“Yes, let’s go now, please.” She reached across the table to clasp his hand, to regain some kind of connection, even if it couldn’t last. “Have you heard anything from the vet?”
“As a matter of fact”—his brow furrowed so deeply her gut lurched in fear—“the good news is there are no broken bones. But it appears Chewie has a sprain or a torn ligament.”
Her heart lurched, then settled. No broken bones. No broken bones. No broken bones. Those blessed words kept ringing through her head, easing the knot in her gut enough that she could hear Wade continuing to speak.
“I’m sorry I didn’t do a better job at protecting him from the car and the fall.”
The earnest regret in his voice softened her. “You saved his life. I know that. I just need to see him.” She needed to bury her face in his familiar coat, reassure herself he was all right. She pushed back her chair, metal scraping against tile. “Where exactly is he?”
“The vet here on base is caring for him. I’ll take you there.” Wade stood as well, still towering but not as remote and intimidating as when he’d first stepped in the room, which made it easier for her to say what she needed to tell him.
“Good, then I can collect him on my way out.”
She tamped down the regrets over closing the door on her time with Wade. She didn’t have any choice. Her brother needed her. The whole village needed a warning.
And she needed this man. “Because I am going home, and I want your help getting there.”
Double-checking, Flynn shuffled through the survival gear packed in the cab of his truck. Even though he knew he hadn’t forgotten anything. But he needed something to occupy himself while Misty said good-bye to her family twenty feet away.
Freeze dried food. Check.
Matches in waterproof container. Check.
He’d never expected a second chance with Misty. He hefted her backpack into his truck cab along with his own while Misty hugged her brother, sister-in-law, and nephew outside their home—her parents’ old house.
Arctic mittens, snowbibs, shoes. Check.
Signal mirror and flares. Check.
His hands slowed on maintenance items for the truck as he peered through the windshield. He couldn’t count how many times he’d walked up those steps to her whitewashed home built into the side of a mountain.
During high school, he’d been as comfortable there as in his own house, until her brother had ordered him never to set foot on their property again. Her brother hadn’t spoken to him once in the four years since then, when he’d forcibly removed him from the porch with a punch that stayed imprinted so firmly on Flynn’s memory he resisted the urge to wince even now.
Sleeping bags. Check.
Phoenix wasn’t looking at him in any welcoming way now either, but he hadn’t booted him out of the driveway—yet. It was clear he didn’t want his sister to leave, but was beginning to realize the Foster family stubborn streak ran through every member.
Misty cuddled her nephew, the baby’s cheek to hers. The kid was so darn cute with that crazy mop of dark hair that almost looked like a wig on a child so young. Misty held him with such confidence and ease, adjusting his tiny earmuffs shaped like dog faces.
For once, Flynn allowed himself the painful luxury of just looking at her. Her hood was back, the wind lifting her wispy, soft hair.
She’d kept it short in high school, but these days wore it blunt-cut at her shoulders with bangs across her forehead. Simple and sexy. She wasn’t as flashy as Sunny, who wore bright colors and dyed streaks through her hair. Misty was… Misty. Quietly pretty and soft, with curves and a gentle smile that lit up the place more than any big show.
Her laugh carried on the morning breeze. Yeah, she sounded different these days, more and more so the longer that passed without her hearing her own voice. She’d lost so much and he didn’t know how to make it right.
Flynn’s dad told him some days just sucked and a guy simply had to get over it. Problem was, for him, every day sucked since he’d screwed up his life four years ago. He still didn’t know why he’d cheated on Misty. Hell, he’d loved her. He still loved her so much it hurt to look at her holding that baby and smiling at her family—never smiling at him anymore.
Used to be all he thought about was getting her naked and burying himself inside her. Now all he thought about was how damn bad he wanted to touch her hair. Even hold her hand.
Shit. He was a sap.
Flynn stuffed the gear into the space behind the front seat before backing out of the truck cab. He slammed the door on his truck and walked around the front, sidestepping the snowplow attachment that would make their trek down easier.
His already aching gut churned all over again. He’d lived his whole life in this place. Never stepped foot out and never wanted to. But here he was, driving Misty.
He skimmed his finger along the neck of his sweater. Agoraphobia threatened to choke him. From leaving home? Or from losing Misty? He refused to let his emotions yank him around and wreck his life again. He pushed through the freaked-out feeling and tuned into the family farewell.
Astrid scooped her son from Misty and hugged her with her free arm. “Be careful, sweetie. Be happy.” After a second hug, the former New York model brushed away tears, then clasped her baby boy’s wrist. “Wave bye-bye to Aunt Misty.”
Sweeping her toddler nephew’s hood back into place, Misty kissed his chubby cheek a final time. “Be a good boy for Mama and Daddy.” Her words fogged puffs into the cold air. “I promise to try to come back and visit after my surgery.”
Her jaw trembling with emotion, she clasped her locket, the one he knew held photos of her parents.
They’d been so disappointed when he and Misty broke up… and then the rumors started from June’s telling everyone all about their “night together”—more like a half hour.
Not that he blamed June. He had been every bit as much at fault. She’d been so upset over the gossip, she’d finally left town two years ago. As June had said, she felt like the woman in the book they’d read in high school, The Scarlet Letter. How could she bounce back from stealing the deaf girl’s guy?
He hadn’t liked the way she labeled Misty, but he understood her point.
Phoenix stepped away from his wife and closed in on Flynn, his face unreadable. Flynn braced his shoulders for whatever the guy had in store. He just hoped it didn’t involve a fight. He didn’t want to subject Misty to that, but he wasn’t taking another punch lying down.
Her brother jabbed his thumb toward the other side of the truck, gesturing for Flynn to join him by the weather vane topped with a metal bear.
Flynn kept his back to Misty so she wouldn’t be able to read his lips. “I don’t want a scene in front of Misty or your wife and kid.”
“I agree,” Phoenix said surprisingly, the mountain wind muting and tearing at his words. “If you really care for her, convince her she doesn’t have to go.” He leaned in. “Even with her hearing back, she’s not going to fit in out there. She’s been gone from regular society for too long.”
He could see the logic in Phoenix’s reasoning, but if he went that path, he would lose any chance with her. And he had to be honest with himself.
“I’m sorry, dude, but I can’t do that. This is what she wants. You know how it is when a woman has her mind set. If this were Astrid, could you tell her no?”
Phoenix closed his eyes and scrubbed his hand over his cold-chapped face. “I don’t even know why I’m still discussing it. I just wish she could have waited, at least until Sunny gets back, but my baby sister is the stubborn one in the family.”
He understood well how deep Misty could dig in her heels.
Checking over his shoulder quickly, her brother tucked his hand into his jacket and pulled out an envelope. “Here’s some cash for the road.”
“No, really, I can handle this.” He wasn’t wealthy, but he made a decent living. Or at least it seemed so here. “There’s plenty of snow in need of plowing, and my brother and I are the only game in town.”
“Take it. This is no time to let your pride get in the way. This is about Misty.” He thrust the envelope into Flynn’s hands. “Take care of my sister.”
Flynn closed his fingers over the money. Holy crap, the stack was thick. Even if it was all small bills, there had to be a lot of cash here. And it did bite his pride harder than the slice of winter’s worst storm.
But Phoenix was right. This wasn’t about them. It was about Misty.
“I won’t let her out of my sight,” Flynn vowed to her brother and to himself. Regardless of whether or not she let him back in her life, he would make sure she had the future she wanted.
“Good, good…” Phoenix nodded, staring at his sister with obvious emotion in his eyes.
And with reason. In all probability he would never see her again. Hell, there was a strong chance Flynn wouldn’t be able to return either, if he had to follow her too far out into the world. To date, no one had come back once they left. That was made clear by the village council. They asserted if they allowed free flow in and out, before long, uncommitted people would corrupt their way of life.
Flynn skimmed his finger inside the collar of his sweater again, struggling for breath, and praying he would be able to hold strong on his promise to see Misty safely down the mountain.
Failing her again wasn’t an option.
Snowflakes swirled in front of his windshield.
Wade gripped the steering wheel of his Chevy truck, cranked into four-wheel drive for the ice-caked road leading to the tiny port town. He’d spent the whole drive over trying to persuade Sunny to abandon this crazy-ass decision to go home immediately, but she dug her heels in deeper and deeper, refusing to discuss running off with him for a week of nonstop sex.
And her request that he go with her? She couldn’t be serious.
They’d been driving for hours from Anchorage to the small airport on the Alaska Peninsula where Sunny intended to catch a flight across Bristol Bay to the island. Alaska was all about the flying. Small planes made the state accessible year-round in a way that would otherwise be a helluva lot tougher over snowcapped terrain. At any other time he would have welcomed the notion of tackling the Alaskan outdoors with a woman who enjoyed the landscape as much as he did.
But not today, and they were almost to the airport. Almost out of time to persuade her to stay well away from home while the OSI and the police did their job.
Well, except for her injured dog.
When she’d visited Chewie and heard he had to stay on crate rest, she’d panicked. She’d quickly realized her dog couldn’t make the trip up the mountain. Even with most of the trek done by plane and snowmobile, there was still a substantial pass to be tackled on foot.
She’d actually discussed a sled option with the vet, but thank goodness the doctor had stressed the importance of keeping Chewie calm and still. Bottom line, the best thing for the dog was to stay in Anchorage, on crate rest. Since Chewie had seemed comfortable with the vet, she’d forged ahead.
Hell. He thumped the steering wheel, then ignored Sunny’s frown.
Even if he could persuade her to stay for a couple of weeks, it wasn’t as if they could launch some kind of relationship, with his deployment to Afghanistan looming. Even once he returned to the U.S., he faced a transfer to a new base.
He spun the steering wheel, cranking the truck into the parking lot outside the small brick building alongside a single landing strip. There was so much about this woman’s life he didn’t understand, yet he knew every inch of her body. Intimately. And he wanted more. More of her. More time with her. Even if that meant following her up the mountain?
Damn, but he was in a crappy mood. He grabbed for his Snickers bar tucked in one of the cup holders, tore off a bite, and chased it down with a swig of coffee, lukewarm and bold.