These three bonus scenes starts immediately after the end of book three, Return to Hope’s Ridge, when Matt is celebrating the opening of Holly’s with the townsfolk of Hope’s Ridge. Please read book three before you read these scenes to avoid any spoilers. If you haven’t read the book, click here to read now. If you have read it, then I hope you enjoy being part of this special event.
Bonus Scene #6
Zane raised his glass with the rest of the guests, impressed with Matt’s speech and the kindness and respect he’d shown toward Buster with the gift he’d presented him. The statue to remember Buster’s daughter, Holly, was beautiful. He felt his jacket pocket for the hundredth time, realizing Matt’s speech had distracted him for a few moments. Now the flutter of nerves he’d felt on waking that morning returned.
He turned to Asha, his smile slipping as she wiped her eyes. He immediately pulled her to him. “You okay?”
Asha nodded, offering him a small smile. She wasn’t the only one wiping her eyes. Hearing Buster’s voice break when he thanked Matt had touched everyone. He wore his heartbreak on his sleeve, and while his relationship with Steph had given him a reason to enjoy life again, the loss of Holly would always be there.
“I think Matt got it right for once,” Asha said.
Zane nodded. “It’s taken him a while, but I think he’s finally worked out how to be a decent human.”
Asha smiled. “Looking at this turnout today, I think a lot of the town would agree with you. I’ve heard rumors that he’s been doing all sorts of nice things for people.” She lowered her voice. “I hate to say it, but even after he’s done so much to redeem himself, I still get suspicious that he’s got an ulterior motive for everything.”
“What would the ulterior motive be for something like the statue of Holly? It seemed like a genuinely kind thing to do.”
Asha sighed. “I know. It’s just that he’s unveiled it at a large public gathering of the town and has made himself look like the good guy. He could have given it to Buster in private.”
Zane frowned. “I think you’re a little harsh. It’s the opening of the retreat and the perfect time to present it. I don’t think he did it to look like a good guy. He gave Steph most of the credit for the development of the wellness retreat. He’s done many good things lately for Charlie, Ryan, and Margie, and certainly for us. The Larsen family will be forever grateful for what he did for Jenna. I don’t think too many people would put their business and reputation on the line just to do the right thing. Stopping Jenna’s wedding is something we’ll always be thankful for.”
“Yes, but the outcome was in his favor. He didn’t just stop her from marrying Brad. He then pursued a relationship with her. Look at the two of them.”
Zane frowned as he turned to where Asha was looking. Matt had his arm around Jenna’s shoulder, a broad smile on his face. “Do you think his feelings for Jenna aren’t genuine?” His arm slipped from Asha’s shoulder, and he clenched his hands into fists. “Because if he does anything to hurt my sister, he’s going to regret it.”
“Calm down,” Asha said. “I shouldn’t have said anything. When it comes to Jenna, I think he’s genuine. It’s just that I still find it hard to trust him. Hopefully, they don’t rush into anything. On paper, he’s doing everything right. I guess it’s just his history that always has me wondering.”
They were interrupted by the clearing of a throat. “As long as you give him a fair chance.”
Zane and Asha turned as Charlie Li stopped next to them.
“I apologize,” Charlie said. “But I overheard your concerns about young Matthew, and I hope you keep them to yourself.”
Asha’s cheeks burned red. “Don’t worry, Charlie, I’m hoping what we see is what we get with Matt these days. I just, well, I guess I just worry that he might still be out for himself.”
Charlie spread his arms wide. “Look at this retreat, Asha. This was a labor of love for Matthew. To honor his late mother and make a difference for others who could use these facilities.”
“True,” Asha said, “but it is a business, Charlie. Matt will profit from his labor of love.”
Charlie tutted. “Have you taken the time to look at his website?”
Asha shook her head.
“Well,” Charlie said, “I suggest you look carefully at the pricing, and you’ll realize that making money isn’t the main aim of Holly’s. Matt is offering different rates depending on people’s ability to pay, and one lucky person a month will enjoy the retreat’s offerings for free.”
“Really?” Zane said. “How does he decide who gets that?”
“I believe there is an application process,” Charlie said. “Those who are unsuccessful are offered a special rate to ensure they can still afford to come.” He smiled. “I’m very proud of our Matthew. He is contributing to the community and giving back in ways I would never have expected.”
Asha nodded. “Okay, you’ve convinced me, Charlie. I’ll try to assume the best moving forward, and I’ll pay more attention to the good things he does and take them as genuine.”
“Good.” Charlie winked at Zane. “Matt’s had something set up at Inspiration Falls for you.”
“Have you seen the water feature around the side of the retreat? It’s a private area hidden behind the hedges there. There is a fire pit and seating area. Matthew said it’s a quiet place where he goes when trying to get inspiration for new plans and decisions.”
“And he’s left something there for me?”
Charlie nodded. “And Asha. Go and have a look.” He flapped his hands at them as if he was shooing birds.
“And,” Charlie called after them as Zane took Asha’s hand, “hopefully you’ll see it as one of the many nice gestures Matthew is capable of.”
“What do you think that was all about?” Asha asked in a low voice as Zane led her from the celebrations to the side of the retreat.
“No idea,” Zane said, his voice equally low. “But we’d better check it out.” He pointed toward the sweet viburnum hedge. “I assume it’s behind that.”
With Asha’s hand still in his, Zane walked around the side of the hedge to where a small signpost with the name Inspiration Falls pointed toward an opening in the hedge. They stepped into the space, and Zane stopped and drew in a long nervous breath as he took in the setup.
“It’s beautiful,” Asha said.
And it was. Farthest from them, a wall housed a prominent water feature, the water running down onto rocks instantly creating a calming waterfall effect. Flowerpots sat on either side of it, color spilling over their sides, and an outdoor couch and table sat facing the falls with a fire pit, similar to the one in Steph’s garden, positioned between the couch and the water feature. A small fire was burning in the fire pit. But what sent Zane’s heart racing was the extra touches it appeared Matt had added. The strip of grass leading to the seating area was covered with rose petals, as was the rectangular table housing a silver bucket with a bottle of champagne. Two glasses sat on the table next to it.
“Do you think this is for us?” Asha asked.
Zane continued to stare, his heart thumping. Was he going to do this? He’d been speaking with Matt earlier but certainly hadn’t let on about his plans for today. Was there any way Matt could have guessed? By the looks of all this, it seemed yes.
Zane turned, realizing he hadn’t answered Asha. He squeezed her hand and smiled. “According to a very wise old man, this is definitely for us.” He led Asha over to the couch, and they sat.
“Champagne too,” Asha said, eyeing the bottle. “If this is a regular day at Holly’s, I’ll be coming back.”
Zane gave a nervous laugh. “I don’t think there’s anything regular about today.”
Asha smiled. “I know. It’s the opening, and it’s special. Still, it was a very nice gesture.” She sat up suddenly, her smile slipping. “You don’t think he’s up to something, do you? Wants us out of the picture while he does whatever it is?”
Zane squeezed her hand. “Sit back, Ash, and relax. Matt’s not up to anything other than possibly being able to read my mind.”
“Your mind?” She laughed. “Okay then. I guess we should enjoy the champagne.” Asha leaned forward to pick up the bottle.
Zane put a hand on her arm. “Just stop for a minute, okay?”
Asha sat back and looked at him expectantly.
He took a deep breath. He knew it was a risk doing this. That she had been very clear about her twelve-month rule, but he couldn’t wait any longer. He wanted to show Asha and the world how much he loved her. He wanted them to start planning their life together. To think about where they would live, how many children they’d hope to have, and settle down. He pushed his hand inside his jacket pocket and removed a small black box as he moved off the couch and onto one knee.
Asha’s hand flew to her mouth as she realized Zane’s intent. Nerves flitted in her stomach, and she had to remind herself to breathe. She’d dreamed of this moment, of him down on one knee. But she’d never expected it to happen today.
“Ash,” Zane said, opening the small black box and taking out a gorgeous, delicate white gold ring with a radiant cut diamond that danced with colors reflecting from the fire. His smile was tentative as he sought out her eyes.
He continued. “I’ve known you since we were kids. I thought of you as Jenna’s friend up until I was fifteen and started noticing girls, and then you became a problem for me.” His smile grew wider. “The problem is that I couldn’t get you out of my mind and had no interest in any other girl. The day you said yes to going to the prom with me was the happiest day of my teenage life.”
Tears filled Asha’s eyes as she listened to Zane’s emotion-choked voice.
“Of course, our prom experience didn’t exactly go as planned and, if I’m honest, left me heartbroken. But when I look back, I’m glad that we didn’t get together then. That we had ten years to go and explore life on our own. To make good decisions and bad decisions and live a little. When I came home to the Ridge earlier in the year, I was a mess. I couldn’t imagine moving forward after the holdup or having any reason to want to get up each day. I wasn’t even thirty, and I felt like my life was over. But then I saw you again, and all that changed. The feelings I had for you as a teenager not only returned, they amplified about a million times.”
A lump caught in Asha’s throat. There was so much love in his words. She knew Zane loved her, but hearing him express his love like this was overwhelming.
“I love that you’re close with your family,” Zane continued, “as I am with mine, and I love that we both are happy in our hometown and want to build a future here together. The last nearly twelve months have been the happiest of my life, and that’s because of you. You’re kind, generous, and downright gorgeous, and you make me be the best person I can be.” He held out the ring, a tremble causing his hand to shake. “Asha Christine Jones, will you make me the happiest person alive and agree to marry me?”
Asha blinked the tears of joy from her eyes and nodded. “Yes, definitely yes.”
Zane slipped the ring onto her left hand before lifting her chin with his finger and kissing her gently at first and then more passionately.
Asha pulled away gently, feeling overwhelmed with emotion. “I want to say something too.” She swallowed, hoping she’d get the words out without turning into a blubbering mess. “You’ve brought strength and love into my life I never knew existed. I know I can count on you to be there for me, as I will be for you. Every morning I wake up feeling like the luckiest woman alive. I love you so much.”
She smiled and wiped the tear that rolled down Zane’s cheek before kissing him gently on the mouth. When they eventually pulled apart, Zane let out a huge sigh. “You’ve got no idea how nerve-wracking that was.”
Asha gave a small laugh. “I do. I was here.”
Zane smiled. “No, the buildup. I’ve wanted to ask you for ages, Ash, but I knew you wanted to wait twelve months.”
“What made you decide to ask me before the twelve months?”
“A conversation with Margie,” Zane said. “She lost her husband so quickly and unexpectedly, and when I thought about that and also Buster losing Holly, it made me think about the importance of embracing every day and making the most of it—enjoying as much of life as we possibly can. I don’t want to wait another minute. I want to start planning our future. Our home. Our kids. Our dog.” He grinned.
“No dog,” Asha said, punching him lightly on the arm. “That’s a dealbreaker for Max.”
Zane laughed. “Your bossy cat would get used to a puppy very quickly. Old Maxy boy would be in charge. We both know that. Anyway, I can live without a dog, but I can’t live without you.” He leaned forward and kissed her as once again she was overcome with emotion.
When they parted, she held out her hand and examined the exquisite diamond. “It’s beautiful, Zane. Really beautiful.”
Zane reached for the champagne and began the task of opening it. “I might have had a little help from a certain sister of yours.”
“Steph chose this?”
Zane shook his head. “No, I was debating between three rings and asked for her advice. This was my favorite, and she thought it would be yours too.”
“I love it,” Asha said. And she did. It was simple but elegant. Exactly as she’d like to think she would be described.
Zane poured them both a glass of champagne and held one out to Asha, raising his. “To my future wife.”
Asha grinned and raised her glass. “And to my future husband.”
They sipped their drinks.
“Wife,” Zane said. “That sounds kind of surreal.” He moved closer to Asha and put an arm around her. “Perfect, but surreal.”
“This whole afternoon is surreal,” Asha said. “I couldn’t imagine a more perfect proposal. Thank you.”
Zane blushed. “I had planned to propose this afternoon, but I was going to suggest we walk up to Spicer’s Peak after the party here finished. I have another bottle of champagne in my truck in an insulated backpack ready to take with us. Matt set this up.”
“Matt? Did you tell him you were going to propose?”
Zane shook his head. “I have no idea how he guessed.”
Asha groaned. “I’m such an awful person.”
“What do you mean?”
“A short time ago, I was accusing him of being out for himself and only doing things that would benefit him, and then he goes and does this. A totally selfless and incredibly kind gesture.”
Zane smiled. “I guess Charlie was right about him.”
Asha nodded. “You know, I’m happy to be proven wrong. I had my moments of being skeptical about Matt, but I’ve seen a lot of good in him lately. I’ll focus on that moving forward, I promise.”
“Are we going to tell everyone?” Zane said.
“Of course,” Asha said. “I think we should drink some more of this delicious champagne and then go back to the party and announce our engagement.” Heat flooded her cheeks. “I’ll make sure I thank Matt publicly for his generosity too. Help redeem myself for my earlier comments. Everyone we love is here at the party, so it will be a wonderful celebration. Although…” She broke off, suddenly deep in thought.
“It’s just that today is about the wellness retreat opening. I don’t want to overshadow that.”
Zane squeezed her hand. “Tell you what. We’ll finish our drinks, then go and find Matt and see if he’s okay with us making the announcement. If he’s not, we’ll go and see our families after the party ends. How does that sound?”
“Like you,” Asha said. “Perfect.”
Matt was talking with Steph and Buster when he saw Zane and Asha, hand in hand, return to the party. Zane raised a hand as he met Matt’s eyes and beckoned him toward them.
“Excuse me for a minute,” Matt said and hurried over to Zane and Asha. “Well?” he said, approaching them. He realized he couldn’t ask if Zane had proposed. What if he hadn’t? He’d never be forgiven if he messed this up for him.
Asha held up her left hand, the diamond sparkling.
Matt stepped forward and threw his arms around them both. They hugged him before pulling away, laughing.
“I’m so happy for you,” Matt said.
“How did you know?” Zane asked.
Matt clapped him on the back. “You looked so nervous when you arrived, and then you felt your jacket pocket about twenty times in the few minutes we spoke. I figured something was up and just hoped I’d guessed right.”
“But the rose petals and champagne? Rose petals aren’t something you have lying around every day.”
“I’m hoping there will be a lot of proposals at the retreat,” Matt said, “or honeymooners. I’ve stocked up on petals for those occasions. This, of course, is the first!” That wasn’t true, but he couldn’t tell Asha and Zane the truth. He’d set up the rose petals and champagne before the guests had arrived. He’d planned to take Jenna there after everyone had left that afternoon. He wasn’t planning to propose. After all, they’d only been dating for a month, but he wanted her to know that it had been the best month of his life, and he couldn’t imagine his life without her. He wanted her to see that he was a romantic and show her more of his sensitive side. But when he’d seen Zane struggling with his nerves earlier, he’d also realized it would be the perfect setup for a proposal. He didn’t know whether Zane would propose or not, but it certainly gave him an idyllic setting if he chose to.
“Are you going to announce your engagement?” Matt asked.
“We wanted to check with you first,” Asha said. “We didn’t want to overshadow your opening.”
Matt laughed. “Don’t be silly. This is the best news ever. Everyone will want to know, and you can tell them all at once. Although, do you need to tell your parents first?”
“I think they’ll all be fine,” Zane said, red spots appearing on his cheeks. “They’ve probably guessed anyway.” He turned to Asha. “I asked your parents’ permission a little while ago, so they’ve been waiting. And my parents knew I’d planned to ask you today.”
“Perfect,” Matt said, unable to hold back his smile as Asha’s face reflected her love for Zane. “Give me a few minutes, and I’ll make sure there are glasses of champagne ready for a toast.”
“Matt,” Asha said, reaching for his arm as he was about to go to prepare the champagne, “I just wanted to say thank you. I’ve been a little unfair at times, thinking you have selfish motives, and I can see that you’re a different person these days. So, I’m sorry, and I’ll only think positive thoughts moving forward.”
Matt couldn’t help but laugh. “Ash, I appreciate your words, but they’re unnecessary. I’ve done things in the past that I’m not proud of, but I’m a realist. I can almost guarantee I’ll do things in the future I’m not proud of either. The difference is, I won’t be going out of my way to manipulate situations or create problems for others where I benefit. So if I do fall at any time, it’ll be because I’m human. Now, let me get those drinks ready so you can make your announcement.”
Matt hurried over to the drinks table and spoke to one of the wait staff, who called over two more servers, and they quickly brought out new glasses and started pouring the champagne ready to hand around. The opening of the retreat had gone perfectly. Most of the guests were still there, milling around chatting and laughing, and Matt knew that Asha and Zane’s announcement would be the highlight of an already perfect day.
“You’re looking happy,” Jenna said, appearing by his side and threading her arm through his. “It’s been a great day so far, Matt.”
“And it’s about to get even better,” Matt said, nodding toward the lake where Zane was holding the microphone.
Jenna looked over toward her brother. “What’s he doing?”
Zane beckoned for Asha to join him.
“You’ll have to wait and see,” Matt said as Zane asked for everyone’s attention over the microphone.
The chatter and laughter quieted as everyone turned to the happy couple.
“Hi everyone,” Zane said. “We’ve just shared some news with Matt that he’s insisted we share with all of you, even though we’re conscious of this being Matt, Buster, and Steph’s day.”
Beside Matt, Jenna sucked in a breath. “Has he proposed?”
He squeezed her hand. “As I said, wait and see.”
“I’ve very excited to share with you all that a short time ago, Asha agreed to marry me.”
Matt was smiling so hard that his cheeks hurt as a roar went up from the townsfolk. They were all delighted for Zane and Asha, and their cheers, clapping, and wolf whistles confirmed just how loved the couple was. He turned to Jenna. “One day, Jen. One day I want that to be us. Not yet, I know it’s way too early, and I know the town wouldn’t react like that when it’s me. But one day, when we’re ready, I hope you’ll agree to a future with me.”
Jenna leaned forward and kissed him before pulling away. Her eyes twinkled with delight as she looked at him. “As you said, Matthew,” she was doing her best to mimic his deep voice. “You’ll have to wait and see.”