Embracing Felicity (Chapter One)
“Wheels up, Dad!”
“Bloody hell,” Ian MacIntyre mumbled, hiking with 10-year-old Emily to the end of Bobrovie Spit. “Wait ‘til your wheels are forty.” Twenty minutes earlier, they’d been dropped off at the trailhead by Victor Dudnik, Otter Bite’s postmaster, plumber, and occasional cabbie.
He and Em had flown over this spit—wheels up—but until today, had never walked it. Flanked on each side by a beach, this mile stretch resembled a soup spoon—broad at the attached end, then long and narrow before spreading into an eight-acre oval patch that supported thigh-high grasses and a grove of venerable Sitka Spruce. From the clouds, this trek looked easy. On the ground, the trail was plagued with ruts, roots, and rocks that only a Dall sheep—or we’an—could navigate. “Wait for me, Pup.”
One hundred feet in front, Emily turned to Ian, but instead of stopping, she walked backward. “We have to be there by eight!” Spinning forward, she kept going and going and going…
Pushing up his sleeves, Ian checked his platinum Omega. They had plenty of time. In spite of their late take-off from Merrill Field in Anchorage. In spite of the headwind between Kenai and Otter Bite. In spite of scrambling for alternate transportation when the Jeep he’d been promised wasn’t at the landing strip.
Passing a second No Trespassing sign, Ian spread the zipper on his fleece jacket and stepped up the pace. Breathing in the chilly May morning, he exhaled wisps.
The sun had been shining for two hours, but with formidable mountains to conquer, it was only now showing its face to Otter Bite. In Alaska, however, the summer sun was rarely below the horizon.
Mist rose off the calm bays and vanished into crystal air seasoned with salt and flavored with fish. Waves from Kachemak Bay softly lapped the front beach, retreating into a low tide that, in another hour, would expose clams and mussels on the muddy sea bottom. Bald eagles reigned from the tops of spruce that pierced the sky like castle spires. Below, like peasants, squawking seagulls scavenged in the wet sand, their footprints disappearing behind them.
Everything in this moment reminded Ian of the seaside village on Scotland’s west coast where his maternal grandparents had a summer estate.
Well, almost everything.
Looking back, Emily stamped her foot. “Hurry! Up!”
“I should’ve given y’ to Granny when I had the chance,” Ian grumbled, passing a third, hand-painted warning. He’d underestimated the toll of this trek when he rented the house. Hiking one mile through nature was a lot tougher than jogging three miles on a treadmill.
Pausing to enjoy the views—they had plenty of time—he spotted The Kachemak Princess. Sailing from Homer, where access by road ended, the 150-passenger ferry coursed through open water toward the rocky promontory known as Mermaid Point. Behind that landmark, tucked into Sedna Bay, was Otter Bite and the catamaran’s first port; from there it would dock at Halibut Cove, Seldovia, Nanwalek, and, finally, Port Graham before reversing the route and returning to Homer in the evening. Last winter, he and Em had taken that ferry and visited those coastal villages, all originally Alutiiq settlements. On every sailing, she had pressed the rail.
Emily loved the ocean, but any water would do. As a toddler, she kicked and screamed when he lifted her from the bath. When she turned ten, she started scuba lessons and was already certified as a Level 1-Supervised Diver. Though she be but little, she is fierce, his mum liked to say of Emily. She’d be swimming in the bay right now if it weren’t a heart-stopping 40 degrees. And she was fast, really fast. One day his little mermaid would be sporting Olympic gold.
The black and white bodies with the tall dorsal fins were unmistakable; as they cruised past, Ian counted five. A little too close for his comfort, but surrounded by postcard-perfect scenery, he sometimes forgot that Alaska was wild down to her knickers. When the pod turned for open water, he sensed Emily’s yearning to be swimming with it.
Emily’s aquatic gene hadn’t come from him. Sure, he lounged poolside in Monte Carlo and enjoyed the knee-high surf at Waikoloa; he’d even barreled down the Disney World Summit Plummet water slide. Nonetheless, when it came to the deep, he was chicken of the sea.
But, he’d found a way to give Emily the ocean without setting foot in it. Suddenly he was as impatient as she to reach their beach house. However rocky their morning had been—and this trail, in particular—no more obstacles lay in their path. This was the first day of a summer they’d remember for the rest of their lives.
“There it is!” Emily pointed to a stone cottage topped with blue shakes that peeked between the spruce trees towering around it. “Look!”
Ian was looking, but that was not IT. Quaint, as much as he could see, and cozy, but definitely not the home he’d rented for $2,800. Where was the modern, two-story cedar house, with expansive decks and eight-person hot tub, he’d found on the internet? All the two properties had in common were the views. Had he gotten the directions wrong? How many Bobrovie spits could there be?
“Emily, wait!” Ian shouted as she abandoned the path and waded into spears of tall grass. Three No Trespassing signs weren’t exactly an invitation to visit. Who knew who lived here or how welcoming they’d be? Alaska wasn’t called The Last Frontier for nothing.
But Emily ran toward that cottage as if seven dwarfs were there to greet her.
Ian chased her, cursing his Gucci loafers when sand and pebbles landed inside and assaulted his feet.
It’s not the mountain in front of you, it’s the pebble in your shoe.
Not now, Mum.
“Emily!” Losing sight of her, Ian hopped with one shoe while emptying the other. A pair of ravens swooped low, flapping and screeching. “Bloody hell!” Shooing them away, literally, he cast his loafer at them; an eagle snatched it mid-air and flew off. “What the—” But he didn’t have time to dwell; the ravens were back, diving and soaring like Spitfires. He dropped to his knees and ducked, arms protecting his face and head.
“Oy! Leave those ravens alone!”
Ian waited, then looked up and peered around. The birds were gone, as if he’d imagined them. Cautiously relaxing his arms, he stood and tried to regain dignity. He felt like a real Poindexter; it didn’t help that the woman chastising him looked like an airbrushed centerfold.
In a gauzy, mid-calf nightgown, and her waist-length, blond braid draping one shoulder, Felicity Arhnaq considered the expensively attired urbanite who had defied three No Trespassing signs. If it weren’t for the dark-haired, light-eyed sweetie with him, he’d be facing the double barrel of her 20-guage—the first defense in The Last Frontier. “You should be ashamed, harassing helpless birds.”
“Helpless? Those bloody corbies attacked me!”
Buckshot unnecessary. She could chase this Scot off with a fly swatter.
“Then an eagle stole my shoe!”
Felicity lodged hands on hips. “How? At gunpoint?”
Ian started to say he had thrown it at the ravens, but considering her sarcasm… His eye caught the poop splatters on his shoulder and arm. With growling disgust, he tugged off his soiled fleece jacket.
Reaching out, she huffed. “Give it here.”
Instead, Ian gingerly rolled his jacket inside out and draped it over his elbow. “It’s a Patagonia.”
A two-second stare. “Suit yourself.”
As much as his shoeless foot allowed, Ian marched to the 30-something bombshell who stood on the front deck. Glancing at her bare feet and toes, he momentarily drew a blank, then he looked up at the woman who looked down on him—in more ways than one, he suspected. “What’ve you done with my daughter?”
Felicity jerked back. “What’ve I done with her? I lured her into my gingerbread cottage and stuffed her in my oven, what else?”
“How is that funny?”
“Don’t get your knickers in a knot, she’s using the bathroom. And by the way, you’re trespassing, so lose the attitude.”
“I’m not trespassing, I rented this place for the summer.”
She snorted. “I don’t think so.”
“Is this Bobrovie Spit?”
“Anyone who rented this place for the summer would know that.”
“I have a lease.”
Her brows jumped. “Show me.”
“Actually…” The document was in his briefcase safe in his Cessna along with their luggage. “It’s in my plane.”
“Sure it is.”
“I didn’t think I’d need it.”
“Because I’m too stupid to know who I rent my cabin to?”
“Look, I don’t know what you’re trying to pull—”
“What I’m trying to pull?”
The melancholy blast of a ship’s horn drifted across Kachemak Bay; the ferry was arriving in Otter Bite. Jerking her eyes off Ian, Felicity gazed past him toward Mermaid Point. “Damn.” After a disappointed sigh, she looked expectantly at Ian. “You were about to say…”
Ian could wield words like a Samurai wielded swords, but he’d been rendered dumb…and felt even dumber. First, the ravens and eagle, now this cheeky chick. Thankfully, Emily hadn’t witnessed his fowl encounters.
“Dad!” Emily raced around the corner, footsteps pattering the weathered planks. Her sneakers yelped when she slammed on the brakes. “Come see the otters! They’re cramazing!”
“We’re leaving.” He targeted Felicity. “For now.”
“We just got here!”
“And now we’re going.” Face-to-face with 4-foot-3 Emily who stood on the two-foot high deck. “Don’t argue.”
Pleading eyes shot to Felicity.
“It’s okay, Pup,” Felicity said. “You can visit another day, after your dad has found his shoe—” She targeted Ian. “—and lost his attitude.”
“My attitude is appropriate to this situation.” Grabbing Emily from the deck, he set her on the ground. “And don’t be tellin’ my daughter what she can do.”
“Where’s your shoe?” Emily asked, staring at his feet.
“Never you mind. Let’s go.”
“But, we live here—”
“That’s right—” He whipped his finger at Felicity who flinched. “I want my money back.”
“The twenty-eight hundred I paid for summer rent.”
Felicity’s jaw dropped and her luscious lips parted.
“Not only is this place like a chapter out of Zoo, it’s completely different than the house you advertised! Where’s the second story and the hot tub? I’m of a mind to sue you for bait-and-switch!” Ian spun around and steered his daughter into the tall grass toward the path.
“Hold on,” Felicity said.
Feeling smug, Ian stopped. Turning, he aimed his fully-loaded, 45-caliber expression at Felicity. She appeared unimpressed; if anything, she seemed…sympathetic?
“I don’t know who you gave money to—”
“Don’t play dumb with me. I handed a check to your father, Dr. Bricker. He said you’d be here to show us how everything works.”
“I don’t know any Dr. Bricker; my father’s an attorney. Either this is a terrible mistake—”
“And you, Miss, are the one making it. You have no clue with whom you’re dealing. Are you returning my money…?” He carefully unrolled his soiled jacket and pulled out his Galaxy from an inside pocket. “Or am I calling the authorities?”
“No local authorities and this spit is in a dead zone.”
Ian inflated at yet another lie. “Your ad promised phone and internet.”
“The same ad that offered a two-story with a hot tub?” She took a deep, calming breath. “You may use my satellite phone to call the troopers. Ten dollars a minute, cash up front.”
“Ten dollars? That’s highway robbery! My satphone is less than two dollars a minute.”
“Then use yours.”
“You know I don’t have it.”
“As I said, ten dollars a minute. While you’re at it, feel free to report the eagle. Maybe provide a description. Height, weight, feather color.” She quirked her head. “Tattoos?”
Ian felt like a firecracker whose fuse had fizzled. “Oh, for the love of—” He stuffed his useless cell phone back into its pocket and gruffly re-rolled his jacket.
Felicity glanced at Emily whose blue eyes were wide and frightened. With her forefinger, she beckoned Ian to come closer.
Ian warily looked around. “What?”
“We’re scaring Emily. Holster your bravado and come here…please.” That took effort. But his shoulders sagged just enough to inspire Felicity’s compassion.
Tentatively, Ian stepped toward the deck. When he was near enough to whiff Felicity’s fresh, breezy scent, she bent over. Suddenly, he was facing unfettered breasts as formidable as the Alaska Range. You’re wrong, Mum; it’s the peaks not the pebbles.
Pulling his eyes off Felicity’s distracting cleavage—and the gold medallion and caged pearl dangling from chains of different lengths—he stepped back for perspective.
“I’m sorry, Emily’s dad, but—”
“I don’t want your apology, I want my money…or the house you advertised.” He stared into irides the color of his mother’s favorite aquamarine broach. “I’m not some cheechako, fresh off the ferry, you can scam.”
“Hate t’ tell you,” she said softly. “But I think you sorta are.”