was watching Will’s easy stride over the ice-crusted snow.“Are we still on the ranch?” she called out to him, regretting the idle question as she drew more icy air deeper into her lungs.Yoga and three times weekly gym sessions had only given her the illusion of being in shape.“Yeah.” His answering cloud of breath drifted back.As they made their way through the woods, the shush and scrape of their steps on the pine needle covered snow and the steady brushing melody of the wind lulled Sam despite the soreness in her legs.Will pushed through the trees into open air. Sam followed. They stood on a high rock ledge, flying amongst the surrounding peaks.“Hey,” he said, wrapping an arm around her as she stepped up beside him.“Hey,” she said, but the casual greeting tumbled into the ravine along with all of her other thoughts. What she’d assumed was the wind was in fact a waterfall, pouring easily two hundred feet down into the stream bed below. She laid her cheek against Will’s down-covered shoulder. “It’s beautiful.”After a moment, he touched his lips to her forehead. They were damp, and Sam looked up to see a stray tear at the corner of his mouth. She reached up with her mittened hand, dried his face, and kissed the teardrop away. “What is it?”Will was quiet a moment.“I lost two friends out here last spring.”Sam leaned back from the edge. The stream below looked charming, half frozen and rambling along the ravine.“When the snow melts, the water comes through here pretty hard. We were tracking a big cat that was harassing the herd. Me, Nat and his son Brady, and Georgie Price from Hidden Hollow. The trail brought us along the ravine near the bottom of the falls.”Will spoke easily enough, but his hand, clenched at her waist, betrayed his tension.“Brady was just a kid. He was born around here, worked the ranch with his dad since he could walk. He knew how dangerous the water is when it’s running hard. Georgie, too. The river runs right through her husband’s spread.”Sam edged a little closer to him.“Brady thought he saw something across a narrow bend in the stream, and he hopped the rocks to go check it out. Georgie always looked out for Brady, ever since she babysat for him when he was small, so she stayed with him. Nat and I hiked downstream a little farther; Brady and Georgie were going to come back across and meet us. It shouldn’t have taken them ten minutes.”Sam heard the thump and whoosh of her own pulse in her ears.“Fifteen minutes later, Brady and Georgie hadn’t caught up, so we doubled back to find them. Brady was face down in a pool twenty feet from where he’d crossed.”Sam watched the clouds of shattering water, the whorls of ice at the rocky edge where the stream spilled over and down. She looked back up at Will, whose eyes were fixed on the near-distant crest of the Rockies. “And Georgie?”“We found her at the bend. She hit her head. It was too late.” When he spoke again, his voice was ragged. “The thing is, Sam, losing them changed the LP for me, took away its beauty, made it about loss, death … endings.”He turned on his snowshoes to face her, drew her in close.“I thought maybe if I brought you here, showed you how beautiful it was, told you how much you mean to me, it could be about beginnings, too.”#“Dinner was amazing, Will. I can’t believe you let me cook the last few days.”“How could I resist you in an apron?” Will teased, dodging the wet towel Sam snapped at him. “Do you want another glass?”Sam set the plate she’d been drying on the rack.Through the window behind him, the black shadow of the mountains sprawled against the ink-stain sky. Will poured as she crossed to him.He handed her the glass. A brush of fingertips. Heat and promise ghosted between them.Will reached up to trace her jaw with his fingers. She flinched, no more than a tremor, when his fingertips grazed the fading bruise. He dropped his hand. “I’m sorry.”The Cabernet trembled in her glass. Tears threatened behind her closed eyelids.He reached for her again, cradling her against his chest. She buried her face in the warm curve of his shoulder.“Tell me, Sam,” he pleaded. “What happened?”She straightened, stepped back and set her wine glass down.“Yeah,” she sighed, running her hand through her hair. “Okay.”She curled into the corner of his couch, pulling a pillow across her body like armor.“Craig is beautiful.” She saw a shadow pass over Will’s face. “He is. It’s important. Thick, dark hair, emerald eyes. Everything about him is out of a paperback novel.”She took her glass from Will and took a healthy swallow.“We met after the hurricane, when everything was crazy and Tulane was closed. I came back to help, volunteering. One day Craig drove up in his SUV, shiny and unscathed. He gave Marc, my director, a check—must have been a big one—and the next thing I know I’m giving him the nickel tour of our efforts.”She hugged the pillow closer.“He called me to invite me to dinner the next night, and within the month he was choosing something ladylike for me to wear to meet his parents. They live in a beautiful home in the Garden District, and inside the gates it was like Katrina never happened. When he saw the crappy apartment I was sharing while we were waiting to start school again, he offered his parents’ guest suite.”She noted Will’s furrowed brow.“I was nineteen and dazzled. Of course I moved in. When I wondered about transferring out of Louisiana, he encouraged me to wait, to stay at Tulane. His parents took me under their wing. Lilith, his mother, bought me clothes, took me to lunches. Craig was always a gentleman.“I finished my degree, got a job in a new charter school. Craig told me he loved me, gave me his grandmother’s ring. His mother started planning a fall wedding.”“I saw the invitation at Erik’s,” Will remarked quietly.“Things got ugly last summer. There were whispers about a callgirl ending up in the hospital. Craig’s name kept coming up. I ignored it. I loved him.”She carried on while Will did his best to hide his disbelief.“Craig made a comment about turning in my resignation, how I wouldn’t be expected to work, especially in a public school, once we were married. Maggie didn’t like the sound of that and showed up at the door. Lilith and Russell said she couldn’t stay, that I shouldn’t see her.”Sam stopped for a breath, tears glittering in her eyes.“I snuck out,” she said. “A twenty-four year old woman, and I snuck out of my future in-laws house to see my sister. Maggie went crazy when I told her what was going on, but I defended them.”Sam drained the class. Will took it from her with shaking hands.“Then there was a huge blowup when Lilith found out I’d gone off with Maggie. Later, when we were alone, Craig slapped me for upsetting his mother. I left that night. I called my parents to tell them I was coming home and my Dad bought the ticket on the spot.”“Sam,” Will asked gently,”what possessed you to go back down there?”“Craig called, begged, told me how sorry he was, told me his mother was wrong. I should come home, he said, move in with him. I thought I loved him, Will.“I went back to stay with him for a few weeks, and we started talking about the wedding again. I can’t even defend myself. He was still so beautiful to look at, and he seemed so sorry, so haunted. The night before I was supposed to fly back to Boston, he got drunk. He was raving about how I wouldn’t come back like we’d decided. He tore up my ticket, shoved me up against the wall.”Sam stopped. Breathed. Will leaned in, his hands just touching her knees.“He had a hand around my throat, squeezing, screaming at me about how he’d given me everything; his parents had sacrificed their time, their money, their connections. I was ungrateful. I was nothing. It was Lilith who pulled him off me. She’d come by, unannounced, to drop something off. I slid down the wall, huddled there whimpering. She sat her son down without even looking at me and said, ‘If you kill her, not even your father will be able to clean up after you.’”As she finished, Will inhaled slowly and wrapped an arm around her to draw her close.#"Are you sure I won't be underdressed?" Sam called out from Will's bedroom."It's dinner on a ranch, not black-tie," Will responded, exasperation softened by a hint of laughter.She came out into the living room in a dark-cherry red cashmere turtleneck and wide legged black trousers."I figure I can wear snow boots under these and no one will notice."Will wanted to say that no one would be looking at her feet. The soft wool skimmed her curves like a lover, and the low waist invited wandering hands.Mrs. Quinn answered the door at the big house and took their coats before directing them to Ed Atkinson's study. While Sam was unwinding her scarf and pocketing her gloves, the housekeeper pulled Will aside."Will, honey," Mrs. Quinn said, glancing at Sam, "the prodigal's returned, so take care of your calf."Will raised an eyebrow and sucked in a fortifying breath."Thanks for the heads-up, Mrs. Q.," he said, kissing her on the cheek."What was that about?" Sam asked."Just letting me know Ed's daughter Lucy is here," he said, resting his hand at the small of her back and ushering her into the study."William. Samantha." Ed Atkinson raised his glass. Even in a wheelchair, he commanded the room. “Come over and say hello.”A cool voice brought them up short."I don't believe I've had the pleasure." A tanned and toned blond paused on her way across the room, her gray sheath caressing endless legs as she walked. "You must be Will's friend from back east."Lucy pressed herself to Will, stretching up to kiss him full on the mouth. Before stepping back to assess him."You are mouthwatering as usual," she purred, looking up at him from beneath her lashes. She ran a possessive finger under his collar."Did Daddy tell you I'd be here? You know I love you in that shirt." Lucy narrowed her eyes at Sam, a satisfied smirk curving her drawn-bow mouth.Will pulled Sam away from Lucy and joined Ed. He shook his employer's hand."Have a drink, son," Ed said, gesturing to the bar. "Mrs. Quinn, some champagne for the lovely Miss Ellis, please."The housekeeper materialized by her side with a flute. Sam took it with trembling fingers. Her eyes never left Will as he poured a finger of bourbon for himself."Quinny?" Lucy trilled, "Can you put Will next to me for dinner? We have so much to catch up on."Mrs. Quinn glanced at Ed, who nodded slightly, before she left the room."So, Will," Lucy continued, "have you done anything about the awful wallpaper in your bedroom?"The wine sloshed and fizzed in Sam's glass.Will flushed scarlet."No, Lucy," he replied, a warning glittering in his eyes, "I haven't."Sam’s knuckles were white around the stem of her glass. Will sought out Ed’s gaze, pleading for the older man to intervene, but Mrs. Quinn returned to call everyone in to dinner."Samantha?" Ed said gently, "Would you help me in to the dining room?"He reached up for her drink. Sam handed the flute over to him and took the handles of his chair.Will followed Sam as she wheeled Ed into the foyer. As Sam passed Lucy, she flashed the other woman a honeyed smile.#“Hey,” Sam said softly. “What are you thinking about?”Will stood at the kitchen sink looking out at the Big House’s second story windows illuminated against the dark.He didn’t turn around. “I thought you’d gone to bed.”“I was on my way,” she said, going to him. “I’m taking a detour.”She rested her cheek on his back and circled her arms around his waist. His skin was warm against her palm through a hole in his shirt.“You were wearing this that morning at Maggie and Erik’s.”Will inhaled slowly, shivering at her touch. His voice was tight. “It’s late. If you want to ride out with me and Nat tomorrow, you’re going to need your sleep.”“I don’t want to sleep.”Will whirled in her arms, catching her face between his hands. Behind desire, he saw a flicker of fear in her eyes, and dropped his hands. “I didn’t fly you out here to sleep with you.”She recoiled, temper igniting. “No? Then why the hell did you fly me out here?”“Sam, I—”“You were worried about me? You were pissed because my ex-boyfriend roughed me up, but you don’t want to handle the damaged goods?” She turned away, bracing her arms on the counter, and sucked in a breath to hold back the tears.“I’m sorry,” Will said, laying a hand on her shoulder. “I don’t want to hurt you.”“I don’t need a big brother, Will. And the way you kissed me Thursday morning, by the truck, the things you said at the falls—”“I don’t want to be your big brother.” He sighed. “I just don’t want to screw this up.”Sam turned back to him, let his words fill her up before she answered. “You’re not Craig.”The name crackled between them.“I know.”“You’re not Craig,” she repeated, “and I know that.”Her words burned up the oxygen in the room, and they came together greedily, drawing air from one another.Hands roamed eagerly, exploring planes and curves, traveling the length of their reach, reveling in the journey. Sam trailed her fingers over his stomach, flat and smooth from countless hours riding and working the ranch. She gathered up the ratty shirt and tugged it over his head.Will pulled the band from her ponytail, letting her hair fall around her face. He slid the straps of her camisole off her shoulders, kissed the slope of her shoulder, skimmed her bare arms.He held her hands still, let his pulse slow.“You said you were taking a detour,” he said, touching his lips to hers. “You’re sure this is where you want to go?”“Detours only take you where you were going all along,” she reminded him. “The long, slow way.”#“Hey.” Will drank in the sight of Sam’s sleepy form coming into the kitchen. “Morning.”Sam pulled her hair back in one hand, tugged at the hem of her tank top.“I’m not even going to attempt to get the coffee right,” he continued. “Even with your beans and instructions.”She perched, one bare foot on the floor, the other under her leg.“Sam?”“What?”He set the fork and the muffin down on the cutting board. “What’s up?”“Nothing. Have you seen my hair tie?”“Sam?”“What?”He came around the end of the counter, slipped his arms around her and pulled her back against his chest. “What’s wrong?”“Nothing.” She tugged herself free and stood. “I have to get something to pull my hair back. It’s driving me crazy.”“Sam, talk to me.”“There’s nothing to talk about.” She started to leave the room.“Hey, don’t walk out on me!”“I’m not walking out. I’m getting a hair tie. Is that okay?”“Not right now it’s not,” he countered.“So, I wake up in your bed, and now you get to tell me what to do?” She fired back at him.His cheeks flushed. He ran his hands through his hair. “Jesus, Sam.”“Can I go now?”He reached for her arm. “Did I do something?”She snatched her arm away. “Nope. Everything’s fine.”She vanished into the bathroom. When she looked into the mirror, Will was there, leaning on the door jamb.“Are you regretting what happened?” he asked quietly.“Why? Are you?”“Don’t turn this on me.”“Fairly sure you were the only other one there,” she snapped, meeting his eyes in the mirror. She took a deep breath. “I’m just tired.”“Like hell. You’re pissed off,” Will said.She turned, brushed past him, and walked into his bedroom; Will followed. She sat on his bed, arms around her drawn-up knees. “It really is awful wallpaper.”Will pocketed his hands. “Please, let's not bring Lucy into this.”Sam bit her lip.Will took a tentative step towards her. “Can we talk about it?”Sam spoke to the wall. “What’s to talk about? We had sex.”“It was more than just sex, don’t you think?”She met his eyes. “Then why do I feel like this?”“I don’t know how you feel. Maybe if you’d tell me ...”She twisted the edge of the blankets. The quiet stretched.He sat facing her, careful not to make contact. “What can I do?”“Why do you do that?” She asked. “Why do you want to fix me, Will?”“That’s not what I mean,” he said.“Sounds like that's exactly what you mean. ‘Sam’s weird and broken. How can I fix her?’” She scrubbed at her eyes. When she looked up, she focused on a point out the window. “What are we doing, Will? What is this?”“We can figure it out,” he said.“I don’t want to figure it out. I want to know. It shouldn’t be this complicated.”“I didn’t know it was this complicated.”“So now I’m overcomplicating?” she said.“No,” he said. “No... I just...knew things would be different, but you said you were ready.”“And you’re saying I wasn’t?”“No! Christ, Sam.” He got up and paced to the window. “I thought that’s what you were trying to say.”“It’s not,” she said.“Please. Tell me, then.”“I don’t know if I can right now.”He watched through the open window as the sun rose. She picked at the pills on the comforter, trailing him with her eyes while he paced back and sat.He took her hand, ran his thumb across her knuckles. “It is’t easy, keeping my hands off you.”A flicker of a smile lit her eyes.“But maybe we should keep it simple for now.” He never saw the flame extinguished when he moved off the bed. “We’re going to be late to meet Nat. Can we talk more later?”“Sure.”“Let’s get dressed. We can grab some coffee at the stables.” He was already up and collecting his clothes.“Okay,” she said.It was a long moment before she got up.#Will brought Sam’s suitcase out to his truck in darkness before sitting down to watch the sunrise from his front steps. He stretched, working the kinks out of his neck and shoulders. He’d been up for an hour. For all his protests to the contrary, the couch wasn’t very comfortable, and the lack of proper curtains meant that the first creeping hint of light chased sleep away too quickly. He missed his bed. More than that he would miss the woman who’d been sleeping there. His bare feet were chilled through by the time he went back inside.Sam was in the kitchen, tucking a damp tendril of hair behind her ear as she filled the coffeemaker with water.“Do you want breakfast?” he asked.“I could eat.”He got out his one frying pan, opened a carton of eggs and grabbed bread from the cabinet.She measured coffee grounds and poured milk into a pan to heat while he cracked and whisked eggs and put toast in the toaster. She busied herself with making two cups of café au lait. Will realized that with her gone, the precious bag of chicory coffee would wait in the freezer for her return.“Take what you want,” he said, offering her the pan of scrambled eggs and the spatula. He buttered the toast and slipped a slice onto her plate.She pushed half of the eggs onto her plate.“Thanks,” she said, taking her plate to the bar-height counter. The scrape of her stool was loud on the tile floor.Four words so far this morning, he thought. There needed to be more, they had so much to say to each other, but the words were bottled up.While he’d tried to keep them both busy and distracted from the tension between them, Sam had withdrawn. Will didn’t know how to bring back the easy peace they had shared. Too much had gone unsaid, so he studied her profile and said nothing.Sam took out her phone, checked the time, and stood to take her empty plate to the sink. “I’ll be ready in ten minutes.”In the truck, he ran through her itinerary. “You’re confirmed from Bozeman to Minneapolis and Minneapolis to Albany. You talked to Maggie to confirm that they’re coming to pick you up?”“I talked to Maggie. It’s all set.”When he made the turn into short term parking at Gallatin Field, Sam looked over. “You can just drop me at the terminal.”“I’ll walk you in,” he said.“You don’t have to.”He laid his hand over hers on the faded vinyl of the truck seat. “I want to.”She was quiet, looking at his weathered hand over hers.When he reached across her lap to flip the sticky lock, regret lurched in his chest. He carried her bag inside, waited while she checked it, walked her silently to the security line.“I’d better go,” she said.“Fly safe.” He reached for her, pulling her close.Sam wrapped her arms around his chest and hid her face in his shirt for a moment. She pushed away, looking into his eyes, before stepping back. Too quickly, she was adjusting her bag and fading away into the security line.“Bye, Sam,” he whispered, digging his keys from his pocket and turning for the parking garage.#New Txt Msg from Will Dryer: Are you home? Can we talk? Miss you.Reply Msg from Samantha Ellis: On my way to meet Maggie + Erik.New Txt Msg from Will Dryer: Think they’d wait for you?Reply Msg from Samantha Ellis: What?New Txt Msg from Will Dryer: Surprise!The doorbell rang, and Sam dropped her phone. “Shit!”The plastic shell snapped off and skittered under the bed. She grabbed the phone from the floor and bolted down the stairs.Will stood on the doorstep with his hands in his pockets and a hopeful grin on his face. She was in his arms before she stopped to think about it.“Surprise,” he said, the words muffled by her hair.“What are you doing here?” Tears prickled in the bridge of her nose. Her heart was pounding.“Ed wanted me to handle something for him. I was in New York for two days.”“Why didn’t you tell me?”“I didn’t want to tell you I was coming east and then find out I couldn’t make the swing up to Vermont, but I wrangled a few days for myself.” Will touched a finger to her cheek, traced the smatter of freckles there. “I missed you, Sam. We have a lot to talk about, but I figure that’s a good start.”His fingers curved around the back of her neck. He touched his lips to hers.Sam understood the tentative touch was a test, to see how he would be received. “I missed you, too.”She threw her arms around him and pressed herself into the kiss. His coat was warm from the sun: she felt the flex of his shoulder as his other hand wrapped around her waist.She rocked back down onto her heels, laying her head on his shoulder. He took her sunglasses off the top of her head and breathed in. She smiled to herself, burrowing against his chest.Her phone buzzed in her hand. “Maggie says she and Erik are heading out.” Sam giggled. “Maggie is going to freak out.”“Am I in trouble?” he said, a slight frown furrowing his brow.“Not today. It’s too beautiful a day for trouble,” Sam smiled. “We’ll take my car.” She stopped short, catching sight of his bag on the steps. “How did you get here?”“I walked from the train station.”Sam hugged him, taking her sunglasses from his hand. She pointed up the stairs to her room. “Leave your stuff up there and we’ll go.”She was humming as he climbed the stairs.