Date of publication: August 25, 2015
When caregiver Faith McCallum arrives at the enchanted, lakeside estate of Avalon's renowned Bellamy family, she's intent on rebuilding her shattered life and giving her two daughters a chance at a better future. But she faces a formidable challenge in the form of her stubborn and difficult new employer, Alice Bellamy. While Faith proves a worthy match for her sharp-tongued client, she often finds herself at a loss for words in the presence of Mason Bellamy—Alice's charismatic son, who clearly longs to escape the family mansion and return to his fast-paced, exciting life in Manhattan…and his beautiful, jet-setting fiancée.
The last place Mason wants to be is a remote town in the Catskills, far from his life in the city, and Faith McCallum is supposed to be the key to his escape. Hiring the gentle-hearted yet strong-willed caregiver as a live-in nurse gives his mother companionship and Mason the freedom to return to his no-attachments routine. For Faith, it means stability for her daughters and a much-needed new home. When Faith makes a chilling discovery about Alice's accident, Mason is forced to reconsider his desire to keep everyone, including his mother, at a distance. Now he finds himself wondering if the supercharged life he's created for himself is what he truly wants…and whether exploring his past might lead to a new life—and lasting love—on the tranquil shores of Willow Lake.
Mason Bellamy stared up at the face of the mountain that had killed his father. The mountain’s name was innocent enough—Cloud Piercer. The rich afternoon light of the New Zealand winter cast a spell over the moment. Snow-clad slopes glowed with the impossible pink and amethyst of a rare jewel. The stunning backdrop of the Southern Alps created a panorama of craggy peaks, veined with granite and glacial ice, against a sky so clear it caused the eyes to smart.
The bony white structure of a cell phone tower, its discs grabbing signals from outer space, rose from a nearby peak. The only other intrusion into the natural beauty was located at the top of the slope—a black-and-yellow gate marked Experts Only and a round dial designating Avalanche Danger—Moderate.
He wondered if someone came all the way up here each day to move the needle on the dial. Maybe his father had wondered the same thing last year. Maybe it had been the last thought to go through his head before he was buried by two hundred thousand cubic meters of snow.
According to witnesses in the town near the base of the mountain, it had been a dry snow avalanche with a powder cloud that had been visible to any resident of Hillside Township who happened to look up. The incident report stated that there had been a delay before the noise came. Then everyone for miles around had heard the sonic boom.
The Maori in the region had legends about this mountain. The natives respected its threatening beauty as well as its lethal nature, their myths filled with cautionary tales of humans being swallowed to appease the gods. For generations, the lofty crag, with its year-round cloak of snow, had challenged the world’s most adventurous skiers, and its gleaming north face had been Trevor Bellamy’s favorite run. It had also been his final run.
Trevor’s final wish, spelled out in his last will and testament, had brought Mason halfway around the world, and down into the Southern Hemisphere’s winter. At the moment he felt anything but cold. He unzipped his parka, having worked up a major sweat climbing to the peak. This run was accessible only to those willing to be helicoptered to a landing pad at three thousand meters, and then to climb another few hundred meters on all-terrain skis outfitted with nonslip skins. He removed his skis and peeled the Velcro-like skins from the underside, carefully stowing the gear in his backpack. Then he studied the mountain’s face again and felt a sweet rush of adrenaline.
When it came to skiing in dangerous places, he was his father’s son.
A rhythmic sliding sound drew Mason’s attention to the trail he’d just climbed. He glanced over and lifted his ski pole in a wave. “Over here, bro.”
Adam Bellamy came over the crest of the trail, shading his eyes against the afternoon light. “You said you’d kick my ass, and you did,” he called. His voice echoed across the empty, frozen terrain.
Mason grinned at his younger brother. “I’m a man of my word. But look at you. You haven’t even broken a sweat.”
“Mets. We get tested for metabolic conditioning every three months for work.” Adam was a firefighter, built to haul eighty pounds of gear up multiple flights of stairs.
“Cool. My only conditioning program involves running to catch the subway.”
“The tough life of an international financier,” said Adam. “Hold everything while I get out my tiny violin.”
“Who says I’m complaining?” Mason took off his goggles to apply some defogger. “Is Ivy close? Or did our little sister stop to hire a team of mountain guides to carry her up the hill so she doesn’t have to climb it on her skis?”
“She’s close enough to hear you,” said Ivy, appearing at the top of the ridge. “And aren’t the guides on strike?” She wore a dazzling turquoise parka and white ski pants, Gucci sunglasses and white leather gloves. Her blond hair was wild and wind-tossed, streaming from beneath her helmet.
Mason flashed on an image of their mother. Ivy looked so much like her. He felt a lurch of guilt when he thought about Alice Bellamy. Her last ski run had been right here on this mountain face, too. But unlike Trevor, she had survived. Although some would say that what had happened to her was worse than dying.
Ivy slogged over to her brothers on her AT skis. “Listen, you two. I want to go on record to say that when I leave these earthly bonds, I will not require my adult children to risk their lives in order to scatter my remains. Just leave my ashes on the jewelry counter at Neiman Marcus. I’d be fine with that.”
“Make sure you put your request in writing,” Mason said.
“How do you know I haven’t already?” She gestured at Adam. “Help me get these skins off, will you?” She lifted each ski in turn, planting them upright in the snow.
Adam expertly peeled the fabric skins from the bottoms of her skis then removed his own, stuffing them into his backpack. “It’s crazy steep, just the way Dad used to describe it.”
“Chicken?” asked Ivy, fastening the chin strap of her crash helmet.
“Have you ever known me to shy away from a ski run?” Adam asked. “I’m going to take it easy, though. No crazy tricks.”
The three of them stood gazing at the beautiful slope, now a perfect picture of serenity in the late-afternoon glow. It was the first time any of them had come to this particular spot. As a family, they had skied together in many places, but not here. This particular mountain had been the special domain of their father and mother alone.
About Susan Wiggs
Susan Wiggs is the author of many beloved bestsellers, including the popular Lakeshore Chronicles series. She has won many awards for her work, including a RITA® Award from the Romance Writers of America.
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Excerpt tour for STARLIGHT ON WILLOW LAKE:
Monday, August 3rd: From the TBR Pile
Tuesday, August 4th: The Sassy Bookster
Wednesday, August 5th: Book Reviews & More by Kathy
Thursday, August 6th: Sara’s Organized Chaos
Friday, August 7th: Raven Haired Girl
Monday, August 10th: Mom in Love with Fiction
Tuesday, August 11th: The Romance Dish
Wednesday, August 12th: Written Love Reviews
Thursday, August 13th: Books and Spoons
Friday, August 14th: A Chick Who Reads
Monday, August 17th: Urban Girl Reader
Tuesday, August 18th: Snowdrop Dreams of Books
Wednesday, August 19th: FictionZeal
Thursday, August 20th: Palmer’s Page Turners
Friday, August 21st: The Bookish and The Romantic