Summer heat getting to you? Looking for your next cool vacation spot? Cool down this summer with the Heroes of the Tundra romantic suspense series by Laurie Wood as she takes you into Churchill, Manitoba, Canada. Keep reading for exclusive Chapter 1 excerpts!
Reunions can be deadly.
After a savage attack in university, Kira Summers fled to the safety of northern Canada and her work as a polar bear scientist. But when her whistleblower brother dies in a mysterious car crash, she must return home to bury him and pack his belongings. Unaware she’s carrying explosive evidence someone’s willing to kill for, she has no choice but to rely on the one person she never thought she’d see again.
Lukas Tanner, a widowed single father of a special needs toddler, moved to Churchill five years ago. As the proud owner of Guiding Star Enterprises, a wilderness tour company, he and his daughter lead a simple life. But when Kira comes crashing back into his world, he realizes God has other plans. Now, Lukas and Kira must confront a merciless killer as their past and present collide in a deadly race—a race they must win if they have any hope of a future together.
Take a peek at Chapter 1
KIRA SUMMERS SHIVERED AS she stood beside her brother’s open grave. Winnipeg Memorial Cemetery stood bleak and empty. The November sky churned with rain clouds as purple as bruises.
Her fingers trembled on the handle of her black umbrella. Sleety snow swirled across the grass and lashed around the ankles of her short dress boots. Kira’s pulse roared in her ears, and for a split second, she swayed, feeling light-headed. She stifled her sobs with a tissue.
“I’m sorry I’m late.”
“Oh,” she gasped. Her heart thrummed against her chest. She didn’t need to turn around to know who was behind her.
“How long have you been standing there?” She jammed the tissue into her pocket.
“I just got here.” His hand grasped her elbow and gently turned her around. She looked up into ice-blue eyes she’d never forgotten. “Kira, I’m so, so sorry Michael’s gone.”
She raised an eyebrow at his hand on her elbow. He let her go and thrust his hands into the front pockets of his jeans, rocking back and forth on his heels.
Here he was, Lukas Tanner, her long-lost love and the last man she expected to see today. Or any day, for that matter. She tried to force a smile and failed. “How did you find out?”
“The world’s a small place.” He shrugged. “We’ve still got newspapers up north. I saw his obituary.”
She huffed as she turned away and blew her nose. “I meant, how did you know I was here? At the cemetery?”
He took the umbrella from her and placed his hand again on her elbow, turning her away from the flower-drenched coffin. “Where else would you be? And where’s Aunt June?”
“Her arthritis is acting up. The rain. She didn’t want to leave but…” Kira paused. “She did most of the funeral arrangements.”
Lukas filled the space she hadn’t realized felt like a gaping hole. She had company now. Someone who knew her down to her soul. He stared into her eyes, with the space between them crackling like lightening in a hot summer sky.
“I’m sorry. My flight was delayed, or I would’ve met you at the church.”
She stiffened. Her throat worked at trying not to cry again. She didn’t want to leave her brother, Michael, her only blood relative. He would be all alone, buried in this lonely place. She didn’t live in Winnipeg anymore. She’d left for a job and run away. Run away from the man who now stood beside her on the frozen grass.
“You’re freezing. Let’s get you someplace warm.” His hand on the small of her back guided her to the black rental car he’d parked behind hers. “Is there anywhere in particular you want to go?”
She snatched the umbrella back. “Everything I need is in the car. I’m flying back to Churchill now. I’m sorry you came all this way for nothing.”
She resisted the urge to reach out and touch him. He wasn’t dressed for a funeral or the weather. A worn, brown bomber jacket covered a red plaid shirt. He stood as solid and reassuring as she remembered: his hands shoved again into his front jean pockets like he always had. Sun-bleached highlights rimmed his hair. “He was the brother I never had.” Those arctic-blue eyes pierced her heart. “How could I not come?” The left side of his mouth still quirked up when he was nervous.
Kira clutched the neck of her jacket tighter against the sleet sweeping across the manicured grounds. He’d come. Lukas and Michael had grown up together, inseparable and always in trouble when they were young. Then there was her and Lukas. She pressed her lips together. Those thoughts led to pain.
“I need to get to the airport.”
“I want to know how he died in a car accident. He was a great driver.”
Tears threatened to spill over again. She looked away. “It was a rollover on the Perimeter Highway. He must’ve been going too fast that afternoon. The police said he rolled twice.” Her cheeks were numb. “The ditch had water in it, they said.” Her voice cracked. “He drowned in a couple inches of water.”
Kira could see Lukas’s throat muscles working. Pain contorted his face.
“I have to go. I’m late,” she said. If she stood in front of him a second longer, she’d fall apart. She didn’t owe him anything. Kira turned away and headed up to her own car.
“I’ll meet you at the airport.” His voice fell away behind her.
Kira tossed her purse and umbrella into the car and swung her legs in beneath the wheel. Plastic totes filled with Michael’s books and memorabilia filled the back seat of the small sedan. Her luggage was in the trunk. She’d be paying a pretty penny in freight charges to fly everything home to Churchill.
A van screeched up beside her driver’s door, sliding sideways onto the grass as it came to a stop. She glimpsed a male driver with sunglasses and a ball cap just before her door was thrown open by another man.
“Out, out, out!”
The man wore a navy blue ski mask. He grabbed her by the shoulders and hauled her halfway out of the car. Muscle memory allowed her to shove her right palm hard against his nose. It gave a satisfying crunch even as he pulled her from the safety of the driver’s seat. He clasped her arms like a vise, but she kicked hard and felt the solid heels of her boots connecting with his shins.
With a yell, her captor let go of her arms, and she fell to the pavement on her left side, rolling towards the open door of the van. Lukas grabbed the man from behind while tightening his right arm across the man’s throat.
“Come on!” The driver pounded his fist on the sliding van door.
“Lukas, you’ll kill him!”
Lukas shoved her attacker away from him. The guy leapt into the open side door of the van. The driver peeled away with the other man cursing as he struggled to hold on to the van’s door.
Kira pushed herself up from the pavement. Her tights were in shreds, and her hair had come undone from its bun. Panting, she stumbled upright. Lukas grasped her shoulders.
“Stupid question, but are you okay?”
What was that? It was like walking into her college dorm room and feeling the knife shoved against her throat by the man in black. No, no, not again. Dear Lord, protect me…
She wavered on her feet and drew in a shaky breath. “Sure, yeah—no, no I’m not!”
He pulled her against his chest. “Just take another breath.”
Adrenaline surged through her body, electrifying her blood vessels. Her legs wobbled like a newborn foal. She refused to give in to the warmth and the delicious scent of his leather jacket, even as her cheek registered the soft flannel shirt poking out from the open zipper. Where were his pressed and preppy clothes? His heart pounded too; she could feel his pulse beating at the base of his throat.
“Who were those guys?” The deep timbre of his voice rumbled against her hair.
She clutched the edges of his jacket. “No idea.” Her boots raised her to underneath his chin. “Now I’m really late.” She tilted her head back enough to look at him. “Thank you.”
Now it was his turn to huff out a breath. “Thank you? You were nearly dragged off—we’ve got to call the police.”
“No, I’ll miss my flight.” She pushed away from his chest. Call the police? They hadn’t bothered to help her five years ago when she reported the vicious assault on her in her dorm room. She despised the police. Why would they believe her this time?
“Kira. We have to report this. I’ll go with you.”
She shook her head and hefted her purse onto her shoulder.
“At least make a phone call.”
I’ll miss my flight. I’ll miss my flight, echoed in her head. Great. She was losing her mind. Her stomach roiled. No way was she going to pass out, throw up, or fall into his arms.
“I’ll call from the airport. I gotta go.” With unsteady steps, Kira picked her way across the gravel driveway and made it to the car door.
“Kira,” Lukas shouted behind her.
Escape… run away… it was what she did best. She fired up the engine, slammed the door, and raised a hand to wave at him in the back mirror. Then she squealed her tires away from the side of the cemetery driveway and left him standing in her dust.
Lukas gave up on flipping through the travel magazines from the back pocket of the airplane seat in front of him. Kira sat two rows ahead of him, although on the twenty-two seat Calm Airplane, they were almost the only people on board. He could see the back of her head. She’d scraped her hair back into a severe bun. When it had hung in waves about her face after the attempted kidnapping, he’d noticed bright streaks of teal underneath, which belied her cool, detached scientist demeanor. She’d always been a wild child until everything changed in university. He still didn’t know why.
He’d scrutinized every other passenger on the plane but saw no guys dressed in black. November was the end of the tourist season in Churchill, Manitoba, and these passengers looked like wilderness types coming up for the last tours of the year. Churchill was known as the Polar Bear Capital of the World because the bears traveled through town in the fall to reach ice floes on Hudson Bay. His tour company took clients out to see the polar bears and other wildlife.
He drummed his fingers on his armrest. Then he motioned to the flight attendant.
“Can I have a pop, please?” She nodded and moved away. He tried to lean back, then shifted sideways in his seat, but no matter how he sat, he couldn’t avoid seeing the back of Kira’s head. She sat ramrod straight. Everything about her screamed do not approach.
Kira had made a big show of calling Winnipeg police from the airport. She gave the details and location of the attack and wrote down a police officer’s name and number, waving the paper at him as if to say, “See? It’s no big deal.” And she’d crushed the paper into a ball and shoved it into her leather backpack. None of her behavior made sense to him.
He took the can of pop from the flight attendant and nodded his thanks.
Michael Summers had worked for Webster Technologies’ head office in Winnipeg. He’d been planning to fly north to see Kira and had called Lukas to arrange a quick visit.
Lukas let the sweet, cold drink soothe his throat on the way down.
Michael knew Lukas and Kira hadn’t spoken in five years. She’d arrived in the spring to work at the Arctic Science Research Centre about twenty kilometers east of town. Lukas had kept his distance after he spotted her grabbing a coffee to go at Ruby’s Café on the main drag. Even though his tour groups often crossed paths with the scientists conducting research out on the tundra, he hadn’t run into her all season—which was just as well. He figured she’d just run from him again like she had when he proposed.
As the flight settled over the plains heading north, Lukas chewed on the attack on Kira at the cemetery. And the car accident. Michael was—had been—an exemplary driver. They’d raced each other on that highway many times as teenagers. Lukas didn’t buy a rollover accident in broad daylight. Were the two events connected? And would she talk to him about the accident, or should he leave her to grieve for a few days?
They flew over the open tundra and banked west. He knew every lake and river below them. The Canadian Shield turned into lush, boreal forest as they headed northeast towards the wild beauty of Hudson Bay. He’d flown to Winnipeg on a whim, jamming a suit into a garment bag for the funeral, after reading about Michael’s sudden death. A stupid, freak accident. Unless it wasn’t—unless it was tied to Michael’s last message, “Hey, I’m flying up Thursday, November 1st. Need to talk to you stat but not over the phone. Kira’s not answering, so she’s probably out checking her beloved polar bears. See you.”
That was all. A cryptic message that could’ve meant anything. He crushed his pop can in his right hand.
The plane banked left and flew around the town of Churchill, revealing the choppy water and ice of the bay. Lukas loved seeing the expanse of shoreline and rocks every time he was in the air. The wilderness always freed his spirit, as if he’d been holding his breath whenever he’d been away from it. The pilot set the plane down on the asphalt runway and taxied to the terminal.
“Thank you for flying Calm Air today. We look forward to seeing you on your next trip.” The flight attendant stood at the front of the plane with a big smile.
Kira stood from her seat and threw her purse over her shoulder. Lukas sighed and grabbed his backpack, motioning another passenger past him. He’d give her some space. A bit of space.
They’d left Winnipeg in sleety rain and freezing temperatures. The sun was still out here and hit him square in his eyes as he went down the few steps of the plane to the tarmac. Although it was -7°C, the late afternoon sun cut across the tundra in watery waves of light, making it seem warmer. Lukas drew in a deep breath. He loved this small, northern subarctic town. Gathered along the shoreline of James Bay, Churchill welcomed travelers going north and south. The people who made it their home were a hardy breed, and he was proud to call it home.
Before he could take another step, Kira planted herself in front of him.
“Are you following me? Or are you going to tell me you live in Churchill?” Her eyes held shadows of fatigue. Now she picked a fight about him being here? He shifted his backpack to give himself time to think.
“Yes, I live here. I’ve lived here for five years now. I own Guiding Star Enterprises.” He could see the instant spark of surprise in her eyes.
“Ah, yes, Daddy’s money. I see.” She turned away. He couldn’t help himself; he put his hand on her arm.
“Not Daddy’s money. Mine.” She tilted her head towards him but didn’t acknowledge his hand on her elbow. “I bought the business from Uncle Henry.” He wanted her to understand. He wanted her to see what he’d accomplished.
She gave a hollow laugh. “Guess the joke’s on me. I’ve been itching to take one of your whale tours all summer. Now it’s too late in the season. Too late for a lot of things.”
He dropped his hand and stared hard at her.
“How many of you are there out at the science centre? Do you have a ride?”
“I have a ride, and I’ll be fine.”
“That place is isolated. You’re a good twenty-five minutes out of town.” His throat tightened. She’d always been so stubborn. “I want to make sure you’re safe.”
“Safe from what?” She heaved a sigh, although he could see her ‘so what’ attitude didn’t quite carry to her eyes. “The doors lock from the inside because of the bears. No one’s going to get to me in there.”
“You don’t even know who’s trying to get you out here. Men in black don’t just abduct people in broad daylight, not even in Winnipeg.” He stayed in place, forcing people to move around the two of them. He could be stubborn, too.
Lukas stared at her clear, hazel eyes framed by the wide brows that arched over them. Her skin pinked up in the fresh cold air.
Don’t look at her lips. He’d be a goner for sure.
“It happened down there, and now I’m here,” Kira said.
She really was stubborn.
“Let it go, Lukas.” She turned and headed towards a truck with a young guy in the driver’s seat. The sight of her back was just as painful as it was five years ago. Then, she’d jumped up from her restaurant chair and run out the door. She was walking now, but it still punched a hole in his chest.
Let it go, Lukas.
Not very likely.
Like what you read?
Constable Ben Koper is still healing from the bear attack that almost killed him. Nine months after it happened, he returns to Churchill, Manitoba, a changed man—scarred more than just physically. PTSD is his new shadow, haunting his every step, and he can’t seem to kick the pain meds he shouldn’t need anymore. He’s determined to prove, to himself and his colleagues, that he’s still up to his job. Failure isn’t an option.
ER nurse Joy Gallagher spent the entire last winter texting with a healing Constable Koper. What started as friendly concern from this single mother has grown into full-fledged romantic feelings, and she’s eager to level up their friendship and introduce him to the idyllic comfort of small-town life. Until a teenager is murdered at a summer party. The crime is strikingly similar to the cold case murder of Joy’s foster sister, stirring old trauma Joy has never fully dealt with.
When another victim is snatched in town, Ben and Joy must confront their own demons, and join forces to track down an elusive killer. The race to rescue the next victim before it’s too late will test Ben and Joy to their limits. Can they survive their encounter with this heinous killer, or will the past destroy them.?
Take a peek at Chapter 1
Saturday, August 1
Constable Ben Koper pulled his RCMP truck over to the side of the road across from Ruby’s Café & Emporium. His first day back at work in nine months, and already he was running late. He slammed the truck into park and stared up and down Kelsey Boulevard, on high alert for any movement between the buildings.
Last November, a polar bear had attacked him in this exact spot. He hadn’t been back to Churchill since then. Goose bumps skittered along his arms. Rationally, he knew that bears had been spotted along the coast and probably hadn’t made it into town yet. But his anxiety and the acid in his stomach told his brain a polar bear could be anywhere, now that the sea ice had melted.
Ben grabbed his mobile phone with the coffee orders on it and stepped out of his truck, pulling his baseball cap down to his sunglasses. He slammed the truck door and strode to the pavement of Kelsey Boulevard. The rest of the street sat quiet, while Ruby’s 6:00 a.m. crowd was hopping with its early morning breakfast specials. He could see people eating at tables through the huge front plate-glass window.
When he hit the middle of the street, his heart sped up, jackhammering in his chest. His feet refused to move past the centre of the road, like he’d struck an invisible wall. Adrenaline shot through his limbs. His vision tunneled into black holes. Sweat poured down his back and gathered on his forehead. He put his right hand on the grip of his service weapon, trying to get some equilibrium. His throat closed, and he leaned over with his hands on his knees. Deep breaths.
Deep, deep breaths Trying, trying…
Dan Sherman, his therapist, sounded in his head. “Look for five things around you to centre yourself. Repeat them to yourself. Then count them down one by one.”
Panting, beads of sweat rolled down the right side of his face over his scarred eyebrow and ear. All he could see was the concrete road and small rocks littered about.
There’s nothing but the road. Concrete, rocks, concrete, rocks…
He needed five things. His boots wouldn’t move. He stood hunched over in the middle of the street, trying not to throw up his meagre breakfast. No other objects around; nothing else to see. His feet… he couldn’t move his feet.
Running shoes, white and pink running shoes… Where did they come from?
“Ben? Ben,” a lilting, female voice broke through his fog. “Are you okay?”
A hand touched his shoulder, his sore right shoulder, and he flinched. Finally. He could move. He reared his head up and collided with the face belonging to the voice.
“Ow.” The woman let go of his shoulder and grabbed her nose while he staggered sideways.
“I’m sorry. I’m sorry,” he stammered. He reached forward to steady himself with his right hand but dropped his phone on the ground with his other hand. The woman dove for the phone and swiveled around to give it to him.
“Ben, look at me,” she ordered. That voice had a familiar ring to it. Bossy but comforting at the same time. He’d heard it before. “Let me see you without the sunglasses.”
He removed them without question, his heart slowing while sweat made his uniform shirt cling to his back. At nearly 6:30 a.m, no less. Or, what time was it now? He was inexcusably late. Not a great impression to make on the new Corporal.
The woman stood in front of him, her dark brown eyes concerned as she held him by his upper arms. He blinked twice and tried to get his tongue to work. Mortification brought a dull red flush to his cheeks. I should know her… Gah, why won’t my stupid brain work?
She wore purple nursing scrubs with sprigs of pink flowers on them. Her dark brown hair was pulled back into a braided ponytail, but her eyes—they were the deepest brown he’d ever seen. Several gold earrings pierced her right ear, and one gold stud pierced her left. A delicate scrolled flower tattoo peeked out along her left collarbone. And she smelled of fresh citrus. Like a pitcher of lemonade.
All right, he hadn’t totally lost his powers of perception. A gorgeous woman had just pulled him out of a full-blown panic attack in the middle of main street. Wonderful. He might as well turn in his badge and gun, drive straight to the airport and fly home.
“Ben, it’s me.” She put her hands on her hips. “It’s Joy.” She looked like she would snap her fingers in his face any second.
He shook his head. Cleared his throat. Wished the pavement would open and swallow him whole. “I remember.”
Joy. When the nightmares came rushing in the night from the bear attack, it was her voice and the touch of her hands on him as she bound up his shoulder that he remembered. And her scent—that was a great memory—citrusy and fruity after the horror of the bear’s mouth and its rancid smell. She had bent over him, bandaging his head with gauze as they tried to save his right ear for the plastic surgeon.
Yes, it was all coming back to him now.
“I’m sorry. Did I hurt you?” Lord, just beam me a hundred miles away from here, right now. This is not how I wanted to meet her again.
“No, of course not. How are you?” She touched his forearm lightly. “I mean really, how are you? You—didn’t text me what flight you were coming in on.”
“Sorry. I got it last minute.” There. At least his voice wasn’t shaking like his knees were. Shaking like a trembling foal.
“Great.” She took a step back as if realizing she was in his personal space. “I’m so glad… you’re back. Most people would never have come up here again after what you went through.”
His right shoulder grated in its socket when he put his hand on his service weapon again. That grounded him. Although, he wasn’t sure hanging on to his gun was what his therapist had in mind when he said to find objects to fixate on during a panic attack. Time to pop another pain pill, but not with Joy in sight.
“Thanks. I don’t blame the bear. He was just being a bear.” Wow. Quit while you’re ahead. She’s more stunning in person than her texts ever let on.
“Mommy. I’m gonna be late for day care.”
A small, dark head with long hair poked out of the turquoise car parked in front of Ruby’s. The child waved at them. “C’mon, Mommy.”
“Perfect timing,” Joy said under her breath.
“Nothing, never mind,” she said. “You sure you’re okay, you’re not feeling faint or anything?”
Ben took a deep breath, finally. “I’m good. Thanks for checking. Don’t know what happened there.” He put his sunglasses back on. Small comfort, but a mask all the same.
Joy gave him a slanted look. “Are you going off shift or just going on?”
“Going on, and I’m late. I’m supposed to be bringing in coffee for the guys and a round of Ruby’s cupcakes.”
Okay, well, I won’t keep you,” she said, then started walking back towards Ruby’s and her car. The little girl was hanging out the front window of the car from her waist. “Emberlyn Marie Gallagher. Sit back in that car this instant.”
A flash of mischief shot through deep brown eyes that were a clone of her mother’s as the little girl’s face broke into a brilliant smile, and she laughed. Joy kissed the child’s upturned face and reached through the open car window to help her back into the front seat.
“I guess I’d better get her over to day care.”
Are you going on shift or coming off?” parroted Ben. Please don’t leave yet.
“Just going back on a double shift in the ER. Mom had her for the night, so now it’s time for day care.”
“A double? Is that normal?” You sound like an overeager teenager. Knock it off.
Her laugh made his stomach flip. Yep, definitely feeling like an overeager teenager.
Joy headed around her car and opened the driver’s door. She cocked her head to the side.
“You’re going to be fine, Ben.” Her smile shone as brilliantly as the sunrise. She jumped into her car and slammed the door.
He stood at the bottom of the Café steps and watched them drive away. His right shoulder throbbed. It still throbbed every day. He’d lied to his physiotherapist because his long-term disability was up. If he couldn’t get back to work, he’d have to quit The Job. He had nothing else but The Job. Not being a cop wasn’t an option.
“You’re going to be fine, Ben.”
From your lips to God’s ear, Joy Gallagher.
He headed up the steps and yanked open the door. The sweet aroma of baked goods and coffee teased his nose as it welcomed him into the café. Maybe he imagined it, but people seemed to stop talking, especially over at the “gossip” table in the far right corner. He caught the furtive glances, eyes cutting away, and feet rustling under the tables. Was it how he looked? The uniform ball cap didn’t cover his ear, but it did cover his right eyebrow and forehead.
“Hey,” he said to the air in general. He nodded towards the right and left and then walked up to the counter. Mercifully, people began speaking in low tones again, the sound washing over him like a balm. He’d expected people to react to his scars when he came back to work, which was why he flew up yesterday to minimize the contact.
Simon Thatcher and Lukas Tanner sat at a table to the left of the front counter. Lukas jumped up and grabbed Ben’s right hand, shaking it for all he was worth.
“Hey, why didn’t you phone me? It’s great to see you.”
Ben swallowed his wince as Lukas clapped him on the right shoulder. “Sorry, just got the word I could get back to work, so I flew in last night. I don’t even have groceries.” He nodded at Simon, who raised his coffee mug in a salute. “It’s great to see you, too. How was the wedding?”
Lukas’s grin could’ve powered the town for a month. “I was sorry you had to miss it. We honeymooned in Florida and took Sophie with us. She loved every second of it.”
“That’s good, buddy. Real good.”
“I’m so glad you’re back. Kira’s going to want to have you over for supper.”
“Yeah, I’ll let you know what my schedule is… once I know.”
“Hey there, what can I get you?” asked a young teenaged girl behind the counter. She looked fresh as a daisy, all blonde and blue-eyed perfection. No sign of recognition, and he didn’t know her name, either.
“Can I get a half dozen chocolate cupcakes and a half dozen red velvet ones, please?” He smiled back at the girl. “And two double-double coffees, one black, and one cream, no sugar.”
“Absolutely.” She threw together a paper box and reached into the glass-topped baked counter to load it up with the cupcakes. “Zoe, can you grab that coffee order for me?”
“Got it,” yelled Zoe from the back.
“Don’t be a stranger, okay?” said Lukas.
“No worries. I’ll text you.”
Lukas went back to his table and started talking quietly with Simon.
Ben rocked on his heels, his hand on his service weapon without realizing it. He glanced up to the left at the slanted mirror that Ruby had installed over the cash register. It also showed the front doors. No one was behind him. His unease rippled up from the base of his spine. He and his therapist had talked about this—that feeling of something crawling up his back. Of something waiting behind him. What it was, he didn’t know. But the feeling made him sick in the pit of his stomach.
He tried another deep breath, then smiled a crooked smile at the blonde girl when he paid for his coffees and cupcakes. He’d never felt like he had a target on his back in uniform before. Zoe brought him a cardboard tray with the coffee cups in it, and he grasped it for dear life. With the cupcake box in his other hand, he nodded again at the girls but couldn’t manage to get a word out.
Eight long steps between the counter and the front door. He pushed through the plate glass door on the right, into the sunshine of a cloudless day. Now to get back across the road to his truck. His heart fluttered in his chest, ramping up like hummingbird wings. This wasn’t happening. It couldn’t be happening. He could do this, and without Joy Gallagher or anyone else.
The thought of the white pills waiting for him in the glove box of his truck steadied his nerves. This was his last coffee run—from now on, he’d bring a travel mug and to heck with the cupcakes. He made it to his truck and jumped inside as if a bear was after him, sending the coffees sideways and causing them to leak from their lids. Nice. Coffee dripping everywhere, you idiot. Heart pounding, he tossed back two pain pills, swallowing them dry.
If only she could see you now. He shoved the thought of Joy’s bottomless brown eyes away and started the truck. The Job. It’s who he was, what he was, and all he had in the world. Focus on that, buddy, he told himself as he pulled onto the road. Focus on that.
“What’s wrong with the policeman, Mommy?”
“Nothing, honey. I just had to talk to him,” said Joy. She hung a right to go north and then a left at the Town Centre.
Her ancient two-door sedan had nearly 110,000 kilometers on it. Up here, everyone drove their vehicles into the ground. The only places to go were around town, out to the airport, or along the coast twenty-three kilometres to the Arctic Studies Research Centre. She’d gotten this car from her parents when she was sixteen, but it was already well used then.
She helped Emberlyn out of her car seat and let her skip along the sidewalk towards the main doors. Her princess backpack bounced on her thin shoulders when she hopscotched on invisible squares before hitting the automatic door opener with the flat of her palm.
“His ear looks ugly,” said Emberlyn. They entered the air-conditioned building that housed every important business for the town. The Town Complex stretched for five city blocks along the shoreline.
Joy worked in the Health Centre here and loved the fact that she could leave Emberlyn in the Little Tots Day Care because it had extended hours for shift workers. They walked past the library and down the hallway towards the indoor play area, where young moms and their little kids congregated on days of inclement weather.
That’s because he got mauled by the polar bear last winter,” she said as she held the inner door open for her daughter. “Don’t say that to anyone. I’m sure Constable Koper’s self-conscious about it.”
“I won’t.” Emberlyn skipped into the day care foyer, her light-up runners flashing pink and purple lights. “Can he hear out of it?”
“I’m sure he can, or he wouldn’t be back at work.” She stood by while Emberlyn hung up her backpack in her cubby and toed off her runners. Fatigue washed over her. Her Saturday overnight shift had been busier than usual. A fight at the Legion and two domestics. It made it harder when she knew the victims.
“Okay.” Emberlyn shrugged and reached up for a quick hug and kiss. “Love you, Mommy.”
“Love you too, baby.” She squeezed her daughter tightly. It was so hard to leave her in the care of others besides herself or her own mother. She straightened as Shannon appeared.
“Hey, Emberlyn. Are you ready for breakfast, or did you eat at Gramma’s house?”
“We had chocolate chip pancakes,” said Emberlyn, beaming. “Gramma let me pour the pancake batter because I’m six now and big enough.” She clutched her princess doll to her side. “I can help you make breakfast.”
Shannon laughed. “Well, aren’t you wide awake this morning. Sure, you can help make breakfast for the little kids.” She took Emberlyn by the hand and smiled at Joy. “Looks like you could use a decent sleep. Rough shift?”
Joy shrugged. “Eh, rough enough. I didn’t get much sleep before I went on.” She ruffled Emberlyn’s hair. “I’ll be back to get her by 5 p.m. Bye, squirt.”
Joy watched the two of them disappear into the kitchen, then headed back out to her car. Every part of her ached from being on the run all shift. But it was the middle of summer, which meant staff shortages from holidays. After this next shift, she’d be able to collapse into sleep while her mom took Emberlyn for the night again.
Driving back down the hill, she remembered the feel of Ben’s hard shoulder under her hand. Something about it wasn’t right. She touched her throbbing nose ruefully. Served her right for scaring the poor man. He’d been having a full-blown panic attack. She hoped for his sake, he’d had some therapy back in Winnipeg. No one here expected to see him again after his close brush with death.
They’d stabilized him with two blood transfusions and a quick surgery to put his shoulder back in place, before helicoptering him down to the Health Sciences Centre in Winnipeg for proper reconstructive surgery. Her boss, Dr. Will Stedman knew the plastic surgeon who’d reattached Ben’s right ear and fixed the scarring on his face and right eyebrow.
Emberlyn was right. His damaged ear was noticeable—but only because as an RCMP officer, he had to wear his hair short, and it was uncovered. Kudos to him for being brave enough not to care what people thought of his looks. And for coming back here where he was injured in the first place. She didn’t know if she would’ve had the guts to go through with it. On the other hand, her return to Churchill had taken a different kind of courage.
She wheeled around the corner of the building into the Health Centre staff parking. Time to grab another coffee and get back to work.