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Wild Man Creek

Wild Man Creek by Robyn Carr
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It gave Jillian a sense of relief to pack a few bags, lock up her small town house in San Jose and just drive away. Nothing could make a woman want to run for her life like being used and betrayed by a man.

To appease Kelly, she drove only as far as San Francisco for her first leg of an unknown trip. That night she had dinner in her sister's restaurant. It was so hard to get a table in the five-star restaurant where Kelly was the head sous-chef that those people willing to wait usually stood around the bar for two hours after checking in with the maitre d', and that was if they had a reservation. The chef de cuisine was a man named Durant, known only by one name, and he was regionally famous. But Jillian was seated immediately, and at an excellent, semiprivate table. Then she was served every specialty the restaurant had by the best of the waitstaff. Kelly must have called in a lot of favors to make it happen.

After dinner, Jill drove over to Kelly's small San Francisco flat where she planned to stay the night. Kelly didn't get home from the restaurant until well after one in the morning, so the girls had their chance to visit over a late breakfast together. Kelly asked, "What now?"

"Many possibilities," Jill said. "Maybe Tahoe. I've never been to Sun Valley, Idaho. The point is not where I'm going so much as just driving. Watching the miles stack up in the rearview mirror—figuratively and literally putting things behind me. I'll stay in big, comfortable, anonymous hotels or resorts, relax, eat good food, watch all the movies I've missed over the past ten years and do many, many bookstore prowls. Before I go back to the grind I'm going to see if I can remember what having a life was like."

"You have your phone, of course?"

Jillian laughed. "Yes. I'll keep it charged in the car, but I'm not taking calls from anyone except you and Harry."

"Will you do something for me?" Kelly asked. "Will you please just text me in the morning every day and let me know where you are? And can we talk before I start work in the kitchen? Just so I know you're all right?"

Jillian was so far from all right it was almost laughable. She felt like an utter nutcase. Her attention span and focus were so disturbed that driving was probably not a great idea. But traveling by air to a vacation spot like Hawaii or Cancun, or being held prisoner on a cruise ship were so unappealing that she rejected those ideas immediately. She wanted her feet on the ground; she wanted to get her mental awareness back. She felt almost as if she didn't know herself anymore. The inside of her car, alone, made total sense to her. There she could think, undisturbed, and try to get things in perspective.

But she put on a brave face. "You bet," she said to her sister. Then she smiled. "If you call, I'll answer if I have a signal."

Right after they said their goodbyes Kelly left for work and Jillian got in her car and immediately drove east. She was halfway to Lake Tahoe when she remembered the vacation she'd taken with Kelly and two girlfriends the previous autumn. They'd driven to Vancouver—which was an excellent option for right now—but on the way home they'd stopped off at some dinky little town in the mountains—she couldn't even remember the name. While they were there they'd wandered into an estate sale and the old house where it was held reminded her of the house she and Kelly had grown up in with their great-grandmother. Nostalgia had flooded her and she'd become almost teary with remembering, even though the two houses had very little in common. The other image that came to mind were the little cabins along a river where they'd stayed for a couple of days—nice little cabins, remote yet comfortable. They had left the windows open at night and slept to the sounds of nature, the river rushing by, the wind whistling and humming through the huge pines, the quacks, caws, honks and calls of wildlife. They'd put their feet in the icy river last fall, watching trout jump and turning leaves flutter into the water. It had been lovely. Soothing.

With those thoughts in mind, Jill made a turn and headed north. She'd go up through Napa—that would point her in the right direction. Those little cabins weren't like a motor lodge or Holiday Inn, not the kind of place you could show up at midnight asking for a room. It was owned and run by a guy named Luke and his young wife; they lived on the property.

Jill spent the second night on the road at a little roadside inn in Windsor, probably halfway to her destination. First thing in the morning, she headed north again. Even a phone call to Kelly hadn't produced the exact name of the town, but Jillian knew roughly where it was.

A couple hundred miles and a few wrong turns led Jill to a remote intersection in Northern California where she saw a couple of guys had parked their pickups at odd angles. They were clearly just passing the time. She pulled up alongside. "Hi, guys," she said. "There's a little town back in here somewhere. I had dinner at a place called Jack's—I think—and there are some cabins along a river run by a guy named—"

One of the men pulled his hat off his head and smoothed his thinning hair over his freckled scalp. "Luke Riordan owns those cabins in Virgin River. Luke and Shelby."

"Yeah!" she said. "That's it! Virgin River! I must've missed the turn, never saw the sign."

The other guy laughed. "Ain't no sign. You didn't miss it by much," he said. "Up 36 a quarter mile. It's a left. But to get to Luke's you're gonna wanna go another left after 'bout another mile and a half up that hill. Then you'll go down again, then around a curve at the bottom of the mountain. Your second left ain't marked, but there's a dead sequoia stretched out by the side of the road right where you turn. Big mother. Then you'll prolly see the river. Take that road along the river to the cabins. Ain't far."

She laughed. It might've been one of her first belly laughs in a couple of weeks! Yeah, she remembered the dead tree, the up, down and around of the road. "I remember now—I remember the dead tree. Thanks. Thanks so much!"

Off she drove in the direction of the first left and then the dead tree, laughing as she went. She was laughing at how different it was! She might as well have traveled to a different country—these people were as removed from iPhones and iPads and daily stock reports and board of director meetings as she was from fly-fishing and camping. And now that she'd seized on this idea and spontaneously

found herself in Virgin River, of all places, she realized hardly anything in her baggage was going to be right for this kind of break. Thinking she might end up at some hotel resort in a place like Sun Valley she'd packed her country club casual—clothes she had on hand for corporate events or company picnics. She had linen slacks, a couple of stylish but casual dresses, wraparound skirts, sweater sets, that sort of thing. Low heels; lots of low heels. She had exactly one pair of Nike walking shoes and two sweat suits, and they both had designer labels.

As she recalled, Virgin River was very rugged, not to mention cooler. And boy, was it wet! It was early March; it had been drizzling on and off all day. It was a little bleak—except for the new green growth on the trees and the eruptions of plant life all along the side of the road.

Also muddy! Her pretty little Lexus Hybrid was splattered and filthy.

Jill followed the road along the river and when she came into the cabin compound she saw that Luke was on top of one of the cabins doing a little roof repair. He turned toward her as she pulled in. She stopped the car, got out and waved at him.

He smiled before climbing down his ladder. "Hi," he said when he got to the bottom. He grabbed a rag out of his back pocket to wipe off his hands.

"Any chance you remember me, Luke?" she asked him. "I came up here last fall with my sister and girlfriends. We spent a couple of days in one of your cabins. You invited us to the estate sale—that old woman's house."

He laughed. "Sure I remember you, but I don't remember your name."

"Oh—sorry. I'm Jill. Jillian Matlock. I apologize. I didn't even call ahead. I just thought if you had a vacancy…"

"This is a lucky time of year for vacancies," he said, grinning. "Lucky for you, anyway. Good time of year for me to make repairs anytime the rain lets up. You have your choice of cabins. The key's hanging on a hook inside the door."

"Thanks, I remember. Hey, if I stayed a few days, would that be okay?"

"No hunters, very few fishermen and the summer folks don't show up until June. June through January are busy for me, but early spring is a light load. What are you going to do around here for a few days?"

"I don't know." She shrugged. "Rest, sleep in, explore… It is safe to explore, right?"

"If you stay away from marijuana grows, but they're usually hidden. Bear aren't all the way awake yet. Fish?

You fish?"

"Not since I was about seven or eight," she said.

"Art will teach you," Luke said. "There's an extra rod and reel in the shed. Art knows where. In fact, anything you might need, we probably have an extra one. Just remember—the river is up—snow from the mountains is melting. And the weather is wet two out of three days. Just let us know what you need." He looked her up and down. She was wearing jeans, heels, a silk blouse and suede blazer. "Um, Shelby's got some waders she'd let you borrow. Those shoes will be wrecked in no time."

"That's so nice of you, Luke."

"Just want you to enjoy yourself and be comfortable, Jillian."

Jillian knew she would have to buy some knocking-around clothes; stuff that could hold up for long walks, fishing or sitting under a tree with a book. The next day she drove to a bigger town and texted her sister from the parking lot of the Target in Eureka.

You'll never guess where I ended up! Virgin River! Remember Virgin River?

Jillian was trying on jeans before a response came back. Kelly's text said, Why?

To relax and unwind and think, was Jillian's reply.

Jill bought some lace-up boots for possible hiking, jeans, cargo pants, sweatshirts and sweatpants without designer labels, a rain slicker and a hoodie, some warm pajamas and a bunch of socks. She was going to just decompress in the natural, cold, wet beauty. She wasn't giving up civilization altogether—she had her laptop, portable DVD player, iPad, iPhone and several DVDs she'd been meaning to watch.

But relaxation was easier said than done. Jill had fantasized for years about taking time off, having a break, but after a few years of such fantasies she had to admit that wasn't what she wanted at all. She wanted to work! Perform! Compete! Knock herself out! Win! She thrived on success, on the praise of her staff, her boss.

Jillian had been fresh out of college with a brand-new marketing degree and a bunch of credits toward her MBA when Harry Benedict offered her a low-paying job in a start-up firm. His start-up capital was limited, but he needed a few key people—a CPA, a software engineer and someone to pull together marketing demographics for his software products. Jillian could be that marketing person if she was willing and able to take a gamble. Harry had a good track record; he'd successfully started several companies, all of which he subsequently sold. What he offered her was an opportunity—to learn from him, get in on the ground floor of a new, high-tech manufacturing business and grow professionally.

Kelly was right about her—she was impulsive. She'd jumped at the chance. She had not been in a hurry to land the biggest job on the planet but the one with the most challenge and excitement. Plus, she liked Harry; liked his gruff, no-nonsense ways; liked his confidence and experience. His drive was addictive. She remembered one late night when they were still working at four in the morning, he'd said, "When we stop having fun, we're outta here, right?" She bet on him just as he bet on her. And she missed him so much.

There was nothing more fun than helping to build a company. She became close to the Benedict family, rose in Harry's software development and manufacturing business and, in fact, helped to formulate the company from its start-up to the day it went public. At the age of twenty-nine she had been made the vice president of Corporate Communications with a full staff and had become one of Harry's inner circle execs. Along the way she'd collected bonuses, stock options and her salary grew along with her responsibilities. Careful investments meant that she had a significant portfolio that was well diversified.

Over the past ten years the only vacations she was successfully able to indulge in were those with her sister and their two best friends from high school. They were four women of diverse occupational interests who were all hardworking, ambitious, competitive and single. They managed to get away once a year for a week to ten days. Other than those vacations, Jillian didn't know what to do with time off.

The thing that had always worked for both Jill and Kelly was hard work to turn their big dreams into successful realities. Kelly's plans had been more focused right from the beginning—culinary school to line cook, to line cook in better and better restaurants, to sous-chef, to head chef to her own restaurant one day. Jillian's path had never really wavered. After college, she jumped into the first opportunity that felt right. But both their paths proved to work. Kelly was definitely going in the direction she'd always planned and Jill had a nice nest egg from her ten successful years at BSS.

MIRA; January 2011
368 pages; ISBN 9781426884276
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Title: Wild Man Creek
Author: Robyn Carr
 
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ISBNs
1426884273
9780778329312
9781426884276