Author: Robyn Carr

“There’s a great seaside hotel in Mendocino, on the ocean. Lots to do around there. Very relaxing and entertaining.”

“Cameron, I have a baby.”

He chuckled. “I thought maybe I could bring along a pediatrician.”

“But, Cameron, I’m really not ready for—”

“Easy, Vanni. We’ll get two rooms. Think of it as a chance to get to know each other better, that’s all. And no, I have not mentioned my plans to Carol.”

“Oh. Listen—I appreciate the invitation, but I’m not sure I’m ready for something like a weekend date. That’s moving a little fast for me…”

“I’ll be a Boy Scout,” he laughed. “Two rooms, good views, great food, a little relaxation, conversation, no pressure…”

“I appreciate the thought, really. It’s very nice of you, but…”

“All right,” he said. “It was worth a try. Well, then, can I wrangle another run down to Virgin River? I have Jack’s phone number. I could make a reservation at that little cabin…”

“You’re welcome anytime,” she said.

“Maybe this weekend, since I scheduled it off?”

“Sure,” she said without enthusiasm. “Let me know if you decide to come down.”

It was another tense hour before the phone rang and this time it was Paul. She nearly bit his head off. “Where have you been?”

“Vanni, I’m sorry. I didn’t get your message until this morning.”

“Forget the message—I didn’t ask you to call! You said you were going to! I was afraid something terrible might have happened. I worried half the night!”

“Something unexpected came up. I had to, ah, just help out a friend with something. I was home too late to call you. I didn’t even check the messages until this morning.”

She sighed heavily. It wasn’t like her to panic, but she’d had far too many losses over the past few years, and Paul felt like one more. “If you hadn’t said…”

“Vanni, I’m sorry. That will never happen again.”

Taking care of the widow again, she thought. He got home, got sidetracked by the woman in Grants Pass and she was the last thing on his mind. How could he be any more clear? Still, she heard herself ask, “What was the problem that sidetracked you until so late?”

“Ah, it wasn’t anything. Not as serious as it sounded at first. I’ll tell you all about it, Vanni, but I’d rather do it in person. I’m so sorry I didn’t call.”

“I’m not your keeper,” she said. “You have a private life, as you tried to explain…”

“Vanni, I don’t want you to get the wrong idea here…”

“I doubt I have the wrong idea,” she said. “Don’t worry about it, Paul. I’m glad everything is okay. We’ll catch up later.”

“I’ll talk to you this week,” he said. “I’ll see you on the weekend.”

“Sure,” she said. She hung up the phone and went to her bedroom. She sat on the edge of her bed. She could tell by the nervous sound in his voice—he hadn’t been home too late to call—he hadn’t been home at all. He spent the night with the woman. The woman who had complicated his life.

We have things to talk about…. Those were his parting words, along with the promise to call. That thing he wanted to talk about—it would be an explanation about his relationship in Grants Pass, as if she needed more of his lame attempts. What did she expect, really? He had a life before Matt was killed, before Vanessa needed him, and that life went on. She had to find a way to let go of this, of him. If she didn’t, it was going to tear her apart. Worse, it would tear Paul apart because more than anything, he was faithful to Matt.

The best thing she could do for herself, for Paul, was attempt to get on with her life.

She remembered back to those old flying days when she and Nikki got each other through a dozen bad boyfriends, the pain and disappointment. “Raise your right hand and repeat after me,” Nikki would say. “I will not be pitiful! I will not be pathetic!”

She checked little Matt to find he was still sleeping. She wiped at her eyes. It was so ridiculous to cry—it had been very clear for a long time. Paul was devoted to her, bonded with her in some special ways. Probably her best friend. He was loving and affectionate and genuinely cared about her—but it wasn’t romantic. It never had been. She’d better get over it.

One thing she absolutely couldn’t take—Cameron and Paul both in Virgin River for the weekend—Cameron trying to seduce her, Paul shyly and clumsily trying to find a way to tell her he had a girlfriend. Chinese water torture would be sweeter.

She went back to the great room and sat beside the phone for a few minutes, thinking. She picked up the receiver and dialed. “Cameron? Yes, I’ve been thinking about it and a little trip to the coast might be just what I need. Mattie and I would love to go. But it’ll have to be two rooms. And only if you’re sure you want to do this with no expectations. I don’t want to disappoint you.”

“I understand your position, Vanessa,” he said. “Let’s just have a good time.”

“That sounds so nice. Can we make it early on Saturday and home Sunday?”


“Good, I’ll be ready.” And she hung up.

She looked at Walt, whose newspaper was folded into his lap. He stared at her over the top of his reading glasses. “Vanessa, just what the hell’s going on?”

“I’m…ah…I’m going on a little weekend trip with Cameron. I’ll be taking the baby, of course.”

He had heard her side of all three conversations and she knew it. “There seems to be a lot more to the story here…” he said. “Fighting with Paul? Making a date with this doctor?”

“It’s really nothing, Dad,” she answered. “You don’t have a problem with me going away for a weekend, do you?”

“You’re a grown woman,” he said.

“Paul will be coming down for the weekend.”

“And you’re not going to be here to see him?”

She stood up. “He’s not coming to see me. I think I’ll just go for a quick ride, if you don’t mind listening for the baby.”

“Not at all,” he said. “Don’t hurt the horse.”

If Cameron had hoped to impress and charm Vanessa, he certainly was on the right track. First of all, he borrowed his brother’s SUV so that the car seat and stroller would fit. She had some misgivings about going away with him for the weekend, especially when her motivation was mostly to avoid Paul. But he entertained her with stories on their drive to the coast—growing up with a brother and sister close to his age, fraternity pranks, med school horror stories that made her laugh in spite of herself. She was immediately comfortable, enjoying herself, and decided there were some perks involved in avoiding Paul.

He took her to a motel that resembled a country inn; they entered rooms on the parking lot side while the back of each room opened up onto a quaint, sheltered and private patio with table and chairs that faced the ocean cliffs. Lush pots full of geraniums sat around full green ferns and daisy beds that bordered the patios. In Vanessa’s room, which was joined to Cam’s, were fresh flowers and fruit.

After lunch at a sweet little seaside restaurant, they put the baby in the stroller and walked along the cliffs above the ocean, finally spreading a blanket under a full, leafy tree. They talked about their youth, their pasts, their experiences, their likes and dislikes. “You have a real way about you,” Vanni said. “I bet the mothers who bring their children to you fall in love with you all the time.”

“I’m just waiting for the right one to fall in love with me,” he said.

“You were never even tempted to get married?” she asked.

“There were a couple of close calls.”

“I bet you’ve had a million girlfriends,” she said.

He laughed. “That might be giving me too much credit,” he said. “Or not enough, I don’t know which. I’ve had some girlfriends. And many more attempts that didn’t work out.”

“Ah. You’re picky.”

He lifted an amused eyebrow. “Maybe they were.”

“Come on. Haven’t you been in love a hundred times?”

“Not quite. Not counting high school and college when I was in love with a different girl every week, the first one hit me in med school. I had it bad for another med student. It was very hot, very intense, very brief. Very painful. Took me off the market for a while.”

“Really? I’d take you for the heartbreaker.”

“No, sir,” he said, shaking his head. “I realized that up to that point I’d been attracted, but not in love. I had my share of flings, but this woman I went to pieces over. I was all of twenty-four and I could’ve made the promises—all of them. She was with another guy before I knew what hit me. Then another and another. I lost track of her during internship when I heard she was with the senior resident in her program. My pride suffered a major blow, not to mention my perspective.”

“There were more?” she asked.

“Oh, yeah,” he admitted. “I lived with a woman once—but not for long. I don’t think we made it three months. That was my only attempt at that.” He shrugged. “I was twenty-nine and it seemed like I ought to at least make an effort to have a stable, monogamous relationship. It was awful.”

“Awful? What went wrong?”

“Um, first of all, it wasn’t stable. She turned out to be crazy.” Then he smiled.

“Really? I mean, really?”

“You just wouldn’t believe it. A total loose cannon. She threw things at me and everything. I almost went deaf from her screaming.”

“You moved in with her without knowing that?”

His cheeks took on a rosy stain. “I probably should’ve guessed, but I was in denial.” He laughed. “Because she was really…” He swallowed. “Because she was very sexy. I thought I could handle anything if I could just…” His voice dwindled away.

“What men will do,” Vanni said, shaking her head.

“Yeah. Guilty. Did you ever live with anyone?” he asked.

“Never. The closest I came was when I was going with my husband, I traveled from San Francisco to Camp Pendleton to spend every weekend with him while he was still stateside.”

“In college,” he said. “Who were you in love with in college?”

She laughed. “Bret McDoughal. Captain of the football team, president of the debate club. I really expected him to be a senator by now.”

“What is he doing?”

“He sells used cars in Virginia. He makes sleazy, late-night commercials and wears his hair in some kind of weird pompadour. In college, he looked like he was going to take over the world. I was nuts about him.”

“How’d he let you get away?”

“A lot of girls were nuts about him. He had a very short attention span.”

“What a dope,” Cameron said.

“Yeah? Well, I think I made a very slim escape there,” she said, laughing.

He reached out and covered her hand with his. “Can you tell me about Matt? Is that too hard for you to do?”

“It’s okay. I like to talk about him,” she said, and resisted the memory that made one of the things about her relationship with Paul so comfortable—they could share memories. “Matt was a wonderful man, a great friend. He was so funny, so full of energy. What snagged me immediately was his sense of humor—he made me laugh till I cried. And there were other things about him—like his commitment to the Marine Corps, his commitment to his buddies, his boys as he called them—that filled me with admiration. His commitment to me,” she added, somewhat quietly. “He was single-minded when it came to the things he cared about. And he was strong—not just physically. Emotionally strong, too. But you should’ve seen his arms and shoulders. He could do pull-ups and push-ups all day long.”