Love thaws the coldest heart.
At fifteen, Lee Mitchell and Roman Carmichael are sure their fledgling relationship can survive any heartache or hardship--until a spring canoeing trip ends with Lee in the hospital and Roman missing. With his memories of that final, tragic trip gone, Lee spends the next ten years building a life around the river where he lost Roman, existing on the hope that one day he'll find a clue as the fate of his first love.
During a late March snowstorm, Lee finds a stranger wandering the road and offers him a ride. Lee's shock and confusion at discovering this stranger is Roman, older and confused by his long absence, is fast tempered by relief and joy. But Roman isn't back to stay, and as they work to repair the fractured pieces of their past, the emerging truth of the night Roman disappeared may be the one thing that their enduring love cannot overcome.
Inside the kitchen, Lee made sure the two blankets were securely wrapped around the stranger, then stepped back to reassess the situation. He should call town, try to get Dr. Chessman on the phone and see what he recommended. Or call the police and see if he had a wanted criminal sitting in his kitchen, dressed for a warm summer day, hair dripping with melted snow.
Lee took off his coat and hung it in the closet beneath the stairs. "Is there someone I can call for you?" he asked.
The stranger shook his head. In the warmth of the kitchen, without the obscuring snowfall or the risk of driving off the slick road, Lee again felt that odd pang of familiarity. The scent of wet leaves stung his nose again.
"Are you from Winfield?"
A nod, this time, which surprised Lee.
"Oh, well, is there someone in town I can call for you?"
The single rough word startled Lee into backing up a step, and he clipped his hip on the corner of the counter. He hissed in a breath, and the stranger looked up. Blue eyes blinked at him, concerned, when Lee wasn't the one who'd nearly frozen to death outside. Blue eyes that were both familiar and completely wrong.
"Lee," the man said. His voice was rough, hoarse, but time hadn't completely sloughed away its individuality. Its identity. Just as the long hair and bushy beard couldn't hide the man behind them. Not from Lee.
Lee's heart somersaulted, and his insides went liquid. He grabbed the counter before he fell over, glad it was there because he couldn't have stood it if the man had come at him, tried to help him. Lee's vision blurred behind fright and tears, and he fought them both.
"Impossible," Lee said, his own voice thin, far away.
"Lee," he said again. He yanked at the left sleeve of the jacket, rucked it up as far as he could with half-frozen fingers, then turned his left arm over. Showed the underside of his wrist and the four-inch long scar there.
Lee's breath left him in a rush as the truth crashed down around his head.
It was Roman. In his kitchen. Older, shaggier, but very much alive.
And, Lee realized with gut-wrenching clarity, dressed in the exact same clothes he'd worn when he disappeared ten years earlier.
- Word Count: 30,000
- Author: A.M. Arthur
- Website: A.M. Arthur
- Heat Level: 3
- ISBN: 978-1-61937-194-1
- Cover Artist: Kelly Shorten
- Editor: Celina Summers
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