Shades of Midnight (Chapter Thirteen)
"Hi," she said as she swung the unlocked door open for him. "You found me." He inclined his head in a nod. "I found you."
"Let me guess," she said, her smile lingering. "You walked all the way here like you did the other day in the bush?"
He smirked and gestured toward the snowmachine he'd parked in her yard. "I decided to ride today instead."
"Ah, of course you did." She held the door open for him. "Come in. I just have to grab my boots and gear and we can be off."
As she disappeared around a corner of the living room, Kade walked inside the cozy little house, letting his gaze roam over the simple furnishings and the inviting, casual feel. He could smell Alex in this place, could feel her in the clean, unfussy lines of the sofa and chairs, in the rustic, dark woods of the tables and the earthy greens and browns and creams of the woven rug under his feet. She came back into the room with laced-up Sorels on her feet and a thick khaki-colored parka draped around her. "Ready if you are. Leave your sled where it is. We'll go out the back and take mine to the airstrip."
Kade paused a couple of steps behind her. "The airstrip?"
"Yeah," she said matter-of-factly. "No snow in the forecast for the next couple of days, so why waste time sledding out when we can fly there?"
"I didn't realize we were going to fly." He felt a momentary twinge of uncertainty, something wholly foreign to him. "It's dark outside."
"My plane can't tell the difference between day and night," she said, a playful light dancing in her soft brown eyes. "Let's go. That is, unless you're uncomfortable with a little darkness, Kade." She was goading him, and damned if he didn't enjoy it. He smiled, more than up to any challenge she wanted to toss his way. "Lead on."
With Alex in charge and Kade happy to be riding behind her on the sled, if only for the excuse of wrapping his arms around her, they sped through the frozen back lots of town to where her single-engine plane was tethered at Harmony's joke of an airstrip. Aside from the hangar where the bodies of the Toms family still rested in temporary storage, the airport consisted of a short strip of hard-packed snow and family still rested in temporary storage, the airport consisted of a short strip of hard-packed snow and landing lights that barely cleared the tops of the highest drifts.
Alex's de Havilland Beaver had one neighbor for company, a small Super Cub that was rigged with fat tires instead of straight skis like Alex's. A wind gust rolled through the cleared land of the runway, pushing a cloud of powdery snow across the ground like a tumbleweed.
"Bustling place, eh?"
"Better than nothing." She parked the snowmachine and they climbed off. "Go ahead and get inside. I've got to run the system checks before we're ready to take off."
Kade might have balked at being ordered around by a female, if he hadn't been so intrigued by Alex's confidence in what she was doing. He climbed into the unlocked cockpit of the plane and closed the door. Even though the Beaver was the workhorse plane of the interior, Kade was struck immediately by the claustrophobic fit of the cockpit. At six foot four and 250 pounds without weapons and clothing, he was a large male by any standards, but sitting in the passenger seat of the single-engine plane, the curved metal panels and narrow windows felt like a tight cage.
Alex came around to the pilot's side and hopped into the seat behind the wheel. "All set," she announced cheerfully. "Buckle up and we'll be airborne in no time." This far remote in the Alaskan interior, it wasn't surprising that there was no traffic control, no tower to radio in to for clearance before takeoff. It was all on Alex to get them off the ground and headed in the right direction. Kade watched her work, impressed as hell by the way she took charge of the aircraft and set it moving on the pitifully brief runway. A minute later, they lifted off into the darkness, climbing higher and higher into a morning sky devoid of light except for the distant blanket of stars that glittered overhead.
"Nice job," he said, glancing at her as she leveled off their ascent and steered them through a few short patches of bumpy, gusting wind. "I take it you've done this once or twice before." She slid him a little smile. "I've been flying since I was twelve years old. Had to wait to get my official training and license until I was eighteen, though."
"You like being up here with the stars and clouds?"
"I love it," she said, nodding thoughtfully as she checked a couple of the gauges on the plane's dashboard, then looked back out at the vast nothingness in front of them. "My dad taught me to fly. When I was a kid, he used to tell me that the sky was a magic place. Sometimes when I'd get scared or wake up out of a nightmare, he'd take me up with him–no matter what time it was. We'd climb high into the sky, where nothing bad could reach us."
Kade could hear the affection in her voice when she spoke about her father, and he also heard the sorrow of her loss. "How long since your father passed?"
"It's been six months–Alzheimer's. Four years ago, he started forgetting things. It got worse pretty quickly, and after about a year, when it started to affect his reflexes in the plane, he finally let me take him to the hospital in Galena. The disease progresses differently for everyone, but for Dad, it seemed to take hold of him so fast." Alex let out a deep, reflective sigh. "I think he gave up as soon as he heard the diagnosis. I don't know, I think maybe he was giving up on life even before then."
It wasn't meant to be a prying question, but she bit her lip as he asked it, a reflexive reaction that said she probably felt she'd already told him more than she'd intended. From the sudden, uneasy look she gave him, he could see that she was trying to size him up somehow, trying to decide if it was safe to trust him. When she finally spoke, her voice was quiet, her gaze turned back out the windscreen as if she couldn't tell him and look at him at the same time. "My, um … my dad and I moved to Alaska when I was nine years old. Before that, we lived in Florida, down on the 'Glades, where my dad ran seaplane charter tours of the swamps and the Keys."
Kade studied her in the dim light of the cockpit. "That's a whole different world from here."
"Yeah. Yeah, it sure was."
A sudden metallic clatter sounded from somewhere on the plane, and the cockpit gave a vibrating shudder. Kade held on to his seat, grateful to see that Alex wasn't panicking. Her attention went laser sharp to her instrument panel, and she gave the plane some added speed. The shake and rattle calmed, and the ride smoothed out once again.
"Don't worry," she told him, her tone as wry as her expression. "Like my dad used to say, it's a scientific fact that some of the most alarming aircraft noises can only be heard at night. I think we're okay now."
Kade chuckled uneasily. "I'm gonna have to take your word on that." They flew over a sloping peak, then made a gradual direction change that brought them back over the Koyukuk below.
"So, what happened in Florida, Alex?" he said, returning to the subject he had no intention of dropping now. Instinct told him he was mining close to pay dirt about the secrets she seemed to be holding, but he wasn't looking to further his mission right now. He was genuinely interested in her–hell, if he was being honest with himself, he had to admit that he was starting to truly care about her–and he wanted to understand whatever she'd been through. Hearing the pain beneath her words, he wanted to help heal some of it if he could. "Did something happen to your father or you in Florida?" She shook her head and gave him another of those measuring, sidelong looks. "No, not us … but my mom and my little brother …"
Her voice broke, quiet and choked off. Kade could feel a scowl pulling his brows together as he stared at her. "How did they die, Alex?"
For one stunning moment, as her eyes held his, unblinking and stark with revisited fear, a cold dread began to form in his gut. The small compartment they shared some eight thousand feet off the ground got even tighter, compressed by Alex's terrible silence beside him.
"They were killed," she said at last, words that only made Kade's pulse beat faster when he considered one possible cause–a terrible cause that would make this whole involvement with Alex even more impossible than it already was. But then she gave a shrug of her shoulders and looked straight ahead once more. She sucked in a deep breath and released it. "It was an accident. A drunk driver blew a traffic light at an intersection. He plowed into my mom's car. She and my little brother were both killed on impact."
Kade's scowl deepened as she recited the facts in a rush, as though she couldn't spit them out fast enough. And recite seemed an apt description, because something about the explanation struck him as being too pat, too well rehearsed.
"I'm sorry, Alex," he said, unable to tear his scrutinizing, now-suspicious gaze away from her. "I guess it's a small blessing that they didn't suffer."
"Yeah," she replied woodenly. "At least they didn't suffer." They flew for a while without speaking, watching the dark landscape beneath them alternate from the lightless patches of tightly knit forest and jagged, soaring mountains, to the electric-blue glow of the snowcovered tundra and foothills below. In the distant sky, Kade saw the eerie green flash of the northern lights. He pointed it out to Alex, and though he'd seen the aurora countless times from the ground in the near century since his birth, he'd never been in the sky to watch the streaking colors dance across the horizon.
"Incredible, isn't it?" Alex remarked, clearly in her element as she navigated in a wide arc to give them a longer look at the lights.
Kade watched the display of colors, but his thoughts were still on Alex, still trying to piece together the facts from the loose bit of fiction she seemed to want him to believe. "Alaska is about as different as you can get from Florida, isn't it?"
"Yes, it is," she said. "My dad and I wanted to start over–we needed to, after Mom and Richie–" She took a breath as though catching herself from saying something more than she intended. "After they died, my dad and I flew to Miami to book a flight to someplace where we could start our lives over again. There was a globe in one of the bookstores at the terminal. Dad showed me where we were, then asked me to pick out the place where we should go next. I chose Alaska. When we got here, we figured Harmony sounded like it would be a friendly town for us to make a new home."
"And was it?"
"Yeah," she said, her voice a bit wistful. "It feels different to me now that he's gone, though. I've been thinking it might be time for me to take another look at the globe, see another part of the country for a while."
Before Kade could probe any further down that path, the single engine's rattle and shake was back with a vengeance. Alex sped them up again, but the noise and shudder persisted.
"What's going on?"
"I'm going to have to take us down now," she said. "There's the Tulak cabin below. I'll try to land as close as I can."
"All right." Kade glanced out the window to the ground coming up beneath them more quickly than he liked. "Just try to put it down easy. I don't see anything close to a runway down there." He needn't have been concerned. Alex brought the shuddering plane down onto its skis in a soft glide, managing to miss a couple of ancient spruces that seemed to materialize out of the darkness as they coasted over the top of the powdery snow. The cabin was right in front of them now, but Alex slowed the Beaver and steered into a gentle curve, navigating pretty damned tightly on precious little preparation for their abrupt landing.
"Jesus, that was close," he said as they came to a stop in the snow.
"Think so?" Alex's amused expression spoke volumes as she powered down the engine. She climbed out and Kade followed her up to the engine. She peered inside. "Dammit. Well, that explains the problem. A couple of screws must have jiggled loose of the engine cowling and fell out." Kade knew as much about engine cowlings as he did knitting. And he had no business hoping the plane's trouble would keep him stranded in the wild with Alex for a few hours. Better yet, a few nights.
"So, what are you telling me, we're grounded until we get some help?"
"You're looking at the help," she told him, shooting him a grin as she walked back to grab her toolbox from the plane's cargo hold.
Part of Kade's reason for bringing her out with him to the remote location had been to once and for all get to the bottom of what she knew about the Toms killings. Now, after the half-truth she'd told him about the deaths of her mother and brother, he had another reason to question her. And he told himself that if it did turn out that Alex knew something about the existence of the Breed–and all the more so if that knowledge had anything to do with the loss of her family members in Florida–then relieving her of the burden of that memory would be doing her a kindness.
But this wasn't just about his mission. He'd tried to convince himself it was, but duty had taken a swift backseat from the moment he arrived at Alex's place today. The way his pulse hammered around this female sure as hell wasn't part of the plan. His heart was still banging from the sudden landing, but as Alex came back to where he stood, looking smart and capable and too damned adorable as she went to work on the engine, the banging in his chest settled into a heavy throb.
"You mind holding the flashlight for me?" She clicked it on and handed it to him, then stripped off her glove and fished around in her toolbox for a handful of odd-size screws and bolts. "A couple of these should do the trick until we get back home."
Kade watched her carefully hand-thread each screw into the mounting, wondering if the other warriors in Boston felt the same pride and amusement when they watched their mates doing what they did best.
The thought jarred him as soon as it entered his mind … since when had he been the type to think about having a mate, let alone place Alexandra Maguire anywhere near that scenario? At best, she was a temporary obstacle in fulfilling his mission for the Order. At worst, she was a security risk for the entire Breed nation–one that he was duty-bound to silence, the sooner the better.
But none of that mattered to his drumming heart, nor to the crackle of awareness that coursed through every vein and cell of his body as she finished her work not a few inches from him. Behind her, far in the distance, the green light of the aurora borealis was joined by a rising ribbon of red. The color framed Alex as she pivoted her head to look at him now, and he wondered if he'd ever seen anything quite so beautiful as her face haloed by the frozen magic of the Alaskan wilderness. She didn't speak, just held his gaze with the same wordless intensity that he felt coursing through himself. Kade switched off the flashlight and set it down on top of the now-closed engine casing. He took off his gloves and reached for Alex's bare hand, warming her cold fingers between the press of his warm palms. He held her hand in a light grasp, giving her the power to pull away if she didn't want his touch. But she didn't resist.
She entwined her fingers through his, looking up into his eyes with raw, searching intensity. "What do you want from me, Kade? Please, I need to know. I need you to tell me."
"I thought I knew," he said, then gave a slow shake of his head. "I thought I had it all figured out. God, Alex … meeting you has changed everything."
He freed one hand to cup it along the curve of her cheek, slipping his fingers between the hood of her parka and the velvety warmth of her face.
"I can't read you," she said, frowning as she gazed up at him. "It makes me uncomfortable that I can't figure you out."
He touched the tip of her nose, gave her a wry smile. "Too much gray in your black-and-white world?"
Her expression stayed serious. "It scares me."
" You scare me, Kade. All my life, I've run from the things that frighten me, yet with you …" She released a slow, uncertain sigh. "With you, I can't seem to stay away." He stroked her cheek, smoothed the pads of his fingers over the light creases in her brow as she looked up at him. "There's no reason to be afraid when you're with me," he told her, meaning it completely. But then he bent his head and pressed his lips to hers, and the kiss meant to be tender reassurance ignited into something wilder as Alex kissed him back so openly, teasing his mouth with the tip of her tongue. All of the heat that had leapt between them the night before in Pete's parking lot sprang to life again now, only swifter, more intense for the hours of longing Kade had known in between. He was on fire for this female, dangerously so. Kissing her was risky enough; desire already had his fangs stretching from his gums, his vision going sharp with the flood of amber light that would soon fill his irises. Seducing her had not been his goal here, no matter what his mission for the Order was, or how badly he wanted to unravel Alex's secrets to satisfy his own personal curiosity.
He drew back, his head held low, face turned away from her to hide the changes he could not let her see. Changes that would startle her.
Changes that he would not be able to explain.
"What is it?" she asked, her soft voice husky from the kiss. "Is anything wrong?"
"No." He shook his head, still cautious to keep his face shielded as he willed his lust to cool.
"Nothing wrong at all. But it's too damned cold to be standing out here. You must be freezing."
"I can't say I'm feeling any chill at the moment," she replied, making him smile despite the war raging inside him.
"We should go inside." He didn't wait for an answer before he walked around to the passenger side of the plane. "I just need to grab my gear. Go on ahead. I'll be right behind you."
"All right." She hesitated for a moment, then started walking toward the cabin, her boots crunching in the snow. "Bring some firewood while you're at it. Folks use this place as a trail shelter now, so you should find some in the shed out back."
He waited until she had gone inside the log shelter before he pulled his weapons duffel out of the plane and headed around to look for the woodshed. The Arctic air slapped at him as he strode through the unspoiled snow. He welcomed the chafe of the bitter, cold weather. He needed the clarity of the icy wind. And still he burned inside for Alex.
He wanted her badly, and it would take nothing short of a glacier swallowing him whole to douse any of the heat that she ignited in him.