Starry Night Page 5


Then he faced her with his feet apart and his hands braced against his hips. “Who the hell are you, and what are you doing here?”

Carrie did her best to answer, but her teeth chattered so hard that speaking coherently was a lost cause. In the cozy warmth of the cabin her frozen hair started to thaw, dripping cold water against her shoulders as tight ringlets formed about her head. Thankfully, the huge wood-burning stove warmed the cabin. The log cabin was a marvel, and she did her best to take in as much of it as she could. From the outside Finn’s rustic home didn’t look like much, and she was pleasantly surprised by the interior, with plenty of bookshelves, braided rugs, and large furniture.

“What are you doing here?” he demanded a second time.

“A … well, my name is …”

“I don’t care what your name is.”

As though he couldn’t bear to look at her a moment longer, he filled a pot with water and then placed it atop the old-fashioned cast-iron cookstove. She continued to shiver, bracing her glove-covered hands across her body. In some ways, Carrie felt as if she were actually holding herself together.

Finn studied her as if he’d never seen anyone more pathetic in his life. “Get out of those wet clothes,” he told her gruffly.

He didn’t need to remind her that her outfit wasn’t suited to the frigid weather. Everything had happened so quickly. Just the day before, she’d met his mother, and then there were the last-minute flight arrangements to Fairbanks. She’d arrived mid-morning, and then there was the roller-coaster ride in the bush plane. Although it was still afternoon, the sun had already gone down.

Still shaking with cold and shock, Carrie removed her wool coat and unwound the newly purchased scarf from her neck. Next she attempted to unzip her boots, but her frozen fingers refused to cooperate. Finn walked over to where she sat, got down on one knee, and undid them for her. Pulling off her boots, he set them by the stove to thaw and then disappeared behind a fabric door, only to return a couple of moments later with a pair of thick wool socks. Still shivering, Carrie managed to pull them on.

Without asking permission, Finn opened her suitcase and sifted through its contents, shook his head, and slammed it shut. She had a couple of thick sweaters, but little else suitable for the harsh Alaskan elements. Once again he disappeared into the other room and returned with a wool shirt, which she slipped on even though it was far too large for her.

Not a word was exchanged between them. She watched him move, wanting to remember everything she could about him for her article. Right away she noticed that while he was a large man, he moved with a grace and ease that defied his size. His hair was as dark as her own, and shoulder length. Unfortunately, his full beard hid his face. Even without seeing him clean shaven, she doubted that he would be considered traditionally handsome. His nose was a bit too large and his mouth a tad too thin. While he didn’t appear to be hunk-calendar material, she found the raw vitality surrounding him strongly appealing.

Although they hadn’t spoken, she sensed his irritation and his curiosity. He had probably already guessed she was a reporter, which was why he hadn’t pursued his questions. One look told her he was determined not to give her any information she could publish.

When the water was thoroughly heated, Finn brewed coffee and without a word set a mug on the table in front of her. Carrie took it and held on to it with both hands. The first sip scalded her lips, but it was so deliciously hot that she barely minded. Finn remained on the far side of the room, close to the hot stove, as if to keep as much distance between them as possible.

Taking careful note of what she saw, Carrie realized that most everything inside the cabin had been made by hand. The space was compact but utilized beautifully. The kitchen area, complete with sink and countertop, a few open-faced cupboards, the cast-iron stove, and a table with four chairs, flowed naturally into a cozy sitting area. Hennessey lay on an oval-shaped braided rug close to the warmth of the stove. Two rocking chairs rested on either side, with dry wood stacked close by, and a sofa rested against another wall. The windows, of which there were two—one in the kitchen and another in the living area—had coverings that were pulled tightly closed. The cabin had lights, which she assumed were powered by a generator. What she found encouraging were the bookcases built against the walls, which were jam-packed. From what she could see, Finn Dalton was a reader. When possible, she’d check out the titles, which were sure to give her insight into this man.

“My name is Carrie,” she offered, hoping that by being open and friendly he’d be willing to chat. “Carrie Slayton.”

Finn ignored her and sat down with his back facing her.

Fully capable of moving now, Carrie stood and, taking the coffee with her, claimed the second chair. The heat from the stove felt glorious. “I apologize for arriving unannounced.”

“Who brought you?” The question was clipped, angry.

“Sawyer. He tried to reach you, but you didn’t pick up and—”

“How much did you pay him?” he asked, cutting her off.

“Well, nothing yet. I told him I’d square up with him in the morning when he returns to pick me up.”

Finn snickered.

Carrie wasn’t sure what that meant. “We discussed terms, and I found his price reasonable.”

“What did he charge? Thirty pieces of silver?”

“No, no, it was nothing like that.”

For the first time she noticed a small nook on the other side of the room. He had another table set up there, with a lone chair. On the table was a computer and what she assumed was a radio. If she’d had his email address, she might have been able to convince him to give her the interview. Then again, probably not.

“Your cabin is amazing … all the conveniences. You actually have a computer, but then I shouldn’t be surprised, right? I know that you worked with your publisher via email.”

Nothing. This one-sided conversation wasn’t going the least bit well.

“I read your book,” she said, trying again. “It was wonderful. The stories are detailed and rich. You make the reader feel part of the story as well. That’s a rare gift. My dad read your book, too, long before me. In fact, Mom mentioned that he purchased two additional copies as gifts this Christmas. Alone is still on the bestseller lists and has been for months, but then you probably already know that.” She realized she was chattering away and stopped.

“I’m grateful you found me when you did,” she said, trying again after several tense moments of silence. “Sawyer wanted to stay, but the storm was fast approaching and he needed to get back to Bad Luck.” What an unusual name for a town.

“Hard Luck,” he corrected.

“Right. Hard Luck.” That wasn’t much better. It was difficult to maintain this cheerful facade with little to no feedback.

“I bet you’d like to know how I found you.” She thought it might work out better if she asked questions.

Nothing. Unfortunately, she’d supposed wrong. Finn Dalton had no interest in speaking to her, no matter how she directed the conversation.

“If you don’t want to talk, that’s fine, I understand,” she said with a labored sigh. “I mean, I’ve intruded on your life and it’s unbelievably rude of me, I know.”

They sat in silence for several minutes, but the tension between them was so strong it felt like overactive bass pounding from a speaker. Carrie was quickly losing patience. She hadn’t come this far and jumped through all these hoops to be thwarted now.

“You wouldn’t believe all the different ways I tried to find you,” she said. It felt like a shallow victory now, seeing how uncooperative Finn was. But then, this should have been expected. While she was jubilant, he, on the other hand, was hostile.

Hennessey kept his gaze focused directly on her. “Good boy,” she said, and made sure her voice was soft and cajoling. “You’re a friendly dog, aren’t you?”

Like his master, Hennessey gave no indication that he’d heard. The canine’s eyes steadily regarded her, watching her every move. With Finn freezing her out, she looked to his companion for some connection. At this point she was willing to accept whatever Hennessey was willing to give her.

“I hope you know you practically gave me a heart attack, racing up on me like that,” she told the dog. She bent forward and stretched out her hand, making sure he understood that all she wanted was to pet him.

“He bites,” Finn warned, and from the way he clipped out the words, it seemed he would welcome the sight.

Hennessey’s gaze flickered to Finn and then back to Carrie.

“Are you a big, bad wolf?” Carrie asked Hennessey softly.

The dog’s eyes met hers, and then Hennessey moved to rest his chin on his paws. Then, to her utter amazement, he wagged his tail. Just one wag, one single shift to indicate that he no longer considered her a threat. It was enough to make Carrie want to shout with delight.

“I’m friendly, Hennessey, really friendly. Can we be friends?” Once again she extended her hand for the dog to see.

Again, Finn warned her. “I wouldn’t do that if I were you.”

Carrie slowly withdrew her hand.

Hennessey lifted his head and looked up at her and then his tail started to move, this time to a full wag, as if to tell her he was willing to trust Carrie if she was willing to trust him.

“Another traitor,” Finn muttered under his breath.

“Sawyer isn’t a traitor,” Carrie insisted. “And Hennessey isn’t, either.”

Finn snorted and then sipped his coffee.

“Finn … Mr. Dalton,” she said, trying again. She didn’t mean to sound so familiar, and at the same time, “Mr. Dalton” came off as much too formal. “As you’ve guessed, I’m a reporter. I write for the Chicago Herald. Actually, I cover the society page. It’s not my favorite subject, but I was grateful to get the job. I’m a good reporter, and I wanted an opportunity to prove that I was capable of writing something other than who was seen where and with whom. I am sick to death of writing about meaningless parties and who’s getting married and who’s breaking up. So sick that I was ready to quit, and then my editor, who’s been in the business thirty years, said I could have any assignment I wanted if I could manage to interview you. Little did I know how difficult finding you would be.”

Once she’d started explaining, she couldn’t seem to stop. Her hope was that once Finn heard her story he’d be willing to cooperate.

Eventually he’d have to give an interview to someone, and it might as well be her. She was the one who’d found a way to reach him; that should prove something. He had to know his book was practically a phenomenon and the public was curious to know more about him.

“If I was able to find you, then others will, too … eventually.”

He glared at her as if to refute her words.

“Your book is amazing, and your readers want to meet the man behind Alone. And really, who could blame them? Surely you realized when you submitted the book what it would mean?”

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