It was getting harder and harder to avoid Constable Nathan Grant, Elizabeth Thornton noted as she straightened books on the library shelves a few weeks later. Hope Valley was a small town and it was nigh impossible to avoid one person in every instance. At least it seemed they were both of the same mind, Elizabeth acknowledged with some thankfulness, for she'd caught him more than once avoiding her when their paths seemed like they would cross in the streets.

Elizabeth sighed. It was no more than she was doing to him as well. Going out of her way to avoid him. It was like those first few weeks of acquaintanceship had evaporated and they were strangers again. But they hadn't been. He'd made a placque for the library, had attended her son's christening, exchanged pleasantries with her, and even had brought her her late husband's pension.

But all that was forgotten now. Forgotten because something had shifted between them. Elizabeth glanced up at the placque on the library wall:

Always do what you are afraid to do –Ralph Waldo Emerson

She made a face at the words, words that now seemed to mock her. What was it Lucas had said? That the words were either "inspiring or reckless" depending on your view and right now Elizabeth leaned to "reckless".

The door of the library squeaked open and Elizabeth looked up and met the eyes of Lucas Bouchard.

"I thought you might be here," he said and smiled.

"My new favourite place," she replied with a smile of her own.

Every since the dance a few weeks ago, Lucas had become a familiar sight, always making a point to speak with her when they chanced upon each other or in any group assemblies, at church, in the mercantile or cafe. She'd grown used to him, comfortable in his presence, always happy to see his friendly face.

"Elizabeth, listen," Lucas began, approaching her. "There's a concert over at the opera house in Brookfield this Saturday," Lucas began. "I thought you might like to go," he suggested. "It's in the afternoon, so there's plenty of time to get there and back," he explained, mentioning the venue 15 miles away, a distance easily achievable in his new automobile.

"Oh?" Elizabeth replied as she turned to stack more books on the table. She hadn't heard of a planned outing. "Who's all going?" she asked, wondering if it was a church outing or maybe something Rosemary Coulter, Hope Valley's defacto cultural director, had planned.

"No, just us," Lucas Bouchard smiled and dropped his head a little. "Just us, I hope," he added, mindful she had not answered him.

"Oh," Elizabeth replied, meeting his eyes and blinking with sudden understanding.

Maybe it had been naive of her, not to realize her own attractiveness to men. But Elizabeth was like that, unaware of her own beauty, her own desireability. But pleasantries at church or on the street were one thing. An out of town trip alone with a man would send a message to the rest of the town, a message that Elizabeth felt was untrue. Because he was a good man and had been kind to her she sought to let him down gently.

"Lucas, I don't...I don't..." she began, struggling a little for the words.

"Uh oh," Lucas replied, seeing his answer on her face and in her eyes. "Is it too soon?" he asked, gently referring to the fact that she was a widow and newly single.

The easy answer would have been to say yes. But that wouldn't be fair to him, because he would merely wait for her, and she knew in her heart what her feelings were. Elizabeth only had two sisters, perhaps if she'd had a brother she could have more easily named her feelings. A bit protective, a bit teasing, a lot of friend. So she said what was hardest for her but kindest for him.

"It's not too soon," she said. "But you're my friend and I don't...I don't..." she trailed off.

"You don't think of me that way," Lucas finished, fully aware he'd just gotten the "friend" talk.

"And I hope...I hope we're still friends?" she asked, tilting her head in his direction.

"Of course," Lucas Bouchard, replied, with decency and kindness. If he were truthful, he felt a strange sense of relief by her reply. Ever since he'd come to Hope Valley he'd struggled to fit in. Elizabeth Thorton was one of the first, and perhaps still only, one to make him feel he belonged. But maybe it was because she had the magic to do that with everyone.

Lucas Bouchard knew what the town thought of him, a gambler, a man of low repute. Almost in defiance of that opinion, he did what he felt was expected of him. He had pursued the town's beautiful schoolteacher, but that game had quickly soured in the face of her sweetness and goodness. So his relief now was genuine, for she had given him back what he'd wanted all along.

A friend.