“Are you suggesting I cheated?” he asked, and seemed to enjoy her loss far too much.
“No, but you distracted me, got me thinking about … work.”
“That’s a convenient excuse, and you know it. The fact is I played a superior game.”
“Sure you did,” she muttered sarcastically, and reached for the deck. “We’re playing for the match, remember.”
“Why don’t you rest your brain for a few minutes?” Finn suggested, his voice dripping with pretend sympathy. He rose from the table and came to stand behind her, and placed his hands on her shoulders. He rubbed and kneaded the knotted flesh as shivers of awareness shot down her spine. Giving in to his touch, Carrie closed her eyes with a sigh and let her head drop forward. This was divine. It might have been her imagination, but for just an instant she thought she felt his breath against the side of her neck as if he’d bent over to kiss it. His touch was so light, so tender, that it could well have been wishful thinking. From everything Finn had said, he was more than eager to be rid of her.
“What I need,” she said, scooting back her chair, anxious to break this trance that had come over her, “is some fresh air.” As it was, the room seemed overwhelmingly stuffy. The storm was over, and the night appeared relatively peaceful.
Handing Carrie her coat, Finn walked her to the front door. When she stepped outside, her arms immediately went about her middle as her gaze went to the star-filled heavens. In all her life, Carrie had never seen so many stars. Thousands upon thousands of pinpricks of twinkling light dotted the sky, mesmerizing her.
“Oh, my,” she whispered, caught up in the magic of the moment. “This is unbelievable.”
Finn came to stand behind her, his hands on her shoulders. “I never grow tired of this view,” he whispered.
“No wonder. It’s incredible. Awesome. Breathtaking.”
“Now look north.” He turned her halfway around so that she faced the arctic.
Carrie gasped. The sky was filled with wave upon wave of color—gold, bronze, and lavender arced across the night sky. “Is that the … aurora borealis?”
“You’ve never seen it before?”
“No. Of course, I’ve heard about it, but I had no idea it was this beautiful, this dramatic.” Just watching the northern lights dance their seductive ballet chased off the chill of the frigid night. Then Carrie realized the source of this toasty feeling was Finn’s arms, which surrounded her. He’d tucked his warm body close to hers, warding off the frigid night air.
“Close your eyes,” he suggested, his head close to hers.
She did as he requested.
“Do you hear anything?” His breath was warm against her ear.
“Yes,” she whispered. “A crackling sound.”
“That’s the northern lights. Not everyone can hear them.”
“Can you?” she asked, barely getting the words out. Having him this close took her breath away.
“Yes.” His lips nuzzled her neck, and Carrie sighed audibly.
At the same moment, they both seemed to become aware of the close proximity they shared, knit together, as it were. Without a word, Finn snatched his arms away and returned to the house.
Carrie followed a moment later. Finn was already sitting at the table by the time she closed and latched the door.
“Is your brain working now?” he asked, and cleared his throat, busying himself with shuffling the cards.
“Ah, sure.” Her breath trembled slightly, and she hoped that if Finn noticed he wouldn’t comment.
“I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything more beautiful,” she whispered.
“Me neither,” Finn added.
Her mind swirled with the sights and sounds of the innate beauty of Alaska. Inhaling a deep breath, she glanced up to find Finn studying her. She wanted to thank him for sharing his home and his life with her for the past two days. The words were on the tip of her tongue, but she doubted she could murmur a single word without tears leaking from her eyes. These last few minutes had felt almost spiritual, as if she’d been standing in a church and singing hymns of praise.
As best she could, Carrie returned to the game, doing her utmost to pretend nothing out of the ordinary had happened and at the same moment acutely aware that it had.
As luck would have it, she won the second game, but it was no thanks to her skilled card sense. The air between them sizzled and arced much like the northern lights, even as they both chose to ignore it. Perhaps that was for the best, as she would be flying out at first light. An immediate sense of regret filled her. In an amazingly short amount of time, Alaska had won her over, and Finn had, too.
The last cribbage game was close, but in the end Finn won. Little wonder, really, as Carrie’s mind was not on the game. She didn’t know how she was going to say good-bye when she had the distinct feeling she would be leaving her heart behind.
Finn seemed surprised that he managed to pull out a win. Carrie sighed as she set her cards down and pulled the pegs from the board. She wasn’t looking forward to another miserable night on the sofa, but, all things considered, a little discomfort was a small price to pay.
Finn seemed to read her lack of communication as disappointment. “You can have the bed,” he told her.
“No. You won,” she said much too cheerfully, overcompensating. “I’m the intruder here, remember?” Hennessey would lie at her feet, and he’d keep her company during the night. It wouldn’t be so bad, and if she was fortunate enough to catch the flight back to Seattle and then make a quick connection to Chicago, she could sleep on the plane.
Finn reached for the cards and placed them back inside the box.
“I realize having me as your houseguest wasn’t what you wanted,” she said. “You’ve been more than gracious, and I want to thank you for putting up with me.”
He shrugged, giving the impression it wasn’t a big deal. “You aren’t so bad.”
“Contrary to popular opinion, you aren’t, either.”
He cracked a smile. “Your opinion?”
“Well,” she said, “we didn’t exactly start off on the right foot.”
“True,” he acknowledged.
“Are you still upset with Sawyer?”
He gave the question some consideration before answering. “I’ll settle up with him later.”
“Don’t be too hard on him,” Carrie pleaded. “He’s a good friend to you.”
“He is,” Finn agreed.
A short while later Finn announced it was time to call it a night. Despite the fact that it was relatively early, Carrie was tired. He offered her privacy so she could wash up and change clothes. While she was getting ready for bed, Finn contacted Sawyer. She heard the two men talking over the ham radio but was able to make out only half of what was being said.
When she reappeared, Finn said, “Sawyer will arrive early. He’ll see you to the terminal and make sure you have a seat on the next available flight out of Fairbanks to Seattle.”
“But how …” This was the one drawback to her plan. She’d arrived in Alaska, and not knowing when to book her return ticket, she’d left it open. Now she would need to purchase a last-minute ticket back to Chicago at a greatly inflated price. Because of cutbacks with the airlines, almost every plane she’d flown on lately had been packed with passengers like sardines in a can. All she could hope was that there would be a seat available.
“Sawyer works with the airlines. They owe him a favor. Don’t worry—it’s all being taken care of.”
Although the two friends seemed to have reached an understanding, it appeared Finn was still eager to send her on her way. She had to believe he’d experienced the same tenderness and awareness she had. The electricity between them was powerful enough to light up a city block. Surely he felt it, too. Like her, it probably made him uncomfortable, and the best way he could deal with it was to send her packing.
Carrie could find no way of telling him that she wouldn’t mind spending a few more days. That was crazy thinking on her part, but she couldn’t shake this reluctance to leave. It seemed they were just beginning to come to an understanding, a willingness to explore whatever it was that was happening between them.
“Time for lights out,” Finn said, and his voice sounded odd, regretful.
“Right.” How she wished she knew what he was thinking.
He brought out the blankets and pillow for her. Carrie held out her arms to take the load, but he hesitated. “You’re sure about this? I don’t mind taking the sofa tonight.”
“That’s generous, but a deal is a deal.”
“Okay, your choice.”
He built up the fire and then returned to the bedroom. Carrie made her bed, sat on the sofa, and wrapped her arms around her bent knees.
To her surprise, Finn hadn’t mentioned her article again. She half expected him to argue his case, demand that she honor his privacy. Instead, he’d avoided the subject entirely. He hadn’t sought out this notoriety, even if he had written one of the most intriguing and interesting books of the year. Although there was so much more she wanted to know about him, it seemed wrong to press the point. As far as she was concerned, the article was fast becoming secondary to everything else.
Eventually Carrie fell asleep, her mind full of Finn, the man she was just beginning to know and wished to know much better. He wasn’t like anyone she’d ever met, which intrigued her all the more. The businessmen and the community leaders she met at social functions were as different as night and day from a man like Finn, and yet she was strongly attracted to him. She found him more appealing than anyone she’d recently dated, that was for sure.
For the last few months she’d gone out with Dave Schneider a number of times. It wasn’t anywhere close to serious. She enjoyed his company, but as a salesman, he traveled frequently, and their schedules didn’t often mesh. While she had ample opportunities to date, the men she usually met were too slick, too polished, too caught up in themselves and their careers to appeal to her. She couldn’t see making a life with anyone in her current social network.
At some point during the night, Carrie stirred awake to find Finn kneeling over her. Leaning up on one elbow, she rubbed the sleep from her eyes. “Is it morning already?” she asked. A sense of dread filled her. She didn’t want to leave—not yet. Not so soon.
He shook his head. “Take the bed. I can’t sleep.”
She wanted to argue but could see it would do her no good. Tossing aside the blanket, she started to get up but instead Finn effortlessly lifted her into his arms and carried her into his bedroom.
He pressed her down on the feather mattress and, leaning forward, kissed her brow. “Sleep tight,” he whispered.
Reaching up, she cupped the side of his face, his beard prickling her palm, and she smiled at him softly, silently wishing that he would kiss her for real. She moistened her lips, inviting him to take what she offered. Surely he could read the longing in her eyes; surely he knew what she wanted. Instead, he reluctantly straightened and left the room.
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