Read an Excerpt
"For three weeks we've followed the intrepid mushers of the Iditarod as they raced their sled dogs over a thousand miles of the most unforgiving yet awe-inspiring terrain on earth. The same perilous journey one brave man and his dogs made to deliver medicine to the sick townspeople of Nome eighty-five years ago."
Serena turned, following the camera's movement to pan the landscape behind her. "Now we've returned once again to Anchorage, where we say goodbye to the Land of the Midnight Sun, and take with us unforgettable memories of the thrill and danger of the 'Last Great Race on Earth,' and of the friendly people of Alaska.
"This is Serena Sandstone, with no reservations about making reservations. Join us next week when we travel to sunny Buenos Aires. And remember, no matter where you go, you can always Travel in Style!" Serena held her TV-personality smile while the camera lens zoomed out to the spectacular view of the Chugach Mountains.
"And cut!" Roberta, her producer, yelled. "Okay, Serena, that's a wrap." Roberta turned and headed back into the Seaside Hotel from the outdoor pavilion. "God, I can't wait to get back to L.A. It's freakin' cold here!"
Roberta had a gift for stating the obvious. It was the last week of March. It was Alaska.
"Come on, people. Let's get this equipment loaded. I don't want to miss the one flight out of here tonight," Roberta called behind her.
Serena took a determined breath and then hurried to catch up to her producer while the camera and sound crew packed their equipment. "Roberta, I wanted to talk to you about that piece I gave you last month."
"What piece?" Roberta continued her brisk pace toward the elevators. "Oh. The genocide investigation? Yeah, yeah, I sent that up to the network execs."
A tiny jolt of excitement hit Serena's stomach. Maybe her dream was about to come true. "And?"
Roberta barked orders to her assistant about the arrangements in South America, and then focused on Serena with an impatient sigh. "Let's get a drink."
Nervous, Serena followed her into the hotel bar.
They slid into a booth and Roberta ordered two glasses of Chardonnay and cleared her throat. "Serena, I've told you before, you're too valuable at Travel TV. We can't let you put yourself in a risky situation. Even if they had the budget for an investigative piece, they'd send someone else."
"But, it was my idea. My research. When I signed on to do Travel in Style five years ago, they promised"
"Serena, your show has the highest ratings on this cable network. Why not stick to what you do best? Let someone else get their hands dirty."
Serena looked up as the waitress set their wine down, then back at Roberta. "But, I can do both. I can"
"But why should you?" Roberta took a long gulp of wine and stood. "Now, I'll be in postproduction on this show, but you've got a couple of weeks until we leave for Argentina. Please try to rest."
"The camera is never forgiving of dark circles under those gorgeous eyes of yours." Roberta patted Serena's shoulder and strode off.
Serena wanted to pound her fist on the table, or better yet, pitch her wineglass at the back of Roberta's head. The network execs at TRTV were never going to give her the chance they'd promised her. She'd pitched three serious story ideas and every time, they sent someone else to investigate. They were never going to consider her as anything but a pretty face.
Hosting this travel show was always meant to be a foot in the door to a career in meaningful investigative reporting. But her foot had been permanently forced into an expensive and purely ornamental high-heeled Prada. She appreciated that her looks had gotten her this far, but now they were holding her back.
She'd decided when she gave Roberta this piece, if the execs didn't give her a chance, when her contract was up in July, she wasn't renewing. It was a great gig, but anyone with a pretty smile could do this job. She needed something more. Something that would make a difference in the world.
The investigation of the genocide she'd heard rumors of was probably lost to her now. Even if she could afford to pay a crew to go with her, the execs had probably already sent someone from their cable news division to cover it.
Doing the story would have made those fat cats sit up and take notice of her. Too bad she'd played by the rules. She wouldn't make that mistake again.
As her limo pulled up, the manager of the Seaside Hotel appeared at her side.
"Ms. Sandstone, may I say once more how honored we are to have you stay with us and recommend our humble establishment on your show." He took Serena's hand between both of his. "If there's ever anything I can do for you, don't hesitate to ask."
"Thank you, Mr. Bancroft." Serena smiled warmly. His concierge, Eric, had been a fount of information and gossip during her stay, introducing her to insiders and officials of the Iditarod race, and arranging her accommodations when she visited Nome to film the race's winner. "Your staff has been the absolute best."
He beamed and she hugged him, having to bend over a bit. With a last wave, she sank into the limo.
On the way to the airport, she considered taking a trip to investigate the genocide story on her own. Maybe she could scoop the cable news guys. She'd take her own video camera and hire a guide once she got there.
Her father would've done that. How many times had she heard the stories about the threats to his life while he investigated the largest industrial waste scandal of the twentieth century?
It wasn't easy living in the shadow of a reporter with a Pulitzer.
Dad's snide remark from Thanksgiving three years ago still stung. Maybe if she pulled this off she could finally convince him she had something to offer the world besides travel tips.
Before she knew it, the limo rolled up to the North Terminal of Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport and she was standing in front of a bank of floor-to-ceiling windows staring out at the runway.
The Anchorage airport was relatively small, and air traffic included almost as many small planes as it did commercial jets. She probably wouldn't have paid attention to the bright yellow prop plane that taxied up to the General Aviation Hangar across the landing strip, except that when the pilot's door opened, a large dog bounded out.
He was huge, more wolf than dog. Part black, part tan with white legs and tail, he turned and sat, waiting for the pilot to climb down from the plane. Long, jean-clad legs emerged, followed by, incongruously, a traditional Inuit parka. The hood was down to reveal a long-haired, bearded man. After tying down the plane, he crawled back in and began unloading boxes and hauling them into the hangar.
Serena was instantly intrigued, already making up stories about the man, his dog and the plane. Perhaps like the first mushers along the Iditarod trail, he was transporting lifesaving medicine to his people, who lived in a remote little town. Or maybe he was
A woman's gasp cut off Serena's thoughts. Serena glanced over at the ticket agent's desk.
"It's the White Wolf," the woman whispered to her fellow airline employee. She was staring out the window at the mountain man, who was striding into the hangar, his dog loping beside him.
"Mmm, too bad I'm working all night," the other woman murmured.
"Janice! I can't believe you aren't scared to be alone with him," the first woman said. "They say he left two men for dead."
"Oh, Bren, come on. You don't believe all those rumors, do you?"
Serena was totally intrigued now. Pretending not to notice the two women, she pulled out her cell phone, held it to her ear and moved behind a post.
"Where there's smoke, there's fire, girl."
"Yeah, well, he can stoke my flames anytime. Mmm, what a man."
Interesting information for gossip, maybe, but Serena wanted to hear more about the two men left for dead. What had the first woman called him? The White Wolf. She had to get Bren alone.
Serena thought for a moment and then approached Jake, her cameraman, sitting in their gate's waiting area.
"Hey, what's going on?" He put down his PSP.
"See the taller, dark-haired ticket agent?"
"Think you could distract her? I need to talk to the other one."
Jake raised a brow. "What's in it for me?"
"What do you want?"
"A hundred ought to do."
Serena stared at Jake. He'd been the show's cameraman for five years and was constantly in need of cash. But then, everything in this business was all about the bottom line. "Tell you what, I won't tell Christine you slept with Caitlin and we'll call it even."
Serena kept her poker face, praying Jake wouldn't call her bluff. If her hairdresser and her makeup lady ever discovered the other had slept with Jake, she'd probably lose both of them. Or worse, they'd make working together miserable.
"Okay, okay." Jake stood. "The taller one?"
Serena smiled. "Yes, give me ten minutes."
Jake sauntered over, his smooth dark skin making his smile even brighter. Soon, Janice dimpled and Jake pointed to the coffee shop down the way.
Serena wasted no time moving in. "Hi."
Brenda smiled, and within five minutes Serena knew everything Brenda did about the "White Wolf."
He'd been in all the Alaskan papers a few years ago after appearing in a Nome emergency room pulling a rigged-up sledmade from pieces of a planecarrying a badly injured man. The hospital staff had told the newspaper reporter that in all the rush to care for the injured man, the mysterious manwho was bleeding and limpinghad disappeared.
Serena pulled out her laptop and searched for "Nome + plane crash." She found several articles in the Juneau, Fairbanks and Anchorage papers. Some were dated three years ago, a couple dated about two years ago.
The injured man had survived and eventually regained consciousness, but all he could tell them was the pilot, Mr. Taggert, had been transporting him and his buddies to Nome for a fishing trip when the plane crashed. He didn't know any more.
Authorities had sent out search-and-rescue teams as far as twenty miles around Nome. Parts of the plane had turned up a year later over twenty-five miles away, and the two other passengers' remains had been. Serena gulped. Eaten.
Investigators had hunted down Mr. Taggert at his home in Barrow and questioned him, but no cause for the plane crash had been determined yet. The investigation was still "ongoing."
Taggert had stayed holed up in his small cabin for months refusing to speak to reporters. The follow-up article dated two years ago stated that while the investigation was still open, Mr. Taggert had never been charged with a crime. But he remained a suspect. And the families of the missing men were pursuing legal action.
That's all there was.
Serena closed her laptop. My God. What a story. Maybe now that three years had passed he'd be willing to talk about the crash. Surely he wanted to clear his name. Maybe he could even lead her to the crash site. She could get an exclusive. Maybe she could convince Robertano. She'd showed her hand on all her previous ideas and look what had happened.
She'd have to do this alone. Unless she could convince Jake to come with her and film the interview. But the camera might scare Mr. Taggert off. She'd do some reconnaissance first, and then perhaps she could hire Jake to come back and
"Serena, they're boarding our flight."
Serena looked up from her laptop to find Roberta standing in front of her. "At the layover in Seattle"
"I'm not going, Roberta. I've decided to stay a while to try to see the Northern Lights."
Max Taggert took his room key from the desk clerk. The old motel where he stayed every month was outdated by a half century, but he didn't choose it for the ambience. The motel was cheap, close to the airport and they let him keep Mickey in the room with him. It also, conveniently, sat next door to a bar.
Rubbing his hands together against the chilly temperature, Max got to his room, threw his duffel on the sagging bed and headed straight for the run-down joint. He instructed Mickey to wait outside and then found his favorite stool. Dark and smoky, with a jukebox quietly playing some Merle, this place met all his requirements.
He ordered his usual, scanning the booths along the wall as he sipped his Jameson. Other than the toothless native elder in the back, he had the place to himself.
He shrugged out of his coat, ordered what passed for a burger and fries and then took the same out to Mickey along with a bowl of water. Over the next hour a few more patrons straggled in as he stared at the soundless television behind the bar and downed three more tumblers of Jameson whiskey. Almost enough to ease the emptiness inside.
At a lull in the music, he heard Mickey whining. What the. He slipped off his stool and stepped outside.
"Yes, you are. What a beautiful boy." A woman was stooped over cooing and rubbing her hands in Mickey's thick fur. And the normally standoffish malamute was lapping up the attention.
Max glanced down at the woman's sleek, bare legs. The sun was just setting and the temperature had to be no warmer than mid-twenties. No native Alaskan wore such a skirt in March. And she seemed oblivious that her fine clothes were amassing a thick coat of dog hair. She looked up and smiled and Max almost pinched himself to make sure he wasn't hallucinating. She was gorgeous.
"Is this your dog?" She straightened, tucking a long strand of glossy brunette hair behind her ear. She was tall. With the heels, she almost matched his height of six feet.
Max swallowed. "Uh, yeah." His brain finally kicked into gear. Fancy suit. Expensive ski jacket. Stylish heels.