Bree’s Alaska Dream: Find her Grandmother
(and avoid a broken heart)
Bree Harris loves cities and dislikes wilderness. But she’s trekking across Alaska with a handsome stranger in search of her missing grandmother. She wants to leave Alaska as soon as possible to go to her new job as a pediatrician in Dallas and, at all costs, not fall in love before she goes.
Software company owner Michael Kinkaid enjoys coming home to Alaska, if only for a visit. He’s driving north to help his brother in their gold claims, and his mother asks him to take a passenger along. A romance with Bree is something he wants to avoid. But his heart is pulling him closer to her and home to Alaska.
Can Bree love Michael and Alaska?
Mountains towering over Anchorage, Alaska, came into view through the tiny airplane window to Michael Kinkaid’s right. At ground level he’d find mosquitoes by the thousands and a long drive in front of him into an area with a small population—at least of inhabitants that didn’t walk on all fours.
Home. Nothing could make him happier.
He reached for the carry-on stowed under the seat in front of him as the plane taxied to the ramp at Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport. Getting to his feet, he stretched out the kinks of a long day of flying, then followed his seatmate into the aisle.
As Michael stepped forward, a purple bag swung down from the overhead and smacked his right arm. Rubbing the spot, he turned in its direction, and a second bag, a tan duffle he recognized as his own, struck his right shoulder with even more force.
“Ouch!” Michael rubbed what he suspected would be a bruise.
He lowered his gaze to a woman with auburn hair and pulled his bag away from her. She let it go without a fight. As he waited for an apology, she shouldered the first bag—hers, he assumed—over a splotchy-blue-and-white T-shirt she’d paired with rumpled jeans and worn sneakers. Face down, she moved toward the front of the plane. Hearing no apology, Michael stepped back into the row of seats and let her pass.
He pushed his glasses up on his nose and watched her bump into first one, then another person as she made her way forward. How many drinks had she ordered on the flight? When her face turned toward the second victim—really the third after him—and she appeared to utter an apology, he saw a woman who looked perfectly normal. Not drunk. Just rude. Fortunately, none of her victims pushed back, and she safely turned out of his sight to exit the plane.
* * *
Bree Harris plodded down the ramp and into the airport. Once there, she flopped onto the first chair she saw. She’d finally arrived in Anchorage and no longer had to fight against this overwhelming need for sleep. The inexplicable reason she couldn’t sleep on airplanes would have to be solved by a doctor other than herself because nothing she’d tried had worked. She slipped sunglasses out of her purse and onto her face, a trick she’d learned for turning day into night when she needed to take a quick nap.
She tried to relax on the chair which wasn’t comfortable but which at least wasn’t on a plane flying through the sky. The last leg of her journey would be a blur later. Pulling her bag out of the overhead had taken major surgery. Bree giggled at her mental attempt at medical humor.
A few seconds later—or was it minutes, or hours?—a cheerful, childish voice screamed, “Aunt Bree!” bringing a smile to her face. As Bree opened first one eye and then the other, two adorable, identical four-year-old girls launched themselves at her and crowded onto her lap. Bree wrapped her arms around them and pulled them close.
A woman’s voice from above them said, “As your sister, I feel like I can say this: you look terrible. Are you okay?”
Bree smiled at the girls, then looked up at her sister. “I was in Africa yesterday, Jemma.” She held up her wrist to see her watch. “Or was that the day before yesterday?” Shaking her head, she focused. “Definitely two days ago. And you know I don’t sleep well on planes.”
“I’m sorry Mom summoned you here, and without telling either Holly or me she was doing it. I might have been able to reschedule something or had Nathaniel cover for me at an event if she’d let us know how important this was to her.”
Bree covered her mouth as she yawned. “I think Grandma’s fine, but Mom’s frantic with worry. And I was the only one available. Sort of available. I had time before I started my new position. Besides, I liked the idea of spending time with my sisters and favorite nieces.”
Ivy, the more vocal of the twins, gave her a stern look. “We’re your only nieces, Aunt Bree.”
“So you are.” Grinning, she hugged the twins one more time. “Time to go, girls.”
The two blonde-headed children climbed down from her lap, and Bree stood.
“Luggage?” Jemma asked as she grabbed Bree’s carry-on.
Bree gave a single nod and followed where her sister led. “Are you babysitting, or is Holly around here somewhere?”
“Right now, Holly is listing someone’s house to sell. It’s her first in her two weeks of officially being a real estate agent.”
“I’m glad she found a job. You can’t keep her down long.”
“Nope. She had a fast-closing cash sale last week and is starting to relax, now that income’s coming in for her and the girls.”
When they arrived at baggage claim, Bree pointed at her hard-sided purple suitcase, which dropped on the belt. “There’s one of my two bags.” A second, slightly larger purple case appeared on the belt right behind it. “And there’s the other.”
Jemma reached for each as it passed, setting them both beside her. Then she said, “I’ll carry them.”
Bree waved her off, popped up the handle on each, and prepared to wheel them to her sister’s car. “You hold the girls’ hands when we get to places with moving cars. I wouldn’t trust me to do it right now.”
As Jemma spoke words of agreement, Bree stumbled on a millimeter-high bump between the carpet and the concrete flooring. Her bags, one on each side, acted as crutches to catch her before she went down.
Jemma stopped and reached a hand toward her sister. “Um, Bree, we have to walk a bit to get to the car. Can you make it, or do I need to pull up in front of the terminal?”
Bree nodded again. She could only seem to nod. An image of a Bree Harris bobblehead doll, perhaps wearing green doctor’s scrubs, sitting on a car’s dashboard popped into her mind, and a giggle rose up in her. She put her hand over her mouth to stop it. “Starting to get punchy.”
“I figured that after years of residency, you’d still be wide-awake.”
“If the need arose, I could stitch someone up or deliver a baby. The adrenaline would get me through.”
Jemma grinned. “Let’s hope those needs don’t arise, Dr. Harris. Summon up energy for a walk to the car. Then you can sleep on the hour drive to my house.”
A few minutes later, Bree leaned her head back against the headrest in her sister’s car and slid into a happy, sleepy place. “Weird how I can sleep in a car. Or a noisy hospital. Just not”—she yawned—“planes.”
* * *
Someone spoke—was that Jemma’s voice? “Bree, I need for you to wake up enough to walk into the house and get into bed.” Was she sleeping or awake?
As Bree turned away from the voice, something wet washed across her ankle. Trying to summon up enough brain cells to work out what it could be, she heard, “I need you to help me get you out of here.”
Now a male voice joined what she decided was her sister’s. “I can carry her,” it said. He had a pleasant voice, so she decided that if this was a dream, it would be a good one.
Someone shook her. Not a dream. Bree opened her eyes and found Jemma standing next to a man with dark, wavy hair and blue eyes, wrapped in a rather handsome package. “Nathaniel, your fiancé, right?”
Jemma said, “I’m glad you’re awake. Nathaniel was about to he-man carry you into the house.”
Bree looked him up and down. “If he weren’t yours, I’d say that sounded like a good idea.” A dog jostled its way between her sister and Nathaniel and licked Bree’s foot. “This must be Chloe.” She reached down to pet the golden dog. Through a yawn, she added, “I can get out on my own.”
Bree stepped out of the car and followed her sister and future brother-in-law toward a large old house—previously Great-Aunt Grace’s, but now Jemma’s. Once inside, Bree stared up the Mount Everest-like steps. She could summon the energy, wake up, and climb those stairs. Or—she turned to her left—she could sleep on the couch.
Bree turned toward the large, comfy piece of furniture.
“It might be noisy with the girls here.”
“I’ve slept in a busy hospital.” She trudged over to the couch and, gauging the distance, slowly sat down before she fell down. “I made it.”
As a big yawn hit her, a fur ball sailed through the air and landed on her lap. “Stitches!” She snuggled her gray-and-white cat. “Did you hear Mom’s voice?” The cat bumped her with his head as she petted him. Bree stretched out on the couch and settled her cat on her chest.
* * *
Holly’s voice—at least she thought it was Holly—broke through her sleep. “She isn’t going to like it.”
“I know. I know,” Jemma answered.
Bree opened her eyes and turned toward the voices. Both Holly and Jemma stood in a doorway—the kitchen’s, if childhood memory served her correctly—and watched her. She stretched and shifted Stitches, who had moved from her chest to her feet.
“I keep waking to voices.”
“Sounds like you need a shrink,” her sister Holly said.
Sitting up Bree said, “Good to see you, Sis. I heard enough of your conversation to be certain I need more information.” Bree leaned forward. “Now give, you two.”
Holly and Jemma exchanged worried glances.
“It can’t be that bad.” Watching their obvious discomfort, Bree wondered if it could be.
Jemma frowned. “Mom called. With you safely here, she decided it was time to share the plans she’d made for the next week.”
Bree crossed her arms. “Am I going to like these plans?”
Holly sighed. “No. Absolutely not.”
“The plan, as Mom texted it to me two days ago, is”—Bree started ticking the items off on her fingers—“rest for a couple of days. Rent a car. Drive to an unspecified town in the far north. Find Grandma. If she’s still there, that is.”
After taking a deep breath, Holly said, “One thing changed. You won’t be renting a car.”
“Great. That was it?” Bree stood. “Is someone loaning me one?” She glanced first at Holly, then at Jemma. Both sisters had a not-too-happy expression on their faces. “That wouldn’t upset me. There’s more, isn’t there?”
“Most car rental companies don’t allow their vehicles on gravel roads, and the section of highway to Eagle, if you go that far, isn’t paved. Those that do were booked, and every one of us had busy weeks that required cars. We can’t even rent a car or loan you ours because our cars wouldn’t be rugged enough for some of the places you may end up.”
“I’ll fly there. I just got off an airplane, so taking one more flight isn’t a problem.”
Laughing, Jemma leaned against the doorway. “I’m sure there’s a runway there—runways dot the landscape in Alaska—but commercial airlines would use a small plane and probably have infrequent flights.”
“Still not a problem.”
Jemma glanced at Holly in a way that gave Bree the impression more bad news awaited. Her sister continued, “And you’ll get around how when you arrive?”
“Rent a car?” Bree said tentatively.
Holly chuckled. “In Chicken or Eagle?”
“Chicken? How did poultry get into this?” Bree sat back down and fought to concentrate on this bizarre conversation.
Holly sat next to her on the couch. “You really don’t have the whole story.”
Jemma sat on her other side. “What did Mom tell you?”
“We texted a few times. She asked me to search for Grandma in Alaska. She’d asked weeks ago if I’d heard from her, and I hadn’t. Mom said she thought she might be in the north.”
“These are small communities.”
“Chicken’s a place?”
“You’ve been there.”
Bree pointed at her chest. “I have?”
“When we were kids.”
Bree glanced at Holly who nodded in agreement.
“Wait. I’m the middle child. If Holly, the baby, remembers this, I should too.”
“We went three or four times. You went once, I think. Then you went to medical summer camps.”
“I remember camping”—she shuddered—“somewhere rustic.”
Holly laughed. “Which time? You described camping in most of Alaska.”
Jemma continued. “Mom told us yesterday—when it was too late to stop you—that she’d received a postcard from Grandma saying she’d enjoyed Chickenstock.”
“Soup?” Psychiatric diagnoses raced through her mind. Her grandmother wasn’t that old, but maybe—
“Musical event. You know, like Woodstock.”
Bree laughed. “Grandma would never go to a music festival.”
Holly said, “Would and did, according to the postcard. She’d mailed it from Eagle, which is up the road from Chicken, so Mom thought she might be staying there now.”
“Anyway”—Jemma’s voice got the serious, big-sister tone both Holly and Bree knew well—“you can’t rent a car up there. I doubt you can rent a car anywhere for hundreds of miles.”
Bree blew out a deep breath. “Okay. It’s a wilderness. And you know how much I love those.”
“So Mom called a few people she and Dad had met over the years on trips to Alaska, those they’d stayed in contact with.”
“This is sounding promising.”
Jemma rushed her words. “One of their sons is driving to Chicken tomorrow. And you’re his passenger.”
Her mother had backed her into a corner. “Fine.”
“What?” Jemma and Holly said at the same time.
“If you have an option, I’m willing to listen.”
“Well, no, I don’t,” Jemma said. “You’re not reacting as we expected.”
“Not even a little bit,” Holly said under her breath.
As exhaustion threatened to overtake her again, Bree’s stomach growled. She put her hand there to silence it and stood again.
“Hungry?” Holly asked with a quirk to her smile.
“For anything except a packet of nuts.”
Jemma laughed. “We’re your packet of nuts.”
Bree grinned. “That you are.”
Wandering around the room, Bree poked her head into what she thought she remembered as the dining room and found a big table with fabric and a sewing machine on it. Through another doorway, she found the kitchen, as expected, and it appeared shiny and clean. A charming old door with a window in the upper half led to the backyard. Back in the living room, she leaned against the stair rail. Everything about this house screamed charming, and she wouldn’t mind staying here for a little while, even if it wasn’t in a city. It was the wilderness she wanted to avoid forever. She pulled out her phone and did a quick search for Eagle, Alaska. “This will be a long drive, won’t it?”
Holly grimaced. “I think it’s eight or ten hours.”
“My driver will probably want to describe, in detail, each surgery he or a family member has had. Or worse, start unbuttoning his shirt to show me something he needs a medical opinion about.”
“Do people do that?” Holly asked.
“Ha! Do they? All the time. It doesn’t slow them down when I tell them I’m a pediatrician, so I work with kids.” She rubbed her temples. “I need a break from everything associated with my career.” She paced across the room, turned, and came back to where she’d begun. Then she went over to the front windows and stared out. How could she spend hours with someone and not have to make small talk? She also needed quiet time to try to sort out her life, but she didn’t want to start a conversation about the subject with her sisters until she had some idea of her direction.
The miserable last leg of her journey to Alaska came to mind. “The woman next to me on the flight to Anchorage asked the work question. As soon as the word ‘doctor’ came out of my mouth, she began describing a medical condition and didn’t stop for the rest of the three-hour flight. I couldn’t get off the plane fast enough once they’d opened the doors. Do I want to drive all day with someone I can’t get away from and have him do the same thing? Not a chance.”
“He wouldn’t know what you did,” Jemma said.
“America’s first question is ‘What do you do?’”
“She’s right.” Holly shrugged.
“Then tell him you work with doctors. Or in a hospital. Both are the truth. He’d probably think you billed insurance or something similar.”
“I’m not taking a chance. I can still hear Edna—that was my seatmate’s name, Edna Chalmers—describing the various methods the doctor had tried to relieve her constipation.”
At her sisters’ twin stunned expressions, she added, “Honest. I tried everything I could think of, but sweet old Edna was determined.”
Holly rolled her eyes. “And were there no empty seats to move to?”
“I didn’t want to hurt her feelings.”
“Little Mary Sunshine, MD.” Jemma called her the nickname a fellow resident had given her not long after they met.
Holly snapped her fingers. “I remember you reading a lot when we were kids. How about audiobooks?”
“Perfect!” Bree turned toward her sisters. “I haven’t had the time—or energy, for that matter—to read novels for years, and I do miss them. I’ll download some audiobooks onto my phone and put in earbuds. With any luck I won’t have to do more than greet this mystery man and thank him at the end of the drive.” And she could put in the earbuds sometimes simply to stave off conversation so she’d have time to figure out her future in silence.
“You do have to return with him.”
“I hope I can make other arrangements. For now, let’s eat. I’m starving.”
Jemma and Holly laughed, and Holly said, “What’s new?”
“I have a healthy appetite.”
“I’ve always been jealous that you can eat and eat, but stay slender.”
“I haven’t had a wonderful salad in quite a while, something piled high with veggies.”
Holly turned to Jemma. “But the jealousy fades away when I realize what she eats.”
“Hey, nutrition is important.”
Holly reached for her purse.
“Why aren’t we eating here?” Memories of Jemma’s inedible cooking rushed in. “I don’t know how I forgot.” She glanced around the room, found her own purse, and went over to it. “We’re at Jemma’s house, so we need to eat out.”
“I’m not that bad—”
Both of her sisters turned and stared at Jemma, who finally threw her hands in the air. “I admit it. We should eat out.”
Holly stayed where she was and seemed to be waiting for something. “You don’t have a sarcastic remark, Bree, about food poisoning?”
“What?” Bree asked.
Holly let out a frustrated sigh. “Where is my sister?”
Bree sighed and leaned against the stair rail. “Bedside manner. I’ve honed my skills to the point that fun comments don’t pop into my head as often.”
“Let go of your bedside manner when you aren’t at work. Rediscover your inner child. Have fun.”
Bree smiled. “Is that an order, Dr. Holly?”
“A command. While you’re in Alaska, you must relearn having fun.” Her sister started for the kitchen and the back door, toward the sounds of little girls at play. “And, Bree, a piece of apple pie every once in a while wouldn’t hurt you.”
“I’ll keep your advice in mind,” Bree called back and heard the door close on her words.
She turned toward Jemma. “By the way, how long did I sleep?”
“About two hours.”
“I’ll take another nap this afternoon, sleep through the night, and be rested and ready in the morning. I’m traveling light since I sent everything I didn’t take to Africa to a storage facility in Dallas when I gave up my Boston apartment right before leaving. Please remind me to throw my laundry in the wash when we get back. I haven’t had access to American laundry equipment for a while, and I’m a bit rumpled.”
Jemma wrinkled her nose as she glanced over the clothes she’d lived in for two days. “And grimy.”
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