Home > Harvest Moon (Riverbend #3)

Harvest Moon (Riverbend #3)
Author: Denise Hunter

 


Chapter 1

 


It was not the sort of day when bad things happened. Eighty degrees. September breeze. Sky expanding, wide and blue, above a canopy of trees. Air thick with the fresh smell of pine and the loamy scent of earth. It was a perfect Saturday.

Gavin Robinson had reached the summit of Roan Mountain just after noon, enjoyed a sandwich, and was now trekking back down the trail. After months of setting up Robinson Construction, LLC, he finally had a free weekend. The late-afternoon sun had fallen behind the mountain hours ago, and evening was quickly approaching when his phone vibrated in his pocket. It was a miracle he had a signal this far from civilization.

He fished the phone from his pants pocket. His brother’s face lit up the screen. Gavin stopped midpath and swiped at the sweat trickling down his temple. “Hey, Coop. What’s up?”

“Where are you?”

Cooper’s tense tone put him on instant alert. Had their stepdad suffered another heart attack? “Heading back from Roan. What’s wrong?”

“We got a call from Dispatch earlier. Someone reported a small plane going down. A subsequent call reported a definite crash south of Marshall. Gavin . . . it was a yellow plane.”

His breath stuttered in his lungs. Mike, his best friend, was a proud owner of a Cessna Skyhawk—the only yellow plane kept at the local airfield. Had Mike taken Mallory and Emma for a joyride today? He pictured the young family as he’d seen them last weekend, working their apple orchard, Mallory steadying a ladder for Mike while two-year-old Emma toddled barefoot around the grassy property chasing butterflies.

Please, God, let them be all right.

“He’s a good pilot,” Gavin said.

“I know.”

Gavin heard what Cooper hadn’t said: a dozen things could go wrong, despite a pilot’s expertise.

“Took me a while to reach you—I’m almost to the crash site now. The medevac arrived minutes ago. I gotta go. I’ll have details soon, and I’ll call you back when I know more.”

Gavin disconnected, turned on his ringer, and set off at a fast pace. He was glad his brother was sheriff—he’d get answers quickly. But Gavin had a gut feeling the downed plane was Mike’s. Only one question remained: Had the crash been survivable?

He refused to believe otherwise. Instead, he made a plan as he rushed down the trail. He would head straight to Mission Hospital, where they would transport the Claytons. He would use Mike’s phone to access his parents’ number and call them with the bad news. Mallory’s mom was her only living relative, but they were estranged.

Emma. He remembered the girl’s blonde curls bouncing as she’d played hide-and-seek with him in the orchard last weekend. “’Ere are you, Gabin?”

His traitorous mind conjured up the image of her tiny body sprawled in the plane seat: unconscious, pale skinned, blood oozing from her gashed head.

No. He couldn’t think about that. He had to remain positive.

 

A while later he glanced at his watch. It seemed as if hours had passed since the call. He’d made good progress though. He was almost to his car now, but the hospital was more than an hour away. He said yet another prayer for the Claytons, his throat thickening as he begged God for mercy.

His phone pealed, breaking through the sounds of nature. Cooper. He accepted the call. “Tell me you have good news.”

A beat of silence. “I’m sorry, man. Mike didn’t make it.”

Gavin’s chest squeezed tight. His feet faltered to a stop. He struggled to draw a breath.

Mike.

“Mallory’s being airlifted to Mission. But it doesn’t look good, Gavin. They think she has life-threatening injuries.”

God, please . . . no. He could hardly process it all. His best friend . . . gone, just like that. And Mallory barely hanging on. “Emma?”

“She wasn’t on board. Thank God for that. The plane is . . . It’s a wonder Mallory survived the crash, buddy.”

Gavin pressed a palm into his eye socket, thinking of Emma. Her father was dead, and her mother’s life was hanging in the balance. He swallowed against the lump in his throat and forced his feet into motion. “I’m almost to my car. I’ll head to the hospital now.”

“Wait. Do you know where Emma is?”

“I assume she’s home with a sitter—they use the Bauer girl sometimes.”

“It’s going on seven o’clock, and the sitter will need to go home. Why don’t you head over there instead and relieve her?”

“Mallory shouldn’t be alone at the hospital. Mike wouldn’t want that.”

“She’d want Laurel with her, wouldn’t she?”

Laurel. Of course. And his ex-wife would want to be with her best friend. “Not thinking straight. I’ll call her. I still have her number—unless she’s changed it.” Or blocked him. He hadn’t talked to her since their divorce finalized three years ago.

“Sure, but maybe it would be better if I called her.”

“Right. Yeah.” They hadn’t exactly parted on friendly terms. Regret and despair over the last year of their marriage threatened to swamp him. But he resolutely shoved it down. “Just a second and I’ll get you the number.”

He put the call on Speaker, found Laurel’s number, and relayed it to Cooper. Somehow he’d never been able to bring himself to delete it.

“I’ll call her right now,” Coop said.

“Thanks, Brother. Will you let me know you got hold of her?”

“Sure thing.”

Gavin disconnected and thought of Laurel, soon to be receiving this horrific news. His high school sweetheart had been friends with Mallory since elementary school. When Mallory had started dating Mike in their early twenties, he and Gavin hit it off. They became couple-friends. Even after Laurel and Gavin had moved to Asheville, they remained close, meeting up for supper and taking weekend hiking trips together.

The divorce had put a stop to all that, of course. But somehow, against all odds, Mike and Mallory maintained their friendships with each of them. And if the weight of it strained their own relationship, Gavin had never noticed. They are special people.

He broke through the woods and came out at the gravel parking lot where he’d left his Denali. He retrieved his keys from his pocket and made a beeline toward it.

He’d just thought of his friends in present tense—but Mike was gone.

Gone.

It didn’t feel real. And yet, right this minute Gavin was heading to their house to stay with a little girl who’d just lost her father.

* * *

Laurel Robinson was this close to having the position of her dreams—and the best thing about it? Her friends and coworkers were rooting for her.

Ruby, the fiftysomething supervisor of The Dining Room, raised her glass. “To the next Walled Garden Manager.”

“And let’s not forget, the youngest one in the history of the Biltmore Estate,” Kayla said.

Ruby winked at Laurel, her blue eyeshadow shimmering under the pendant light. “Also the first woman.”

“Hear, hear.”

Unable to suppress a modest smile, Laurel clinked her glass with theirs, the sounds fading into the cacophony at the Charlotte Street Grill & Pub. “Lovely toast, ladies, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves.”

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