Undercover travel writer Alexandra Tulane wonders if maybe she's in way over her head. A men's hunting and fishing retreat in the wilds of Alaska? Not exactly her stylish scene. Fortunately, there's plenty of breathtaking scenery...including good-looking bush pilot Dylan Bower. Despite the magnetic attraction between them, however, Alexandra is everything Dylan is not--she's a rover, always looking for the next adventure. For Dylan, the scars of the past run deep. He's hidden himself and his silent son in an isolated haven for their protection. Yet Alexandra engages both of them and soon they're under her spell. This--she--feels so good Dylan doesn't want it to end. So how can he convince her to stay?
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Harlequin Enterprises Ltd.
March 15, 2010
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Adobe DRM EPUB
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Excerpt from She's the One by Kay Stockham
It's so small. Doesn't he realize size matters? What if he can't get it up, what am I going to do then?
Alexandra Tulane swallowed nervously and forced a confident smile to her lips while she tried to figure out the best way of getting the job done. Climb aboard, close her eyes and pray for the quickest ride ever? Or take things nice and slow?
Slow won't get it up. And isn't the saying, It's not the size but what the guy can do with it?
Her inner voice snickered. Oh, if that's the case, you'd better hope he's really good.
Alex pressed her fingers to her lips to hold back a near-hysterical laugh. She'd gone off the deep end. No doubt about it, the stress had finally gotten to her. What else could explain her standing here having a complete conversation with herself?
She tore her attention from the dark-haired pilot striding away from the pathetically small plane outside the terminal window and looked around the airport, trying to stomp down the fear churning inside her. She didn't do small planes and the one tied to the pier and floating beneath the cloudy late-October sky was just short of matchbox size.
No way would everyone in the waiting area fit on there. What were they thinking? Even she knew planes couldn't fly too heavy or they would--she gulped--crash.
In all of her travels she'd been very blessed to avoid puddle jumpers holding fewer than fifty people. That is, until now. From what she could see the Deadwood Mountain Lodge logoed plane only had four, maybe six, seats. It gave new meaning to the word tiny.
Her destination was located along Chakachama Lake and touted as being Alaska's guy paradise, "froufrou-less, rustic and lacking fluff." As a writer/reviewer for Traveling Single, she'd reviewed everything from B and B's and inns to five-star hotels and resorts, and had a fabulous time doing it.
But to get to the lodge, was she really going to have to get on that?
David tried to warn you but you refused to listen.
Yeah, well, what could her boss really know about it? David was a great businessman and had seen the magazine through hard economic times by adding an online subscription e-zine, but he was an armchair traveler. One who rarely left his home state unless it involved Ohio State University football.
Quit complaining. So it's small. Good things come in small packages. Ferraris are small. So are little blue Tiffany boxes. It's even red, your favorite color. How bad could it be?
You'll be riding a scooter in midair--and red just makes it easier for the rescue people to find the debris. That bad enough for you?
Alex shoved the mental argument as far away as possible and focused on the here and now. She could do this. Had to do this. After all, she was a professional and professionals didn't balk when met with a challenge. Besides, David would be thoroughly ticked if he'd sent one of his reviewers halfway around the world only to have them protest a plane ride this close to the end.
But you know, considering your vacation plans have been canceled, there's only one way this day could get worse.
Alex winced. She wasn't going to think about crashing.
The important thing was to not let her feelings of guilt over missing Thanksgiving with her family get to her.
And how are you going to avoid the lectures come Christmas?
She was an adult. She had every right to skip Thanksgiving in Tennessee if she chose to do so. In the meantime, she'd just thank God she would be out of cell range so she wouldn't have to listen to her family's calls of complaint that she wasn't there when the turkey was carved.
Since your plans were canceled you could go home after the week's up and avoid the sermons.
No. Uh-uh, no way. She wasn't going to do that. Her canceled plans and pitifully small means of transportation to Deadwood Mountain were not some sort of cosmic curse. She'd get there, stay for a week, write a review and spend her two weeks' vacation touring Alaska as intended.
It's an itsy-bitsy, teeny-weeny, red-and-white striped--
A combined panic and frustration-fueled whimper escaped her, echoing off the glass in front of her face.
"Sorry to keep you waiting, folks."
The pilot who'd emerged from the Deadwood Mountain Lodge plane greeted the group with a lift of his gloved hand. He gave them a brief, lopsided smile, and Alex frowned. Why did he strike her as familiar?
The man had a collar-length mop of dark hair raked back from his forehead in a messy, I'm-a-guy-and-it's-just-hair kind of style. A short, neatly trimmed beard covered the lower half of his face and held a distinguished hint of gray on his chin beneath his lower lip.
Never fond of beards, Alex had to admit the facial hair didn't detract from the pilot's looks. He was ruggedly handsome and considering the tiny lines that fanned out from his eyes like he did his share of squinting in the sun, she guessed him to be in his late-thirties.
"Hey, Dylan. How have you been?"
The pilot's expression warmed at the greeting called by one of two older gentlemen waiting by the gate.
"Ansel, good to see you again. Walter." He shook hands with both gentlemen, his tone lowering as he said a few words Alex couldn't make out.
Shifting away from the men, the pilot raised his voice again. "Could I have everyone's attention? Thanks. First off, welcome to Alaska. My name's Dylan Bower, and I'm your pilot as well as your fishing and bear viewing guide during your stay at Deadwood Mountain Lodge. I, ah, just noticed we're missing someone. Well, we'll find him shortly, but until he shows let's get down to business. You three," he said to three men standing off to the side, "are going with Samhere." Dylan indicated another man standing in the background near the gate door. "Sam, will fly you to the spike camp, introduce you to the hunting guide who will be with you the three days you're there, then fly you back to the lodge to finish out the week. So, if you'd like to come introduce yourselves to Sam..."
Dressed in camouflage pants and carrying thick coats, the three men stepped forward. Their luggage included rifles in soft black cases.
From the research she'd done in preparation for her article and review, Alex knew hunting was not permitted in the vicinity of the lodges so as not to attract bear or other animals. A spike camp was typically a series of tents or cabinlike structures set up in a specified hunting area forty-five to sixty minutes away from the lodge. Once the kill was made under the license of a trained guide or assistant guide, the hunters would fly back to their lodge and their prize transported for them for processing. Businesses here had the act down to a science. No meat was wasted, and no animal population overly hunted.
Alex waited patiently for the instructions to continue, and prayed for their pilot to say Sam and the hunters would be taking the red plane outside, that there was a nice, large plane to transport the remaining guests to the lodge.
While the hunters and Sam talked, Dylan Bower scanned the terminal again, skimming over her position near one of the airport's metal support beams. In an instant his gaze jerked back to her, and the furrow between his eyebrows deepened at whatever thought shot through his head.
Hmm, not a good sign, that. Instead of the friendly smile of welcome he'd used with the older men, Dylan looked at her as though he could instantly tell she was going to be a nervous flier. No pilot liked that confidence killer.
Tell him size matters, that oughta help.
Squirming beneath the intensity of his gaze because it was so direct, her heart picked up speed when Dylan extracted himself from the men and moved toward her with a purposeful stride.
Alex straightened from her slouched position and tried to smile even though her stomach was knotted up like a hangman's noose.
She had to do this. With her family in Tennessee having a baby boom and her mother trying to set Alex up with every single guy she knew--or else badgering Alex to agree to date her lovely but boring, couch potato boss--reviewing the lodge was the perfect way to avoid yet another confrontation about why she wasn't married and pregnant since her brothers had recently discovered love or the joys of fatherhood.
Still, Lord help them all if she died before giving her mother grandchildren!
Her pilot's long legs carried him across the coffee-stained carpet at a rapid pace and when Dylan finally stopped in front of her, Alex had to tip her head back quite a bit to maintain eye contact. He was a tall drink of water. Not to mention attractive. Looking at him wasn't a bad way to spend the week. So maybe if she focused on him instead of the size of the plane, she could get through this?
He gave her a slight smile, one she returned with way too much nervous enthusiasm considering she had a rule about getting involved with anyone associated with the business being reviewed.
"You're not what I expected."
As a greeting, the comment stumped her. Traveling Single never announced their visits. In fact, until the review was printed, more often than not the businesses never knew the magazine's personnel had been on-site, which gave the owners or trustee board members or whomever had requested the review of the accommodations true insight from a guest's eyes as well as an unbiased review from one of America's most trusted vacation sources. "I'm not?"
He shook his head and the hint of a smile disappeared. "I thought you'd be older and..."
His gaze slipped lower and in response her body warmed. All from a look. She'd heard about that happening and read about experiencing such a thing in her favorite beach reads but it had never actually happened to her. And despite the thrill, a sense of unease followed it because the good girl in her knew mixing business with pleasure wasn't smart.
Alex shifted her weight and tried to regain a friendly yet professional demeanor versus the one inside her shrieking, Go for it, he's soooo hot! "Excuse me? I'm afraid I'm not following you."
His gaze narrowed even more at her obvious confusion before he scanned the terminal once again, his eyes searching every nook and cranny before finally focusing on the clipboard in his hand. Several seconds passed before he said, "You're not her." A somewhat heavy sigh escaped him. "Says here she graduated high school in '84 and you're not--Well, sorry to bother you. My mistake."
"Wait." He'd turned to go and she reached out to stop him, laying her hand on his forearm. In the process his coat sleeve scrunched up above his glove, revealing a red patch of skin covered in painful-looking scars.
Alex froze. She'd spent every summer of her teen years volunteering at the hospital in Tennessee where her father practiced medicine, and she recognized burn wounds when she saw them.
Dylan shrugged off her touch and yanked the sleeve down.
Oh, the poor guy. One glance told her he wasn't comfortable with what had just happened and an apology would be met with great unease. In an instant she decided it better to pretend the incident hadn't occurred, that she hadn't seen the scars and therefore couldn't acknowledge them. And why would she? A few scars didn't make or break a man. "Not her, who?" she asked. "Who are you looking for?"
He hesitated a long, tension-filled moment before answering. "The housekeeper-nanny, Ms. Johnson."
Alex was struck by the beautiful hazel color of his eyes before she focused on one word--nanny. Her brother Ethan had recently hired a nanny. Maybe it was an assumption, but the only reason for Dylan searching the small terminal for one was if he had a child.
The smidge of interest she'd felt at spending the week hanging around the lodge with him dimmed at the news. No doubt Dylan Bower had a cute kid and an adoring wife waiting for him at home, and unlike others in her profession who hooked up whenever, wherever and with whomever regardless of marital status, she wasn't the type to encroach on another woman's man. "Ah, I see. No, I'm not Ms. Johnson."
Something darkened his eyes. "Like I said, sorry about the mix-up."
Just like that he left her standing there. No word of goodbye, not even a request to join the other guests.
Taken aback, she blinked. How strange. Then again, maybe he'd seen her interest wane at the mention of his nanny? Or maybe she should have acknowledged his scars? Who knew?
The man had his hands full, and was obviously worried about his missing housekeeper as well as the other lodge guests. He didn't need her fussing over a silly blunder when he was undoubtedly feeling the impact of the delay on his schedule.
"Folks? Do me a favor and stay in this area while I try to round up a couple missing people." Dylan snagged something off his clipboard and handed the sheets to the men, instructing them to fill out the papers and sign them before he moved on to hunt for his elusive passengers.
Her inner child huffed at the slight. What about her? He'd had those slips when he'd approached her. Didn't she need to sign one of those papers?
It probably confirms your next of kin. You really wanna sign that?
She shook her head at her sarcastic inner self. She really needed to start focusing more on positive self-talk.
Her gaze landed on Dylan once more. Or rather his nice, tight tush as he stepped off the carpeted waiting area onto the concourse floor, his head high and footsteps ringing with the sharp sound of authority and--niiice. She recognized the maker of those boots.
Years ago she and her four older brothers had gone together to purchase a pair of Lucchese boots for her father for Christmas after he'd read about the boots and admired them. She'd taken a crash course on leather-work and the nuances of their distinctive style. Like those her father now wore for family gatherings or special events, the boots on Dylan's feet were Western, hand-tooled, expensive and totally at odds with the waterproof boots, sneakers and loafers she'd seen worn by men here so far. But why would an Alaskan bush pilot catering to fishing expeditions have boots like that?
Maybe for the same reason a doctor in Tennessee has them? Because he likes them? Wanted them?
Dylan spoke briefly with the airline attendant at the closest desk. The attendant searched her counter then handed him a note along with a smile Dylan seemed to ignore.
After reading the note, Dylan crumpled the paper in his gloved fist before tossing it into the closest waste can. Whatever had been in that note hadn't been good news.