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Take a Chance on Me

By:Susan May Warren

ing village–turned–tourist hideaway had enough charm to sweet-talk Ivy out of her Minneapolis duplex and make her dream big.

Dream of home, really. A place. Friends. Maybe even a dog. And here, in a town where everyone belonged, she would too.

She had wandered past the fudge and gift shop, past the walk-up window of World’s Best Donuts, where the smell of cake donuts nearly made her follow her sweet tooth inside. At the corner, the music drew her near to the VFW. Ford F-150s, Jeeps, and a handful of SUVs jammed the postage-stamp-size dirt parking lot.

She’d stopped at the entrance, read the poster for today’s activities, then peered in through the windows. Beyond a wood-paneled bar and a host of long rectangular tables, a man stood on the stage, holding up a fishing pole.

And that’s when Deep Haven reached out and hooked her.

“Are you going in?”

She’d turned toward the voice and seen a tall, solidly built middle-aged man with dark hair, wearing a jean jacket. A blonde woman knit her hand into his.

“I . . .”

“C’mon in,” the woman said. “We promise not to bite. Well, except for Eli here. I make no promises with him.” She had smiled, winked, and Ivy could feel her heart gulp it whole. Oh, why had she never learned to tamp down her expectations? Life had taught her better.

Eli shook his head, gave the woman a fake growl. Turned to Ivy. “Listen, it’s for a good cause. Our fire department could use a new engine, and the EMS squad needs more training for their staff, what few there are. You don’t have to buy anything, but you might help drive up the bids.” He winked. “Don’t tell anyone I told you that, though.”

She laughed. “I’m Ivy Madison,” she said, too much enthusiasm in her voice. “Assistant county attorney.”

“Of course you are. I should have guessed. Eli and Noelle Hueston.” Noelle stuck out her hand. “Eli’s the former sheriff. Hence the fact that we’ve come with our checkbook. C’mon, I’ll tell you who to bid on.”

Who to bid on?

Ivy had followed them inside, taking a look around the crowded room. Pictures of soldiers hung in metal frames, along with listings of member names illuminated by neon bar signs. The smells of deep-fried buffalo wings, beer, and war camaraderie were embedded in the dark-paneled walls.

A line formed around the pool table near the back of the room—what looked like former glory-day athletes lined up with their beers or colas parked on the round tables. Two men threw darts into an electronic board.

Then her gaze hiccuped on a man sitting alone near the jukebox, sending a jolt of familiarity through her.

Jensen Atwood.

For a moment, she considered talking to him—not that he’d know her, but maybe she’d introduce herself, tell him, I’m the one who put together your amazing plea agreement. Yes, that had been a hot little bit of legalese. The kind that had eventually landed her right here, in her dream job, dream town.

But Noelle glanced back and nodded for Ivy to follow, so she trailed behind them to an open table.

“Every year, on the last night of the solstice festival, we have a charity auction. It’s gotten to be quite an event,” Noelle said, gesturing to a waitress. She came over and Eli ordered a basket of wings, a couple chocolate malts. Ivy asked for a Coke.

“What do they auction?”

“Oh, fishing gear. Boats. Snowblowers. Sometimes vacation time-shares in Cancún. Whatever people want to put up for charity. But this year, they have something special on the agenda.” Noelle leaned close, her eyes twinkling. Ivy already liked her. And the way Eli had her hand wrapped in his. What might it be like to be in love like that? That kind of love . . . well, Ivy had only so many wishes, and she’d flung them all at living here, in Deep Haven.

“What?” Ivy asked.

“They’re auctioning off the local bachelors.”

And as if on cue, that’s when the lumberjack bachelor had taken the stage.

Ivy sipped her Coke, watching the frenzy.

“So are you going to bid?” Noelle asked.

Ivy raised a shoulder.

The lumberjack went for two hundred dollars—too rich for Ivy’s blood—to a woman wearing a moose-antler headband. He flexed for her as he walked off stage, and the crowd erupted.

A clean-cut, handsome young man took the stage next, to the whoops of the younger crowd down front. “That’s my son,” Noelle said, clearly enjoying the spectacle. He seemed about nineteen or twenty, tall and wearing a University of Minnesota, Duluth, T-shirt. He was built like an athlete and had a swagger to match.

“He plays basketball for the UMD Bulldogs,” Noelle said. She placed the first bid and got a glare from the young man on stage.

A war started between factions in the front row. “Should I bid?” Ivy asked. Not that she would know what to do with a bachelor ten years younger than her. Maybe she could get him to mow her lawn.

“No. Save your money for Owen Christiansen.”

Probably another lumberjack from the woods, with a flannel shirt and the manners of a grizzly. Ivy affected a sort of smile.

“Maybe you’ve heard of him? He plays hockey for the Minnesota Wild.”

“No, sorry.”

“He’s something of a local celebrity. Played for our hometown team and then got picked up by the Wild right after high school.”

“I’m not much of a hockey fan.”

“Honey, you can’t live in Deep Haven and not be a hockey fan.” Noelle grinned, turning away as the wings arrived.

Ivy ignored the way the words found tender space and stabbed her in the chest. But see, she wanted to live in Deep Haven . . .

Noelle offered her a wing, but Ivy turned it down. “Owen’s parents, John and Ingrid Christiansen, run a resort about five miles out of town. It’s one of the legacy resorts—his great-grandfather settled here in the early nineteen hundreds and set up a logging camp. It eventually turned into one of the hot recreation spots on the north shore, although in today’s economy, they’re probably struggling along with the rest of the Deep Haven resorts.