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Humming a little under her breath, Sage Galloway filled her favorite china mug with coffee. With a small pang of guilt, she added cream and a heaping spoonful of sugar. Balancing the mug carefully, she walked out her door and into the breathtaking brilliance of the early Alaskan morning.
As usual, she'd left Ben upstairs snoring gently, his long, muscular body sprawled across their king-size bed. She'd paused a moment, watching him sleep, missing him even before he was gone. He was flying to Anchorage today, the first leg of a journey to Tanzania to hunt buffalo.
The thought of hunting anything made Sage shudder. She and her husband had different passions, different rhythms. She was morning, and he was night. After four years of marriage, Sage had finally stopped yawning her way into the midnight hours to keep Ben company. After all, she reasoned, he made no effort to rise at dawn with her. Marriage demanded compromise, but it ought to be an even balance—in a perfect world.
At 4:30 a.m., it was already full daylight outside. Even this early in June it was light most of the night, thanks to the midnight sun. The birds were singing a cheerful chorus, and the cow moose who'd been feasting on Caitlin's flowers took one guilty look at Sage, lowered its ungainly head and ambled off into the woods.
"Glutton," Sage accused under her breath. "You should be ashamed." Her mother-in-law's beloved marigolds were once again missing most of their heads. Caitlin would patiently replant from the seedlings she nursed all summer long in the wide kitchen window of the Lodge. She'd endlessly searched for a variety the moose and deer didn't fancy.
With her cup in one hand, Sage drew in a deep, delicious lungful of air that smelled of pine trees and ocean before she headed down to the dock. Off to her left, the Lodge and its inhabitants still slumbered. This was her own magical, private hour.
A fresh, cool breeze from Prince William Sound stirred the branches of the spruce trees that sheltered the four guest cabins. The cabins, too, were all silent, although she knew that every one was occupied. She did the bookings for the Lodge, keeping the complicated schedule of arrivals and departures in order, updating theWeb site she'd designed, making certain there were live links to publicize this wild, beautiful place.
Along with the rest of the Galloways, Sage was proud that Raven Lodge had been voted best fishing lodge in Alaska by Travel and Adventure Magazine for the third year in a row. This June, the Lodge was filled to capacity, and booked solid for the remainder of the season.
The blinds on the windows of the long clapboard bunkhouse were still pulled down against the light, but Sage knew that within the hour the fishing guides would be up, readying the boats.
Raven Lodge was isolated, the only access by plane or boat from the small town of Valdez, and yet the Lodge and its cabins were filled with visitors eager to try their luck at catching the fabled king salmon for which Prince William Sound was famous. They came to fish, to experience what was known as the Last Frontier, and not least to sample the down-home delicious food Caitlin and her staff concocted.
Sage ambled to the far end of the dock and settled into the lawn chair she kept there, stretching out her long, bare legs and sliding her sunglasses down against the glare of sun on water. She savored her coffee as her brain ticked off items on her schedule for the particularly busy day ahead. She was down to the last mouthful of coffee, but far from the bottom of the to-do list, when a deep voice from behind her said, "Morning, early bird."
Sage squinted up at her father-in-law and smiled with pleasure and affection. Theo had lost muscle tone since his recent heart attack, and his formerly robust body was frail and thin. His baritone voice was the same as always—rich and strong and reassuring. "Theo, what are you doing up so early?"
"Couldn't sleep. Too excited, I guess. I just can't wait to meet these relatives of mine." He folded his tall, lean frame into the other webbed chair. "I was an only child, you know, and I used to long for brothers and sisters. Even cousins, but there weren't any. My only relative was my elderly aunt Martha, and she'd never married. No one talked much about these long-lost Australian Galloways. I only knew there'd been some kind of family quarrel and we'd lost touch with that branch of the family. Haven't been in touch for generations."
"That split was over your grandma Jenny, wasn't it, Theo?" Sage was well acquainted with the story, but she knew Theo loved telling it. And she enjoyed hearing it.
"It certainly was. A real love triangle. The story goes that my grandfather William and his brother Robert both fell in love with Jenny," Theo said. "William had gone to Scotland and brought her back as his bride. He brought Robert over, as well. He'd gotten them both jobs with the Canadian Pacific Railway. But when they got to Seattle the gold rush had just begun. They went over the White Pass Trail to Dawson, must have been quite an adventure. I don't know any of the details about the fight they had, I only know it was over Jenny. I'm hoping Andrew can fill some of those holes in for me. I do know they split up in Dawson. Robert went to Australia and started a brewery. William came here, bought this land and founded the Galloway Salmon Packing Plant, right over there in the building we now use as the staff bunkhouse. They never spoke again."
"And William designed and built the Lodge as a home for his Jenny, didn't he?" Sage loved that part of the story. Having a house built especially for you had to be so romantic. She often wished Ben had built their house just for her, but he'd started it when he was still married to his first wife, Jill. It wasn't completed until after they'd divorced, though, so Sage was the first woman to live there.
Theo was squinting up at his home. "William was a talented engineer, and no slouch as an architect, either. The Lodge is well designed and built to last."
"And your father was born here," Sage prompted. Theo nodded. "Dad's two sisters, as well, Martha and Emma. Emma died in her teens from tuberculosis, but Martha lived to a ripe old age. And so did William. I was ten when he died, he was ninety-two. He was a fine grandpa, took me fishing and taught me the basics of steam engineering."
Sage, who'd never known her grandparents, wondered what it would be like, growing up with extended family. If—when—she and Ben had kids, that's what she wanted for them.
"And Jenny? How long did she live, Theo?"
"Sixty-two. Apparently she died of pneumonia. I didn't know my Grandma Jenny. Unfortunately she was gone by the time I came along."
"That's too bad. She sounds like a fascinating woman." A portrait of her hung in the family living room. "She was very beautiful." Sage looked up at the Lodge. The family's history always reminded her of how many Galloways had lived and loved here, how many tragedies they'd lived through and survived. It was comforting, that sense of permanence. Sometimes she imagined their energy still permeated the air.
"Good thing your cousin Andrew got interested in genealogy," Sage remarked. "Otherwise, you two might never have made contact."
"I'll say," Theo agreed.
Andrew had written from Australia six months before, asking for information about the Alaskan branch of the Galloways. Theo wrote back, and the two formed a friendship that resulted in this much-anticipated visit. Andrew was bringing his wife, Opal, and they'd be staying for an extended period.
Theo said, "I gather that until he retired Andrew was like me, too busy raising a family and making a living to bother much about history. But then he got interested in genealogy, and that's when he first made contact." Theo reached over and patted Sage's arm. "Listen to me prattling on about my family like some self-centered old man."
"You could never be self-centered, Theo," Sage assured him, slipping her hand into his. "Besides, I grew up as an only child, too. I can guess how exciting it must be to get to meet close relatives. I was lonely, growing up." And that wasn't the half of it. "But I don't feel lonely anymore. How could I around you and Caitlin? You make me feel part of the Galloway family."
"Of course you're part of our family." Theo sounded surprised that she'd even mention it. "Caitlin and I are just grateful Ben had the good sense to marry you." His voice held rueful humor. "He learns the hard way, that boy, but he does learn. Eventually."
Sage knew Theo was referring obliquely to Ben's first disastrous marriage to Jill Redmond. Their marriage had been volatile, their divorce vindictive, and it must have been difficult for Caitlin and Theo to remain impartial. But they had, thus safeguarding their relationship with their granddaughters, Sophia and Lily.
The thought of Ben's daughters brought Sage a familiar sense of failure and frustration. Her period had come the day before, regular as clockwork. Once again, no baby. The latest round of fertility treatments hadn't worked. Ben hadn't said anything, but his expression had signaled his disappointment. And they hadn't made love, and now he was leaving for three long weeks, which meant there'd be no baby next month, either.
She didn't want to think about that. It made her feel depressed and desperate. Sage drained her now-cold coffee and got to her feet.
"Time to get cracking." She forced cheer into her voice.
"I don't think Ben's finished packing, and I have to put the finishing touches on the guest room for the Galloways."
The Lodge and the cabins were full, so it was only logical the Galloway relatives should stay with Sage.And with Ben gone, she'd enjoy the company, she told herself firmly. In truth, she was more than a little apprehensive. The visitors were going to be here for the summer, and she couldn't help but wonder whether or not they'd be easy houseguests.
"Looks like Oliver's all packed and rarin' to go." Theo nodded toward one of the cabins where Oliver Brady, one of the guides and a friend of Ben's, was shouldering a backpack and heading up to the Lodge. Ben had invited Oliver along on the Tanzania trip, even though Theo hadn't approved.
"We're going to be shorthanded with both him and Ben away," Theo grumbled again now. "I only hope that new guide Ben hired knows as much about fishing as he says he does." He got to his feet. "Too bad Logan's so far away—it'd be good to have him to fill in at times like this."
Ben's twin, Logan, was a lawyer in Seattle. He visited only rarely, and Caitlin and Theo missed him. Sage liked Logan, but there was always an atmosphere of tension when he was around. Ben and his brother didn't always get along.
"Well, I should go shower and put on some decent duds myself," Theo said, getting to his feet. He'd had a serious heart attack a few months before, and Sage couldn't help but notice how it had slowed him down. "Tom'll be here in another hour. Don't want to keep him waiting."
Caitlin's brother Tom was a pilot, with a thriving business called Up and Away. He ferried guests to and from the Lodge, which was accessible only by plane or boat. This morning he and Theo were dropping Ben and Oliver off in Anchorage and bringing the Australian relatives back.
"See you later." Sage waved a hand as she hurried along the dock and up the stairs, her mind once again listing the things she needed to accomplish.
Bottles of water and some chocolates in the guest room. Check the bathroom when Ben's done. He always leaves whiskers in the sink.
Make sure he remembers to pack the bug repellent and the water purification tablets.
Beg some oatmeal cookies from Mavis so there's something for the Galloways to snack on.
The group in cabin three will be leaving tomorrow. Get their bill ready.
She quickened her step. If she kept busy enough, she wouldn't have time to dwell on her problems. It was a strategy she'd adopted so long ago she was no longer consciously aware of doing it.
In the house, Ben was up, drinking juice at the kitchen island.