Avery pulled off the winding road they had been following, driving into what seemed like a forest. It didn’t take long, though, for them to leave the trees and drive into a clearing. The moon reflected off ocean water as he pulled up to the house, Willow’s house. He questioned the sanity of what he was allowing her to do as he brought the car to a stop and turned it off.
He watched Willow unbuckle her seat belt and take a breath before opening the car door. The sound of waves crashing against the rocks in front of them and the smell of the salty air seemed to give her strength as she stepped out. In the moonlight the house rose before them, showing a gabled roof and a wrap-around porch. The windows were all dark and Avery shivered in the eerie silence.
Summoning his manly courage, Avery’s shoes on the gravel drive crunched loudly in the darkness as he moved toward the house. “Let me get a light on for us,” he said quietly over his shoulder. He reached the porch and continued to the door, shining a small flashlight so he could see to unlock it. He worked his way to the back of the house, where the previous owner had told him he would find a small generator. Turning it on, he moved his way back to the front door, turning on a light in one room as he went.
He found Willow standing in the doorway and gently took the small bag she had been holding. Placing the bag up against a wall in the hallway, he moved back towards the door, “I’ll grab the rest of your bags. I got you one of those large, lantern flashlights, so you can use that to check out the rest of the house. If you’d rather wait until morning, you’ll find two bedrooms at the top of the stairs, along with a bathroom. Pick which room you’d like and I’ll crash in the other one. Tomorrow we can finish making plans before I head home. They’re not expecting me at the office until the day after.” He watched her for a minute, just standing, looking as lost as he felt, and then he slipped out the door and picked his way across the gravel drive to the car.
Avery knew his life was changing along with Willow’s. Keeping Willow, and his work for her, a secret from his partners at the accounting firm was going to be interesting. Monthly trips out to this fishing village were going to need a good cover story. At least she would never have to worry about money. William had seen to that. And Avery was going to make sure that William’s investment kept Willow for the rest of her life. Investment. Avery smiled sardonically at that. I’m pretty sure that’s not what William considers it. His heart grew hard as he thought of the man’s cruel nature. At least this situation had given Willow the chance to get out from under William’s thumb. Being rich was often a curse, as it made people act the fool. He only hoped Willow had learned her lesson and didn’t repeat it in a new town.
Willow’s condition was the only thing that gave Avery pause as he thought about her living out here alone. She had specifically requested something off-grid. Something Avery wasn’t sure this little rich girl would be able to handle. No electricity meant no phones and no electricity. Although he was thankful she had accepted the cell phone, for now. Had she ever even used a wood stove before let alone cooked on one? He shook his head. At least he had made sure she had the small generator and extra propane to fuel it. She would at least be able to turn on lights and use a regular stove if she wanted to, although it would make a whole lot more sense to just be hooked up! Avery’s name was on the house deed and planned on paying any bills associated with the house himself. Her idea, though, was to keep the bills down to only essential ones. There was no need to draw attention to the fact that he had a house way out in the middle of nowhere. But the lack of electricity and regular plumbing bothered Avery. He planned to keep close watch on her for the first little while and had enlisted the help of some locals to make sure that Willow Quinn survived her first few months alone. After today, Willow Quinn would essentially cease to exist, but he was going to make sure she didn’t literally cease to exist. No one would be able to trace her to these back woods, and “Willow Quinn” would be gone while living only a few hours from her hometown.
Avery slammed the car door and carried Willow’s bags into the house. Willow was just heading up the staircase as he entered.
“Let’s just get to bed, while there’s still some night left. You must be exhausted.” She spoke to him as she ascended. “We can go through the house tomorrow once we’re rested and can think clearly.” He watched her pause at the top of the stairs, seeing three doors. He made his way up behind her and waited on the landing as she opened each door to see what was behind them. Willow’s movements were slow, as if she were moving through a fog. He realized what she must be feeling, leaving her family and friends. Would she be able to handle the isolation?
“I’ll take this room.” Willow had stepped into the larger of the two rooms and stood with one hand wrapped about a bed post.
Avery, waiting at the top of the stairs, now moved past her with the rest of her bags and laid them on the floor. “If you need anything, I’ll just be across the hall.” He stopped and stared at her for a minute, and then moved back into the hallway, where he picked up his overnight bag and headed into the smaller bedroom.
He listened for a moment to make sure she was okay. He could hear the creaking of the bed as she lay down. Then silence reigned and he realized she must have fallen asleep.
Avery stretched out on the bed, his sock-clad feet hanging off the edge, the awkwardness of sharing a house with a woman never leaving his consciousness. As a Christian he had been taught not to put himself into compromising situations, but he doubted that this would actually qualify as compromising, since not a single person knew of his existence in the house. Willow Quinn had enough things to worry about without adding him to the equation. He knew if his mother knew what he was doing to help Willow she would tear a strip off him. Thank goodness she would never know.
He rolled over, working to relax so he could fall asleep. The drive had seemed to take forever, Aspotogan seemed like the end of the world to a city dweller. How in the world was she going to survive out here by herself? She’d never even cooked a meal before and here she thought she was going to run a farm and sustain herself? Avery mentally rolled his eyes and sent a punch into his pillow. If he was any kind of man he would insist she get back in the car tomorrow and go straight to the police with him. William could not get away with this!
He flung himself onto his back. Oh, yeah, that would work, and William would pay off the police and Willow would be found in a back alley a week later, a mugging gone bad. He could see the headlines now. How she had even gotten mixed up with him Avery could not figure out. How was he supposed to go back home tomorrow and just leave her here? He’d never sleep again, worrying. She’s only 21, barely old enough to vote, drink, and have a driver’s license, and here she was, out in the middle of nowhere (thanks to Avery), planning to live off-grid and hide out for the rest of her life. It didn’t seem like much of an existence to him. But there wasn’t much he could do. He had no desire to move out here with her, he enjoyed being an accountant too much.
“Lord,” he prayed silently, “this situation seems hopeless, but I know it’s not. You are in control. Help me to remember that. I’ve prayed about this and I see no other way to help her right now. So I ask that You help her. Keep her safe, Lord.”
He rolled over to face the window, the light from the moon outlining it. His thoughts continued to plague him, but eventually a restless sleep came over him. Morning would come soon enough and with it a whole new set of problems to be faced and worked through.
If you missed the beginning:
A Lonely Willow – Part One