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Episode 4

I drop into the closest chair. “Is she okay?” Joy is his pregnant wife. I’m aware that there’s no way Kyle is coming with me for three weeks to hang out in Alaska next year. Not with a new kid. He might get a long weekend, but this is the last trip we’re supposed to take together for a few years, especially if one kid leads to more.

“She’s been diagnosed with gestational diabetes. The doctors have put her on bed rest.”

That explains the waver in his voice. I sit up straighter, a tight feeling in the pit of my stomach, since we lost our dad to complications from diabetes. “What does that mean? Is she going to be okay? Is the baby all right?”

“It’s fine. She’s fine. The baby’s fine.” He sounds like he’s trying to reassure himself, not me. “She just needs to be monitored. The doctor said it’s not uncommon. It’s not like what Dad had—it’s a lot different.”

I relax a little. “Okay, that’s good. Do you want me to come to LA?”

“No. You don’t need to do that. We’re okay. Mom and Stevie are talking about bringing Stevie’s stuff out here now instead of later in the summer.” Our younger sister is working on her master’s and decided out west is where she wanted to be, away from the cold winters.

“Mom and Stevie are coming? Are you sure I shouldn’t too?”

“Positive. You know how Mom is—as soon as she heard bed rest, she was already packing. It sounds a lot more serious than it is, but I can’t come to Alaska. I don’t want to leave Joy right now, and being that far from her really isn’t an option. I’m sorry, RJ, I know how much you were looking forward to this.” He sounds torn, which I don’t want, not when Joy is experiencing complications.

I conceal my disappointment. “You don’t have to apologize. I get it. Joy and the baby are priority number one.”

“If you don’t want to go on your own, you can come here.”

I consider the offer. I love my brother. We’re pretty close, even though we live thousands of miles apart, but I need this vacation. I need this time away from the media and the constant demands, time when there aren’t any expectations placed on me. I need to be in the one place I feel close to my dad. More than anything else, I crave the peace and solitude I find in Alaska and the escape from the circus my life has become. Last year our team captain retired, and I stepped into the role. He was well loved by the team and a legend in the sport, so I’ve had big shoes to fill.

“Thanks, Kyle, but I’m gonna catch some salmon, grow a massive beard, and avoid showering for four days at a time.”

He laughs. “I figured you’d say that. If I can come out later in the month, I’ll call. Well, I’ll call anyway. Touch base every few days so I can make sure you haven’t been eaten by a bear—and I’ll keep you updated on things here.”

The reception can be pretty spotty where we stay, and I like it that way. I want the time to disconnect and just be a human, not an NHL team captain. “Don’t worry about me. I can handle the bears—you just take care of your family. I’ll send pictures.”

We say our goodbyes, and I drop my head against the wall. It sucks that my brother can’t be here, but I still want the time at the cabin, even if I have to do it on my own.

Half an hour later, I carry my bag out to the Cessna. The first time I ever flew on a plane that small, I tossed my cookies, so I’ve learned to refrain from drinking on the flight from Seattle to Anchorage.

I’m last in line on this tiny eight-seater, which is fine. It’s a short flight, and almost every seat has a spectacular window view. Except the ones at the back—they’re a little tight for space.

I have to duck and turn sideways to get on the plane. It comes with being over six feet and more than two hundred pounds. It’s a full flight, and there’s only one seat left . . . at the very back of the plane. I shimmy down the narrow aisle. Tucked into the corner, clutching a purse, is the same dark-haired woman who fell into my lap on the previous flight. Well, now, this should be interesting.

She glances away from the window, her nervous smile falling as her eyes go wide. Her cheeks flush, and she lifts a hand to cover her mouth. “Oh no.”

I grin and fight a chuckle as I take the seat beside her. It’s actually like one of those bench seats you’d find on a school bus, with about as much room.

She slides closer to the window, trying to make more space for me. She drops her hand. “I’m so sorry I fell on you.”

I flash her a grin and a wink. “That was the most exciting part of this trip so far, so don’t worry about it.”

“I didn’t mean to kiss you. I mean your cheek.” Hers grow redder. “Oh my God, Lainey, just shut up and leave the poor man alone,” she mutters and ducks her head.

“It’s really okay. Shit happens, right?”

She peeks back up at me, a tiny smile pulling up the right side of her mouth.

I hold out a hand. “I’m RJ.”

I don’t know why I give her that name. My dad called me that, and my brother and sister still do, but that’s it. Everyone else calls me Rook or Rookie. Maybe because she doesn’t seem to know who I am, and I don’t want her to find out? Oh well, too late now.

She slips her mitten-covered hand into mine, then makes a face. Pulling off her mitt, she tries again. Her hand is warm and a little damp—and much smaller than mine—but her grip is firm. She gives me a solid shake. “I’m Lainey.”

“Hi, Lainey.”

“Hi, RJ.” Her eyes stay locked on mine for a few seconds. Still no hint of recognition, which is fantastic.

“So what brings you to Alaska?” I ask, buckling myself in.

Her eyes light up. “Well, I’m currently working on my master’s thesis, and my focus is aquatic animals. I’m fascinated by dolphins and whales, so I’m spending six weeks out here to study them.”

“A master’s thesis, huh? You must be pretty smart.”

She shrugs. “I just like learning a lot. This is my third master’s.”

“Your third? How old are you?” She doesn’t look old enough to be pursuing a first master’s, let alone a third. Although her outfit might be to blame for that.


“And this is your third thesis?”

She bites her bottom lip and nods. “Mm-hmm. I love learning new things, and I keep getting full scholarships, so here I am. I have a master’s in sex therapy and another one in geology. This one is going to be in marine biology. Specifically, ocean mammals. I thought it would be interesting to study the mating patterns of dolphins versus whales.”

“How do those go together?”

She shrugs. “They don’t, really. I just have a lot of different interests. For instance, did you know dolphins mate not just for reproduction but also pleasure, like humans?”

“Huh. I didn’t know that.” But now I’m thinking about sex and how I haven’t had it in a long time.

“Oh yes, they’re very sexually active. And some people think they mate for life, like lobsters, but they don’t. They take several partners. Just like some humans do too, although in Western society we’re sociologically conditioned to choose one mate and stick with them, unlike dolphins. They just like to get it on because it’s fun.”

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