“What?” she snapped, glaring at her friend.
“Scott was talking to you just now.”
“I know. He was talking to you, too. He was talking to everybody.”
“Doesn’t that mean anything? What he said about past mistakes and regrets and all?”
Chrissie was saved from having to answer when Abbey walked in. Grateful for the escape, Chrissie edged her way out of the kitchen. Her relief was short-lived, however. No sooner had she entered the family room then Scott joined her.
“We were having a discussion…”
“Yes,” she said with an exasperated sigh. “As I recall, it was about air quality.”
Scott grinned, which made his classic features even handsomer and more appealing. Chrissie doubted hers was the only heart he’d broken since leaving Hard Luck.
His eyes grew solemn. “I meant what I just said. I made a lot of mistakes, and I want you to know I’m sorry for the pain I caused you.”
Chrissie dropped her own eyes, rather than let him see how deeply his words affected her. She’d never expected Scott to apologize, and it took her a moment to absorb. “Apology accepted,” she whispered.
“Can you really forgive me?” He clasped her shoulders and compelled her to look at him.
Chrissie knew what he was asking, but she wasn’t sure she could say what he wanted her to. “I have forgiven you. I put everything behind me years ago, Scott.”
He expelled an enormous sigh as if he’d been waiting a long time to hear that. For an uncomfortable moment he gazed into her fate. Then he said, “I’d like to see you again.”
“Go out with you,” he corrected. “As in date. I’d like us to start again.”
Oh, Lord, she was tempted. Where she found the courage to refuse him, Chrissie would never know. Slowly she shook her head.
“I did say I’d forgiven you, Scott,” she said. “But there are consequences to one’s actions. Nothing you can say now will ever undo the past. I wish you well, Scott, I really do, but I’m not going to risk letting you hurt me again.”
He didn’t say anything for a few seconds, then finally let his hands fall. “I can understand that,” he said quietly.
He turned away, and she didn’t stop him.
BETHANY HARRIS sat cross-legged on the bed, impatiently waiting for her husband to return from his final rounds. Her thoughts had been confused all evening, and she wanted to discuss the O’Halloran party with him. When they’d left, Mitch had dropped her off at the house, then stopped at the station to check with the night dispatcher, a habit he’d developed during his twenty-five years in law enforcement. He wouldn’t be long, she knew, but she was eager to talk about the events of the evening. Especially the exchange she’d witnessed between Chrissie and Scott.
The sound of the door closing propelled Bethany off the bed. “I’m glad you’re back,” she said, greeting her husband in the kitchen. She was barefoot, her eyelet cotton gown reaching nearly to the floor.
“Is Jack in?” he asked.
“Present and accounted for,” she assured him. Jack, their youngest, was a high-school student. Their older son, Jeremy, attended classes at the University of Washington in Seattle. “Did you notice Chrissie tonight?” she asked right away.
“She was helping serve, remember?” Mitch reminded his wife absently. He moved into the living room, unbuttoning his shirt as he walked.
“What Chrissie was doing,” Bethany told him, “was avoiding Scott.” She knew her stepdaughter well enough to recognize that Chrissie was keeping herself occupied all evening in an effort to elude Scott—not that her plan had worked.
Mitch frowned and sank into his favorite chair in front of the television. “I thought she was over Scott. I assumed she was willing to forgive him and ready to move on.”
“I’m sure she has forgiven him, but…” Sitting on the arm of his chair, Bethany shook her head. “As for being over him, forget it.” Half the night she’d had to resist the urge to throw her arms around her stepdaughter and comfort her. How well she understood the doubts and uncertainties Chrissie felt; it was like seeing history repeat itself.
“I’d better have a talk with her,” Mitch said, still frowning. “Someone has to tell her.”
“Tell her what?” Bethany demanded, wondering if her husband knew something she didn’t. When it came to police matters, Mitch was closemouthed. As he should be. Bethany respected his discretion. But her husband sometimes kept private fears and concerns to himself, too. If he had information regarding Scott and Chrissie, she wanted to hear it.
Mitch’s gaze clouded with indecision. “I’m not keeping any deep, dark secrets, if that’s what you’re thinking. It’s just—” He abruptly changed his mind about whatever he’d planned to say. “Actually, Chrissie may want to talk to me about Scott, and I was hoping you’d give me a few suggestions—unless, of course, you’d prefer to talk to her.”
“I’d gladly talk to Chrissie,” Bethany told him quietly, “if I knew what to say.”
They were both silent for a moment. “I think very highly of Scott for publicly apologizing to his family,” Mitch said. “That couldn’t have been easy.”
“It was a kind and generous thing to do,” Bethany agreed. Scott’s admission of his faults had taken maturity and inner strength; so had his decision to seek his family’s forgiveness, especially in a roomful of people. Part of his speech, Bethany realized, had been directed at Chrissie.
Her stepdaughter was a warmhearted woman who’d already forgiven Scott—that much Bethany was certain of. But apparently forgiveness didn’t extend to resuming their relationship.
Bethany had seen Chrissie leave the party soon after Scott’s speech, unable to hide her misery; Bethany had desperately wanted to follow her out. She sensed that Chrissie loved Scott yet despite her feelings refused to take another risk on the man who’d hurt her twice.
“There’s something I never told you.” Her husband’s eyes sparked with hidden laughter. “Just before our wedding, Scott came to talk to me, man to man.”
“Scott did? He was what—eight? Nine?”
“Nine, I think, and sincere as can be.”
Bethany could only imagine what the boy had had to say.
Mitch rubbed the side of his jaw. “Scott felt I needed to know you were in love with me long before I ever noticed.”
Bethany, who’d moved to sit across from her husband, knees tucked beneath her chin, lifted her head. “He didn’t!”
Mitch raised his hand. “I swear it’s true. Scott said he recognized the look. According to him, Abbey looked at Sawyer the same way you looked at me. He asked me if love made people act dumb because that was how his mother and Sawyer behaved. He wondered if that would happen to us.”
Pressing her forehead against her knees, Bethany couldn’t suppress a laugh.
“Apparently he didn’t approve of what his sister and Chrissie had done in order to get us together, either.”
“I don’t believe this.”
“Then he recommended I marry you in spite of Chrissie and Susan’s matchmaking, and congratulated me for seeing through their ploys.” Her husband’s smile was delighted as he reminisced. “I could talk to Scott,” he finally suggested. “Man to man, the way he spoke to me.”
Bethany considered that, but instinctively knew Chrissie would resent her family’s intrusion. “You’ve already had a number of talks with Scott.”
Mitch’s smile disappeared and he slowly nodded. “He was an angry teenager, but nothing I said helped him.”
“Don’t be so sure.”
Mitch leaned forward. “I’ve seen other kids like Scott. He was never vicious or even all that bad. First there was the pain of losing his dog and then…well, this is what I started to tell you. He contacted his father when he was fifteen. He never told Abbey and Sawyer.”
“But Sawyer’s his father.”
“By adoption, true, but Scott had things to resolve with his birth father—and it didn’t really happen. The bastard out-and-out rejected him. His own kid!”
“You never told me this before.”
Mitch’s eyes avoided hers. “I know. He asked me to keep it confidential. But I tried to help him as best I could.”
“I think you did help him, although Chrissie didn’t realize it at the time.”
“Well, she did later,” Mitch murmured. He shook his head. “Scott hurt her the same way he hurt himself. Now he’s back and she doesn’t trust him, and really, can you blame her?”
“No…” Still, Bethany wished a reconciliation was possible.
“Maybe you should talk to Chrissie.” Mitch glanced hopefully in her direction. “Maybe that would be the best approach, after all.”
“And say what?” Bethany asked.
Her husband hesitated. “I don’t know. Something inspiring. Hey—you could always ask Ben for advice. Seems to me he has a knack for knowing the right thing to say.”
In theory Mitch’s idea sounded good, but this was a delicate situation that required sensitive handling. Chrissie might take offense at her family’s meddling in her affairs. In fact, Bethany could amost guarantee it. Besides, knowing Ben, his solution would likely to be to hog-tie Chrissie and Scott and refuse to release them until they’d sorted everything out.
On second thought…
“You think we should ask Ben for help?” Mitch murmured.
Bethany gave a thoughtful shrug and laughed softly at the thought of leaving her stepdaughter’s love life in the hands of crusty, outspoken Ben—the man who also happened to be Bethany’s birth father and the reason she’d moved to Hard Luck in the first place. “I think we should let Chrissie make her own decisions. Although, I suppose, if the right opportunity presents itself…”
Mitch took a moment to mull that over. Then he nodded. “You’re right. And you never know—one of them might actually ask for our advice. In which case, we’ll be happy to give it. Come on,” he said, stretching his arm toward her. “It’s past my bedtime.”
CHRISSIE AROSE early Saturday morning and dressed warmly for her bimonthly flight into Fairbanks. As she ate some toast, she filled her backpack for the weekend, then walked to the Midnight Sons landing strip. Duke Porter, her law partner’s husband, generally flew her into town. They’d gotten to be good friends over the past few months, since she’d started the mentoring program arranged through a Fairbanks social-service agency. Joelle Harmon was a twelve-year-old foster child at risk. Abandoned by her mother, father unknown, Joelle had been in six foster homes in four months, until she was accepted into the experimental group home. Chrissie had spent months building a strong relationship with the girl.
Her breath formed small clouds as she hurried toward the Midnight Sons office to check in for the normally scheduled flight. It would turn bitterly cold soon enough. Within the month, snow would fall and winter would set in with such ferocity that just the thought of it sent shivers down her spine. Despite that, Chrissie loved Alaska; she’d lived here almost her entire life and couldn’t imagine settling anywhere else.