As a gift to my readers, I’m setting the Kindle eBook version of my romance novel “If You Loved Me” free for two days – March 2 and 3rd. Have a free read on me!
This edition includes a free preview of The Colors of Love.
In my September 23, 2011 blog Yippee! … If You Loved Me I shared some amusing moments during this novel’s original journey to publication has some amusing moments, and talked about my excitement about this new edition of this romantic novel.
The majority of If You Loved Me is set in a beautiful – and remote – area of the Pacific Northwest coastline that was my home for many years.
She needed his help to find her son – no matter what the cost!Surgeon Emma Garrett had made sacrifices to follow her dream of becoming a doctor – and yet none was as painful as turning down Gray McKenzie. But not even the threat of losing her greatest love could stop Emma from fulfilling her dream of repairing the bodies of damaged children.Now widowed with a thriving Seattle practice and an eighteen-year-old son, Emma is suddenly plunged into the wilderness when her son and his friend disappear on a kayaking trip. She desperately needs the help of an expert who knows the territory – and nobody knows the Pacific Ocean’s north coast wilderness like Gray McKenzie.But when Emma arrives on Gray’s remote doorstep unannounced and determined that Gray will rescue her son, she soon realizes that reawakening her past may cost far more than she’d imagined.
As a special thank you to my readers, I’m giving the Kindle edition of STORM away free today and tomorrow! Also included with this edition, a free excerpt of If You Loved Me.
Storm is my second novel, the story of Luke and Laurie falling in love on the magical islands of Haida Gwaii in British Columbia. Luke and Laurie have always had a special place in my heart, and the storm that drew them together symbolized many coastal adventures I’ve shared with my husband.
When I wrote Storm, I set the story on the Queen Charlotte Islands of British Columbia, islands originally named after the wife of the British King George III without regard to the fact that the indigenous First Nations had already named their islands. In 2009 the British Columbia signed a historic reconciliation agreement with the Haida Nation, and the islands were renamed Haida Gwaii. Because the romance in Storm is so much a part of the heritage of Haida Gwaii, for this new edition I wanted to bring the story forward into the 21st Century.
In bringing the islands forward to the present day, I’ve taken artistic license with regard to logging on Lyell Island. A few years after the book was originally published, a national park was established and the Gwaii Trust was given the task of managing the forests. Because logging itself is not central to the story, I’ve taken the artistic license of leaving the logging camp on Lyell Island.
As a special year-end thank you to my readers, on December 30 and 31st, I’ll be giving away one of my favourite novels, my recently released novel STORM.
Storm is the first of three novels I wrote which were set on the Pacific Northwest islands of Haida Gwaii and it’s always been one of my personal favourites. Earlier this year, I decided to release STORM, but in the editing process, I realized that to give the full flavour of the Haida Gwaii islands where the story is set, I needed to bring the story forward into the present (See my December 26th blog, where I talk about my decision to prepare this “Author’s Cut” of Storm.
When I first wrote Storm, I was very new to the business of publishing, and unprepared to learn that my title, “Storm Warning,” had been used by someone else. The idea for the book had grown out of my personal life experiences on the remote north coast of British Columbia. While living on an isolated British Columbia lighthouse, I’d followed a number of life-and-death searches for vessels in trouble, and one lengthy search for a downed Coast Guard helicopter. Many of these emergencies were triggered by the stormy weather, and my search memories are punctuated with marine Storm Warnings issued by Prince Rupert Marine-Air Radio, as it was then called. Later, I sailed the islands of Haida Gwaii with my family, and visited Hot Spring Island (Gandla’kin) one wonderful summer. This island, now part of Gwaii Haanas National Park, has to be the most romantic, isolated coastal treasure I’ve ever visited. Sitting in that hot spring at the top of the world, looking out over the islands of South Moresby – I won’t describe it here, because I’ve already done that in the book 🙂
Check out Hot Spring Island – the setting for a one of STORM’s pivotal, romantic scenes. Just collecting these 2 links to the Islands makes me yearn to return to that magical place.
But back to titles. After I’d floundered for a while, coming up with half-baked titles, my editor suggested that we simply call the book STORM.
Perfect! And thank you, Elizabeth, for seeing the obvious and perfect title, when I couldn’t 🙂
I was pleased that the book’s original cover evoked the stormy night I’d envisioned, but a few months ago when I engaged Angie of AngieOCreations to do the cover for this Author’s Cut of the story, I realized I’d stepped into author paradise. After years wishing I had a voice on covers, I was overjoyed to work with an artist eager to share my vision of the book. Yes, this is exactly what I wanted! Thank you, Angie! You’re a joy to work with.
Other Vanessa Grant books set on the magic islands of Haida Gwaii
Jenny’s Turn (Stray Lady, the sequel to Jenny’s Turn, is set partially on remote Green Island Lighthouse, where I once lived)
Stranded Heart (set in various Haida Gwaii locations, including Queen Charlotte City – which has approximately 948 residents! The heroine of Stranded Heart is a pilot flying for QC Air, the fictitious charter company owned by the hero of Storm)
I hope you enjoy the Islands, and have a wonderful year in 2012!
I expected to have this new edition of one of my favourite romances up back in September, but when I started editing the manuscript in preparation for the new release, I couldn’t resist making a few small changes – then one thing led to another, and here it is, almost the end of December.
Storm is my second novel, the story of Luke and Laurie falling in love on the magical islands of Haida Gwaii in British Columbia. Luke and Laurie have always had a special place in my heart, and the storm that drew them together symbolized many coastal adventures I’ve shared with my husband.
When I wrote Storm, I set the story on the Queen Charlotte Islands of British Columbia, islands originally named after the wife of the British King George III without regard to the fact that the indigenous First Nations had already named their islands. In 2009 the province of British Columbia signed a historic reconciliation agreement with the Haida Nation, and the islands were renamed Haida Gwaii. Because the romance in Storm is so much a part of the heritage of Haida Gwaii, I wanted to bring the story forward into the 21st Century.
In bringing the islands forward to the present day, I’ve taken artistic license with regard to logging on Lyell Island. A few years after the book was originally published, a national park was established and the Gwaii Trust was given the task of managing the forests. Because logging itself is not central to the story, I’ve taken the artistic license of leaving the logging camp on Lyell Island.
Yesterday I received the almost-ready-to-publish-as-an-ebook file of If You Loved Me, a novel of mine originally published by Zebra Bouquet (Kensington Books). I love this story and I’m so pumped to know it will soon be available once again!
Originally I wrote it for Mills and Boon Harlequin, but my editor there wanted me to
make the heroine younger (she was in her late thirties), and
change the father of her son to someone else
The whole story was based on the premise that Emma’s son had gone kayaking in the wilderness with a friend, and was now missing. Changing Emma’s age would have made her either a child-mother, or a negligent one for letting her pre-adolescent son head into the wilderness without an adult. In addition, it was unlikely she would have achieved prominence as an orthopaedic surgeon at the ripe old age of twenty-something.
My editor was reasonable about Emma’s age because of the negligent mother issue, but wouldn’t budge on the identity of her son’s father. I decided not to change the identity of the father of Emma’s son, because that would change a crucial decision Emma had made in the past – and my plot would make no sense at all. So I withdrew the novel and went on to write several other books for Harlequin.
A few years later I learned that one of the Kensington editors was looking for 70,000 word stories for their new Bouquet imprint. I decided to submit If You Loved Me. I would need to add an extra 10-15,000 words, but that would be a pleasure as I’d been challenged to fit it into M&B’s 55-60,000 word limit when I first wrote the novel. I sent off an email query and received a phone call from Kensington within a few days. If You Loved Me became the first of four novels I wrote for Kensington, and I enjoyed the scope the extra length gave me.
I laughed when my new Kensington editor told me that one of the things she loved about the book was the boy’s parentage – the exact thing that had caused me to withdraw the book from M&B. Go figure!
Last year I applied to get the rights back to my four Kensington novels, and when I received the reversion documents I was thrilled because I could have all four novels available as eBooks for Kindle, Nook, Kobo, and iBooks before the end of 2011.
So here I am with the “e” equivalent of galleys, ready to start the final edit. Unlike the world of print books, I have the opportunity to make any changes I like before the book goes out to the world – and I get to work with my own cover artist on a design! Kensington does great cover art and I liked the covers of my four Bouquets, but being in on the creation with a cover designer like Angela is a real joy.
So while my husband and I continue east on our road trip across the North American continent, I’ll be enjoying a final read through If You Loved Me before it goes to e-press on Kindle, Nook, Kobo, and iBooks!
Cynthia knew it was outrageous to ask Jonathan’s help when they hadn’t spoken a civil word in the fourteen years since she was sixteen. But she’d flown across the country to find him, trying to find the right words all through the four-hour flight.
She hadn’t called to say she was coming, so he wouldn’t be expecting her. He certainly wouldn’t smile when he saw her.
“I came to ask you for money.”
Sometimes the universe gives me a gift when a title that evokes my novel’s theme and atmosphere pops into my mind early in the creation process. The title for “On Johnny’s Terms” appeared while I wrote the second scene of Cynthia and Jonathan’s love story. Perfect, I decided, and I played with nuances of Johnny’s terms as I refused to give Cynthia exactly what she asked for, but … well, in the end, both Johnny and I wanted much more for her than she dreamed was possible.
Unfortunately the title and the nickname “Johnny” were not a hit with my publisher – not romantic enough. So I replaced “Johnny” with “Jonathan” and came up with a title the publisher and I could agree on. So “The Moon Lady’s Lover” was released.
Fast forward to the year 2011, a world where authors can make their own decisions on titles and cover art. A few weeks ago my cover artist and I discussed cover ideas for the new eBook release of “The Moon Lady’s Lover”. I sent Angela the artwork summary I had prepared for the original print publisher. I didn’t mention the title issue because I’d forgotten about the original title until I opened the artwork summary to send it.
When I saw the cover Angela created, I was surprised and excited to see the title “On Johnny’s Terms”. Thank you, Angela, the cover scene is exactly what I wanted and the title is perfect.
… to my readers, I hope you enjoy reading the story of Johnny and Cynthia as much as I enjoyed writing it.
Originally published in hardcover by Mills and Boon Limited under the title The Moon Lady’s Lover.
Now available as an eBook through the following retailers:
… a sample from When Love Returns, by Vanessa Grant
Three steps toward the summer house, Julie realized she had forgotten to roll up the windows and lock her car. Nothing new in that, she admitted wryly. Years ago, David had once lectured her about carelessness until she cried.
The heels of her beige Italian pumps sank into the soft ground as she turned back to her small red Suzuki. Julie tensed as the sound of hammering echoed through the trees, her fingers curling around the door handle. What on earth was that sound? Building contractors launching an invasion on peaceful Gabriola Island?
She closed her eyes, breathing in the scent of sweet honeysuckle blossoms as she listened to the hidden pounding. A woodpecker! Of course! She strained her senses, but there were no cars, no sirens, just the incredibly noisy bird … and farther away, one of the McNaughton calves bawling for its mother.
Deliberately, she tossed her purse through the open car window onto the driver’s seat. Surely even David McNaughton wouldn’t get excited about locking up on Gabriola Island!
On the cabin, the shingles were littered with scraps from the drooping branches of the tall, sheltering cedar trees. The cedar siding had once been a warm brown. Now it was bleached white from time and sunlight. She loved everything about this place, yet she had neglected it for the last eight years. Foolish. She had thought the cottage would be haunted, but there were only summer smells … and solitude.
How often had David looked up at the empty summer home, thinking critical thoughts about its owner? She shook that thought away, knowing how insane it was for a grown woman to worry that she had failed her childhood idol’s standards.
The front door creaked as she swung it inwards. Inside, there was only emptiness and dust, a musty smell over everything. Miraculously, the windows were intact. Where else but Gabriola could you abandon a house for years, come back and find it untouched? She should have come years ago, but she might well have stayed away another eight years if her brother hadn’t been so persistent last weekend.
Sunday dinner was a family occasion for the Charters. Julie usually came alone. It wasn’t worth subjecting a date to her mother’s matchmaking urges. Between Mom’s “Are you seeing anyone?” and Dad’s words of wisdom on how to get promoted to principal, Wally liked to give his kid sister some Sunday advice. Julie usually escaped the barrage by playing with her nephews, but last Sunday both Wally’s boys had been away at computer camp, leaving Julie firmly at the mercy of big-brother wisdom.
“Time to get that cottage of yours on the market,” Wally had insisted. “A new coat of paint on the inside walls, a good cleaning. Mow the lawn and put up a For Sale sign.”
She had been oddly irritated at Wally’s invasion of the summer home that had been her share of the divorce settlement. “That’s not a lawn. It’s a ground cover that doesn’t need tending. They call it–”
“I’ll handle if for you if you like.”
Julie had hidden a smile. Wally would handle anything–for a commission.
“Now’s the time, before interest rates go up again and kill the market for summer homes.”
Her mother had slid a steaming apple pie onto the table and Julie had heard herself say, “I’m going over to the island next week.”
She had wondered uneasily how tarnished all the old fantasies of Mountainview would be after eight years. David had dubbed the hilltop Mountainview before the land was subdivided, long before Tom’s parents built the cottage as a wedding present for Tom and Julie.
Like everything else, Gabriola and Mountainview would have changed.
But they hadn’t, she realized now. An island removed from time. Today she had driven past the McNaughton farm on her way up here, had seen smoke wisping from the chimney. She had not heard David’s name in years, but he would be there. Once, she would have been drawn to the wisp of smoke, might have run to fling herself into his arms. But if she went down to the farm, Sandy would be smiling that mother earth smile, and David …
David had always known what he wanted from life. It had taken Julie longer, that was all. She had made mistakes, but her life was exactly as she wanted it now. She loved the challenge of teaching at Unlimited Potential. Loved her new condo in Vancouver’s False Creek. Loved evenings at the theatre, weekends exploring the waterfront.
Loved Mountainview cottage on Gabriola.
She had known it was stupid to come back, and yet–criminal to leave a beautiful cottage unoccupied just because Julie Charters Summerton couldn’t bring herself to make a decision. Silly to hang onto Mountainview, unthinkable to sell it.
Perhaps she would stay here this summer. She had the new English literature course to write. What better place, with the deer outside her door and the fresh sea air blowing across the peak of the hill?
Did the deer still wander the island? Could she look out at sunset and find warm brown Bambis grazing on the wild field grass?
She swung around impatiently, focusing on a small speck on the counter. Mice. Of course there would be mice. No cat in residence. An empty rural house. Certainly there were plenty of spider webs, clinging to the rafters. Nature had been nibbling away for eight years, but Julie wasn’t about to start scrubbing now! Not dressed in a white skirt and sweater, clothes that had cost her two weeks pay!
The sun warmed her face as she stepped back outside. Wonderful smells. Cedar and maple. Frogs out back in the pond. A bumble bee cruising past. Did the ducks still come to nest at the edge of the pond each year? They’d used to, ever since David had dug out the hollow with his bulldozer.
Strange that David’s memory was more a part of this place than Tom’s, that David had always been more real than anyone else in her life. When Julie was ten, he had been a quiet, infallible nineteen. When she was thirteen … Her face flamed at the memory, but she supposed David had understood. Or had he forgotten?
If she really was going to stay, she had better get the ferry across to Nanaimo before the stores closed. The fact that she hadn’t packed jeans and a cotton shirt seemed stupid now, but she had really intended to breeze in and look the place over, then lock the door again and–
Forget the place for another eight years?
She stopped half-way between the house and the car, her eyes trying to see around the corner of the path. Were the ducks down there on the pond? She took one step towards the path, felt her shoe sliding on the loose soil. She bent to take off her shoes.
Be practical for once in your life, Julie!
She smiled at David’s echo. David, as always, was right. If she left now, she could buy jeans and sneakers in Nanaimo. Cleaning supplies, too. If she hurried, she could be back to see the sun set. She closed her eyes, warmed by the echo of old sunsets. She breathed in deeply and felt lighter, freer. Tom and Julie. They had been friends more than lovers. Even the marriage had not been momentous enough to leave lasting pain. Silly to stay away all these years.
She started her little car, humming as she reversed down the drive. She had never forgotten the shape of this drive. She could still speed backwards down it, her hands instinctively controlling the shiny little car. She could hear the grass in the middle of the drive rushing against the underside of her car. As her car’s back wheels crested on the culvert, Julie swung the steering wheel to turn neatly out onto Mountainview Lane.
David changed gear and urged the old dump truck over the peak of the hill. He would dump this load of gravel at Patrick’s, then go back to the farm. Tomorrow morning he would move the back hoe from the gravel pit, take it over to Pat’s place. David didn’t do landscaping services much any more, hadn’t time for it and didn’t need the extra money. This time was different, though. His brother Pat wanted to surprise his new wife.
David was smiling as the burdened dump truck started to pick up speed on the gravel road. Somehow, Molly the dinosaur lady fit right into his brother’s life. David was not a fanciful man, but he could easily picture Molly and Pat bent over a small baby sometime in the future. It would be nice to have more kids around the place. The farm seemed so empty now with Stanley gone to university, working summers in the city. If it weren’t for Sarah’s two kids stopping by, David’s home would have been echoing loneliness.
He frowned as he turned onto Mountainview Lane. He should go up for a look at Julie’s place. Not now, with the truck loaded, but after he delivered the load to Pat’s. He had chased some hikers off last week. He shifted into third gear and squinted against the sun, suppressing the familiar irritation. Damn Julie, couldn’t she either sell, or come and look after the place? She–
A flash of red in the corner of his eye.
A car! A car shooting out from the drive!
Abruptly, he slammed the shift lever down to second. Not enough time. Too close. Slow motion horror, no time at all. His loaded truck. Twelve yards of gravel. Threshold breaking. Not too much or he’d be steering a wild thing, out of control. He pulled down another gear. The engine screamed. The brakes. If he lost control of–surely whoever it was–
Little red car, hurtling onto the road. He jerked the wheel. So small. Inconsequential bit of red metal. Hit the ditch, try to ride it–somehow, miss that car. He felt nausea rise up, could see smashed red metal after the impact.
The car, backing towards him! A bloody tourist, ambling around, looking at the trees instead of–
His front wheel bit the ditch. David heard the scream of gravel, knew with sickening certainty that he would skid, moving sideways, ripping up the ditch and skating towards that car! He stepped desperately on the throttle, trying for forward momentum to regain control, pull off the road.
The wheels caught. Heavy truck. Impossibly small car. No one in the car would have a chance if–
He saw the red car jerk with the impact, changing direction. Inertia carried both vehicles another twenty feet along the gravel.
Then, suddenly, it was over. Quiet. The echo of violence. A cloud of dust rising all around.
David fumbled with the door, but it would not open. He slid across and out the passenger side. His feet hit the gravel. Heartbeat, breath, then bleeding–first aid procedures scattered through his brain as he tore around the front of the little car. It had to have been a hell of a blow. The whole back end of the car was caved in. The driver–
He tore the driver’s door open, demanded roughly, “Are you hurt?” praying for an answer.
A woman! A wild riot of warm auburn curls everywhere.
Pain seized his chest. Julie! If he had killed Julie …
Julie saw the truck in her rearview mirror and the tuneless song on her lips died to nothing. She tried to brake, get into first gear and moving, away from it, but there was no time. Monstrously big. Massive dump truck.
Only a total idiot went screaming out of a driveway without even looking! Her eyes were frozen on the rear view mirror, watching the hulk grow larger and larger. Then, suddenly, it slewed sideways.
She had a terrifying vision of the truck pulverized against a tree, the driver dead. The gravel pit at the end of Mountainview Lane was on McNaughton land. It had to be David in the truck, coming from the pit. Why else would a truck be…? She would live the rest of her life knowing she had killed David.
She heard the scream and it was her own voice. Then she felt the impact. The truck slammed into the side of her car, slewing sideways, taking her on a wild ride of suspended terror. They would both die. She and David. Forever …
Finally there was nothing but the echo of screaming metal and her own voice fading into the settling dust on the road ahead. She was still staring into the rear view mirror when he strode around the front of her little Swift–alive. He was alive. She tried to free her fingers, could not seem to move anything.
The door jerked open so quickly, she had the illusion she would fall out. She heard the urgency in his voice, tried to turn to look at him. The nightmare would not release her: the truck splattered against a big old tree, David slumped motionless over the wheel.
When his hand closed on her shoulder, she managed to turn to look at his face. Her first thought was that he had not changed at all, but of course he was older. He was tall, broad, his face marked by the sun and the wind. He was wearing a battered baseball cap as a shield against the sun. Black curls twisted to freedom around the edges of the cap as his eyes raked grimly over her body.
“Are you hurt?”
She swallowed. His fingers tightened on her shoulder.
“Julie? Can you move?”
She stared at her hands, fingers curling around the steering wheel.
“I can’t haul you out of there until I know if you’re hurt.” His voice was filled with suppressed anger. “Does it hurt at all to breathe?”
He crouched on the gravel beside her open driver’s door, his eyes dark and concerned. She felt a shudder go through her. Any minute she would get words together. His hand moved, exploring her shoulders, her arms, impersonal over her breasts as they probed for a sign of injury to her ribs. She wondered how his touch would feel if she were the woman he loved.
“Thank God you had your seat belt on,” he said harshly. “Can you move your legs?” His hand was on her thigh, probing, watching her face for signs of pain. “You’re in shock,” he decided.
She almost caught his hand back when he drew it away. He was right about the shock. It was years since she had succumbed to fantasy about David McNaughton. She supposed that he was always there, in the background of her mind, but the dreams had stopped forever the day he told her about Sandy.
“Come on, Julie. I want you out of here.” He captured her hand, pulled gently, watching her face for any sign of pain. The steering wheel was in his way. He was touching her so carefully. Anyone else might haul her out, but of course David would think of the possibility that shock might mask pain. David always did think first.
“Julie, swing your legs out.”
Somehow, her body obeyed.
“Now stand up.”
She swallowed, staring at the twist of dark hair that escaped the fabric of his shirt where it was open at his throat. He was so close. What had come over her? David … This was ridiculous! After all these years!
He crouched down in front of her, thigh muscles bulging in his battered old jeans. “Dizzy?” he demanded.
She shook her head.
The lines at the corners of his eyes were deeper than they had been, but his eyes were that deep brown, still framed by heavy dark lashes. Yes, he was older. The cleft in his chin was deeper, sharper, and there were threads of silver among his black curls.
“It’s different to have you so silent.” He was almost smiling, urging her with his hands. “Come on, stand up. I know you’re shaken, but I’ve got to get you away from this car.” He held her as she stood, his arm around her shoulder. “Okay?” he demanded, staring down at her.
“So you can talk.”
She closed her eyes, heard the sound of an eagle somewhere. He felt hard and strong beside her, holding her. He swung her into his arms and she felt dizziness as he hurried across the road, carrying her. She had no idea where she thought he would take her, but in the end he deposited her on a big old tree stump at the edge of a clearing. She felt so strange, disoriented. His arms around her, holding her safe. Today’s hard, warm David meshed with the memories.
“Stay there!” he ordered.
“Where are you going?”
He ignored her question. Silly to think she could stop him, but if those fumes ignited … Julie shuddered and closed her eyes. She heard him come back a minute later, the gravel crunching under his boots. At any moment this could turn into an unpleasant scene.
“Is your truck damaged very badly?”
When he didn’t answer, she opened her eyes. He was staring at her, that old look, somewhere between worry and anger. He was wearing old faded jeans and a sleeveless sweatshirt that left the muscles of his arms hard and prominent. He closed his eyes briefly, said harshly, “I could have killed you, Julie. I damned near did. Bloody luck you don’t have two tons of gravel truck and twelve yards of gravel taking you to your grave.”
“I always was lucky.” She tried to smile but his eyes would not answer.
“Luck? More like stupidity! One day you’ll kill yourself with your nonsense!” His legs were slightly astride, his stance big and dangerous. Dark man. Tall. Muscular. Angry. She felt the old, breathless fear of childhood. Running up against David, holding her own, driven somehow to make him angry. His voice, growling, “It’s no bloody different than it was when you were a kid! Damn it, Julie! When are you going to grow up? Do you think I’ll always be there to bail you out?”
She shivered and hugged herself tightly. “There’s never anyone on that lane. I didn’t stop to think that–”
“Damn it, Julie Charters! Do you ever think?” He glared at the trees framing the mountains on the mainland. “I was there, wasn’t I? Your driving out of that lane without looking–that’s about as bright as diving into our bull pen when you were twelve.”
“Patrick dared me.”
David snorted and Julie couldn’t help smiling at the way her own words sounded. Childish, and of course it had been, but she’d always been a sucker for a dare, and David’s younger brother had always been a tease.
“And today? Who dared you to back into my damned dump truck?”
She shook her hair back, felt the curls spring free around her shoulders. She’d had two ornate combs holding the curls back, but they were gone now.
“Well?” demanded David.
“Is your truck damaged?” Somehow, he could always do this, turn her to anger and rebelliousness. She got to her feet impatiently, kept moving to cover the sudden unsteadiness. Shock, that’s all it was. She certainly wasn’t hurt.
“Damaged?” He shrugged. “I haven’t tried moving it yet, but the driver’s door won’t open.”
“Sorry,” she muttered. Damn the man. He made her feel like an irresponsible teenager again.
“You’re sorry?” He hooked his thumbs in his belt. “I need that truck, you know. Some of us have to work for a living.”
“I work for a living,” she snapped back. “Probably harder than you!”
He laughed, but his eyes were hot and black. “Play-work. I’m sure your divorce settlement covered most of your needs.”
“Oh, hell, Julie!” He raked one hand through the black curls, dislodging his cap. “I don’t know what made me say that. You always–”
“Bring out the worst in you?” She tried to ignore her heart beating with hard, breathless gasps. The sun overhead, beating down summer. David’s harsh anger echoing. As if there had been no time between. They’d hardly spoken during the years she was married to Tom. The last time they’d really talked to each other had been shouting and screaming when she was seventeen. And before that, all the way back to her thirteenth birthday.
He made an explosive sound. “I don’t usually carry on verbal wars.”
“Only with me?”
“You can be so damned exasperating.” His lips turned down, but the laughter was lurking in his eyes now.
She said defensively, “My insurance will cover the damage to your truck.”
“That’s my Julie. Let someone else look after the chaos you’ve caused.”
“That’s not fair!” Oh, lord! She grimaced and made her voice quiet, but the anger was still there, boiling up. “I don’t run around causing chaos, and I don’t leave other people to look after my messes. And what the hell do you think insurance is for, anyway? If you think I won’t pay for–Have you any idea how my insurance rates are going to skyrocket after this?”
He growled, “At least you have insurance.”
She said rigidly, “It’s against the law not to have auto
“Or you wouldn’t? I can believe that.” The laughter was all gone. She saw his fingers curl, as if he wanted to shake sense into her.
She muttered, “Will you shut up?”
He shrugged. “Does it occur to you that I need that truck? That I can’t afford to have it laid up weeks for repairs.”
She snarled, “Some of us have to work for a living?” echoing his earlier words. “You’re a great one to talk, David McNaughton. You and your damned relatives own half this island. You–”
“That’s a wild exaggeration.”
She exploded, landing on her feet on the field grass with a soft thump, pacing away, then back, unsteady in her city shoes. “That’s David! Let’s be accurate by all means–even in the middle of a raging battle! Gentleman farmer! You’d probably float to your grave in comfort if you never dug another ditch for those cows! You–”
“Julie. Shut up.”
She broke off, knowing from the look in his eyes that he would not hesitate to shake sanity into her. She could still hear the echo of her own voice from the trees. Hysterical, raging, screaming at him.
A big bumble bee circled David’s head. He ignored it.
“How the hell do you do it, David?” She bit her lip. “I’m sorry. I’m sorry I hit your bloody truck, but you’ve got the greatest talent for rubbing me the wrong way …”
“Yeah. Well …” He ran his hands roughly through his hair. “Forget about the truck. You’ll have enough problems over this without my adding to it by putting an insurance claim in on it.”
She shook her own hair back, finger-combing it and finding it wildly tangled. “David,” she said breathlessly. “I’m not a kid. You don’t need to protect me. Of course you’ll put–”
He shook his head abruptly. “When I saw that car–Have you any idea how small that car of yours looks from the cab of my truck?”
She pushed damp hands down along her skirt. “Look, could you–please stop raking me over the coals.”
“Raking you–Don’t you ever take anything seriously? You could have been killed.”
“All right! I know it!” She could have caused David to die trying to avoid the accident. She knew that, too, but could not say the words with his eyes watching her, criticizing what they saw. Her fingers clenched in on themselves and she managed to calm her voice. “Could you just stop it? I don’t need a David lecture. I’ve had enough of them in my life. So I made a mistake. I can look after it. I’m sorry if your truck’s laid up, but I can’t do much about that, either. I’ll certainly make sure my insurance pays for–I–There’s a car coming.”
He turned to look over his shoulder. “Police.”
“On a sleepy place like Gabriola, with one RCMP cruiser, how on earth–?”
He jerked his head towards his dump truck. “I called them from the truck.”
She grimaced. “You’ve got a phone in your truck? Why did you call? To get me charged with careless driving?”
“Driving without due care and attention?” he said softly. “No, of course not, but it’s got to be reported. There’s surely more than five hundred dollars damage done to that little bug of yours.”
She felt tired suddenly. “And, being David, you go by the rules?”
He said dryly, “It wouldn’t hurt you to go by the rules. Like looking before you cross the street. And, anyway, you can’t take that car in for repairs on insurance without an accident report.”
Predictably, he was right. Being right was one of David’s more irritating qualities. She said wearily, “Damn you, why don’t you get out of my life. Go home to your wife.”
She knew she was being unreasonable, but somehow he did that to her. Whenever she saw criticism in his eyes, heard censure in his voice, something deep inside her snapped.
He said quietly, “Sandy died, Julie. Three years ago.”
… When Love Returns is available as an eBook through the following retailers:
They had met under difficult circumstances, and Abby had fallen into his arms seeking comfort in her grief. Then she’d walked out on him and she’d been living a lie ever since. Now, Ryan Marsdon was back and he wanted her. But Abby had to protect herself from this man or she could lose her family, her reality, and her daughter.
… a sample from With Strings Attached, by Vanessa Grant
Happy birthday, Molly. The cabin’s yours, but get out there right away. I’ve left Trouble with food for a day or two, that’s all.
Pack up on a moment’s notice? Drive three thousand miles in a tearing hurry to rescue a cat! No one but Saul would have the nerve to demand such a crazy favor. No one but Molly would be gullible enough to agree.
‘A birthday present,’ Saul had announced, his voice quick and persuasive on the telephone. Impossible to resist his enthusiasm as he rushed through instructions. ‘Get to the lawyer today and sign the papers- I’ve sent them express. Then pack.’
Molly remembered every one of the five times her father had marked her birthday with extravagant gifts. Gifts, growled Aunt Carla, instead of apologies for the other times when he had simply forgotten.
He had telephoned the day after her twenty-sixth birthday. From New York, he said rapidly, although the last she heard, he had been somewhere on Canada’s west coast, deep in preparation for his September showing in Paris.
Sitting in her Ottawa apartment, Molly had closed her greenish-blue eyes and listened to his voice, had felt pleasure sweep over her. She hadn’t been expecting a birthday call, certainly not a present. She had learned years ago that anticipation too often led to disappointment. She knew her father loved her, knew it was not realistic to expect a great artist to have everyday virtues. Enough that Aunt Carla and Uncle Gordon had invited her to dinner at their apartment in Toronto; that Thomas, the man she had been dating lately, had brought flowers.
Incredible that Saul should call, beyond belief that he should casually- over the telephone- tell her he was giving her a home, a place of her own. A dream.
It had taken Molly six days of driving, sleeping in rest areas and economy motels, to reach the Pacific Coast. Driving forever, it seemed, but finally the coast had come. Vancouver. The water. The ferry. Journey’s end. Soon.
Sitting in her gold van on the car deck of the ferry; Molly finger-combed her shoulder-length black curls and waited for the ramp to go down on Vancouver Island.
She remembered other adventures, excitement tumbling into worry and disaster. Aunt Carla could be right in her assessment of Saul’s latest crazy request. One telephone call from her father and Molly’s life was turning upside down. Nothing new in that. Her earliest memory was of Saul standing in the middle of a rented studio somewhere, waving a sable paintbrush and announcing that Paris would be a good place to live. For a while.
Molly thought she must have been about five years old that day, all wide eyes and black, curly hair. She knew she was seven when they went to Athens. Eight in London. Eleven in Mexico City. Twelve in Montreal, where it all stopped.
In Montreal, Aunt Carla had descended on Saul and bullied him into sending his daughter to a regular school, a regular home- Aunt Carla’s.
Thank God for Aunt Carla and Uncle Gordon, thought Molly as she drove her van down the ferry ramp and onto Vancouver Island. Without the stability of Aunt Carla’s home, Molly might never have learned that life could be steady. Peaceful. Geographically stable.
So why, after fourteen years of living quietly first in Toronto, then in a shared Ottawa apartment- why was she letting one telephone call from Saul send her driving off into the sunset? Why, when she had vowed that she would never drive off the edge of the world for anyone again?
‘Take it slow,’ Carla had insisted. ‘Check it all out first.’
Sensible, if it were not for the cat Saul had left behind. Carla had suggested the S.P.C.A., but the cat was Molly’s responsibility now. It wasn’t that she was counting on Saul’s gift of a home. She knew about Saul’s gifts. Sometimes he took them back, often he failed to pay for them. Molly had given up her share of the apartment in Ottawa, yes, but she could always go back, find another place to live. She had not burned any bridges that couldn’t be re-built.
Molly knew she must be careful with Saul’s castles in the sky. Careful, but not paranoid. Even if the cabin turned out to be a hovel in a swamp, she would enjoy the adventure.
She followed the flow of cars without a clue of where she was. Ashore now. Vancouver Island. The City of Nanaimo, yes, but where in Nanaimo? She could find her way around Ottawa and Montreal and Paris, but this was foreign territory, three thousand miles from home and she was exhausted.
Last night she had stayed at an economy motel on the outskirts of Vancouver, had spent the night listening to a screaming battle in the next unit. When dawn came, she had packed up and gone for breakfast at an all-night restaurant, then found a drive-in tourist information centre. She needed information on how to find Gabriola Island and Saul’s cabin.
Her cabin now.
She had tried to sleep on the ferry, but there had been a rough chop and Molly had felt vaguely nauseated all the way from the mainland to Vancouver Island. Where was Saul now? Why could he not have waited? Met her?
Six days driving and if Saul had not been in such a crazy rush he would have waited for her before he took off for his mysterious destination. Or given her directions. Molly laughed, knowing how impossible that was, how typical the whole thing was of her father. Who else but a crazy artist would tell her to come, urgently, then totally neglect to give a few basic instructions. Your house now, Molly, but look after the cat. I’ve got to leave her alone, so please come right away.
Molly swung the steering wheel to the left and followed a green car through a controlled intersection. Had she just turned onto the Trans-Canada highway? These British Columbians had a nerve, calling it the Trans-Canada highway after interrupting it for a ferry crossing of Georgia Strait. Where the devil were the signs? Could you turn off route 1 to that other ferry? Or- Gabriola Island. It must be an Indian name. Or was it Spanish? Gabriola. Yes, Spanish.
She knew so little about it. A gulf island nestled against Vancouver Island. Ferry service to Nanaimo. Mild climate. Romantic. Beautiful, Saul had said, but Saul could see beauty in anything. Her home. How could she say no when Saul suddenly offered her a home of her own. And a cat, for crying out loud, when she knew nothing about cats. Trust Saul to call it a gift, then add that business about the cat, making it impossible for Molly to delay coming.
A cat named Trouble. Molly’s lips twitched as she drove through the sudden congestion of Nanaimo’s downtown area. Aunt Carla had been full of warnings and doom, but the thought of a cat named Trouble had made the whole thing seem more like a story out of one of Molly’s children’s books.
Aunt Carla, always so calm and cool, had turned wild when Molly told her about the house. ‘You know what he’s like. – the neighbors are about to lynch him, or the place is mortgaged and the bank’s about to foreclose. Or it’s built on a bog and sinking. Molly, it’s a trap!’
Saul Natham had been a charmer from his infancy, but Carla had memories of more than once when her older brother had left her in the middle of a mess, and himself miraculously free of trouble. Saul Natham was trouble. Always had been. He was also an incredibly talented artist, and Molly’s father. If he wanted to leave her a house and a troublesome cat, Molly knew she simply had to accept. Carefully.
For all her reservations, she could not resist the growing excitement. Her own home, a log cabin among the trees, in walking distance to the wild Pacific Ocean. A place where she could spread out her easel and Alex’s latest manuscript. No downstairs neighbors to complain about the smell of her paints. No landlord to raise the rent.
A place in the country. She had no idea why it fascinated her so. knew it was crazy to yearn for the open countryside. Molly Natham, who had never lived in a city with a population of less than half a million! She had no clear picture of life in the open, only a hazy fantasy. Quite probably, she would suffer cabin fever within twenty-four hours.
Saul’s voice over the telephone had painted a magical picture. No directions, but enchantment promised if she ever found the place. Molly had fantasized herself taking root on Saul’s island with the strange name. Gabriola. Perhaps she would stay forever. The island children would tiptoe past and whisper about the strange old maid who painted dinosaur pictures. Molly would go for walks, smell the evergreens and watch the deer. Her own place. Not a condo eleven stories above the ground, as she had been thinking of buying lately, but a real cabin with real land and real trees, her own plot of dirt.
She had not told anyone how the dream excited her, not Aunt Carla or Uncle Gordon. Certainly not Thomas, who had stared at her with accusation when she announced she was leaving. She had felt uncomfortable at the look in Thomas’ eyes, knowing he would never be more than a friend to her.
Probably no man would. She was as restrained in her relations as her father was extravagant. She simply did not have Saul’s depth of feeling.
Better that way. Saul was an extraordinary artist, but his life was all tragedy and ecstasy and crises. Molly needed tranquility, which let out greatness and falling in love.
Gabriola Ferry. Molly saw the sign too late. She was in the wrong lane and the traffic was too heavy to change. She turned right at the intersection, meaning to double around, but found herself driving uphill heaven-knows-where, with no chance of doubling back. She kept trying to turn right and right again, to retrace her steps, but in fact it took her fifteen minutes to find her way back to the street with the sign.
Trouble. Six days driving. Eight days since Saul had called. Had he left the poor cat alone? Surely he would have found a neighbor to look after it? Were there neighbors? The cat named Trouble had haunted Molly ever since Saul called. She had thrown her things into the van in a fury of activity. She had called the movers to take the extra boxes to Aunt Carla and Uncle Gordon’s for storage; then made a flying trip to the bank for cash, to the post office to arrange for her mail to be re-directed to Aunt Carla.
Rushing, worried about a cat she had never met. Trouble was the cat’s name, but if Aunt Carla had her way, Trouble would be Saul’s first name, too. There! The ferry sign. Gabriola.
She paid her fare and asked for a copy of the schedule. Then she drove ahead into lane number one as she was instructed. She parked her van at the front of the empty lane and studied the schedule. The next ferry would not leave for forty minutes. Commuter tickets. Next time, she would buy a book of them. The thought gave her a pleasing feeling of belonging.
Would hers be the only vehicle on the ferry?
Molly locked her van and went into the small waiting room near the ferry ramp. Empty. Obviously mid-afternoon was a quiet time for the ferry. She studied the bulletin board, intrigued.
Jill-of-all-trades looking for work on Gabriola: milking goats, chopping wood, tending babies … Two ton truck for sale, good work truck with rough body … Zen meditation classes … Poetry readings… Sunday dinner special at a Gabriola pub … student needs ride to 8:00 a.m. ferry from Silva Bay.
Molly prowled along the bulletin board, reading about apples and fresh honey for sale. A Saturday meeting for islanders to protest a proposed industrial plant. A rate-payers meeting to discuss applications for zoning changes. A play to be performed at the community hall, depicting the settling and development of the Gulf Islands.
She had come a long way. All the way from Ottawa to an island small enough to put up community notice boards. Molly left the waiting room, her lips curved in a smile. She might even go to that play herself.
There was another vehicle behind hers now, a white classic Corvette with its convertible top down. Molly felt increasingly aware of the man at the wheel as she crossed the pavement towards her own vehicle. Just the two of them, alone in the ferry line-up. Would she eventually come to know who he was? Would she learn all the islanders by name? How many were there?
Should she smile at him? Say hello? Or simply lift her hand in a casual greeting? Or nothing? Was it true that country people were friendlier? Fantasy, to think she would come to belong. She looked out over the water, wondered which way the ferry came and whether that island across the harbor was her new home.
Home? Or a temporary residence? Somewhere in all this there had to be a catch; perhaps even the potential for disaster that was so often entangled with Saul’s impulses.
It was a gorgeous car, sleek and white and impractical, but it was the man who made her feel flustered- too conscious of herself and restlessly aware of him. He had dark hair, perhaps pure black like her own. His curls had escaped to determined freedom across one side of his forehead. A moustache, black and strong above his upper lip. Sexy, she thought, then glanced away quickly. His face remained clearly focused in her mind. Tanned skin, or was it naturally dark? Eyes- dark brown? or black?
Unbelievable. She had only glanced at him, more at the car really, but her mind held the image. Well, she was an artist, wasn’t she? Yes, but she did not normally wander around taking mental snapshots of intriguing men. If she were a portrait painter, he would make a good subject. Arresting face, dark and strong and… well, sensual. Or was it the mental association of the open sports car that gave that impact?
She felt his eyes touching her as she tried to jam the ignition key into the door lock. She realized her mistake and found the right key, then tried to insert it upside down.
His voice was deep, filled with pleasant harmonics. She looked up, straight into his eyes. Too close. Twenty feet away, but it seemed that he was staring directly into her mind. She felt a flush rising and her usually quiet voice came out in a sharp challenge.
‘What makes you think that?’
Friendly place, Saul had said. Not nosy, which would be a drag, but people were easy to talk to. The man in the Corvette was amused, although it was crazy to think she could see laughter in a pair of black eyes twenty feet away.
‘Your license plates,’ he explained reasonably. ‘Ontario plates. And you locked you car, which isn’t exactly island style.’
Island style. In the city, she would have frozen him with one cold glance; but she had no idea what you said to a fellow islander. She remembered the easy informality of the bulletin board and felt awkwardly out of place.
She frowned and tried to pretend he wasn’t watching her, but could not help feeling that he liked what he saw.
He would be tall. His shoulders were broad under that soft, maroon sweater. Expensive sweater, with an immaculate shirt collar rising neatly above the V-neck, a tie that echoed the sweater. He had good taste, or someone who picked his clothes did. Wife? Girl friend? His lips were curved slightly, waiting to smile. The edge of the off-white collar contrasted against the dark, tanned flesh of his neck. If her fingers brushed along the side of his neck, would his skin feel cool? Or hot and dry? Would it- Stop it!
‘Are you staying on the island?’ he asked.
Ridiculous to feel goose bumps along her midriff from the sound of a voice. ‘Yes,’ she muttered as the key finally turned in the lock of the door.
She was not going to succumb to the strange impulse to stand here talking to him, asking if he was an islander, why he was driving around in mid-afternoon when he looked a man who was a successful something. Lawyer, perhaps. Or accountant. Doctor. Not run-of-the-mill, whatever he was. Impulsive, she decided, although he would keep it under a stern leash. She swung open the door to her van and nodded in his general direction with deliberate breeziness. Then she twisted her way behind the steering wheel and slammed the door. She felt like a fool.
She had an uncanny conviction that the stranger knew exactly how peculiar he made her feel.
# # #
When the van held on South Road at the Gabriola post office turn-off, Patrick McNaughton cancelled his own left turn signal and followed.
As if he had no choice.
He sucked in a deep breath and forced his grip on the steering wheel to relax. What the hell had gotten into him? Those images playing on his mind from the instant when he first saw her. A woman, a stranger, walking towards him. She had curly, black hair that would twist and cling to a man’s fingers when he caressed it. He had watched and the images had exploded.
For all he knew, she had a brain the size of a peanut under that wonderful hair. Even if she had the intelligence to carry on a rational conversation, she had shown no desire to do so. Not with him. She had not looked directly at him, just that one startled flash of soft eyes when he spoke to her back on the Nanaimo side. Obviously a city girl, astounded at his casual informality.
How many years since he had spoken to a strange woman, fully intending to pursue her? In recent years his affairs had been careful, safe, and not all that frequent. Today, for example, the man-woman game had been the last thing on his mind. He had been deep in the problem of the Haddleson top-down design, oblivious to the world. He could not remember giving his commuter pass to the woman in the BC Ferries ticket booth. Or had it been a man? Patrick had been too deep in thought to notice. He did remember pulling away from the booth, though, driving into the ferry line-up; except that in mid-afternoon it wasn’t a line-up at all. Just one other vehicle.
Patrick had braked and turned off the engine, snapped open his briefcase and pulled out his notebook computer. Haddleson. The cursor blinked as the file came on-screen. Outline, level one: input-output criteria. Level two-
His eyes had moved away from the screen, caught by some movement in his peripheral vision while his fingers kept typing.
Then his hands had stilled.
She was walking towards him, must have come out of the waiting room. Immaculate blue denim jeans and medium-heeled sandals. A green collar under her bulky, rust-colored sweater. She was tall enough to make those long, slender legs seem right. Perfect, in fact. She had a loose, long-limbed way of moving that made him think of innocent sensuality. Her hips were slender, but the movement of her walk encouraged her sweater to pull against a woman’s voluptuous breasts.
He had felt the hard rhythm of his own pulse echoing through his body. Something about the way she walked. Something…
For a man who sometimes had problems remembering the names and faces of people he’d just met; Patrick was left with an impossibly vivid picture of her face. Her features were drawn a little too sharply. His mother would say that she needed feeding. Big, big eyes that caught at something inside him. Patrick thought she worked too hard, too intensely. She needed laughter. He wanted to give it to her.
She was not beautiful, although it would be impossible to feel the pull of any other woman if she were in the room. Something in her eyes. He wished he were closer, could see better.
Eyes. Her eyes. Not brown. Not blue either. He had to know…
Was he really following a total stranger to learn the color of her eyes? The van slowed abruptly and Patrick shifted down into second gear. She was driving a little erratically, a stranger to the awkward curves that made speeding both dangerous and uncomfortable on Gabriola. Ontario plates. He had memorized the numbers, had memorized the woman, seeing the echo of her face and remembering her voice all through the twenty minute ferry ride. Her face, when all he could actually see was the dark silhouette of her hair through the van’s windows on the ferry. Her voice, when she had said a total of six words to him. What makes you think that? and Yes.
His mind dissolved into a graphic fantasy. Yes. Would she say yes if he kissed those lips gently, exploring the softness, searching for her surrender?
More likely, she would slap his face.
He had spent the entire ferry ride to Gabriola trying to concentrate on the screen of the notebook computer, fighting the magnetic pull that drew his eyes to the silhouette in the window of the van in front of him. Impossible, it turned out, and in the end he had actually started a new file and typed into it what he knew about her.
She came from back East. Ontario, but where? Toronto, perhaps? Age, mid-twenties. Height, five foot seven or eight. He tried to put that into centimeters but got lost in deciding that the top of her head would come somewhere around his lips. He would bend and bury his face in the soft riot of her curls. She had a walk that would make a fortune for a dancer. A husky, low voice that sent crawling awareness along Patrick’s veins. What would her laughter do to his pulse? Would her eyes soften with loving? He had not seen their color, but the message had been very plain. She had no interest in the searing awareness she had stirred in Patrick McNaughton.
But she had felt it. He remembered that electric feeling of awareness, her hand fumbling with the keys to her van.
Five minutes after the ferry left the Nanaimo dock, Patrick had watched her get out of her van and walk forward to stand at the rail. After a few minutes in the cool ocean wind, she had gone inside to the passenger lounge. Patrick had wanted to go with her, to shelter her from the cold with his arms.
He had forced himself not to follow her. She obviously did not want him at her side, had carefully avoided looking at his car. He was certain, though, that she was every bit as aware of him as he was of her. He would follow on the Gabriola side, until he found out the color of her eyes and where she was staying. She wasn’t a woman to be picked up by a stranger, but if he met her in the normal way it might be different. Uneasily, he realized that with all the new people moving onto the island recently, he might not know the people she was staying with.
She might have come to visit a girlfriend or some distant cousin. She might be staying at one of the bed and breakfasts, a tourist on holiday. He would find out.
She might be married.
He suspected that he would wake up sometime this evening and feel like a fool. Following a woman, for heaven’s sake! Those few seconds of watching her in motion kept playing again and again in his mind. She was lean, yet soft woman. His blood kept pounding. He felt hot, dizzy, as if his fingers had brushed the soft, warm curves of her femininity.
Abruptly, her van pulled off onto a wide gravel shoulder. Patrick was past before he could brake, his eyes echoing with a glimpse of her face turned to watch as he drove past. Resentment or anger in her eyes.
He realized that his hands and his feet were making motions, gearing down, braking. Stop. Go back. Ask her…
Ask her what, for God’s sake?
He jammed his foot to the floor. The Corvette took off along South road with a whine of power.
It was probably that damned book his sister Sarah had been reading lately. Just last night she had been telling him he was overdue for his thirties crisis.
‘You see, Pat, you’ve built your little empire- Well, your biggish empire.’
‘A big frog in a little pond,’ he’d countered lightly. ‘Vancouver Island isn’t the world.’
‘No, but- Listen to me, Pat! You’ve been devoting all your time to success. What about falling in love? Having children of your own? It’s going to hit you one of these days! Time’s running out for you, and you’ll go down like a ton of bricks, because you’re ripe for realizing how much you’re missing.’
With Sarah’s theory ringing in his ears, Patrick followed South Road around the bottom of the island until it became North Road, then he turned off and drove up the hill, past the McNaughton farm and on to the small subdivision of five acre parcels his father had developed twenty years ago. Sarah and her brothers had each fallen heir to one of the parcels on their twenty-first birthdays. Sarah and her husband had build a bed and breakfast on their land. Patrick had built the cedar home that was really too big for him, but he could not imagine living anywhere else now. David, their older brother, had sold his acreage and put the money into the family farm that he now managed.
Funny tricks the subconscious played. Sarah’s self-help book, her words echoing in Patrick’s mind. To be honest, he had caught himself now and then lately, feeling an emptiness in the moments between jobs. He needed a change, something new, had even considered saying yes to the committee that had approached him about running for a seat in the British Columbia legislature.
New frontiers, that was what he needed.
He had always thought he would marry eventually, when the time and the woman were right. But the years had passed and he had never met a woman he wanted to share his home with. He would have liked children, but the thought of opening his walls to the wrong woman was frightening.
The woman in the van, waking in his bed with her eyes sleepy and filled with love.
A symbol. She would be married, her own life, even her own children. Something in her walk had caught his imagination, that was all. A signal, perhaps, that he should think about finding someone to share his home with, his life.
No hurry, he decided, shaking off the stranger’s spell. He turned into his own driveway, more comfortable now that the crazy compulsion to pursue the strange woman had passed. He parked beside the two storey cedar home nestled under the evergreens. A wisp of smoke crawled out of the chimney. He had banked the wood fire down this morning. After a surprisingly cool night, the April sun had risen to warm the house, beating in through the skylights in his cathedral ceiling.
Patrick froze as a strange sound echoed through the clearing. A second later, it resonated again, a grating noise invading the quiet. How many times lately had he woken in the middle of the night to that strange cross between a rustle and a twang? Too often!
He dropped the briefcase on the veranda and ran around to the back of the house. Patrick liked to eat back here in the sun room, enjoying the sight of the pond where the deer came at sunset, the smell of the dogwood blossoms. Every spring he took the glass windows off and replaced them with screens, only this year Saul Natham had bought the property next door, had moved in and almost immediately added that damned cat to his household!
There she was, attacking the sun room again!
‘Get off there!’ His voice rang angrily through the trees and the cat froze. ‘Yes, you damned ball of fluff! I mean you! Get the hell off my screen!’
She was half way up the side of the building, a streaky black and white mass of soft fur, plastered flat against the screen, claws curling through the fine fabric of the mesh. Patrick could see the scars from the path she had taken on her way up.
He turned away. He needed the ladder. What the hell could a man say to an animal who was probably only looking for a warm place to curl up? He would peel the bloody cat off his screen again, then he would feed it, although last time it had refused to touch his offerings.
This time, Patrick wasn’t going to replace the bloody screen until Saul Natham turned up from wherever he had gone. Natham was going to get a surprise when he returned. So far, Patrick and Natham had shared a few lazy conversations, nothing more. Enough talk for Patrick to know the artist was both entertaining and eccentric. An interesting neighbor, and thankfully his faults did not include sending loud heavy music echoing through the trees.
Now, though, Patrick was determined to make the irresponsible artist take his damned cat and look after it properly if it was the last thing he did! What kind of a man adopted a cat from the S.P.C.A., then went off and left the thing to fend for itself? The poor beast had been howling for days after Natham disappeared, then it had decided to attach itself to Patrick’s house.
To his house, but not to Patrick himself. The cat had accepted the odd offering of food, but hadn’t consented to come inside when Patrick was home. That hadn’t stopped her from trying to break in when the place was empty, tearing up window screens and once getting stuck in the chimney and emerging black and wild-eyed. Patrick had angry red scratches on his forearms from his battle to bathe the sooty cat after that fiasco!
The cat didn’t want a new home, she wanted Saul Natham back. God knew what it was about the aging artist next door, but the female population of the world was determined that he was irresistible- including the cat currently stuck to Patrick’s sun-room screen. How else could you explain the parade of long-legged women next door? Patrick had seen at least three different blondes draped over Natham as they walked the path through the back of Pat’s property. But a cat, for heaven’s sake! Surely a feline should have sense enough to abandon such an erratic personality and find herself a dependable master!
For a second, as she came through the door into the unadorned office, she had the impossible thought that the man behind the counter was David. The illusion was fleeting, a product of that first glimpse of the stranger’s dark, luxuriously curling hair.
When he looked up, her heart slowed. Of course it wasn’t David. The stranger’s shoulders were harder, broader, and he would be taller when he stood straight. David had been dark and tall and sleek, competent in city ways, but this man belonged to the strange wild and the outdoors.
“What can I do for you?” He sounded busy, but friendly. The eyes were black, not David’s warm brown, and he was tougher, the lines of his face cut deeper by the easy smile.
He liked women. That was in the smile, in the black eyes as they scrutinized her tailored tan slacks and her tweed jacket. He took in her hazel eyes, her soft auburn curls. She had an uncanny feeling that he knew she went to the salon every month to have the hair carefully trimmed to shoulder length. Did he know she would come just to his shoulder if she stood close beside him?
His inventory paused at her black audit bag. Too big for a briefcase, too small for a suitcase. City girl, the black gaze said, seeming to emphasize that he was a northerner and she wasn’t. She stiffened a little despite his warm interest, although she admitted to herself that if she were staying around in this hick town, and if he asked her out to dinner, she might just accept. There was something about him that made a person want to say yes.
She shrugged that discomfiting thought away and put down her small suitcase. “I’d like to charter a seaplane to the Queen Charlotte Islands.” She shifted the audit bag, saw him notice that she didn’t put it down.
“Not likely this afternoon.” His voice was mildly regretful, pleasant. His pen shifted and he glanced down at a large sheet of paper filled with numbers. As soon as she turned away, he would be working on those numbers again. Not money figures, she knew that. Some kind of inventory records? Behind him, a speaker crackled and a youngish man hurried to pick up a microphone. The man who reminded her of David said, “Where on the Queen Charlottes? We’ve got a scheduled run to Masset tomorrow at ten. If you want, I’ll put you down for tomorrow’s sched.”
“I have to get there today. Queen Charlotte City, not Masset.” He frowned and she felt the day’s frustration mounting. More delays. Things had gone wrong ever since dawn, and she simply must get out to that little village before the sun set—today!
“I’ve got to get there today! I’ve already missed—” She quelled the rising desperation in her voice. It was so unlike her, but today had been a disaster from the beginning. She made herself smile at the man behind the counter and was amazed at how her spirit warmed when he smiled back.
His eyes passed behind her as a door opened. Heavy footsteps crossed the floor while on the other side of the counter a young clerk approached with efficient purpose.
“Jesse?” The clerk’s voice was eager, younger even than his face. Not-David gave a formless sound of acknowledgment and the voice rushed on, “Dalwyn says they can get those parts to us by Friday.”
“Good. Place the order.”
Jesse. She filed his name in her mind, somewhere between the details of tomorrow’s audit procedures and the telephone number for the woman who cleaned her apartment every Wednesday. He belonged there, not with David’s memories. Behind her, a man cleared his throat just as a telephone rang. Interruptions loomed everywhere.
Crystal smiled persuasively at the man named Jesse. “I know you don’t want to hear the story of my frustrating day, but I really have to get to Queen Charlotte City today.”
He shrugged, his eyes going to the man behind her as he said, “You’d be better to wait for the sched tomorrow.”
She took a tighter grip on the audit bag while pushing a frantic hand through her hair. His eyes caught in the auburn richness of her curls, but she didn’t notice. “I don’t—Look, can you just tell me if there’s any way you can get me there today?” Her voice was biting in its frustration. Damn. She hated being inefficient, but the way things were shaping she was never going to get to this audit review. “If you can’t take me, I’ll go check the other seaplane companies. I’m not worried about the cost, I just—”
The door opened again. A quick, slender man burst through. “Express consignment for the Julie II.”
“Good. We’ve been waiting for it.”
The courier pushed a paper across the counter. The dark man gave the parcel a comprehensive glance, then quickly signed the waybill. Through the open doorway a rising noise filled the air and made conversation impossible. Crystal swung around in time to see an amphibious airplane taxiing through the water towards the floats on the other side of the road.
“What about that plane?” Her voice was rising, attempting to organize a situation that seemed to be frustratingly out of her hands. “It’s just coming in, isn’t it?” She swung back. The courier was gone, dashing back out the door and into a small van. Jesse whatever-his-name’s black eyes were hard, as if she were pushing when he did not like being pushed. “Can’t I go to Queen Charlotte City in that plane?”
“You can’t afford it,” he said flatly. His voice had lost the friendliness.
“How would you—”
“Bruce, what’s the charter rate for the Goose to QC City?”
The clerk punched some keys on a calculator and came up with an answer that made Crystal swallow.
His voice softening, Jesse said, “Look, the Goose is too big for a single-passenger charter, and Queen Charlotte is a hundred miles away.” He frowned, then shrugged and said, “Give me some time and I’ll see if we can dig up something for you. You’re sure you can’t wait until tomorrow?”
His eyes dropped to the audit bag, seeming to lump the black mystery of it with her cool certainty. She could see the heavy shoulder muscles bunching under his shirt as he turned away. “Why don’t you go back to your hotel. You’re not a local, are you? Leave a number and I’ll call if I have anything available. It’s kind of late in the day, but you never know.”
“Hey, Jesse!” The voice that boomed out behind her was big and deep. “While you’re at it, could you get me out to Kitkatla tonight?”
She jerked around and found herself facing a massive man dressed in jeans and a checkered shirt.
“No problem, Victor,” said Jesse. “I’ve got a Cessna coming in any minute now.” He picked up the small parcel from the counter. “I’ve got to fly this part down to Butedale for the Julie II. Shouldn’t be any problem to tack on a run to Kitkatla.”
She couldn’t believe her ears. “Kitkatla is okay, but not Queen Charlotte? What does it take to get service around here? I suppose if I had a beard, I’d have no problem?”
The two men’s eyes met in some kind of silent communion. She groaned. Here she was hundreds of miles north of Vancouver, away from the city, and the macho males were closing in against the little woman. She felt her anger grow cold as Jesse said, “Leave your name. I’ll call you.”
Crystal knew that if she left a name and number, if she went to a hotel to wait for his call, she would never get to Queen Charlotte until the scheduled flight tomorrow.
Behind her, Victor said, “What’s MacDougal’s problem? Is he broken down in Butedale?”
Jesse nodded, said over her head, “He called for a new water pump, and we just got it in. If we get it down to him today, he can get out fishing while the salmon opening’s still on.” Then he turned to her and asked, “What’s your name?”
“Why?” She wavered a little under his black gaze, but kept her voice firm and cold. “Why do you need my name? I’m paying cash. And I’m staying here until you’ve got a plane for me. A small plane.”
She was aware of the heavy presence of the man behind her. In front of her, Jesse’s dark eyes flashed beneath unruly dark hair. “Because,” he explained patiently, “in case of a crash, the office needs to know whose name to give the officials.”
Laughter boomed out behind her. She swung around and stared at the burly Victor. For a second she felt uneasy, until she took in his warm eyes and friendly grin.
“Are you going to give me your name?” persisted Jesse. “Or do you want to cancel the request for a charter?”
“Crystal Selwyn.” Her own dark eyes flashed as she said sweetly, “I hope you enjoy having a joke at my expense. Do tell your boss that I think you’ve got a lovely sense of humor.”
Victor said in gruff tones, “Lady, Jesse is the boss.”
Damn. He would be. She didn’t know what perverse devil had made her start this silly scene, but she felt like an idiot between these two men. “Look, can I get a plane or not?”
“Maybe.” Jesse looked suddenly tired as he turned away. “Bruce, what’s on for that Cessna after I deliver the part to MacDougal?”
“Nothing tonight. Tomorrow morning it’s booked for a pickup at Bella Bella.”
“Okay then, Miss Selwyn, the Cessna’s due back in about twenty minutes.” He glanced at his watch. “Another twenty minutes to refuel, then I’ll fly you myself if you don’t mind taking a detour. I’ve got to drop Victor at Kitkatla, then a parcel in Butedale, before I can take you.”
“Thanks, Jesse,” growled Victor at the same time as Crystal said, “It’s Ms Selwyn.”
He smiled at Victor and ignored Crystal, turning away to tell the clerk, “It’ll be dark not long after I land on the Charlottes. I’ll lay over there, do the Bella Bella pickup tomorrow on my way back.”
He wrote something, then snapped the book closed. “Any objections?” He was smiling again and she thought that after the flight he just might ask her out to dinner, if the little town they were heading for had such a thing as a dining room. Crazily, despite her recent irritation, she felt sorry that she would be too busy to accept. This evening would be spent working with her partner, catching up today’s missed hours, getting her working papers in order for tomorrow’s heavy work load.
She said, “I appreciate your rearranging things for me.”
He turned away, and there it was again, that fleeting resemblance to David.
She took one of the uncomfortable seats for waiting passengers. Her hand went to her audit bag, then fell away as she remembered. In keeping with every other event on this hopeless day, her laptop computer had somehow not taken a full charge when she plugged it in last night. On the plane from Vancouver she had taken it out and settled down to work her way through the hour-long flight, only to find the low-battery indicator flashing at her. She had turned then to preparing new working papers, but found her automatic pencil was out of leads and the spare leads were mysteriously absent.
If she knew how long it would be until her flight, she could take a taxi to an office supplies store, if this town had and office supplies store.
On the other hand, if she left, the man named Jesse might just fly away and leave her trying to reschedule a week’s work because of one missed plane.
So she sat still, listening to the sounds of a charter seaplane business and hiding her impatience. She could hear static from a radio somewhere behind the counter, bits of conversations only partly sensible. Pilots checking in with the base … the young clerk seemed to do most of the radio work …
Jesse’s last name was Campbell. Jesse Campbell. He had a confident voice, the friendly ease of his tones concealed efficiency. Bruce, the clerk, relayed a pilot’s message about a mechanical failure. Jesse Campbell had the situation organized instantly, a spare part put on another flight, a phone call placed to the pilot’s wife to let her know her husband was safely stranded in some unpronounceable bay for the night, but was warm and comfortable in the fishing camp bunkhouse.
Someone came in through a back door. From the conversation she overheard she assumed it was the pilot of the Goose she had seen landing. He was finished for the day and heading home. Like everyone, he seemed on friendly terms with his boss.
A waste of time, sitting here listening to the chatter. She twisted, looking for a receptacle to plug her computer in, but there was nothing. The man who looked too much like David was talking on the telephone now.
“Lucy?” His voice warmed, dropping so that Crystal could barely hear it. “Listen, I’m going to be away tonight—No, Queen Charlotte.” He laughed, said huskily. “I won’t, I promise. I imagine I’ll stay at the Sea Raven overnight. Look after the girls for me, will you? And I’m sorry about dinner.”
Crystal got up quickly and left the building. Behind her, the wind caught the door and it banged loudly. She was uncomfortably aware that her face was flushed. Thankfully no one knew how intensely she had been listening in on Jesse’s private conversation.
It might have been a girlfriend, but it was probably his wife who was to look after the girls for him. Crystal would remember that, and if he did ask her out to dinner, she would freeze him dead.
The cold wind hit her with a shock. It had been warm in the waiting room, but outside was an icy fall day. She was crazy to feel so angry at a man who had smiled as if he were attracted. He probably smiled at all the women like that. With his deep black eyes and the lush curly hair, smiles could only be good for business.
It made no difference to her if he was married. She was passing through, and men were a poor second to her career. For Crystal, the warmth and the love were in the past.
She crossed the street and walked down to the floating docks where the planes were tied. Victor was there ahead of her.
“Friends in Queen Charlotte?” he asked, towering over her with both height and bulk.
“No.” The monosyllable seemed terribly abrupt here in the open air, with the bustle of seaplanes and people all around, the cool blue autumn sky overhead. “I’m going over there on business.” She never liked explaining her job. People tended to become nervous of her, or to ask uncomfortable questions.
This man didn’t ask, but simply said, “You’ll like the trip. Pretty country.”
Except for the seaplanes and a few buildings, all she could see were untouched mountains. She thought of flying alone with the pilot through all the wilderness to a remote village somewhere between Prince Rupert and Japan, and felt uneasy.
“There’s the Cessna,” said Victor, shielding his eyes against the sun.
She turned to follow the direction of his gaze and spotted a tiny plane on floats. She swallowed nervously, wondering if it was big enough for the three of them.
“Ever been on a seaplane before?”
She shivered and said tightly, “No. Just jets.”
“Jesse’s a good pilot. The best. You’ll be fine.”
She had better be. She turned away, concentrating on the larger twin-engine planes that were big enough to take a couple of dozen passengers. Unfortunately, it would cost a fortune to charter one for the trip, and she didn’t have a fortune. She simply had to get to work before tomorrow morning, and there was no other way. No roads. No jets except the one she had missed from Vancouver this morning. A ferry a couple of times a week, but not today. It had to be the seaplane.
She watched the pilot tie the Cessna’s pontoon to the wharf. A lanky, blonde man started to put fuel into a tank in one of the wings. She had never been on such a small plane, but she tried to tell herself that her stomach felt queasy only from hunger.
She had skipped lunch on the jet from Vancouver to Prince Rupert, too tense from the nonsense of missing her scheduled flight to the Queen Charlottes. She had spent most of the morning trying to find some other way to fly to the place she had to go and being frustrated at every turn. Then some bright travel agent had come up with the idea of flying to Prince Rupert and chartering a seaplane. An insane notion, obviously.
When she got back home to Vancouver, she was going to buy two alarm clocks, and set both of them every night.
She watched the refueling operation absently, her auditor’s training noticing that it would not be hard for someone to steal fuel without it being traced.
“If you want to come up to the office, Ms Selwyn, we’ll get the paperwork out of the way.” It was Bruce, a pencil stuck behind his ear and a denim jacket zipped against the cool afternoon.
She followed him to the office, paid, and got a receipt for her expense claim. With professional interest, she watched the paperwork Bruce processed. Whoever had set up the control system in the office had done a good job of it, better than outside.
All in all, she thought that this charter company was an efficient operation, although she could give the owner a few tips that would—She shrugged the thought away, wondering if Murray wasn’t right after all. She was so involved with her work that she had lost touch with herself, with Crystal the woman. Murray insisted that her love life was non-existent, that the men in her life were meaningless to her, cast off whenever they threatened to touch her real, vulnerable self.
She shrugged her absent friend’s words away and went back outside. By the time she got down to the docks, Jesse Campbell was there, the door to the seaplane cabin open and Victor climbing in.
“Want the front seat?” Victor seemed to assume that she did, because he climbed into the back.
Jesse took a firm grim on her arm and steadied her as she climbed up into the cabin of the plane. She was thankful to be wearing slacks rather than a skirt. Small. God it was small. She fumbled, finding the seat belt and fastening it with shaking hands. When she heard it click, she looked up and saw Jesse’s eyes on her hands. She clenched her fingers together to stop the shaking, hoping he would not say anything.
He sat in the pilot’s seat, his arm brushing hers as he settled into position. He wore a heavy jacket over a soft flannel shirt, blue jeans on his legs, sturdy boots on his feet. He smelled of the outdoors. She concentrated on the feel of his presence, the fresh, clean smell of his maleness, anything rather than think that this tiny tin enclosure was going to take her up into the sky. His hands and eyes traveled over the instruments. She followed his motions, not knowing their meaning.
He said, “Breathe slowly and deeply,” his voice casual in the cockpit. “You’ll find the flight quite noisy, but that’s normal. Nothing to worry about.” He grinned, his eyes glancing off her and back to the instruments. He had a very nice smile.
She forced herself to relax a little. “Don’t worry, Mr. Campbell. I’m not going to faint, or scream. I’m not the type.”
His eyes dropped to the audit bag tucked behind her feet. It was a little large for the place she had put it, but she had refused when he offered to put it in the luggage compartment with her suitcase. Remembering, she tightened her lips and saw him shrug. He smiled slightly, as if he also felt they were carrying on an inaudible conversation behind the real one. He reached for a radio headset, pulled it down across his dark hair before he closed the door to the Cessna. She had an odd urge to reach out and smooth the curl that stuck out from the pressure of his headphone band.
“You’re not the screaming type,” he agreed, “but there’s no need for you to be frightened either.”
He moved his hands and the engine fired into life, a noisy intrusion. Strangely, she felt more relaxed as Jesse maneuvered the Cessna away from the dock and out into the open channel where he could taxi.
His low voice explained confidently, “First we’ll be flying to Kitkatla, a village on an island a little south-west of us. I’ll be giving you some spectacular scenery for your money. After that, we’ll follow the channels south to Butedale. That’ll be a quick stop; the fisherman who’s expecting this parcel will be waiting for us in his dinghy. We’ll be off again at once, then fly west to the Queen Charlottes. We’ll arrive shortly before dark.”
He opened the throttle. The engine roared and the small seaplane powered through the water, accelerating, lifting. The takeoff was so smooth that she didn’t know they were flying until the plane banked slightly.
Jesse made adjustments to the controls. She could see the dark hair on the back of his hand as he reached overhead. How did he get so tanned up here in Prince Rupert, the town they called the City of Rainbows?
She wanted to ask what he was doing to the controls, but then she looked down, straight down along the underside of the wing, and saw the water twisting, angling away.
Breathe slowly. Slow and steady.
She did, and after a moment they flattened out and she realized that her fingernails were digging into the palm of her right hand. She made her fist relax. How long? She glanced at her watch. Four o’clock. They hadn’t been in the air more than five minutes. Queen Charlotte City before dark. Late September. It got dark earlier in the north in winter, didn’t it?
How long? Two hours?
Could she stand it for two hours? Sitting still, looking down, feeling the sides of the plane close around her, as if she were flying high in a little bubble. The plane started to bump and toss, shuddering and destroying her semi-calmness. What if they crashed? What if…
She jerked as Jesse’s hand covered hers.
He pointed ahead. Above the Cessna’s engine, she could just hear him saying, “There’s Kitkatla. We’re circling once before we land.”
Below, land and water spread out in an intricate pattern. Where he had pointed, a large, complex inlet cut into an even larger island, small squares that must be houses dotting one side of the inlet just inside the entrance. A wilderness of trees and black water down there, with only a few houses hinting at civilization. What if they crashed on landing?
She twisted around in her seat, pulling the seat belt tight. Behind her, she spotted Victor turned towards his window, looking out at his home village. He looked as casual as a man riding in the back of a car. She thought of the ride she took each day in Vancouver, the car pool from her apartment to the office on Pender Street. It seemed a million miles from this wilderness, but Jesse’s plane was hardly bigger than the cars she rode in.
The wing tip dipped and pointed to the ground as the plane banked steeply in a turn that left her dizzy and terrified. It seemed that they would slip down along that pointing wing tip to a crashing landing … the end.
Everything went silent.
The world leveled again, but the ground was coming up fast. She saw water ahead, and houses, rushing closer. And silence.
Had the engine quit? What was wrong?
Jesse’s face was intent as his eyes searched ahead, taking everything in. His body was relaxed, molding to his seat, his fingers flexed on the stick. She had the illusion that the man and the airplane were one, united, working together. Then her ears picked out the sound of the engine again, muted, but still ticking. Then louder as he touched a control with his hand. It seemed everything was as it should be. She held her breath, watched the water rush closer, knowing it would be over in a minute.
At first she did not feel the pontoons touch, then abruptly the ocean clung, dragging back on the seaplane and making it bounce in the water.
They were down. Safe.
If only her computer were working. If only she had pencil leads. Then she could work her way through the next takeoff, work as they flew on. Anything to pretend she was somewhere else, not hundreds of feet up in a little crate that felt like a toy. She tried to concentrate on the way Jesse maneuvered the seaplane on the water, roaring across the inlet and up to the floats where Victor could disembark. It was hard to think about those details when her mind trembled at the thought that they’d soon take off again, fly this tin can into the sky.
Jesse flew every day. His face looked calm, his legs parted, relaxed, feet touching controls she did not understand. And, damn it, he knew she was afraid. She could feel his unobtrusive scrutiny, could hear careful patience in his voice when he spoke to her.
“All right?” he asked as he climbed back into his seat after paddling the seaplane away from the dock.
“I’ll get by.”
“Of course you will.” His voice sounded casual, his hand reassuring as it unexpectedly touched hers. “Think of it as a long commuter run. You’re just going to work.”
“It’s true. I am going to work.” She shrugged, uncomfortable with his invasion of her fear. She would have preferred to conceal her emotions, keep them private. “Don’t worry about me. I’m tough.”
That seemed to amuse him. He fastened his seat belt, looked down at her lap and saw that her belt was still tightly secured. Then, when he turned to look out his window, for a second she saw—again—the back of David’s head.
This time she knew what to expect, and the takeoff did not panic her so much. She concentrated on the dials in front of Jesse when they left the water. On one dial she could see a small replica of an airplane turned as if banking. She stared at it until it was level, then watched the instruments for a few more seconds, not looking through the window until she was sure they had finished banking and turning, and were flying straight and level. It wasn’t too bad so long as he kept the thing level. It was this business of wing tips pointing at the ground that frightened her.
They rose gradually, leaving the island behind, flying at hilltop level until they entered a long, narrow channel.
“Grenville Channel,” he told her, as if he could hear her thoughts.
The channel stretched ahead forever, narrowing as they flew south. They passed over tiny toy boats, far below on the water. Crystal felt as if she were above the world and had a special view, as if she were distant from it all, remote even from herself. This sensation was new to her. In jets she usually worked or read a book. She seldom thought about the flying.
Looking down on the lush green shores of the long channel, she felt the barrenness of her own life, as if her career was nothing and the thing that mattered was the lonely nights, the breakfasts alone. She blinked away the tears, the memory of her baby Johnny.
“Where are we?” she asked suddenly.
He didn’t hear, so she shouted the words.
“That’s Wright Sound,” he said. He pointed ahead and she nodded. She didn’t care, but she tried to pay attention when he said, “We’ll be crossing the sound, then flying down Princess Royal Channel—another long, narrow one, but it’s only about forty miles to Butedale. After that, I’ll take you where you want to go.”
The day was never going to end, and it was a bad day. If she could only endure, get through it, tomorrow would come and she could get her life back to normal. Tomorrow there would be work, and at work she would regain the feeling that she controlled her own life, not this crazy feeling that some mischievous God was turning her world upside down with alarm clocks that didn’t ring, computers that wouldn’t work, missed planes.
And the man, those dark curls that made her fingers remember the feel of loving, of touching …. of David. But his dark eyes and the lined face were certainly not David’s.
Eventually the drone of the engine lulled her thoughts to nothingness. The hills rose up high and green, one much like the next. The water was black, with white dashes and the occasional small toy boat. Ahead, she saw clouds. She watched and decided that Jesse was flying lower now, below the tops of the hills, well under these new clouds. Although jets flew above the cloud cover, she supposed a small plane like this would be obliged by regulations and safety considerations to keep visual contact with the ground. She wondered why the clouds and the change in altitude did not worry her, and decided that noise and vibration were making her feel odd, separate from what was happening around her.
Then the silence screamed, deeper, more complete than the quietness that had frightened her on their landing at Kitkatla.
The tension in the man beside her was not imagined. He flicked a switch, then another. His eyes were everywhere, looking at the instrument panel, then out, then down.
The plane banked gently, silently at his touch. Silence grew. His hands were busy even as he pulled the microphone close to his lips. He said a series of numbers and letters, then, “—engine failure. I’m setting down at the north end of Princess Royal, near the west shore of the channel.”
They would crash.
She felt frozen. This wasn’t real, but the water floated closer and the silence screamed.
“We’re landing. Down there.”
She turned to stare at him.
She jerked, her heart hammering into her rib cage. The trees were close, too close.
The silence was terrible, the ground growing horribly close. How could it take so long to crash? Her fingers clenched agonizingly on the strap of her audit bag. Whatever happened, she had to look after the bag.
“It’s all right.” He sounded impossibly calm. His face was still tense, but not panicked. “There’s no reason it shouldn’t go well.” His eyes were on the water, not on her at all. “This might not be my smoothest landing, so put your head down between your knees.”
She had read it in enough books. She assumed the crash position, head down, hands above her head. She couldn’t see anything except his muscled legs through his jeans.
What had happened? Why had the engine stopped? Silence. How much longer? It surely couldn’t be more than seconds, but it stretched forever.
The plane seemed to float, without power. She saw Jesse’s muscles flex as he pressed one of the pedals on the floor. What was he doing?
She was numb with terror, but he looked relaxed. This end of him, at least. She turned her head and let her eyes wander up to his thighs, the seat belt across his hips, the bulge—
She jerked her head back, closing her eyes. Was she insane? They were crashing. In seconds she might be dead, and here she was looking at the pilot’s crotch.
Then it all came from where it had been hidden, the memories flooding back until she could not tell which feelings were now and which then. Sliding, twisting. Johnny’s sudden scream. David, his hands on the wheel, his face suddenly hard and tense. Long, long seconds.
“Only a few more seconds.” The voice, so unlike David’s, jolted her back.
What was that sound? Water? Waves?
Her head jerked up as he swore. She saw his hand yank hard on the stick. Somewhere, someone shouted, “Get your head down!”