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I took another deep breath and tried to talk myself out of this funk. The Marians and Wildes surrounding me were truly some of the best people I’d ever known. They’d gone out of their way to include me and make me feel welcome in the family. With this many new family members, I should have been grateful. It was an embarrassment of riches.

And I was grateful. I reached for my wineglass and took a sip of the soft, oaky cabernet. Blue and Tristan had shipped wine from their vineyard to supply the events of the week here at the lodge. Sam and Griff had treated all of us to a lovely brunch earlier in the day at a diner in town they’d rented out for the occasion. Dante and AJ knew the family who owned it as they’d adopted their son through Marian House. While we were strolling through the small town square, Jude had stopped to sign autographs for everyone who’d asked.

These were generous, loving people. For the most part, they modeled exceptional, giving behavior. They inspired me to want to be the same way, positive and generous.

See? I’m looking for the good, Mom, I thought, and I felt some of my tension melt away.

Even Darius was sporting an extra halo tonight now that I’d heard the story of him selling his business to pursue a quieter life. It explained so much. His incredible showpiece of a home, his easy mood at the bakery despite the holiday orders piling up, and his willingness to leave it behind and enjoy time with new friends, despite this being a busy time for his business.

I was encouraged and inspired by his active pursuit of a better work-life balance, and since I felt like I was at a crossroads in my own life, the example was timely.

Around the table, there were so many examples of successful entrepreneurs and family-owned businesses. Nico’s tattoo shop, Charlie’s pub, Augie’s antique shop, Tristan and Blue’s vineyard, and Sam’s restaurant on-site. Teddy’s photography business, Maverick’s veterinary practice, and Beau’s contractor firm. It occurred to me I’d have a bastion of support if I decided to start something of my own.

Since AJ’s dad was sitting on my right and he lived in Aster Valley, I decided to ask him more about the town. “What made you and Mrs. Flores decide to settle in Aster Valley? You started off in Chicago, originally, right?”

The older man had a kind smile and laugh lines by his eyes. “Right. But our teenager was getting into trouble at school, so we decided to change our lifestyle and move him to a much safer environment.”

I glanced in surprise at AJ several places down the table. He was laughing at something Hallie Wilde was saying. “AJ, you mean? You’re kidding. He’s such a straight-arrow now. The change must have worked.”

“It wasn’t that easy. He ran away as soon as we got here.” AJ’s dad chuckled. “But you’re right. Eventually he adapted and started to love it here, just as we’d hoped he would. As for why Aster Valley… I was friends with the people who used to own this lodge, and they’d been in the area a long time. They recommended Aster Valley as a nice place to raise a family. They were right.”

“Must’ve been a huge change,” I mused.

“It was, but it became home really quickly. Now we’re thrilled to see Mikey and Tiller bringing back the ski resort. It’s going to bring in quite a bit of job opportunities and tax revenue, which will help the city planners with some of the projects they’ve cooked up. Now that I’m retired, I’ve signed on to help. Several of us who’ve been here a while are trying to make sure the growth is controlled and we continue to be a nice place to live and visit.”

We talked for a little longer about the town of Aster Valley and the small businesses moving into the area in anticipation of the new resort. It sounded like there would be a lot of opportunity for small-town marketing consulting if there wasn’t already someone here doing it.

I glanced back at Darius and wondered if I was being presumptuous. Was it shortsighted to consider moving to a place I’d only been to once? Would he think me too forward? Would he even be interested in having me around that long?

“AJ tells me you work for an orthodontist?” Mr. Flores asked.

“I manage marketing and advertising for a chain of orthodontist offices in Monterey,” I explained. “But I took that job to be close to my mom while she was sick. Now that she’s gone, I’ve been considering a change.” Ideally, one where I wouldn’t have to work multiple jobs.

He nodded pensively. “Well, I know there’s a high demand for people who are knowledgeable about that sort of thing. Mikey and Tiller have had a heck of a time finding someone to help with branding at the resort.”