Carrie tried but found she was unable to fall back to sleep. Apparently, Finn wasn’t having much luck, either, because she could hear him moving about the outer room as if he was as restless as she was.
Seeking a comfortable position, Carrie tried sleeping on one side, then the other, and finally lay on her back, staring up at the ceiling. His room had a window, and after what seemed like an eternity, she tossed the thick covers away and climbed out of bed. Her feet made no sound as she walked over to the window and pushed the curtain to one side. Staring into the night, she looked up at the heavens.
Once more she was struck by the brilliant dark sky with countless stars. The moon was full and lit up the frozen lake like stage lighting. No wonder Finn loved Alaska. This was a magical place, beautiful and uncomplicated, so far removed from the craziness of city life.
After a while she returned to the main room to find Finn sitting at his desk. Right away he heard her and whirled around in his chair. He seemed surprised to find her awake.
“I couldn’t sleep, either,” she confessed.
He immediately closed the document on his computer, as if he didn’t want her to see what he was writing.
“Another book?” she dared to ask.
“If I admit it, will you put that in the article?” The question was more of an accusation.
“I … I don’t know.”
He closed the lid to the laptop.
“If you’re writing a sequel, I can tell you your readers will be more than thrilled.”
He ignored the comment and glanced at his wrist. “Sawyer should be here within the hour.”
“Already?” It seemed far too soon. She wasn’t eager to leave. Finn’s father’s wedding band remained in her jeans pocket, and she thought to simply leave it in the cabin for him to find once she was gone. However, seeing his reaction to it earlier prompted her to keep it for now. She’d return the gold ring to his mother at Christmas.
Sure enough, within the hour the sound of an approaching aircraft filled the house. The noise seemed to multiply, stirring up the atmosphere inside the cabin, building anticipation.
“That must be Sawyer,” Finn said.
Carrie nodded. Dragging her carry-on to the door, she checked the cabin to be sure she hadn’t left anything behind.
Finn stood in the kitchen sipping coffee, as if, in these final moments, he wanted to keep as much distance between them as possible.
Hennessey barked, and rushed to the door, wanting out. Finn opened it just as the float plane bounced against the solid ice and skidded for several feet in the surrounding moonlight.
“The trip out here was my first experience in a single-engine plane,” she said, more to fill the silence than to make a statement.
Without commenting, Finn reached for her suitcase and carried it outside. Carrie followed, a lump in her throat. That she should get all emotional over this farewell was an embarrassment. She was determined not to let Finn see how discombobulated she felt. It was ridiculous. She barely knew this man. He’d let it be known she was a nuisance and considered himself well rid of her.
By the time she reached the plane, Finn had the passenger door open and her suitcase stored inside. He exchanged a few short sentences with Sawyer, but she couldn’t hear what he said over the roar of the engine.
Carrie made sure she had a smile in place when he turned to face her. She hadn’t thought what her last words to him would be, and so she said what came instinctively.
“Thank you for everything.”
Cupping her shoulders, Finn looked down on her, his dark eyes as intense as she could ever remember seeing them.
She met his gaze, wanting to tell him without words how much the last two days had meant to her, and how impressed she was with the man he was. She longed to thank him for opening her eyes to what it was to be with a man who was passionate about life and who had shared that passion through stories of life in Alaska.
Staring down at her, his hands tightened. He murmured something she didn’t understand, and then he pulled her close as if he couldn’t help himself and lowered his mouth to hers.
Carrie gave a small cry of welcome and gratitude and clung to him. Finn’s hands cupped her face as he tilted her head to receive his kiss, which felt urgent and needy, needs that mirrored her own.
For a moment the sheer wonder of it nearly caused Carrie’s knees to collapse from under her. This was exactly what she wanted, what she’d hoped would happen. And his kiss was everything she could have imagined. More. Without fully being aware of what she was doing, Carrie locked her arms around his neck and kissed him back, wanting to return everything that he had given her.
After a long moment, Finn gradually released her from the kiss, but he still hugged her close and tight against him, half lifting her from the frozen lakebed.
“Good-bye, Finn,” she whispered close to his ear.
He kissed her neck and then whispered back, “Good-bye.”
She started to climb into the airplane but Finn stopped her by gripping hold of her hand. He looked deep into her eyes as if to gauge her reaction, and then leaned forward and said, “Carrie?”
“Yes?” Her heart was in her eyes. Could it be possible that he would ask her to stay? Did it seem as wrong to him as it did to her that they should part now? Surely he felt the very things she did.
Leaning in close, he kissed her one last time and then said, “Don’t write the article.”
The wheels of the Boeing 737 bounced against the O’Hare tarmac as the plane landed safely, jolting Carrie out of a light slumber. She hadn’t slept as much on the long flight back to Chicago as she’d hoped, which wasn’t surprising. She glanced at her watch and realized she was still on Alaska time.
He’d asked her not to write the article. Surely he understood what that meant. She’d explained to him what this piece could do for her career. It would change everything for her. As she boarded the flight in Seattle, Carrie was forced to ask herself if invading his privacy was worth the cost. Perhaps the answer should seem obvious, but she still wasn’t sure what she would do.
The temptation to ignore his request was strong. In every likelihood she might never see or hear from the elusive Finn Dalton again. Surely he understood how unreasonable he was being, how selfish, but then … wasn’t she being selfish, too?
Monday morning, after sleeping on it, Carrie had her answer. She wouldn’t finish her story about Finn Dalton. No matter what happened or didn’t happen between them, it wouldn’t be worth the price. Every woman Finn had ever known had betrayed him, and she was determined not to be one of them. If there was a chance he would ever learn to trust and love again, then the path would start with her. It meant sacrifice on her end, but all she could do was hope that someday he would thank her. Someone else was sure to find him, one day, and the author of Alone would be exposed to the world, but she wouldn’t be the reporter who did it.
Carrie wasn’t at her desk two minutes before Sophie showed up, nearly bouncing with energy and excitement. “Well?” she asked expectantly. “How’d it go?”
Glancing up at her friend, Carrie made sure her face didn’t give anything away. “Go?” she repeated, as though she didn’t understand the question.
“Did you find him?”
“You mean Finn Dalton?” Carrie’s mind scrambled with ways of answering without telling an outright lie. “It was a needle-in-a-haystack idea. I must have been out of my mind to think I could jet off to Alaska and stumble upon the one man half the world is dying to read about.”
“Yeah, but did you find him?”
Leave it to Sophie to press the point. “Honestly, would I be sitting here so glum if I had?” She was in a blue funk, but it was due to other reasons. Lack of sleep, for one; missing Finn, for another. Really missing Finn. Thinking back on their final minutes together, there’d been a hundred things she wished she’d said, and she hadn’t managed to get out even one coherent thought. Well, other than a generic “thank you for everything.” And “good-bye.” How lame was that! Nor had she said good-bye to Hennessey.
Sawyer had certainly been curious, drilling her with questions much in the same way Sophie was just now.
“Seems like you two got along just fine,” the bush pilot had commented.
“Not at first.”
He’d chuckled. “I can well imagine. You won him over, though, I see.”
“Did I?” she asked Sawyer. She might never know the answer to that.
“I thought for sure you had a chance,” Sophie said, dragging Carrie back into the dreary present. Monday mornings were bad enough, but this Monday was even worse, especially on only a few hours’ rest.
Carrie couldn’t stop thinking about Finn, couldn’t stop dreaming about him. If any two people were dissimilar, it was them, and yet the attraction had been magnetic and powerful. Now that she was gone, she wondered if she remained on his mind the way he did on hers.
“How disappointing for you,” Sophie said, her eyes wide with sympathy.
“I really thought I had a line on him, too,” Carrie confessed. Only she was the one who’d fallen—hook, line, and sinker.
“You located his mother, though, right?” Sophie leaned against the side of Carrie’s desk and crossed her arms.
“Yes, and that got me really excited, but mother and son have been estranged since Finn was ten years old. All she really knew was that he was living in Alaska, and that it was close to Fairbanks. Unfortunately, her directions were too vague to help.”
“What happened when you got to Fairbanks?” Sophie hopped up onto the corner of Carrie’s desk as though she intended to stay awhile.
“Well, for one thing, I discovered I wasn’t the only reporter who’d arrived out of the blue searching for the elusive Finn Dalton.”
“Who did you ask?”
“Bush pilots. From what I heard, Finn is a pilot himself.” Carrie had learned from Sawyer on their flight back that Finn owned a plane, which was currently in Fairbanks for a routine maintenance check.
“How do you know that?”
“Word of mouth.”
“Does it matter?” Carrie was growing irritated with Sophie’s questions. In retrospect, she wished she hadn’t said anything. At the time, she’d been too excited to keep the information to herself.
“Did any of those pilots give you anything you could use?” Sophie seemed obsessed with this, and Carrie was finding it difficult to give her friend ambiguous answers.
“Don’t you have work to do?” Carrie asked instead.
“Yes, but it seems to me the bush pilots must know Finn and would tell you something, anything.”
“Wrong. Finn has very loyal friends.”
“You could have bribed them; did you think of that?”
“Sophie, please, it’s my first day back and I’ve got a ton of stuff to catch up on.”
“All right, all right. I just hope you aren’t too disappointed.”
She sighed. “I’m not. I gave finding him my best shot and turned up empty. I can’t do anything more than that.”