“Nope. The entire holiday is free … well, other than church. The choir is singing. You’ll come, won’t you?”
He frowned and then nodded.
Carrie rewarded him with a lengthy kiss. “Church might actually do you some good, and then next week is the party.”
He frowned again. “What party?”
“The Christmas one Sophie and I are throwing right here. You must come, you really must.”
He certainly didn’t look keen to join in the festivities. “The first week of December? You’ll be here, won’t you?”
“See if you can change your flight, Finn. I need to prove to everyone that you’re real. If you think you’re the only one who’s not himself, then you’re wrong. My friends claim they hardly know me anymore.”
“Carrie, I’ll never fit in with your life here.”
She didn’t argue. Instead, she pressed her hand to the side of his jaw, her eyes round and pleading.
Finn snickered softly, and Carrie knew she’d won.
“Could I refuse you anything?” he asked.
“Good to know.” She hugged him, fearing if they kissed again they wouldn’t be able to stop.
He grumbled but didn’t argue.
“I promise the rewards will be worth any discomfort.”
“Rewards?” His dark eyes brightened.
“Yes. We can talk about those later.”
He left her then, and while she was practically asleep on her feet, Carrie was far too happy and excited to let go of the exquisite sensation of knowing Finn was only a couple of blocks away, and would be with her for several days.
Late Wednesday morning Finn unloaded the last of the groceries into Carrie’s refrigerator. Shopping for their Thanksgiving dinner had been an experience he never wanted to repeat. While she was at the office he decided to make good use of his time and get what they needed for their meal. If ever he wanted a lesson in the differences between their lives, this was it. The trip to the grocery store had taken him hours.
Finn knew his way around a kitchen, his father had made sure of that. But the meat he was most familiar with didn’t come from a food market. He found the selection of vegetables and fresh fruit mind-boggling. He had to admit he was impressed. It was like walking into the Garden of Eden. In Alaska, especially at this time of year, fresh fruits and vegetables were at a premium. They were available in limited quantities, but the prices were astronomical.
He glanced at his watch. Carrie should arrive home anytime now. Just thinking about her produced a sense of lightness that he’d rarely experienced. His decision to fly to Chicago had been last-minute. If he’d been smart he would have planned this trip much earlier.
After all Carrie had gone through in order to find him, he was determined she not be alone over Thanksgiving. She was close to her family, which was something Finn had never experienced. His father had been his only relative, though Carrie would be quick to remind him that his mother was living. But she’d been out of his life since he was a kid and he had nothing to say to her. He loved hearing Carrie talk about her family and their traditions. It made him feel good to know how deeply she valued these relationships; it was something he envied. The more he got to know Carrie, the more he cared about her. He tried to ignore the feeling that he was starting to care more for her than he should. More than was wise for either of them.
Finn pushed those thoughts aside for now. He was determined to make this a Thanksgiving they would both remember.
The door opened and Carrie breezed in, breathless and excited. “Finn?” she called out.
“In here.” He had the turkey in the sink and the counter-tops lined with a variety of food.
She rounded the corner and came to an abrupt halt, her beautiful blue eyes widening. “What in heaven’s name is this?” Not waiting for his answer, she launched herself into his arms and buried her face in his neck.
Finn wrapped his arms around her and breathed in the fresh scent of her. In all his life, nothing had felt more right than having Carrie in his arms. If he was living in a dream world, then he never wanted to wake up. She smelled of roses and sunshine. Clinging to him, she swallowed tightly but didn’t say a word.
“It’s our Thanksgiving dinner,” he explained, probably unnecessarily. “I plan to cook for you.”
Her arms remained tightly clenched around his neck. “Thank you. Oh, thank you,” she whispered.
What struck him was the fact that Carrie thanked him when he was the one who should be grateful. For an instant his throat clogged and he found it impossible to speak. He held her close and then they were kissing, so hungry for each other that breathing no longer seemed necessary. The taste, the feel, the need he had for this one woman was all the oxygen he would ever require. In a single moment all the hassles of traveling from Alaska, the crowded grocery store, and every other irritation he’d experienced evaporated. Being with Carrie was worth all of it.
Finn realized this emotional high, this linking of their hearts, was temporary. He’d long ago accepted that their time together was destined to be limited. He tried not to think about it. One day they would both need to face reality, but it wouldn’t be this day. He hoped whatever it was they shared would last, and in the same breath he felt he had to accept that it probably wouldn’t. People change, and what had seemed right could suddenly go very wrong. One day Carrie was sure to wake up to their differences. Thus far they’d managed to look past the fact that they were polar opposites. As soon as she stopped, and long before he was ready to deal with letting her go, she would end their relationship. Finn had seen it often enough. His own mother had walked out on him and his father. They were a good example of what happened when a man and a woman who didn’t belong together ignored what should have been clear from the beginning.
Gradually and with a great deal of reluctance, Finn released her. Carrie tried to hide the tears that shimmered in her eyes. Because he knew they embarrassed her, he pretended not to notice. One thing that did catch his attention, though, was the reddish marks his beard had caused on the tender skin of her face. He rubbed his hand down the sides of his jaw and felt his prickly whiskers. His thick beard offered his face protection against the bitter cold, but for Carrie he would do away with it. Fact was, he hardly remembered what he looked like without it.
“I was thinking this was going to be the worst Thanksgiving of my life,” Carrie confessed.
“Not on my watch,” Finn countered, and, taking her hand, he raised it to his lips and kissed the inside of her palm.
Their Thanksgiving meal was everything Finn had hoped it would be. The turkey was cooked to perfection and the stuffing was delicious. In fact, the entire meal was the best he could remember outside of his early childhood. His mother’s cornbread stuffing had been his favorite, and he’d taken delight in wolfing it down in large quantities. Along with that long-buried memory came others, reminding him that at one point, his parents had been happy together. And then they weren’t. He knew the lessons from their marriage and divorce remained deeply engraved in his psyche, but he hadn’t minded that until now. Finn shook his head, needing to dispel the image of his parents and those early Thanksgivings. He wanted to focus on the present, here with Carrie.
The table was covered with partially empty serving dishes, and their plates were practically clean when Carrie leaned back in her chair and groaned. “If I swallow another bite I will explode. Oh, Finn, you’re a wonderful chef.”
Finn basked in her praise although the meal had been a team effort. She’d done a good deal of the preparation work.
They sat across from each other. “What were your Thanksgivings like as a child?” she asked.
“Funny you should ask. I was just thinking about that myself.” The memories wrapped themselves around him, warming him. “Mom got up at the crack of dawn and got the turkey in the oven so I woke to the smell of it roasting. I don’t think I’ll ever forget that. She’d be busy baking and cooking, and Dad would offer to help.”
“He would? I don’t picture your dad as someone who would volunteer to help cook.”
“He wasn’t. To the best of my memory, he only offered at Thanksgiving. I think he was more of a nuisance than anything. I suspect what he wanted was to be close to Mom. Dad’s main job was to peel the potatoes.”
“What was your job?”
“To eat the potatoes,” Finn teased.
Just the way he knew she would, Carrie laughed. “Then, after dinner, Mom would bring out this Nativity set and she’d let me set it up on the fireplace mantel. I still have it.”
“Do you put it out for Christmas?” she asked.
If anyone else had asked, he’d deny it, but with Carrie he couldn’t. Everything was different with Carrie.
“What about Thanksgiving after your mother left?” she asked.
He shrugged. “It was just Dad and me, and maybe a few of my father’s single friends.”
“Did you ever leave Alaska?”
“Why would we?”
“Alaska has everything I would ever want, but on occasion I did travel. I went to France once, and England. A couple of times I had business meetings in Texas and got a kick out of the lone-star attitude, thinking they’re so big. Minnesota brags about its ten thousand lakes. Do you know how many lakes are in Alaska?”
“I don’t have a clue.”
“Over a million.”
Finn knew she was impressed just by the way she said it.
“You were born in Seattle. Do you have any memories of life there?” she asked.
“None. Mom and Dad moved to Fairbanks when I was a baby. They bought a house there and Dad kept it, but he built a cabin on the tundra as well.”
“And then you did, too.”
“My father built that house with his own two hands, and he taught me everything he knew. I was fortunate to learn I could survive on my own in the wilderness if it was ever necessary. Some of those experiences are included in Alone, but I have a lot more stories to tell.”
Carrie leaned forward and pushed her plate aside. “I don’t see why you refuse to give interviews. It’s not like you’re truly a recluse, and from what I’ve seen you would even be good on television.”
He sighed and leaned back while he formulated his answer. When the book had first started selling, his publisher had wanted him to do interviews. But Finn hadn’t signed up to have his personal life invaded. He wanted nothing to do with that side of the business. From that point forward, his publisher automatically rejected all interviews and invitations for appearances. All the interest and attention embarrassed him. It wasn’t until reporters started making trips to Fairbanks that he grew irritated and stubborn.
“The simple answer is that I like my privacy.”
She mulled that over, and he half expected her to bring up the article she wanted to write. She didn’t, and gradually the tension between his shoulder blades eased. Maybe he could trust her. He certainly wanted to.