Refuge Cove, Alaska, stays true to its name when a woman who has lost hope and a man in need of healing come to each other’s rescue . . .
She came to Alaska on the promise of marriage, only to find herself on the run from her would-be husband. Lost and alone in the wilderness, Emma Hunter nearly weeps with relief at the sight of a small plane in the distance—until the rugged bush pilot makes his way through the brush to help her. Can she trust this stranger any more than the menacing predator on her trail? But there’s something in John Wolf’s dark eyes that wills her to believe in him, something about his gentle nature that allows her to accept his offer of protection . . .
He’d let her into his life because he knew she was in trouble. The last thing John Wolf expects is to feel so much so quickly for the vulnerable woman in his care. For sharing his lonely wilderness home with Emma means allowing her to see his sorrow—the son he longs to reconnect with, the loss of the family he once dreamed possible. Sharing his heart with Emma means being willing to risk everything to keep her safe . . .
A Military Spouse Book Club Selection
PRAISE FOR JANET DAILEY and her novels
“Big, bold, and sexy . . . Janet Dailey at her best!”
—Kat Martin on Texas True
“Plenty of intrigue, subplots, twists, and of course, love. Fans and newcomers alike will revel in this ride.”
—Publishers Weekly on Texas Tall
“Dailey confirms her place as a top mega-seller.”
About the Author
JANET DAILEY’s first book was published in 1976. Since then she has written more than 100 novels and become one of the top-selling female authors in the world, with 325 million copies of her books sold in nineteen languages in ninety-eight countries. She is known for her strong, decisive characters, her extraordinary ability to recreate a time and a place, and her unerring courage to confront important, controversial issues in her stories. To learn more about Janet Dailey and her novels, please visit www.JanetDailey.com or find her on Facebook at Facebook.com/JanetDaileyAuthor.
Read an Excerpt
Southeast Alaska Early autumn
A long the Tongass Narrows, the cruise ships that plied Alaska's Inside Passage and spilled tourists onto the docks at Ketchikan were gone with the season. The harbor was quiet, the fishing boats at rest in the Basin. The souvenir shops on the boardwalk were closing their doors.
Dead salmon carpeted the shallow streams, their bodies spent in the grueling race to reach home and spawn. White flocks of seagulls gorged on the remains.
Behind the town, and the highway leading up the coast, evergreen-cloaked mountains towered against the sky. On the narrow lowland that skirted the water, clumps of cottonwood and willow blazed with autumn gold. Alder, dogwood, and mountain ash lent the scene rich hues of bronze and crimson.
Fall in Alaska was a time of fleeting beauty. But that beauty was lost on Emma Hunter. As she fled in terror through the deep-shadowed forest, only one thing mattered — staying alive.
Run! The word shrilled in Emma's mind as she fought her way through the maze of thorny undergrowth, rotting stumps, and fallen trees. Low-hanging limbs whipped her face. Tangled roots snagged her feet.
Again and again, she'd tripped and fallen. Her hands were scratched and bleeding, her jeans ripped, her thin sneakers soaked. Her breath came in gasps. But she mustn't stop, not even to catch her breath or to ease the ripping pain in her side.
If Boone caught her, he would kill her — or make her wish he had.
When Boone Swenson had proposed, two weeks after meeting her at a church dance in Salt Lake City, Emma had felt like the heroine of a romantic novel. The prospect of a life in wild Alaska with the rugged man of her dreams had swept away a lifetime of caution. By the time she'd discovered the truth, it was too late. She was trapped in a nightmare of her own making.
Through the trees behind her, she could hear the hellish baying of Boone's dogs as they followed her scent. The two surly wolf hybrids were probably on leashes. Otherwise, by now, they would've raced ahead of their master and caught her.
If — or when — they found her, would Boone turn them loose on his bride, or would he call them off and drag her back to the trailer for his version of a honeymoon?
Boone was unpredictable. She'd already learned that. But one thing was certain. Given what she now knew about him, he would never let her go free.
Her ankle twisted on a root. A hot pain flashed up her leg. Teeth clenched, she ran on, dodging through the shadowy undergrowth. Giant spruces and hemlocks towered above her. A squirrel scolded from a high branch. A jay screeched an alarm, startling a flock of small birds to flight — all signs of her presence that Boone would recognize.
Why go on, you fool? The voice in her head seemed to mock her. You're miles from the coast, with no place to go — no road, no neighbors, no food, water, or shelter. You haven't got a chance.
Refusing to listen, Emma struggled on. Her lungs were burning. Her legs quivered with every step.
The sinking sun cast fingers of light through the treetops. Somewhere to the west lay the highway, her best hope of finding help. But something told Emma she'd never make it that far. Between the coming darkness, her waning strength, and the dogs, there was only one way this chase could end.
It's over, the silent voice argued. Boone doesn't want you dead. He wants a wife. Give up and go back with him. You can always escape later.
But giving up was not an option, Emma resolved. Whatever happened, she would keep going. She would run until she dropped. And when she could run no more, she would fight.
The trees were thinning now, giving way to brambles and stands of devil's club, a leggy weed with sharp-edged leaves and spines that burned like fire to the touch. Beyond the trees, she could see an open bog, dotted with pools of dark water. Muskeg — that was what Alaskans called places like this, where layers of rotted vegetation, laid down over decades and centuries, clogged the growth of everything but sickly-looking moss, yellowed marsh grass, and a few twisted trees that would never grow tall.
The bog was about half the size of a football field. Going around it, or veering off in another direction, might be safer. But if there was any chance of reaching the road, a straight westward dash across the muskeg would be the shortest way.
She could hear the dogs getting closer. Fueled by terror, Emma gathered the last of her strength and burst into a headlong sprint.
The outer edge of the muskeg was firm enough to support her. But within a few yards, murky water began welling around her sneakers. With every step, the muck grew deeper. Soon it was closing over her ankles, making a sucking sound as she freed each foot. By now, she'd gone too far to turn around. As her feet sank deeper, the effort drained her strength, slowing her progress to a crawl.
When her bare foot came up without the shoe, Emma knew she'd made a fatal mistake. Unfamiliar with muskeg, she hadn't realized how unstable the ground could be. Now she was stuck halfway to her knees, and too exhausted to go on.
She was trapped.
* * *
John Wolf slowed the vintage de Havilland Beaver to 75 mph and lowered the flaps for the descent into Refuge Cove. The mail run to the scattered villages up the coast had taken most of the day. Tonight he looked forward to a meal in his cabin, a hot shower, and a good book by the fire.
Through the windscreen of the sixty-year-old single-engine prop plane, he checked the landscape below. Like a yellow stain against the dark green forest, a familiar patch of muskeg lay directly under the flight path. Using it as a marker, he knew he could make a turn there and line up his bearings for a perfect landing in the cove.
He was banking for the turn when he glimpsed something out of place. In the middle of the muskeg, a living creature was struggling to get free. A young deer or bear cub — that was John's first impression. But as he corrected the turn and leveled out to a full view of the muskeg, he realized that it was a woman, caught in the treacherous muck.
What would a lone woman be doing out here? Whatever her story, she was in one hell of a bad spot.
John put the plane into a shallow dive and zoomed in low. There was no place to land here, but he wanted the woman to know she'd been seen and that help would be coming. She waved frantically as he passed overhead. He glimpsed long chestnut hair and a plaid shirt before he climbed again and circled back.
Now what? He could — and would — radio for rescue. But it would soon be dark, and the night would be cold. Even with a helicopter, a rescue team might not be able to reach her before hypothermia set in. And there was another danger. Trapped as she was, the woman would be easy prey for the black bears that roamed the forest and had little fear of humans.
A hard-core loner, John made it a habit to keep to himself. Other people's problems were none of his damned business. The last thing he wanted was to be somebody's hero. But even he couldn't leave a helpless fool woman out here alone.
The Beaver's floats would only allow the small plane to land on water. The soupy surface of a muskeg might do in an emergency, but this open patch, surrounded by dense forest, was way too small. His best bet, a quarter mile from the muskeg, was a place where a creek had eroded its banks to form a shallow lake. From the air, the lake hadn't looked much bigger than a puddle. But he remembered estimating its length to be a little over a thousand feet — barely enough distance to land and take off again. The width was maybe a third of that distance. The landing would be hairy as hell, the takeoff even riskier. But it was his best chance of reaching the woman. Maybe the only chance.
He took a moment to radio his position and pass on what was happening. Then he banked, made one more low pass over the woman, then headed for the lake.
* * *
Emma's flash of hope faded as the plane vanished over the trees. She was sure the pilot had seen her. But now he'd gone.
Was he looking for a place to land, or had he simply radioed her position and left her to wait for rescue?
But what difference would it make? She'd already run out of time.
The drone of the plane faded with distance. Then, abruptly, it stopped, leaving an eerie silence in its wake. It took a moment for Emma to realize that she could no longer hear the dogs.
Her mind scrambled to piece together what was happening. Boone would've been aware of the plane — and it made sense that he wouldn't want the pilot, or any other witness, to see him. He must've silenced the dogs and pulled back into the forest to wait until the coast was clear.
Boone wouldn't wait long. As soon as he could be sure the pilot wasn't coming back, the chase would be over. She would be at his mercy.
But the plane's arrival had bought her time and given her hope. She couldn't give up now.
Dropping forward and sprawling belly down to even out her weight, she dragged herself ahead. One foot pulled free of the muck, then the other. Both shoes were gone now. Even if she made it onto solid ground, her tender feet wouldn't get her very far. But she couldn't stop — not as long as there was any chance of rescue.
As she crawled toward the far side of the muskeg, she focused her thoughts on the plane and the unseen pilot.
Come back ... she begged silently. Please, come back ...
* * *
The landing had been tight, leaving only a few feet of water between the floats and the bank. John took a long breath, then reached back for the coiled rope he kept in the plane. His Smith & Wesson. 44 magnum revolver, which he carried as a precaution against bears, was tucked under the seat. He took it out and buckled on the shoulder holster before climbing out the door, stepping onto the float, and wading through shallow water to reach the bank.
By his reckoning, the muskeg would be about ten minutes due south. There was no trail, but he'd flown over this stretch of forest countless times going in and out of the cove. The map was fixed in his mind.
With the rope slung over his shoulder, he set off at a ground-eating stride. The lady wasn't going anywhere fast, but his danger instincts were prickling. There was only one reason a woman would get herself stranded in the middle of a muskeg. Something — or more likely, someone — was after her.
Whoever that someone might be, it wouldn't hurt to let them know he was on his way, and that he was armed. He paused long enough to draw the. 44 and fire two shots in the air. As the echo died away, he broke into a run.
* * *
Emma heard the shots. But with her head down, there was no way to tell which direction they were coming from or who was firing. All she could do was stay low and keep moving.
She was nearing the edge of the muskeg. The going was easier here, the ground firmer beneath her weight. But she was wet and shivering with exhaustion. Beyond the ring of scraggly brush and devil's club, the evergreen forest lay deep in twilight shadows. She might be able to hide among the trees, but with the dogs on her trail, how far could she run without shoes?
There was no sign of Boone, but that didn't mean he'd given up and left. Emma knew he'd be just out of sight, waiting for the best chance to rush her. As for the pilot —
She gasped as a man stepped out from among the trees. He was tall and dark, dressed in khakis and a heavy shirt. A rope was coiled over one shoulder. The opposite hand gripped a heavy revolver.
"You're the pilot?" Her teeth were chattering.
"Let's get you out of here."
He slid the gun into its holster, then paused as if deciding on a course of action. He'd brought a rope, but by now she was only a few feet from firm ground. Stepping past the edge of the bog, he planted his work boots for balance, reached down, and caught her bleeding hands. There was no gentleness in his clasp. If anything, his manner suggested that having to rescue her was nothing but an inconvenience.
Emma bit back a whimper as he dragged her off the muskeg. He had just pulled her to her feet when a shot rang out from the forest on the far side of the bog. Missing by inches, the bullet slammed into a tree behind them.
"Get down!" He shoved her to the ground as another bullet whined past. "Sounds like a damned bear rifle," he muttered. "And the bastard's a good shot. I'm guessing it's somebody you know."
"Yes." Emma forced the words through chattering teeth. "My husband."
His stony expression didn't even flicker. "So why would your husband want you dead?"
"It's a long story."
"Come on. And keep low." Crouching, he yanked her along with him into the safety of the trees. Dry pine needles jabbed her feet. She willed herself not to cry out.
"He's got dogs," she said.
"Stay here." Leaving Emma huddled at the base of a stump, he drew his pistol and moved like a shadow to the edge of the clearing. The sound of the pistol, as he fired across the distance, made her ears ring.
Seconds later he was back, offering an impersonal hand to pull her to her feet.
"Why did you shoot?" she asked him. "You couldn't have hit anything in the dark."
"You said he had dogs. Now that he knows I could shoot them, he'll be less likely to send them after us." He gripped her arm above the elbow. "Let's go. The plane isn't far."
She took a step. A sharp pine cone jabbed her foot. Emma yelped.
"What now?" He scowled down at her.
"My shoes. I lost them."
"Hang on." He adjusted the coil of rope. Scooping her up, he slung her over his shoulder like a fireman carrying an unconscious victim out of a burning house. Her hair dangled down his back. Her hips rode his shoulder. The hand that balanced her rested on the backs of her thighs, just below her rump.
"Don't even ask."
"It won't be for long," he said, striding out. "Let me know if you hear anybody behind us."
"What if it's a bear? Will you drop me and run?"
"Don't tempt me, lady."
"My name is Emma."
"Pleased to meet you, Emma," he muttered. "Now let's get the hell out of here."
* * *
At least the woman wasn't hard to carry. She was a delicate thing, her bones almost weightless, like a bird's. And she lay over his shoulder like a trusting child. John was painfully aware of his hand, resting across the backs of her legs in a way that was almost intimate. The thin, wet fabric of her jeans clung to her thighs. He could feel her shivering as the chilly darkness of night crept around them.
Emma. A prim, old-fashioned kind of name. For some reason it seemed to suit her.
What kind of man would chase a woman — especially a fragile little thing like her — through the forest with dogs and a gun? She'd said it was a long story. He wouldn't mind hearing it. But she could tell it to the police in Ketchikan. Her troubles were none of his business.
Besides, a woman didn't have to be big and strong to destroy a man. John knew that all too well.
A rising moon crept over the high peaks above the tree line. In the glow of its light he could see the plane, where he'd left it at the end of the small lake. He lengthened his stride, waded to the plane, and set her down with her bare feet on the float. "Climb aboard," he said, opening the passenger door.
When she hesitated, he clasped her waist and boosted her up to the seat. Her teeth were chattering. "My coat's on the seatback behind you," he said. "Put it on and fasten your belt. It's liable to be a bumpy ride out of here."
After closing the door he went around the plane, buckled himself into the pilot's seat, put on his headphones, and started the engine. He only hoped he could manage to be in the air before the woman's crazy husband showed up with his bear rifle and dogs. Maybe they'd just had a lover's spat. Maybe if he hadn't interfered, they would have patched things up and walked home hand in hand. But what was done was done. He was in this mess for the duration.
After turning the plane around, he aligned it to take off into the wind. He glanced at his passenger to make sure she was securely belted. Wrapped in his old sheepskin flight jacket, she was gazing straight ahead, her hands clasped tightly in her lap. The roar of the engine drowned out anything they might have said to each other.
The short takeoff distance was a worry. But the wind that swept in across the narrows was strong and steady. Setting his jaw, he opened the throttle, revved the engine to 2,100 rpm, and pulled back on the yoke. The Beaver shot across the water, lifting off just short of the tall spruces. The floats grazed the treetops as the plane soared skyward.
Excerpted from "Refuge Cove"
Copyright © 2017 The Estate of Janet Dailey.
Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
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