Carrie hurried after him. “I’m serious, and I’ll pay you anything reasonable if you’ll take me to him. You can wait while I talk to Finn. I won’t be long, I promise.”
“Just as I thought. When will you people give it up? Although I have to admit you’re cleverer than most, bringing up his mother.”
“I’m telling you the truth. I have something to give him from her.”
“Sure you do,” Sawyer commented, continuing to walk away from her.
Carrie chased after him, dragging her suitcase. She had to duck her head in order to walk beneath the Cessna’s wing. “It’s his father’s wedding band. Joan asked me to deliver it to Finn.” She hated the desperate pleading quality to her voice, but she had to convince Sawyer she was legitimate.
Sawyer hesitated. “Show me the ring.”
“Okay.” She slid the purse strap off her shoulder and dug inside for the ring, which was wrapped in a tissue inside a plastic bag. Once it was free, she handed it to Sawyer. “His name, Paul Dalton, is engraved on the inside, along with Joan’s name and the date of their wedding.”
Sawyer carefully examined the gold band, and then Carrie, before returning the ring. “There’s a storm due. I’m heading back to Hard Luck in fifteen minutes. I’ll land on the lake outside Finn’s cabin and return in the morning or whenever, depending on this storm. Is that agreeable?”
“Yes, perfect.” At this point, Carrie would have agreed to practically anything.
“Finn isn’t going to like this, so I’ll radio him you’re coming.”
“I don’t expect he’ll have the welcome mat out.”
“You’ve got two things against you.”
“Is that all?”
“First, you’re a woman, and second, you’re a reporter. Make that three things.”
“Yes. You’re bringing him something from his mother. He doesn’t want any reminders of her.”
“So she said.” Curiosity got the best of her. “Not that I want you to change your mind, but can you tell me why you’re helping me?”
The bush pilot shrugged. “I’ll probably regret it. Finn’s a good friend, but it’s time he broadened his horizons some, and you, pretty lady, might be just the ticket.”
“Whatever the reason, I’m grateful.”
“Finn will probably stop speaking to me, but he’ll get over it eventually,” Sawyer continued. “I feel I should warn you, though; he’s bound to be as inviting as a wolverine.”
“Got it. Any other advice?”
Sawyer scratched the side of his head. “I wouldn’t start off mentioning the ring and his mother.” He gave her the once-over a second time. “You pack anything practical for the weather?”
“I live in Chicago. It freezes there.”
He snorted as if to cover a laugh. “You’ve got fifteen minutes. Make use of them.” He pointed in the direction of the airport, and Carrie took off running. She wasn’t sure what she’d need, but with the help of the clerk picked up a couple of pieces of gear, including a hat and thick scarf. It seemed extravagant to purchase anything else, seeing that she intended to be in Alaska only a short while.
By the time she returned, Sawyer had moved the plane out of the hangar and had the engine running. “You ready?” he asked.
Because she was winded and excited, she only nodded.
“Okay, climb inside. We need to get going.”
“Right now?” She’d hoped to have a few moments to gather herself.
“Yes, now,” he snapped. “There’s limited light, and with the coming storm, that window is closing. Ready or not, I’m leaving.”
“I’m ready.” Carrie had never flown in a private plane, but that one small detail wasn’t about to stop her. She eyed the Cessna, sucked in a deep breath, and loaded her suitcase. It wasn’t easy climbing inside and locking the passenger door. Carrie was relieved she’d worn her jeans, and thankfully her boots had only a moderate heel.
Within a few minutes they were airborne, circling the airport and heading due north. Carrie clung to her purse as if that would save her from imminent danger and held her breath several times when the plane rocked after encountering moderate turbulence. Sawyer had handed her a pair of headphones, but he wasn’t much for conversation, preoccupied as he was with flying the plane. He radioed Finn twice but wasn’t able to reach him. Although Sawyer didn’t say so, Carrie had the feeling he already regretted agreeing to this. Fearing anything she said might do more harm than good, she remained silent until it was clear that he was preparing to land.
“Where’s the airstrip?” she asked, studying the landscape below. In the dim light, all she could see were snow and trees.
“Airstrip?” Sawyer repeated incredulously. “I’m not landing on any strip. Didn’t I already mention I’d be landing on a lake?”
Set on convincing him to fly her to Finn, Carrie didn’t remember that part of their conversation. A lake? A frozen lake? Peering through the window, she couldn’t make out anything but snow. She gasped out loud when the plane’s wheels bounced against the ice and skidded sideways out of control.
Sawyer didn’t cut the engine but guided the Cessna to the lake’s center and turned toward her.
“Under normal conditions, I’d escort you to Finn’s cabin. Unfortunately, I’m headed directly into that storm, and I don’t have the time to spare. You can see his cabin over there,” he said, pointing in the distance.
Carrie squinted in the fading light. “Is it far?”
“You’ll happen upon it soon enough. If Finn isn’t there, make yourself at home, and have him contact me.” He snickered. “Actually, no need, he’ll be in touch, I’m sure. You going to be okay?”
Carrie nodded, swallowed hard, and put on a good front. “I was a Girl Scout. I’ll be fine.” She could see the outline of the cabin through the thick, fat flakes that had already started to fall. Sawyer needed to get back in the air as quickly as possible.
“Good luck,” he said, and it sounded as if he meant it.
“We’ll square up with what I owe you when you return tomorrow.”
“Sure, whatever. But like I said, with the weather, it might be a day or two.”
Carrie bit into the soft flesh of her inner lip. “Okay.” She was grateful he had brought her this far and would count her blessings.
He hit the throttle, which was her signal to get going. Carrie opened the plane’s door and climbed out, but not with a lot of grace. She retrieved her small suitcase and the bag of gear she’d bought and stood back as the plane immediately accelerated across the frozen lake. The wind and snow whipped across Carrie’s face with such ferocity that it felt as if she were being stuck with needles.
Other than her brief time in the hangar when she’d first met Sawyer, she hadn’t been exposed to the Alaskan elements, and they were as brutal as the bush pilot had warned. Her coat, which had been all the protection she needed in Chicago, felt useless. Already she was so cold she had started to shake. Within moments her toes had lost all feeling. Wrapping her new scarf around her head and face, she started walking in the direction of the cabin.
With the plane airborne now, the thin layer of snow settled down on the thick ice, and in the distance Carrie saw a twisting tail of smoke. That had to be coming from Finn’s cabin.
Carrie hunched her shoulders as close to her head as she could manage, and even through the protection of her gloves, it felt as if her hands were exposed to the raw elements. The ice was uneven, and dragging her suitcase wasn’t an easy task. With her hands numb, she twice dropped the suitcase handle and had to stop and pick it back up.
She hadn’t even met Finn and already she’d started to feel as if this was a terrible mistake. Everything had happened so quickly, and when she did meet him she wasn’t sure what she would say to convince him to give her an interview.
Suddenly it started to snow with such ferocity that she couldn’t see more than a few feet in front of her. The wind drove it sideways, and with her head bowed she struggled against the elements until she heard what sounded like a wild beast. Looking up, Carrie squinted, and what she saw caused her heart to shoot up to her throat. It was an animal, a wolf, and he was racing toward her at an alarming pace.
Dropping her suitcase, Carrie did the only thing she could think to do. She started running. The wind made it nearly impossible to make headway as she strained against the force of it.
Then it happened. She stumbled and fell face-first onto the ice.
Before she could right herself, the wolf was nearly on top of her.
Screaming, she twisted around and bunched her fists, determined to do what she could to save her life.
Carrie felt the animal’s warm breath against her neck and then didn’t. Struggling to sit upright, she turned to see a man walking toward her across the ice. The wind swirled the snow around him, obliterating his features, but his strides were long and powerful. The animal she’d assumed was a wolf appeared now to be a large dog. Hennessey sat on his haunches, awaiting his master.
This could only be Finn Dalton.
When he reached her, the hulk of a man loomed over her like a beast in his own right. His face was nearly obscured by protective weather gear and a full beard, but his eyes, deep and dark, cut through her the way a diamond slices through rock. As Carrie gazed up at him, in those first few breathless moments, he seemed more intimidating than the wolf/dog had been.
“Who are you?” he shouted, but his voice was carried away by the wind. Leaning down, he reached for her arm, pulling her to her feet. Upright now, her boots slipped against the freshly fallen snow, and she would have toppled a second time if he hadn’t held her in place. Shaking his head in what could be described only as disgust, he grabbed her about the waist and tucked her under his arm as if she were no bigger than a rag doll. Before she could protest, he started walking toward the cabin, eating up the distance with angry strides. Carrie was perpendicular to the ground, so all she could see was the snow on the lake. By now, the hair that had escaped her hat was frozen tendrils that slapped against the tender skin of her cheeks. Hennessey obediently followed. Carrie thought to protest and demand that he put her down, but she knew it would do no good. He probably wouldn’t be able to hear her.
“M-y, m-y suitcase,” she shouted, or tried. Then she noticed that he had that and her shopping bag in his other hand. His strength astonished her. He carried her with one arm as if she weighed next to nothing. Hennessey trailed behind them, keeping a careful watch on her. Carrie had the impression that if Finn were to mutter one word, Hennessey would happily make a meal out of her.
By the time they reached the cabin, Carrie was shaking from head to foot. Finn kicked the door closed and set her down, but she found it impossible to stand upright. Gripping her by the waist, he promptly placed her in a chair in the kitchen area.