Expect the Sunrise | Chapter 17 of 36

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Chapter 9

 

“I’M NOT HIKING out of these mountains without you.” Mac’s words resonated in her mind as Andee cooked supper on the stove in front of their makeshift shelters. She didn’t know why, but for the first time since the crash she didn’t feel quite so alone. Yes, she knew God had been with them—from the miraculous fact that they hadn’t all been torn apart in the crash to the strength God had given them to pull Ishbane and Flint up the cliff today. But feeling that she suddenly had an equal on her side, helping her lead the passengers to safety, ministered to a barren place within her.

Who would have believed that God would give her a stubborn Scot to help her? Even though Mac had left Sarah when she’d told him not to, he had put his own life in danger when he’d skidded down that mountain to help her pull up Flint. Andee knew they’d all be a pile of broken bones tonight if he hadn’t stepped in with his more-than-ample muscles.

It had taken them twice as long to descend the scree hill after they’d recovered. Flint, aided by Phillips and Nina, descended as a trio, belayed together. Ishbane was next, and Andee had to give the man credit for facing his fears. Mac followed, cradling Sarah in his strong arms. Andee’s heart gave out just a little at that. Andee came last, unbelayed, rolling up the rope, knowing that they’d need it for crossing the Granite River.

They camped at the base of the mountain, the light having dissolved quickly during their descent. Andee had showed them how to secure the tarp at an angle into the hill and separated it into two, so the men could sleep in one and the ladies in the other. She’d fastened the tarp low to the ground with basketball-sized boulders around the edges. The tarp would protect them from the frigid wind that rushed up the mountain. Andee counted on their body heat to keep the temperature above hypothermic levels. She’d made the passengers layer their clothes before they’d left the wreckage, which would help them live through the night.

She stirred the soup, knowing that tomorrow their rations would have to be cut in half. Half a PowerBar. Half the soup. Half a cup of coffee for breakfast.

And twice as far to go.

Sarah lay in quiet repose, breathing steadily, her heart rate normal, her body caught in slumber. She’d nearly opened her eyes earlier, groaning and murmuring when Andee helped Mac set her down, but when Andee tried to rouse her, sleep reached out and tugged her back.

Andee should leave them, go for help. The fact that Sarah hadn’t awoken scared her nearly breathless. She could make it—she knew it. She could take the flashlight, find the Granite River, follow it to Disaster like she’d planned.

She could be home by sundown tomorrow. Maybe.

In the meantime, Phillips could go for water, leaving the rest—namely Mac—to watch over Sarah.

After Andee poured the soup, she passed it around to the passengers seated around the darkened campsite. Few spoke, wrung out by exhaustion. Ishbane took his soup, greedily slurping it. Andee had surrendered her emergency blanket to him, knowing that he’d perish in the night with the cold. She’d snuggle next to Sarah. Besides, it wasn’t like she’d sleep much.

Another good reason to leave tonight.

She put out the stove, and the night chased away the light. Stars winked at her, spilled out over the heavens like icicles. The wind whipped over the tarp, flapping the edges. Andee tucked her hands into her armpits, thankful she had her layers of silk long johns, fleece pullovers, and wool pants.

“I could go for a steak with fried taters and collards,” said Flint. The big man hadn’t complained once today, despite his brush with death.

“Or a big bowl of yellow curried chicken with honey and green onions and rice,” Ishbane said.

Andee couldn’t help but smile. Team Hope occasionally played this game when they were out overnight. Micah liked grits, Conner wanted flapjacks, Sarah loved pierogi from a deli near her apartment in Queens, and Dani would give her eyeteeth for hot buttered popcorn. It made Andee miss them all with an ache that went to the center of her body. She wondered if anyone would call her on her birthday and discover her missing.

“How about a stack of pancakes with pure maple syrup,” Phillips added. “My mom’s version of a Sunday night meal.”

“My mother made haggis on Sundays,” Mac said quietly. “Every Sunday after church we’d come home to haggis and stovies. Her nod toward our family traditions from the old country.”

Andee glanced at Mac, detecting the change in him since yesterday. The outline of his face in the darkness spoke of strength. He sat with his back against a boulder, one leg drawn up, holding his Sierra cup in one hand.

“My mother made haggis once.” Andee made a face.

Mac laughed, low and strong, and it warmed her. She saw Mac in her thoughts, how he’d been as they’d erected the shelter. Quiet, as if shaken by the day’s events, he’d worked with precision as the night closed in. Wide back, strong arms, his eyes occasionally running over her, as if he too knew that for a moment he’d soothed the frightened place inside her. It made her that much more aware of the way she tingled when touched by his gaze.

“I wonder if they’ve figured out we crashed,” Nina said.

That statement silenced the passengers and wound its way into Andee’s thoughts. Would her father contact her mother when she didn’t show up in Disaster? Probably not. He’d assume she had taken another charter flight and probably not check on her for days. Besides, he’d always believed she could take care of herself and never let himself worry, even when she’d needed him the most. But certainly the Alaska Mountain Rescue Group would search for them. If only the plane hadn’t veered off in the wrong direction. It might take weeks for the rescuers to head west toward Foggytop, especially without the ELT working.

“How many children do you have, Nina?” Andee asked, hoping to fill the questions that lingered in the darkness.

“Three. Two boys and a girl.”

Andee imagined them with deep brown eyes and dark brown hair, like Nina. “Are they with your husband? or relatives?”

“Yes. With relatives,” Nina said. But something in her voice sounded unsure. It reminded Andee of her sophomore summer of college when she’d called her mother from Fairbanks en route to visit her father. Her mother had asked her where she was, and Andee had lied.

Of course, that hadn’t stopped Mary from finding her a month later. Andee wondered if she’d known all along and couldn’t bear the showdown.

“I’m supposed to be going home today,” Ishbane said. His tone held surprise, as if normal life only existed in theory now. “My wedding anniversary is this weekend.”

Ishbane had a wife? That surprised her. Not that he shouldn’t, but she’d pegged Flint or even Phillips as married, not Ishbane. “She’ll be worried,” Andee said.

“Maybe. We’re separated.”

Andee grieved, cognizant of what those words meant, especially to a man so seemingly bereft of hope. She had the crazy urge to tell Ishbane that she’d been on the painful side of separation, watching her mother lurch through her day, feeling herself surrounded by shadow. She couldn’t help but wonder if her mother might have chosen differently if she’d been given the foresight to see what leaving would cost them. Or if her father had chased them south just once, her mother might have returned with him.

“Where’s home, Ishbane?” Flint asked.

“Toronto. I’m in oil, and our company is doing some drilling in the Yukon Territory. I was supposed to consult with some engineers at TAPS.”

“Hopefully they’ll miss you.”

“How about you, Mr. Phillips?” Nina asked. “You aren’t dressed for hunting.”

“I’m a fisherman,” Phillips said cryptically.

“Oh,” Nina said.

Silence played a beat between them as they waited for Phillips to continue. He didn’t.

“What about you, Mac?” Nina asked, rebounding.

He said nothing.

Occasionally, Andee had seen Micah or Conner go silent, caught in some dark memory or just keeping essential information close to their chest. She had learned not to push.

“I’m from Deadhorse,” he said at last.

Deadhorse, Alaska, south of Prudhoe Bay. Despite the cold and barren climate, the people in Deadhorse had carved a life out of the snowfields, bonded by their work for the pipeline or their love of living on the last frontier. In such a remote place, people protected their traditions with the ferocity of a wolf. Clearly, his parents had clung to their Scottish heritage and given Mac his hint of accent.

“Do you have family there?” Flint asked. “Seems to me a lonely place to go for vacation.”

Mac gave a low, wry chuckle, and the sound felt like a ripple under Andee’s skin. Familiar yet new. “My parents still live there as well as four sisters, their husbands, my nieces and nephews.”

“Poor bum. The only boy surrounded by girls. I’m sorry for you.” Flint laughed.

Mac didn’t. His silence felt thick and heavy. Finally he said, “I had a brother. He was killed last summer in a fishing accident.”

No wonder Mac seemed far away, burdened. No wonder he wanted them all to hike out together. Andee’s memory went to the many hunters and fishermen she’d airlifted to medical help. Too many bled out in her plane, something she hoped to fix someday by building an emergency trauma center/Fixed Base Operation (FBO) in Wiseman, Alaska, the halfway point between Prudhoe Bay and Fairbanks.

“I’m sorry, Mac,” she said. Then, because she knew his words invaded their thoughts and would poke at them through the night, “We’re going to make it, you guys. I promise.”

“What if something happens to you—you fall off a cliff or something?” Ishbane asked. His voice lowered, as if, once the question had been breathed aloud, the cosmic odds might latch on to it and bring it to fruition.

“Mac will take care of you,” she answered in an even tone. Please, please, Mac, don’t refute me.

Thankfully, he stayed quiet. She’d take that as a good sign.

She got up and collected the cups. “I’m turning in. We have a long walk tomorrow.”

Andee settled next to Sarah, listening to the group shift or groan, relaxing into slumber. She occasionally lifted her hand to check Sarah’s breathing and her pulse.

Mac would take care of them. She knew it from the way he watched the group, had risked his own life today to save Flint—no, save them all. Deep inside that mysterious, quiet exterior she suspected a man who would surrender his life for others.

Which meant she could leave.

She waited until she heard Nina’s deep breaths of slumber; then Andee eased out the flashlight, a flare, and a PowerBar and took a quick drink of water. She left her knife but tucked her gun into her jacket. Anything more would slow her down.

“Please, watch over Sarah, Lord,” she whispered. Then she lifted the edge of the shelter and crept out into the night.

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Mac could hardly believe it. Here he’d begun to trust Emma, and then in a blinding moment of deceit she’d snuck out.

Mac lay there in the dark, his heart thumping against his ribs, tapping out Morse code for fool, listening to Emma’s sure footsteps. Why did he so easily fall for a betrayer’s smile?

Because she seemed to authentically care for her friend, for the passengers. Because when she’d risked her life for Flint, she’d done it with passion and 200 percent commitment.

Because in those pretty brown eyes, he’d thought he’d read honesty.

This time, he hated the fact that he was right. He’d found his saboteur. Why else would she sneak out in the middle of the night, nearly running as she escaped camp?

He waited until her footfalls dropped away and then quietly moved out into the night after her.

He’d drag her back to the shelter over his shoulder if he had to and tie her up with her own rope, then use the radio to call in the cavalry. If he could, he’d also get the truth out of her. Somehow.

Maybe he shouldn’t think beyond right now as he followed her without a sound across the tundra. He could barely make her out in the darkness, with the sky speckled with stars, the moon full and bright turning the tundra to glistening silver. She moved with precision, slowing her pace slightly, but quickly enough to make excellent time. To where? Disaster? What if she’d landed purposely, if not gracefully, with the hopes of meeting her contacts in these hills? How far were they from the pipeline? From the map, he’d guesstimate maybe ten miles.

Ten miles too close.

Since 9/11, he’d tracked down two more scares, not including the so-called renegade hunter from last summer—the one who’d done real damage.

More serious damage to the pipeline would shut off supplies for months and skyrocket the price of oil. When winter closed in, medical and food supplies dependent on airplanes would be scarce in towns like Deadhorse.

His sister Maren, pregnant with her third child, wouldn’t be able to get to Fairbanks, and his niece Anna, suffering from diabetes, would run out of insulin.

Those thoughts fueled his steps, and he lit out into a run toward Emma. How dare she put those lives into jeopardy, play the heroine all this time only to betray her country.

If America was her country. With her dark looks, she could be from any of the South American countries vying for a place on the global oil market. Like Venezuela, for example. He’d read in one of the recent reports that the leader of Venezuela, Hugo Chavez, had actually teamed up with Iran to raise oil prices to America.

If Mac did the math, it seemed that Venezuela—number four on the world supplier’s list—had much to profit from if America’s wells suddenly dried up.

The tundra muffled his footsteps but not his anger, and Mac caught up to Emma quickly. She became more than an outline; she became a three-dimensional figure in the darkness, breathing and swinging her arms. She held a darkened flashlight in her right hand. Against the vault of night shining on her, she seemed like a blip of pure energy.

He sprinted up behind her, caught her arm, whipped her to a stop.

She screamed, one short burst, then hit him across the head with the flashlight.

Slightly reeling, he grabbed her other arm. Wow, she can pack a wallop. But her eyes were wide and her mouth open as if even she couldn’t believe she’d hit him.

Or maybe that he’d caught her?

“Mac!”

“Yeah, that’s right.”

She sighed, as if she knew her plot had been revealed. “I’m sorry, Mac, but you have to let me go.”

“Over my dead body.”

“No, preferably not.” She tried to twist out of his grip and frowned when he didn’t let her go. “Let me go, Mac. I promise you I’ll bring back help. But this is the only way. You saw the other passengers. They’re worn out, and we’re making horrible time. This time tomorrow we’ll be out of food, and we might not be near water yet. I have to go.”

She thought she could fool him with this story line? He shook his head.

Her eyes narrowed. “You don’t think I can do it?”

He should have been prepared, but her momentary disbelief had him unbalanced. She twisted out of his grip and jumped away from him. He lunged for her, but she stumbled back and launched out with a kick at him.

“Leave me alone!” She backed up. “I might be small, but I promise you that if you touch me, you won’t walk away upright.” Despite her bravado, her voice shook, her emotions breaking through.

Oh no. His chest constricted, and a sick feeling welled inside him. Either she thought fast on her feet as a terrorist, or she believed he’d snuck out after her to attack her.

He held up his hands as if in surrender. “I’m sorry, Emma. I’m really sorry. I—well, I promise I won’t hurt you. I would never … I … just can’t let you leave.”

She froze, staring at him with fear in those kind eyes.

He’d done some stupid things before—like chase after a terrorist without backup—and apparently hadn’t learned anything from that lesson. This time he was accusing a woman who might be a hero of being a traitor.

No, she had to be a hero. After everything she’d done, how could he possibly still suspect her?

“Why not?” Emma’s voice sounded so thin he could barely hear it in the night.

He wanted to tell her, but the truth on his lips would sound so incredulous he couldn’t push the words out. “We … need you.”

Oh no. That could be worse. Because it sounded more like “I need you,” and while he’d begun to wonder—just a little—about that, he couldn’t admit it.

Mac didn’t need anyone. Or rather didn’t want to need anyone. If he was honest, he did need her, not only as a trail guide but to keep everyone glued together while he figured out who owned the map and the radio he’d found. While he tried to find out who might be a terrorist.

She sighed and ran her gloved hands over her face. Her shoulders slumped, and her voice dropped to a murmur. “I’m so sorry that I got everyone into this mess.”

He didn’t know exactly how to interpret her words. He moved closer to her, his curiosity meter on high, but with enough wisdom to know when to mask it. “C’mon back.” He reached out, as if to take her hand, but she moved away from him. Thankfully, she began to walk in the right direction. He followed.

“If I hadn’t wanted to get into the air and get back for my birthday this weekend with Sarah, we’d be safe in the Fairbanks Airport right now. I’m such an idiot.”

Her voice sounded so forlorn he couldn’t help but touch her shoulder. She turned and looked at him, and he gave her a small smile. “You couldn’t have known the clouds would turn to ice.”

“A good pilot reads the weather. We should be prepared for anything.”

“Seems to me you were. Look at us. Safe, fed, sorta warm.”

“Sarah’s hurt.”

He nodded, realizing how prominent that thought hung in her mind. The top layer that eclipsed all other considerations, including her personal safety. Once he broke free of his suspicions, he wasn’t so stupid that he couldn’t tell she was putting her life in danger by hiking out alone. “She’ll be okay. You have to believe that.”

“I keep thinking about that Bible verse Phillips quoted last night,” Emma said. “Something about Paul expecting to die and learning to rely on God, so He could deliver him. I keep praying that God is going to get us out of this mess, that He’ll watch over us—”

“I think He did that today when we nearly went over the cliff. If you hadn’t—”

“No, if you hadn’t come down to help us.” A smile flickered on her face. “You were an answer to my prayers today, the way you helped Sarah, put up the shelter, and saved Flint.”

Mac wasn’t sure what to say to that. Instead, he nodded. Or shrugged. “Do you truly believe God cares about the details, like our shelter or even saving Sarah’s life?” He wasn’t sure what allowed him to ask that. Maybe being out here alone, without anyone to shout recriminations at him. Without his mother to send him a frown of disapproval. He’d been raised never to question God. Yet when he’d stumbled upon a terrorist in the woods, only to sacrifice his brother’s life … well, he’d had big, big questions for God.

None, it seemed, that had been answered.

“I do believe that,” Emma said. “He’ll get us out of these mountains.”

“I … I want to believe that, Emma.” He even lifted his gaze skyward, to where God lived, the void of space that separated the God of his childhood from the God he knew today.

The God that let “little details”—like his brother’s life—fall through the cracks.

But he hadn’t come out here to confront the wounds in his soul. “We won’t make it if you leave us,” Mac said. “We have to stick together.”

“Our safety doesn’t depend on me.” Emma shoved her hands into her pockets. “Have you ever felt saddled with a choice you couldn’t seem to make?”

His mind swept over the terrain of his life, seeing places and situations when he’d had to sacrifice time with his family or dreams for the sake of his job. His fishing trip with Brody had been an attempt to regain all that. Yet without a blink he’d made the choice to race after Al-Hasid.

“I’ve made choices I regret,” he said slowly, painfully aware that he’d opened a corner of his heart for her to peek into. But perhaps a new ordinary life meant letting someone inside gradually.

Someone with sweet brown eyes, freckles, and a smile that could keep him putting one step ahead of another. A smile he could learn to trust. Maybe.

“How do you live with that … regret?” Emma asked.

Overhead, he saw a swirl of color—lavender, pink, white—undulating against the night sky. “I guess I keep my head down and keep going forward.” No, that wasn’t entirely all—he also didn’t stop long enough to get mired in the details. Like relationships. Like broken hearts. “The northern lights seem especially bright tonight.”

Emma looked up at the sky. “I’ve always thought they were a reminder of God, of His brightness, His creativity against the bleakness of the moment.” She sighed. “In the Lower 48, I work on a search-and-rescue team. We call ourselves Team Hope because we go in when all other hope has died.”

He studied her, her profile. She had a small nose, a slight smile, a heart-shaped face perfectly framed by her stocking cap. He had the sudden memory of her in his arms when he’d pulled her from the plane, and he had to ignore the desire to twirl a finger into her curly hair. When she looked at him and smiled, he felt his heart leap.

It was such an odd, exhilarating, terrifying feeling that he nearly lifted his hand to his chest to calm himself.

“I can’t help but think that I should go for help, Mac. But I’m afraid that if Sarah wakes up, I won’t be there. That she’ll need me, and in the end I’ll fail her.” She didn’t look at him when she spoke, and he had the feeling that she might be speaking about someone else besides her friend.

He could relate. He’d had that feeling for the better part of his career. That if he didn’t pay attention, something would spiral right out of his hands. That everyone he loved would be killed and he’d be left alone, staring at the holes in his life. At his failures.

“So, you really grew up in Deadhorse,” she said, cutting through his thoughts.

“Aye. Why?”

“Frankly, your accent threw me off. My father’s Scottish, but aside from the occasional aye and laddie, he sounds like an American. Although your accent is only a bit stronger, something about you seems fresh from the Highlands. I feel like I should address you as ‘my laird’ or something.”

He smiled. “If you want to, my bonnie lass.”

She studied him with the barest hint of a smile.

“The truth is,” Mac said, “I was born in Scotland, and my father came over in the early seventies to work the pipeline. He had an engineering degree, and despite his love of the Highlands, he couldn’t turn down the opportunity to work on the project. He’s still one of the primary engineers.”

He watched the lavender ribbon of the borealis curl in the heavens before he continued.

“Farewell to the Highlands, farewell to the North,
The birth-place of Valour, the country of Worth;
Wherever I wander, wherever I rove,
The hills of the Highlands for ever I love.”


His words died out, taken by the wind, and in the silence he felt like an idiot. Where had that come from?

Emma wore an odd expression. “You’re a poet?” Only she didn’t laugh, and her voice sounded the slightest bit impressed.

He liked impressed. In fact, a strange warmth kindled inside. “My father loves Robert Burns. Made us all learn a few verses.”

“Do you know anymore?”

“Aye.” He smiled.

“As fair art thou, my bonie lass,
So deep in luve am I;
And I will luve thee still, my dear,
Till a’ the seas gang dry.”


Her gaze stayed on him, and he felt his mouth dry. He cleared his throat. “So, you really thought I was from Scotland?” he asked, his voice a little tight.

Emma shrugged. “I was trying to figure out how much time you’d spent in the backcountry.”

“Hey, I did my time. Back when I worked for the police department and later as a TAPS security officer before I joined the bureau. Even barely escaped the claws of a grizzly sow once.”

“All right, I’m sorry.” Emma shuddered. “I hate grizzlies. They terrify me. One wandered near our cabin when I was about eight. It would have torn me to bits if my father hadn’t been there with his hunting rifle. I stared at those glassy black eyes, those claws, those teeth, and just … stood there. Unable to move. I couldn’t decide whether to run, play dead, or climb a tree.”

“Climb a tree,” Mac said. He had a hard time imagining Emma freezing in terror over anything after he’d seen her bolt into action today. “Always better to get up high out of reach.”

“Can you fly a plane?”

Mac nodded. “Took lessons in Fairbanks a few years ago; the agency sponsored it.”

“So you’re really FBI?” She looked at him, and he sensed more in her question than just conversation.

“For now. I … I’m thinking of resigning.” Somehow his family understood, but he’d barely been able to get his mind around his failure. He just couldn’t spend the rest of his life seeing Brody’s face every time he closed his eyes. Deep inside, Mac knew that until he got face-to-face with Andy MacLeod, show him exactly what his decision had cost Mac and his family, he’d never find closure. Never escape his demons, maybe never be able to do his job right.

“Is it because of your brother?” Emma’s voice was quiet, compassionate.

Mac swallowed hard, caught off guard. Was he that transparent? He sighed. What would it matter if he told her, if he let her into his life just a little further? He knew it was an area he should work on anyway, especially if someday he wanted what his sisters had. What Brody should have had—a wife, a family, a heritage. “Aye, it’s complicated.”

She nodded. “All I can think about is being with my family right now. With Micah and Conner and Dani.”

“You have a big family.”

She gave a huff of laughter. “No, they’re my Team Hope pals. But they feel like family. More family than I’ve ever had.” She looked at him, and he saw sadness in her eyes. “My parents separated when I was sixteen. They never divorced, however, so I was left with that hanging hope they’d somehow reconcile.”

“What happened?” His own parents had fought, sometimes raucous shouting affairs that raised the roof. But they also loved each other with a fierceness that had taught Mac exactly what committed love looked like.

“Me,” she said simply. She stared at the sky, and he felt the loneliness in her voice.

Me. It occurred to him that maybe her lonely flights across the sky above the jagged terrain resembled his own escape into a career that kept him moving and above the pull of relationships and heartache.

“I’m sorry,” he said.

“What was your brother’s name?” Emma asked.

“Brody. He was two years younger than me. He died in my arms.”

She blew out a breath. “I’m so sorry.”

“The thing is, he could have lived. A pilot flew over, and I even radioed him, but he refused to land. Brody bled to death.”

She gasped. Then she closed her eyes, as if bearing that pain with him.

Seeing her reaction ministered to the place his grief had rubbed raw. He couldn’t stop himself from touching her hair.

She opened her eyes, frowning. He couldn’t define it as fear or surprise, but he pulled his hand away. Still, the gesture lingered between them, and he felt something warm bloom in his chest.

Something warm and alive and growing in a place he’d long thought frozen over.

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Alice
Great book, nicely written and thank you BooksVooks for uploading

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