“So you’re going to give up just like that?” Sophie appeared stunned. “That doesn’t sound like you at all. When you left Chicago, you had that bloodhound look in your eyes, your nose to the ground with a determination to go above and beyond to find this guy. Now it seems like you hardly care at all.”
“Maybe that’s because I’m looking to keep the job I already have. Now, please leave me alone, would you?” Carrie was fast losing her patience. Sophie made it nearly impossible to continue this charade.
“It’s not like you to be so secretive.” Sophie leaped off the desk and stood staring at Carrie as though she no longer recognized her friend. Then she sadly shook her head and returned to her own cubicle.
The tension between Carrie’s shoulder blades gradually relaxed. She’d passed the first test—at least she hoped she had. Now all she had to do was concentrate on putting her energy into the society page and making the most of her current position. She couldn’t help being disappointed. When it came to Finn, she’d made her decision, and right or wrong, she was sticking to it. She cared too much to betray him.
Her morning was completely eaten up by answering emails. She worked straight through lunch and grabbed coffee and a muffin around two. Her phone rang just as she sat back down at her desk. She reached for her extension with one hand and her coffee with the other.
“Hi.” The lone word sounded as if it had come from the moon.
Carrie nearly came out of her chair. It was Finn. “What are you doing calling me here?” she whispered in a near panic. She leaned halfway over her desk and kept her voice as low as possible.
“I wanted to see if you got back okay.”
“I did.” Carrie cupped her hand over the phone’s mouthpiece. “You shouldn’t phone me here; it’s dangerous.”
“Do you want me to phone you?”
“Yes, oh, yes.” She didn’t bother to hide her enthusiasm. The sound of his voice washed over her, warming her, filling her with a rush of joy.
“Give me your cell number, then,” he suggested.
She rattled it off and had him repeat it to be sure he’d written it down correctly. “Are you on the satellite phone?” she asked, her heart hammering wildly.
“I thought you said it was expensive.”
She smiled and closed her eyes at the happiness that settled over her. “Does that mean you miss me?”
He grumbled a phrase she didn’t understand. “It must,” he muttered. “Does that make you happy?”
He chuckled. “Can I call you tonight?”
“Yes,” she said automatically, then realized she was covering an art gallery opening. “No, sorry. I’ve got an assignment this evening.”
“Will there be lots of men around?”
He grumbled again in the same vague way he had earlier.
“Are you jealous?”
“Should I be?”
Carrie smiled. “That depends. If you’re intimidated by clean-shaven, handsome men in slick black suits who hardly know which end of a car has the gas tank, then be my guest.”
“Guess I’m in the clear after all.”
“I’d say so,” she agreed.
“What time will you be home?”
Carrie wished she could give him a definite time. “Can’t say. Hopefully before eleven, but I can never predict how long these events will last.”
“Which is one reason you dislike this society-page reporting as much as you do.”
“You could say that.” She clung to the phone, not wanting to end the call, even if the cost was exorbitant. “How did you get my number?”
“Not much of an investigative reporter if you need to ask that. I called the newspaper and asked to be connected to the society-page editor.”
“Of course.” Plainly, she wasn’t thinking clearly. It came to her then the real reason behind his call. As much as she wanted to believe it was because he couldn’t live without hearing the sound of her voice, she knew otherwise. “You called because you want to know if I’ve reached a decision, didn’t you?”
He didn’t answer right away. “It’s more than that, I …”
“I know what I’m going to do.”
The line went still and silent. “And what did you decide?”
“Rest easy, Dr. Livingston, your secrets are safe with me.”
“Livingston. All the world was on a search to find him, too, if you remember.”
“You could email me.”
“What’s your email address?”
She gave him her private email address, unwilling to risk someone from the office stumbling upon their communication.
“I should go,” he said.
“I know.” As much as she wanted to talk to him, someone might overhear and connect the dots. Lowering her voice, she added, “Call me tonight, okay?” It probably wasn’t smart to let him know how eager she was to hear from him again, but she couldn’t stop herself. She was falling for this guy. And falling hard.
“Okay. Eleven your time, eight mine.”
“Perfect.” No matter what, she intended to leave the art show in plenty of time to be home for Finn’s call.
Somehow Carrie got through the evening, smiling at all the right times, taking down names, and making the most of the event for the following day’s newspaper. Harry, the staff photographer, glanced her way suspiciously a couple of times.
“What’s up?” he asked, as they hurriedly walked toward the parking garage. She still had to write the story and get it in before the press deadline.
“What do you mean?” She played innocent, although she was practically trotting in her eagerness to escape.
“I’ve never seen you in such an all-fired hurry like this. You meeting someone later?”
“No,” she said, in complete honesty.
Harry shrugged. “Whatever you say.”
Carrie arrived back at her condo fifteen minutes early. She kicked off her shoes, wiggled out of her dress, shimmied out of her pantyhose, and grabbed her warmest pjs. She tossed back the covers to her bed, climbed in, and sat cross-legged with her cell phone clasped in her hand, waiting for Finn’s call.
Twice she caught herself falling asleep, so when the phone rang, it surprised her and she nearly dropped it.
“Hi,” she said, and knew she sounded breathless. “You’re right on time.”
Right away she noticed that the call had a different sound to it. “Where are you?” she asked.
“Fairbanks. I figured it would make talking to you a whole lot more convenient.”
“That explains why you sound as if you’re in the next room instead of outer space.”
“The first call did come from outer space.”
She grinned. “Exactly.”
“So how did the art show opening go?”
“Harry was suspicious.”
He sounded worried, which thrilled her. “The staff photographer, who’s at least fifty and has a half-dozen kids.”
“What do you mean he was suspicious?”
This was a bit more difficult to explain. “He could tell I couldn’t wait to get out of the show; I kept glancing at my watch.”
“Maybe it would be better if we emailed.”
She thought about that for a moment. “You’re probably right.”
“We won’t need to worry about the time difference, then.”
“You sound reluctant. Is there a reason?”
To this point, she hadn’t done a decent job of hiding her feelings toward him, so now probably wasn’t a good time to start. “I like hearing the sound of your voice.”
He didn’t say anything for a moment. “I like hearing your voice, too. I have something for you.”
“What?” Her curiosity was instantly piqued.
“It’s a surprise.”
“I wouldn’t exactly call it that … it’s something I’d like you to have. I’ve already sent it off. I shipped it overnight, so you should have it tomorrow or Wednesday at the latest.”
“Oh, Finn, I can’t imagine what it could be.” Her mind toyed with several possibilities. She’d seen a number of items on the shelves in his cabin that interested her. A beautiful piece of scrimshaw was the first thing that came to mind, and another was a small wood carving. During her short visit she hadn’t seen evidence that he carved wood, but it seemed like something that would interest him.
They spoke for a full hour, until Carrie found it impossible to smother her yawns any longer.
“You’re exhausted,” he whispered. “I need to let you go.”
“No, just a few minutes longer,” she pleaded, yawning again.
“Carrie, you’re practically falling asleep while on the phone. I’ll email you so when you wake up there’ll be a message waiting for you.”
She smiled sleepily and admitted, “I didn’t sleep very well the last couple of nights.”
“I will tonight.”
“So will I. Sweet dreams,” he whispered.
They would be sweet because they would be filled with Finn.
Six and a half hours later Carrie woke to the sound of her bedside alarm, feeling rested. Stretching her arms above her head, she arched her back and smiled contentedly. Then, remembering Finn’s promise, she hurried out of bed and brewed a single cup of coffee while she logged on to her computer. Sure enough, Finn had sent her an email that included the tracking number for the surprise he had mailed her.
Later that same afternoon, a midsize box was delivered to her desk. Carrie knew immediately that it was from Finn.
“What’s that?” Sophie asked, coming out of her cubicle.
“I don’t know.” She lifted the box and carefully shook it. That didn’t tell her anything, though.
“Who’s it from?”
Carrie pretended to read the return address. “A friend,” she said nonchalantly.
“Male or female?”
“Male. Like I said, a friend.”
“Well, for heaven’s sake, don’t keep me in suspense. Open it.”
Carrie was more than curious herself. She tore open the box to find it filled with those irritating packing peanuts. She had to dig deep into the box before she found her treasure.
When she pulled it free, Sophie immediately started to laugh. “Is this someone’s idea of a joke?” she asked.
Carrie didn’t have an answer. This was quite possibly the very last thing she would even have guessed that Finn could possibly mail her.
Inside the box, carefully packaged and protected with packing peanuts, was an antique toaster.