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It had been one of those days. Abbey Sutherland made herself a cup of tea, then sat in the large overstuffed chair and propped her feet on the ottoman. She closed her eyes, soaking in the silence.
The morning had started badly when Scott overslept, which meant he and Susan had missed the school bus. Seven-year-old Susan had insisted on wearing her pink sweater, which was still in the dirty-clothes hamper, and she'd whined all the way to school. Abbey had driven them, catching every red light en route.
By the time she arrived at the library, she was ten minutes late. Mrs. Duffy gave her a look that could have curdled milk.
But those minor irritations faded after lunch. Abbey received notice that the library's budget for the next fiscal year had been reduced and two positions would be cutthe positions held by the most recently hired employees. In other words, Abbey was going to lose her job in less than three months.
She finally got home at six o'clock, tired, short-tempered and depressed. That was when Mr. Erickson, the manager of the apartment complex, hand-delivered a note informing her the rents were being raised.
It was the kind of day even hot fudge couldn't salvage.
Sensing her mood, the kids had acted up all evening. Abbey was exhausted, and she didn't think reruns of Matlock were going to help.
Sipping her tea, she wondered what had happened to throw her life off course. She had a savings account, but there wasn't enough in it to pay more than a month's worth of bills. She refused to go to her parents for money. Not again. It had been too humiliating the first time, although they'd been eager to help. Not once had her mother or father said "I told you so," when she filed for divorce, although they'd issued plenty of warnings when she'd announced her intention to marry Dick Sutherland. They'd been right. Five years and two children later, Abbey had returned to Seattle emotionally battered, broken-hearted and just plain broke.
Her parents had helped her back on her feet despite their limited income and lent her money to finish her education. Abbey had painstakingly repaid every penny, but it had taken her almost three years.
The newspaper, still rolled up, lay at her feet, and she picked it up. She might as well start reading through the want ads now, although she wasn't likely to find another job as an assistant librarian. With cuts in local government spending, positions in libraries were becoming rare these days. But if she was willing to relocate
"Mom." Scott stood beside her chair.
"Yes?" She climbed out of her depression long enough to manage a smile for her nine-year-old son.
"Jason's dog had her puppies."
Abbey felt her chest tighten. Scott had been asking for a dog all year. "Honey, we've already been over this a hundred times. The apartment complex doesn't allow pets."
"I didn't say I wanted one," he said defensively. "All I said was that Jason's dog had puppies. I know I can't have a dog as long as we live here, but I was thinking that maybe with the rent increase we might move."
"And if we do move," Abbey said, "you want me to look for a place where we can have a dog."
Her son grinned broadly. "Jason's puppies are really, really cute, Mom. And they're valuable, too! But you know what kind are my favorite?"
She did, but she played along. "Tell me."
"Because the University of Washington mascot is a husky."
"Yeah. They have cool eyes, don't they? And I really like the way their tails loop up. I know they're too big for me to have as a pet, but I still like them best."
Abbey held out her arm to her son. He didn't cuddle with her much anymore. That was kid stuff to a boy who was almost ten. But tonight he seemed willing to forget that.
He clambered into the chair next to her, rested his head against her shoulder and sighed. "I'm sorry I overslept this morning," he whispered.
"I'm sorry I yelled at you."
"That's all right." There was a pause. "I promise to get out of bed when you call from now on, okay?"
"Okay." Abbey closed her eyes, breathing in the clean shampoo scent of his hair.
They sat together for a few more minutes, saying nothing.
"You'd better get back to bed," Abbey said, although she was reluctant to see him go.
Scott climbed out of the chair. "Are we going to move?" he asked, looking at her with wide eyes.
"I guess we are," she said and smiled.
"'Night, Mom." Scott smiled, too, then walked down the hall to his bedroom.
Abbey's heart felt a little lighter as she picked up the paper and peeled off the rubber band. She didn't bother to look at the front page, but turned directly to the classifieds.
The square box with the large block printing attracted her attention immediately. "LONELY MEN IN HARD LUCK, ALASKA, OFFER JOBS, HOMES AND LAND." Below in smaller print was a list of the positions open.
Abbey's heart stopped when she saw "librarian."
Hard Luck, Alaska. Jobs. A home with land. Twenty acres. Good grief, that was more than her grandfather had owned when he grew raspberries in Puyallup a generation earlier.
Dragging out an atlas, Abbey flipped through the pages until she found Alaska. Her finger ran down the list of town names until she came across Hard Luck. Population 150.
She swallowed. A small town generally meant a sense of community. That excited her. As a girl, she'd spent summers on her grandparents' farm and loved it. She wanted to give her children the same opportunity. She was sure the three of them could adjust to life in a small town. In Alaska.
Using the atlas's directions to locate the town, Abbey drew her finger across one side of the page and down the other.
Her excitement died. Hard Luck was above the Arctic Circle. Oh, dear. Maybe it wasn't such a great idea, after all.
The following morning, Abbey reviewed her options.
She set out a box of cold cereal, along with a carton of milk. A still-sleepy Scott and Susan pulled out chairs and sat at the table.
"Kids," she said, drawing a deep breath, "what would you say if I suggested we move to Alaska?"
"Alaska?" Scott perked up right away. "That's where they have huskies!"
"Yes, I know."
"It's cold there, isn't it?" Susan asked.
"Very cold. Colder than it's ever been in Seattle."
"Colder than Texas?"
"Lots colder," Scott said in a superior older-brother tone. "It's so cold you don't even need refrigerators, isn't that right, Mom?"
"Uh, I think they probably still use them."
"But they wouldn't need to if they didn't have electricity. Right?"
"Could I have a dog there?"
Abbey weighed her answer carefully. "We'd have to find that out after we arrived."
"Would Grandma and Grandpa come and visit?" Susan asked.
"I'm sure they would, and if they didn't, we could visit them."
Scott poured cereal into his bowl until it threatened to spill over.
"I read an ad in the paper last night. Hard Luck, Alaska, needs a librarian, and it looks like I'm going to need a new job soon."
Scott and Susan didn't comment.
"I didn't think it would be fair to call and ask for an interview without discussing it with both of you first."
"You should go for it," Scott advised, but Abbey could see visions of huskies in her son's bright blue eyes.
"It'll mean a big change for all of us."
"Is there snow all the time?" Susan wanted to know.
"I don't think so, but I'll ask." Abbey hesitated, wondering exactly how much she should tell her children. "The ad said the job comes with a cabin and twenty acres of land."
The spoon was poised in front of Scotty's mouth. "To keep?"
Abbey nodded. "But we'd need to live there for a year. I imagine there won't be many applicants, but then I don't know. There doesn't seem to be an abundance of jobs for assistant librarians, either."
"I could live anywhere for a year. Go for it, Mom!"
"Susan?" Abbey suspected the decision would be more difficult for her daughter.
"Will there be girls my age?"
"Probably, but I can't guarantee that. The town only has 150 people, and it would be very different from the life we have here in Seattle."
"Come on, Susan," Scott urged. "We could have our very own house."
Susan's small shoulders heaved in a great sigh. "Do you want to move, Mommy?"
Abbey stroked her daughter's hair. Call her greedy. Call her materialistic. Call her a sucker, but she couldn't stop thinking about those twenty acres and that cabin. No mortgage. Land. Security. And a job she loved. All in Hard Luck, Alaska.
She inhaled deeply, then nodded.
"Then I guess it would be all right."
Scott let out a holler and leapt from his chair. He grabbed Abbey's hands and they danced around the room.
"I haven't got the job yet," Abbey cried, breathless.
"But you'll get it," Scott said confidently.
Abbey hoped her son was right.
Abbey took several calming breaths before walking up to the hotel desk and giving her name.
"Mr. O'Halloran's taking interviews in the Snoqualmie Room on the second floor," the clerk told her.
Abbey's fingers tightened around her résumé as she headed for the escalator. Her heart pounded heavily, feeling like a lead weight in her chest.
Her decision to apply for this position had understandably received mixed reactions. Both Scott and Susan were excited about the prospect of a new life in Hard Luck, but Abbey's parents were hesitant.
Marie Murray would miss spoiling her grandchildren. Abbey's father, Wayne, was convinced she didn't know what she'd be getting into moving to the frozen north. But he seemed to forget that she made her living in a library. Soon after placing the initial call, Abbey had checked out a number of excellent books about life in Alaska. Her research had told her everything she wanted to knowand more.
Nevertheless, she'd already decided to accept the job if it was offered. No matter how cold the winters were, living in Hard Luck would be better than having to accept money from her parents.
Abbey found the Snoqualmie Room easily enough and glanced inside. A lean, rawboned man in his early thirties sat at a table reading intently. The hotel staff must have thought applicants would arrive thirsty, because they'd supplied a pitcher of ice water and at least two dozen glasses.
"Hello," she said with a polite smile. "I'm Abbey Sutherland."
"Abbey." The man stood abruptly as if she'd caught him unawares. "I'm Christian O'Halloran. We spoke on the phone." He motioned to the seat on the other side of the table. "Make yourself comfortable."
She sat and handed him her résumé.
He barely looked at it before setting it aside. "Thank you. I'll read this later."
Abbey nervously folded her hands in her lap and waited.
"You're applying for the position of librarian, right?"
"Yes. I'm working toward my degree in library science."
"In other words, you're not a full librarian."
"That's correct. In Washington state, a librarian is required to have a master's degree in library science. For the last two years I've worked as an assistant librarian for King County." She paused. Christian O'Halloran was difficult to read. "I answer reference questions, do quick information retrieval and customer service, and of course I have computer skills." She hesitated, wondering if she should continue.
"That sounds perfect. Hard Luck doesn't exactly have a library at the moment. We do have a building of sorts
"Oh, yes, hundreds of those. At least a thousand. They were a gift to the town, and we need someone who's capable of handling every aspect of organizing a library."
"I'd be fully capable of that." She listed a number of responsibilities she'd handled in her job with the King County library system. Somehow, though, Abbey couldn't shake the feeling that Christian O'Halloran wasn't really interested in hearing about her qualifications.
He mentioned the pay, and although it wasn't as much as she was earning with King County, she wouldn't need to worry about rent.
A short silence followed, almost as if he wasn't sure what else to ask.
"Could you tell me a little about the library building?" she ventured.
He nodded. "Actually it was a home at one timemy grandfather's original homestead, in factbut I don't think you'd have much of a problem turning it into a library, would you?"
Already, Abbey's mind was at work, dividing up the house. One of the bedrooms could be used for fiction, another for non-fiction. The dining room would be perfect for a reading room, or it could be set up as an area for children.