Chapter One At a rest stop outside of Albuquerque, New Mexico, Spring Hamilton triumphantly hurled her cell phone into a garbage can by a picnic pavilion. She had wanted to throw the phone to the ground and stomp on it but decided that was too dramatic and not in her nature. Besides, there were people watching.
“That’ll fix him,” she said under her breath, with a toss of her long blonde mane. The wind had picked up and an unpleasant dusty breeze swirled around her.
A grandmotherly woman in a lavender jogging suit walking a small terrier overheard her. “I feel your pain, honey!” she said in a sing-songy voice, and the two women laughed together. “A man?” the woman asked with a grin.
“What else?” Spring replied. “And now he’s out of my life forever. He doesn’t know where I am, and if he can’t call me, well, then…,” her voice trailed off.
“Been there, done that,” the woman said, waving good-bye and following the dog as it strained against its leash.
Spring returned to her silver Mercedes Benz SUV and pulled back onto the interstate, feeling a rush of relief.
She didn’t even last a mile. What am I doing throwing away a perfectly good phone like that? True, it would be easy enough to replace it and have her data, contacts, and apps transferred from the cloud. But that wasn’t the point.
Taking the next exit, she re-entered the interstate in the other direction and headed for the rest stop. A few minutes and another U-turn later, she was plunging her hand into the garbage can, rummaging around goodness knows what, until her fingers wrapped around the familiar object. She looked around quickly to see if anyone was watching, but the rest stop was empty. Even the woman in the lavender jogging suit was gone. No wonder, the wind was whipping.
Spring knew that the outburst of impulsive behavior was counter to her organized and logical nature and was glad she had restored order to her psyche. With the ceremonial trashing of her phone, she had really just wanted to make a statement to herself. Sort of a metaphor that showed she was seriously leaving her old life behind. And, she reasoned, she had accomplished that. She would just not answer Chad when he called.
Making her way back to her car, Spring had to shield her eyes against the wind and grit. The wind seemed to have appeared out of nowhere, accelerating from pleasant breeze to high-powered gust in a matter of moments. She had forgotten what the desert wind was like in March. She stole a glance around her and all she could see was the familiar dusty dirt and stubby brown ground covering that had accompanied her for hours along the interstate since leaving Los Angeles. It was all so desolate, as if the terrain reflected her own feelings. She slipped quickly into her car and let out the breath she didn’t know she was holding.
Back on the road and headed more or less eastward, she had hours and hours to think about how she had ended up here.
A hugely successful fashion model, Spring Hamilton had played the part flawlessly, running with the beautiful and popular upper crust of Los Angeles, on the arm of her impossibly handsome and worldly boyfriend and manager. She had a cadre of beautiful friends, the kind who kissed both your cheeks whenever they greeted you. She drove an ultra-luxury car and lived in a huge custom-built and professionally decorated mansion with gorgeous views and all the latest amenities. She had a great reputation in the industry, and she and Chad could now cherry-pick modeling jobs, choosing only those worthy of her considerable presence. She thought she had been happy.
Still beautiful at thirty-eight, Spring knew her current career trajectory would eventually begin to curve downward and probably pretty soon. Whether the curve was gradual or more of a plunge didn’t matter. She needed to do something drastic to change direction—like leaving Los Angeles. As she grew older and her fresh face and toned body faded, she knew she would be relegated to modeling in catalogs and television commercials for pharmaceuticals to help older women with bladder control. No, thank you. And Spring knew she was smart. Really smart. She had been told countless times that one of the things that made her so attractive was her intelligence. People could sense she was the total package, in total control. She figured Chad had her, and their, best interest at heart, so she pretty much went along with the career path he laid out for her, without much deviation. It had worked out fine. They were both getting what they wanted.
When she first broached the idea of branching out of modeling into perhaps fashion management, couture publishing, or even creating her own business ventures, Chad had gone ballistic, throwing up his hands and screaming at her.
He had yelled, almost trembling, “You are being so ungrateful! After all I’ve done for you. I made you rich. I gave you this lifestyle! And you repay me by just quitting? By leaving me in the lurch? Are you crazy?”
She could hardly believe what was happening. She had just assumed that Chad would be all-in and that he would be as excited as she was to begin the next phase of their lives. But he was not ready to let the present chapter go.
In that moment, as he stood screaming at her from across their living room, technically her living room, it became evident that he was not worried about her losing her lifestyle. It was Chad who didn’t want to lose his lifestyle: the gorgeous model on his arm, the lavish trips to shoot on location, the feeling of being a big shot, the perks like private jets and cool swag from designers. Did he even love her? Or just love what she gave him? These questions raised her hackles because, in fact, she knew the answers. Probably had known them all along. But it had only taken one instant for everything to crystallize, falling into place like the next chapter of a well-written novel. She would never forget what it felt like to have him stand before her and scream, “You wouldn’t have all of this without me! I made you!” Spring seriously doubted that. It seemed much more likely that he wouldn’t have anything without her.
Chad had not always been a jerk. Or more likely, he had been, but just managed to keep it well hidden. It might be better to say that his vision of the future initially aligned with Spring’s. When they first met, he did seem to have Spring’s best interest at heart. And she was perfectly happy to have his help in getting her modeling career off the ground and, even later, when things had really begun to take off for her. He had worked hard, but she now realized, not nearly as hard as she had. She had also been perfectly happy for him to profit more and more from her modeling income. It was a mutually beneficial, symbiotic relationship. And at first, she really thought he loved her, not really doubting that fact until recently.
Spring had been a gold mine for Chad. He had been able to parlay his suave demeanor, his boyish good looks, and the spiderweb of Los Angeles contacts he inherited from his upper-crust Los Angeles family into a fairly remarkable career as Spring’s manager. And he enjoyed the added benefit of having a beautiful model on his arm as his live-in girlfriend as he fluttered around town. To be truthful, he was actually Spring’s live-in boyfriend.
But Chad had no inkling of how the world, especially the world of Hollywood and Los Angeles modeling royalty, treats women—especially women like Spring, who must constantly focus on every minute detail of their being to make a living. Everything was fair game. Hair. Makeup. Style. BMI. ZIP code. Age. Carriage. Professionalism. Perfection was the expectation. Spring understood that failure to meet certain standards in too many areas could bring a career like hers to a screeching halt. She would much rather plan for this eventuality.
Chad did not understand this. His plan was to keep doing what they had been doing. He had no sense of urgency, no sense that this could not possibly go on forever. Perhaps Spring was still so beautiful and flawless to him that he just couldn’t imagine her any other way. He was naive. And while he was railing against her, she swiftly and decisively made plans to untangle her life from Chad’s and relocate to New York City to pursue new avenues in fashion. She was exhilarated by the prospect of what lay before her. And now, as Spring put more and more miles between her and Chad, she was grateful that she had kept her money separate from his. Sure, she had allowed him to buy anything he wanted with her Platinum American Express card. But he wasn’t a co-signer on her accounts. Their home was in her name as well.
As soon as he left, yelling obscenities all the way to the driveway before screeching away in his Range Rover—also provided by Spring—she had called her lawyer, an accountant, a locksmith, and a moving company.
A few days later, with the locks changed and Chad’s belongings boxed up and packed into a single storage pod sitting in her driveway, Chad had arrived, hat in hand, apologizing, telling her he loved her, that it had all been a misunderstanding. She turned on her heels and went back into the house, leaving her lawyer, Sterling North, to oversee Chad’s move. Sterling watched as Chad made phone calls and finally found a moving company that would come immediately and take the pod away. Spring had not been so heartless as to leave him without a car. She had signed the Range Rover title over to Chad and listened with relief as his tires screeched away, down the drive, and out of her life, forever.
* * *
As the miles whizzed by, Spring thought of her sister, Autumn. She thought of Finch’s Crossing, and of her idyllic childhood there in her quaint hometown in the beautiful Laurel Highlands of western Pennsylvania. It was nothing like her Los Angeles neighborhood. No hillside mansions with gorgeous views. No streets choked with supercars. In her mind’s eye she could vividly see her childhood home, a sturdy, painted Victorian house, in which Autumn now lived.
Spring remembered how happy she had been there growing up. Genuinely, purely happy. She remembered that she had not left Finch’s Crossing all those years ago because she was not happy there. She left because she sought adventure. She was desperate, as so many in their youth are, to make her own way. To leave her mark. To show the world and everybody in it what she was made of. She had done that. She would have done that with or without Chad, she told herself. No one who knew her would disagree.
Yet she envied Autumn’s strong sense of belonging to their hometown. And despite the years spent away and infrequent trips back, Spring now felt an invisible nudge back to the quirky small town of her upbringing. The closer she got to home, the stronger the feeling. She had to get back to the “happy” she felt there—back to what she thought of as “Finch’s Crossing happy.” She smiled brightly and glanced at herself in the rearview mirror, surprised by the swell of emotion she saw in her eyes and the pang of longing she felt for her childhood home.
Spring looked at the dashboard for the time. She could arrive in Finch’s Crossing in about twenty-four hours if she drove through the night. So that settled it. Her arrival in New York wasn’t set in stone. She had simply selected a date and made her plans accordingly. Her new apartment was ready for her whenever she arrived. She had sufficient financial resources to sustain herself indefinitely. So why not take an unscheduled few days and stop to see Autumn? Finch’s Crossing was barely out of her way. Spring glanced at her cell resting in the passenger seat of the Mercedes. She should call to see if it suited Autumn, but decided to surprise her. Spring could hardly wait to pull into the drive of her childhood home on Loucks Avenue and see if she couldn’t start getting a little “Finch’s Crossing happiness” back into her life. In the hours since she had left Los Angeles, it was dawning on Spring that it had been a long time since she felt any real semblance of happiness.
She needed a distraction. Maybe a project she could plan and organize. Something where she could use her efficient and logical brain, accompanied, of course, by her uncompromising sense of style and effortless class. Yes, she would stay in Finch’s Crossing for a few days and take the time to map out her next move. Curled up in the familiar surroundings of her childhood home, she would be buoyed by the nostalgia of the past and her sister’s tender care and nurturing ways.
Her mind jumped to Gabriel Vignaroli, her high school sweetheart, just as she had known it would. It would be impossible to think of Finch’s Crossing without remembering her first love. And there it was, a memory laid out in front of her like a long-healed wound suddenly open again. The breakup with Chad, and all the ugly truths and spiteful words, were nothing compared to what Gabe had done to her almost twenty years ago. Was Gabe the reason her trips home to Finch’s Crossing over the years had been so infrequent? Was she afraid that she would see him? She had long ago stopped asking her family about him, and until that moment, it had been years since she had thought of him. So why was it that even when she had successfully banished all memories of Gabe from her mind, they remained stubbornly in her heart?