Gentle suspense. Tortured heroes. Mischievous heroines.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Alaska is a cold place to live until love blossoms.

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Alaska is a cold place to live until love blossoms.

Elizabeth Robinson travels by dog sled to help her family mind the store in Fairbanks, Alaska. She wants to pursue her drawing and painting, but women artists are rare in 1906, and flood, fire, and a death in the family force her to take charge at home at age seventeen. James Garrett comes north to help his uncle at a nearby gold claim. An awkward eighteen-year-old who is more at home with machines than people, he becomes a man as he falls in love with Elizabeth. When a discovery about her benefactor, the founder of the town, threatens their future, Elizabeth and James find that together they can overcome any obstacle.

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Elizabeth didn’t see it until it was too late.

One moment she was planning a painting of the snowy scene, then the dogsled she was riding in careened around the corner. The play of shadows and light, the glittering frost on the trees, vanished when a team of dogs slammed into theirs.

Papa shouted as he fell off the back of their sled, “Hang on!”

She held tight to her sister Victoria. Their sled ran off the trail, rolled onto its side, and the icy snow surrounded her. Dogs yelped. Victoria cried out.

The stinging cold took Elizabeth’s breath away. They fell into the thick alders.

Elizabeth untangled herself from a fur robe and pulled Victoria out of the branches. Her fur hat was askew, but she looked more frightened than hurt.

“Are you all right, Sis?” Elizabeth brushed the snow from her sister’s dark curly hair.

Victoria looked up at her, blinking tears from her eyes. “I think so.”

A young man’s voice rose over the dogs yelping and barking. “Are you all right?”

“I don’t know yet,” she called over her shoulder. She turned back to Victoria. “Nothing hurts?”

Victoria shook her head. “No.”

Elizabeth took a shuddering breath. The barking grew louder, and she turned to see the dogs lunging at each other. The teams had to be separated before they injured each other. She ran as quickly as she could through the deep snow, raising her long wool skirts out of the way. A man in a fur parka stood in the midst of the flurry of fur and snarls, trying to untangle the teams by tugging at their lines.

“Why weren’t you on the right side of the trail?” she called to the man, irritation rough in her voice.

“I’m sorry, Miss.”

Elizabeth grabbed the harness on the furry husky next to her and pulled him to the side, ignoring his excited whine. She moved the stocky dogs easily, even with her petite frame—she guessed it was necessity that gave her such strength. Mama always said, “You do what you have to do.”

“It’s all right, Blackie,” she said to calm herself as much as the dog, and grabbed the next one. Three dogs to go. Good thing she liked dogs. Back home she’d been the only one who could handle their wolfhound, and here the dogs responded to her easily.
The young man grabbed the dog nearest him. “I apologize, miss!” he shouted over the cacophony of barking.

Elizabeth nodded toward him, but didn’t speak. She wouldn’t know if damage had been done until they could look at the dogs more carefully, and the temperature was too far below zero to stand around talking anyway. Blood rushed in her veins as she grabbed the next dog in line and pulled him backwards away from the fight that erupted between her lead dog and one from the other team. This was the first time she’d jumped in to do something without being told to, and she stood a little taller when she straightened. Elizabeth turned toward the lead dog.

“Libby! Vicky!” Papa’s voice called through the alder thicket.

“Over here!” Elizabeth moved the next dog back, stepped over, grabbed Comet by his back legs and hauled him away from the other dog. Comet wiggled in defiance, but stopped snarling.

“Now, calm down. You need to set an example here,” Elizabeth said to the lead dog. She pulled on Comet’s lead until the team was a safe distance away.

“I reckon I was going too fast and didn’t see your dogs in time. I’m glad you’re not hurt.” For the first time Elizabeth looked directly at him. His parka hood fell back as the young man shook his head. True concern shone on his face. Light brown hair and forget-me-not blue eyes showed above the wool scarf wrapped around his neck and chin.

Her heartbeat had slowed to a dull thump until she saw those beautiful eyes.

“Well, the teams are untangled now,” she said as a sign of forgiveness.

“Are you all right, little one?” he called to Victoria.

“I’m not little. I’m six!” she called back over the racket of dogs.

The young man chuckled and pressed his right hand to Elizabeth’s.

“James Garrett, headed for Fairbanks.”

“Elizabeth Robinson, and this is my little sister Victoria.” She matched his grip, firm for one who looked to be only a year or two older than her seventeen. “We’re headed to Fairbanks, too, with my parents. My father is the new manager at the NCC store. My mother and his assistant are ahead of us on the trail.” She pointed.

His brow furrowed. “It seems I headed in the wrong direction after my last stop.”

Elizabeth started to laugh.

Papa’s large frame burst through the willows, then he slowed. He swept Victoria up in his arms and plowed through the snow toward them.

“Anyone hurt?”

“No, Papa.” Elizabeth indicated her companion with a tilt of her head. “Mr. James Garrett.”

Mr. Garrett made a slight bow. “I’m so sorry, Mr. Robinson.”

Papa’s normally smiling face was bright red. “Do you realize what you just did?”

“Um, well, I accidentally ran my dogs into yours,” James said as he brushed snow off his fur parka.

“My girls could have been hurt, or even killed!” Papa bellowed.

Elizabeth had never seen Papa so angry.


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