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They left the condo around seven forty-five and with her arm tucked in Finn’s they walked the six blocks to Logan’s. The noise was explosive the instant they entered the bar. Sophie and Bruce already had a table. Bruce worked for the newspaper, and he’d been dating Sophie for the last few months, following his divorce. According to Sophie, it wasn’t a serious relationship, and after seeing them together a couple of times, Carrie had to agree.

The noise level made it nearly impossible to talk, but they managed by yelling across the table to one another. Finn ordered a beer. Sophie and Carrie had their favorite dirty martinis before another couple joined them. Introductions were made and a second round of drinks was ordered. Finn stayed close to her side and contributed to the conversation, although it was difficult with the bar so crowded. They left an hour later.

“I enjoyed meeting your friends,” he commented when they were outside in the relative quiet of the street.

“But the crowds and the noise bothered you.”

“Not bothered, exactly,” he said, and reached for her hand. “I’m just not accustomed to it to that extent. We get plenty rowdy in Fairbanks ourselves, you know.”

“But this is different.”

He grinned and nodded. Soon they had their arms around each other as it started to snow again. They took a leisurely stroll down Michigan Avenue on the way back to Carrie’s place. On a side street they walked past a bookstore, and Alone took up the entire window display. Finn paused and did a double take.

“How does it feel seeing that?” she asked.

He took his time answering. “I’ve seen it displayed before, but nothing like this. It leaves me feeling a little … I don’t know, weird, I guess.”

“A good weird, though, right?” She felt proud for him and for all that he’d accomplished, proud to be with him. Carrie knew the phenomenal sales of his book had shocked Finn. He didn’t seem to understand what it was about his book that fascinated readers. When he’d submitted the manuscript, he’d been amazed at how quickly it’d sold. Then to have it shoot straight to the top of the bestseller lists and remain there for months on end was beyond the scope of his imagination.

“I can see your mind working,” he said, and, leaning down, he kissed her brow. “I know what you’re thinking.”

“So you’re a mind reader now.”

“You’d love to write that article about me, wouldn’t you?”

To deny it would be a falsehood, but to confess that she’d composed it a half-dozen times in her mind, even still had a rough draft on her laptop, would give him the wrong impression. “That’s a moot point. I would never destroy the trust you have in me. I wouldn’t submit a word until you gave me the approval to do so.”

He was silent for a long time and then said, “Fair enough.”

They held hands as he walked her to her condo and kissed her good night.

“Come upstairs with me?” she asked.

He shook his head. “I think I should go back to the hotel.”

Carrie held on to his hand. “Is everything all right? You’re not upset about anything, are you?”

Finn brought her back into his arms and hugged her close. “You’re far too tempting, Carrie. If I came upstairs with you now, I wouldn’t be leaving until morning, and we both know it.”

Carrie went into her building with a happy, excited sense of anticipation and relief. She would see Finn tomorrow. He’d met her friends and not a one had even suspected her Seattle Paul was Finnegan Dalton.

Chapter Twelve

“When is Paul leaving?” Sophie asked on Saturday afternoon. Finn was in her kitchen, fixing sandwiches for their lunch. Carrie had been bringing down dishes when her friend had called.

“His flight is scheduled for Monday. I mentioned our Christmas party, and I hope he’ll be able to change his plans so he’ll be staying for that.” He’d used her laptop to see about alternate flights and to check his emails, but it didn’t look promising that he’d be able to delay his return to Alaska.

“Do you think he might?”

“I don’t know.” The thought of him leaving filled her with dismay, but at the same time she appreciated that city life was completely foreign to him.

And she would need to return to work Monday morning and he’d be restless in the city, although there would be plenty for him to see and do.

“How come you left so early last night?” Sophie pressed.

“Too noisy,” she explained, as she strolled into the kitchen. “It was difficult to hold a decent conversation, and Paul and I had been out and about all day.”

“I have an idea,” Sophie returned cheerfully, as if she was the most brilliant woman in the universe. “I’ll have the two of you over for dinner this evening. I’ll ask Bruce, and we’ll have a small dinner party with just the four of us—nothing fancy.”

“Good idea, but I’ve already got a roast in the Crock-Pot.” A good portion of the leftover turkey had gone into the freezer, and she’d made up plates with turkey, stuffing, and the other side dishes to distribute to her neighbors who were widowers.

“Great,” Sophie returned enthusiastically. “Then we’ll come to your place. Does six work?”

Carrie glanced at Finn, knowing he could hear the conversation, and he shrugged as if to say it was her decision. “Sure. We’ll see you then.” Carrie would have preferred to spend the night with just her and Finn, but she had more or less been manipulated into agreeing. Setting her phone aside, she wrapped her arms around Finn’s waist. “Are you sure you want to do this?” she asked. “I can call Sophie back and tell her we’ve changed our minds.”

“It’ll be fine. I liked your friends.” He downplayed her concern, kissed her cheek, and brought their turkey-salad sandwiches to the table.

Sophie and Bruce arrived at six, bringing flowers and chocolate-dipped strawberries for dessert. Her friends wore matching Santa hats. The flowers became the centerpiece, and the meal was served. Conversation flowed smoothly throughout dinner. For obvious reasons, the answers to questions directed at Finn were vague. Sophie was the one who asked one question after another, almost as if she were conducting an interview. At one point, Carrie opened her mouth to stop her, an uneasy feeling filling her chest, but Finn pressed his hand over hers, reassuring her that all was fine.

Following the meal, Bruce and Finn went into the living room to watch a college football game while Sophie and Carrie cleared the table.

The instant they were out of earshot, Sophie hissed, “Who do you think you’re kidding? That’s Finn Dalton.”

Just as she’d suspected when Sophie started hitting Finn with a barrage of questions, her friend had seen through their little masquerade.

Carrie started to explain when Sophie quickly cut her off. “Don’t even try to deny it.”

“All right, all right, yes, it’s Finn. Paul is his middle name.”

Sophie rolled her eyes. “Who did you think you were fooling, Carrie?”

“Do you remember,” Carrie said, grabbing hold of her friend’s forearm, “you said that Finn Dalton could be walking down the streets of Chicago and no one would even know it was him? Well, guess what, he is, and you’re right, no one knows.”

“Carrie, I’m worried about you. Surely you realize this relationship isn’t going to work. Long-distance relationships rarely do. The two of you are night and day, oil and water.”

“Well, to this point we seem to be coming along rather nicely,” Carrie countered, unwilling to let her friend rain on her parade. Not for anything would Carrie give up on her and Finn.

“For the love of heaven, why haven’t you written the article?” Sophie demanded. “We both know what that would mean to you and your career. You could have your choice of jobs with any newspaper. You’re always talking about moving back to Seattle one day. This is your golden opportunity.”

“The article is off the table.” Carrie rinsed the dirty dishes and set them inside the dishwasher, not wanting to have this conversation. “I’d rather not discuss this, Sophie.”

“Why can’t you write it?” Sophie wasn’t willing to let this go.

Carrie straightened and faced her friend head-on. “Finn asked me not to.”

“What?” Sophie all but exploded.

Carrie hurriedly glanced around the wall that separated the kitchen from the living room to be sure Finn hadn’t heard any part of this conversation. Both men appeared caught up in the football game. Sighing with relief, Carrie turned back to her friend.

“Keep your voice down, would you?”

“Sorry, but you need to think this through; give me one good reason why you aren’t writing that article. Just one.” She held up her finger and threatened to wag it with every word.

The answer should be obvious. “In case you hadn’t figured it out, I’m in love with Finn.”

“You barely know the guy,” Sophie challenged.

“I know him well enough.”

“Listen, Carrie, I realize you think you’re in love, but you aren’t. This is a classic case of wild infatuation. Opposites attract, right?” She didn’t wait for a response. “You’ve gone bonkers for him, and it’s understandable. He’s not bad looking, and he seems to be a nice guy, but tell me, do you honestly see yourself picking berries out in the wilderness in order to survive?”

Sophie was right about one thing; Carrie couldn’t see herself living her life in Finn’s cabin, raising a family in such a limited environment. Still, she wasn’t willing to give up Finn.

“What about your career?” Sophie challenged next.

“I can write anywhere.”

“You can,” Sophie reluctantly agreed. “You’re smart and talented. But you can’t seriously be considering giving up this golden opportunity.”

Carrie lowered her voice to a whisper. “I won’t betray Finn. I’m not that kind of person.”

“I can’t bear to see you make this sacrifice,” Sophie insisted. “You’d be a fool not to take advantage of what you know about him.”

Carrie refused to listen to this any longer. “Stop, Sophie. I said I’m not doing it, and I mean it. End of story.”

Sophie gave a disgusted shake of her head. “Don’t you see what he’s doing?”

“What are you talking about? He trusts me, and I trust him.”

“Aren’t you afraid he might be using you?”

“Using me? For what?” The idea was so preposterous that Carrie nearly laughed out loud.

“To keep track of what you’re doing so you won’t write the article,” Sophie explained.

Carrie shook her head, finding this conversation almost comical. “Finn isn’t like that.”

“Are you sure?” Sophie challenged. “Take my advice and admit that this relationship isn’t going anywhere. If you hang on, you’ll only be setting yourself up for heartache. I’m your friend, and I have your best interests at heart.”

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