Lifetime Investment

Lifetime Investment

Dana Ransom

September 2014 $13.95
ISBN: 978-1-61194-5-339

Wyatt must rely on his wife to keep what's left of his dreams alive. Bethany will prove how far she'd go to keep him.

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Handsome hotel heir Wyatt Marston knew all too well what people would do to succeed. His status-hungry father and stepmother were prime examples. He married Bethany believing his sweet, honest bride loved him for who he was, not what he had. When evidence paints her as a gold digger, he retreats, heartbroken, to his childhood home to prepare for a future without the woman he still desires. Where he soon finds that to make his hopes a reality, he must rely on his wife to keep what’s left of his dreams alive.

When working class Bethany married into the money that came with Wyatt Marston she was willing to do whatever it took to fit into his upscale world. But instead of being proud of her rise through the ranks of his family’s corporation, Wyatt pulled away, becoming a distant, then absent husband, more interested in her stock shares than their relationship.Determined to fight for the man she believes in, Bethany follows her heart to the middle of nowhere where a leaky tent, a surly dog and dangerous situation prove how far she’d go to keep him.



Coming soon!



Chapter One

HER MOOD WORSENED by the mile.

It was, without doubt, the most miserable trip Bethany Marston had ever taken out of her native Chicago. Everything on this one seemed to take twice as long as expected and proved three times more stressful. Wasn’t that one of Murphy’s Laws, she wondered, flicking the wipers on high as spray from an oncoming truck splattered her windshield.

It started badly. Because of a lengthy client call, she’d nearly missed her flight, the only one she could wrangle into Marquette. She hadn’t had time to change from her work clothes before the mad dash to the air­port. Then the weather turned terrible, knocking the small commuter plane about the sky like a bully flexing superior muscle. She’d come close to reaching for the sickness bag when they took an unscheduled dip in altitude over Lake Michigan. She’d rented the car in Marquette thinking, how long could it take to traverse the highest spur of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula where it jutted out into the cold waters of Superior?

A long time, she discovered. The road skimmed along the inner Bay, revealing flashes of the lake below before curving off into the lonely arcade of pines. It had only stopped raining within the last half hour, leaving the ribbon of Highway 41 slick as ice. On the map, the route across the peninsula appeared to be populated by small towns. What the map didn’t show was that most of them had gone bust when the copper market plummeted at the turn of the century. They’d gradually become ghost towns with wilderness in between. How long would it take some­one to find her if her car broke down? That question tormented her city-bred soul. She hadn’t passed anything that vaguely resembled a gas station for miles and miles, and the rental had developed an asth­matic knocking beneath the hood. She needed a restroom. Her back hurt. The throb of a sinus headache threatened. And on top of it all was the chiding thought: Why was she going to so much trouble just so her husband could ask for a divorce?

"You’re going where?” her father-in-law had shouted across his big desk when she’d told him. Boyd Marston looked as though she was suggesting an indefinite trip to Mars instead of a short hop to Michigan’s UP. "Beth, this is absolute insanity. You’ve got a job to do here. Do I need to remind you of all the things going on this weekend?”

"No, you don’t, but Wyatt said it was important.”

"Important enough to leave our biggest and best clients hanging? It’s one thing for Wyatt to just take off, expecting me to cover for him. Gretchen is still chewing on me over that one. She’d been planning to spend a month or two in Denver, and you know how your mother-in-law gets when her plans are interrupted.”

Yes, Beth did. Gretchen Marston was used to having her own way. It came from being the only child in a very rich family. Wyatt’s step­mother may have given over control of her family’s hotel chain when she married Boyd, even allowing him to change its name to reflect the new management, but she refused to allow any interference in her life­style. Though the business hub of the hotels was in Chicago, she still claimed the corporate headquarters in Colorado as her home, shuttling between the two points whenever her fancy shifted from shopping to the ski slopes.

Boyd sighed, trying not to look impatient with the entire matter. "Did he say what was so important?”

"He said it was business.”

The hotel magnate was suddenly all sharp attention. "What kind of business?”

Beth could only shrug, embarrassed to admit she hadn’t a clue. She’d had to read between the lines. Not too easy since those lines of communication had dwindled down to next to nothing over the last two months. She’d never dreamed it would go so far, that he’d stay away so long. The terse emails—texts, really—could have been written by a stranger. What was she supposed to think when her husband of less than a year took off for parts unknown with only the meagerest explanation, then chose to stay gone?

"Why is he insisting you bring the stock portfolio? He knows it was worth a small fortune when we gave it to the two of you for a wedding gift. Something worth a million shouldn’t be carried around like yester­day’s Sun-Times. It should be kept in the safety deposit box as an invest­ment for your future.”

Beth stiffened. The portfolio was a sore spot with her. "I know about the value of future investments,” she countered tersely. "Remember where I grew up. I was an inner-city Chicago girl. I had to fight my way out of the tenement mentality so I wouldn’t end up like my family and friends. I wouldn’t have gone to college if I hadn’t been able to earn a scholarship, and then I still had to work my way through by booking catered parties for that restaurant.”

"And then you met Wyatt and all that changed.”

Yes. And all that changed. He’d been a guest at one of the affairs. He’d asked her out for coffee the next day. She accepted without know­ing he was the son of a Lake Shore Drive tycoon, bankrolled by Denver millions. She didn’t find that out until their fourth or fifth date. By then, she was already in love with him, and the discovery was an added blessing. Icing on the cake. And it changed everything. It meant plunging into a world she knew nothing about. It meant mind-boggling shopping trips and endless lessons in social protocol from Gretchen Marston. And though she was intimidated by all the glitter, by all the intense pressure, Beth vowed not to be an embarrassment to Wyatt’s family because of her impoverished background. She listened and she learned. And she was quick to adapt.

But it hadn’t been easy. It wasn’t without sacrifice.

The wipers slapped ineffectually. Finally, Beth gave up and reached for a tissue in her purse. She blotted her eyes angrily and blew her nose. She wasn’t the weepy type. Teary displays were useless, and she grew impatient with her own lack of control. For what lay ahead, she needed calm not rampant, raw emotions, even though they were what roiled beneath the crisp detailing of her Evan Picone suit. She could pretend otherwise, but inside, she was scared—scared she was about to lose everything despite her father-in-law’s assurances.

It was Boyd who had made her the director of Public Relations in the big Michigan Avenue hotel—a to-die-for job for someone like Bethany. Wyatt had his office in the glamorous old building. Officially, he was the vice-president of the chain and worked out of a room across the hall from her. She kept to a hectic schedule during the first difficult months as she struggled to overcome the rise from working-class to society virtually overnight. She threw herself into her job, not because she loved it but to prove herself and make the Marstons proud. Boyd was. He praised her initiative and gloated over the Merit Award he him­self hung on her office wall. Wyatt was oddly neutral.

Hers wasn’t a nine-to-five position. Most of her contacts were made in the social arena, courting executives at galas, hostessing client lunches at the hotel’s fine restaurants, attending Cubs and Sox games, and maintaining a high media exposure on the charitable front. But it wasn’t all black tie and entertainment, either. She worked hard, often coordinating up to ten events at once. She arranged everything from ballroom parties and retirement banquets to full-blown conventions. She was the liaison between staff and customer and was always on call in the case of a glitch. In the first month of their marriage, she and Wyatt managed less than a dozen dinners together. He told her he didn’t mind; he understood the demands of the job. And he smiled. However, his smile grew increasingly thinner as more meals were missed and more weekends were sacrificed. He once said he saw her more on the evening news than he did in their kitchen. He made it sound as if he was amused. Why hadn’t he told her he wasn’t?

Beth stared down the lonely stretch of road, remembering. What else was there to do to fill the anxious hours? A potential investment opportunity. That’s what he’d called it when she came home late to find him packing. He’d been brief, almost secretive. He was going to the tip of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. He wasn’t sure how long he’d be away. He needed time to think things through. He’d kissed her coolly and he was gone. She was too surprised to get angry until later. And as the separation lengthened, as the days passed, Beth swung between feelings of panic and betrayal. If it hadn’t been for Boyd, she would have broken down completely. But it was his blunt question that slammed her fears into overdrive.

"What does he want with the stocks?”

Beth was terrified that Wyatt meant to cash them in. And if he did, he was going to have one hell of a fight on his hands. Those stocks represented everything she’d dreamed of her whole life long, a security she’d never known. When her father had been injured and couldn’t return to his job and they discovered his insurance and pension were practically nil, she learned what it meant to be unprepared for the worst. And she would never go through that again. Once, she’d thought Wyatt represented stability. Now, she wasn’t so sure. If he wanted to dissolve their marriage along with the shares in Marston Hotels, he was going to have to spell out his reasons loud and clear. Because she was tired of guessing what was behind his silences.

"He didn’t say what he plans to do with them. Maybe he just wants to read over some of the clauses, but I’ll make sure they come back safe and sound.”

Boyd nodded confidently. Then he added, "Bring Wyatt back with you, too. Or at least, talk to him. I’m going to need an answer from you about Denver. I can’t hold off on it forever. The job’s yours if you want it, Beth. I need you there. It’s the opportunity of a lifetime. Doesn’t Wyatt realize what he’s keeping you from?”

"We hadn’t really discussed it.” Two months ago, she’d mentioned to Wyatt that Boyd had offered to make her his administrative assistant in Denver. She’d had great hopes. They’d move to Colorado and build on their future within the company business. It sounded so perfect. So why hadn’t Wyatt jumped at the idea? Why had he looked at her so expressionlessly and said it was out of the question? No, that wasn’t exactly a discussion.

Seeing her distress, Boyd shook his head in sympathy. "I know, Beth. I don’t understand him either. Since his mother died, I’ve done my best for him. You’d think he could be just a little grateful. He’s always had everything, whereas you and I know what it’s like to have to work for what we want. Don’t worry, Bethany. If things don’t smooth out between you and Wyatt, I’ll see you get everything you deserve. I’ll see you have all the financial security you’ve ever desired.”

But what Boyd didn’t understand was it was Wyatt that she desired, as well.

On the long, tiring drive, Beth had more than ample opportunity to consider her choices. Reconciliation with Wyatt was what she wanted foremost, but if that wasn’t possible, Boyd’s option would provide her with the freedom to start again. And on a plane far higher than a poor girl from a blue-collar neighborhood could have ever imagined. She couldn’t lose.

Or so she told herself.

The lake was now on her left as she passed the arcing sweep of beach and cresting dunes on the western rim of the peninsula. The towns were farther apart and looked to be inhabited more by memories than by human form. The stillness of these skeletal outposts unnerved her, as if time had stopped with the sound of spectral footsteps lingering on the dusty boardwalks.

"Come on, car, don’t fail me now,” Beth muttered, goosing the accel­erator as it sputtered to hurry them along the abandoned blacktop. The empty boomtowns gave her the creeps.

She glanced at Wyatt’s sketchy directions and realized with some re­lief that she was almost there—there, being the edge of nowhere. She smiled somewhat wryly to herself, thinking she was experiencing what the first brave settlers must have felt as they broke through inhospitable wilderness. Only if she’d been in their shoes, a good deal of the virgin countryside would have remained undiscovered. There was no pioneer stock in her blood. Give her the comfort of a crowded sidewalk and the security of store credit cards and room service, any day. What was up in this godforsaken place that anyone would want to buy?

Following Wyatt’s arrows on the map, she made a left off the pave­ment and took to a muddy two-track. Pine boughs scraped the side of her rental car. Ruts jarred her spine and tortured her bladder. But it was the expectation of seeing Wyatt that had her fingers white on the wheel and every muscle clenched tightly. Anticipation warred with anxi­ety, but caution advised her to wait and see. She wouldn’t allow herself to feel panic until she heard what he had in mind.

For a moment, all her doubts were pushed aside as she turned a sharp bend and had her breath snatched away. There, nestled in a pine and birch tree embrace, was a huge two and a half story log and stone lodge. Though rustic in appearance, it was by no means simple in construc­tion. Second floor bays angled out, gleaming with long, multiple pane windows. From the side, she had a glimpse of rainbow colors as afternoon sun struck stained glass. A quick visual scan guesstimated at least 13,000 square feet of northwoods opulence. But closer scrutiny revealed the signs of neglect, like a grand dame sadly gone to seed. Could this be Wyatt’s project? she mused as she eased the rented car to a stop in the circular gravel drive. Some undertaking. Nothing like the haughty character of the typical Marston hotel.

No sooner had she cut the engine than a stocky man appeared on the front porch. He was dressed in wool plaid and heavy boots, as if he’d stepped out of a logging camp from days gone by. Dark in both hair and complexion and broad of features, Beth had no doubt of his Native American ancestry. His eyes were a startling blue.

"Can I help you?”

"I’m looking for Wyatt Marston,” she called through the open car window. She wasn’t quite ready to get out. City living bred caution.

"He’s here but not here.”

"What do you mean?”

"He is living here, but he’s not here at the moment.”

A sigh betrayed her aggravation. "When will he be back?”

Massive shoulders casually shrugged.

It was then necessity overruled annoyance. "Do you have a re­stroom?”

"Sure. Come with me.”

Portfolio and purse in hand, Bethany climbed out and took a mi­nute to enjoy a limbering stretch before following the bulky figure in­side. She was immediately impressed by the soaring majesty of exposed white pine walls rising two stories up to heavy ceiling beams. Her heels tapped upon oak floors where planks were secured by wooden pegs. Hand-hewn open staircases rose on either side of the central hall to a bridge-like balcony connecting opposite wings of the lodge.

"Wow,” she murmured.

"Down the hall to your right. If you’ll give me your keys, I’ll park you out back.”

Bethany looked to him in surprise. "My keys?”

The broad features puckered as if suddenly uncertain. "You are Beth, aren’t you?”


"Keys, please. Wyatt’s been expecting you.”

If he was expecting her, why wasn’t he here?

"I’m Jimmy Shingoos. Wyatt and I practically grew up together.”

"Can you take me to him?”

"I could, but... it’d be better if you were to wait here.”

"I’ve come a long way to see my husband, Mr. Shingoos. Can you take me to him or not?”

"If that’s what you want.” He caught the keys she tossed to him and grinned with some private amusement at her business attire. Beth didn’t ponder over it. She was too busy racing toward relief.

Once the urgency of her situation was met, she returned to the main room with nothing to distract her from her irritation. Wyatt knew she was arriving this afternoon. So where was he? If it was some scheme to avoid her, he might as well give it up. She and her errant husband were going nose to nose and without further delay. As soon as she could find her guide.

"Mr. Shingoos?”

She moved toward the front door and abruptly came to a stop. There, suspended on one of the antler coat hooks, was Wyatt’s leather jacket. She’d given it to him on the occasion of their one-month anniver­sary. She’d missed the romantic dinner he planned because of a late meeting with the theater council, arriving in time to share the last of the champagne he had chilling. He’d smiled thinly as he accepted her gift, the way he would take a bribe or a guilty peace offering. She hadn’t noticed the quiet of his mood at the time. She was just getting to know him. And just beginning to realize how little she did know. It was one of those twenty-twenty hindsight things.

Beth fingered the butter-soft leather, remembering how it felt with him inside it. A painful tightness swelled in her throat as she was lost to the memory of man-warmed leather and misty Chicago rain.

"You might want to take that unless you have one of your own. It can be cold on the lake.”

Beth gave a start. She hadn’t heard Jimmy come up behind her. Her hand dropped from the coat, then rose defiantly to take it from the hook. It was a link to a shared past, one she wasn’t about to let Wyatt put behind him. There was a sense of strength and comfort in going to meet him with those memories wrapped around her. Folding the heavy jacket over her arm, she regarded her husband’s friend with a grim expectation.

"Shall we go?”

He glanced around for luggage. "If you want to change, I can wait.”

"Let’s just go.” It had been a long day, and she had no more pa­tience with delays. She was anxious for her meeting with Wyatt, and he could take her as is. Jimmy just shrugged, noncommittally.

"Follow me and watch your step.”

Steps, would be more accurate. About a million of them made of smoothed railroad ties embedded in a steeply slanted bank, she noted as they descended from the lodge to the rugged beach frontage on Lake Superior. When she finally dared look up from the placement of her feet, she was swept away by the view. Only the roofline of the lodge was visible atop a bluff that seemed to soar a mile above them but was actu­ally about two hundred feet of natural craggy rock retaining wall. The wave-tortured shoreline they stood upon was of pebbly stone and coarse sand, washed by the rhythmic cut of Superior surf. It wasn’t the sort of place one would be tempted to spread a beach towel. The wind was sharp, slicing across the ripple of dark blue water and right through her business suit. Gratefully, she bundled herself in Wyatt’s jacket, pro­tected by its bulky folds and by the feeling of being close to him.

"Just where is Wyatt, Mr. Shingoos?”

"He’s over on the island scouting out hiking trails.”

Bethany squinted. All she saw was choppy blue surface stretching all the way to the horizon. Her stomach clenched. Oh, she hoped she didn’t have to brave a small boat across those bumpy waves. Maybe she should just wait...

"Is there a bridge or something we can drive across?” she asked with a weak optimism as they picked their way down the rocky shore.

"Nope. Only way over to Isle Royale is boat or plane.”

They rounded a small spit of land, and Bethany’s heart plummeted. There, bobbing gently, with its tail wedged up against the beach, was a red-and-white seaplane.

"Wyatt flew over this morning in his own plane. If you don’t mind, I’ll just drop you off. I’ve got some supplies to taxi into Eagle Harbor, and there looks to be some weather moving in—second half of the front that soaked us a couple of hours ago. Wyatt can bring you back over with him.”

Bethany was only half-listening. Panic thudded loudly in her ears. She hated small planes. When they were dating, Wyatt took her up for a tour of the Chicago shoreline in one he’d rented, proudly explaining all the knobbies and gadgets, and she’d promptly disgraced herself all over his instrument panel. If man were meant to fly, it would be in a 747, not wrapped in an aluminum can on wheels... or floats.

"Hop aboard while I do a quick preflight.”

She stood rooted on solid ground while he leaped out onto the twenty-four foot long pontoon and walked along it as if it were a dock, crouching with manual pump in hand to force water out of the hollow float compartments. She wasn’t certain if she was reassured or more anxious as he checked the cables and underbelly of the plane then gave the twin-bladed prop a few loose turns. Then he looked to her.

"You coming?”

Bethany drew a fortifying breath and put one foot on the float, test­ing its stability. Muttering softly, she climbed out as if walking a tight rope and edged toward the cabin door he held open. She would have liked to knock the sassy grin off his face, if she’d dared let go of the wing struts for even a second. Setting her purse and the portfolio inside, she took the two steps up and settled into the copilot’s seat.

"Buckle up,” Jimmy advised as he slid beneath the steering yoke. It was an odd configuration, branching off from a central column in a Y, serving both front seats with dual controls. Bethany watched nervously as hers mimicked the movement of his. She was careful to place her feet far from the twin floor pedals as her shoulder harness gave a satisfactory click. He was observing her anxious behavior.

"Do much flying?”

"Not if I can help it.”

Jimmy chuckled. "Don’t you be worrying now. I’ll get you where we’re going. This ole de Havilland Beaver is the one-ton truck of the sky. You can load ’er up, and if she doesn’t sink, she’ll fly.”

Bethany responded with a watery smile. She noticed a plaque bolted to the dash. Don’t Do Nuthin’ Dumb! Sound advice.

"Wyatt and I picked up two of them fit for the scrap yard—about the only thing I could afford. We tore them down to bare bones, fitted them with new avionics and rebuilt Pratt and Whitneys. Nothing better for bush hops. Bet you didn’t even know Wyatt had his seaplane rating.”

"No, I didn’t.” Or that he’d bought his own plane. What else had hap­pened during their two-month separation? She was gripping the edge of her seat, eying the rows of dials and levers with their ominous arcs and slashes, buttons and lights.

He tapped an impressive looking panel. "See. VHF Nav Com, ADF transponder, and LORAN. You’re in good hands.” He spoke casually, as if the average novice had a clear comprehension of flying jargon and would take comfort in it. Though the terms were vaguely familiar, Beth wasn’t the least bit consoled.

Jimmy turned the starter key and master switch, explaining his moves as he made them as if giving a lesson. Working the manual fuel pump up to a five-pound pressure, he then primed it by hand. As in­tended, the calm sound of his voice managed to take the edge off her fear. There was a sputtering chugga-chugga, and a puff of smoke rose from under the fuselage. Bethany held her breath as the coughing settled down to match the rhythm of the whirring propeller. Jimmy adjusted the flap switch on the center of the dash and the elevator trim overhead and dropped the water rudder lever between their seats. And they were mov­ing. The floats cut through the water, creating more of a wake as speed increased.

"Okay,” Jimmy crooned to himself. "I’ll just slide the stick to the sweet spot and get us out where we want to be for takeoff. This little baby is great for STOL: short takeoff and landing.” He glanced at his pinch-faced passenger and continued to talk so she’d have something else to concentrate on other than the throb of the engine’s nine cylin­ders. "Time to pull up the water-rudder, feed in some throttle, nudge it up to 50 mph, and we’re up.”

Bethany sucked air as the feeling of weightlessness grabbed at her stomach. It was a gentle ascension out over the choppy Superior waters with a line of spray trailing from the floats as the horizon fell away.

"I’m going to set the flaps to climb. You’ll feel the plane sink a little when she settles into cruising altitude. I’ll just trim her out and lean the mixture.” There was a drop in engine noise as he made his adjustments. "There. Sit back and relax. She’s a good, stable instrument machine. The island’s about fifty miles. I used to make the trip every day when I was working for one of the charter services. Won’t take long.”

Relax. Right. Beth’s teeth ground as they were jostled by a small pocket of turbulence. Any second, she expected them to plunge from the sky into the cold waters below. Not the kind of anticipation that groomed a healthy flying attitude. To nudge her thoughts from those of sure and sudden death, she glanced at the pilot who was humming softly under his breath. Wyatt’s childhood friend. She’d never heard his name mentioned. She didn’t know her husband flew seaplanes. And she didn’t like the way Jimmy said Wyatt lived at the lodge. Her fingers tightened on the leather lapels of her husband’s jacket. It was as if she was learning about a total stranger, and the feeling was far from reassuring.

"There’s Isle Royale.”

She risked leaning forward. Against the blue shimmer of the lake was a deep green brush stroke.

"It’s our only freshwater island national park,” Jimmy continued as he put the plane into a gentle bank so they could survey the area. "A backpacker’s paradise: no roads, no motor vehicles, and lots of moose. Some of the most rugged trails east of the Rockies. You can go days without seeing another human being. You either hate it, or you want to come back year after year.” His gaze canted toward her, asking which it would be for her. The curl of his smile said he figured she’d run for home. It was a gesture of resigned understanding, not one of contempt. And Beth found she liked Jimmy Shingoos, with his flat features and his friendly blue eyes.

As the engine droned, they made a low pass over the isle. It was small—some forty-five miles long and only nine wide, studded with thirty-odd lakes, textured with folds of pine ridges and guarded by deep harbors and reefs. Wilderness, pure and simple. And Wyatt was down there. They flew by the northernmost tip where a string of lodges hugged the shore. After that, there was a lot of nothing.

"Wyatt’s checking out a cove in Siskiwit Bay. It butts up against the trail between Island Mine and Feldtmann Ridge. There’s his plane.”

Bethany craned to see the high-wing, single-engine float plane tucked into an abandoned stretch of shore. Dense forest crowded right up to the water. She couldn’t imagine anything more isolated. Except being left there alone to wait.

Jimmy cut back on the power, gliding down at a smooth sink rate. She felt the jar of the floats touching rough water, and Jimmy responded with throttle back, stick back, and water rudder down while her copilot’s yoke twitched in restless neglect.

"Not a smooth patch anywhere,” he grumbled as he chopped power, and they rode the hard bumps. "Have to plow in.” At Beth’s alarmed gasp, he laughed. "Not literally. That just means I’ll have to up the power so the rear of the floats will dig in and the front will lift out of the waves. A lot easier on the prop that way. Where’d all this wind come from? When you see Wyatt, you tell him to get his tail out of here fast before the bottom falls out of the clouds.”

No problem. She meant to grab Wyatt and get back to civiliza­tion—such as it was—as soon as possible.

Jimmy had cut the power again as they began to sidle close to Wyatt’s red over blue and white Beaver. "Open your door, Beth.” He laughed again at her stark expression. "I’m not going to ask you to jump. Just open the door. The wind will turn us around, and I’ll park pretty as you please.”

She did as he asked and amazingly, the plane slid sideways and backed right up next to Wyatt’s. Jimmy kept his engine winding.

"Hate to drop you and run, but I’m on a tight schedule. Just climb on into the plane to keep warm. Wyatt should be back any minute.”

Beth gathered up her things. "Thanks for the lift.”

"Any time. See you at dinner.”

Would she? Beth gave him a small smile. Would she be staying for dinner or be on her way back to Marquette alone? She climbed out of the cabin, ducking beneath the wing as she hopped from one float to the next. Wyatt’s plane bobbed in a gentle greeting.

With a wave, Jimmy guided his seaplane back out into the rough. In an amazingly short distance, he’d cleared the surface, and the de Havilland was airborne. For a time, Beth stood watching until the Beaver was a speck then disappeared completely. Sighing, she opened the cabin door to Wyatt’s plane. The interior was a complex arrangement of flight gear and compact seating for eight. After just escaping those claustropho­bic confines, she wasn’t exactly eager to crawl back in. Instead, she tottered along the length of the float and jumped ashore. Huddling there, she looked around her. A break in the pines revealed a well-marked trail. It looked wide and promising. The longer she stared at it, the less she liked the idea of waiting. Wyatt was down this trail. How far could he be? She was in excellent shape. The hike would do wonders for her nerves. She was tired of waiting for Wyatt to make the first move. This time, she was going to meet him head-on.

After all, how far could he be?



Chapter Two


Bethany slowed and took a long moment to suck air and shed the heavy jacket. It may have been some fifty degrees on the shore, but here in the woods it was a humid seventy-plus. Sweat made her silk blouse adhere to her skin, wilting its crisp folds into damp blotches. Strands of her hair escaped the neat confines of her French braid and clung along her temple and throat. Her stockings were torn and her feet throbbed. She wanted to kill Wyatt Marston. But first, he was going to take her back to the lodge so she could enjoy a good, hot bath.

Beth set down her briefcase and draped the coat over it. Both seemed to weigh a ton. Ignoring the temptation to slip out of her sensi­ble pumps—maybe sensible for executive carpeting—she breathed in the north country air in great noisy gulps. What she needed was straight oxygen. Her lungs were laboring. Only her temper had prodded her up those last few yards of trail.

Trail. Hah! She looked resentfully behind her. What had appeared to be a well-groomed, easy path had quickly become a mountain goat’s nightmare of uneven rocks, slippery moss, and pine needles. Her shoes weren’t designed for an alpine hike. Stilts would have offered better stability.

Damn Wyatt, anyway.

Why couldn’t he have been waiting for her at the lodge?

Why couldn’t she have waited for him at the plane?

Because she was mad. And she was scared. And when crowded by ei­ther of those emotions, she wasn’t terribly logical. All her instincts pushed into aggressive overdrive, the best defense being a good offen­sive. Her father taught her that. He’d learned it from Ronald Reagan in a Knute Rockne movie. Her dad had been a great armchair quarterback, just full of advice while the TV was blaring and his six-pack dwindled. He’d never seen the need to put that advice into actual practice. But she did. And she had. She just didn’t know when to stop.

Beth couldn’t give up now, not halfway between the proverbial rock and a hard place. Pride wouldn’t let her slink back down to the plane. But neither did it supply the necessary staying power for the elevations ahead. Clutching her sides, she glared at the green-carpeted ground that disappeared into the trees. Oh, to sit down on the nearest boulder and hail a taxi!

She didn’t want to consider the possibility that Wyatt had left the trail and that he was even now on his way down to the plane, passing her unnoticed as she struggled upward. She didn’t want to consider it, but she had. Which was why she’d put a note on the steering yoke telling him that under no circumstances was he to leave this wretched place without her.

Well, it was onward and upward. Bethany heaved a heroic sigh and picked up her belongings. She swiped the back of her hand across her face in annoyance, then glared at the sky. Adding insult to injury, it was raining; a cold filtering mist drizzled through the pine boughs overhead. Great. Just great. What could be worse?

The sound of twigs snapping in the thick underbrush to her right froze her in her tracks. A low, menacing growl sent her heart catapulting into her throat. Wolves! Jimmy mentioned moose, but she’d never thought about the possibility of other wildlife—dangerous wildlife. Like wolves or bears or other creatures that would devour a businesswoman with no respect for her five-hundred-dollar designer suit. She clutched her briefcase handle with both hands, meaning to use it as a weapon if she had to. Over her panic came a calmer warning. Don’t run. Running only made a predator chase. Well, this woman didn’t plan to be a Chicago deli snack for any northern Michigan animal. She braced her feet and swept the underbrush with a tenacious stare.

"Aren’t you a bit out of your element?”

Bethany withered with relief. And she forgot all about the immedi­ate unseen threat from the bushes. As her muscle groups col­lapsed into quivery Jell-O, Wyatt Marston separated himself from the thicket at the bend in the trail ahead. No sight had ever looked better. He’d never looked better. Since she didn’t have the strength to move or utter a coherent sentence, there was little she could do but stare. She’d always thought of him as one of the most marvelously fit men she’d ever known with his long, lean build and broad-shouldered stance. Even in a three-piece suit, he exuded a raw energy. Here, with the northwoods at his back, he looked right at home. His usually styled dark blond hair was rain glazed and finger-combed and as ruggedly male as the two-day stubble shadowing the sculpted angles of his cheekbones and jaw. Wear­ing snug Levi’s tucked into sturdy hiking boots, a dark T-shirt, and a fleece-lined waist-length jean jacket, he gave off all-man vibes no woman was meant to ignore. He looked like a cover model from one of those Rocky Mountain beer commercials, and Beth could have used a nice cold one to moisten her mouth, which had suddenly become dry. But before she could rush to Wyatt to tearily claim how much she’d missed him, he gave her a quick summing-up gaze with his inscrutable blue eyes.

"What are you doing here, Beth?”

No warm hello, no welcoming smile, just a curt demand. All the joy died inside her. She would have flung her briefcase at him if there’d been any strength left in her arms.

"You invited me here, remember.” The lines were drawn, immedi­ately combative. Apparently the two-month absence had done nothing to make his heart fonder. He was bristling with the same tension she remembered in him as she’d watched him pack. But instead of meeting her in a head-on clash, Wyatt was a master of subtle subterfuge. He held to his guarded distance and cool reserve, making confrontation impossi­ble by sidling away with cool reason.

"I didn’t meanhere. I meant at the lodge.”

"Well, I didn’t know that. Your directions left much to be desired.”

But Wyatt Marston didn’t. He was everything Beth wanted, right down to the narrow set of his finely shaped lips. Right to the easy power in his casually curled hands. Thinking of his mouth, his touch, made her burn with remembrance, making her more frustrated than ever with the invisible barrier holding them apart. She didn’t come all this way to argue with him. She wanted to know what had put the wall of caution between them.

"Did you bring the papers?”

How that blunt question hurt. Was he that eager to sever all ties? Ap­parently. Pain made her react with equal frigidity. "That’s why you asked me here, isn’t it?”

For a second, he hesitated. For a second, she saw a trace of her lov­ing husband where a stranger stood. The stiffness left his features. The line of his jaw softened. Something in his gaze reached out to her, a look so wounded, so lost, she was unable to comprehend the reason for it. If he’d opened his arms, she would have filled them in an instant. But he didn’t. When she couldn’t respond, he spoke her name, saying it low and wistful as a whisper.



A blur of movement on her right was a distraction. She caught a glimpse of gleaming yellow eyes and a bristle of white fangs. That was enough to set her screaming. She lunged toward Wyatt, equating him instantly with safety. In her careless panic, she banged her shins with her briefcase and stumbled to her hands and knees. Teary-eyed from the pain, she tried to scramble up to escape the snarling woodland threat that appeared from the shadows.

"Artie, heel!”

Then Wyatt was kneeling in front of her, cupping her elbows in his big hands, affording her the familiar solidity of his chest upon which to sob away her fears. All the day’s aggravations and anxieties burst free with those great, gasping sobs. She buried her nose in the warm cotton of his shirt and wailed. Her knees and palms stung, her frayed nerves jangled, and beneath it all was the indescribable comfort of being within the circle of his arms.

"Hey... hey, it’s okay. It’s all right, Beth,” he was murmuring in gen­tle reassurance. She could feel the heat of his words blow warm upon her damp cheek and the definite sweetness of his mouth tracing along her brow. Wyatt... she wanted to hang onto him forever. She never wanted the closeness to end.

But he was levering away, pulling her back at the same time with a firm pressure. Still grabbing for hitching breaths, Beth couldn’t look up at him. She knew she must seem a wreck and look even worse for wear. This wasn’t how she envisioned their first meeting. She took one hand from his jacket and began fumbling in her bag for a tissue so she could make field repairs to her face.

"Are you all right?” he was asking with a reserved concern. "You’re not hurt, are you? Let me help you up. Just hold onto me.”

Oh, no problem there. Letting go was going to be the hard part. But as soon as they were on their feet and it was obvious she could stand on her own, he edged away, appearing uncomfortable with the closeness they’d shared. And eager for a distraction.

Wyatt snapped his fingers and glanced down. "Come here, boy. Beth, this is Artemus. Sorry he gave you such a scare.”

She followed his gaze and recoiled from the sight of a huge, wolfish creature with shaggy black-and-silver hair and erect ears. Artemus sat at the edge of the trail, regarding her through those glowing amber eyes. The bridge of his snout crinkled, and his lips slowly lifted from sharp teeth. He growled with enough ill will to keep Bethany from any thought of extending her hand. She had doubts that she’d bring it back with fingers attached.

"Shame on you, Artie. He’s not very good with strangers.”

Beth winced at that. She wasn’t a stranger. She was his wife. And she didn’t like dogs, especially big, snarly ones who looked like they feasted on small children and old ladies who couldn’t outrun them. She was a city girl. The closest she’d had to a pet was the gerbil in her sev­enth-grade homeroom. And the thought of its beady black eyes and pin-prickly little toes was enough to give her chills. Pets made her think of being tied to the house and hair getting all over things. And they weren’t allowed in their apartment complex. Neither were children. Yet this was Wyatt’s dog.

Why would he go through the trouble of getting a pet when he knew he couldn’t bring it home?

Unless he didn’t plan on returning to their apartment.

Beth regarded the animal with even less affection. You’re history, pal. The dog’s jaw relaxed, and his tongue lolled out as if he was laughing at her.

"I ought to keep him on a leash,” Wyatt was saying as if to himself. He was staring at the dog, not at her. "He’s not even supposed to be over here. They don’t allow dogs on the island, but I can’t get into the plane without him. He loves to fly and howls up a storm every time I leave him behind. And he’d eat my upholstery if I left him shut in it. Bad dog,” he scolded. Artemus thumped his heavy tail, unimpressed by the chastisement. "You can pet him if you like. He won’t bite.”

Who was he kidding? She was no master at doggy communication, but she understood this one, loud and clear. "That’s okay. I’ll just take your word for it.” She had absolutely no intention of making friends with the glowering beast. Apparently, the feeling was mutual. "He looks dangerous. Like he’s part wolf or something.”

"He’s something. Probably husky or shepherd. The guy I bought him from said there was wolf mixed in his ancestry somewhere down the line. I’m not sure I believe it.”

Beth stared at the sly-looking creature. She did.

"Anyway, I’ve always wanted to get another dog. Gretchen’s aller­gic to them or, at least, that was her excuse.”

It was the longest conversation they’d had in months, and Beth wasn’t even a part of it. Not a real good start toward the dialogue she intended. "I guess there’s plenty of room up here for an animal like that. I can’t imagine him terrorizing the Chicago streets.”

"Neither can I.”

Silence settled.

Wyatt gave her a long, exasperated look, as if he couldn’t figure out what to do with her. It irritated the hell out of her.

"How did you get over here, anyway? How did you even know where to start looking?”

"Jimmy brought me.”


"It seemed like an easy hike, so I started up after you.”

Wyatt almost smiled at the trace of regret in her voice. He was a sea­soned backpacker, having learned on the big boys out in Colorado while he lived there. She’d been intimidated by the huge, hostile mountains when they’d spent their honeymoon at his stepmother’s palatial home in Denver. Beth equated climbing with escalators. She resented his smug amusement at the expense of her current misery. It rubbed her as raw as the blisters on her heels. It made her tone sharp.

"And he said we’d better be quick about leaving. There’s a storm front moving in.”

Wyatt nodded absently. He was taking her in from the tips of her scuffed beige pumps to the tangle of her mussed blond hair. She didn’t know what to make of that look. It was part amusement, part annoy­ance. And part something she wanted to see more than anything... attraction. At least that hadn’t expired between them. And it was mutual. The brief feel of his embrace was enough to kindle a lifetime of longing.

"Looks like I caught you between meetings,” he drawled out impas­sively. "Seems like that’s the only time I can catch you. Well, don’t worry. This won’t take long. I’m sure you’re in a hurry to get back to your busy social agenda.”

Maybe she deserved the bitterness in his voice but certainly not the heavy tone of finality. Not if she could help it. "I’m in no hurry, Wyatt. We have to talk.”

She could see the barriers building in the narrowing of his eyes, in the way he assumed a wary posture. Signals of his unwillingness to enter into a messy discussion. She wasn’t going to give him a choice this time.

His answer was carefully neutral. "You can stay at the lodge until we get things settled. I’ll have a room made up for you. If that’s all right with you.”

All right? Separate rooms? No, it wasn’t all right. But a rocky trail in a drizzling rain wasn’t the place to discuss more intimate arrangements. Even as she made that vow to herself, she was desperately afraid he’d already made his decisions concerning their future together. And she was afraid she wasn’t going to be a part of his plans.

"We’d better get going,” he said abruptly. The rain was falling faster. "Sure you can make it back down to the plane?”

"The alternative being to stay here?” She squared up her shoulders and pretended her shoes weren’t torturing her by slow degrees. "I got this far, didn’t I?”

"Yeah, you did. You always get what you go after. I’ll give you that.” But he didn’t give it very complimentarily. Nor was he inclined to offer any more. He reached down to hoist her briefcase and his coat, and he started down the trail without even checking to see if she followed. Artemus was immediately at his heels, leaving her to bring up the rear.

Beth heaved a determined sigh and started after them, wobbling in her shoes and grimacing when no one could see her.

Wyatt strode down the path in long angry steps. It took all his will­power, but he didn’t slow, and he didn’t look behind him. He knew what he’d see. A businesswoman in a rain-splotched suit and torn stock­ings, hobbling in her ridiculous footgear. What possessed her to come to such a place dressed as if he was her four o’clock appointment? Had she expected all the civility of State Street or Michigan Avenue? Did she even know other worlds existed? That there were places untouched by concrete and inaccessible by cab? Probably not. Or she probably wouldn’t have come.

Why had she? She could have sent the papers, but she’d insisted upon bringing them herself. So they could talk. As if that would change things. As if they’d ever been able to talk. But she’d said she’d bring them, and he’d been so hungry to see her, he’d foolishly agreed. He’d thought he’d be ready, that he could handle things unemotionally. More the fool. He’d come over to the island to get his thoughts straight, to plan out exactly what he had to say, how he was going to approach her. It hadn’t helped that the sudden bad weather delayed his trip back to the lodge so that he wasn’t there to meet her. He’d carefully choreographed their meeting in his mind, but then she’d gone and thrown everything off with her typical impatience, by rushing in, by crowding him into a back-against-the-wall position. All the calm, rational things he’d re­hearsed immediately fled from his mind when he saw her standing on the trail, so lost, so engagingly distressed. Everything inside him had dissolved in an instant. Had there ever been another human being who could reduce him to such vulnerability with just a single look? No, he knew there wasn’t. And it made him angry all over again. Because during the few minutes with her, he wanted her so badly he was willing to for­give and forget everything.

Rain brought a plunge in temperature and with it, a thickening mist as cold air met warm ground, warning of worse things to come. They’d have to get in the sky fast if they were going to beat the advent of IFR weather. It would be suicidal to fly into nothingness and rely on instru­ments alone. It wasn’t as though he had a major airport tower to home in on. This was seat-of-the-pants flying up here, and there was no margin for error. All the fancy, up-to-date equipment in the world wouldn’t do him a bit of good if a storm system settled in for the night. And the last place he wanted to be stranded was in a wilderness with Mrs. Three-Piece Suit. The only way to smooth what had to be said was to treat Bethany to a hot bath, a good meal, and a lot of fine wine.

What had she thought she’d accomplish by coming to the island? Was she in that big a rush to get business over with and on her way? Maybe she’d already made reservations at some four-star hotel halfway down the peninsula. How much time had she planned to allot him? An hour? Two? She hadn’t come dressed to enjoy the northern clime. Oh, no. She came girded behind her briefcase and her office attire: imper­sonal, professional, impatient. One look had shot all his hopes to hell. They were worlds apart in what they wanted. Seeing her reinforced that unhappy truth. He could make all the speeches he wanted, but they wouldn’t change anything at all. His father had been right about that.

And Boyd Marston would know.

What made it worse—no, unbearable—was the way she’d felt in his arms. For that instant, he could almost pretend things were the same as in the beginning. When she’d loved him for himself. Maybe all the right emotional ingredients were lacking. However, nothing was missing when it came to the spark they made together. Beth still turned his heart inside out. She still made him as rut-crazed as a northwoods bull moose. He wanted her so badly he was almost willing to overlook what was wrong with what they had in favor of what was so very right. Almost. But that would solve about as much as her talk. Neither would heal what was irreparably broken. It was like trying to mend a massive coronary with a Band-Aid.

But, oh, he’d been tempted. He’d been ready to strip her right down to the soft woman that lurked beneath the austere suiting. He would have taken her on a bed of moss, beneath a canopy of pines, if there was the slightest chance he could wake in her some of the passion of their first weeks together. When it was just the two of them. Before Marston Hotels came between them.

Better he didn’t give way. Better he loaded them into his plane and got them back to the lodge. Better he listen to what she had to say and let her drive away. Back to the city where she had what she wanted without him. That way, he’d have a shred of his dignity left. And her respect, if nothing else. A far cry from what he really wanted from her. Better not to dwell on the impossible hopes he’d had when he proposed. It was his own fault. He shouldn’t have been so naive. Especially after all the exam­ples he had to follow.

Rainwater glazed an already slick trail. Wyatt was a veteran hiker. The corrugated bottoms of his boots were made to provide the best traction. But neither of those facts protected against a preoccupied mind or a careless misstep. And a rocky path was unforgiving.

He felt his foot give on a patch of uneven stone. Immediately, Wyatt shifted his weight to compensate, but he was a second too late, a heartbeat too slow. His heel skidded on wet earth even as he twisted to catch himself. But down he went as Beth’s briefcase undercut him, left foot going straight out ahead of him, right leg angling behind as he hit with jarring force. The sound was like a rake handle snapping in two. He was slow to associate it with his awkward descent. Until he tried to move. Until he tried to untangle the unnatural bend of his body.

"Wyatt? Are you all right?”

His voice was faint with surprise.

"I broke my leg.”


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