Chapter One

 

TED STOOD alone and silent in the middle of a clearing as heavy snow blanketed everything around him. A curtain of it separated him from the rest of the world. The only sounds were the quiet hissing of snowflakes and the occasional creak and crackle of overloaded tree branches. The scene was exactly what he’d come up here looking for—a quiet place where he could think, where he could figure out what went wrong.

Just breathe.

Breathe in. Breathe out.

In. Out.

His mantra wasn’t helping. He was a couples counselor, for chrissakes. His job, all of his training and education, revolved around facilitating communication, around helping people work to stay together, but his own relationship had disintegrated right under his nose. One day Franklin had simply sat him down in their kitchen and told him it was over, and nothing Ted could say or do would change his mind.

Ted grimaced and tried to squeeze the bridge of his nose, but the expensive, high-tech ski gloves, sunglasses, and hat got in the way.

Just breathe.

The pulsing pain behind Ted’s eyes and the tightness in his shoulders and neck—his near-constant companions for the last six months—were making themselves known. He wasn’t quite relaxed enough to dredge all that up yet. He’d only arrived at the inn a short while ago. He needed to let the place and the distance from his real life work their magic first.

With effort, Ted shifted his attention back to his surroundings and stared out through his brand-new, polarized, anti-eyestrain sport sunglasses at the fat, wet snowflakes falling through the air, sticking to every needle on every branch of the giant fir trees surrounding him. He concentrated on the absence of traffic noise and screaming, stomping children from the apartment above. He reminded himself he had no work, no volunteer projects, nothing to do but stand in the snow and enjoy—the perfect formula for finding a little peace of mind and some closure. He just had to open himself up to it.

When he and Franklin had reserved the holiday vacation package at the Cabins in the Pines Inn nine months ago, it had looked ideal for a romantic Christmas vacation. They’d been sold the second their travel agent handed them the brochure. The gorgeous Victorian main house and cute little private, rustic cabins, nestled among the massive firs and surrounded by extensive private grounds, had made it seem like the perfect spot for one of their annual getaways. And now here he was, alone, trying to put the tattered remnants of his confidence back together.

Ted rolled his shoulders, dislodging the pile of snow from his jacket.

Franklin would have loved this place.

Or maybe he wouldn’t. He might’ve hated it. Ted didn’t actually know anymore.

He frowned and wrapped his arms tightly around himself. He wasn’t really cold. He’d researched the highest-rated ski jackets before he’d ordered the sleek black one he was wearing. A little snow wasn’t going to bother him. Mostly, he needed the physical contact. After five years of having a partner to share perfect moments like this with, he was finding it hard to go it alone. This wasn’t the way things were supposed to be.

He’d listened. He’d communicated. He’d compromised. He’d made sure Franklin felt valued and appreciated. He thought he’d always taken Franklin’s needs into consideration as much as his own, and still Franklin had been unhappy.

Ted groaned in frustration and forced himself to look at the gorgeous scene around him again. He’d been over this ground. He needed to move on to the part where he put his life and his confidence in his profession back on track. The key was figuring out what he’d missed.