Reed Nixon was in a foul mood, and he had no trouble admitting it. His coffeepot had broken that morning, and it was a damned pain in the ass to replace, living way up north. He'd have to special order it, have it shipped to Fairbanks, and then delivered via a charter company to Endline. After that, he'd have to drive two hundred miles down Dalton Highway in his rugged SUV, and that was a trip he hadn't planned on for at least another three months, until after the last of the worst weather passed for the season.
On top of that, he'd discovered a hole in his favorite snow boots, and one of the strings on his crossbow—that had cost almost as much as the SUV—was fraying, necessitating changing, which could be a time—consuming process, even for someone who knew a crossbow inside and out.
So, the last thing he felt like was greeting his arriving clients early. The Wyndam party wasn't scheduled to arrive until tomorrow. He'd been toying with the idea of contacting the charter service to see if his pal Mike was flying in the guests. If so, he'd planned to ask Mike to bring him any kind of coffee machine, as long as it dispensed the thick, dark, and hot drink he needed to feel semi—human of a morning.
Knowing that wasn't happening was part of the reason he was so surly as he shrugged on his coat and boots, stomping through the snow to the airfield he'd had put in a few years ago, when he'd launched his guide business. He'd be the first to acknowledge that he was generally surly anyway, as a rule.
When the small plane landed, he threw up his hands, waiting until the door opened, and the stairs descended. "I wasn't expecting you until tomorrow, Wyndam," he started to snarl. His mouth snapped shut for just a minute as a petite figure in a bulky white parka and cumbersome white snow boots stepped down the stairs carefully.
As she drew nearer, he demanded, "Who the hell are you? Wyndam told me it'd be just him and his camera crew. He didn't say nothin' about his girlfriend comin' along." She flinched at the rough tone, and he felt a spark of regret when he noticed how young she was. That fled when she opened her mouth.
"I'm his daughter, not his girlfriend, and who the hell are you?" She asked the question in exactly the same tone he had. "Daddy said the tour guide would meet me, but that can't be you."
Her dismissive look rose his hackles—and brought back some of his old insecurities from growing up dirt—poor and the son of the town drunk. "Why can't that be me, sweetheart?" He practically snarled the question at her.
If she was at all intimidated, it didn't show. "Someone getting paid to take care of a group wouldn't be so unprofessional."
He opened his mouth, but then shut it for a moment, deciding she had a point. "I'm sorry," he said, still gruffly. "I wasn't expecting nobody 'til tomorrow."
She nodded. "I guess you needed that extra twenty—four hours to find your manners, huh?"
Just like that, the little hellion set his teeth back on—edge. In an attempt to control his irritation, he walked to the pilot, who wasn't Mike. He thought this one was Vic, who mainly flew charters out of Fairbanks. "Vic?" At the man's nod, he held out his hand, more to show the irritating kitten beside him that he had some manners than because he actually felt compelled to make a friendly greeting. "How're you doin'?" After a quick exchange of pleasantries, he asked, "Where's the rest of 'em?"
Vic shrugged. "Don't know. Got a call asking us to fly in Ms. Wyndam today, and still plan on bringing the rest tomorrow."
With a small sigh, he turned back to face the young woman. "Ms. Wyndam, where is the rest of your party?"
She gave him a sweet smile, but her green eyes still crackled with banked anger. "They're still in Endline and planning to come tomorrow, as scheduled. I happened to arrive early, so Daddy arranged for the charter company to pick me up in Fairbanks and deliver me here."
He nodded just once. "Well, where's your gear?" He expected to be hauling suitcases into the guest quarters for the next hour, so it was a bit of a surprise to have Vic hand him just one large suitcase. "You just staying overnight?" he joked, as he lifted the suitcase, bade Vic goodbye, and led the girl—young woman—toward the guest quarters.
She frowned. "No, I'm here for a couple of weeks. Why?"
He lifted the bag a bit higher. "Most women I've seen come here," and he could count the number on one hand, "Bring a mountain of luggage."
"Oh. Daddy mentioned he was packing light, but bringing lots of warm things." Her smile seemed genuine. "I have to warn you that my dad's idea of light packing is a lot different than mine."
He waved a hand. "A girl who listens to her father. That's unusual in your generation."
She rolled her eyes. "My generation? What are you, ten minutes older than me?"
A genuine laugh burst from him. "Sweetheart, I'm thirty—three."
As he opened the door that allowed the guests their own private entrance and exit, he moved aside to let her pass. She paused right in front of him, leaning against the doorway for a moment in her puffy white parka. "Well, sweetheart, I'm eighteen. That's hardly another generation."
She slipped on past him, turning back to look over her shoulder as she added, "And I only listen to my father when I feel like it."
Feeling slightly bemused, he followed her into his house, quickly overtaking her shorter stride, to give her the brief tour. "This is the guests' quarters. There are two rooms. A small private room, and a larger room with six bunks." He gestured to a door nearby. "You go through there for the commode." Farther down the wood—paneled hall, he pointed to another door. "That leads to the kitchen. It's shared space with my residence, but you're welcome to help yourself to anything. I hope your daddy told you to bring any special thing you wanted along. I keep the basics, and then some, but I don't offer no fancy stuff."
"Darn," she said with a small hint of mocking. "I guess I should have packed champagne and caviar instead of my pants."
The idea of this young woman running around in no pants caused a sudden hitch in his breathing. He didn't reply to the sarcasm as he led her to the small private room with its double bed. "You'll have to make do with this. I laid out toiletries for a man, expecting Mr. Wyndam to stay in this room. He didn't say nothin' about a girl," he reminded.
"Yeah, I know. Daddy isn't one for bragging about his children." She said it offhandedly, as though it was no big deal, but he thought there was a hint of hurt underneath. Or maybe he was just projecting his own rotten childhood onto her.
He set her bag down on the trunk at the foot of the bed, near the rustic log footboard he'd made himself. "I'll leave you to unpack, Ms. Wyndam. I fix dinner around six, unless you prefer to look after yourself." He wanted to scoff at the thought. It seemed clear to him that the little princess in front of him wasn't used to doing much for herself. Apparently, making documentaries was a lot more lucrative than he'd ever imagined, judging from her appearance and demeanor. He knew for a fact the coat she wore cost several thousand dollars. He had one from the same designer, but it was their Outlet line, and he'd had to save three years to afford it. Of course, he'd never need another one. Point was, quality costs, and she'd clearly paid a lot. Well, her Daddy's Amex had, he thought, with a grimace of distaste.
She smiled. "Thank you, Mr.…?"
He shook his head, sending shaggy brown strands falling into his eyes. "Nah, just Reed. Reed Nixon."
She chose that moment to push back the hood of her parka and take off the soft—looking light—pink hat underneath. A mass of silvery—blonde hair fell free, and even the confining ponytail couldn't keep all the determined strands tamed. He had the insane urge to bury his hand in the tresses and tug her closer. Thankfully, it was a notion that passed quickly, and he took a step back to make sure he didn't do anything asinine.
"Well, thanks, just Reed. I'm Beth." She stripped off her gloves before tackling the zipper. "Goodness, my fingers are frozen," she said. Struggling with the coat, she looked disconcertingly like a little girl for a moment.