“Are you almost ready? We’re going to be late!”
Kendall moved to the top of the staircase and shot her husband a reproving look. “Relax, Gabe. You’re still the mayor, they’re not going to start without you.”
She grabbed onto the railing of the staircase and moved slowly down the wooden stairs. They’d moved into 3 Lakeshore Drive after their wedding, which had occurred the spring after she’d moved to Jasper Lake for good, but only now, more than two years later, was it beginning to truly feel like her forever home.
Adding a nursery had a way of doing that.
Gabe met her at the bottom of the stairs, the love and pride in his eyes making her smile. He leaned forward to kiss her lightly, then bent to peek at the sleeping baby in the fabric carrier tied around her body. “Are you sure she’s going to be okay in the cold?”
Kendall smiled and pressed a kiss to her three-month-old daughter’s head. “Cadence is perfectly warm snuggled up in here, and I left an extra blanket by the door. I have missed out on a lifetime of bonfire nights and I’m not going to let her miss a single one.”
“I don’t think she’s going to remember this one,” Gabe said with an amused arch of his eyebrow.
“And that is irrelevant. Jasper Lake is her home. I don’t want her to miss out on anything.”
“And that is one of the many things I love about you.” He kissed her again, this time more thoroughly. Then he bent and whispered to the baby, “You need to give your mama a break. She’s not sleeping very well these days.”
“Yeah, blame that on the baby and not on the father,” she said with a smirk, crossing her arms over the carrier. “I know I said I’d be open to having a second one soon, but I didn’t mean that soon.”
“I can’t help it if I’m married to the most beautiful woman on the planet.” Gabe pulled her close, his expression saying he was going to kiss her again. “In fact…”
Kendall disentangled herself from his arms, protecting Cadence from getting bumped in the process. “Don’t even think about it, mister. You have no idea how long it took me to get her to sleep in this thing and I’m not risking it.”
Gabe shot her an amused look as he retrieved her coat from the hooks by the front door. “You’re very bossy, do you know that?”
“I’ve gotten used to being the mayor’s wife. Now chop-chop. Delia promised me a pumpkin pie latte and I’m not missing out because of you.”
“Yes, ma’am.” Gabe gave her a salute and pulled on his own coat, then opened the front door for her. “You sure you’re up to walking?
“Absolutely. I need a little exercise.” She draped the blanket over her shoulder and across the opening of her coat to protect Cadence for the night’s cold chill and then started down the sidewalk to where it led to the newly paved walking path into town. “I’m not sure why they didn’t do this earlier.”
“Because there were only five houses here,” Gabe said reasonably. “But now that it’s a full-on neighborhood…”
Kendall chuckled and took a moment to appreciate the progress. They’d broken ground six months ago, more than two years after Gabe and his father showed her the project. She’d gotten quite the education in commercial development the past couple of years, namely the fact that everything happened slowly. When she’d said she hoped the building would be done by the time the baby came, Robert had just laughed and said they’d be lucky if they were done by the time they had their second. Even so, the structures were starting to look like actual houses, and they would be ready for their interiors in another month or two. Somehow she hadn’t envisioned herself being a working mother, especially not just after she turned thirty-two, but she had to admit that it would be convenient living right next to her projects. She had visions of long days with a baby in the carrier, deciding on finishes and supervising the interior installs.
It was a kind of heaven she’d never realized she’d yearned for.
Gabe took her hand and fell in beside her, the silence of the night settling in around them, only the soft sound of wind through the trees above breaking it. Newly installed lamp posts cast pools of yellow light on the paved walkway, extending nearly to the lake’s edge where the water softly lapped the shore. She could barely believe she was fortunate enough to be surrounded by so much beauty on a daily basis.
And so much love.
After a few minutes, she broke the silence. “When you asked me if I’d considered staying in Jasper Lake, did you ever imagine this would be our life now?”
“Honestly?” He glanced down at her in the dark. “I’d hoped it would be.”
“Really? You were already so sure? You seemed like you were just wanting to wait and see.”
“I didn’t want to scare you off. But I had no doubts.”
She stopped abruptly. “Really.”
“Absolutely.” He planted a kiss on her lips. “I knew from the moment I saw you that you were the one for me. I just didn’t know how God was going to work out all the details.”
They started walking again. “Rather well, I’d say.”
“Yes, I’d definitely give Him five stars on Yelp for His excellent plans.”
Kendall chuckled and rolled her eyes at the borderline blasphemous thought. She was still new enough to her faith that she didn’t say anything so casual, but she figured that God loved her husband and his cheesy sense of humor all the same. In the carrier, Cadence stirred and then let out a deep satisfied sigh.
“I know just how you feel,” she whispered and pressed a kiss to her baby’s head with another swell of love.
Three years ago, she wasn’t even sure she knew what that word meant and now she was so surrounded by it and suffused by it that she barely knew how to express her gratitude.
The short walk ended at the end of Main Street, and as they walked upward toward the square, the sounds of talking and laughter drifted to them on the night air. Already a crowd had gathered around the giant fire pit, piled high with wood that had been cut whole from tree trunks—all wood that had been saved from the parts of the forest that was being cleared and had been deemed unsuitable for construction.
Kendall turned and caught sight of Delia on the other side of the bonfire, waving to get her attention. They navigated through the crowd slowly, stopping to exchange greetings with townspeople and apologizing that Cadence was asleep and covered instead of giving everyone their baby fix. When they finally made it to Delia’s side, the coffee shop owner pressed a travel mug into Kendall’s hand and then a kiss to her cheek.
“You’re looking well,” she said approvingly, looking her over. “Looks like Gabe is taking good care of you two.”
“He is. Now if I could get this little one to sleep as well in her crib as she does in the carrier, I’d be all set.”
Gabe put on a mocked shock expression. “And here you blamed your sleeplessness on me.”
Delia held up her hands. “Too much information. Besides, Gabe, they’re waiting for you to do the honors.”
Kendall gave her husband a kiss and then a shove in Luke’s direction, where his friend was holding up what appeared to be a blowtorch. “Go, play with fire. Let’s get this show on the road.”
“Bossy,” he sing-songed back to her as he walked away, and Kendall just laughed.
Delia linked arms with her. “Now that he’s gone, tell me how you are really.”
Kendall sighed. “Happy. Just really happy.” She threw a sheepish look at Delia. “I know, I’m kind of disgustingly blissful these days, but I still can’t believe this is my life. Go ahead and hit me.”
“Oh, I’m feeling pretty happy myself these days.” Delia smiled, and Kendall followed her gaze to the blond man who had now joined Luke and Gabe and was holding an earnest conversation with them over the matter of lighting the bonfire.
“Bruce? You and Bruce? How did I not hear about this?”
“We’ve kept it pretty hush-hush,” Delia said, but even in the dark, it was obvious she was glowing. “Not that you can keep anything quiet in this town for long.”
“No, you definitely can’t. Especially considering half of our new residents are social media experts.”
“It has definitely cut down on the need to advertise.” Several new startups had recently moved or were in the process of moving into Jasper Lake, making Kendall’s decision to turn the other four houses into shared live-work space a wise decision. It had seemed like a revolutionary idea here in Colorado, but the half-hotel/half-rooming house system had been in use in Europe for decades, and it had proved to be a useful way of dealing with the influx of new residents while the rest of the housing was completed. One of her two next-door neighbors, an all-female social media agency, liked the arrangement so much, they were reluctant to move out even though members had already put down deposits on new condos for when they were finished.
Bruce, Luke, and Gabe seemed to have worked out the blow torch dispute, and now Luke was holding a flaming torch aloft. Kendall laughed as someone pressed a wired microphone attached to a small amplifier into Gabe’s hand.
“Welcome everyone to Jasper Lake’s Bonfire Night!” Cheers rang out around the space and Gabe waited until they had quieted down. “I know you’re all just here for the fire—” laughter from the crowd— “but I wanted to take a moment to talk about where the bonfire night came from. Most of you now know about the founder, Jasper Green, who lent his name to our town, and most of you know that he was English, come to Colorado because of…why else? A woman.”
Laughter again, and even Kendall couldn’t resist a smile.
“Thanks to the research of my brilliant and lovely wife, we were able to uncover the origins of the night. Apparently, Jasper was very fond of the bonfires in England celebrating Guy Fawkes’ Night, minus the burning of effigies, which is held on November 5th. Having seemed silly and inappropriate here in the States, he decided to celebrate the completion of the houses he built for himself and his family on Lakeshore Drive by holding a bonfire with all the leftover construction materials that couldn’t be used, this time in October.
“Along those lines, we haven’t cut new trees for the event, but used the waste from our Lakeshore Drive construction. Join me in celebrating the new era of Jasper Lake and may there be many more celebrations.” Gabe handed back the microphone and took the torch, then moved to the pile of kindling beneath the wood to light the fire. The stack quickly caught, and Gabe jumped back as the flames climbed higher up the pile.
“Is it just me, or is celebrating the launch of a greener development by burning stuff an oxymoron?” Delia whispered.
Kendall chuckled. “Let him have it. It’s a tradition. And he really didn’t want to give a speech in the first place.”
Gabe rejoined them, slipping behind Kendall so he could wrap his arms around her and Cadence. Delia smiled at them and slipped off to join Bruce, earning a look of surprise from Gabe. Looked like they wouldn’t need social media to spread the word; they weren’t exactly hiding things.
“So, is it everything you expected?” Gabe’s amused voice murmured in her ear as the flames rose higher into the night sky.
He meant the bonfire, but Kendall couldn’t help but answer honestly about their life here in Jasper Lake. She turned in his arms, careful not to squash their baby, and then pressed a light kiss to his lips. “It’s everything I could have ever hoped for.”