On her way back to the cabin, after washing her dishes in the tiny clear-water creek that ran into the river, Linnet heard his singing before she saw him.
"Where the Northern Lights, they shine, she rubs her nose to mine, she cuddles close and I can hear her say ... Ooga-ooga mooska, which means that I love you. If you'll be my baby, I'll ooga-ooga mooska you. Then I take her hand in mine and set her on my knee, the squaws along the Yukon are good enough for me..."
He finished up the chorus as he strolled into the clearing. "Hey there," he said in greeting.
Linnet stopped by the picnic table under the deep gable overhang of the sod roof. "Hi," she grunted. Then rolled her eyes as he hummed the tune. "Please. Don't you know any other song? That is if you absolutely must sing."
She felt the need to harden her defenses. This one was a charmer. The worst kind of man. The kind who could slip into a girl's bed before she could pull back the covers and invite him. Exactly the kind she didn't want to be near.
"What? Don't you like my voice? I was almost the lead singer in a rock band in college. I returned to Alaska instead." The wide easy grin only convinced Linnet she had him sorted out properly.
"You have a fine voice. It's the song I object to." A mosquito buzzed her ear and she waved her hand to whoosh it away.
"Ah, now see, you just don't have an appreciation for fine music." He dropped his tackle box on the bench and flopped a large plastic food bag down on the table. It was stuffed with deep pink salmon fillets. "That song is a Hank Thompson classic. Was real popular forty--fifty years ago."
Ah, Neanderthal days. Better to let that subject drop. "Didn't catch the big guy?" A nod at his catch neatly changed the subject.
"Nah. Too early in the trip. I want to catch one like him just as I'm heading back into town. This is just right for dinner tonight and lunch tomorrow. Hope you'll join me."
"Thanks, but I just finished washing up my dishes. Manley had his yummy kibble and I had a nice bowl of pasta." She clanked her metal plate down into the pot she'd just washed.
"Don't tell me you're a vegetarian." He gasped, and she had a hard time not laughing at the horror on his face.
"Those radical liberals," she scoffed. "I'm a vegan."
This time she did laugh at the blank look on his face. "Just kidding. Actually, I'm worse than vegan. I hate salmon." And the bugs loved her. Fanning them away with her hand didn't work for long.
"No! How can you live in Alaska and hate salmon?" Hand over his heart, he staggered back a step.
She shrugged. "Easy. I don't keep what I catch, so I don't have to clean it or eat it. Just measure it. Now if you want to talk halibut or shellfish..."
"You must be from California."
The teasing look on his face shored up her resolve to hold him at arm's length. "And that has to do with what?" Too many digs about Californians over the past year had her hackles rising. Why did everyone on the West Coast pick on Californians as a whole?
"Hey, no offense meant." In a silent gesture pleading for peace, he held up his hands and gave her a smile most women probably found irresistible. "I've just noticed people from California, the Bay Area in particular, love their shellfish. East Coasters too, but the accent is West Coast."
"Right. Well, I have some things to do, so I'll leave you to your dinner." She turned toward the cabin door only to stop cold at his touch.
The warmth from his big hand gently holding her upper arm burned through her shirt as if it didn't exist. The first instinctive fight-or-flight adrenalin rush hit her then faded into something else.
This man didn't want to hurt her, she knew it on a deep, inexplicable level, but she'd been fooled before. Because of that one exception, where a nice guy had turned out to be a beast, her body stiffened, preparing ... waiting ... Panic held at bay for the moment, she stared down at his hand, willing him to release her. Instead he tugged her back around to face him.
"I didn't mean to hurt your feelings. It was a joke. I'm sorry."
With no netting to shadow her face now, she reluctantly looked up at him. Serious with his apology, his brown eyes shimmered as he stared at her. Their gazes locked. She watched his soften and a smile lit up his whole face.
"Don't worry about it." Could she sound any more insipid or dead? "I'm used to the slams."
Creed shook his head slowly. "Not a slam. Just an observation, meant to be friendly teasing."
"Fine. Now, if you'll release me, I do have some work I want to finish up tonight. I hope you won't object to the sound of my generator for an hour." Speaking civilly was damn near impossible and the tiny quaver in her voice didn't help. Torn between wanting to hit him with her best karate chop and wanting to wrap her arms around him, Linnet was desperate to put sanity-restoring distance between them.
Something of her inner battle must have showed in her eyes because his regard turned curious as his hand slowly uncurled from her bicep. "No, that's fine. As long as it doesn't run all night." The white teeth flashed at her and the return of his easy smile nearly melted her.
As much to clear her mind as to agree with him, she shook her head. "I enjoy the peace and quiet too much, but I do need the power tonight. I don't run it every day." Besides, the generator blocked out sounds she wanted to hear at night. Sounds of bears or other beasts trying to break into the cabin.
"By the way, you're very pretty without the hat and netting."
Rolling her eyes helped cover the jump of her already thundering pulse. "Most people look better without it. Speaking of," she batted at the gathering of buzzing insects, "time for me to get this chore done and then get myself inside before they eat me alive. Good night."