“Yes. Sawyer will collect you come morning.”
“Of course. How could I have forgotten?” she said. “And you’ll be more than ready to see me go.”
To her surprise, he didn’t immediately respond.
When dinner was ready, they sat down across from each other, the roast and assorted vegetables on a platter between them. Finn opened the wine bottle and poured them each a glass.
“What shall we toast?” she asked, pressing the brim of her glass against his.
“To cribbage,” he suggested. “And I demand a rematch after dinner.”
“To cribbage,” she echoed, and smiled.
Their eyes held for an extra-long moment, and her stomach was filled with butterflies as she realized that this heightened awareness of each other hadn’t gone away. If anything, it was stronger, and was growing more so each moment. Although they both tried to ignore what was happening, it was still there, as real and as profound as when he’d caught her and kept her from falling to the floor.
They sipped the wine while their gazes held. Deliberately, Carrie looked away. She needed to remind herself that the sole reason she was in Alaska was for an interview. After spending more than twenty-four hours with Finn, she had what she needed. And as soon as the article was published, Finn Dalton would want nothing more to do with her.
This wasn’t working, Finn realized. When Carrie showed up unexpectedly, he’d been determined to freeze her out. She might have found him, but she wasn’t getting one iota of information out of him for that blasted article she intended to write. He would say as little as possible, speak in monosyllables, and be rid of her the instant the weather cleared.
And yet within the span of twenty-four hours she knew more about him than he ever intended. Only a few of his friends knew about his involvement with Pamela. If divulging personal information wasn’t bad enough, he’d been keenly tempted to take her in his arms and kiss her. The urge had been so strong that he’d had to leave the cabin. Then, upon his return, he’d found her standing on a chair and she’d fallen directly into his arms. He’d like to think she planned this, but her reactions said otherwise. He’d caught her, and she’d looked up at him with those baby blues of hers, practically begging him to do the very thing he wanted to most. It felt as if he was about to go down for the third time before he gathered the strength to pull away. Not that it was easy. Finn liked to think of himself as disciplined and in control of his emotions. With Carrie, every bit of self-preservation flew out the proverbial window. He didn’t like it one bit.
What he needed, Finn decided, was a distraction. He figured if they could play cards, that would keep him sane until he was well rid of her. Then he’d come up with the bright idea of opening a bottle of wine. What was he thinking? If he found her beautiful before dinner, she was all the more so during. Stunning, breathtakingly beautiful, and for the life of him he couldn’t keep his eyes off her.
He wanted to blame the wine, but she’d intoxicated him with little more than a smile. This was bad, and every minute he spent with her made it worse. Before he knew how it happened, he’d lowered his guard.
“Are you surprised?” she’d asked him. “You know, by how successful the book has been?”
He nodded. It baffled him even now. His editor routinely updated him on sales and his position on the New York Times bestseller list. “I’ve been told it’s a publishing sensation.”
“It is. Finn, thousands and thousands of people are reading and loving your stories about Alaska. What ever made you think to write it?”
He smiled and leaned back, far more comfortable with her than he should have been. Before he knew it, he was telling her the story. “It was just one of those things. I read an article about the problems with kids having sedentary lives, obsessed with video games and television, and was astonished. While I was growing up, every day was an adventure. I thought if I wrote about some of my own experiences it might inspire kids and adults to step outside their front door and look at nature in an entirely different way.”
Carrie’s eyes brightened and Finn couldn’t have looked away from her if someone had offered him gold ingots.
“Did you know,” Carrie said, her smile warm and alive, “there are whole groups that are springing up across the country for organized hikes and other outdoor activities that your book inspired? This would never have happened if it hadn’t been for your book. I hope you realize what a strong influence Alone has been.”
He had heard about such groups, and it pleased him immensely.
The bottom line, Finn realized, was that he needed to keep his trap shut.
The problem was how comfortable he felt with Carrie. Hardly trying, she got him talking. He wasn’t sure what it was about her; maybe it was the pain that radiated from her when she spoke of her college sweetheart. At first he assumed she’d made up the story in order to gain his trust. But the hurt he saw in her couldn’t be fabricated. No one was that good an actress.
All Finn could hope was that Sawyer didn’t get delayed come morning. There was still a chance that Finn might come out of this fiasco unscathed.
Carrie and Finn worked together washing and drying the dinner dishes. Although she pretended not to notice, he kept a careful watch on her. At one point she almost said she had no intention of stealing his silverware.
Dinner had been pleasant enough. The roast had been cooked to perfection, tender and succulent, and the vegetables were a wonderful complement. They’d chatted amicably during the meal, and Carrie was surprised how easy it was to talk to Finn. Without her prompting, he’d started to talk about the book, which shocked her. When he abruptly stopped, she realized he’d said far more than he’d ever intended.
“I like you, Finn,” she said as they claimed the chairs by the fire.
“Excuse me?” He arched one thick brow as though questioning her.
“With few exceptions, I’ve enjoyed spending this time with you.”
“Really?” Her announcement appeared to amuse him. He leaned back in his chair and crossed his arms as though he expected her to elaborate.
She rocked a bit before answering. “I’m not going to feed your ego.”
“Come on. Why not?”
Carrie had trouble holding back a smile “Okay, fine,” she said, “you’re so authentic. You are who you are and you aren’t willing to apologize for it. I like that.”
Actually, she was strongly attracted to the fact that Finn was a man’s man, but she wasn’t willing to admit it. His strength didn’t come from working out in some gym but from living life.
She found he was staring at her, and so she continued, “Covering the society page the way I do, you can’t imagine how many men … and women I meet who only care about money, appearances, superficial things. Oh, don’t get me started, but you … you’re a refreshing change.”
“I’m highly intelligent,” he added.
She laughed. “And humble, too, I see.”
“Touché.” He chuckled and then asked, “What about good-looking?”
“I don’t feel qualified to answer that,” she said, and cocked her head from one side to the other as though assessing his looks.
“Why not?” he challenged.
She flexed her fingers over her own cheeks. “It’s hard to tell with your entire face covered with that beard.”
“True, but you should be able to take my word for it. Besides, beards are a necessity here in Alaska.”
“Someone should have told me and I would have grown one,” she joked.
He smiled back, and it seemed like their gazes caught and held for an extra-long moment. In order to break the spell, she looked away and added, “You’re a good conversationalist.”
He frowned at her comment. “Too good.”
Their conversation continued for another hour. Carrie discovered that they had a surprising amount in common and agreed on a number of issues; they both loved reading thrillers and were big football fans, especially of the Seattle Seahawks. On others, they were diametrically opposed, the foremost being politics. What struck her, what she found devastatingly attractive about him, was the fact that he could laugh at himself and about Alaska. Finn possessed a wonderful dry wit. When she asked him about the rumor that Alaska was full of bachelors, he replied, “You know what they say about Alaska, don’t you? It’s where the men are men, and so are the women.”
Carrie tried unsuccessfully to hide her laugh, nearly choking with the effort. Once she composed herself she recited something she’d read on a T-shirt. “I heard that if a woman is looking for a husband in Alaska, her odds are good but the goods are odd.”
Finn laughed in return, and then it happened again. Their gazes caught and held for what seemed like an eternity, as neither one of them was keen to break the contact.
Carrie hadn’t been joking; she enjoyed Finn’s company. The more she got to know him, the stronger her feelings became. Before long, they’d finished off the bottle of wine. Then Finn suggested a rematch of their cribbage game.
“Only this time whoever wins the match gets the bed tonight,” he suggested.
Carrie didn’t need to think twice about this wager. “You’re on.” The only decent sleep she’d had the night before had been in Finn’s bed, and that had been right before morning. She remembered wrapping herself up in the warm quilts, surrounded by the scent of Finn. The sofa had been lumpy, and half the night she’d shivered with cold. It’d been an uncomfortable experience. The one bonus was having Hennessey with her.
Once again Finn brought out the cribbage board and the cards, and they sat down across from each other as they had before. They cut the cards, and Finn won for the deal. As he shuffled the deck, he made light conversation, almost as if he was looking to distract her.
“You said you work for the Chicago Herald?”
“Yeah.” She caught the cards as he dealt them to her. “The society page, like I said earlier.”
Finn arched his brows.
“I’m fortunate to have a job with such a prestigious newspaper, but quite honestly, Finn, this isn’t the type of writing I want to do.” The thought of returning to Chicago and immediately being thrust into a series of parties and other social events filled her with dread.
“So that’s the reason you went to such desperate lengths to find me.”
“Right. An article on you would change everything for me.” She glanced up hopefully, but his expression remained blank. He didn’t need to tell her his feelings on the matter; they’d already been well stated. But she would write the article. The nearly thirty-six hours she’d spent in his company had proved he was everything he’d claimed in his book and more.
Finn laid down his first card, and she immediately added her own.
Carrie would like to think that it was because she was distracted by their conversation that she handily lost the first game.
“No fair,” she muttered.