Authors: Vanessa Grant
She gasped as she saw him. She didn't know if she actually ran into him, but he gripped her arms as if to stop her.
She wore her blue winter coat. Gray was massive in a khaki parka. His hair was red, not the black she'd imagined during that shadowed drive home, copper hair filled with strong waves and a frosting of snow from outside. His eyes were the blue of the ocean on a stormy day. She'd only seen him in lights from cars and streetlights. He was almost a stranger.
I want you.
She'd dreamed his words again and again. She had refused every date Paul asked her on since the end of September, hadn't gone out with anyone at all, waiting.
That was all he said, standing among the Christmas shoppers with his hands locked on her arms. She saw herself in his eyes, not really a reflection, but she stared into them and knew he was aware of all the feelings she'd been trying to deny.
When he released her, she stumbled a bit.
"I—are you busy?" she whispered. "Tonight?"
"Are you asking for a date?" His eyes dropped to her lips. "Your father wouldn't approve."
"I won't tell him." Her throat felt as if she'd been fighting a cold and everything inside were scratchy. "If you go out with me, I won't tell him."
Someone pushed past. Christmas shoppers. Gray put out a hand to steady her. She'd forgotten the store, the people. His eyes were the only reality.
"What will you do when he finds out, Emma?"
Graham MacKenzie was a dangerous boy.
She went out with him anyway.
* * *
Emma woke suddenly to dark all around and the echo of Gray's voice on the surface of her mind, as if she couldn't keep him out. All these years, and he'd been the one she dreamed about.
She lay on her stomach, the pillow crammed between her face and her arm. She turned her head and the darkness seemed complete, just a faint difference where the window looked out on blackness.
A light knock on her bedroom door.
"Emma?" Gray's voice.
Would he open the door and come in? Had he dreamed of her? Would he come to this bed where she lay tousled with memories, his hand settling on her shoulder, his eyes on her lips?
She'd come apart the first time he kissed her. She'd lost herself, hadn't even struggled to stay afloat.
She must get clothes on and starve her imagination. The last thing she wanted or needed in her life was a wild man like Gray MacKenzie.
"Five o'clock," he said. "Time to get up."
"I'm awake. I'll be down in a minute."
His footsteps receded—the sound of shoes, not bare feet. He was dressed, armored, but he hadn't needed to open the door to send her imagination reeling. She had always needed more of him than he needed or wanted of her. He might have said he wanted her that first night, but she'd been the one who had asked him out, desperate for him in the middle of Christmas shoppers and perfumes.
She had to remember who she was and where she was, had to remember she was a woman of thirty-seven, engaged to marry a man she liked and respected. Had to remember that Gray was a teenage fantasy, not reality.
She was here for Chris. Grey was simply the tool she needed to find her son.
She switched on the bedside light and sat up.
Sounds downstairs. Gray and Chico.
He lived alone here. She supposed that was how he wanted his life. He'd never wanted to need anyone. She wondered if he ever felt lonely.
She had to get dressed, get out to the plane with Gray.
If they started flying at first light, how long would it take to find Chris?
She rummaged in her bag for jeans and the sweatshirt she'd brought. It had been hot yesterday, then unexpectedly chilly as the sun set. Today was likely to be the same. She dressed in a light blouse and pulled the sweatshirt over it. Then socks and track shoes. Last night she'd been wearing a tailored business suit. She hoped she would feel less vulnerable today in denim and sneakers.
She went into the big bathroom to brush her teeth and put her contact lenses in. She looked at the empty whirlpool bathtub regretfully. Too bad she hadn't thought to ask if he minded her having a bath last night, but there wasn't time now.
Afterward—after they found Chris—they might come back here and maybe she'd have a long soak in that tub before she headed home. She'd always wanted one herself, hadn't dreamed that her first chance at a private whirlpool bath would happen in Gray's wilderness home.
She stared at herself in the mirror, Gray in her mind and the familiar seductive yearning inside. In the mirror she could see the girl looking back at her, the girl she had been when she first met him. Long blond hair tousled around her shoulders, her eyes wide and lost, her lips...
It had been February before he kissed her. Her father had found out she was seeing Gray and grounded her early in January. She'd been terrified he would dump her, but every weekday he had picked her up for lunch with his car outside the school. He would drive her to the top of Connaught Hill where they got out and walked in the park and talked.
February was almost over before she got out the words.
"You've never even kissed me. Gray, why don't you ever kiss me?"
The silence grew painful before he reached for her with both hands. She came to him as if she were melting. When he pulled her against him, she began shivering down deep.
Emma jerked away from her image in the mirror. She had Chris, her work, and Alex. What sort of neurosis was it when a woman couldn't stop thinking of a love that belonged in her adolescence? Their first kiss, then Gray's insistence that it was over, that they had to stop seeing each other.
Emma caught her long hair in one hand and began to twist it, to destroy the girl who'd once called Gray on the telephone night after night to beg him to see her again after he'd ended it. She was a grown woman now, a professional. None of it mattered now.
With her hair up she looked more like herself, Dr. Emma Garrett. She pulled lipstick out of her purse and covered her lips with color. She wished she had her glasses to hide behind.
She wasn't going to get caught staring at him. She'd keep her eyes on other things until they started flying. Then she would be thinking only of Chris.
When she joined Gray downstairs in the kitchen, he jerked his head toward the table. "Breakfast there. Let's get a move on."
She sat down in front of a plate of bacon and eggs, picked up the mug of steaming coffee.
"Toast," he said.
She picked up a piece that dripped with butter.
"You should watch your cholesterol," she said mechanically, keeping her eyes on his hands as he spread marmalade on his toast.
He ignored her comment. "At least you brought jeans," he said. "If we land to prowl through the bushes in some remote inlet, that outfit you had on yesterday would be useless. High heels and city pants."
"As you said, I brought jeans."
He leaned his forearms on the table and pinned her eyes with his gaze. "How much do those boys know about what they're doing out on the water?"
He wanted her off balance. Why? "Enough." she said, hoping it was true. "Do you think I'd let Chris go if they didn't?"
"He's seventeen? When was he born? What month?"
"July. This idea you have—"
"I'd guess sometime in May."
She gripped the fork hard. "Would you believe me if I denied it?"
"We'll leave in half an hour."
Through the window, the world showed black. The man in front of her looked at her as if he hated her.
"I hope to God your son knows more about the outdoors than his mother ever did."
"He's been to Outward Bound camps. He took a three-week trip into the mountains when he was fifteen. Last year he went on a ten-day sailing trip at Easter and a white-water kayaking trip in the summer."
"So they're experienced." A muscle flexed in Gray's jaw. "In that case, they're likely to be holed up under some trees keeping warm with a fire."
"They learn a lot on those Outward Bound excursions." That's what she'd told herself when she agreed to let Chris go on this trip.
"Why did you send him to Outward Bound?"
"Why shouldn't I?" She heard the defensiveness in her voice and realized her emotional balance was gone again. Ten minutes of Gray and she felt as uncertain as a young girl. She had to stop herself from getting trapped in his dark blue eyes. He was a stranger now.
She dropped her knife and fork and stood up to take her plate to the sink, asked, "Where's your garbage can?"
"Scrape it into the dog's dish outside the back door."
She opened the door and the dog lying on the back porch scrambled to his feet, tail down. He was bigger than he'd looked in the magazine, a strange mixture of red and golden fur in the circle of light from the fixture over Gray's back door. When Emma bent down and scraped her plate into the dish, the dog sniffed at her.
The dog stared up at her. She stared back and remained very still while he sniffed her hand. Then he dropped his head to the dish and she stood erect. She was making a fool of herself with Gray, but at least she hadn't run screaming when his dog came sniffed her.
She stared over the dog's head. The sky was lighter now with sunrise coming.
Inside, Gray was pouring the contents of the coffeepot into a thermos.
"Do you want me to wash our dishes?"
She walked to the sink and felt shoulders go rigid as she came close to him. She pushed the stopper into the drain picked up the soap.
"Why did you send Chris to Outward Bound?"
She turned on the water.
"It doesn't strike me as Paul's sort of thing—or yours."
She held her hands under the running water. The suds were growing as the water pounded down. "I wanted him to be comfortable anywhere, in the city or in the wilderness."
"Did you send him because he's my child? Because you felt you owed it to my child to teach him about the wilderness you hated?"
She clenched her hand under the water. "No."
"Look at me, Emma."
She grabbed the dishcloth and immersed it in soapy water. "You've got it all wrong, Gray. Chris was fourteen when Paul died. Afterwards, he avoided his friends and let his schoolwork slip. He seemed so lifeless and it went on so long. I was worried. When one of the school counselors suggested an Outward Bound course, I sent him to the Mountain School in Keremeos."
"Did it help?"
"Yes. Rappelling up rock faces and crossing ravines sixty feet up hanging from a rope—he was such a skinny little kid when he went. When he came back, he had muscles, a smile, and a passion for roughing it in the wilds. He was alive again. This summer I gave him this trip as a present for doing so well in his first year at college." She wiped off the last dish and pulled the plug on the sink. "He wanted it so much, I didn't let myself listen to my doubts. I just made sure he had the best equipment."
A closet opened and something fell onto the table behind her. Gray asked, "You said you had the plan of their route?"
He was at the kitchen table filling a pack. He put the thermos in, then a box of Wheat Thins and a block of cheese. He looked up and met her eyes across the kitchen.
"Yes." She gestured toward her purse. "It's a map, in my purse."
"Let's get moving," he said. "Bring the map with you." Gray shouldered a large pack and picked up a smaller one in his right hand. "Grab the sleeping bags," he said, as he headed for the front door.
"Sleeping bags? Will we be camping out?"
Alone in the wilds with Gray. She pushed back the images. Nothing had happened here in his house. Nothing would happen if they slept in two sleeping bags with a campfire between. They were adults who lived their lives in two different worlds.
"Probably not," he called back, "but it would be stupid to travel this coast without emergency supplies, and we'll want the bags if the boys are suffering from exposure."
Four days overdue now. Oh, God, was there really any chance that Chris and Jordy were safe and warm with a fire between them?
She slung her purse over her shoulder and carried the sleeping bags down to the dock where Gray's seaplane waited. He grabbed them and stuffed them into a luggage compartment behind the seats in his seaplane.
"I'll just get my medical bag," she said. "It's in my luggage."
"Medical bag?" He slammed the luggage door closed and his eyes flashed to hers. "I thought you gave medicine up when you married Paul."
She didn't know what it was that passed between them then, but she felt danger in the air. "No," she said finally. "I didn't give it up."
"I should have known."
She frowned, but the sky was gray now, and she could see the color of his plane, not just its dark shadow. Time to get under way.
"I'll just be a minute," she promised.
She ran into the house and upstairs, grabbed her medical bag from her suitcase. When she returned, she found Chico waiting for her outside the door. Automatically, she pushed in the lock on the inside of the doorknob before she remembered that Gray didn't lock his doors.
Chico ran ahead as if urging her to hurry up. On the wharf, Gray opened the passenger door on the floatplane and Chico scrambled into the backseat.
"He likes going places," explained Gray.
"So I see." The smile they shared was unexpected and shattering. She had to stop this, she thought wildly. It was one thing to remember this man as her first lover, but she mustn't fall under a new spell.
It was a small single-engine plane about the size of the one she'd flown in yesterday. Emma climbed into the passenger seat and watched Gray through the window as he circled the plane, walking on pontoons and hanging onto wing trusses. Then he opened the door on the far side and climbed in.
He nodded. "We're about to spend a long time in this plane. Are you nervous about small planes?"
"No, I'm not afraid. I don't imagine you'd fly at all if you couldn't do it well."