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Meet Me at the Lake Summary, Characters and Themes

Meet Me at the Lake is a contemporary romance novel by Carley Fortune. 

It follows Fern Brookbanks, a woman in her thirties who runs her family’s lakeside resort after her mother’s passing. A decade earlier, a chance encounter with an idealistic artist named Will Baxter led to a whirlwind 24-hour adventure and a promise to reunite. Fern kept her word, Will didn’t. Now, grappling with grief and a life she feels isn’t hers, Fern’s world is unexpectedly stirred by Will’s reappearance. “Meet Me at the Lake” explores themes of second chances, letting go of the past, and finding the right path for yourself.


Fern Brookbanks’s life is upended when her mother dies suddenly, leaving her in charge of the family’s lake resort. 

A place she’d deliberately avoided, it holds memories of both happy times and a troubled teenage rebellion. Now 32, Fern grapples with her grief and the weight of this unexpected responsibility. Just as she begins to think about selling the resort, a face from the past enters the picture: Will Baxter.

Ten years ago, Fern and Will had a whirlwind connection during a chance encounter in Toronto. Both fresh out of college, they spent an unforgettable day together, sharing dreams and making a pact to reunite at Brookbanks a year later. Will never showed, and Fern spent the intervening years wondering what happened.

Now, here he is – older, a successful businessman, and hired by her late mother to consult on the resort. 

The spark between them is instant, but so is the sting of Will’s past betrayal. Fern must decide whether to trust Will as they work to shape the future of the resort, navigating the tension between their reignited feelings and her lingering hurt.

The resort stirs up old wounds, reminding Fern of her rebellious youth, the near-fatal incident that her mother saved her from, and the resulting debt she felt she owed. 

As Will and Fern work side by side, they reconnect, reliving moments from that lost day a decade ago. Their attraction deepens, but Fern still senses Will is holding back, hiding secrets about his newfound life.

Will reveals that after meeting Fern, he took on immense responsibility for his sister and niece. 

This changed his trajectory completely, causing him to doubt himself and withdraw. Fern, still angry about his past abandonment, struggles to let him in fully. A passionate encounter brings them closer, but the fear of another heartbreak lingers.

To cope with her grief, Fern revisits her mother’s diaries, uncovering new layers about her life and the truth about Fern’s biological father. 

This discovery forces Fern to see her past in a new light. Inspired, she decides to keep the resort, a decision Will wholeheartedly supports. They celebrate, and their relationship seems ready to blossom.

Just when Fern is ready to tell Will she loves him, he vanishes without a trace. Fern is heartbroken and confused, feeling the familiar pain of abandonment. 

She discovers a hidden sketch of herself from the day he failed to appear nine years ago, revealing he’d been there all along, too afraid to face her.

With help from Will’s sister, Fern finally confronts him. He confesses his fear of indulging in happiness when his life is tied to sacrifice. 

He also shares his struggles with anxiety, a secret he’d carefully kept from her. In a moment of truth, they both lay their vulnerabilities bare. Fern and Will decide to build a future together, promising openness and honesty. 

Will relocates to the lake and proposes to Fern. In a touching epilogue, Fern begins a diary for her own daughter, signifying a new chapter of healing and hope.

Meet Me at the Lake Summary


Fern Brookbanks

Fern is a woman struggling to find her place in the world. 

After her mother’s death, she feels overwhelmed by the unexpected responsibility of running the family resort. 

Haunted by a rebellious past and the subsequent feeling of obligation towards her mother, she yearns for something more, though she cannot fully articulate what that might be. Her chance reunion with Will awakens her desire for a life beyond the confines of Brookbanks Resort. 

Through her journey, Fern begins to process her grief, confront her past choices, and ultimately discover that she can forge her own fulfilling path.

Will Baxter

Will is an enigmatic figure, defined both by ambition and a deep-seated fear of failure. 

Initially presented as a successful businessman, Will’s facade belies the weight of his responsibilities towards his sister and niece. This, coupled with his struggles with anxiety, shaped his decision to abandon Fern all those years ago. 

Though his reappearance throws Fern’s life into disarray, their reconnection helps Will confront his anxieties and re-evaluate what truly matters to him. 

Ultimately, he finds the courage to pursue a life of genuine connection and love with Fern.

Margaret Brookbanks

Though deceased, Margaret’s presence is felt heavily throughout the novel. 

The resort stands as a physical testament to her, and Fern’s memories of her are both positive and tinged with resentment. Fern’s complex relationship with her mother drives much of her internal conflict. 

As Fern uncovers hidden truths in Margaret’s diaries, she gains a new perspective on her mother’s choices and their impact on her own life. 

This deeper understanding contributes to Fern’s growth and self-acceptance.

Riley and Charlie

Fern’s best friends Riley and Charlie are pillars of strength and stability in her life. 

Riley offers a fierce and unwavering loyalty, always ready to advocate for Fern’s happiness. Charlie provides a grounding presence, offering practical advice and a warm, familial connection to Fern’s childhood. 

Together, they represent the enduring nature of friendship and the importance of having a loving support system during times of change and uncertainty.


As a fellow childhood friend and employee at Brookbanks Resort, Heather embodies a sense of continuity for Fern. 

Having been through similar experiences growing up in the resort environment, Heather understands Fern’s conflicted feelings. She serves as a reliable sounding board, offering a unique perspective on the resort’s potential while respecting Fern’s difficult choices.


Noah represents a potential alternative future for Fern. 

His easygoing charm and connection to the local community offer the appeal of a simpler life rooted in familiarity. While he may not be Fern’s ultimate romantic match, his presence highlights Fern’s growing awareness of her own desires for both excitement and a sense of belonging.

Kate Baxter

Kate’s role is primarily as a catalyst. Her actions, particularly reaching out to Fern, facilitate the necessary confrontation between Will and Fern. 

This leads to a resolution of their conflict and allows for a more honest foundation for their relationship. 

While Kate’s own perspective isn’t explored deeply, her intervention highlights the potential of family members to play positive, even if unintentional, roles in resolving romantic conflicts.


The Power of Second Chances

“Meet Me at the Lake” delves deeply into the transformative nature of second chances, not only in love but in life overall. 

Fern and Will’s whirlwind romance years earlier left them both with lingering questions and a sense of lost opportunity. Their reunion isn’t about simply picking up where they left off; it’s a chance to heal the wounds of the past, understand their choices with the perspective of time, and dare to believe in the possibility of a future together. 

The novel reminds us that unresolved chapters of our lives can gain new meaning with time and that revisiting seemingly closed doors can open surprising avenues of fulfillment.

Letting Go of the Past

Fern’s personal growth is intricately tied to her ability to confront and release the burdens of the past. 

The turbulent years of her adolescence, filled with rebellion and a near-fatal incident, create a sense of indebtedness she carries into her relationship with her mother. 

Additionally, Will’s abandonment becomes a symbol of unfulfilled dreams and a lack of closure. 

Through a combination of revisiting her mother’s diaries, confronting Will about his disappearance, and finally choosing her own path, Fern sheds the constraints of these past events. 

The novel explores the liberation that comes with forgiving past mistakes (both her own and those of others), allowing herself to live fully in the present and create a future aligned with her own desires.

Finding Your Own Path

At the start of the novel, both Fern and Will find themselves living lives shaped more by circumstance than conscious choice. 

Fern’s return to Brookbanks Resort is driven by a sense of familial obligation, while Will’s career focus stems from the responsibility of providing for his sister and niece. 

Their reunion acts as a spark, reawakening dormant dreams and prompting them to question the very foundations of their lives. This theme speaks to the ongoing struggle between societal expectations and our deepest personal desires. 

Fern and Will gain strength by recognizing that a fulfilling life requires listening to their inner voices, even if it means defying well-worn paths or disappointing others along the way.

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