Fifty-something socialite Amanda Bennington finds herself at an unbelievable fork in the road. Freshly divorced and bitter as hell, she can now add homeless to her life’s description. Determined to counter the sudden upheaval in her life she adds to her difficulties by trying to cope at a wilderness lodge in
Excerpt from chapter one
"Excuse me; you’re sitting in my seat!" The voice, a rich baritone, carried a definite edge. Amanda Bennington looked up into a stranger’s dark, flashing eyes--eyes that snapped an order for her to move. "My ticket is clearly stamped row 8, seat B." She held her boarding pass in front of his face. "See for yourself."
"Ain’t that the truth," the voice rumbled. "‘A’ is always a window seat on a plane. It’s the one I booked and it’s the one you’re sitting in now."
Amanda’s face heated from her stupidity and the fire surged down to her black Italian designer pumps.
"Oh, I’m sorry. I’ll move."
"Thank you. Wise decision."
The grouch’s mouth reverted to a tight grim line beneath his Tom Selleck graying moustache. Amanda grabbed her purse from beneath the seat in front and switched to Seat B. She leaned back to avoid the silver-haired passenger’s grizzly bulk as he squeezed past her scrunched knees. There wasn’t much room in the big jet’s economy class. She caught a drift of alcohol on his breath, but pain distracted her when one of his giant clodhoppers landed on her toes. "Ouch! That hurt!"
"Sorry, you shudda moved into the aisle and let me in first." The oaf maneuvered onto his throne by the window.
"Beg your pardon?"
"Er... I said I’m not perky. I’ve been up since dawn, and even at that I had to race across
Obviously not interested in her plight, the hefty man stared at something outside the plane, slapped his knee and laughed.
"What’s so funny?"
"A big suitcase fell off the luggage wagon and burst open. The tarmac guys are kinda making a big deal out of picking up some woman’s underwear that’s rolling along with the wind. Good thing it’s not the sexy kind; they wouldn’t get a lick of work done for a while."
"I admire a woman with modesty," she sputtered. "They are rare these days."
"Probably belongs to some little old grandmother," he said.
"Ah... what color is the suitcase?" Amanda thought of her relatively new, black two-piece Samsonite set marked with orange tape for easy identification on the carousel.
"If that doesn’t beat all." His laugh at the expense of whoever owned the luggage annoyed her.
"The suitcase is decorated for Halloween."
"Never said a word." Amanda’s fingernails dug into the seat’s armrest. The thought of strangers ogling her lingerie made her cringe. When her seat partner turned to stare at her, she got another whiff of liquor, this time so strong she could taste it. Mixed with a spicy scent--likely a cologne he had bought at a dollar store--the unbearable smells overwhelmed her. She almost gagged. The aisle seat looked better all the time. The passenger shook his head and turned back to watching the tarmac.
Amanda studied him out of the corner of her eye. I can’t imagine a man traveling without shaving first. This guy’s scruffy leather jacket has seen better days. I suppose it serves the purpose of covering most of his wrinkled plaid shirt. She turned her head away and inhaled a big breath of non-alcohol-infused air, then surveyed him again. His new jeans stand in his favor, fitting as snug as they do. God, I hate sagging crotches. Why am I bothering with someone I don’t know? I’ve got more important things to consider.
She looked up the aisle and watched other passengers boarding for a while, then shifted in her seat. Was there something to see beyond the other Boeing 737 emblazoned with Alaska Airlines, parked next to hers? Not a damn thing! She was too far from the small window.
"Are you nervous about flying, ma’am? I’m sure they’ll let you off." Her seatmate’s deep voice resonated like gravel hitting pavement.
"Am I bothering you?" she asked politely.
"Ah... no, but the way you’re squirming and sighing, I don’t want you croaking when we take off."
"Oh, for Pete’s sake! If I drop dead from fright, call the stewardess. They’ll dispose of me with little trouble to you."
His forehead grew numerous lines. Amanda imagined they appeared often; they went so well with his scowl. Many passengers now flooded the aisle, each trying to find their assigned seat and stash their carry-on luggage. A baby, snuggled in a carrier against the breasts of the young woman sitting down ahead of her, would be a noise problem Amanda would have to endure. Whether she could tolerate the boozed up occupant beside her was another question.
The passenger in the seat behind had a bad cough. Amanda envisioned millions of germs forming a canopy over her head. Maybe the illusion was an omen to get off the plane. She watched the stewardess shove a passenger’s overnight bag into the compartment opposite her, pushing at it three times before the door latched. To take her mind off the unpleasantness of her surroundings, Amanda decided she would adapt like the stewardess, forget about present annoyances and mull over her yesterday’s disaster, instead.
Lured by dappled sunlight, the welcoming chirps of birds she had never heard before, and the fresh woodsy smell of her new world, Amanda strolled along the track. I bet this leads to Layne’s cabin. It wouldn’t hurt to take a peek. What did Jenny say--he lived a half mile away? I can walk that at a good clip and start my exercise program.
As she hiked, she noticed white fog poured from her mouth when she puffed out her breath. This quiet is a wonderful change from the city roar at home. Lost in wonderment at the heavy growth around her, she stumbled headfirst over a hidden root and fell face down on the moss-covered, damp ground. She wrinkled her nose at the pungent musty smell.
They really ought to pave this trail. She laughed at her humor this early in the day, picked herself up and spat a fragment of dead leaf from her mouth. She was about to touch a sore spot on her cheek when something large flitted through the trees. Just as she looked up, a huge bird nose-dived straight at her.
She fended it off with a sweep of her hand only to have it propel a prominent white dropping onto her shoulder. Her heart racing, Amanda yanked off her jacket to use it to protect herself from the kamikaze flyer. The bird flapped noisily as it zeroed in on her twice more before it flew high into the trees. She was about to hurry back to the lodge when a rustle in the bushes brought her to an abrupt standstill. She dropped the jacket, frozen with fright.
Layne scowled. "If that grizzly gets in the barn, all of your inhabitants, including you, are dead. Do I make myself clear?"
"I’m real sorry about missing him, Layne. I hurried too much." Don looked glum. "I didn’t expect to get so excited seeing him. He’s a massive brute. And smart, too. He was aware of us before we were on him."
Layne’s face softened. "Couldn’t be helped. The best we can do is put him out of his misery before he kills."
"He’ll make a nice trophy for whoever gets him," Don said. "Maybe you should remind that Indian that we paid good money to come here and one of us deserves the prize."
"No call for getting hostile about
Silence, broken intermittently by the scrape of a fork or a clink of a glass descended on the room as the guests tore into the meal with gusto. The frown on Layne’s face reminded Amanda of the day they met on the plane. Once again she saw how badly she had misjudged him. She knew appearances didn’t make the man, but in her world it had counted--until Harold confessed his infidelity. With lipstick on his collar and the long, blond hair she had picked off his shoulder, he could have done no less.
Since Layne was sitting next to her, Amanda couldn’t remain focused on him without getting a crick in her neck. But she could take pleasure in the essence that was so much a part of him. His scent wasn’t of soap and shampoo this time. After their rush to get back to the lodge, it was of him, pure and simple. The smell of his sweat bred a craving for a sexual alliance in a dry environment. She wondered what in the name of heaven had come over her. Layne always seemed in control, except for those few minutes when she walked into the shower, naked as a... Heat rose up her neck and exploded in her cheeks. She looked at the end of the table to see if Jenny had noticed. Jenny’s eyes were fixed on her... alight with mischief.
Alaskan Magic: Available in trade paperback from http://champagnebooks.com/store/index.php?id_manufacturer=14&controller=manufacturer
Strong, smart, sensuous heroines; heroes to die for.