She kept both hands on the wheel as she drove along the highway, heading for the distant shore of Pelican Lake not too far outside of Minneapolis. Her skin tingled with excitement as hope continued to race through her. She couldn’t believe there was a possibility that she’d met Killian a long time ago. If true, it would mean she’d known him before Neal.
She glanced over at the man who would be her husband soon, and her heart flipped over as he smiled back at Henry. They were playing Twenty Questions. Well, Henry was. Killian kept asking the wrong kind of questions. On purpose. And somehow he managed to get the answers after only a few clues.
“Mom,” Henry whined. “Tell him to play right.”
She smiled to herself and looked at her son through the rearview mirror. “Pick someone or something harder. Your tone of voice gives it away every time.”
Henry huffed and sat back.
“You don’t have a poker face, my boy. Guess that’s something else I can teach you.” Killian continued to grin.
Henry leaned forward. “You’ll teach me how to play?”
While Killian laughed at Henry’s eager tone, Emma turned left down the road leading to the lake, but she found a change. “There’s a booth and a gate. I guess they turned this into a park of some kind.”
After going through the entrance, Henry and Killian became quiet and observant of their surroundings. “None of this looks familiar to me,” Killian commented. “It’s quite beautiful, though.”
“It was my favorite hide-out. I left in late September, though. Couldn’t stay during winter.” The trees parted to reveal a shore with a parking lot ten yards from the rocky bank. “I never learned who owned the cabin. Never even saw a sign that someone used it.”
Birds flew over colorful sails as people enjoyed the crystal lake. Killian gave a whistle. “That’s some view.”
“Yeah,” Emma murmured, watching the scene and the road. “It made me happy, all those years ago.” She felt Killian’s eyes on her, and she turned to look at him. They shared a smile of understanding then she gave her attention back to the road. “We’ll park here. There’s a path that leads to the cabin. I’m assuming the building is still relatively isolated since the globe didn’t show anything around it.”
Henry was already unbuckling his seatbelt when Emma slid the car into a space. “Let’s go,” he cried and was out the door before Emma had the key out of the ignition.
“Slow down, kid,” she told him. “We need to be careful.”
As they all exited the bug, Emma scanned the area. She found the forest to be even more overgrown than when she’d lived here. She frowned then headed in the general direction of where the path had once been.
“What are we looking for, love?”
They left the parking lot for the twenty yards of grassy space before the trees. “There’s a trail somewhere that leads to that cabin. Just search for a break or something.”
As they split up, walking along the edge, Emma couldn’t help but recall the weeks she’d spent at this lake. She’d made decisions, worked out who she wanted to be while she stayed alone in the cabin. She’d come to the realization that she couldn’t depend on anyone but herself, that she was better off on her own. And she’d stayed away from cities, not wanting to be sent back to a group home.
And she hadn’t been. Instead she’d learned to hot wire cars and lift items from stores with ease. And she never hung around long enough to spend time with anyone. At least, not until she’d stolen a stolen car. She smiled to herself, glad she could remember Neal now without feeling grief.
“Love?” Killian called. “I think I’ve got something.”
Henry and Emma hurried to his side. Buried beneath a cover of a fern was a narrow stretch of gravel. “This could be it,” Emma murmured. When she looked ahead, she caught sight of an oak with a bent trunk. Recollection struck. “Yes, this is it. Let’s go.”
She led the way. Henry followed in between her and Killian, and Emma knew Killian had done that on purpose. Her heart squeezed with gratefulness. Just another reason why she loved him so much. He always took care of Henry.
They had to duck under low hanging braches, and meander around fallen logs. It was slow-going, but they eventually reached the cabin she’d used as a shelter for a period of five months. And, if the globe was to be trusted, Killian had, as well.
“There,” Henry said, anticipation lacing his tone. “I see the sapling.”
Emma drew up short, stunned, while Henry hastened forward.
“You didn’t think it would really be there, did you, love?” Killian stood beside her.
“Did you?” she asked him, watching as Henry came to a stop and assessed the magical plant.
“I’ve learned that odd things happen, so…yes.”
She looked at him. “The fact that it’s here…it means you were, too. With me. And that we…”
“Fell in love?” he finished for her, giving her a soft smile. “It wouldn’t surprise me.”
As she released a sigh of wonder, she gripped his hand with hers. “Come on.”
They drifted to the sapling. “What do we do, lad?” Killian asked.
“Grandpa told me they just touched it at the same time, and they had this blast of visions. It was their story that played in their minds.” Henry gave them some room.
“Ready, love?” Killian arched an eyebrow at her.
She loved it when he looked at her like that, and when he said those words in that tone. It always made her feel safe, as if she wasn’t alone. Since the moment she’d met him, she’d understood him. How had she known he could be trusted? Was it because she’d met him before their beanstalk adventure? “I’m ready,” she said softly.
Together, they leaned down and gripped the base. A surge of energy exploded, and Emma and Killian flew backwards. When she landed, everything went black.