That news produced a small grin. Jon’s smiles were as infrequent as his conversations.

“People like your pictures.”

Praise embarrassed him. Whenever customers had asked to meet him, he’d refused. He didn’t explain why, but she sensed that he felt the public’s focus should be on the art and not the artist.

“I’ll get the photographs,” he said brusquely, disappearing out the back door.

When he returned, he held an armful of framed photographs of varying sizes. He carried them to the back room, placing them on Maryellen’s work table.

“Can I interest you in a cup of coffee?” she asked. She’d offered before and he’d always declined.

“All right.”

Maryellen was sure she’d misunderstood him. She told herself it was absurd to feel this elation that he’d finally agreed. She poured him a cup and gestured toward the sugar and cream. He shook his head.

They sat on stools across from each other, both staring into their coffee. “Your work is gaining recognition,” she finally said.

He ignored her remark. “You’re divorced?” he asked bluntly.

The question caught Maryellen off guard. She’d certainly realized he wasn’t much for small talk, but this verged on rude. She decided to answer him, anyway—and then turn the subject back to him.

“Thirteen years.” She hardly ever mentioned her marriage. She’d been young and immature, and had paid a high price for her mistake. As soon as the divorce was final, she’d reverted to her maiden name and chosen to put the experience behind her. “What about you?”

Jon apparently had his own agenda because he answered her question with one of his own. “You don’t date much, though, do you?”

“No. Do you?”


“Are you married?” She didn’t think he was.


“Divorced?” she asked next.


He certainly didn’t bother with sharing, nor did he feel obliged to offer much personal information in exchange for hers.

“Why don’t you date?” he asked next.

Maryellen shrugged, choosing a nonverbal reply instead of a lengthy explanation.

Jon sipped his coffee. “Don’t you get asked?”

“Oh, sure.” She preferred parties and other social events to individual dates. “Why the interest, all of a sudden? Would you like to ask me out?” she asked boldly. If he did, she just might be tempted. Then again, maybe not. Dark, mysterious men were dangerous, and she’d already learned her lesson.

“What did he do to you?” Jon pressed.

Maryellen got off the stool, uncomfortable with the way he continually parried her questions with his. Each question dug a little deeper, delving into territory she’d rather leave undisturbed.

“Tell me something I don’t know about you,” she said, challenging him with a look.

“I’m a chef.”

“You mean you enjoy cooking?”

“No, I’m a chef at André’s.”

The elite seafood restaurant was on the Tacoma waterfront. “I…I didn’t know.”

“Most people don’t. It’s how I pay the bills.”

Kelly’s voice rang from inside the gallery. “Anybody here?”

Her sister couldn’t have chosen a worse time to visit and Maryellen glanced regretfully toward the showroom. “That’s my sister.”

“I should be going.” Jon took a swallow of the cooled coffee, then put down the mug.

“Don’t leave yet.” She reached out impulsively, touching his forearm. “I’m sure I’ll only be a moment.”

“Come to André’s one night,” he said. “I’ll make you something special.”

Maryellen wasn’t sure if he meant she should come alone or if she should bring a date. But it seemed inappropriate to ask. “I’ll do that,” she said as Kelly walked into the back room. Her sister stopped suddenly, her face filled with surprise and delight at finding Maryellen with a man.

“I’m Jon Bowman,” Jon said into the awkward silence. “I’ll leave you to visit. Nice seeing you again, Maryellen.”

“Bye,” she said, her feelings a mixture of surprise and regret. Anticipation too, she admitted privately. And that was something she hadn’t felt in years.

Kelly watched him go. As soon as Jon was out of earshot, she asked, “Was that anyone special?”

“Just one of our artists,” Maryellen returned, not elaborating.

Kelly claimed the stool recently vacated by Jon. “How’s Mom holding up?”

“Better than I expected.” Making that first attorney’s appointment had been difficult, but her mother’s resolve had seen her through.

“Dad’s coming back, you know,” Kelly said.

Maryellen didn’t argue, although she’d long since abandoned hope that he would.

“You don’t believe me, do you?” Kelly challenged.

Maryellen had, in fact, given up. For whatever reason, their father had disappeared. When it came to men, she didn’t expect much, even from her own father.

Could Jon Bowman be any different? She wasn’t going to think about that now, she decided.

“Daddy will come back,” Kelly insisted again when Maryellen ignored the question.

“Time will tell, won’t it,” Maryellen said and reached for her coffee.


She must be in the grip of some insanity, Justine decided as she stepped off the small commuter plane in King Cove, Alaska. It’d been almost two weeks since she’d heard from Seth and she couldn’t stand waiting another day.

She’d contacted the cannery where Seth and his father sold their fish and crab, but they didn’t have any information about the boat’s schedule. Justine had left a message with the frazzled secretary, although there was no guarantee Seth would ever receive it. She’d asked the woman to please let Seth know Justine would be arriving that weekend. She could only hope he’d gotten word of her impending visit.

Walking carefully down the steps of the ten-seater aircraft, Justine looked up expectantly, longing for Seth and praying he’d be at the small airport waiting for her. The wind stung her face, shocking her with its chill. The last weekend of September, and already there was evidence of winter’s approach in this cold Alaskan wind.

“Is someone meeting you, miss?” the pilot asked when Justine reached for her overnight bag in the cart outside the plane.

“My husband—I think.” But Seth wasn’t at the airstrip. She took a taxi into town and listened with half an ear while the driver droned on about life on the Alaskan coast. He dropped her at a waterfront motel with a partially burned-out neon sign that read TEL.

The room was small and plain and dreary with its utilitarian beige carpeting, stained in several places. The curtains and bedspread were a faded floral pattern that wouldn’t have been attractive even when they were new. She sat on the edge of the thin mattress, feeling sad and lost. Coming here had been crazy, a sign of how truly desperate she was. Now that she’d arrived in Alaska, she had to accept that this trip was a waste of time.

Her marriage had seemed right and perfect only a few weeks earlier, but now she was overwhelmed by doubts. She couldn’t believe she’d actually married Seth. She sighed, a long, heartfelt sigh. Quite simply, she needed to know he loved her. And since she’d only heard from him a handful of times, she was beginning to think he didn’t. Or rather, that his love was just a temporary passion, a desire he’d now satisfied.

Well, she could spend all weekend in the motel room feeling sorry for herself or she could try to find out where he was. Determined to locate her husband, she dressed in her warmest clothes and asked Betty, the lady at the front desk, for directions to the cannery. She was on foot, but it was only a short distance from the motel to the docks. The wind whipped her long hair about her face as she walked toward the water, her hands buried deep inside her pockets. Because it was late in the fishing season, plenty of boats were tied along the pier.

Justine talked to several fishermen. They were all familiar with Seth and his father, but no one had any information to give her. Disheartened, she headed back to the motel.

As she left, she noticed a large commercial fishing vessel preparing to dock, its huge boom reaching toward the sky. The smaller picking booms stretched out like thin steel arms on either side of the vessel. A large muscular man with a blond head covered in a blue knit cap had his back to her; he resembled Seth in coloring and stature. Was it possible? Could she be this lucky?

Increasing her pace, she hurried down the dock toward the fishing boat. “Seth!” she called, but the wind carried his name away. Still, the man must have heard something because he turned. It was her husband. When he saw her, he took one gigantic leap from the vessel to land with both feet on the dock.

Justine ran down the wooden pier and with a joyous shout, hurled herself into his embrace. He grasped her tightly about the waist, lifting her several inches off the ground. He was kissing her and every doubt, every question, vanished with that one frenzied kiss.

Justine heard men chuckling somewhere nearby, but she barely noticed and apparently neither did Seth.

“What are you doing here?” he asked, brushing the hair from her face. His eyes were warm with love. “How’d you know we were coming back in?”

“I didn’t—I just prayed you’d be here.”

He lowered his mouth to hers once more and murmured something about prayer being highly underrated just before his lips claimed hers.

“I have a motel room,” she whispered.

Seth glanced over his shoulder. “Wait here.” He hurried back to the boat, leaped aboard and quickly disappeared belowdecks. Justine was beginning to wonder what had happened to him when he reappeared with a dark duffel bag draped over his shoulder. Even though he needed a shave and a shower, he was the most handsome, thrilling, incredible man she’d ever seen.

“How long do we have?” he asked.

“Two days.” She slid her arm through his and leaned her head against his shoulder. “We need to talk, Seth.”

“We will,” he promised, but any conversation would come second if she read the glint in his eyes correctly.

“I see you found your husband,” Betty said as they approached the motel.

“I did,” Justine said, her voice light with happiness. By the time they reached her room, Justine had the key out and ready.

Seth hauled her into his arms the instant the door was unlocked and carried her inside, flicking on the light as they entered. What had seemed plain and ugly only an hour ago felt like a honeymoon suite just now.

Her husband set her on the worn carpet, and his hands delved into her hair, angling her mouth toward his. Their kiss was long. Passionate. “I need a shower,” he muttered impatiently when it was over. “Wait right here.”

“Okay,” she murmured, eyes closed, still consumed by his kiss.

“Are you hungry?” he asked.