Authors: Vanessa Grant
He flicked a switch on the instrument panel. "Is there a barb somewhere in that comment?"
"Only if you're looking for one. Are we going to bicker all day?"
"Maybe." He turned his head and she saw his eyes flash. "Unless you want to stop somewhere and defuse the tension."
Her throat dried as if he had touched her.
"I've seen it in your eyes, Emma. You wonder what it would be like if we made love now. You're as curious as I am."
"I'm not available. Will you get this plane in motion? I want my son back."
The world had shifted to predawn black and white, shapes and contrasts with a growing tinge of pink above the trees in the eastern sky.
He belted himself in and started doing something to buttons and levers. When she sat up straight and checked her seat belt, he handed her a pair of headphones with a microphone attached.
"Wear these," he commanded. "They'll help muffle the engine sound and let us talk without shouting. We'll stop at the camp first. It'll be full light by the time we're done there. Then we can start searching."
"I want to see if Bob can tell us anything. He's the manager there." His words came to her through the headphones. "We'll drop off Chico and have a close look at the charts."
Within moments they were roaring along the glassy water, then tilting slightly as the inlet below dropped away.
He didn't turn to glance at her when she stared at the hard lines of his profile. She hadn't realized when she was a girl that he used silence as a barrier, but she could see the silence gathered about him now, shutting her out.
"Is this where you went when you left Farley Bay? Is this where your father's mining claim was located?"
"The claim is fifty miles south of here."
"What happened to it?"
He shook his head. It seemed the past was not up for discussion. He wasn't going to tell her about the mining claim that had taken him away all those years ago.
The next time he used his voice was to call Prince Rupert Coast Guard on the radio, giving his own call sign. Her hands gripped together tightly as she listened to the radio operator updating Gray on the status of the search.
No sightings, no information except for one fisherman who reported talking to the boys at Klemtu the same day Chris had last telephoned his mother. As for the earlier report of two kayaks sighted in Grenville Channel, that had turned out to be a false alarm—a young couple honeymooning by kayak.
"Thanks, Kurt," said Gray. "I'm just about to land at the camp. I'll be taking off in half an hour to join the search. Can you notify the rescue coordination centre?"
"Roger, Gray. CF145, this is Prince Rupert Radio clear."
Gray switched a knob on the radio. "That's the camp," he told Emma, pointing ahead and slightly to the right. "Tourist camp. Kayaking adventure tours."
The collection of buildings grew larger as Gray flew closer. She hadn't dreamed there was anyone else within miles of Gray's isolated house, but this settlement was just over the hill. She could see the ribbon of water that joined Gray's inlet to the camp on the seaward side of the island. It might be only a half hour's walk from his house.
There were six or seven buildings down there, a dock with four kayaks lying upside down on its planks, a fishing boat tied to the dock, and several people grouped near it. Emma had the fleeting impression of faces looking up as she and Gray flew over.
Then the sun lifted over the horizon and she gasped, blinded by the rising sun. The water raced toward them and then she felt the pontoons catch water as they landed. Finally the blur of her vision cleared from the bright red glare of the new day.
The engine fell silent as the seaplane drifted toward the wharves. Someone caught the wing and pulled it close to the dock. Emma saw a tall, thin man dressed in tattered jeans, his smile easy, three teenage boys crowded around him.
"Bob Scarborough," said Gray. He introduced the boys—Ed, Carl, and Brian.
Two of them grinned at Emma. Ed looked to be the youngest, a First Nations boy who inclined his head in an unsmiling gesture that could have been an echo of Gray's. They all walked up the boardwalk together. Gray was talking to Bob, explaining about Chris and Jordy.
Emma twisted to look back at the plane and Gray touched her arm lightly. "Running off in all directions isn't the fastest way."
"I heard the notice to mariners," said Bob. "Any results yet?"
Gray shook his head.
"What can we do?" asked Carl, the shortest of the three boys. "Do you need marine charts?"
"I'm good o charts but I'll need a radio watch. Fuel the Cessna and strap a couple of kayak paddles to my starboard pontoon, would you. Lay in a fiberglass repair kit, too, and some extra rations. I'll leave Chico here."
In seconds, Gray had them all moving to do what he wanted. Ed was taking Chico to the kennel. Carl had gone off to get paddles and Brian was instructed to fuel the plane.
"I won't forget the filter this time," the boy promised Gray.
"I know you won't," Gray agreed, and Brian looked relieved. He ran off toward the plane.
With the boys dispatched, Gray turned to Bob. "What's the score with that party of archaeology students?"
"They're due today. I could get a relief guide in."
"No, take them out yourself as we planned, but leave Ed on radio watch. You might see someone who knows something while you're out with the students." He reached out and pushed open the door of the long building. "Emma and I will be here going over our route."
Inside the building, Gray walked directly to a long cook stove. As Emma watched from the doorway, he pulled down two coffee mugs and filled them from a steaming pot. Behind her, Bob had gone off to supervise the tasks Gray had delegated.
"This is your camp," she accused. "You're Bob's boss. There was nothing about this camp in the article."
She had no idea why she should feel betrayed, as if he'd tricked her. Those three tough-looking teenagers adored him, and Bob obviously respected him. But for almost two decades she'd carried an image of Gray alone in the wilderness, surrounded by wild beasts and rough weather. The magazine article had added a house and a seaplane, but hadn't essentially changed her image.
Gray gestured to a long table. "The boys' route. Let's see your map."
She pulled the map out of her purse and handed it to him.
He sat down to make notes on a piece of paper. She sat across from him, reassured somehow. This was the only thing she could contribute to the search, Chris's itinerary, with every day of the journey marked on a map, and details of estimated mileage and planned anchorages.
Gray would find Chris for her. It was still only half light outside, but he'd organized three teenagers and a very competent-looking man into helping with radios and equipment. When the sun was higher, he would begin flying a search pattern.
The lines on his face were deeper than they had been. His shoulders seemed broader and the muscles on his arms harder than ever. Age and experience had changed Gray, but she'd known him the instant she saw that magazine in her office.
He thought Chris was his. She shivered as a wheel of sensation spun through her. Years ago, after that long delayed first kiss, Gray had backed away from her. She wondered now whether he'd been repelled by her obvious inexperience.
She'd been so young, so eager to live, and that one kiss had left her desperate and reaching. No pride at all, no sense of self-preservation to stop her pursuing him when he dumped her... until the night when a girl answered his telephone.
She didn't call after that. Now, looking back, she realized that she must have been clinically depressed that winter. No wonder her father had worried about her health and threatened to send her away somewhere there was sun.
She began eating again then, studying because going to college was the only thing that mattered now, but she didn't stop dreaming. When she ran into Paul just after her eighteenth birthday, she accepted his invitation to dinner. Sitting in the restaurant with him, she remembered staring at him and wondering how long it would take Gray to find out she was dating Paul again.
How could she have used Paul to get Gray back?
It had worked, because three days later she found Gray waiting for her outside the school. He grabbed her arm and pulled her into his car. Silence, not one word spoken as he drove out of town and onto the bypass.
"Where are we going?" she asked finally.
"You've been out with Paul. You knew I'd hear, didn't you?"
She nodded mutely.
"Trying to make me jealous?"
"Yes, Did you care?"
"God help us both. This isn't going to work, Emma. You're going to be a surgeon. You need big cities and big hospitals. I'm going into forestry, and if I see a city in ten years once I'm through college it'll be too soon."
"You could do other things than forestry."
"Would you change your plans for me? Don't pretend, Emma. Don't look at me with stars in your eyes. I'm your experiment with life, and maybe there's a bit of extra spice because your father hates my guts, but you'll be a doctor if it kills you. I know what happens when I touch you... and you want it all, don't you, Emma?"
She stared at him with her heart in her eyes. "I love you. I'll always love you."
"No, you don't, and if you're smart you'll go home and forget me. Do you realize we'll have to sneak around like a couple of criminals? You'll get hurt. This isn't a fairy tale. There's no happy-ever-after for us. I'm not going to fall in love with you."
God, she'd been so young. So foolish.
The hair on the back of his hands still grew in that sparse swirl. She used to trace it with her finger, smoothing the hairs as she drew lines on the back of his hand with her fingertip until he imprisoned her fingers with his.
Standing only inches apart, hands locked between them, his mouth would settle onto hers, heat flaring into flames as he slid his hands down to cup her close against him and she trembled with his hard passion.
She jerked out of the past, shoved her chair back and pushed away from the table.
Today's Gray MacKenzie lifted his head, his reddish hair tousled as he ran one hand through it.
"What is it?"
"Nothing," she snapped.
He'd been all wrong for her even then, but she'd been completely unable to see it at the time. Up at the lookout, he'd pressed the key to his apartment into her hand and told her his father was out of town.
Gray's father always seemed to be out of town.
He'd been twenty, just two years older than Chris was now.
They'd tempted fate all through June and July, touching, kissing, Gray always drawing back before it happened. Emma went to Dr. Kamfell for birth control pills, terrified her father would learn. Back then, she'd believed Gray's hesitation in taking her meant that he loved her; now she figured he'd felt guilty about taking a virgin, even a willing one, when he knew in the end he'd leave her.
Gray frowned down at the pad of paper he was writing on. Mind over matter, that was the trick. He was not going to follow the motion of Emma's hand with his eyes as she picked up the piece of paper he'd just torn off. He was
going to look at her mouth and let himself wonder what she was thinking.
He knew she was worrying, imagining things gone wrong for those boys. He'd taken part in enough searches to have collected an assortment of graphic images he wasn't about to share with her. The North Coast had fewer than a hundred thousand people scattered over hundreds of miles of coastline. Impenetrable forest on shore, swift currents, rough weather—the odds were against finding two missing kayakers before it was too late.
"Who are these people?" Emma asked, waving the sheet of paper in her hands. She had long slender fingers, short unpolished nails. A surgeon's hand.
"Contacts," he said. "People who might have seen two kayaks." From outside, he heard the sound of boots thumping on wood.
Visualization was a powerful technique for mind control, but creating a mental image of his brain wrapped in chains wasn't helping much. He kept looking at Emma, seeing things that made him wonder.
Her finger twisting a strand of golden hair. Her earrings, golden studs. She had a habit of absently twisting the right one with her thumb and index finger. Her ears hadn't been pierced when she was eighteen. Had she had them done for Paul?
He jotted down another name, pressing so hard the pen made a deep dent in the pad. He conjured up an image of her in surgery, a patient on the table, Emma's hands moving, long fingers curved slightly, stroking...
Not like that! Not her hands touching him, fingers digging into his shoulders as she moaned—God!
That's the sort of thinking that had gotten him into a mess the year he was twenty-one. He knew he had no business seeing Emma. He'd tried to stop himself, but the tide of his desire had swept into her passion as if he had no will of his own.
Emma at eighteen had been soft and inexperienced enough to believe she could let innocent passion have its head. He'd known he was way out of her league, had known it was wrong, that he should leave her alone, run fast and hard, out of her life.