Chantelle drove up the winding road to the Ducharme ski resort. When she’d contacted Clem—no use bothering Charles with this, he was so busy—she had insisted Chantelle come for morning coffee and drop the sketch off in person. Chantelle owed it to the youth in the After-School Club to put on her big girl panties. She had collected a homemade gift basket to say thank you and added the sketch on top. The Ducharme family, all of them, should know how much their support of the youth mattered to her.
Looking out the windshield, she understood the attraction of living in the mountains. Aside from some hairpin turns, the drive was spectacular, especially at this time of year. Scarlets, russets and golds shimmered in the leaves, set against the dark greens and browns of the fir trees, rocks and moss. All I need is a little mist to make it a fairy-tale setting.
Approaching the ski village, she marvelled at the quaint houses and cobblestone streets. They shone in the sunshine, illuminating the happy townspeople going about their business. She started humming that song from Beauty and the Beast. Through the village and up to the resort she drove. She had read up on the Ducharme family on their website. They were descended from coureurs de bois in the early European settlement of New France, the French traders who often intermarried with the indigenous peoples. This early history gave the family—and many of the European descendants in the area—ties to the land and its people, but it was not a happy history in several respects. The family had recently published a mandate to work with local reserves to pay some small restitution for the ravages that colonisation had wreaked on the indigenous peoples. The early results of war, disease and violence had turned into later horrors. Residential schools, so many indigenous women and girls lost and killed, numerous land claim disputes and a lack of basic infrastructure on reserves—the government and the settlers had devastated indigenous communities. There was no way to make it right. But things still needed to improve.
She drove through the resort towards a large parking lot. Small chalets were arranged around a central lodge. She could see several medium-sized buildings behind the main building and up a slope. She pulled into one of the visitor parking spots. The main lodge looked like a postcard from the Alps. Wood beams across the front, enormous field stone pillars, balconies across the second and third floors. Bernard had told her about the family’s commitment to renewable resource use and sustainable reforestation practices. Were the materials used at the ski resort part of this commitment? Gawking, she grabbed the basket from her back seat and walked up the wide steps to the large double front doors.
She put down the basket and smoothed her hair, her pulse pounding. Don’t be a coward. You won’t even see him.
Clem burst out of the doors, greeting her with a big hug. She had forgotten how warm and generous the woman was. Chantelle kept hold of the basket as she followed Clem into the front lobby. The large open-concept area showcased an enormous wood-burning fireplace at the back. Comfortable overstuffed chairs and couches were scattered tastefully around. A small coffee and tea station was set up near a reception desk.
Clem made small talk as they walked towards the fireplace area. Bertrand waved from a seat across from the fireplace. Chantelle manoeuvred past the back of a tall armchair so she could put the basket on the coffee table in front of Bertrand. Then she shook hands with the smiling young man. He was so much like his sister, Clementine, that she felt right at home.
Bertrand gestured at the chair behind her. “Look who’s here, Charles.” Chantelle gripped Bertrand’s hand, not turning, her heart racing. Bertrand nodded at her.
He stood up at the same time that she turned around. She stumbled and fell into his arms, feeling the familiar electricity zap through her from his touch.
“Hello?” said Chantelle. Charles trapped her with his smoky eyes, almost scorching her with their intensity. Câlice! Why does he have to be so hot? And always scowling? It’s so confusing.
He started to draw her in closer, then shook himself and helped her get steady on her feet before releasing her. Slowly, he withdrew his hands and she immediately felt empty, his heat retreating from her skin.
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