The helicopter finally touched down and ground crews rushed forward just as the hatch opened. Wade Rocha leaped to the ground, sure-footed, then held out a hand. Sunny stepped into view in the open portal. Alive. Her sister was really alive and appeared unharmed, as best she could tell from the blanket that swaddled her.
With Wade’s help, Sunny stepped out onto the pavement, her steps slow and shaky as she searched the crowd. The second her eyes landed on Misty, she smiled, trying to move faster, but her ordeal had obviously taken a toll. Misty sprinted to her, wrapping her sister in a hug so tight it was almost painful, but she couldn’t bring herself to let go. She’d been so terrified, so scared she wouldn’t find help in time, second-guessing herself the whole way.
Sunny eased back, tears streaking into her smile. Her hands raised. “Thank you. Thank you.”
“I’m sure someone else could have done something more.”
“You were the completely perfect person I needed at the right time.”
And Misty realized it was true. Her signing, her heightened sense of nuances in facial expressions had served her—had served Sunny—well. For the first time in four years, she felt strong.
Wade slid an arm around Sunny’s shoulders. “We really need to get you checked out by the doctor.”
Misty nodded too. “Go, really. We’ll have plenty of time later. A lifetime.”
“Okay,” Sunny agreed. “Just one more thing.” She hugged Flynn, squeezing hard.
Sunny’s mouth was moving but Misty couldn’t catch what she was saying. Likely it had to do with Ryker’s last moments. And then Wade was hooking his arm around Sunny, pointing to one of the EMT trucks. Even her indomitable sister needed to be reminded she was mortal. It appeared Sunny had found a person strong enough to stand with her—and up to her—in Wade Rocha.
Misty turned to her own man, one she’d loved for years and had finally found a path back to. “I’m so sorry about your brother.”
He stared out over the bay, snowflakes catching on his blond hair he stood still so long. “I’m sorry I didn’t see what he was into. I’m sorry he wasted his life. And I’m sorry about how this is going to break our father’s heart.”
“Your dad will get comfort from having you near.” She dusted the snow away and wished it could be as easy to ease the burdens on his heart.
Flynn looked down at her, the full power of his pain showing through. “Or will looking at me remind him of my brother? God knows, I’m not sure I’m ready to look in the mirror yet. Even Sunny thought he was me out there.”
“But I know who you are.” She stroked the side of his face. “I knew then.”
Turning into her hand, he kissed her palm, lingering long enough for her to know he took comfort from her touch. Anything more overt out here in public wasn’t possible, but there was an unmistakable connection in the moment. An unmistakable connection between them.
A sigh shuddered through him and he tore his eyes away from the harbor. He looped an arm around her shoulders and steered her back toward the heated RVs set up for questioning and waiting. Not fancy, but definitely warmer. And there was just something scary about going into the power plant, even if it had just been given the all clear.
Sighing, she tucked against Flynn’s side, his arm solid and familiar. “What should we do now?”
With ease, he positioned his face so she would see his mouth even as they stayed side by side. “I need to tell my parents about Ryker, and I would like for you to come with me.” He guided her past a fire truck that had blessedly been unneeded after all. “But after that, I want us to go to Anchorage so you can have the surgery. I want to be there with you.”
His plan seemed so perfect it broke her heart that they couldn’t have figured it all out sooner. “That’s not possible now. So much of the logistics depended on staying with Ted and Madison.” So many deaths, so much grief to be spread out in such a tiny community. “How can I complain about a missed appointment with the specialist when they lost their lives?”
He gripped both her shoulders and turned her to him just outside the nearest RV, their last chance for privacy for what could be many hours of intense questioning. “And they would want you to go after life and grab it with both hands, whatever it is that you want.”
For the first time today, she let herself voice the fears that had been hammering around inside her brain. “What if the doctor who agreed to take my case pro bono won’t do that anymore once all the scandal of our village hits the paper? What if he wasn’t even real, just another lie pumped through our compromised Internet?”
“Then we’ll find a real doctor, one willing to do the procedure.” The determination and honesty on his face all but vibrated the air between them. “I can drive a snowplow anywhere with snow, and while I won’t ever be a rich man, I will do work until my last breath to give you what you need. I will stand by you every step of the way until we figure out how to make that surgery happen.”
“You would do that for me? Leave the only home you’ve ever known?” She’d seen the claustrophobia close in on him when they’d been stuck in the room with Agent Lasky. She could see the homesickness in his eyes when he’d stared out over the bay. And yet she saw none of that now.
“I’ve thought every day for four years that I would do anything in my power to be with you again. Being with you is home for me. In case you haven’t noticed, Misty, I love you.”
“I do know. And I hope you know I love you too.”
The reality, the honesty of that emotion between them was so strong, she could hear it singing through her veins.
Twenty-four hours later, Sunny stretched out on the bear rug in front of Wade’s fireplace in Anchorage. The fur tickled the backs of her legs peeking out of the oversized T-shirt she’d borrowed from him. “I’m really going to have to invest in some clothing of my own.”
“But you look so smoking-hot in mine.”
“And you look so damn adorable hugging my dog.”
Wade stoked the fire with one hand, his other arm hooked around Chewie. Bare chested and wearing only low-slung sweatpants, he sent her pulse racing again even though they’d already made love twice since reaching his apartment.
The past twenty-four hours had passed at a frenetic pace. Brett Livingston was in police custody at the hospital. He’d survived surgery and faced a lifetime in prison for the murders and the bombing attempt.
If not more.
She’d told the police about Brett’s “insurance” plan in his briefcase, and they were sending electronic divers down in an attempt to retrieve it from the boat. She couldn’t even begin to fathom what it might contain, what could possibly be worse than had already happened. But at least she could know the authorities weren’t in the dark any longer.
Still no word from Phoenix, and she was beginning to wonder if maybe he had run after all. The thought that he would actually abandon his wife and child was more than she could wrap her brain around, but she still had to hope he was alive out there somewhere. Thankfully, her nephew was safe with Astrid’s parents.
At least she knew her sister was happy, already making plans with Flynn. The two of them had accepted the helicopter ride back up the mountain to be with Flynn’s parents right now. And Misty wanted to stay near their nephew until the police officially cleared everyone in the village—or made any necessary arrests. What kind of legacy was that to leave a child? A criminal for a mother and a father who ran? Her chest grew tight with regrets.
Wade replaced the poker and stroked back her hair, still damp from the shower they’d shared. “I can arrange for a flight home for you, if you’ve changed your mind.”
She shook her head, certain in her decision to stay right where she was. Working things out with Wade. “I want to be here with you, for as long as we can be together before you have to leave. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I thought that’s what you wanted too.”
Especially after the way he’d held her so fiercely in the life raft and how tenderly he’d made love to her.
“Can you tell me you aren’t having regrets about not going back home with your sister?”
“I have regrets about what happened, about not picking up on the signs. It’s become clear to me in a hundred different ways how cutting ourselves off has left us open and vulnerable. The place I knew as home isn’t going to exist anymore after this.”
“I’m so damn sorry for that.” He tugged her to his chest and she leaned into him, the steady thump of his heart under her such a welcome sound she’d feared never hearing again.
Chewie nosed her knee insistently, shuffling into the circle with determined garbled noises until she couldn’t help but laugh. God, it felt good after the horror of the past days. “I haven’t forgotten about you, Chewie. Not for a second.”
Her dog was recovering well from his pulled tendon, thank goodness, and should be back up to speed in another couple of weeks. Burying her fingers into his thick fur, she collided with Wade’s hands right there alongside hers.
Wade grinned. “What can I say? I’m getting attached to your dog.”
“Oh really?” she teased back, inwardly breathing a sigh of relief because she and Chewie were pretty much a package deal. “I haven’t had time to think through all the details about where I want to live yet, but I do need to be with my sister to help see her through her surgery. I should have known that at the start.”
“So you are willing to move.” His fingers linked with hers in the husky mutt’s thick pelt. “For Misty.”
“For Misty, yes, but for me too.” And for Wade, if this relationship was going where she thought, where she hoped it was going. “My skills as a guide and workout trainer can be used just about wherever I go, so while I may not own the place, at least I would have a marketable job history. A small town would probably suit me best, some kind of rural community.”
One with mom-and-pop diners, rustic B and Bs, and wood-burning fireplaces crackling a hand’s reach away. Most of all, one with wildernesses to explore.
“Alaska has plenty of those,” he agreed. “And what if once I return, I wanted you to come where I’ll be? What if I could find a nice rural town nearby?”
“That sounds… huge. But workable. You understand though that it would take an independent, strong person to make such a radical change. A damsel in distress just isn’t going to cut it, especially for a guy who’s got a scary dangerous career that takes him all around the world for extended periods of time.”
He raised his hands in surrender, angles of his beard-stubbled face starker with the morning light streaking through the windows. “Okay, I get the message and completely agree. You are not the clinging-vine sort, and believe me, I respect that. You can take care of yourself, and quite well, I might add—”
“Thank you.” She stopped him with a nip to his bottom lip. “I needed to hear you say that and know that you mean it. I think we make a formidable team, you, me, and Chewie.”
“I concur.” He nipped her right back, then again, until his hands were in her hair and his body covering hers on the rug.
Gliding her hands over his shoulders, along his back, she stared up into his beautiful cocoa-brown eyes and realized she could lose herself in those no matter where she lived. “Where will you be transferring to once you return from your four months in the Middle East?”
“Ever heard of Patrick Air Force Base?”
“No. Is there snow?”
He winced, rolling onto his side, worry furrowing his forehead. “Actually, it’s in Florida, near Cape Canaveral.”
“No snow then.”