Werewolf in Alaska

Wild About You - 5


Vicki Lewis Thompson

To the cheerful residents of Skagway, who helped me fall in love with Alaska


As always, I treasure Claire Zion’s perceptive editing, which never fails to improve the book. I’m also grateful for support and career guidance from my agent, Robert Gottlieb. My assistant, Audrey Sharpe, traveled with me to Alaska, so her photographs and personal recollections were invaluable. And finally, I’m thankful for the talents of cover artist Lucy Truman, who perfectly captures the spirit of this series.


July 14, 2010

Polecat, Alaska

Lurking in the grocery aisle of the Polecat General Store, Rachel Miller pretended to shop while she eavesdropped on the conversation between the store’s owner, Ted Haggerty, and the broad-shouldered customer he’d called Jake. She’d recognized the guy the minute he’d walked in, despite the fact that he was fully clothed.

Although they’d never met, she knew three things about Jake. He lived across the lake from her grandfather’s cabin, he liked to skinny-dip, and he was built for pleasure. Among other items, Grandpa Ike had left her his high-powered binoculars.

She’d accidentally caught her hot neighbor’s skinny-dipping routine one warm summer night while watching an eagle dive for a fish. After that, she’d planned her evenings around it.

After opening the screen door of the general store, Jake had glanced in her direction but hadn’t seemed to recognize her. Apparently he hadn’t been keeping tabs on her the way she had on him. That was disappointing.

Then again, she spent only a couple of weeks in Polecat every summer, and she wasn’t the type to plunge naked into an alpine lake. Still, she would have taken this opportunity to introduce herself if he hadn’t paused in front of the small display of her wood carvings.

She’d immediately turned away, grabbed a can of salmon, and studied the label with fierce intensity. If she ever intended to move from hobbyist to professional, she’d have to get over being self-conscious about displaying her work for sale, but she was brand-new at it. Asking Ted last week if he’d like to carry her art in his store had required tremendous courage.

Today when she’d come in and noticed that nothing had sold, she’d been tempted to cart it all back to the cabin. Ted had talked her out of giving up, and now her gorgeous neighbor was discussing the carvings with Ted. She hoped to hell Ted wouldn’t mention that the artist was right here in the grocery aisle. Then the guy might feel obligated to buy something, and how embarrassing would that be?

“So who’s this Rachel Miller?” Jake had a deep voice that matched his lumberjack physique. His name fit him, too.

Rachel held her breath. Now would be the logical time for Ted to call her over and introduce her. She prayed that he wouldn’t.

Ted hesitated, as if debating whether to reveal her presence. “She’s local.”

Rachel exhaled slowly. She might not be a skinny-dipper, but there were many ways to be naked, and this, she discovered, was one of them. She could leave and spare herself the agony of listening to whatever Jake might say about her work, but then she’d be tormented with curiosity for days.

Besides, she’d already put several food items in the basket she carried over one arm. Leaving the basket and bolting from the store would make her more conspicuous, not less.

“I like her stuff.”

Clapping a hand to her mouth, Rachel closed her eyes and savored the words. He liked it!

“Especially the wolf.”

“That’s my personal favorite,” Ted said.

Validation sent a rush of adrenaline through her system. It was her favorite, too. The other carvings were forest animal figurines, none any bigger than eight inches tall. Her friends back in Fairbanks raved about them, but friends were biased. She cherished their praise but didn’t always believe it.

She’d broken new ground with the wolf, though. After finding a ragged chunk of driftwood about two feet long, she’d left the basic shape intact while carving the wolf in bas-relief on the smoothest side. Powerful and majestic, the wolf appeared to be emerging from the piece of wood.

Ted had praised the carving, but Ted had a natural tendency to encourage people. His comments didn’t pack the same punch as those from someone who didn’t know her and had no reason to protect her feelings. Excitement made her giddy.

A moment of silence followed. She wondered if Jake had wandered away from the display to begin his grocery shopping, but she didn’t dare look to make sure. If he’d finished admiring her work, that was fine. He’d given her a gift simply by commenting favorably.

“I want to buy it.”

Her chest tightened. A sale.

“All righty, then!” Ted sounded pleased.

Rachel was in shock. A complete stranger was willing to pay money for something she’d created! She stifled the urge to rush over and shower him with thanks. On the heels of that urge came another—to snatch the piece and announce it wasn’t for sale after all.

Once Jake bought that carving, she’d never see it again. She hadn’t expected to be upset by that. Apparently the wolf meant far more to her than she’d realized.

Jake might like what she’d done, but he couldn’t fully appreciate it unless he’d also caught a glimpse of the magnificent black wolf that had inspired her. She’d seen it only once, poised in a clearing. Grandpa Ike had taught her how to get good pictures of wild creatures—stay downwind and seek cover. She’d been in luck that day, perfectly positioned for an awesome shot.

The photo was still tacked to a bulletin board in the cabin, so she could use it to carve another likeness. Yet she couldn’t guarantee the next attempt would capture the wolf’s essence in quite the same way. She’d known this piece was special the moment it was completed.

Finishing it had given her the confidence to approach Ted in the first place. She shouldn’t be surprised it was about to become her first sale. If people bought her work, maybe she could give up her veterinarian internship and carve full-time.

She’d thought she’d love being a vet, but the surgery and death that were an inevitable part of the job drained her. Wood carving gave her nothing but joy. Still, it might not bring in enough to support her. One sale was hardly a guarantee that she could make a living as an artist.

It was a positive sign, though, and thanks to what she’d inherited from Grandpa Ike, she had a place to live and a little money to tide her over if she decided to switch gears. The prospect was scary but exciting, too. She had Jake the skinny-dipper to thank for jump-starting her dreams.

From the corner of her eye she could see him rounding the aisle where she stood, a basket over his arm. Walking in the opposite direction, she ducked down a parallel aisle and carried her basket to the counter, where

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