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People were full of lies. Case in point: hiking was not good for anyone. Especially Annie Abbott. It would likely be the cause of her demise. Maybe not the actual hiking, although that was doing a number on her thighs and lungs. It was more the tripping hazards she believed would lead to her gruesome end. It was like the twisted roots on the rocky, uneven path were specifically out to get her for some reason she couldn’t imagine. What had she ever done to nature? Stayed away. She should have stuck with that.
“Your two left feet are on backward,” Margie Tripalo said.
Her elderly neighbor, more chipper than her rainbow-colored hoodie, stabbed one of her walking sticks into the dirt path. The warm spring breeze was unprecedented for this time of year. Annie didn’t want to think too much about the fact that if she asked Margie for her poles, the woman would still do better than her on this little walk through the woods.
Annie stopped under the premise of retying her brand-new hiking boots. As she tried to catch her breath at the same time she leaned over, she accidentally scratched her knuckles across a rock. She hissed out a breath. “Why did I let you guys talk me into this?”
Ben McIntyre, her boyfriend of nearly nine months now, put a hand on her lower back. “To see the falls our home is named after. For exercise, fresh air, time with people you care about.”
Standing up, Annie made a dismissive noise, then frowned at the streak of blood on her knuckles. Nature hated her. At the moment, the feeling was mutual. “I could’ve had fresh air on my deck, and Margie showed me pictures.”
“Now, now, dear,” Joseph, Margie’s boyfriend—though her octogenarian neighbor hated that word—smiled as he ambled by, his long stride enviable. “My Margie can do many things but taking a photo that does the falls justice is not one of them.”
“You hold your tongue, Joseph. I take a fine photo.” She threw Annie a sassy grin. “I have a whole bunch of him in his swim trunks if you’d like to see.”
Annie couldn’t hide her grin or the snort-laugh of amusement. The color on Joseph’s cheeks suddenly had nothing to do with the ocean breeze coming up the ridge.
Ben lowered his chin, letting his warm breath wash over her earlobe. “How am I supposed to compete with that?”
More laughter bubbled up, escaping.
“We’ll keep walking. Ben, you keep an eye on our girl,” Margie said.
She and Joseph moved up the trail at an impressive clip given they were old enough to be her or Ben’s grandparents. Maybe she did need to get out more. Or actually use the treadmill in her garage. She’d taken up jogging on the beach and really enjoyed it. If she could just avoid making pit stops at the little row of shops with delicious pastries, waffles, donuts, and other goodies that was just up from the beach, she’d probably be in better shape.
“You okay, city girl?” Ben took a long drink of his water.
Refusing to let her pride take another hit, she nodded too enthusiastically. “Fine. Better than fine. I’m great. Just needed to tie my shoe.”
She’d never hear the end of it she didn’t keep up with her neighbors. Margie was always razzing her about being a city girl because she’d moved to the small town of Rainbow Falls from Portland.
Ben laughed as he reached out and stroked her hair back from her face. “I promise the view will be worth the walk.”
She narrowed her gaze. “Hike. A walk is flat with no sticks trying to lacerate my ankles. I’ve done pretty good keeping up with your devil-may-care hobbies, mister.”
Annie appreciated the way he tried to contain his laughter.
“I’m not sure kayaking fits in that category.”
“More so than my hobbies.” She poked his chest playfully.
Ben grabbed her finger, brought her hand to his mouth for a kiss. “You’re right. Puzzling and reading are much calmer.”
She nodded her head. “Exactly.” She started to pull away, but he held her still.
“Although. I think your little crime-fighting hobby is more dangerous than kayaking.”
Annie glared at him. “That’s not a hobby. And it’s not crime fighting, and it was two times I helped solve a mystery. Two times does not a hobby make.”
“Guess kayaking isn’t a hobby for you either, then,” he said around his laughter.
Fine. After the second time when she was sure her kayak wanted to flip, she hadn’t gone back. She liked a wider boat. Sue her.
Shaking his head, he took her hand and they continued along the bumpy incline. The path itself was nothing special: it wound around trees, rocks, bushes, and splashes of not-yet-blooming flowers. But the glimpses of water that she caught through the dense shrubbery excited her about the final destination. According to locals, the angle of the sun, the location of the water, and the splash of the falls created rainbows.
From the eight-home gated complex where she lived, the view of the water was stunning—like waking up every morning in a resort. Her back deck made her feel like The Little Mermaid with feet. Many nights, she and often, Ben, sat in her cozy Adirondack chairs listening to the ocean break against the rocks. She even had a decent view of the marina but nothing like the homes farther down the beach and according to Margie, nothing like she was about to see.
Ben stopped at an alcove of trees. They were clustered together in a U shape. “Had my first kiss right here,” he said, looking down at her.
At five feet nine, Annie usually felt tall, but around Ben, who was six feet one, she frequently had to tip her head back. “Oh yeah?”
He nodded. “Misha Chen. We were in seventh grade on a class scavenger hunt. She ducked in here and started inspecting the tree like it had something we were looking for.” Ben set his hand on the tree, the fondness of the memory shining in his gaze. “I leaned in close to see what she was seeing, and she turned, kissed me right on the lips.”
Annie’s heart squeezed. It was enough that he was a charming, sweet, funny, sexy, successful veterinarian. He was an attentive boyfriend, a loyal kitty-dad, a fierce competitor at all board games, and he was well loved by everyone. But this was too much for her—he couldn’t be adorable on top of all of that. She’d been biting down on the words I love you for weeks now. She bit her lip. She wouldn’t say it first. She’d never said it to a man. Damn him and his cuteness. Lighten the mood. Distract, distract.
“Smart girl. Sees something she likes, makes a plan. I admire that.” Annie moved in closer to the tree, pretended to inspect it. “Hmm. What’s this?”
Ben leaned in, his back to her front and kissed her neck, or more accurately, where her neck was beneath the layers of clothing. “You’re pretty adorable, Annie Abbott.”
Annie turned, her back to the bark. “I was just thinking the same thing about you. It’s a good thing you’re a poor loser and scared of heights or I’d think you were a perfect human being.”
He laughed, pressed his forehead to hers. “You’re pretty close yourself.”
“Are you two kids coming or what?” Margie’s voice didn’t sound far enough away.
“Caught,” Ben said, dipping his head down to press a quick kiss to her lips.
He started to move but she pulled him back by the lapels of his down vest. “Who was better, me or Misha?”
Another laugh, this one from deeper in his belly. The kind that made her belly warm.
“You. One hundred percent you.”
Margie and Joseph stayed in the lead even with their tendency to stop and chat with everyone they passed on the trail. Birds called to one another as Annie stopped to tie her hooded sweater around her waist. Ben was ahead saying hello to another dog. This time, a golden retriever. Whereas Margie was all about the people, Ben was all about the pets. She liked that about him.
Annie pulled her water from her backpack, needing to get rid of the scratchy dry feeling in her throat. As she tipped her head back, she was jostled from behind. The water bottle slipped, scratching against her lip, those final dribbles of water ending up on her tank top. She nearly groaned out loud.
“Who just stops in the middle of the trail like that?”
Annie blinked at the sharp edge in the woman’s tone. She turned to see a young blonde woman holding her phone with both hands, tapping furiously. She was staring at the screen but glanced up with a scowl. “Can you move?”
Ben, who’d gotten a few steps ahead came to Annie’s side. “Nice day for a hike, isn’t it?” He smiled at the lady, but she was apparently immune to his charm.
“Whatever. Can you move?”
Annie and Ben both stepped to the side while blondie carried on, her head bent, her fingers jackrabbiting over the screen.
“Guess I’m not the only one who gets grouchy when they’re hiking,” Annie said. The spot between her shoulder blades itched with irritation.
“That’s not hiking. I doubt she even knows there are trees around her. Why come out here if you’re just going to stare at the screen?” Ben’s easygoing tone was laced with a little irritation of his own. He didn’t usually let things bother him.
Annie went up on tiptoes, kissed his cheek. “Speaking of screens, how about a selfie?”
His smile returned to its typical charming form as he pulled his own phone from his pocket, held it up to capture their smiling faces. “You’re good at distracting me.” He pressed a kiss to her forehead.
Annie grinned, elbowing him the ribs lightly. “Just needed proof I did this.”
They continued on their walk with Ben pointing out memory spots. They passed a couple of other walkers who Margie and Joseph and Ben knew. Annie had been in town less than a year. She was getting to know a lot of people but there were still many she didn’t. Some, she probably never would.
She’d jumped at the chance to housesit for her parents when they announced their intention to kick off their retirement by sailing around the world. Free rent for a year? House to herself? View of the ocean? All hard yeses. But she hadn’t expected to fall in love with the town, the residents, the way the ocean breeze felt against her skin when she ran on the beach. She hadn’t expected to fall in love.
Now, that year was coming to a close, and Annie felt as rooted to Rainbow Falls as the vines in this forest. Even if she chose to stay, she would need to find a place to live.
“Look out,” Ben said, gripping her arm as she nearly tumbled over a rock.
She smiled sheepishly. “Oops. My mind keeps wandering.”
He was used to that. Gripping her hand a little tighter, they carried on until she saw Joseph and Margie through a gap in the trees. “This way.”
Then they were there, staring at the falls Rainbow Falls was named after. The water whooshed down the mountainside from so high up it almost looked like the clouds themselves were responsible. A wide jutting ledge of rock shifted the water’s direction further down as the incline eased and a winding path of rushing water flowed down to a pool.
From where they stood, there were several rough trails down to the area around the pool. The weather was warmer than usual but this high up, many of the rocks and surfaces still shone with thin layers of ice. With the water rushing so fast, clouds of condensation rose from the falls creating clouds that with the sun bouncing against them, created rainbows. So many rainbows.
“In the summer, kids go down into the pool. The water is freezing, but it’s fun.”
“I spent many a summer down there,” Margie said with a nostalgic fondness in her tone.
“Can’t get this far up the channel in a boat though there are rumors of secret passages I’ve yet to find,” Joseph, an avid boater, said.
Margie turned to Joseph, leaned her head against his chest. They were the dictionary definition of cute. She with her bright clothes, white hair that always held a streak of something bright—yellow today—and him with his perfect posture and absolute adoration of all things Margie. “One day we’ll take your boat out and find the route. Speaking of, how are your parents, Annie?”
Ben nudged Annie when she didn’t respond. She looked at all three of them then back at the view. “It’s so beautiful. That seems like such a trite observation. The word doesn’t do this view justice. It’s magnificent. Why doesn’t the city have pictures of this on their website?”
“I don’t think they’ve updated their website in quite a while. Maybe they need suggestions from a local graphic designer,” Joseph said, winking at her again.
She’d gained several clients since moving here. Being able to work remotely for herself had made the move feasible and very lucrative with what she saved on rent. She was busier than ever. Some days, she didn’t even have time to explore her other passions, like reading, playing with her cats, and planning murder mystery events. But she loved it. She loved all of it, she realized, looking back at Margie, Joseph, and Ben. She loved this town, her life in it. She loved her boyfriend. She loved Rainbow Falls, and she did not want to move. Even when her parents came back for their house.
End of Excerpt