Still the One (Deep Haven Collection #1) by Susan May Warren

Chapter 1





Anything had to be better than returning to Deep Haven. Enemy fire. Jumping into hostile territory. Twelve months of MREs. Even cleaning the pit toilets in a remote desert outpost.

Anything but having to face the one person who’d destroyed his life.

Cole Barrett turned up the defrost fan, his grip tight on the steering wheel.

The clouds hung low over Lake Superior, passing cars whipping up a cocktail of snow and ice against his windshield as he traveled north on Highway 61. And now, because the rental company had loaned out the Ford Explorer he’d reserved, he was stuck in a ridiculous Dodge Grand Caravan and thirty minutes behind schedule for his meeting with Deep Haven real estate agent Nathan Decker.

In forty-eight hours, the deal would be done. He’d have his grandfather’s house cleared out and listed for sale, and hopefully, he’d also hear from the U.S. Marshals Service for an interview. And, really, it couldn’t happen fast enough.

He eased his foot off the gas when hazard lights materialized through the snowy January haze. As he drew closer, he spotted a woman standing on the berm of plowed snow that bordered the highway, her Subaru pitched into the ditch.

She wore her blue knit cap pulled down low, and wisps of blonde hair snapped around her forehead as they escaped the scarf wound halfway up her face.

From the angle of her car, the quick math told him she’d hit a patch of ice and spun off the road, burying her front end in the snow.

Cole glanced at the clock and groaned. Yet another delay. Yeah, well, he couldn’t just leave her there. There was no way she’d get out without assistance, and considering how hard it was to get a text through to Nathan up the road in Deep Haven, he didn’t figure she had any help on the way. He slowed, pulling onto the shoulder ahead of her.

Slush splattered on his boots and he tugged his black leather jacket closed against the icy Minnesota gale that sliced through the fabric of his shirt. From the looks of the slope of the ditch, if she’d slid a foot farther, her front bumper would have embedded into the berm and he’d need more than his bare hands to dig her out.

As it were, the right leverage and his brute strength might get them both on their way in a jiffy.

“Hey!” She’d scrambled down the snowbank as he approached. “Thanks!”

She opened a passenger side door and dug through a box, chucking a bundle of blue flowers out of it.

“Are you okay?”

She looked over her shoulder at him. He couldn’t help but think that she resembled a miniature Stay Puft Marshmallow Man in her thick, gray down coat and wrappings, only her hazel eyes visible. She pulled her scarf away from her mouth to speak.

“I’m fine, if you include the fact I’m super late and—oh, never mind.” She turned around, holding the empty box. “You know, my day started out pretty spectacular. Blue skies, happy bride. I’m not sure how it took this plunge into the abyss of terrible.”

“You too, huh?”

“You can’t even imagine.” She pulled apart the box. Clearly, this wasn’t her first off-road excursion.

“Let’s see what we can do.” He circled the car, dropping to his knees to scrape the ice and snow out from under the tire. The cold seeped through his denim and bit at his hands. “I don’t think it will take too much to get you back on the road. You’re not jammed in deep.” He looked at the swirl of tracks leading to her tires. “I don’t see any icy patches. Did you swerve to avoid a deer?”

She shook her head. “I wish. It was a lunch accident.”

He frowned but didn’t know how to follow up. He took the cardboard and wedged it under her tire. “Okay, put it in reverse and I’ll rock it, and let’s see if we can get some traction. Once you get up on the road, get it in drive and keep going. Okay?”

She nodded beneath her layers. “Got it. Thank you for stopping.” She looked up at him, let out a long breath. “It’s a little embarrassing when a minivan outmaneuvers the four-wheel drive.”

“You’re welcome. And, it’s not mine.” Heat rose in his face and he suddenly felt the need to defend himself. “The rental company messed up.”

“Oh?” For the first time he got a smile. She leaned to look past him at the van. “I don’t know, though. I think it makes a real statement.”

The kind of statement he might have liked, if his life hadn’t derailed. Yet another thing he could thank his ex-wife for.