Born in a Small Town / Page 7

Page 7


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Opening the door, she stepped into the office. “Duke, I—” She stopped as soon as she realized it wasn’t Duke standing there, but Scott O’Halloran.

“Morning,” he greeted her cheerfully. He was pouring himself a cup of coffee and didn’t bother to look up.

Her smile quickly faded. “Where’s Duke?”

“Sleeping in, I assume.” Scott finally glanced up. “I’m taking the morning flight.”

Chrissie hesitated, unsure what to do.

He reached for a clipboard and headed out the door. He paused when she didn’t follow. “You coming or not?” he asked, as if it was of little concern to him. “I’m leaving now. I have some deliveries to make in Fairbanks.”

Chrissie figured she didn’t have any choice. She might as well get used to being around Scott, no matter how uncomfortable she felt.

Climbing into the plane, she was relieved when Scott immediately placed a pair of headphones over his ears. Making polite conversation with him would have been difficult, and at least he’d circumvented any requirement to do so. He ran through a flight-check list before starting the engine of the Lake LA4 amphibious plane. He could have been flying alone for all the attention he paid her.

Frankly, that was the way Chrissie wanted it. Yet when they soared into the endless blue skies toward Fairbanks, she found herself wishing circumstances could’ve been different. This wasn’t the first time she’d flown with Scott; she’d been in the air with him dozens of times. In Hard Luck planes were equivalent to cars anywhere else. More than one summer’s afternoon had been spent flying to nearby lakes for a refreshing swim.

The first time he’d ever kissed her had been underwater. They’d done plenty of kissing above water, too. Chrissie closed her eyes, not wanting to remember.

At the first sign of Fairbanks, she relaxed, grateful to be close to her destination and away from the confines of the plane. Away from Scott. His landing was smooth, a greaser as the pilots called it, and the aircraft came down gently, touching the tarmac with barely a jolt.

“Nice landing,” Chrissie said when Scott removed the headphones.

“Thanks.”

“Will you be flying me back tomorrow afternoon?” Not that it mattered, but she wanted to know.

“My name’s on the schedule.” He unlatched the door and climbed out, his jaw noticeably tight—as though her question had angered him.

Refusing to allow his mood to intimidate her, Chrissie opened her own door and climbed down the wing, rejecting Scott’s offer of assistance. Once firmly on the ground, she slipped her backpack over her shoulders and straightened. “I’ll see you tomorrow, then.”

He nodded curtly.

Without another word, Chrissie turned and started toward the terminal.

“Have fun with your boyfriend,” he called after her, his voice dripping with sarcasm.

Boyfriend? She couldn’t imagine where he got that idea. Chrissie thought about explaining that she was mentoring a twelve-year-old girl, then changed her mind. Perhaps it was for the best if Scott believed she was involved with another man. Not many people knew about her work with the experimental foster-care program. Her parents, of course, and Tracy. She’d briefly mentioned it to Ben’s wife, too, but none of the details; she’d only referred to visiting Joelle on a particular weekend.

Joelle’s group home was a foster-care program being tested by the state. School-age children were placed in a situation similar to a boarding-school facility. Each student was assigned a volunteer mentor from the community, who spent time with the child, encouraging and listening.

Chrissie had been working with Joelle for two years and had grown to love the quiet soft-spoken child. At first it was all Chrissie could do to get the painfully shy girl to speak above a whisper. Gradually, over time, thanks to the support of the group home and the trust Chrissie had built, Joelle grew more confident. Chrissie could hardly recognize the child she’d first met in the smiling chattering girl Joelle had become.

“I leave at four o’clock sharp,” Scott shouted.

“I’ll be on time,” Chrissie responded, tossing the words over her shoulder.

“See that you are,” he snapped, “or I’ll leave without you.”

His parting shot annoyed her, and she jerked open the heavy glass door leading to the terminal. Her frown quickly changed to a smile as Joelle raced toward her. “Chrissie, Chrissie!” the girl shouted. “Guess what? I got an A on my essay for English!”

Chrissie enveloped the girl in a hug as a surge of joy and triumph rushed through her. Joelle had come so far, and Chrissie couldn’t help feeling a personal pride in the progress she’d made. Every accomplishment was significant, Chrissie knew; every accomplishment took her farther from her disadvantaged past and toward a hopeful future.

“Oh, Joelle, I’m so proud of you.” Simple words, spoken with heartfelt sincerity, and it was a wonder to see the smile on the girl’s face.

“I’ve got a busy weekend planned for us,” Chrissie told her.

Joelle wrapped an arm around Chrissie’s waist. “I brought my paper if you want to read it.”

“You bet I do,” she told her, and they walked out of the terminal together.

FOUR O’CLOCK Sunday afternoon, as promised, Chrissie was back at the airport. Two days with Joelle, and she was exhausted. A friend who worked as a flight attendant for one of the airlines let Chrissie use her apartment. The arrangement worked well for them both. Jackie usually had weekend assignments, and whenever she was on duty, Chrissie watered her plants and brought in her mail.

Scott was waiting for her. “We may have trouble with the weather,” he said by way of greeting.

“What kind of trouble?”

He stared at her. “A storm front’s headed toward us. Would you understand the meteorological details if I explained them?”

“Probably, but I’ll just take your word for it,” she said. “Are we stuck in Fairbanks?”

“Not if I can help it. I’ve been on the phone for the last thirty minutes. If we leave now, we can squeak through. Ready to go?”

“Of course.”

“Then let’s get this show on the road.” He led her to the plane and Chrissie dutifully followed him and climbed inside, fastening the seat belt. Although she knew they were in a hurry, she was reassured that Scott took the time to go over the preflight checklist thoroughly.

It was nearly dusk when they soared into the sky, which was clear and cloudless. Those conditions, however, didn’t last. About halfway between Fairbanks and Hard Luck, they hit thick cloud cover and heavy winds, and the plane pitched and heaved. Rain and sleet lashed them from all directions, and ice started to build up on the wings. Chrissie didn’t need to be a pilot to know how dangerous that was.

Although she’d flown in every type of weather, the rough-and-tumble ride unsettled her. During one particularly bad stretch, she closed her eyes and bit her lower lip.

“You okay?” Scott asked.

“Uh-huh.”

Talking into his headset, Scott was busy for several minutes. “We’re going down,” he suddenly announced, his voice emotionless.

Adrenaline bolted through her. “We’re landing? Where?” It was nearly nightfall and raining. She could barely make out the landscape below.

Scott, however, was concentrating on the radio, reporting the details of where they were, and he didn’t answer her.

Chrissie clenched her hands tightly as he circled the area and slowly made his descent. By the time the lake came into view, her nerves were shot. Just as flawlessly as he’d landed the day before, Scott guided the plane onto the water’s surface and cut the engine, gliding it toward shore.

“Where are we?” she asked once her heart had stopped pounding.

Scott heaved a sigh as he took off his headphones. “Lake Abbey. We’ll wait out the storm here.”

Terrific, just terrific; he’d chosen the very lake where he’d first kissed her. The lake Sawyer O’Halloran had named after his wife.

CHAPTER FIVE

SCOTT MANEUVERED the plane as close to shore as possible, all the while feeling Chrissie’s glare. The woman was in a rage, which was ridiculous. It wasn’t as though he’d invented this storm or conjured it up, although to tell the truth, he wasn’t really complaining. It gave him the opportunity to talk to Chrissie without her dashing off the way she usually did whenever he was in the vicinity.

“You did this on purpose,” she accused him.

“If you want something to blame, I suggest you look at the weather,” Scott replied.

“The storm’s only an excuse, and you know it. We never should’ve left Fairbanks.”

She had him there, but he’d honestly believed they could slide in before the cold front hit. Rather than argue with her, he said calmly, “My family built a cabin here.” He cringed at how damned convenient that sounded; not only did it seem like a setup, but she already knew about the cabin. So she probably figured he’d planned this all along.

“I suppose you’re going to suggest we wait out the storm there,” she said scathingly.

“Well, yes…” No wonder she doubted him, but as God was his witness, he hadn’t planned it.

“I’m well aware of your parents’ cabin,” Chrissie returned defiantly, crossing her arms.

“You’re welcome to spend the night in the plane,” he said nonchalantly. She couldn’t—he wouldn’t allow it—but she didn’t know that. He’d make his way to the cabin, build a fire, and if she hadn’t shown up by the time he finished, he’d go back for her.

“That’s exactly what I intend to do.”

Scott should have suspected as much. He didn’t remember Chrissie being this obstinate, but then, he hadn’t been around her for a number of years.

“I’m going to the cabin,” he told her, opening the aircraft’s door. A bone-chilling blast of Arctic wind shook him, and he gasped at the shock of it.

“I have plenty of blankets here,” she told him, sounding less sure of herself now.

“If you need anything, just holler.” He closed the door, wondering if he should drag her out of the plane right then and there. Damn her pride, she was being ridiculous—again. But he quickly realized that after Chrissie had spent thirty minutes sitting in the frigid cold, her attitude would soften.

Edging along the pontoon, Scott leaped from the plane onto the shore. Luckily his boots protected his feet from the icy water. A flashlight led him toward the cabin through a night as black as he’d ever seen. Moon and stars were hidden by dark clouds, and there was no snow to provide even a tiny bit of reflection. The rain still pelted down.

He reached the cabin without incident. Scott’s parents, Sawyer and Abbey, had built the log structure about fifteen years earlier, with plenty of help from family and friends. It’d been quite a feat and required nearly three years of planning. Naturally the cabin had no modern conveniences, but it’d served as a family vacation home ever since.


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