1 Chapter 1

Matthew Dalton stood before the hotel window, gazing out at the city sprawled below. The sky was gray, the clouds thick and heavy, promising rain by day’s end. The buildings were gaining familiarity, but the turf was still foreign. Scotland was a beautiful country, at least the parts of it he’d so far had the privilege to explore. He toured castles, some just ruins, and rode a horse along rolling green hills. He even did a little sheep herding, which turned out to be quite the experience. But Scotland, in his current situation, Edinburgh, wasn’t home.

I’ve been everywhere but there.

Matthew turned away, shuffling over to the bed. As a travel writer, recounting his many adventures in a popular blog as well as in a handful of published works, Matthew had been all over the globe. He stood at the base of the Great Pyramids and walked along the Great Wall of China. He enjoyed local delicacies, though thinking about fried spider still gave him the willies. In all the pictures, he smiled, his eyes dazzling, the perfect image of happiness. He did love his choice of lifestyle, but something was missing.

A sense of home.

He left the States for a reason, searching for a way to fill the void he felt in his chest. Matthew hoped it was unsatisfied wanderlust, a thirst to discover knew things, to feed his curiosity about the world. However, the years crept by, his miles went up, and he crisscrossed the globe without satisfaction. The void remained. Now, in his mid-forties, Matthew considered setting up roots.

From the hotel bed, he plucked a letter, one that miraculously managed to find him.

Email would have been quicker, more convenient. Why send a letter?

Because it was personal, handwritten. He traced his fingers along the curves of the letters, their elegant form stirring up memories. After the accident that claimed the life of his parents, Matthew wound up living with his uncle, spending seven years in the country setting, sometimes being a royal pain in the ass. Their relationship started out rocky, but improved over the years. Matthew kept in touch as he traveled. But despite the emails and video chats, his uncle clung to the handwritten word, always managing to get little notes and cards to Matthew on important days. All of which he saved, sending them back home to a P.O. box and having his friend retrieve them.

Can you ever think of it as home? You’ve been gone more than twenty years.

Sure, he stopped in occasionally, usually around Christmas, but Matthew never stayed. And he continued to fail in finding whatever he sought. He sank down on the bed, tears tickling his eyes. The letter told him news he didn’t want to hear. His uncle sick and going downhill fast. It was evident in the last few shaky sentences. When he opened the letter, Matthew immediately rang up his old stomping ground, but nobody answered. A call to his friend broke his heart. It had taken the letter so long to reach him that his uncle was already gone.

I let him down. I should have been there to say goodbye.

At least he could still be there for the funeral, which was why he canceled the rest of his plans and switched out his plane ticket. Seeing Romania could wait. He was going home.

* * * *

Locating his best friend, Daniel Ellis sank into the chair across from her with a disheartened sigh. Without a word, she pushed a glass across the table. The yellowy-orange smoothie was his weakness, along with cheesecake, and if anyone knew that, it was Heidi Gellar. They’d met in middle school when Heidi pounded a football player for harassing Daniel all because he was gay. Daniel wound up getting the last laugh when a few years later the same football player asked him out on a date. He shouldn’t have said yes. One bad decision had completely screwed up his dating mojo.

“Another dud?” Heidi asked, stirring her iced coffee. She looked absolutely adorable in her peach peasant blouse and a pair of leggings covered in giant bright yellow sunflowers. Her hair was vivid blue, to hide the grays she said, and she didn’t look anywhere near her age. “What happened this time?”

Daniel shrugged. “Does it even matter at this point? I give up. I’m officially cashing in, throwing away my dating credentials, and getting some cats.” He sipped the smoothie. “Crazy cat guys are a thing, right?”

“Don’t stop looking yet.”

“Says the woman who married her high school sweetheart.” Her diamond engagement ring sparkled in the sunlight spilling through the window.

The waitress popped over, depositing on the table a slice of chocolate chip cheesecake and a large cupcake covered in peanut butter frosting. For as long as he could remember, Daniel came to the Sunrise Café with Heidi or met her there, almost always at a table near the window. More often than not, they ate dessert. Once in a while, they actually ordered a decent meal, but today was a sweet tooth kind of day. He dug in, popping a forkful of the decadent treat in his mouth. It didn’t exactly mesh with the flavors of his pineapple-mango smoothie, but Daniel didn’t care. It was delicious, just the thing he needed.

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