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As Dr. Skye Shanahan made her way off the plane in Anchorage she wondered again how she'd allowed herself to be railroaded into this Alaskan bush debacle. Guilt, plain and simple. Maternal manipulation, at its finest.
Skye was never quite allowed to forget that she was something of a disappointment to her parents. Sure, she carried the title of doctor but her mother, father and brother were neurosurgeons. And her sister had done the next best thing and married one. Nope, in a family of brilliance, Skye was a lowly general practitioner and still single to boot. Single, with the innate ability to pick the wrong guy. When her last boyfriend had left her with egg on her face, Skye had vowed to take a hiatus. Unfortunately, that left the door wide open for her mother and sister to step up to the matchmaking plate. And they were determined to hit a home run.
Skye had had neurosurgeons, orthopedists, even a podiatrist thrown at her to the point of ridiculousness.
So when Skye's mother and Barry Morrow's mother Barry was the poor soul buried in some backwoods Alaska bush practiceput their heads together in some misguided attempt to get their children together, Skye had given inon the condition that he'd be the last man they sent her way.
And that was precisely why she'd given up a sunny Caribbean vacation to squander two weeks in this Godforsaken place. She was a city girl, born and raised in Atlanta. She didn't do bush or outback or all of that other stuffexcept now she apparently did.
Granted she'd been feeling an underlying restlessness for the last year or so. It was as if she'd been so caught up in med school and residency and then joining a practice that she hadn't thought any further. Once those things had been accomplished, she was almost disappointed. But that was ridiculous. How could she be discontent with her life? Maybe because you're bored, an insidious little voice whispered in her head.
But if she was bored, Alaska certainly wasn't the answer.
She tamped back a momentary panic at the thought of spending two weeks in Good Riddance, practicing what amounted to frontier medicine. What if she couldn't hack it? Then she squared her shoulders. She'd manage. Shanahans didn't failthat simply wasn't an option.
She quickly found and stepped into the women's rest-room. It had been a long flight. Although she knew it was quirky, she couldn't use the plane facilities. The claustrophobic nature of being in such a small, tight space and the incredibly irrational fear she carried from being on a plane the very first time as a six-year-old when she'd thought that she'd be sucked out into the atmosphere when she'd flushedmade using the onboard facilities impossible.
She'd taken care of her business, washed her hands, tucked a stray hair back into her chignon and was touching up her lipstick when someone tapped her on the shoulder. Startled, she turned. A short woman of obvious native heritage stood next to Skye, a friendly smile on her face.
"This is for you," the woman said, pressing something into Skye's hand.
"What ?" Instinctively she dropped the object and it clattered to the bathroom counter. It was a rock with the word "Yes" printed on it.
"It is yours now," the stranger said.
Why would Skye want a rock? The stranger continued, "I saw you and sensed your unrest. That's when I knew the rock belonged to you. Everything you need to know can be found in that rock. It is your answer rock."
Skye was a woman of science, of fact. But there was a part of her she seldom visited that embraced the fanciful notion of a flat stone carrying universal answers. She didn't particularly believe it but she liked the idea. And it was that fanciful part of her that led her to pick up the rock and curl her fingers around the smooth surface. "Thank you."
The woman turned to walk away and glanced back over her shoulder. "Welcome home."
Skye opened her mouth to tell the stranger that she wasn't from Alaska but the woman had already left. She dropped the stone into her purse along with her lipstick and hoisted her purse onto her shoulder. Even though it had been a strange encounter, there had been something strangely calming about it.
Exiting the washroom, she glanced around but the woman was nowhere to be seen. Funny. She'd known, somehow, that she wouldn't be.
Putting the strange encounter behind her, she focused on finding her ride to Good Riddance. She exited the area that was gated off for security purposes and scanned the people obviously awaiting arrivals. It took about two seconds to spot the broad-shouldered, dark-haired man holding a placard with her last name on it.
She had the craziest reaction as her eyes met his across the crowded room. It was cliché, tired and slightly insane but her breath caught and held in her throat as his gaze tangled with hers. Her legs were slightly unsteady as she crossed the remaining few feet. No, no and no. She was face-to-face with her worst nightmare. At an intellectual level, everything about him screamed Mr. Wrong. However, at a visceral, cellular level, everything inside her had flipped to "On." She shook her head. She hadn't flown across the damn country looking for some quiet space to regroup only to find herself face-to-face with the one kind of man she shouldn't wantan Alaskan sky cowboy.
"Hi, I'm Shanahan," she said.
Looking at possibly the sexiest man she'd ever laid eyes on, her heart lodged somewhere in her throat. She was tingling in all the wrong places or right places, if she wasn't standing in the middle of Anchorage, Alaska's airport. Apparently she had a weakness for a rugged flannel-shirted man in need of a shave with dark hair curling past his collar. But no. She was so not going to make this mistake.
"You're the relief doc?" He sounded as startled as she felt. But now, she felt even more nonplussed because he sounded as yummy as he looked. And what the hell was wrong with her? Hadn't she vowed, promised herself no men who were all wrong for her? So, she could stand around like some goof or she could nip this right in the bud.
Besides, that Doc business irritated her to no end. And irritation was so much healthier for her in the long run than this surge of unwanted attraction that had roiled through her. "Doctor" she stressed the entire word "Skye Shanahan." She held out her hand. "Pleased to meet you "
"Dalton Saunders," he said. His handshake was dry, firm, no-nonsense. A flummoxing jolt traveled through her. It wasn't static electricity, but was more like a shock to her entire central nervous system. She practically snatched her hand back.
"Nice to meet you, Dr. Shanahan." Dark, spiky lashes fringed his topaz eyes. "I'll be your pilot for the last leg of your trip to Good Riddance. I'll also be the one to take you out into the bush if there's an emergency."
There was no reason why the thought of being in a small plane with this man should make her heart pound, but it did. Not acceptable. He made her uncomfortable. She didn't want to spend the next two weeks with him acting as her chauffeur in the skyalthough she'd been told it was unlikely she'd be making emergency bush visits. However, she supposed anything was possible.
"I thought bush pilots were older," she said, feeling stupid the moment the words left her mouth. And she didn't like feeling stupid.
He looked momentarily taken aback. Like a shift in the wind, his manner went from laid-back to stiff. "I assure you I'm very capable." For one second, just a fraction of time in space, there was a look, a gleam in his smoky golden eyes that literally had her toes curling inside her wedge heels. "I have an excellent record, Doc."
She was suddenly extremely warm underneath her silk and angora turtleneck and soft wool pantsuit. She actually felt slightly feverish. It certainly wouldn't do to get sick at this point in time. "I was simply expecting someone older," she said.
"So was I."
She looked every day of her twenty-nine years in her estimation but that still didn't look old enough to most patients. That was the reason she'd taken to wearing clear-lens black-rimmed glasses. In the end, her skills won patients over, but she'd learned long ago that the glasses, professional dress and a polished demeanor went a long way toward setting the stage and meeting expectations. She gave him her best quelling look. "I'm extremely competent."
Undaunted, and her look usually daunted the best of them, he grinned at her. "Backatcha Doc."
She rubbed her index finger along her temple. That grin was lethal to a woman's resolve. "Sorry about that. I should know better. I've been fighting that particular battle since residency. It's tough to be taken seriously when you're a woman."
"I noticed, Dr. Shanahan," he said. And while there wasn't anything offensive in his words, there was a note of awareness in his voice that sent a whoosh of color up into her face. Very primal. Very elemental. Him, man. Her, woman.
"I apologize. I'm sure you're very competent," she said, falling back on her professionalism in an attempt to quell what felt like an intimate moment between two strangers.
He nodded, a faintly wicked glimmer in his eyes. "Of course I am. Otherwise I wouldn't be standing here."
Skye laughed. She got the implicationincompetent bush pilots were either grounded or six feet under.
An answering smile lit his eyes and for a moment she forgot to breathe. "So, is that your bag, Doc?" He nodded toward her carry-on. "We can head out."
He must be kidding. She always packed a carry-on bag with her toiletries and two changes of clothing and undergarments. That way if her suitcases got lost in transit, she wasn't stranded without anything. There was much to be said for not being caught unawares. But she was here for two weeks. Her carry-on bag would cover her for two days.
Apparently, however, he wasn't being funny. Mr. Saunders was already turning to go.
"No, this isn't everything. We'll need to pick them up at baggage claim."
"Them?" His dark eyebrows lowered.
"I never quite mastered the art of packing light." Not to mention she was about to be in the back country. It wasn't as if she could just run down the street to one of twenty stores to pick up whatever she needed out here in the cold, God-forsaken Alaskan wilderness. "You might want to grab a luggage cart."
"You know my plane has a weight limit," Dalton said as he stacked yet another matching bag, all in a green and blue paisley pattern, for crying out loud, on the cart. She'd brought a ton of stuff with her. You'd think she was checking into the Ritz Carlton instead of the Good Riddance Bed and Breakfast.
From the moment he saw her crossing the terminal, in her trim pantsuit, elegant hairstyle, and now the matching designer luggage, he knew she was the ambitious sort.
Was that a blush creeping its way up beneath her freckle-kissed porcelain skin? Nah. Probably just a flash of temper that went with that gorgeous red hair of hers. At least he suspected it would be gorgeous if it was tumbling down around her shoulders rather than pinned into an elegant twist at the nape of her neck.
His fingers itched to reach over and pluck a few pins and watch it fall and see just what color her eyes turned then. And that was just plain dumb-ass considering she was exactly the type of woman he needed to avoid.
She had the most incredibly amazing blue eyes. The name Skye didn't fit hernah, she was Dr. Shanahan up one side and down the otherbut it fit her eyes to a "T." They were the color of the sky Dalton flew through, which was a distinctly different shade than you saw when you were on the ground looking up. Yep, her eyes were the open sky at fair-weather flying altitude. Fringed by reddish-gold lashes that led him to believe her hair color was real and not out of a bottle. Of course there was one sure way to know and of its own volition his mind quickly sketched an image of her nakedred hair down around her shoulders, pale freckled skin with a thatch of fiery red curls at the apex of her thighs.
And damn it to hell, he had absolutely no business standing here daydreaming about the good doctor without clothes. Alaskan men had a reputation for being woman-desperate, but he was far from that. He hooked up occasionally with Janice, a cute diner waitress in Juneau, and outside of that, rounding up a date now and then wasn't difficult. No, he wasn't desperate and furthermore he wasn't stupid. Even if he liked the idea of seeing her naked, that was the end of it. God save him from any more involvements, physical or otherwise, with ambitious women.
"That's all of it." Her no-nonsense tone snapped him out of his introspection.
"Good thing. If you'd tossed in the kitchen sink I'd have to circle back to pick you up later."
"Or maybe I'd have to read the manual on how to fly your plane."
He laughed at her not-so-subtle message that he was dispensable. "You'd be out of luck there, Doc. My plane doesn't come with a manual."
"How fortuitous then that I left the kitchen sink behind at the last moment."
Dalton was about a hundred percent certain Dr. Skye Shanahan wasn't thrilled to be here. He spent a lot of time hauling strangers from one destination point to another and he'd learned to read body language. Hers screamed that she was here under protest. "I'd say it's a very good thing." He glanced at the mountain of luggage and pushed the cart in the direction of his plane on the tarmac outside. "How long are you staying again?"
She bristled. "I didn't want to leave something I might need."
He skirted a group of guys who had obviously flown in on a hunting trip. They looked like hunters and the rifle cases were a dead giveaway. He'd take that assignment over transporting Dr. Holier Than Thou any day. But he was getting paid and that's what mattered. And while she might be a pain in the ass, she was undisput-ably easier on the eyes than the hunters.