Below is the second chapter of Reckless at Heart! If you missed chapter one, you can click here to read it first.
Kerry Humphrey had been looking forward to this afternoon for a solid week. She was on her way to Pine Harbour to see a new clinic space. She slowed down as her GPS warned her that the turn off the highway was coming up on the left. In the two years she’d been working in Bruce County as a midwife, she’d driven up and down the north-south highway along the Bruce Peninsula many times. She’d even turned right at the gas station ahead and gone into Lion’s Head a few times. But somehow she’d never needed to go to Pine Harbour.
But if all went well in the next hour, it would be her new place of employment.
Technically, the Pine Harbour clinic would be a satellite office of their practice in Walkerton, an hour south. That was where one of the two hospitals they delivered at was located, and years ago it had made sense as a base of operations.
In the winter, though, the distance made those drives unnecessarily precarious for clients. So when her midwifery partner Jenna Foster, who lived in Pine Harbour, saw what she described as “the perfect space” come available for rent, Kerry had thrown her support in for the idea.
Now it was a matter of seeing just how perfect it might be.
The first thing she saw as she drove into Pine Harbour was a diner nestled on the edge of the forest, a sprawling roadside restaurant surrounded by a giant gravel parking lot full of pickup trucks.
Mac’s Diner read the faded sign.
The next block had a row of century-old homes, all in various stages of needing some upkeep. After the next stop sign—which was right next to a street sign that clearly indicated she was on Main Street, should there have been any doubt—the commercial centre of the town started. And also ended, because it was only two blocks long.
But they were two busy blocks, and she couldn’t find a parking spot at first. She kept going, to the end of the street where a hill ran down to what was obviously the namesake of the town—a glistening harbour. At the moment it was mighty chilly looking, with crashing white-capped waves and chunks of ice along the shore, but she could imagine as quite beautiful in the summer.
Doubling back, she finally found a parking spot in front of the library. Across the street, Jenna waited on the sidewalk, bundled up in a parka that was bulky enough on the front that Kerry knew she had a sleeping baby on her chest under the coat. Jenna had recently returned to their midwifery practice after her own maternity leave. She was talking animatedly with two people, a woman holding a clipboard who she introduced as the town’s only realtor, Catie Berton, and an older man.
“I’m the landlord,” he said with a kind smile. “But Catie’s agreed to manage some of my rental agreements as I ease into retirement.”
At first glance, the storefront was unimpressive. Dark, dated, and very empty, probably for a long time. But Catie had a good pitch, and it started even before she unlocked the door and turned on the lights.
She handed over the card of a local contractor who had done other work for the landlord, and promised that everything could be changed. “Whatever you see when you squint, whatever you imagine as we walk through, Jake can make that possible.”
“We have pretty vivid imaginations,” Jenna said. “But we know Jake is up to it.”
Kerry’s vivid imagination was usually limited to filthy fantasies. But she was open, and once they were inside, Jenna’s enthusiasm was infectious. And Jake was Jenna’s brother-in-law. If she had faith he could transform the space, Kerry believed her.
“This is my favourite part—Oh, no, imagine this—and over there!” Jenna led Kerry through, talking in half sentences about exam rooms, where a washroom could go with enough room for a scale and the sterile pee collection.
It turned out the squinting thing really did work.
“It’s perfect.” Kerry did a slow turn. “What are the parking options? I had to drive down the block to find a spot.”
“There are four dedicated spots out back, let me show you.” The landlord pointed the way. Kerry followed him, leaving Jenna—who now had a fussy awake baby to feed—with Catie.
The landlord opened the back door, and they stepped outside. The unexpectedly large parking lot behind the buildings had seen better days, but would meet their needs for sure. “One of these spots is for the apartment upstairs, but that tenant just gave me her notice, so it’ll be a while before I rent it out again.”
“There’s an apartment upstairs?” The wheels in Kerry’s head started turning. That would be insanely convenient. “How much is the rent for that?”
The amount he listed off was half the cost of her apartment in Walkerton.
“It’s a small space,” the landlord said. “Do you want to see it?”
Yes, yes she did. “Can you wait a few minutes? Let me go back and finish up talking about the clinic space with Jenna, because I think she wants to head out.”
“Take your time. I’ll go up and make sure now is an okay time to view it.”
Back inside, she found Jenna saying goodbye to Catie. “I have to head out,” her partner said. “I got paged. Dina Suarez is having contractions and on the way to the hospital. So I’m going to finish nursing James, then drop him at home with Sean.”
“I’ll follow you out to your car,” Kerry said.
Jenna waited until they were alone on Main Street. “What’s going on?”
Kerry took a deep breath. “What do you think about me moving to Pine Harbour?”
“Just like that?”
“Maybe?” Kerry laughed. “I don’t know. Maybe. Yes. In for a penny, in for a pound, am I right?” She bit her lower lip. “It makes sense. We could operate this clinic autonomously. There’s enough work, and it would open up an office space in Walkerton for another new midwife to join there. That’s good all around, and would help us out for covering vacation time, providing back up…”
Jenna nodded as she trailed off. “Yeah, no, I get it. It’s a great plan, and I can see the excitement all over your face. I want to make sure this is a good decision for you.”
“I’m driving up and down the peninsula anyway, I might as well shift myself here and save some money while I’m at it.”
“Are you doing it because it’ll be easier for work? Or do you actually want to live in my little town of six hundred people, where the only coffee shop only serves actual coffee? No lattes, no cold brew, no shots of espresso.”
“With the money I’m saving, I’ll buy a fancy instant espresso machine for the clinic.”
“It’s not just coffee. Pine Harbour is an entirely different pace of life,” Jenna warned.
“Maybe I’m ready for that.” She’d been doing a lot of thinking about what she wanted in life. This could a sign.
“Long way to go for dancing on Friday nights.”
“Maybe I’ll trade that for…” She trailed off, her breath puffing in the cold air between them. Jenna had to get going, too. “Help me out here. What are the best parts of Pine Harbour?”
“The people,” Jenna said quickly. Then she laughed. “But if you’re looking for fun, we have that too. Bonfire parties are popular in the summer.”
“That’s a good start.”
“And there’s a pub over in Lion’s Head.”
“They’re pretty serious about their outdoor life here. The trails are great.”
Kerry liked the sound of that. “I run sometimes. More if I’m being chased.”
Jenna snapped her fingers. “There’s a women’s rec league. Soccer in the summer, ball hockey in the winter. Lots of chasing—or so I’ve heard. Sean has done some clinics with them.”
Jenna’s husband had once been an elite extreme distance runner—before being injured in the line of duty. Now he was a world-renowned coach, and people flew in to train with him. Kerry thought it was pretty amazing he also made time for the regular athletes in his home town, although the thought of being put through running drills by him was daunting.
One thing at a time. A pub sounded great. “Don’t worry. I’m pretty good at making friends. In fact, I’m going to take myself out for a celebratory drink after we sign the lease papers. What’s the name of that pub?”
Jenna grinned. “The Green Hedgehog. One day when I don’t have a patient to meet at the hospital or a baby to nurse back to sleep, I’ll take you there.”
Kerry gave her partner a quick hug. “Sounds like a plan. I’ll go finish up with Catie. Keep me updated on Dina’s progress!”
Back inside, Kerry told Catie about her conversation with the landlord. The real estate agent locked up the front of the store, and together they climbed the stairs to the second floor. Kerry braced herself to not like the apartment, because when the landlord said it was small, that probably meant the apartment would be dark, crowded, and only worth the small amount of rent being asked.
That was the furthest thing from reality, though. Yes, it was tiny. One small bedroom, a living room with a kitchenette nook in the corner, and a bathroom that could only be described as minimalist and spare. But at the far end of the living room, two huge windows overlooked Main Street, flooding the space with natural light, even in the late winter afternoon gloom, and on the back wall there were wide windows set high in the exposed brick. Also on that wall was a giant cast iron clock.
“Oh, wow,” she whispered.
“The clock doesn’t work,” the landlord said. “But it can’t be removed.”
Kerry didn’t care if it didn’t work. It would be right twice a day, and delightfully wrong the rest of the time. It fed all of her secret Pinterest aesthetics at a fraction of her housing budget. She was so in. “Where do I sign?”
After following Catie back to her office—which was also her hair salon, apparently, because being Pine Harbour’s only real estate agent was more of a part-time gig—Kerry signed the paperwork for both leases.
Then she drove across the peninsula to buy herself a drink at the nearest pub.
The Green Hedgehog was a rambling building. Once a turn of the last century house, it had a significant addition that stretched over an entire block.
Inside, the foyer was decorated for the holidays.
A waitress passed by as Kerry paused at the wait to be seated sign. “Take a seat anywhere, hun,” she called out.
There was an empty seat at the end of the bar that had her name on it, right next to a coat hook on a pillar. She took her coat off and hung it up, then hopped up on to the seat and leaned forward, resting her elbows on the bar top.
The bartender on tonight was a young white woman, pale and gothic, with a choppy hair cut, buzzed underneath. “Hey,” she said, sliding a coaster in front of Kerry. “What can I get you?”
“Do you have anything special for Christmas?”
The bartender pointed to a standup sign further down the bar. “Mulled wine?”
“Sold, I’ll take a mug of that.”
When she set it front of Kerry a minute later, the bartender stuck around to be chatty. “Haven’t seen you in here before. Are you visiting for the holidays?”
Kerry shook her head. “I’m moving here next month. Just signed a lease on an apartment.”
“Here in town?”
“Across the highway, over in Pine Harbour. But I heard this was the closest place to get a drink, so…here I am.”
“Welcome. I’m Lore. As in, my parents named me Lauren.”
“Kerry.” She lifted her mug. “Cheers.”
“Who sent you our way?”
“Do you know Jenna Foster?”
Lore shook her head.
Kerry shrugged. “Well, that’s who.”
Lore laughed. “She’s got good taste. What else did she recommend?”
“Bonfires, and the women’s soccer league,” Kerry said dryly.
“Hey! I’m on the soccer team.” Lore jumped in the air. “Hey! Bailey!”
Kerry hadn’t seen that coming. Laughing, she pivoted on her stool just in time to see a south Asian woman bounce up and slide onto the stool next to her.
“Did I hear someone mention the soccer league?” She stuck her hand out. “I’m Bailey Patel. Nice to meet you. Do you play?”
“I…” Kerry shrugged. “I run. Slowly. And my co-worker suggested soccer as an alternative to…” She trailed off, not wanting to insult the locals. “Other things.”
Bailey and Lore didn’t seem offended, though. “Fun things? We get it. But your co-worker is right. Pretty much the soccer team is where it’s at for those of us in our twenties, caught between the two generations of people who have bonfire parties.”
“Uh…” Kerry took a long swallow of her mulled wine. “I might be in the next bracket up, age-wise.”
“We won’t tell anyone,” Bailey whispered. “Not if you’re willing to play defence.”
Kerry had her first Pine Harbour social calendar booking. The women filled her in on the soccer team’s website, which listed the season dates. “But we also practice in an ad hoc way before the season begins. Next year we might even rent space over the winter.”
Kerry had just finished taking down their contact information when there was a decent-sized thud as the front door of the bar swung open and bounced against the doorstop. In walked a tall monster of a man, wearing a dark parka, a snow-covered toque, and a grim scowl.
He lifted a hand at Lore. She wordlessly acknowledged him right back as he kept going past the bar and through an archway into a back room. Kerry didn’t stare—she had better self-control than that—but she couldn’t stop herself from surreptitiously tracking him until he disappeared. She had a thing for big guys, always had. There was something magnetic about the way this one stalked right past her, his strides powerful, his presence commanding. The bartender immediately grabbed a glass from beneath the counter and poured a perfect pint of stout. She looked around, maybe for the waitress, before ducking out from behind the bar and disappearing after the man herself.
Beside Kerry, Bailey sighed. Whatever caused Lore to hustle after the man was none of Kerry’s business, and she was quite good at minding her p’s and q’s. Bailey, on the other hand, clearly wanted to talk. “That’s Owen Kincaid,” she whispered. “Lore was in the army reserve for a couple of years, and he was her platoon sergeant.”
The military was a big part of life around here. Kerry had clients from the training base around the bay. “Nice that she read his mind.”
“Mmm.” Bailey nodded toward the back room. “They have some pool tables back there. Do you want to play a game?”
On the one hand, Kerry liked the two younger women and was looking forward to getting into a sports league. But she wasn’t interested in stalking a man she didn’t know around a bar she’d never been to before, no matter how big and burly and shiver-inducing he might be. She wiggled her mug of wine. “I have to drive home, so this is it for me. Can I have a rain-check for another time?”
“Sure.” Bailey was craning her neck now. “I might…just…you know…”
No skin off Kerry’s nose. “Go. I’ll wait here for Lore and then settle up.”
As soon as she said that, the bartender returned. She caught sight of Bailey and pointed to the bar stool. “Stay!”
“You were going to perv on Owen, and you know he’s off-limits. Becca would kill you.”
Bailey laughed. “If I’m going to crush on any of the Kincaid brothers, it won’t be the grumpy old man, don’t worry.”
The guy who stalked by was hardly old. He couldn’t be much older than Kerry, but not her circus, not her monkeys. This conversation was probably her cue to not overstay her welcome. She pulled a few bills out of her wallet and set them on the bar. “I’m going to head out now,” she said. “But I’ll be back in a few weeks. And I’m going to sign up for the soccer league as soon as I get home.”
Bailey punched her fist in the air. “Yessss!”
Lore laughed. “Welcome to the peninsula, Kerry. It’s never boring here.”