“Joan Finnegan Dalton Reese?” Carrie asked.
The petite, dark-haired woman blinked warily, and her eyes widened as if she wasn’t sure what to think. “Yes?”
“By chance are you related to Finnegan Paul Dalton?”
She didn’t answer right away, and then her gaze narrowed. “You’re another one of those reporters, aren’t you?”
Joan started to close the door, but Carrie quickly inserted her foot, stopping her.
The two women stared hard at each other. “Yes, I’m a reporter, but I’m hoping you’ll hear me out.”
“Why should I?” she demanded, and crossed her arms over her chest.
Carrie frantically searched for something that would convince the other woman to talk to her. “I can’t think of a single reason other than the fact that I’m tired of writing for the society page. I gave up spending time with my family over Thanksgiving with the hope that I could get this interview, and I think you have an incredible son, and I’d very much like to meet and interview him.”
The delicate woman looked undecided. “What do you mean you write for the society page?”
Carrie explained how she’d taken a few of her precious vacation days and flown to Seattle. It’d been a risk, but one she was willing to take. This would be the first year she’d missed the holiday with her parents, aunts, uncles, and cousins. Although it would be a sacrifice, her parents understood that if she did manage to interview Finn Dalton, then she would have her pick of writing assignments, and not just in Chicago, but perhaps in the Pacific Northwest. “I want to move back to Seattle to be closer to my family, and this is my chance.”
Joan eyed her carefully, and then, after what seemed like an eternity, she slowly opened the door, silently inviting Carrie inside.
“Thank you,” she whispered. “Thank you so much.” Stepping out of the cold, Carrie instantly felt the warm flow of air surround her. She noticed a bronze pumpkin off to the right and a doll-sized set of pilgrims on the dining room table.
Joan motioned toward the living room. “How much do you know about my son?”
Carrie sat on the edge of the sofa cushion, unsure how best to answer. She could attempt to bluff or she could be direct in the hope that Joan Reese would be willing to help her. “Well, only what I’ve read in his book and what I’ve learned online, which isn’t much.”
“Unfortunately, I don’t know how much help I’ll be. I haven’t talked to my Finn in five years, not since his father died … he told me he wants nothing more to do with me.”
Carrie read the pain in the other woman’s eyes, and not knowing how to react, she leaned forward and placed her hand on Joan’s forearm.
“I tried to connect with him after his father’s death, but Finn made it clear that I had nothing to say that he wanted to hear.” She wadded a tissue in her hands and kept her head lowered.
“So you don’t have any idea where Finn is living?” Carrie asked, her heart thumping with hope and expectation.
“Alaska, somewhere outside Fairbanks, but then you probably already know that.”
Seeing that he’d written extensively about life in the frozen north, this was the one piece of information she did have. And apparently so did every other news agency. His book told of adventures on the tundra, which indicated his cabin was most likely situated near the Arctic Circle. And that meant the only way to reach him would be by air, which would involve hiring a bush pilot.
“I’ve tried to find someone in Alaska to help me”—Carrie explained her efforts to talk to a number of resources, including bush pilots—“but it’s been one dead end after another.”
“At least you’re honest about being a reporter,” Joan said. “You couldn’t imagine what some of them have tried, thinking I could give them information that would lead them to my son. You, at least, are willing to admit why you’re doing this.”
“He probably never suspected this interest in him and his lifestyle would happen. People love his stories, and now they want to know about the man behind them.”
“He never forgave me, you see …” Joan murmured, her voice trailing away as she methodically tore apart the tissue in her hands.
“I left him and his father when Finn was a boy. Paul loved Alaska, and I was born in Louisiana. I tried to make a life with him up there, but I couldn’t bear the cold and the isolation, whereas Paul and Finn seemed to thrive on it. I wanted us to compromise, come back to the lower forty-eight a few months each year, but Paul wasn’t willing to consider that. He insisted there was nothing for him outside Alaska. He felt any time away would be a waste. He had a dozen different projects going all the time and refused to leave. I wanted Finn to come with me, but my son chose to stay with his father.” She paused and looked away as if she regretted having spoken. “Once I left, Paul cut me completely out of his life, and Finn’s, too. Eventually I remarried, but it was more for companionship than love. Finn never forgave me for that, either. I think he must have held on to the dream that his father and I would reunite one day. My second husband died a year ago, so I’m a widow twice over.”
“I’m so sorry,” Carrie said.
“I wish I knew the man Finn has become,” Joan whispered.
“If I find him and have a chance to talk to him, I’ll tell him about meeting you. I can give him a message from you, even if it’s just to remind him that you love him and want to hear from him.”
Joan glanced up and her eyes brightened with what could be described only as ragged hope. “You’d do that?”
“Of course.” As close as she was to her own family, Carrie’s heart went out to Finn’s mother, still looking to connect with her son. Although she didn’t know him beyond the pages of his book, she couldn’t help wonder about a man who would turn his back on his mother.
“Then perhaps there’s a small way I can help,” Joan said, her eyes twinkling now.
“There is?” She had Carrie’s full attention.
Joan left the room and returned a few moments later with a simple gold ring. “This was Paul’s wedding band. When we divorced … he was angry and bitter, and he returned the ring to me. I’ve saved it all these years, and now that Paul is dead I would like Finn to have it.”
“You want me to give Finn his father’s ring?”
Joan nodded. “Finn has a friend named Sawyer. He’s a bush pilot who is often in Fairbanks. I could see Sawyer felt bad for the way Finn spoke to me at his father’s funeral, and I think he might be willing to help you find my son if you give him a good enough reason.”
Carrie smiled and held the gold band between her index finger and thumb. This ring could very well be her ticket to reaching the elusive Finn Dalton.
“You found him?” Sophie shouted from the other end of the cell phone. “You actually found Finn Dalton?”
Carrie meandered through the Fairbanks airport, dragging her carry-on behind her with one hand and holding the cell phone to her ear with the other. Her high-heeled boots made tapping sounds against the floor as she left the baggage-claim area. “I haven’t found him yet,” Carrie corrected. “But I’m close.”
“Where are you?”
“Fairbanks. I just landed.” Carrie had caught the first available flight out of Seattle after meeting with Joan. “So, listen, if I’m not back in Chicago on Monday, make up an excuse, will you?”
“You don’t want me to tell Nash you’re hot on the trail of Finn Dalton?”
“Not yet. I want to present the article as a done deal.”
“I can’t believe you were actually able to track him down,” Sophie said excitedly.
“Don’t get ahead of me; I still don’t have that interview. Sorry, I need to go.”
“Good luck. I’ve got my fingers crossed for you.”
“Thanks.” After ending the call, she stuck her cell phone in the outside pocket of her purse and made her way through the small airport, looking for the hangar where the bush pilots parked. All she had was Sawyer’s name, and she wasn’t even sure if it was his first or last. It took her awhile to locate the hangar. She asked around until she found someone willing to talk to her.
Clearly she looked enough like a city girl with her full-length double-breasted gray wool coat, fashionable boots, and earmuffs for the pilots and mechanics to recognize she was another pesky reporter in search of the elusive Finn Dalton. She was barely able to get two words out of her mouth before she got the cold shoulder.
“I’m looking for a pilot named Sawyer,” she asked a man inside the hangar, doing her best to hide her frustration. He looked like a mechanic, dressed in greasy coveralls. If bush pilots weren’t willing to talk to her, then perhaps he would. No one seemed to want to help.
The mechanic’s eyes pierced her, slowly taking her in. “What do you want Sawyer for?” he demanded.
Carrie straightened her shoulders and stood her full five feet ten inches, meeting him almost eye to eye. “I would like to hire him.”
With his hands braced against his hips, the mechanic regarded her skeptically. “You’re another one of them reporters, aren’t you?”
Carrie decided to sidestep the question. “I have something to deliver to a friend of Sawyer’s, so if you’d kindly point me in his direction, I’d be most appreciative.”
“A friend of his named …” He left it for her to fill in the blank.
Carrie’s shoulders relaxed. “Finn Dalton.”
“That’s what I thought.” Turning his back on her, he walked completely around the outside of his plane, running his hand over the structure as though checking for something, although Carrie couldn’t imagine what.
She wasn’t giving up. “Can you tell me if Mr. Sawyer is in the area now, or when I can expect to find him?”
“Ah, so it’s Mr. Sawyer now?”
Carrie ignored his tone and the question.
“I have something to give Finn Dalton.”
“Do you, now? And what might that be? A headache?”
Very funny. She ignored that comment, although her patience was wearing thin. “It’s something from his mother.”
“And his mother’s name is?” he asked, whirling around unexpectedly and almost colliding with her.
“Joan,” she said quickly. “Joan Finnegan Dalton Reese.”
The mechanic regarded her for several moments, studying her, his eyes boring into hers. “I’m Sawyer O’Halloran.”
“In the flesh.”
After a long flight, Carrie was tired and hungry and anxious. “I want to hire you to take me to Finn Dalton.”
Shaking his head, Sawyer muttered something indecipherable and walked away. “You and every other reporter who has been nosing around here.”