"Just talking," Alex said, feeling a pang of guilt for both the cowardice that was making her think very hard about running again and for the half-truth she gave Jenna now, in the hope of making her feel better.


She got up and took their coffee mugs with her to the stove.


"So, what time did you end up leaving Pete's last night?" Jenna asked as Alex poured fresh coffee and brought it back to the table.


"I left a little while after you did. Zach came by and gave me a ride home." Jenna took a sip from her mug and set it down. "Did he now?"


"Just a ride," Alex said. "He offered to have a beer with me at Pete's, but I was already on my way home."


"Well, knowing my brother, he probably just wanted an excuse to get you in his truck. He's had a thing for you since we were teenagers, you know. Maybe for all his tough-guy, married-to-his-job talk, he's still secretly got his eye on you."


Alex didn't think so. Their one night together had been proof enough to both of them that whatever they had together would never go beyond friendship again. She'd known Zach for close to a decade, but he felt more like a stranger to her than Kade did after just a day.


Incredibly, despite the way Kade unsettled her emotionally, deep down, she felt more protected with him on a physical level than she did with Zach, a decorated officer of the law. Good lord. Just what that said about her judgment, Alex was sure she didn't want to know. As she pondered that thought over a long drink of her coffee, the kitchen phone started to ring. Alex got up and answered the business line on automatic pilot. "Maguire Charters and Deliveries."


"Hey."


That one word--that deep, now intimately familiar growl of a voice--went into her ears and down to the core of her like a current of raw electricity.


"Um, hello ... Kade," she said, wishing she didn't sound so dumbstruck. And did she have to sound so breathless besides? "How did you get my number?"


Across the small kitchen from her, Jenna's brows raised in surprise. Alex pivoted around and leaned over the counter, hoping to hide some of the heat that was creeping into her cheeks.


"There aren't a lot of Maguires in Harmony," he said on the other end. "Not a lot of pilots, either. So I took an educated guess and called the only listing I could find that happened to cover both criteria--one Hank Maguire of Maguire Charters and Deliveries."


"Oh." Alex's mouth tugged into a smile. "And how do you know that's not my husband?" His low chuckle rasped like velvet. "You sure as hell don't kiss like a married woman." Alex's insides went all soft and warm at the reminder, and it was getting damn hard not to squirm when she thought about his lips on hers and the steamy mental revisit she had enjoyed by herself last night in the shower. "So, um, why did you call? Do you ... ah, are you calling on business?" God help her, she almost tacked on "or pleasure" but had the good sense to bite back the words before she'd embarrassed herself by blurting them out. The last thing she needed was to be thinking about Kade and pleasure in the same sentence. She'd gotten a pretty good taste of that already. Enough to know that it spelled danger and complications, things she had plenty enough of as it was.


"I'm supposed to meet Big Dave and a few other guys in Harmony today," Kade said, casually tossing out the best reason she needed to not want anything to do with him.


"Oh, that's right," Alex replied. "The big wolf hunt." And here she was, letting her raging hormones blind her to the fact that she still wasn't sure what his game truly was. Anger spiked bitterly in her throat.


"Well, have fun. I gotta go--"


"Wait," he said, just as she was about to drop the receiver back in its cradle. "I'm supposed to go out with Big Dave today, but actually I was hoping to hire a guide to take me out to Henry Tulak's place instead."


"Henry Tulak," Alex said slowly. "What could you possibly want out at his cabin?"


"I just ... I really need to know how that man died, Alex. Will you take me out there?" He sounded sincere, and oddly resigned. Because it seemed so important to him, Alex found herself hedging when she likely should be shutting him down flat. "What about Big Dave?"


"I'll give him my regrets next time I see him," he replied, sounding anything but concerned about standing up the town blowhard and his pals. "What do you say, Alex?"


"Yeah, okay." And dammit, she didn't have to feel so excited about the prospect of spending time with him. "It will be daybreak around noon, so why don't you meet me here in Harmony at eleven? We'll have light enough for travel, and a couple of hours to check out the site once we get there." Kade grunted, as though considering on the other end of the line. "I'd rather not wait for daylight to head out there, if that's all right with you."


"You'd rather travel in the dark?"


She could actually feel the slow smile spreading over his features as he answered, "I'm not afraid of a little darkness if you're not. I'm on the road already, heading your way. I can be at your place within the hour."


Well, he was bold, she had to give him that. The man set his mind on something and wasn't afraid to go after it.


"Will an hour from now work for you, Alex?"


She glanced at the clock and wondered how fast she could get out of her faded long johns, shower, and make some kind of sense out of her face and hair. "Um, sure. Okay, an hour it is. I'll see you then." As they hung up, Alex could feel Jenna's curious stare at her back. "That was Kade, huh?" She turned around, grinning sheepishly. "Ah, yup."


Jenna leaned back in the chair and crossed her arms over her chest, looking like a total cop, even in her sweat-shirt and faded jeans, her dark hair loose around her shoulders. "This is the same Kade from Pete's last night, the same Kade you saw out at the Toms place yesterday and said you wanted nothing to do with? That Kade?"


"That's the one," Alex replied. "And before you say anything else, I'm just taking him out to the Tulak place to have a look around."


"Uh-huh."


"It's just business," Alex said, hastily clearing her breakfast dishes and dumping them in the sink. She pulled aside a piece of egg-soaked toast and tossed it into Luna's waiting mouth. "The way I see it, if it will keep one more gun from being aimed at the area wolf packs, then I'm more than happy to pert Kade with an in-country day trip."


When she came back to the table to wipe it down, Jenna stared hard at her. It didn't take Alex's uncanny inner lie detector, or even Jenna's years of training as a cop, to read the plain and obvious fact that Alex was smitten. Turned inside-out by a man she'd known only a couple of days. Tempted to let this man who was a hundred confusing shades of gray into her tidy little black-andwhite world.


"Be careful, Alex," Jenna said. "I'm your friend and I love you. I don't want to see you get hurt."


"I know," she said. "And I won't."


Jenna laughed under her breath and waved her hand dismissively in front of her. "Well, why are you standing around when you need to get ready for this nondate? Go on. Luna and I will handle breakfast cleanup detail."


Alex grinned. "Thanks, Jen."


"But when you get back from this nondate," Jenna called after her as she raced down the hall, "I'm gonna want this guy's last name and social security number. And a full medical history, too. You know I'm not kidding!"


Alex did know that, but she was laughing anyway, floating on a welcome, if unaccustomed, feeling of excitement and hope.


Chapter Thirteen


Kade hadn't realized how much he was looking forward to seeing Alex again until he was watching her through the frosted glass window of her front door as she came to let him in. Tall and lean, dressed in dark jeans and a citrus-green fleece with a white turtleneck underneath it, her warm blond hair collected into a pair of braids that just cleared her shoulders on either side, she looked fresh as spring in the dead of the frigid winter. She smiled at him through the ice crystals clinging to the window, her naturally pretty face enhanced with only a bit of mascara and the sudden blush that rose into her cheeks.


"Hi," she said as she swung the unlocked door open for him. "You found me." He inclined his head in a nod. "I found you."


"Let me guess," she said, her smile lingering. "You walked all the way here like you did the other day in the bush?"


He smirked and gestured toward the snowmachine he'd parked in her yard. "I decided to ride today instead."


"Ah, of course you did." She held the door open for him. "Come in. I just have to grab my boots and gear and we can be off."


As she disappeared around a corner of the living room, Kade walked inside the cozy little house, letting his gaze roam over the simple furnishings and the inviting, casual feel. He could smell Alex in this place, could feel her in the clean, unfussy lines of the sofa and chairs, in the rustic, dark woods of the tables and the earthy greens and browns and creams of the woven rug under his feet. She came back into the room with laced-up Sorels on her feet and a thick khaki-colored parka draped around her. "Ready if you are. Leave your sled where it is. We'll go out the back and take mine to the airstrip."


Kade paused a couple of steps behind her. "The airstrip?"


"Yeah," she said matter-of-factly. "No snow in the forecast for the next couple of days, so why waste time sledding out when we can fly there?"


"I didn't realize we were going to fly." He felt a momentary twinge of uncertainty, something wholly foreign to him. "It's dark outside."


"My plane can't tell the difference between day and night," she said, a playful light dancing in her soft brown eyes. "Let's go. That is, unless you're uncomfortable with a little darkness, Kade." She was goading him, and damned if he didn't enjoy it. He smiled, more than up to any challenge she wanted to toss his way. "Lead on."


With Alex in charge and Kade happy to be riding behind her on the sled, if only for the excuse of wrapping his arms around her, they sped through the frozen back lots of town to where her single-engine plane was tethered at Harmony's joke of an airstrip. Aside from the hangar where the bodies of the Toms family still rested in temporary storage, the airport consisted of a short strip of hard-packed snow and family still rested in temporary storage, the airport consisted of a short strip of hard-packed snow and landing lights that barely cleared the tops of the highest drifts.


Alex's de Havilland Beaver had one neighbor for company, a small Super Cub that was rigged with fat tires instead of straight skis like Alex's. A wind gust rolled through the cleared land of the runway, pushing a cloud of powdery snow across the ground like a tumbleweed.


"Bustling place, eh?"


"Better than nothing." She parked the snowmachine and they climbed off. "Go ahead and get inside. I've got to run the system checks before we're ready to take off."


Kade might have balked at being ordered around by a female, if he hadn't been so intrigued by Alex's confidence in what she was doing. He climbed into the unlocked cockpit of the plane and closed the door. Even though the Beaver was the workhorse plane of the interior, Kade was struck immediately by the claustrophobic fit of the cockpit. At six foot four and 250 pounds without weapons and clothing, he was a large male by any standards, but sitting in the passenger seat of the single-engine plane, the curved metal panels and narrow windows felt like a tight cage.


Alex came around to the pilot's side and hopped into the seat behind the wheel. "All set," she announced cheerfully. "Buckle up and we'll be airborne in no time." This far remote in the Alaskan interior, it wasn't surprising that there was no traffic control, no tower to radio in to for clearance before takeoff. It was all on Alex to get them off the ground and headed in the right direction. Kade watched her work, impressed as hell by the way she took charge of the aircraft and set it moving on the pitifully brief runway. A minute later, they lifted off into the darkness, climbing higher and higher into a morning sky devoid of light except for the distant blanket of stars that glittered overhead.


"Nice job," he said, glancing at her as she leveled off their ascent and steered them through a few short patches of bumpy, gusting wind. "I take it you've done this once or twice before." She slid him a little smile. "I've been flying since I was twelve years old. Had to wait to get my official training and license until I was eighteen, though."


"You like being up here with the stars and clouds?"


"I love it," she said, nodding thoughtfully as she checked a couple of the gauges on the plane's dashboard, then looked back out at the vast nothingness in front of them. "My dad taught me to fly. When I was a kid, he used to tell me that the sky was a magic place. Sometimes when I'd get scared or wake up out of a nightmare, he'd take me up with him--no matter what time it was. We'd climb high into the sky, where nothing bad could reach us."


Kade could hear the affection in her voice when she spoke about her father, and he also heard the sorrow of her loss. "How long since your father passed?"


"It's been six months--Alzheimer's. Four years ago, he started forgetting things. It got worse pretty quickly, and after about a year, when it started to affect his reflexes in the plane, he finally let me take him to the hospital in Galena. The disease progresses differently for everyone, but for Dad, it seemed to take hold of him so fast." Alex let out a deep, reflective sigh. "I think he gave up as soon as he heard the diagnosis. I don't know, I think maybe he was giving up on life even before then."

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