Sam Finnegan was not a romantic man. Four months ago, he’d written a matchmaking algorithm. But it was only an intellectual experiment to humor his friends. Still, today he couldn’t deny the unexpected rush of pleasure at the pairing of his great-nephew with Lizbet Blythe’s granddaughter.
“One for you, Sam!” Daisy Vashon exclaimed from behind his right shoulder. The five of them—Sam, Daisy, JW Sterling, Lizbet and Hannah Sprite—were clustered around the computer screen in his garage at the Sunny Autumn Seniors Community in Port Aidin, Florida.
“Logan Edwards and Jade Korrigan,” Hannah read aloud from behind him.
“Logan’s a bush pilot up in Colorado,” said Sam.
“A bush pilot and a software developer,” JW mused. He was standing slightly back from the group. “Not the strangest match we’ve ever made.”
“Colorado is a long way from New York City,” Hannah pointed out.
“Logan does own an airplane,” said Sam. In fact, he thought his nephew owned a couple of them.
“That’s a long flight in a single engine,” said JW.
“Maybe we send Jade to Colorado instead,” Daisy suggested. She was obviously eager to start planning the group’s next covert undertaking.
“Jillian did say Jade was working way too hard,” said Hannah, referring to a conversation with Jade’s younger sister. “Perhaps she’d like a vacation.”
“I don’t think you understand the mentality of a workaholic,” said Lizbet.
Sam smiled at that. Lizbet had been a consummate workaholic her entire life, giving up family, friends and everything else in the pursuit of her career. He couldn’t say he was all that much different. The decades he’d spent working for NASA had been all-consuming. The organization ran twenty-four/seven, and problems tended to be time sensitive and mission critical.
“You’d have had to drag me kicking and screaming on a vacation,” he told them.
Hannah gave an unconcerned shrug. “So we drag her kicking and screaming.”
“But with stealth,” said JW. “She can’t know what hit her.”
“How exactly does that work?” asked Daisy. Then her voice took on an edge of excitement. “Will you have some of your Special Forces buddies kidnap her in the dead of night?”
“My Special Forces buddies are all pushing seventy,” said JW. “Besides, I think it’s better if we don’t get in the habit of breaking the law.”
Sam scrolled through the information on Jade’s profile. “It looks like she does her software work on a project basis. Maybe we could pay her employer the going rate to send her to Colorado.”
JW frowned. “How is bribery not breaking the law?”
“It’s not bribery,” said Sam. “It’s commerce.”
Lizbet stepped in. “You don’t think she’ll notice there isn’t a software project in Mirror Falls?”
Sam finished his thought. “What I’m saying is, while we might not be in a position to order her on a vacation, her employer is.”
“Why would they do that?” asked Hannah.
“For the money,” said Sam. “If the price is right, I bet they’d find an excuse to send her to rest and recreate in Mirror Falls.”
“Bribery,” JW repeated.
“You won’t find a law on the books against it,” said Sam.
Daisy clapped her hands together. “And Jade gets a great vacation. That’s a bonus. What do they do for fun up there in Mirror Falls?”
“Skiing and snowmobiling in the winter,” said Sam. “Mountain climbing, hiking and fishing in the summer. The area is full of high-end wilderness resorts that attract tourists from all over the world.”
“A tall, hunky bush pilot out there in the middle of the wilderness.” Hannah gave a little purr of appreciation and fanned herself. “Can’t get much sexier than that.”
The other four stared at her in amazement.
“I meant for Jade. But, I’m not dead, you know. I still remember sex.”
Sam moved the discussion forward. “I can speak geek, so I’ll make initial contact with the brass at Seaboard Development.”
“She’s my granddaughter,” said Lizbet. “So, I’ll write the check.”
“Logan is my nephew,” Sam pointed out. He knew Lizbet had considerable financial resources, but he wanted to do his part.
“Then we’ll split the cost,” she agreed. “And we can both pay for the wedding.”
“You really think it’ll work a third time?” asked Daisy, turning her attention back to the computer screen.
“Operation Matchmaker hasn’t failed us yet,” JW stated with authority.
Sam felt a surge of pride in his invention. “That’s what happens when you use real science instead of high-tech snake oil.”
“You’re a genius,” Hannah told him.
“He did put a man on the moon,” said JW.
Daisy laughed. “Now we just need to put a woman in Colorado.”
Jade Korrigan deleted another e-mail from WNT Incorporated, wishing she’d never pretended to be interested in the company’s job offer. She’d long since turned them down, but it was all but impossible to block unwanted messages from a cybersecurity firm. They kept finding a new way into her in-box, and now she was avoiding their phone calls as well.
She wasn’t looking to leave Seaboard Development. She’d merely been curious about how her skill set stacked up in the marketplace. But now she regretted the impulse. She was worried that her short-tempered boss, Virgil Emmory, would get wind that she’d spoken to the competition.
She hit a key to start a compilation process for her latest software coding then leaned back in her chair to stretch her cramped muscles. It was nearly six o’clock on a Thursday night. She’d been hunched in her cubicle for hours, and she was getting really hungry.
She frowned at the stack of file folders piled high on a corner of her desk, each one representing a different project from a different, anxious client. She wasn’t exactly sure how she’d diverged from database development into security, but these days most of the high-risk projects seemed to find their way onto her desk.
The deli across Sixth Avenue was open until seven. She could grab something there and work for a few more hours. Or she could finish up one more file and head home to watch the latest episode of the police drama Hannah’s Heroes.
“Jade!” Virgil shouted from the doorway of his office.
She rose to her feet, looking over the maze of soft wall partitions that separated them. “Yeah?”
“Get in here.”
Some of her colleagues peeked over their walls. A couple rolled back in their chairs to glance curiously from their own cubicles.
“What did you do?” asked Cathy Margolis, her next-door neighbor.
“Not a clue,” Jade answered, glancing at the compilation process taking place on one of three screens on her desk. No errors so far. That was good.
“He sounds pissed,” said Cathy.
“He’s always pissed.”
Jade had worked for Virgil for three years now. His fuse was short, but his blow-ups were also mercifully brief. There was a better than even chance that he’d calm down before she even got to his office.
Unfortunately, when she walked in, his brow was still furrowed, and there was a deep frown on his rotund face.
“Hi, Virgil,” she opened tentatively.
“Close the door.”
Jade hesitated. Her boss didn’t normally care who overheard him yelling. This had to be serious, or maybe it was confidential.
Had he discovered she’d spoken to WNT? Was she about to be fired? It hadn’t occurred to her until now, but WNT could conceivably disclose their conversations, count on Virgil hitting the roof, then make her a lowball offer to work for them.
She swallowed as she closed the door behind her. She didn’t want to leave Seaboard Development. Virgil might be a pill, but he mostly stayed out of her way. And she had some very good friends here. Plus, she liked the work. And WNT was starting to freak her out. It was one thing to headhunt, but they were starting to look like stalkers who didn’t take no for an answer.
“Sit down,” said Virgil, still scowling.
“What’s going on?” She slowly lowered herself into the utilitarian chair opposite his cluttered, dark laminate desk.
“You need a vacation.”
It took a moment for the words to penetrate. Then she realized he had to be joking.
“Right.” She nodded. “Sure. Should I go to Hawaii or Florida?”
“No, you’re not. What’s going on?”
He was silent for a second, and a horrible thought crept into her mind. Was vacation a euphemism for fired?
“Colorado,” he said. “I hear the skiing’s great in Colorado.”
“Then I guess mountain climbing.”
“Have you lost your mind?”
Virgil sat forward, his tone turning even and serious. “Jade, I need for you to go to Colorado.”
“Have I done something wrong?” She gave him an opening. If he knew anything about WNT, maybe he’d speak up.
“You’ve been working too hard.”
“Since when is that a problem?”
“It’s not a problem. But I don’t want you to burn out. Colorado, Mirror Falls, all expenses paid.”
“Come again?” She was still waiting for the punchline.
“Mirror Falls. It’s a resort town in the Rocky Mountains.”
“I mean, who would pay? Why would anyone pay for my vacation?”
“None of your concern.”
Her thoughts immediately went to WNT. Was this some kind of bribe? Or would she get on a plane for Mirror Falls, only to disappear into a black site of some quasi-governmental security agency. There had to be a lot of secret bunkers buried in the Colorado mountains.
“It’s absolutely my concern.”
“Fine. Seaboard Development is paying. It’s a new human resources program. One of the guys at corporate took a seminar on employee burnout, and you’ve been identified as a likely candidate.”
“That’s ridiculous. I’m not burning out. I’m happy, settled, perfectly emotionally balanced. They can test me if they’d like.”
“You logged more hours last month than any of our other techs.”
“I had a lot of work to get done. Are you punishing me for something?”
“It’s Colorado, not Siberia.”
Jade was becoming truly baffled. “What am I going to do in Colorado?”
“I hear they have trout.”
She peered at him for a long moment. “Do you have any idea how many open files I have on my desk right now?”
“They can wait. There’ll always be more open files.”
“Aidleman Grocery’s customer database is vulnerable.” Aidleman’s was a national client with thousands of employees and hundreds of thousands of customers.
“Yeah, well, they were vulnerable last month. They can wait a couple of weeks.”
“A couple of weeks,” she squeaked, rising from her chair. “What the hell, Virgil? What did I do wrong?”
“Nothing. You worked hard, is all.”
“I’m being punished for working hard?”
“You’re being rewarded.” He pursed his lips. “I didn’t call you in here to debate with you. I called you in here to inform you. This is an order. Your flight leaves from JFK in the morning.”
“That is ridiculous. Am I being punked?” She glanced around the room, hoping to spot a hidden camera.
Virgil pushed a manila envelope across the desk. “You’re staying at the Twin Peaks Resort.”
“No, I’m not.”
“You might be able to order me out of the office. But you can’t order me out of the city.”
He leaned back in his chair, expression relaxing a little bit. “Do you like your job, Jade?”
“Of course I like my job. I love my job.”
“Then go to Colorado. This new program is coming directly from the top. You’re the guinea pig, and they’ll need a report on how the experience impacts your psychological well-being. Play some tennis. Climb a rock. Row a boat. I don’t care. Just have some fun and document it before you come back all relaxed and refreshed.” He picked up the envelope and held it out to her.
“This is ridiculous,” she repeated.
“Take it and go. You’ve wasted enough of my time.”
“I’ve wasted your time? This isn’t my fault.”
“I know it’s not. Honestly, if it was anybody but you, I’d think they were sleeping with the vice president and getting favors from the brass.”
“I’m not sleeping with anybody.” Which was, sadly, the whole truth. She hadn’t even had any offers lately.
“Too much information, Jade.”
“Yeah,” she agreed, reluctantly taking the envelope.
For an irrational second it occurred to her that sex would likely be a lot more fun than fishing. Too bad she wasn’t into lumberjacks in plaid, flannel shirts. If that was her preference, a vacation in Mirror Falls might actually be the answer to her ailing sex life.
Logan Edwards landed his Beaver float plane on the choppy waters of Mirror Lake. The Swiss tourist in the back seat groaned in pain as the plane thumped over the choppy water. Logan had put a rudimentary splint on the man’s broken ankle before loading him into the aircraft.
“I’ll have you to the dock soon,” Logan told the man’s wife over the headset. “The medics will meet us there.”
“Thank you,” she replied with a heavy accent.
The couple’s English was weak, so the extent of the man’s injuries hadn’t been clear in the satellite distress call. If Logan had known, he would have brought along a medic.
He pointed the plane toward the shore and spoke to the tower. “Nine one seven alpha, taxiing to Treeline Aviation dock. Please close my flight plan.”
“Your flight plan is closed. Have a good day.”
“Nine one seven alpha.”
He maneuvered the plane alongside the dock, swiftly exiting through the pilot’s door, balancing on the floats, tying off to the dock.
There, he met the waiting paramedics. One of them was his sister, Amy, the other Phillip Yves.
“Broken ankle, near as I can tell,” said Logan. “There’s a language barrier, but it sounds like he took a fall from the rock face above Fern Camp.”
Phillip positioned the stretcher, while Amy swung open the wide back door and climbed up the foot rails to the patient.
At the same time, Logan’s second cousin Elroy made his way across the dock from his helicopter compound. A helicopter pilot, Elroy had grown up in Mirror Falls with Logan and Amy. As teenagers, both boys had been avid climbers and passionate about flying. They’d gone to flight school together as soon as they graduated high school.
“Need any help?” asked Elroy, taking in the scene.
“It’s under control,” Logan answered as they watched Phillip and Amy carefully move the man out of the Beaver and help him onto the stretcher.
“Vitals are stable,” Amy told Phillip. Then she keyed the microphone attached at her shoulder. “ETA eight minutes. Possible fractured left fibula. We’ll need an X-ray.”
She smiled as she passed Logan. “See you tonight, bro.”
“You bet.” He nodded in return.
“Don’t be late.”
He shook his head at the unnecessary warning.
Today was their mother’s fiftieth birthday. The surprise party at his Aunt Bonnie and Uncle Mike’s hotel, the Twin Peaks Resort, had been planned for months. Most of the town’s long-term residents would be there, and Logan didn’t think his mother, Diane, had a clue.
“You done for the day?” asked Elroy as the medical team departed.
“I’ve got a pickup at the Lone Tree pullout in an hour. A couple of kayakers have been shooting the river since Tuesday. You?”
“On call tonight, but nothing scheduled.”
Elroy and Logan were both part of the emergency rescue network for Mirror Falls. The Beaver secured, the two men made their way to the Dog Trails, a little café at the foot of Main Street, nestled between the float-plane base and the town’s airstrip.
A Dash 8 turboprop appeared at the head of the valley, silhouetted against the colorful maples and aspen on its final approach into the strip. It was Friday afternoon, so Logan knew it was the scheduled flight from Denver. September brought the last of the climbers and campers to Mirror Falls. October would be quiet, and then the ski season would get underway, with hotels booked up for months in advance.
“She might come back,” Elroy offered, his thoughts obviously going to the passengers on the plane.
“She won’t come back,” said Logan.
And he didn’t want Sasha Burke to come back. It had been nearly two months since she left, and he was over her. He might have once been infatuated, but he was determined to relegate her to his list of flings.
Along about the time he’d turned sixteen, he’d discovered the concept of holiday romance. He’d met dozens of female tourists over the years. Sometimes, they merely flirted, kissing and speculating about what might have happened between them in a different time and place. Sometimes, they did more, savoring their short interlude, the impending goodbye making everything sweeter.
But he’d never wanted any of them to stay, never thought about taking it further, not until Sasha.
The Dash 8 touched down on the runway, engines roaring in the distance as it slowed to turn at the south end and taxied to the small terminal building.
“Wonder who’s single on that flight,” said Logan, making reference to a joke that had run between the two men for years now.
“Now you’re talking,” said Elroy. “I’ll take the redheads this time.”
“Blondes,” Logan joked in return. “I think I’m in the mood for a blonde.”
As he said the words, he desperately wanted them to be true. But if Sasha walked off that plane right now, auburn hair flowing in the breeze, smile on her red lips, and a glow in those blue eyes, he wasn’t sure what he’d do.
Elroy pushed open the door to the Dog Trails Café. The room was toasty warm, flames from the big stone fireplace reflecting off the log walls. The fire was overkill for September, but it was always welcome in January when temperatures dropped to the low teens.
Through the window, the aircraft came to a halt next to the terminal building. The ground crew descended with luggage trailers, a fueling truck, catering, and a staircase to allow the passengers to disembark.
“You guys still on duty?” Mavis called from behind the counter. She was in her early forties, with a bright smile, plump rosy cheeks, and long dark hair piled up on her head.
“We’re on duty,” Logan answered, taking a booth next to the window.
Mavis gave a wave of acknowledgment and began to dispense two colas from the fountain.
“Generator came in,” said Elroy as he settled back on the bench seat.
“Parts all there? Everything? The wiring?”
“Believe it or not, everything arrived together.”
“So, we’re good to go?”
“As soon as the Beaver’s available for transport.”
Logan couldn’t help but grin. He and Elroy had spent years building a cottage beside a remote, unnamed lake up on Castle Mountain. Every summer, the cottage got a little bit bigger or a little bit better. This year, they’d wired it and installed a fridge and stove in the kitchen in anticipation of their new generator.
For years now, they’d relied on a hand pump to feed their gravity water system, drawing from the lake. An electric water pump would free up hours of their time, time they could use for hiking, fishing and lounging on the deck telling lies.
“I’ll check the schedule,” said Logan. “But I don’t think we’re too busy next week.”
As Mavis set their colas in front of them, Logan’s attention was snagged by a passenger disembarking the Dash 8. As the woman stepped off the stairs, her thick, auburn hair lifted in the breeze. She was in profile as she followed the white lines toward the terminal door, and for a second there…
“Logan?” Elroy prompted.
It wasn’t Sasha, Logan told himself, positive that he was right. But he watched a moment longer just to be sure. She was slightly taller, slightly thinner, and her hair was longer and darker in tone. Plus, Sasha would never wear jeans that tight, heels that high, or a cropped, steel-blue leather jacket with zippers at the sides and studs across the shoulders.
She turned to say something to a security official and confirmed his assessment. But then she smiled, and he felt a punch to the center of his gut.
“Earth to Logan.”
Not Sasha, he reminded himself. She was a different sexy, auburn-haired beauty, one he’d probably never even meet. There wasn’t a reason in the world for him to react to her on any level whatsoever.
End of Excerpt