Authors: Barbara Dunlop
Tags: #Fiction, #Romance
“North American Electric Reliability Corporation. Cybersecurity.”
“There’s a lot more cold and wilderness than cybercriminals in Colorado.”
“And there are a lot more cybercriminals than cold and wilderness in New York City.”
“Can’t argue with that.”
The two men were still hanging around, biding their time, obviously waiting for him to leave her so they could pounce. Their behavior was extremely annoying.
“Do you have plans for today?” he found himself asking.
“You mean now that my spam filter is up-to-date?”
She glanced around Main Street. “Maybe. I don’t know. I’m working on it.”
“You should come with me.” Now that the plan had formed in his mind, he was sure it was the right thing to do.
“Amy was right. Take a flight with me and get a bird’s-eye view of the Colorado wilderness.”
Jade shook her head. “You don’t need to do that.”
“I’m delivering a load of groceries to a lodge at Bowen Valley.” He pointed to the clear blue sky. “It’s going to be a gorgeous flight.”
She peered at him in silence, suspicion lurking in the depths of her eyes.
“What?” he prompted.
“It’s the uniform. It’s throwing me off. Normally, I’d just assume you were hitting on me.”
He couldn’t help but grin. “Come on up in my airplane, baby,” he mocked, “and I’ll show you my waterfall.”
That got a smile from her. “You can understand my suspicion.”
He did. “I get it. You rock stars get hit on all the time.”
He glanced over her shoulder to the men across the street. He wondered if he should let her know that if she didn’t come with him, she was sure to get hit on in the next few minutes.
“If I try anything, you can rat me out to my sister. I’d offer up my mom, but she left this morning for Miami, a surprise Caribbean cruise.”
“For her birthday?”
He nodded. “She nearly fell over in shock when Dad told her last night.”
“That’s so sweet.”
Logan couldn’t help but smile at the memory. It had been a terrific party. “We’re a sweet family, Jade.”
“So you’re not just a guy who hits on random tourists?”
“Not often. And that’s not what I’m doing right now. But you want to hit on me, go right ahead.”
“You’re overestimating the pilot’s uniform.”
“I don’t think so.”
Her expression turned serious. “Happens a lot, does it?”
“It happens enough.” Funny how that didn’t seem like so much of a lark anymore.
“I suppose I could try to behave myself,” she intoned.
He caught the twinkle in her eyes. “That’s a relief. Have you had breakfast?”
“At the hotel. Granola and yogurt. I thought about going with a bloody Mary, but my hangover’s not so bad.”
“Then, right this way.” He pointed to the dock. “The Cessna’s loaded and ready to go.”
Normally, Jade would
have hesitated to fly off with a complete stranger. But Logan was a commercial pilot with his own airline. If she’d bought a ticket, she wouldn’t think twice about trusting him. She realized he had to fly women around the wilderness all the time. If any of them had mysteriously disappeared, people would have been asking questions long before now.
Engine laboring loudly, they lifted off the rolling water and soared into the sky, banking to go through a gap in the high mountains. They climbed until they were above the peaks, clear blue sky in front of them. The fall colors had started up high, with the lower slopes still green and lush, bracketing a foaming river that wound through the wilderness.
“It’s absolutely beautiful,” she couldn’t help noting into the small microphone connected to her headset.
The Cessna’s engine was loud, the small plane vibrating all around her. She was snug up against the passenger window, her left shoulder nearly brushing Logan’s, and the windshield was only a couple of feet from her face. But her harness was tight, and she felt completely secure.
“My favorite time of year,” he responded. “The fall colors are out. The air is crystal. And the wind is usually calm in the morning.”
“Do you fly year-round?”
“I do. A few people go ice-fishing, and the wilderness lodges stay open for skiing and snowmobiling.”
“Amy said you grew up here?”
“Fifth generation. Our great-great-grandfather was the town’s first mayor.”
“Impressive.” Jade couldn’t imagine having roots so deep.
While she was growing up, her family had lived in Chicago, Philadelphia and Boston. Three of her grandparents had already passed away. She barely remembered them. Her family was estranged from her remaining grandmother, Lizbet Blythe, though Jade had secretly kept in touch with her for several years now.
“Depends on how you look at it,” said Logan, banking the plane to follow the curve of a valley. “Great-Great-Grandpa Henry made a little money in gold and then built a general store. Later, the family sold illegal liquor during Prohibition. Henry also built the hotel in the late 1800s. It was a frontier town back then, so he was likely involved in prostitution.”
The plane banked more steeply, and Jade’s body shifted, her shoulder pressing tight against Logan’s. It should have felt strange to be touching him. This entire trip should have felt strange. But it didn’t.
“I like your family history,” she told him. “It’s not boring.”
“Henry Edwards was anything but boring.”
“How did your great-great-grandmother feel about the prostitutes?”
“Nobody knows. By all accounts, she was a tough, practical old thing. She used to shoot rattlesnakes and chase bears out of the yard.”
“You can shoot a rattlesnake?”
“You need good aim.”
The plane leveled out, and Jade couldn’t help feeling disappointed to lose the physical contact with Logan.
“What about you?” he asked. “Where did you grow up?”
“Big cities and lots of them. Dad was a department store manager, and the company transferred him around a lot. My mom lives in Maine now, and I have a grandmother in Florida.”
“I have an uncle in Florida. My mom’s brother. I don’t know him very well, but apparently he was the guy who put the first astronauts on the moon.”
“So, that would be the upstanding, high-achieving side of your family.”
Logan chuckled. “I guess it is. Take a look down there, in the reeds by the pond.”
Jade squinted in the direction that he pointed. Then she saw them, small, brown shapes.
“Deer?” she guessed.
“Mule deer. Looks like five or six.”
She was amazed by the sight. “Can we get closer?”
“We can. Hang on.” He banked the plane again. This time, it was Logan’s shoulder that pressed into her own, while she leaned into the door.
“This thing won’t pop open, will it?”
“I hope not.”
“Don’t touch the handle, and you’ll be fine.”
Jade snapped her hands firmly against her chest.
Logan laughed. “Even if it does, you’re all strapped in.” Then he redirected her attention. “Take a look.”
As she focused on the deer, they all looked up at the plane then bolted for the forest, bounding their way through the shallows.
“You scared them,” she said.
“I did,” he agreed.
She drew a big sigh. “That was pretty great.”
“You city slickers are easy to impress.”
“You didn’t think it was great?”
“It’s always great seeing wildlife. But this next sight is going to be even better. See the mountain to the northeast, the one with the red rock face? When we come around the side, you’re going to see the big falls. They have a vertical drop of nearly fifteen hundred feet.”
“Is that how the town of Mirror Falls got its name?”
“We pretend it was, because these falls are fantastic. Truth is, the town was named after a little waterfall that used to come out of the hot springs. But they dammed that up back in the fifties to improve the pools.”
“You’re a pretty good tour guide, you know that?”
“I do this all the time.”
It was easy to believe. Logan looked completely at home in the cockpit, pointing out sights, spouting facts and figures about his hometown. He also looked impressively in control and highly sexy in his flight suit and sunglasses.
“Here we go,” he said as they rounded the mountain.
A giant wall of white foam and falling blue water fanned out in front of them, its spray misting the air on all sides. It was wide as well as tall, in five separate sections, greenery clinging to the rocks in between the channels, and a vivid rainbow arching across the face.
Jade was speechless as they flew closer.
Logan banked the plane so that she had a better view.
“Do people know about this?” she finally managed.
“They should turn it into a national park.”
“It’s pretty inaccessible. The only way to get to the falls is by helicopter or a three-day hike. The river on either side isn’t navigable, even by kayak.”
“It’s like a national treasure.”
He chuckled at that. “They filmed a movie here once.
The Lost Lattimores
“That was here?” She glanced around, trying to recognize the settings. “I saw that movie. It was pretty good.”
“I watched it. But it’s hard to get into the story when you’ve been behind the scenes. I flew the cast in and out for three weeks.”
“Did you meet Blake Davis?”
“Briefly. He was always surrounded by handlers.”
“I guess that’s what happens when you get famous.”
“I’d hate it,” said Logan.
“I wouldn’t mind having someone pick up my lattes and take care of my dry cleaning, but I’d hate the part where you can’t walk down the street without being accosted.”
“On balance, I think I’ll go with obscurity. Can you see the red roof up ahead? Right where the river curves and widens out?”
Jade leaned forward in her seat, coming up against the safety harness. “Where?”
“Follow the curve of the river. There’s a meadow, then slightly up the hillside, you can see a flash of red.”
She saw it. “Got it.”
“That’s the main lodge at Bowen Valley. As we get closer, you’ll see the chalets scattered around. A couple from Germany bought the place about ten years ago. They recognized the potential and did some significant renovations. Now they’re busy year-round.”
“People really like this kind of vacation?” It would never have occurred to Jade to fly into the middle of the wilderness on a holiday.
“They come from all over the world for hard days and soft nights. You can wear yourself out rock climbing, skiing or kayaking all day long, then settle back and enjoy gourmet food, fine wines, and a five-star chalet for the night.”
The plane decreased in altitude, the trees becoming bigger, and she could clearly see the buildings. “Can you land on the river?” She was no expert, but the water looked pretty swift.
“There’s a small, sheltered bay around the curve. You’ll see it in a second.”
Logan twisted knobs and pulled levers, pushing forward on the stick. The pitch of the engine changed, and they dropped toward the water.
“There’s a life jacket under the seat, and the door handle pulls upward to open.”
She twisted her head to look at him, her stomach briefly clenching. “Why are you telling me this?”
“Standard briefing for a water landing. It’ll be a bit bumpy, but that’s normal. Hang on to the handle above the door.”
ogan stood next
to Jade on the wooden platform that served as both a waterfall viewpoint and the launch for a two-kilometer kayak run. They were alone except for two yellow kayaks in the distance down the river. The paddlers’ orange life jackets flashed and winked with the rapids and sunlight.
“I think I’d prefer the soft-nights part,” she told him, leaning her forearms against the railing.
“The hard days lead to the soft nights. When you’ve had a little excitement and burned off a little energy, great food tastes better, warm water is more soothing, and your bed feels that much softer.”
“Assuming you survive.” She nodded to the first in a series of white-water sections on the river.
“You don’t start with the class-four rapids or by scaling a rock face. There are slow sections on the river. And there’s a nice, easy hiking trail up behind the lodge.”
She stood straight. “Do I strike you as a hiker?”
He glanced at her boots. “I guess not.”
“I have to say, I’ve always been better with my brain than my body.”
Logan opened his mouth to make a tacky joke. Then he snapped it shut, reminding himself that he’d only just met her.
She tossed back her hair. “Go ahead. I can already hear what you’re thinking.”
“I sure hope you can’t.”
“What? It wasn’t complimentary?”
“It was highly complimentary. But you’d probably slap my face anyway.”
She grinned at him for a long minute. Then, without answering, she turned back to the rail. “Do you shoot the class-four rapids?”
“I also climb the rocks.”