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Expect the Sunrise
By Susan May Warren
Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.Copyright © 2006 Susan May Warren
All right reserved.
Chapter OneThree Months Later
NO MATTER WHICH route she took, Andee MacLeod always found herself headed straight for Disaster. She didn't have to circle her destination on her aerial chart to know what awaited her in the hamlet with a population of thirty that was tucked under the shadow of the North Slope of the Brooks Range.
Heartache. Regret. To be precise, her father, Gerard MacLeod. A fifty-five-year-old bush pilot who refused to budge from his life in the wild, who'd survived so many Alaskan winters that she'd started to wonder if the cold had begun to reach his heart also.
Not that he didn't love her. But the very fact that he refused to move south, even to Fairbanks, seemed a metaphor for their relationship. As if when he stepped outside the woods that he'd hidden in for nearly two decades, he might find himself stripped and defenseless. Dependent on someone other than himself.
Not the way of the MacLeods.
"Emma, do you copy?" Doug's raspy voice from dispatch filtered through the static on Andee's radio.
She set the map on the opposite cockpit seat and reached for the handset. "Emma here. What's up, Doug?" She could see the control tower from her plane's position on the tarmac and nearly waved at him.
"Are you heading toDisaster after your stop at Prudhoe Bay?"
"That's affirmative." When didn't she stop at Disaster on her trips north? Her airplane practically flew itself.
"Please check on Maricel Fee. She's due any day now."
"Roger that." Andee replaced the radio mike and climbed out of her Cessna. Please don't let Maricel go into labor on my watch, Lord. She still had nightmares from the last pregnant woman she'd flown into Fairbanks. She'd taken off from Anaktuvuk Pass with one passenger and landed with two.
The need for decent medical services in Alaska never stopped, even when the temperature dipped into the minus-thirty range-and lower-during the coldest months of winter. Thankfully, for the past few years Andee had escaped the clench of Alaskan cold that could about-face a cheechako and send him hustling back to the Lower 48. She could hardly be called a tenderfoot after being raised in the bush, twenty miles from Disaster on the Disaster Creek, but sometimes she wondered just what brought her back here every summer.
Maybe it was the sunrise climbing over Doonerak Peak, the aurora borealis over the North Slope, or the purple moss campion that carpeted the taiga. Maybe she returned to see the caribou migrate or an occasional moose rubbing his back on the bracings of the Alaska pipeline as she flew her Cessna 185 supplied with medicines and foodstuff to remote villages north of the Arctic Circle.
No, it was probably the chance to see Gerard MacLeod again. Her daughterly responsibilities pushing her past the hurt. This year she hoped to convince him to move to Disaster township, which would mean she wouldn't have to trek into the backwoods, armed with supplies and extra gas for his four-wheeler. Andee barely kept away the nightmare that someday she'd knock on the door to his two-room cabin, not receive an answer, and find him frozen stiff, too injured from some hunting accident to carry in the wood.
Then again Gerard would probably prefer it that way. MacLeods didn't ask for help.
If only her mother had stuck around, maybe Andee wouldn't have to live like a nomad, babysitting a stubborn Scotsman every summer and her driven doctor-mother every winter.
Andee finished her preflight cabin check on the new Cessna Stationair, then got out and did her preflight walk around, checking the flaps and ailerons, the tires, prop, cowling, nose wheel, and fuel drains.
Glancing at her watch, she marched back to the North Rim Outfitters hangar at the Fairbanks International Airport, where the five passengers for this excursion to the north waited inside for her all okay. Most of them were tourists, although she'd read that one was a missionary heading to serve in the Inupiaq community of Resurrection, Alaska. She wondered if a missionary in her own little town might have prevented the heartache of watching her parents fight over her, separate, and tear their only daughter in half.
"Choose." Her mother's stiff voice still stung her ears, especially on days like today when the fall air felt heavy and had a snap to the breeze that lifted her jacket collar. That moment so many years ago on this very tarmac haunted her still.
She stopped, looking northward, and she didn't like what she saw. Oppressive, gray clouds, although high, had the potential to ground her if she didn't get airborne soon. The last thing she needed was another delay in Fairbanks. One more trip and she'd have enough to jump-start her mutual fund. Then she'd pack her Jeep and head south to her mother's home in Iowa or farther to the Galloway ranch in Kentucky. She wondered how Lacey and Jim Micah were handling being newlyweds.
"I really do," Micah had said on their wedding day. Andee had all but burst into tears at her friend's happy ending after rescuing Lacey's daughter from a kidnapper/murderer/traitor nearly a year ago. Seeing Micah holding little Emily in his arms at the wedding had tugged at all Andee's private longings. A family. A home. A man who might give her a reason to stop chasing her dreams around the Northern Hemisphere. Or rather a man who might drop his own dreams and follow hers. Wouldn't that be a miracle?
But heroes didn't magically materialize, especially here in the frozen north. Besides, she didn't need a knight in shining armor. She had different dreams. An airplane. A medical operation to the northern villages. Lives saved. She didn't usually bother to think about someone to share it with. Because, really, who would she find who might want to eke out a life in this barren wilderness with her? He'd have to be hardy, stubborn, romantic, and loyal ... and she wouldn't mind if he also had strong arms that could protect her just a little.
Oh, brother. Maybe she'd read one too many fairy tales.
She went inside and picked up the passenger manifest. The austere vinyl chairs and cement walls of the lobby gave adequate warning of the travel ahead.
Andee hoped the passengers had packed well-warm clothes and sleeping bags. Weather in the Brooks Range changed hourly, especially this late in September. More than a few times she'd landed on a lonely strip of meadow to wait out the moods of the ceiling. And with the new restrictions on flying over Dalton Highway and the nearby pipeline, she'd have to veer west over the peaks and smack-dab into the dark weather. Hopefully she'd make it to Disaster by nightfall, reading to her father while he fried up a griddle of sourdough flapjacks.
She skimmed the passenger list, then glanced at the group assembled. Five total. Two sat in the chairs. One leaned against the reception counter, looking at brochures. A tall, broad-shouldered man stood by the window, his duffel bag between his feet, as if someone might run by and grab it. She shook her head. Tourists-they suspected trouble everywhere. Or maybe the restlessness came from all the flights and security checks and cautions they had to endure to get to Alaska from the continental U.S.
"Nina Smith?" Andee read the name and saw a large-boned woman rise, her long black hair in a braid down her back. She wore a red fleece-lined jacket and cap, well dressed for her excursion to the North Slope. Her overstuffed, external-frame backpack leaned against the chairs. Probably headed out for some late-season hiking. Her dark brown eyes pinned
Andee's, and she smiled. "That's me."
Andee nodded. "Floyd Dekker?"
"Hey, y'all." Mr. Bo Duke with a goatee and about ten years of padding waved two fingers at her. He wore a brown, flannel-lined, canvas coat and tugged on a Take Back America baseball cap. "Call me Flint," he said with a Southern drawl.
Andee guessed his itinerary included hunting. While the moose and bear season had just started, the weather hadn't cooperated and a number of game hunters had trudged home without their kill. Usually Andee made a practice of refusing to fly in hunters to the northern regions after September 20, right after moose season. The temperamental weather could leave them stranded, unable to be flown out before their supplies were exhausted. But winter seemed to be taking her time this year, and when North Rim Outfitters offered her a bonus, she felt her dreams of purchasing her own plane nearly attainable.
"Okay, Flint." She hid a smile at his nickname. What was it about coming to Alaska that made people adopt new personas? Then again, up here when she was flying she went by Emma, her call name and the only pet name her father had ever given her. A term from the old country, it meant "lady," according to Gerard. The name gave her purpose, identity, and inclinations toward strength.
But probably like Flint, Emma was an illusion, a poor cover for a woman who never seemed settled in her own skin.
"Martin Ishbane?" She scanned the room.
"Maybe he's the one outside," Nina said, nodding toward a man standing with his back to the windows.
Andee opened the door, leaned out. "Mr. Ishbane?"
The man turned and blew out a stream of smoke.
Andee recoiled slightly, not trying to offend. At least he'd chosen to smoke outside. She found a smile for him. "I'm the pilot, just trying to track down my passengers."
"I'm Ishbane," he said quietly as he glanced at her with gray, expressionless eyes. He held a briefcase in his gloved hand. Under his thin leather jacket, he wore a black turtleneck, and the wind tangled his long hair, held back into a ponytail. She hoped he owned a hat-he definitely wasn't outfitted for a jaunt into the north woods. After dropping the cigarette, he crushed it under his hiking boot.
Andee stifled her comments and returned inside, followed by Ishbane. "Jake Phillips?"
The man who was leaning against the counter nodded at her, a smile on his chiseled, square face. He had dark eyes and dark, tightly curled hair, and he wore a down parka and a wool cap. With his barrel chest and muscular arms, he looked like he played defensive end for some pro football team or maybe squared off on center ice for the Stanley Cup. He reminded her of an oversized Jim Micah in a way.
She smiled at him in return. Then the other man, standing arms akimbo, one shoulder holding up the wall, and a pair of sunglasses hooked low on his nose must be-"Stirling McRae?"
The man glanced at her, a hardness in his eyes that rattled her for a moment. He stood about six feet three. With broad shoulders, slightly long, curly brown hair tucked behind his ears, and reddish stubble, he seemed unexpected, rumpled, yet with a quiet power about him that sizzled just below his unassuming stance. He wore faded jeans and an open fleece-lined canvas jacket. He looked as if he needed a good meal and a few hours of shut-eye. And warmer clothes, where they were heading.
She sighed. Why did tourists assume they could dress like they might on a January day in Tennessee instead of September on the north side of the planet? The higher areas already had snow, even if Fairbanks had yet to be dusted. Still, winter could swoop down without warning, and even now her airplane hardly kept the interior temperature above forty.
"Aye," the man answered finally.
Oh, terrific. A Scot. He probably had arrogance to match that slightly accented deep voice and warrior build. Good thing they had only a five-hour flight ahead of them. She knew this type-bullheaded, cantankerous, with way too much confidence for anyone's good. And she should know-having been accused of the same by her Scottish father on more than one occasion.
"Okay, we're all here." Andee grabbed her sunglasses and added her flight plan and weather update to the clipboard. "Call me Emma. I'll be your pilot. We're flying in a six-seater, nearly new Cessna Turbo Stationair, courtesy of North Rim Outfitters." She nodded at Flint, the outfitter's client. The other passengers paid a higher price for the charter-flight service, but it made up for the cost of flying one client nearly four hundred miles.
"We have a scenic flight for you today over the Gates of the Arctic National Park and the Brooks Range. Hopefully, out of the west passenger windows you'll catch a glimpse of Doonerak Peak."
She checked her watch. "We have a storm front moving in, and I'd like to get into the air and out of reach of those winds. Let's load your gear." She held open the door as the passengers filed out.
Nina's backpack caught on the door. Andee winced when she heard a tearing.
Nina made a face. "Guess I'm about due for a new rig." She forced the pack through, and Andee wondered how she would manage on whatever backpacking trip she had scheduled.
Flint followed her, his duffel bag slung over one shoulder, his gun packed in a padded and locked leather case, regulation for airplanes these days. He'd had to fill out a form and have an extra security check from here to Fairbanks, and Andee had a special locked compartment in the back of the plane to store it. The only gun allowed aboard was the one she kept hidden and secured under her seat-a .40-caliber Glock she used for protection from bears.
When Ishbane passed, she swung into step with him. "I'm assuming you know this, but there's no smoking on the plane."
"Yeah. Sure." Andee detected an East Coast accent.
"Thanks," she said and jogged toward the plane. Unlatching the belly pod between the landing gear, she squatted beside it to stow the passengers' luggage. Nina's pack nearly sent her to her knees. "How much does this weigh?" she asked Nina as she shoved it deep inside.
"Oh, nearly a hundred pounds. I'm bringing home gifts for my children."
"Where are you from?"
"Prudhoe Bay. My husband and two children are there. I've been overseas on an assignment." She tapped a lumpy bag slung crosswise over her shoulder. "I'm a photographer." She climbed into the plane.
Andee tossed Flint's duffel into the pod, then reached for his hunting rifle. "I have to ask you to stow that, sir. Regulations."
"You worried I'm going to hijack the plane, sweetheart?" Flint asked.
Andee gave him a mock glower. "Should I be?"
Flint winked at her. "Depends on whether I can throw off the other passengers, maybe fly away with you to Hawaii."
She'd encountered a few of these types over the summer. She smiled. "We'll run outta gas before then, land in the ocean. Sharks will have us for dinner."
"Then maybe I'll need it." He grinned at her.
"Listen." Andee lowered her voice. "I know you're kidding, but we had an attack on our pipeline a few months back, and they're just a little gun-shy around here, if you'll pardon the pun. Surrender the gun or there's no ride."
His smile dimmed, and he handed her the weapon, climbing aboard the plane without another word.
Ishbane had only a small carry-on-a backpack on wheels-besides his briefcase. He handed Andee the carry-on and climbed in behind Flint.
Uh-oh. She recognized a man with a slipping grip on his control of aerophobia when she saw it. And flying over the Brooks Range translated to turbulence-lots of it.
Phillips tried to load his army duffel and balked when Andee reached for it. "It's too heavy, ma'am."
Ma'am? But his courtesy made her smile. "Sorry, Mr. Phillips. Rules say I have to load the bags."
He shook his head as he handed it to her.
Yes, it seemed painfully heavy.
McRae approached her last, scrutinizing her as if gauging her ability to fly the plane. He handed her his bag with a dubious look. She half expected him to ask if she was serving cocktails in first class and when the pilot would arrive.
After McRae boarded, Andee secured the passenger door, then crawled out from under the plane. The wind had picked up, and she smelled rain. Or maybe snow. Behind her, she heard a Piper Cub firing up. It would be first in line for takeoff. If she didn't move quickly, she'd be grounded.
Andee jogged around to her cockpit door, giving one last visual check before climbing inside. She adjusted her radio headset and began her pre-engine start checklist.
Passenger briefing. Andee keyed her mike and explained the seat and belt adjustments and emergency-exit procedures and asked them to remain silent during radio calls.
Avionic and electrical switches-off.
Excerpted from Expect the Sunrise by Susan May Warren Copyright © 2006 by Susan May Warren. Excerpted by permission.
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