After turning the plane around, he aligned it to take off into the wind. He glanced at his passenger to make sure she was securely belted. Wrapped in his old sheepskin flight jacket, she was gazing straight ahead, her hands clasped tightly in her lap. The roar of the engine drowned out anything they might have said to each other.
The short takeoff distance was a worry. But the wind that swept in across the narrows was strong and steady. Setting his jaw, he opened the throttle, revved the engine to 2,100 rpm, and pulled back on the yoke. The Beaver shot across the water, lifting off just short of the tall spruces. The floats grazed the treetops as the plane soared skyward.
* * *
Emma had forgotten to breathe. As the plane leveled off, she exhaled and tried to relax. She was cold, muddy, scared, and exhausted, and she had no idea where this grim, impersonal man was taking her. But anyplace would be better than where she'd been.
Her nervous hands twisted her plain, gold wedding band. The first moment she'd felt it slide onto her finger, her whole being had flooded with joy. What a trusting, innocent fool she'd been. If she'd known the truth, she would have flung the ring on the ground and run for her life. Now, as she huddled on the narrow passenger seat, she sensed that her nightmare was far from over. Boone was still out there somewhere—and escaping him would not be as simple as flying away in a stranger's airplane.
This was her first flight in anything smaller than an airline jet. The cockpit looked like something out of a World War II movie. The dashboard—or whatever it was called—was a maze of dials, gauges, buttons, and levers. It looked devilishly complicated, but the man at the controls made flying the plane look as easy as driving a car.
The fuselage quivered and rattled with every gust of wind. The engine roared in her ears. Looking out the side window, she glimpsed trees like dark velvet—and then, in the distance a glimmer of electric lights.
Her stomach lurched as the plane made a rapid descent and zoomed over what appeared to be scattered buildings edging dark water. A forested island flashed past her view as the engine slowed. The floats skimmed the water as the plane settled like a seabird onto the lapping waves.
Revving the engine slightly, the pilot turned the plane around and taxied back toward the lights on shore. He hadn't said a word to her—but even if he had, she wouldn't have been able to hear him over the engine. Once they could talk to each other, he'd be asking plenty of questions.
After winding through channels, the plane stopped alongside a long, narrow floating dock. When the pilot cut the engine, the silence was almost startling.
Emma held her tongue until he'd removed his headphones. "So, what is this place?" she asked. "Where are we?"
A ghost of a smile tightened his lips. "Welcome to Refuge Cove," he said.
John climbed out of the Beaver and left Emma in the cockpit while he secured the plane to the dock and lifted out the mail pouch for delivery to the post office in nearby Ward Cove. His ten-year-old Jeep Wrangler was on the far side of the graveled parking lot. He started it up, parked near the end of the floating dock, and walked back down to help Emma out of the plane.
"Hello, John Wolf," she said as he opened the passenger door. "Since you didn't introduce yourself, I did some snooping. I found your name on the plane's registration."
"You could've asked." He held out his hand.
"When?" She let him guide her onto the float and support her to the step to the dock. "Should I have asked you while we were ducking bullets, or maybe while you had me slung over your back like a sack of coal?"
"Well, since you know it now, I guess that doesn't matter. That's my Jeep next to the dock. You can thank me for sparing your feet from the parking lot."
"Thanks." She fell silent beside him, taking careful steps on the damp surface.
What now? John asked himself. He hadn't invited this helpless woman into his life and he had no obligation to keep her. Common sense dictated that he drive her into Ketchikan, drop her off at the police station, and forget he ever saw her. No complications, just an interesting memory.
But she was cold, muddy, barefoot and probably still scared half to death.
This excerpt ends on page 17 of the paperback edition.