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Finn was back.

Carrie couldn’t imagine where he’d gone or what he’d been doing, especially in the snow. She automatically reached for a second mug and filled it. Finn came in the door, followed by Hennessey, who instantly went to her side. She bent down and petted her newfound friend. Finn seemed surprised to see her up and about.

“The storm has let up,” he murmured. “But not enough for Sawyer to fly.”

“Oh.” Carrie had been afraid that was the case. She handed him a mug of steaming brew.

“You made coffee,” he said, as if this was some gargantuan feat.

“Yes.” It was one thing to get into a sparring match with him in the dead of night and quite another to do so when they were standing face-to-face. She’d made several accusations that she wished now had remained unsaid. It embarrassed her that she had delved into his personal life when what he did or didn’t do was none of her affair.

Finn, too, seemed uneasy.

“Have you had breakfast?” she asked, although she didn’t have a clue what she would cook if he hadn’t. It wasn’t like she had access to fresh eggs. From what little she’d picked up about life in the frozen north, being this close to the tree line meant that groceries, supplies, or anything else Finn needed would have to be flown in.

“I ate earlier. You?”

“Not yet.” This strained politeness was a complete turnaround from the way they’d behaved toward each other previously. Carrie felt responsible for clearing the air, although she wasn’t sure what to say or if she should even try. Perhaps it would be best to just pretend their verbal skirmish hadn’t happened.

“There’s some caribou jerky if you’re interested. Made it myself this summer.”

His attitude toward her appeared to be a bit more amicable, she noticed. “Thanks, but I’m not much of a breakfast person.”

“Suit yourself.”

He removed his coat and then sat down at the table with his coffee, his gaze focused on the cup as if he were reading tea leaves.

Carrie sat down across from him and decided to make an effort at conversation. “About last night …”

His head shot up, and his gaze narrowed significantly. “What about it?”

“I want to apologize for the things I said about you and your mother.”

He bobbed his head as though to assure her all was forgiven. “I don’t want to talk about it.”

“Okay. But I still think you have issues with women.”

“Drop it, would you?” he said between clenched teeth.

Carrie held up her hand. “You’re right, sorry.”

He relaxed and sipped his coffee.

“I need to do something, and I don’t want to make you mad, so I’m telling you in advance.”

“Now what?” he asked, as if he’d already grown tired of the conversation.

Carrie slipped the tips of her fingers into her jeans pocket. “Your mother asked me to give you this. I feel honor bound to follow through with my promise to her.”

“Give me what?”

“Your father’s wedding band.”

His face tightened. “Keep it.”

“I can’t do that; a promise is a promise.”

He stared across the short space between them and then smiled. “That’s how you convinced Sawyer to fly you in, isn’t it? You told him you had something for me, but he didn’t say what and I didn’t ask.”

Carrie didn’t feel she could or should lie. “I’m grateful Sawyer was willing to help me, but he didn’t do it for me. He did it because he felt he was doing what was best for you. He’s a friend, and from what I can see, a good one.”

Finn snorted and rubbed his hand down his beard. “I knew it had to be something like that.”

She placed the gold band in the center of the table.

“Satisfied now?” he asked.

“Yes.”

His chair made a grating noise as he stood and reached for the gold band, which he carried to the front door. He opened it, letting snow and wind into the cabin before he tossed the ring with all his might into the storm.

Chapter Five

Carrie bolted to her feet and raced through the open door, and practically dove face-first into the whirling snow. The wind blinded her but she caught a glimpse of metal and nearly fell on it in her eagerness to retrieve Paul Dalton’s wedding band. Clenching the gold band tightly in the palm of her hand, Carrie battled the storm in an effort to hurry back into the house. It took all her strength to close the door against the elements. By the time she was finished she was half frozen and breathless.

“How could you be so uncaring?” Carrie demanded, glaring at Finn. Her lungs hurt from the brief time she’d been in the icy cold. Chicago was known for its brutal winters, but this frigid air was beyond anything she’d ever experienced.

“Why should I care about a wedding ring when the marriage meant nothing to my mother?” he retorted.

Carrie leaned against the door, needing its support to remain upright. Her entire body was rigid with cold and anger. She waited for a moment, letting the warmth of the room revive her enough to think clearly.

“The ring belonged to your father,” she reminded him. One would think Finn would hold on to the band as a keepsake, if for no other reason than the fact that his father had once worn and treasured it.

“Dad returned it to my mother at the time of the divorce. If he didn’t want it, what makes you think I would?”

“And your mother kept it, which should tell you something.” Carrie didn’t know why she felt such a strong need to defend his mother. In some way, it felt as though she was sticking up for herself as well as all the other women of the world.

“As far as I can determine, women are out for what they can get from a man. You don’t care who you step on or who you hurt. I made the mistake of thinking I was in love once, but I won’t make it again.”

“All women?” Carrie challenged. He wasn’t making sense. “You see us as selfish and untrustworthy because your mother left you? And you have the nerve to tell me you don’t have abandonment issues?” She resisted the urge to laugh. This guy was a real piece of work. “Have you considered counseling?”

“You think this is just about my mother. You don’t know anything.”

“Then tell me,” she urged.

“Pamela,” he muttered, “was lesson number two.”

“Oh, so that’s it. A woman disappointed you and now you’re sour on the entire gender. That is such a cliché. What happened? Did Pamela decide she couldn’t live in Alaska? Was she too much like your mother?”

“It’s none of your business.”

“You’re right, this has nothing to do with me. I have just one more thing to say and then I promise not to mention it again. Finn Dalton, get over it.”

Before she could suck in the next breath, Finn’s face was two inches away from her own. They were practically nose-to-nose. If Carrie could have backed away, she would have, but with the door pressed against her backside, she had nowhere to move.

Hennessey was on his feet and stood next to Finn, barking madly. Finn ignored him, and so did Carrie.

“I knew Pamela from the time we were teenagers. Or, better yet, I thought I knew her. She moved to Seattle and then came back. I loved her, and then I learned that while she was away, she married a soldier who went off to Afghanistan. She didn’t care about me. All she wanted was some entertainment while her husband was out of the country. She was playing me. I don’t need a woman in my life—got it? Not one of you is worth the heartache. I saw what losing my mother did to my father, and I had a small taste of it myself. I don’t need another, so back off. Stay out of my life, understand?”

“Loud and clear.” His anger seemed to inhale all the oxygen in the room until the small hairs on the back of Carrie’s neck bristled. Her hands were flattened against the door, and when he stepped away it took several seconds before Carrie felt like she could breathe normally again.

He stalked over to his desk on the far side of the cabin as if he couldn’t get away from her fast enough.

Carrie bent down to pat Hennessey and reassure him that all was well.

The tension left her shoulders, and she realized she was trembling almost uncontrollably in the aftermath of their confrontation. Despite herself, she felt bad for Finn. Not knowing Pamela or the situation that had led to their breakup, she had to believe it must have been traumatic to Finn.

“My college boyfriend dumped me,” Carrie said, and was surprised by how low and shaky her voice sounded.

“And you ‘got over it,’ right? No big deal.” He sat with his back to her, his tone cold. The air seemed to vibrate with tension.

“Actually, no … I tried to pretend it was a natural parting of the ways. I was in Chicago, working for the newspaper, and he was back in Seattle. But it hurt,” she whispered. “He married a friend of mine six months later, and I was a bridesmaid in their wedding, and I had to pretend it didn’t matter.”

Finn turned around and looked at her for an extra-long moment, frowning as if to gauge whether she was telling the truth. Carrie held his gaze and didn’t flinch before moving into the kitchen, feeling the need to sit down. Her bottom lip trembled slightly, and she bit into it, wanting to disguise how upset she was.

Hennessey sat down by Finn’s side, and then after a few minutes walked over to where Carrie sat at the table. She petted his thick fur, trying to think of what to say to ease the tension. They were trapped here together, and she had to do something to make it tolerable.

“We’ve both been hurt, but it isn’t the end of the world.”

He snorted.

“Can we put this conversation behind us?”

His back was to her again, and he shrugged.

“Do you play chess?” she asked.

“No.”

“Scrabble?”

“No.”

What do you play?”

“Solitaire.”

“Oh.” The hand of truce that Carrie had extended had been solidly slapped.

Several tense moments passed before he exhaled harshly and said, “Do you play cribbage?”

“My grandfather taught me,” she responded. If they could find common ground, it would help pass the long hours of being cooped up together until Sawyer arrived. “I’m not much good, but I’d be willing to give it a try if you’d like.”

He hesitated and then went into his bedroom and returned with a cribbage board and a deck of cards. Sitting down at the kitchen table across from her, he removed the cards from the box and shuffled.

Carrie was grateful they weren’t destined to spend the entire storm at each other’s throats. “Go ahead and deal. How about coffee?”

He nodded.

Finn had dealt the first hand by the time she returned. Carrie looked at her cards, discarded two, and so they started. Luck was with her and she narrowly won the first game. Finn regarded her skeptically. “I thought you said you weren’t much good at this?”

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