Sneak Peek

Welcome to Trickle Creek!

When beloved billionaire, town savior and patriarch of the Carlson family dies, his will has five very specific stipulations. A challenge for each of his children to complete in turn.

It doesn’t take long for the siblings to learn that their father’s requests have very little to do with the promise of the inheritance and everything to do with themselves.


Welcome to the family!


Never Let Me Go

If I Can’t Have You: Chapter One

The red Christmas balls tucked into the pine boughs with sprigs of holly berries were super cute and perfectly festive for the holiday season. Which was exactly why Charli Carlson yanked them ruthlessly from the window boxes that sat out front of the Bean Bag, Trickle Creek’s popular cafe located in the bustling plaza. She dropped the decorations into the basket at her feet until she once more had a blank slate.

“Oh, no!”

Charli looked up to see Annie Darling, her friend and sister-in-law-to-be, open the door to the cafe. “I really liked those,” she groaned when she saw what Charli had done. “The boxes looked so beautiful. I swear, I smiled every time I came in to work my shift.”

“You would smile even if there was nothing but rocks in here.” Charli crouched and started to sift through the basket of supplies she’d brought with her. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen you without a smile on your face.” She looked up at Annie, who genuinely was one of the happiest and kindest people she knew. “Besides, you’re going to love what I do next. Christmas is over.” Charli rose, a different selection of evergreen branches in her hand. “It’s a new year, which means a new display.” She started to arrange the boughs, adjusting and readjusting until they were just right.

“I know I will.” Annie wrapped her arms around herself and shivered. “Come and grab a coffee when you’re done. It’s freezing out here.”

“Only if you make me one of those vanilla lattes that are so yummy.”


Her friend retreated inside to the warmth of the café, and Charli focused on her task. When the evergreen was perfect, she began to place the oversized pine cones and little silver stars that she’d found on her last trip to the city. As soon as she’d seen them, she knew they’d look perfect in a January display. Just the right amount of pop and shine to brighten up a snowy winter day and draw attention to the cafe doors. Outdoor arrangements were still pretty new to her, but when Annie asked Charli if she’d be willing to do something for the Christmas season, she jumped at the opportunity. The winter season, when the tourists flocked to the ski hill, brought a lot of traffic to the town of Trickle Creek and every business in town. Almost every business.

Charli’s flower business became virtually nonexistent as soon as the temperatures dropped and the flowers froze. Then again, you couldn’t really call a stand at the seasonal farmers’ markets a business. At least, she didn’t. Her little hobby was nothing compared to what her siblings did—each of them with successful businesses, or running the family business empire, Carlson Corp.

Maybe it wasn’t as important as what the rest of them did, but it made her happy, as did creating the displays for the Bean Bag.

A few minutes later, when Charli pulled the door to the cafe open, she was hit with a blast of warm air. A sharp contrast to the cold January day.

She pulled her parka off, found an empty table, and draped it over a chair. She tucked her basket out of the way and made her way to the counter, where Annie was finishing up her latte.

“I wish you’d let Dale pay you in money rather than coffee.” Annie handed over the drink. “Your work is gorgeous. We get so many comments on it from our customers.”

Annie’s compliment glowed deep in Charli’s chest.

“I’m just so glad I can make people happy,” she said genuinely. “And these lattes are delicious.” She lifted the coffee to her mouth and laughed at the image of the flower Annie had created with the foam on top. “Super cute.”

“Just for you.” Annie winked but immediately turned serious again. “But seriously, if you charged for what you—”

She stopped her with an outstretched hand. “No one is going to pay for it.” She shook her head and once more wrapped both hands around her mug. “And besides, I love doing it. Honestly. It’s fine.”

Annie looked as if she wanted to say more, but she was distracted by the ringing of a bell from the kitchen, alerting her that an order was ready.

Charli waved her away, thanked her once more, and retreated to the table by the window where she could enjoy her coffee and look through the new stack of seed and bulb catalogs that had come in the mail the other day.

Flipping through the pages, looking at all the glossy images of beautiful bright blooms, daydreaming about what they’d look like in her arrangements, was one of her favorite pastimes in the colder winter months when she couldn’t be in her gardens. Which was where she preferred to be whenever she wasn’t working for Carlson Corp, the family business her father had started that had singlehandedly saved the town of Trickle Creek by bringing in tourism in a big way when the zinc mine closed years earlier.

Without a college education like the rest of her siblings, Charli didn’t have any real marketable skills besides exceptional customer service, which was why she’d been given the role of community outreach manager. Her brothers and sisters had never said anything, but Charli knew her father had created the position just for her. Truthfully, it wasn’t very hard, and she spent most of her time interacting with guests of the ski resort in the winter and the world-class golf course in the summer months, trying to feel useful.

Charli sighed heavily, her gaze lifting away from the pages of the catalog she realized she hadn’t been paying much attention to, and spent a few moments watching the bustle of the people outside. Annie was right; more than one person walking by stopped to admire her window box arrangement before entering the cafe. It was a simple thing, but it warmed her with pride. She might not be very good at much, but she was damned good at flower arrangement. For whatever that was worth.

She took another sip of her coffee, which was quickly growing cold in front of her, and focused out the window once more. This time, her eyes traveled across the bustling plaza, the pedestrian-only shopping area that was the heart of Trickle Creek, and landed on a large red sign in a storefront. Closing-out sale. Everything must go.

“Annie?” She reached for her friend as she walked by, a coffeepot in her hand. “Did you see that Muddy Mugs is closing down?”

The local pottery shop had been operating in town for only two or three years, but it had become a favorite of tourists and locals alike with unique mugs, bowls, and more, all with an authentic mountain theme that had proved quite popular.

Maybe not popular enough?

“It’s really too bad, isn’t it?” Annie followed Charli’s gaze. “I love her stuff.”

“But why? I thought Marta was doing well?”

“She is. She’s doing great.”

Charli tipped her head and looked at her friend quizzically.

“I think that’s the problem,” Annie explained. “She’s spending too much time minding the store and doing the business things.” She used air quotes. “And she wants to spend more time in her pottery studio.” Annie shrugged. “Besides, she has what…eight grandchildren now? I think the real reason is she’d rather spend time with them.”

Charli smiled and nodded. “That makes sense, and it makes me feel a lot better. I would hate it if she was in financial trouble and forced to sell.”

“From what I understand, that’s not it at all.” Annie shook her head. “But it will be interesting to see what goes in there next. Any guesses?”

“No clue.” She couldn’t even begin to imagine what would fit the space. “But I hope it’s something great.”

“I’ll miss Marta,” Annie said. “But I’m sure whatever business takes over, they’ll do great. Can I get you more coffee?”

Charli shook her head and pulled her gaze away from the window. “No,” she said. “I should get going. I need to go home for a bit, and I wanted to make a stop before heading up to the big house for the family dinner. I’ll see you then?”

“I wouldn’t miss it.” Annie beamed. “Chase insisted on making a huge batch of beef stew.” Her smile slipped a bit. “He thought maybe it was a good idea for some comfort food before, well…”

“The will reading,” Charli finished for her. “It’s not a bad idea.” She worked hard to keep the smile on her face, but on the inside, Charli was definitely not smiling.

Weekly family dinners were a normal part of Carlson family life, the will readings…not so much. Although, that seemed to be changing, too.

Six months ago, their father, the patriarch of the family, Michael Carlson, died and left a less than orthodox request in the initial reading of the will. He’d shocked everyone when he’d left a very specific caveat in his will that forced Chase, the eldest of the siblings, to live in Trickle Creek for six months before the second part of the reading could take place. Obviously, that had worked out for everyone, including Annie, who was now very happily engaged to Chase. But to say that they weren’t all nervous about what else their father might have in store for them would be a huge understatement.

They wouldn’t have to wait much longer, though, because part two of the will was set to be read after dinner.

Annie pulled her in for a quick hug. “It’s going to be okay. Your father was a kind and generous man. He only wanted the best for all of you.”

Charli knew that to be true. Still, as she made her way through the plaza back to her car, she knew in her heart that whatever was going to be in the will tonight, there would be nothing straightforward about it.

* * *

The hill was steep, a fluffy layer of fresh powdery snow over what Symon Scott knew was a solid, deep base of snow. He knew every single detail, every tree, every turn, every obstacle, every jump, of every single run at the Trickle Creek ski resort by memory. He’d spent some of the best years of his life on the hill and couldn’t even begin to count how many hours were spent racing down the hill, honing his skills, learning how to fly.

It was home. He was home.

So why did he feel so empty as he stood at the base of the hill next to the high-speed quad chairlift that would take him to the top of the mountain, where he knew he would feel like he was on top of the world?

Symon closed his eyes against the lightly falling snow, lifted his face, and inhaled deeply.


When he opened his eyes, he still felt nothing. A chasm of blankness in place of the fire that used to fill him at the prospect of clicking his ski boots into his bindings. Maybe if he just forced himself to do it, it would feel differently. There was no pressure here. Not yet.

There wouldn’t be any questions about the injury that sidelined him from Team Canada and his dream of skiing. There wouldn’t be anyone watching him carefully to see whether his knee would hold up. No expectations. It was just him and his home hill. The perfect place to get back on the proverbial horse after nine long months of rehabbing his injury after surgery.

It wasn’t his first time back on skis, not by a long shot. Symon had clicked into his bindings more times than he could count since he was cleared by the physiotherapist and released from the months long rehab since the accident. But just because he got his skis on, didn’t mean he’d actually skied.

That was the problem.

But all that would be fixed now that he was on his home hill. Surely, whatever fear was holding him back would vanish with the familiarity.

At least, he hoped like hell it would.

With no more excuses, Symon dropped his skis to the ground and, with movements that were as natural as breathing, he planted his poles on either side of him and one by one, clicked his boots into the bindings, securing him into his skis. He pulled his goggles down over the top of his helmet to cover his eyes and pushed off on his good leg toward the chairlift.

He hadn’t expected so many people to be there in the middle of the week, but he’d also vastly underestimated the increasing level of tourism that Trickle Creek had experienced over the last few years. The condos and vacation properties scattered around the base of the ski hill had grown from only a handful to dozens since the last time he’d been home.

When had that been?

Too long, if he asked his grandmother. A flash of guilt shot through him. But there was only room for one personal challenge at a time. And right now, he was determined to focus on the one in front of him.


Not long ago, it had been as natural as walking. Symon had quite literally dedicated his entire life to the freestyle moguls ski team, and he didn’t regret a thing. At least, he hadn’t regretted anything. Now, he absolutely regretted the split-second decision to attempt a D-Spin instead of the easier—and safer—daffy that he’d executed flawlessly more times than he could count. That decision had cost him a lot more than the championship. Symon glanced down at his left leg. A lot more.

The truth was, he knew he couldn’t win with the safer jump. The newer, younger skiers were faster, stronger, and more daring. They took risks, and that’s what he’d needed to do if he wanted to win. It just hadn’t worked out the way he wanted it to.

Symon’s skis slid easily on the snow as he maneuvered his way into the line behind a family. Happy chatter surrounded him, and two young boys, probably around fifteen or sixteen, took the spot in line behind him.

“Did you see that jump?” one asked the other. “It was killer.”

“Dude, I caught so much air!”

Symon smiled a little to himself, memories of him and his buddies at that age flooding through him. It felt like a lifetime ago.

“Hey,” one of the boys said.

It took Symon a moment to realize he was talking to him. Slowly, Symon turned to face the kid.

“Are you with Team Canada?”

Symon froze. His helmet and goggles would hide his identity, but…shit. His ski jacket had the recognizable maple leaf with two lines to represent skis on one side on his left arm. Most people wouldn’t recognize the significance. He glanced down at his arm before looking up at the boy and grinning. “Nah, I found this jacket at the thrift shop.”

“Really?” the boy said.

“So cool,” his friend added. “Maybe it was Symon Scott’s. Did you know he’s from here?”

Symon shrugged. “I might have heard that.”

“He has two gold medals!”

“He’s awesome!”

“He was awesome,” the other boy corrected his friend.

Symon couldn’t help himself. “What do you mean, was?”

“He bailed hard last year.”

“It was epic.”

“Epic?” Symon could think of a lot of ways to describe his wipeout, but epic had never crossed his mind.

“So gnarly, man,” the first boy said. “He would have won, too, if he’d landed it.” His friend nodded in agreement.

“You guys follow freestyle racing?” Symon knew the answer before they nodded vehemently, because he and his friends followed the racing circuit when he was their age, imagining themselves on the screen, numbers on their chests, bouncing through the moguls and racing toward victory one day themselves. He’d had that. Until…his epic bail.

“You guys want to race one day?”

The first boy nodded. “Totally. I’m going to be just like Symon Scott.”

Sy felt a flare of pride in his chest, until he noticed the other boy shaking his head.

“Not me.”


“No way. He bailed and never got up.”

Again, Symon thought he should just turn around and let it go. But he couldn’t.

“What do you mean?”

“He’s not racing anymore.” The boy still shook his head, clearly disappointed in the hometown racer he didn’t realize he was speaking directly to. “Never went back to the circuit. Just quit.”

With nothing else to contribute, Symon turned around again as the line moved forward. He hadn’t quit. Not really. He just hadn’t skied again yet.


He would. At least he hoped he would.

It was almost his turn to take a spot on the chair that would deliver him to the top of the mountain. He hadn’t so much as been on a chairlift since the accident. Because what went up a mountain, had to come down. His physiotherapist had cleared him physically. There was no reason he shouldn’t be able to do this. Yet, there was something in his brain blocking him from doing the one thing he loved more than anything else.

Behind him, the kids resumed their chatter. Symon tried to swallow back the guilt of lying to the boys. But it was only temporary. Once he got this run out of the way, it would all be different, and he could—

“Let’s do that run again,” one kid said to his friend. “That time didn’t count. I caught an edge.”

“You bailed so hard, man.”

Symon’s chest tightened. He forced himself to breathe deeply. Despite the snow and cold, he was too hot. He unzipped his jacket halfway, letting the frosty air hit him. It wasn’t enough. His heart raced, a trail of icy sweat dripped down his spine, and his vision blurred as he worked hard to regain what little control he had. These kids were too much.


The sharp poke of a ski pole in his back brought Symon to attention. He turned to see the kids staring at him.

“Dude,” the boy said again. “It’s your turn.” He gestured with his pole.

Symon turned around to see that the line in front of him had moved up, and it was in fact his turn to get on the chairlift.

“Sorry,” he mumbled. Symon took it all in: The chairs that were spinning around empty on their track, waiting for him to move forward. The skiers moved gracefully from side to side on the hill as they finished the run and returned to their spots in the chairlift line. The kids behind him.

He shook his head, muttered another apology, and with a wide step sideways, pulled himself out of line. Symon immediately used his poles to click out of his bindings. He grabbed his skis, lifted them over his shoulders, and as fast as he could, made his way back to his truck at the back of the parking lot. Unceremoniously, he tossed his equipment in the truck bed and leaned against the driver’s side door.

Symon pulled his goggles and helmet from his head and dropped them both to his feet, all his focus on pulling in one deep breath after another.

“Fuck.” He kicked at an ice ball with his ski boot. “What’s wrong with you? It’s just skiing. You’ve done it a million times.”

It didn’t make sense. There was nothing logical about it. Skiing had always been his escape. His greatest joy. His passion. It was the only thing he’d ever wanted to do with his life. And he’d done it. He’d made his dreams come true. He’d made the Canadian freestyle ski team. He was winning. And then…he’d crashed.

Just like that, it was all over.

Everything he’d worked so hard for was ripped away from him because of one bad decision. There was no going back. Not for him. The kid was right. He wasn’t worthy of being anyone’s hero.

Sure, Symon knew plenty of skiers who’d come back from injury and gone back to compete and win. And at first, he was sure that would be his story as well. The accident happened in Austria, during a summer ski circuit high in the alps. By the time he got home and saw the team surgeon, weeks later, they’d determined that surgery was the only way to get him back on the hill.

After he was healed enough, no one went after physiotherapy the way Symon did. For months, rehabbing his knee and building muscle and strength had been his only job, which was why Symon had been so sure that as soon as the snow fell, and he got back on his skis, he’d be stronger than ever.

What he hadn’t counted on was the overwhelming, paralyzing fear that had consumed him that first time he put his skis on. And then the second.

He couldn’t even make himself get on the chairlift, let alone ski.

Alan, his coach, told him it was temporary, and he tried to be patient with him. But the season had already started, and Symon was already behind. So, Alan sent him home.

“Get your head straight,” Alan said. “Take some time and sort it out.”

“There’s nothing to sort out, Alan. I think it’s over.”

“That’s bullshit, Sy, and you know it. You got hurt. So what? Skiers get hurt every day. You’re better now. Your knee is stronger than ever. You are stronger than ever. You have too much to offer, Symon. Your team needs you.”

He couldn’t bear to look his coach and friend in the eyes. The truth was, as the oldest, he had taken on a big brother role to a lot of the guys on the team. More than once, he’d counseled them on both personal matters and those involving skiing. His experience was called on frequently, and the other team members did look up to him.

Which made the whole situation even harder.

“How can I be a role model when I can’t even get out of my own head, Alan?” Symon shook his head. “They don’t need me. They don’t need that. What they need is a new team member who will lead them to victory. Someone younger, faster, and…well, not broken.”

He didn’t want to leave the team, but Alan was right. He needed to get his head straight. Either that or he should just quit altogether. It was an idea that was creeping into his thoughts more and more lately.

“That’s a load of crap, Sy, and you know it. You’re scared. Not done.” Alan shook his head. “And that’s a bullshit reason to throw it all away. Which is why you’re going home for a rest. That’s it. You’ll be back.”

Alan had sounded so sure. But now that Symon was home and things still weren’t different…well, it was getting harder and harder to stay positive.

He took another deep breath and looked back toward the ski hill, dotted with skiers moving down the mountain.

He’d been so sure that the moment he got here, everything would be fine. That his body and his brain would remember how good it felt to be on his skis, flying down the slopes, and it would all click together.

“Fuck.” He cursed at himself again.

Obviously, it wasn’t going to be quite as easy as he’d assumed it would be.

Symon ran a hand through his dark hair, inhaled deeply, and looked away.

Maybe he could figure it out. Maybe he couldn’t.

Either way, he was out of options. Trickle Creek was his best hope and his last chance.

Like it or not, he was home.

If I Can’t Have You: Chapter Two

Charli managed to take her mind off the impending evening by spending a few hours in her greenhouse, tending to the calendula seeds she was germinating and checking on the moisture level in the soil for the ranunculus bulbs she’d planted a few weeks earlier. She could have spent even longer puttering around and busying herself with the never-ending tasks that her plants and flowers required, but the alarm she’d set on her phone warned her that if she wanted to have time for one last stop before heading up to the big house for dinner, she’d need to leave soon.

Reluctantly, she closed up the greenhouse, making sure the temperature was set just right before she left, knowing as she did so that she’d check it as soon as she got home, too. Her family saw her flowers as an extravagant hobby, but to Charli, they were so much more. Not that she could explain to her brothers and sisters how it felt to dig her hands in the earth and feel connected to something greater than herself.

How when she nurtured a seed into a strong, healthy plant, she felt deep, personal satisfaction and pride knowing it was because of her and the attention and care she’d taken. And when her plants bloomed in turn, almost like a well-orchestrated symphony from early spring all the way until the first frost, in waves of glorious color and texture that she’d carefully planned for, it was a personal triumph. And then later, when she gave away her bouquets or sold them for just enough to cover the cost of the table rental at the local farmers’ market, seeing the happiness her flowers brought to people, the smiles they put on the faces of strangers, filled her with a sense of joy nothing else could come close to.

Charli stopped at the barn, her heated workshop, which was her second favorite place to spend time, to grab a centerpiece arrangement she’d put together for the big house. It was always a fine line after the Christmas season to create a beautiful piece that wasn’t too festive. She was pretty sure she nailed it with the addition of little wooden snowflakes that she’d painted white and tucked into the evergreen boughs and pine cones. She’d even added a few of the white carnations she’d recently started growing in her greenhouse. The result was beautiful, and it would be perfect on their family dinner table.

“What do you think, Lilly?” She stopped to scratch her orange tabby cat behind the ears. Lilly purred in response and arched her neck into Charli’s attention. “I agree,” she said with a laugh. “I did do a pretty good job.”

She gave the cat one last pet before scooping up the centerpiece and heading out. She still had one more stop she wanted to make, and she didn’t want to be late for the family dinner, tonight of all nights.

Charli only lived a short five-minute drive up the mountain from the big house where she was raised. She hadn’t planned it that way but when the property came up for sale, it was absolutely perfect, with its old farmhouse and two acres to dig in as many flower beds as she could handle. Plus, the old barn had been just right for her workshop. Besides, she loved her family and although living so close by wouldn’t be an ideal choice for many, it was the ideal scenario as far as Charli was concerned.

Instead of continuing up the main road that would take her to her childhood home, Charli took a small detour onto a logging road and pulled off as far as she could to the side in case anyone else happened to come by.

Even with the heavy snowfall, she had no trouble finding the trailhead. She strapped on the snowshoes she kept in the back of her car and moved quickly into the trees.

She could have walked the trail by memory in any season, despite the fact that it had been years since she’d taken it. There’d been a time she’d walked this trail almost daily, but now, she couldn’t remember the last time she’d been out there. Nor could she explain why she’d woken up that morning with the deep feeling in her heart that it was exactly where she needed to be today.

Even without a packed trail to follow, Charli took the turns and navigated the snowy path with relative ease until she came out in the clearing next to the creek and the small waterfall. In January, it was frozen solid, creating a dramatic and stunning art piece.


She’d seen it many times, but even so, the waterfall never failed to impress her.

Charli closed her eyes and inhaled deeply, letting the peace and calm wash over her the way she knew it would. She’d only been about eight years old when she discovered the small waterfall along with her best friend Symon. The two of them were inseparable back then, choosing to spend all of their free time running through the woods and exploring. When they’d stumbled upon the pretty spot, too small to be a tourist attraction like the bigger waterfalls on the other side of town, but even more special than any of those others, Charli and Symon had declared it their own. It was a magical place and their young imaginations, still so innocent, insisted there must be fairies that lived there that would grant their wishes. They’d dubbed it Fairy Creek Falls, and it had been their special place ever since.

Charli unstrapped her snowshoes and picked her way across the rocks toward the frozen ice. Maybe that’s why she’d been called to the falls today. She was going to need the magic of the fairies to get her through the upcoming will reading.

Charli and Symon’s visits to Fairy Creek Falls slowed when they became teenagers. Symon spent more and more time on the mountain with the ski club, and when he wasn’t skiing or training, more and more frequently he chose to spend his free time with his teammates.

The last time they’d been there together was the day of their high school graduation. Charli could still picture exactly where they stood, the wish she’d made to the fairies, and then the way it had come true when she shared her first kiss with her best friend, who she’d been so secretly and desperately in love with.

She squeezed her eyes shut at the rest of that memory. So young and naive, Charli had been so sure that kiss meant that everything would change. And it did…only not in the way she’d expected it to.

When the kiss was over, Symon had taken off without a word and left her there by herself.

The next day, he was gone. He’d accepted a spot on Canada’s junior ski team and moved to Vancouver without even telling her.

What should have been one of the happiest and most exciting days of their young lives became one of Charli’s worst. Not only had Symon rejected her, but the diploma she’d held in her hand had been fake. The shame and disappointment she’d felt in failing to successfully pass her math course and get the credits she needed, despite all her best efforts, was only eclipsed by the heartache of losing her best friend, the one person she would have confided in, if he’d stayed.

She’d only been back to the falls sporadically after that. It was hard to believe in fairies and wishes when your heart was broken.

But that was a long time ago. Sure, she didn’t believe in fairies anymore, but in a time like this, she’d take all the help she could get. “Maybe there’s a fairy hiding in there after all,” she muttered. “Come on, fairy. You owe me one.”

She tilted her head back, inhaled deeply, and attempted to make a wish, just the way they used to. “I wish that whatever happens tonight, it will—”

“That’s not how it works.”

The voice startled her. Charli jumped, her eyes flying open as she took a step forward and spun around.


* * *

“Hi, Charli.”

The last person Symon expected to see at Fairy Creek Falls was Charli. Of course, it was fitting that she was there. And definitely a happy surprise. How long had it been since he’d seen her? A few years, at least, since the last time he’d come back to visit Gran. He’d bumped into her at the grocery store when he’d run out to do a few errands for Gran and they’d grabbed a coffee. She’d looked good then in her jeans and sweater. Hell, Charli always looked good. But now…with her knit cap pulled low on her head, her blonde hair sticking out over her shoulders, her cheeks pinked from the cold, and the smile on her face that told him how glad she was to see him, she was downright gorgeous.

Symon felt that familiar tightening in his gut every time he saw Charli Carlson. Hell, that hadn’t changed.

“What are you…” Charli shook her head. “You’re…” She laughed at herself, and her eyes sparkled. “Symon? Why are you here?”

“I texted you.” He took a few steps toward her and grinned. “I told you I was coming this time.” It was true. Mostly. He had texted her around Christmas to let her know he’d be moving back to town for awhile. He’d been a bit sparse on the details, but he had told her.

“You know full well you could have let me know when you got here?”

He shrugged and flashed her another bright smile. “To be fair, I just got here.” It was mostly true.

“Men are so ridiculous.” She shook her head and rolled her eyes a little, but she was still smiling. It was the same bright smile she’d had since they were kids, that, when it was focused on you, made you feel like the most important person in the world.

“Well?” He held out his arms. “Are you going to give me a hug, or what?”

That was all it took before she was in his arms. She felt good. Even through their thick parkas, he swore he could feel the heat from her body, warming him thoroughly. The empty, cold loneliness he’d been shrouded in for the last few months began to thaw almost at once. Symon inhaled and pulled her closer. She smelled so good. A mixture of cinnamon and pine and something else that was both sweet and floral and earthy at the same time. “It’s good to see you, Charli.”

He didn’t want to let her go. Quite the opposite. He wanted to pull her close and tell her all his deepest, darkest secrets, just like when they were kids. It would feel so good to confide in her about his fear of skiing again, and he knew she wouldn’t laugh or make him feel small. But it wasn’t the right time. He couldn’t just lead with, “I know it’s been awhile, but I’m an emotional wreck…can you help me out?”

Aware he was probably holding on a little too tight, Symon released her and instantly missed the feel of her in his arms.

At once, she smacked him in the chest with her mittened hand. “I still can’t believe you didn’t tell me you were coming.”

“We just went through this, Char. I did tell you.” He tried not to laugh. “I texted you.”

“You know what I mean.”

“Does it matter?” He shrugged. “I’m here now.”

“True.” She laughed; the familiar sound traveled through him. “Here you are.” She waved her hands around. “I can’t believe how random this is. I didn’t even plan on coming here today, but I just had a feeling that I needed to stop by.”

“And make a wish?” He’d heard her. And he’d felt a little guilty that he’d interrupted her before she finished her wish. But it was either that, or he would have to eavesdrop on it, and as curious as he was to know what had brought Charli out here to make a wish, that didn’t feel right. “I wasn’t trying to listen in, Char. I’m—”

“It’s fine.” She shook her head and glanced at the waterfall. “I wasn’t really… It’s nothing.”

It seemed like something, but Symon wasn’t going to push.

They stood in silence for a few moments, a million memories about all the times they’d been at the falls together over the years cascading over him. Including the last time.

“Do you come here—”

“It’s sure been awhile—”

They spoke at the same time, their words coming out in a rush.

“You go first,” Charli said.

He didn’t bother to argue. “I was just going to ask you if you still came here a lot?”

Her smile dipped a little and a shadow passed over her features, but only for a moment. “Not really,” she said. “Only a few times since that last time.”

That last time.

He knew exactly what time she was talking about. It was the day they graduated from high school and they’d snuck away from the party Michael Carlson had thrown them at the big house. They hadn’t planned to go to Fairy Creek Falls, but neither of them was surprised when they ended up there.

They’d made wishes and taken sips from the bottles of beer they’d snuck from the house as they sat side by side, laughing with their feet in the creek. When Charli looked at him, the laughter dying on her lips, Symon knew exactly what was going to happen. And more than anything else, he wanted it to happen, because as long as he could remember, he’d been in love with Charli.

When they were kids, that love took the form of a deep friendship. They were completely inseparable from the moment they met, and it wasn’t long before Symon couldn’t imagine a life without Charli.

Things had changed a little as they grew up, as they always do. Charli grew into a gorgeous young woman who got more than her share of attention from the opposite sex. Even if she didn’t realize it. Symon had done his best to threaten his friends from the ski team away from her. The few times that she had gone out with a boy who had somehow snuck past his threats, Symon was not shy to tell her exactly why he wasn’t good enough for her. At first, it had been out of a protective nature because her big brother Chase wasn’t around to do it. But then things changed. And it became more personal.

Even at eighteen, Symon was sure of his feelings when one day he looked across the table where they were doing English homework and watched her push her long hair away from her face before looking up to see him watching her. It was in that completely ordinary moment that he knew for sure that what he felt for Charli was far more than friendship or brotherly concern. He was in love with her. It was shortly after that that he realized that he could never be with her. Kissing her, as amazing as it had been, had been a mistake.

“So, what’s so special about today?” He ignored the reference to their history, the way he always had. In fact, they’d never discussed the kiss or his subsequent disappearance. Years later, when Symon finally got brave enough to reach out again, he took the approach of pretending it had never happened. It seemed to be a strategy that worked for both of them, so there wouldn’t be any point in changing it.

“Well, you’re here.” She winked. “It’s not every day that a Canadian ski team member shows up at Fairy Creek Falls. That’s pretty special.”

He winced at her mention of the ski team but did his best to cover it. “It sure is.”

“So, are you going to tell me why you’re here?” She turned the question on him. “I mean, you can’t tell me that after all these years, you had a burning urge to make a wish at Fairy Creek Falls?”

He shrugged.

“You did?”

“Don’t look so surprised.” He laughed. “I can still make a wish.”

She tipped her head and eyed him. “I mean…I guess technically, but…”

“You don’t believe me?”


“I’ll show you.”

He regretted the words the moment they were out of his mouth. He hadn’t been lying when he told her that he could still make a wish, and yes, there was a part of him that thought maybe it wouldn’t hurt to wish to the fairies for him to get over his stupid phobia and just let him ski again. But he was just grasping at straws with that thought, and there was no way he was going to make the wish in front of her.

Still. He couldn’t back down. Not without telling her why he was really back in town. And he wasn’t ready to do that.

With confidence he didn’t totally feel, Symon took a step away from her and toward the frozen waterfall.

“Do you remember how?”

“How could I forget?” He glanced over his shoulder and took a few more careful steps until he was in position.

He closed his eyes, tipped his head up to the sky, and began.

“Powerful and magical fairies of Fairy Creek Falls,” he began, reciting the script they’d created when they were children. “Please hear my wish.” Behind him, Symon was sure he heard Charli giggle, but he didn’t turn around. He squeezed his eyes even tighter and decided to take a chance, because why not? What did he have to lose if the fairies ignored his request now? “I wish for a beautiful woman to keep me company and spend time with me while I’m visiting Trickle Creek. Please, powerful and magical fairies, grant me my wish,” he finished before stamping twice with his left foot and clapping his hands together three times.

Wish completed, Symon turned and slowly opened his eyes to see how it was received. “See?” He spoke. “I didn’t forget how.”

Charli stood perfectly still. Her mouth was hung open slightly. Her eyes were unfocused, and Symon instantly regretted his wish. He knew she wasn’t married; he would have heard that news. But for all he knew, she could be dating someone who he hadn’t heard about yet.


Before he could attempt to dig himself out of the hole he’d just dug for himself, she seemed to recover from whatever shock she was feeling.

“Well, holy shit, Sy! I’m impressed.” She clapped her mittened hands and laughed. “You really did remember.”

Symon blinked. “I did.”

“I think I know exactly how the fairies are going to make your wish come true.” She reached for his hand as he made his way back through the deep snow. “But first, I’m going to be late for the family dinner at the big house, and you have to come.”

If I Can’t Have You: Chapter Three

Any other family dinner on any other night, and it wouldn’t have been an issue. But with the excitement of seeing Symon again, and all the feelings he still brought up in her after so long, she’d completely forgotten about what was supposed to happen after the family dinner.

By the time she’d remembered about the will reading that she was certain would not go smoothly, they were pulling up to the big house and it was too late.

Not that there had been any other choice, anyway. Not when she hadn’t seen Symon for so long. No. The only choice was to invite him for dinner.

“Are you sure it’s okay to crash your family dinner?” he asked the moment she’d put the car in park and pulled the keys from the ignition.

There was no way she could let him walk into the house without any warning of what was about to happen. It wasn’t fair. She turned to face him. “Truth?”

“Always.” He pressed his lips together, and Charli had to swallow hard.

Why was he so damn good-looking?

And more to the point, why did he still make her stomach flip after all these years?

So many questions that she wasn’t likely to get answers to any time soon. Never mind that wish he made. A beautiful woman to keep him company while he was in Trickle Creek? Seriously? She’d come to terms with the fact that Symon didn’t feel the same way about her when they were eighteen, and time did soften the blow of that moment. But having him wish for a woman in their spot? That stung a little.

“Everyone is going to be thrilled to see you,” she answered honestly. “But I do need to warn you—”

A sharp rap on the car window startled them both. “Charli, you’re late!”

She turned to see her brother Craig staring into her car window.

His goofy grin morphed into a look of surprise when he saw her passenger. “Symon Scott? Is that you?”

No time left for warnings; Charli gave Symon one last reassuring grin before opening her car door. She was greeted at once by her five-year-old niece Meredith, who slammed into her legs, wrapping her arms tight around Charli.

“Hey, kiddo.” Charli crouched so they were at eye level. “You’re getting strong. One day you’re going to knock me over.”

“Maybe one day.”

Meri gave her a kiss on her cheek before pulling herself out of Charli’s arms and turning to Symon. “Who are you?”

“Meri,” Craig chastised. “That’s not very polite.”

The little girl nodded seriously and tried again. “Who are you, please?”

Craig groaned and shook his head in apology. Charli knew it wasn’t easy for him being a single dad to such a ball of energy, but he was a great father, and Meri was a fabulous kid.

“My name is Symon.” He held out his hand. “I’m an old friend of your Aunt Charli’s.”

Meri took his hand and shook it as she eyed him. “You don’t look very old.”

Charli laughed, and Craig groaned again. “Meri, that’s not—”

“Well,” Symon smiled, “I’m older than you.”

“That’s true.” Meri nodded. “Everyone’s older than me. Even Grady. Have you met him yet?”

Symon shook his head and looked to Charli for an explanation. She lifted a shoulder. There’d been a lot of changes since he’d last been there.

“Not yet,” he told her. “We just got here.”

“Don’t worry,” the little girl said. “I’ll make sure you know everyone. Come on.” She took his hand and led him into the house.

Symon glanced back at Charli with a shrug, but she only shook her head with a laugh.

She started after them, but Craig grabbed her arm to stop her. “Symon’s here?”


“Sorry.” Her brother caught himself. “I’m not trying to sound like an asshole, and it’s good to see him, of course. I’m just…tonight is the…well, it’s just—”

“I know. The timing isn’t awesome, but to be honest, I completely forgot about the will reading.”

Craig gave her a suspicious look.

Truthfully, it was pretty unbelievable, considering it was pretty much all Charli had thought about for the last few days. But it was the truth. “He’s here now,” she said. “And maybe he’ll be a good distraction for everyone.”

What she meant was maybe he’d be a good distraction for her, and they both knew it.

Craig gave her a knowing look and wrapped an arm around her shoulders for a quick squeeze. “It’ll be okay, Char. Whatever it is, we’ll handle it together, okay?”

“Of course, it will.” She forced a cheer into her voice, the way she always did. “We should get in there and rescue Symon from his new date.”

* * *

Walking into a Carlson family dinner was a strange dichotomy for Symon. On one hand, nothing had changed. The family was still loud and over the top, with everyone trying to talk over one another. It was chaotic and crazy and full of love. But on the other hand, a lot had changed. The biggest being that Michael Carlson, the patriarch of the family, was no longer at the head of the table, quietly overseeing the madness with a sly smile on his face.

Symon had been just as saddened as everyone else to hear about his passing. He’d reached out to Charli to give his condolences, but he was still angry at himself for not making a bigger effort to come back for the funeral to be there for her. But with his injury still so fresh, he’d been so preoccupied with his own stuff. He should have made more of an effort.

He snuck a glance across the table at Charli now, engaged in conversation with her younger sister, Kat.

That was another thing that had changed since the last time he’d been there. The Carlson siblings were all grown up.

Of course, he’d kept in touch with Charli and she always filled him in on what was going on with her family. And obviously, he’d seen pictures on social media. But somehow seeing everything in person was still a jolt and reminded him just how long it had been since he’d spent any real time in Trickle Creek.

Craig, the youngest brother owned his own ice cream shop and had his own child? It was mind blowing. Kat, the youngest of the five, had grown into a gorgeous woman with long, bright-red hair and from what he could tell, a fiery personality to match. Asher, the middle brother, was the image of his father, especially dressed in a full suit at a casual family dinner He’d heard that Asher had taken over the operations of Carlson Corp and it didn’t surprise him. Asher had always been an intensely focused kid. Even at a young age, it was easy to see his drive and need to achieve.

“Sorry to hear about the crash.” Craig gave him a sympathetic nod from across the table. “I saw it on the internet, and it looked…”

“Trust me. It felt way worse than it looked, man.”

“I bet it did.” Craig shook his head. “The doctors put you all back together again?”

Before Symon could answer, or come up with some version of the truth, there was another question.

“Is it true you’re on Team Canada?”

Symon spun to see Grady, the little boy he’d been introduced to earlier. If he remembered correctly, Grady was Annie’s nephew, who she and Chase were raising. They were living in the big house and were engaged to be married. Or maybe they were married? He glanced over at Chase’s left hand for confirmation. No. Engaged. Not married.

“I am.” He turned his attention to the young boy, ignoring Craig’s earlier question. Technically it was true, but the kid didn’t need to know the details. “Do you like to ski?”

Grady nodded. “I’m not very good yet. But I’m learning, and Chase says the only way to get better is to practice.”

Symon glanced up and met Chase’s gaze across the table. When they were kids, they’d ended up spending quite a bit of time playing hide-and-seek or adventure games when he and Charli weren’t off somewhere, just the two of them. But he’d only seen Chase a handful of times since those easy, innocent days before Chase moved away to boarding school when they were kids.

Seeing him in the big house now, with the rest of his siblings, was probably the biggest change of all.

Symon offered Chase a smile and focused on Grady. “He’s right. That’s what I did. I practiced. A lot.”

“And then you made it to Team Canada.” Grady nodded in appreciation. “That’s so cool.”

“It is cool.” He reached for his glass of wine and took a sip.

“Why aren’t you with the team now, Symon?” Kat asked the question, but everyone at the table grew silent as they waited for the answer. “It’s the middle of the season, right?”

It was a fair question, and one Symon expected sooner or later. The ski season was in full gear and his absence was notable. “It’s the knee,” he answered. “It’s not fully rehabbed yet.” It wasn’t a total lie. “Coach wanted to give me some more time before I went back into the race circuit.”

“Makes sense.” Craig took a bite of chicken. “Especially with the Olympic trials coming up next year, hey?”

Symon pressed his lips together and nodded. The Olympics were definitely a black cloud hanging over his head. He already had two gold medals, but earning the third would be a huge career achievement and make him the only Canadian to win freestyle gold in three consecutive Olympics. It was huge.  Coach didn’t think it was too late, if he could get his head back in the game. But as far as Symon was concerned, he was so far away from any medal now, let alone a gold, it hurt to think about it.

He cleared his throat and forced himself to stay in the moment and not follow that trail of thinking. Symon naturally turned to Charli, who was watching him closely. “There’s definitely a lot to look forward to.” He winked in her direction. “So, you all get together like this every week? Or is this a special occasion?”

The room went strangely silent. There was a clink of a fork, a clearing of a throat, and an awkward cough, but no one said a word.

“Sorry,” he said slowly as he looked around the table. “Did I say something wrong?”

“Yes.” Chase spoke first. “We do meet for dinner at least weekly. It was an important family tradition to have dinners together. But tonight is a little different because it’s been six months exactly since the first reading of our father’s will. And time for the reading of part two.”

Holy shit. A will reading? Symon shot a look to Charli, who simply shrugged, her face oddly blank. “Charli didn’t mention that,” he said to Chase. “I wouldn’t have imposed if I’d—”

“You can keep me company.” Annie, Chase’s fiancée, whom he hadn’t had much of a chance to speak with yet, smiled at him. “It’s family only in there,” she continued. “You can help me clear up, and we’ll get some dessert ready for after.”

“And drinks.” Kat groaned. “Something strong.”

“It won’t be that bad,” Asher said, but his face didn’t match his reassuring words.

Still confused, or maybe just more so, Symon looked at Charli. “I don’t understand. I mean, I heard there was something with Chase and your father’s will.”

“I think everyone in town has heard that story.”

Symon nodded. “But…there’s a part two?”

For the first time, Symon saw a flicker of worry cross Charli’s face, but only for a moment and then it was gone. “We all kind of think that Dad isn’t done,” she said. “He wasn’t really the type to single out only one of us.”

“Which means…”

“It’s probably my turn next.”

There it was again. A shadow of concern flickered on Charli’s face. Symon dropped his napkin to his plate and pushed his chair back, ready to go to her and give her the hug she looked like she so desperately needed.

But before he could stand, the doorbell chimed, and Chase stood. “Right on time.”

“That will be William, the lawyer,” Annie explained. “And Steven. He was Michael’s best friend and assistant for years. He’s kind of overseeing this whole process.”

Symon nodded numbly and watched as everyone stood, leaving their plates on the table. The children were dismissed and took off at full speed, presumably to get out of helping with cleanup. Charli was the last to get up, and Symon caught up with her before she could leave the room.

“Hey.” He reached for her hand and turned her around. “Are you okay?”

It was a dumb question, because she very clearly was not okay.

“I’m fine,” she lied. “But I’m glad you’re here. I should have told you. I’m sorry. I just—”

“It’s totally okay.” He felt useless and had no idea what to say to his best friend whom he hadn’t seen in years who was about to walk into an important meeting that could change not only the course of her life but that of her brothers and sisters, too. He settled for pulling her in for a tight hug. “I’ll be here when it’s over,” he whispered in her ear. “For whatever you need, okay?”

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