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Wild Men of Alaska Collection

Tiffinie Helmer
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CHAPTER ONE




Damn, he looked good.

Why couldn’t he show his age like the rest of them? Was it too much to hope for that he’d let himself go? Sported a beer belly? Lost his hair?

Five years had passed since Wren Terni’s last encounter with Skip Ozhuwan. Five years since he’d arrested her.

Not her finest hour.

It was official. Whatever puny luck the gods had deemed to give her had run out.

The only thing going her way was that he hadn’t seen her yet. Taking a couple of steps back, she stood off to the side behind a pillar in the small airport in King Salmon, Alaska. She wasn’t hiding, really. She just needed a moment to prepare herself before walking up to him and pretending he didn’t mean squat to her.

She’d known they were bound to see each other this weekend. It was his sister’s wedding, after all. But what trick of fate had her sharing the same puddle jumper to Egegik with him?

This weekend needed to hurry up and be over with. The sooner she returned to her life the better for everyone. So far she’d done a pretty bang up job of not dealing with her past. She was the type who moved on.

Past was past.

She’d hoped she could’ve put off seeing Skip until the actual wedding. Her plan was to suffer through the reception and then dart out of there like a wily fox with no words exchanged between them.

There was nothing to say to the man she’d loved—the man who’d incarcerated her—other than cursing his manhood and future offspring.

She schooled her features to try and appear bored instead of revealing the panic and yearning bubbling to the surface. Skip looked better than she’d remembered, more mature, more muscular. His hair was blacker than the deep winter nights on the Bering Sea of Alaska. His mouth set in the same smile that used to infuriate and arouse her at the same time. Broad shoulders V’ed into a trim waist, and his thighs were roped with muscle. Muscle that was defined through his unzipped jacket, t-shirt and jeans. She’d never felt safer in any man’s arms than when she’d been held by Skip Ozhuwan.

While he was only five ten, he seemed to tower over men much taller than him. His commanding presence left no question of who was in charge when he was in the room. She’d heard he now worked for the AWT, Alaska Wildlife Troopers and wondered what the small fishing village of Egegik thought about one of their own now working as a fish cop. How did he cope with that?

If she could have stayed away from the wedding, she would have. She’d given her best excuse, but when one is commanded—threatened—by her best friend since infancy and given the title of maid of honor, you go.

Fortunately, Skip hadn’t seen her yet, giving her time to compose herself, though she’d spent too much time on that already. None of it seemed to have done any good. She was torn with whether she wanted to kiss him or kill him. He’d sent her up the river, but worse than that, he’d broken her heart. Had he even written her? No. Sent a Christmas card or a care package? Cigarettes for barter? No. Nothing in all those years.

Yeah, she pretty much hated him.

She’d done her time, gotten clean and had a pretty quiet existence since being sprung from the joint.

And still not one word from him.

He must have felt her stare from across the small terminal for he suddenly turned, and his piercing umber eyes met hers.

She gulped.

You hate him, remember?

Then why did her mouth suddenly feel like the cold, barren arctic desert of Anwar while that other place further south—the one she didn’t want to acknowledge—feel just the opposite?

Skip started toward her, his stride sure and confident in his Timberline boots, eating up the distance between them. He obviously hadn’t had to prepare to meet her like she had.

“Wren,” he said.

She couldn’t tell by his voice if he was happy to see her or not. Convinced, he probably looked on this as an obligatory chore, she wished she could run and find an alternate way to Egegik. But there was no other, expedient, way to the isolated village.

Their thirty minute flight was going to drag out like a winter squall. Hopefully the flight would cool down parts of her that had unexpectedly come to life. She was too young for hot flashes, wasn’t she?

No way in hell did she still find him attractive.

“I’ve been waiting for you,” he said, his voice a deep rumble that sent vibrations over her exposed skin, raising goose bumps.

His eyes traveled down her body in a slow inspection and then back up again.

Did he like what he saw? Why hadn’t she checked her make up? She should’ve worn something more becoming than old jeans and a SeaHawks Sweatshirt. This was Alaska. It would have been insane to wear a skirt and heels. But then why did she care? She wished she could read his mind to know what he was thinking.

He reached for her carryon. “Let me take that.”

“I’ve got it.” She tightened her grip when he tried to take it from her. A childish tug of war ensued until he finally let go.

“Suit yourself. This way.” Was that a smile teasing the corners of his lips before he turned away? If he was laughing at her, well she’d...She’d what?

Get a grip, Wren. The man hasn’t given you a thought in the last five years. Get over him already.

Besides, she didn’t need to follow him. She knew the way. It wasn’t like King Salmon was a huge airport. It was a dinky one-room building that saw most of its traffic in the summer months from fishermen passing through on their way to Bristol Bay. The richest salmon fishing grounds in the world was just thirty miles west of King Salmon. King Salmon also had the closest airport to freedom from Egegik. Thanks to the government who’d set up an Air Force base during World War II, because of the strategic position this area held to Russia and Japan.

Wren fell into step behind Skip and refused to admire his firm, muscular backside. She wiped the lie off her brow along with the fine sheen of sweat that had gathered there.

“Jim, she’s here,” Skip informed the tall man in Carhartt overalls. He was well over six feet with a buzz cut of salt and pepper hair and a closely cropped beard. How he folded himself into the cockpit of the small plane that would fly them across the miles of spongy tundra pock marked with lakes was beyond her?

“All right. Let’s get this bird in the air,” Jim said. He looked Wren up and down. “You’re what, a hundred and thirty-five, hundred and forty pounds?”

Holy Mother of Pearl.

A fiery blush heated her face. She’d forgotten that when flying in small bush planes, pilots required actual weight in order to help distribute everything evenly in the plane. Having that number out there in front of Skip was one more indignity to add to the list.

“One-thirty-eight,” she said through gritted teeth. How she wanted to lie and tell them both that she carried a trim one hundred and twenty pounds on her small five foot three inch frame. It was heading into winter and she’d need those few extra pounds as insulation. Sounded good in her head. Not so much in practice. So she was hippy and had generous breasts. Breasts like hers didn’t happen naturally without a little bit of weight to fill them out.

“Skip?” Jim didn’t bat an eye as he consulted his clipboard. “Need your weight.”

“Two-ten.”

And all of it muscle.

“Okay, let’s load up.” Jim turned and headed out the door to the tarmac. Skip grabbed his backpack and hitched it onto his shoulders—along with her carryon.

“I can get that,” she sputtered, reaching for her stuff. The whole idea of Skip anywhere near her personal items wigged her out. She had a tough enough time dealing with him this close to her person.

“So can I,” Skip said, walking out into the dreary afternoon.

Rain had started to spit. No surprise there. The only time it didn’t rain in King Salmon was when it was snowing and blowing and you were thankful because if the weather was stagnant the mosquitoes ate you alive.

“I’ll help Jim load the plane,” Skip said. “You climb in.”

Even though she wanted to ignore anything that Skip told her to do, there was no way to refute what had to be done. She had to get to Egegik. In order to do that, she needed to board the plane. Her luggage also had to reach the small village, and Skip and Jim were more apt at loading than she was. She’d only be in the way. Besides, she wanted to get as far away from Skip as she possibly could, as fast as she could. She buttoned up and climbed into the Cessna 206, taking the backseat, buckling in and praying that Skip wouldn’t sit next to her.

The plane dipped with weight as first Jim and then Skip climbed in and buckled into the front seats of the tiny aircraft. Thank God she had the backseat to herself.

Maybe she’d survive this flight after all.





Skip tried not to stare when Wren climbed into the back of the plane. Damn, she still got his blood pumping. An ass like that was a piece of art. It was damn hard not to admire it, reach out and cup it in his hands, lift and press it against him.

There wasn’t a woman alive who could make him madder or hornier.

Jim punched him in the arm. “Gawk later. Storm’s coming in.”

Skip lurched forward toward the plane. He knew seeing Wren again would be a strain and not just to the zipper on his pants. His heart beat fast enough that he had to practice some deep breathing exercises to settle it down. He climbed into the cockpit, turned, and without thinking asked, “You okay back there? Buckled in safely?”

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