Chapter OneManhattan, New York
"I don't believe it. You can't actually mean to go through with this." Jeremy paced over to the dresser in the bedroom where Charity stood studying each piece of clothing she intended to take on her trip. "You can't possibly mean to quit your job, give up your apartment, and go off to some godforsaken town in the wilderness."
Charity flicked him only the briefest of glances and continued to fold her sweatshirt, a red one with a little red-and-white-checked collar she thought was particularly warm.
"It isn't as if you didn't know this was going to happen," she said. "I've been planning this for weeks. I told you the day I made the decision to leave. As you do with anything that doesn't fit into your plans, you simply chose not to believe it."
He crossed the room and reached for her, turned her to face him. "Think about what you're doing, Charity. Think what you're giving up. You've got a good job at Glenbrook Publishing. You just got promoted to senior editor, for God's sake."
"I gave them notice weeks ago, Jeremy. They've already replaced the position."
"They'd take you back in a heartbeat and you know it. You're destroying your career, but if that isn't enough-what about me?"
At five-foot-ten, with his perfectly styled, jet-black hair and deep green eyes, Jeremy Hauser was undeniably attractive. When Charity had met him at a literacy fund-raiser two years ago, she had fallen like a rock for his debonair good looks, Wall Street polish and charm. After chafing him-practically living with him in his swanky East Side apartment-she knew how self-centered, how totally self-absorbed he could be.
She caught the hand he raised to her cheek and drew it away. "We've had two years, Jeremy. We've shared good times and bad, but you know as well as I do, things haven't been great with us for the last six months. Maybe putting some space between us will help decide where our relationship is headed."
Or if, as Charity suspected, it was headed nowhere at all.
"There's nothing wrong with our relationship. I'll admit I've been a little stressed-out lately. I'm up for that promotion and you know how much I want it." He gave her one of his most charming smiles. "I realize I haven't been very good company, but give up this crazy scheme of yours and I'll make it up to you-I promise."
"I'm sorry, Jeremy. I think this goes way beyond being good company. We haven't even made love in nearly a month."
He paled a little at hearing her come right out and say it. Jeremy had always been reserved in the bedroom, which in the beginning she'd found rather sweet. The truth was, sex just wasn't a driving factor in Jeremy's life. He was always too tired, too busy, too rushed. Mostly, he was just too preoccupied with his own needs to care all that much about hers.
She turned away from him, reached for a pair of Liz Claiborne jeans and started to roll them up. Jeremy leaned over and gently blew against her ear.
"Don't go," he said softly, kissing the side of her neck. "We'll work things out, I swear it."
Charity eased away from him. "Don't, Jeremy, please. Not now."
"All right, what do you want me to do? What do I have to say to make you give up this crazy idea and stay in Manhattan? You want to move in with me? Okay, that's what we'll do. Finish packing your things and I'll have a moving truck here to pick them up tomorrow afternoon."
There was a time that was exactly what she had wanted. She had believed Jeremy Hauser was the man of her dreams. It hadn't taken long to discover he wasn't. She still didn't know how she'd convinced herself for more than a year that he would change and things would work out between them.
"I don't want to move in with you, Jeremy. I want to do exactly what I've got planned. I want to fly out of JFK on Canada Airlines tomorrow morning at 7:29 A.M. I want to land in Vancouver, change planes, and fly to Whitehorse, where, after nearly eleven hours in the air and a two-hour layover, I'll be so exhausted I'll crawl into my bed at the River View Motel without even turning on the TV. The following day, I want to pick up the Ford Explorer I've leased from National Rent-A-Car and be on my way to Dawson City."
He looked so stunned that Charity reached out and caught hold of his hand. "I know this is hard for you to understand, but I'm twenty-eight years old and I've never done a single thing that's really exciting. Just once, I want to have an adventure. Haven't you ever wanted to do something a little bit crazy? Something you've secretly wanted to do but never had the nerve?"
She sighed. "Both my sisters are doing things that are interesting and exciting. Patience is getting ready to go on the rodeo circuit and Hope is traveling around the country, writing freelance magazine articles. They're living their dreams and I want to live mine, too."
"Patience is doing research for her Ph.D.," Jeremy argued, "and Hope is trying to salvage her flagging writing career. You have a very successful career. You're a fiction editor at a well-respected publishing house. You should be happy with that."
"Well, I'm not, and I'm tired of arguing with you about it." She turned and ushered him out of the bedroom, tugged him across her small living room to the front door. "Go home, Jeremy." She removed the chain lock and pulled the door open. "I have a feeling that as soon as I'm gone, you're going to realize our relationship wasn't going anywhere anyway. You might even be grateful to have your freedom again."
Jeremy's mouth thinned but he didn't argue. He wasn't in love with her and deep down he knew it-she was simply a convenience. That kind of relationship was enough for Jeremy but not for her.
"You're going to be sorry, Charity," he said, stepping out into the hallway. "Unfortunately, by the time you figure that out, it's going to be too late."
Charity cringed as he slammed the front door. Poor Jeremy. Maybe someday he would find a woman who would be content to simply live her life through his. In the meantime, it wouldn't take him long to get over her. His feelings just didn't run that deep.
Charity sighed as she returned to her packing, including a pair of long underwear she had purchased on-line from Cabellas, an outdoor sporting equipment and clothing store. Unlike Jeremy's superficial idea of caring, Charity knew if she ever really fell in love it would be deep and abiding, the forever, can't-live-without-you kind of love. It was the sort of love her mother and father had shared, the sort she hoped she would be lucky enough to find for herself someday.
In the meantime, she wanted a little excitement in her life.
Though her deteriorating relationship with Jeremy had been the catalyst for her decision to leave New York, living an adventure like this was something she had dreamed of since she was a little girl. Her father, Edward Sinclair, had been a professor of history at Boston University in the city where Charity was born. As a child, she and her sisters, Hope and Patience, had grown up with tales of medieval knights and damsels in distress, Robin Hood, and Red Beard the Pirate. For all three sisters, the need for adventure burned like a fire in their blood.
At Glenbrook Publishing, Charity had edited action/ adventure novels by authors like Cussler, Higgins, and Clancy. Though the stories were purely fiction, each one fueled the hidden passion that burned inside her. Charity loved them and secretly read even the ones that were published by her competitors.
Then one day it happened-the chance for an adventure of her own. In The Wall Street Journal, she spotted an article titled "Twenty-First-Century Gold Rush," a story about inexpensive mining claims for sale in the Canadian Yukon. It described the rugged outdoor life and the financial opportunities offered by some of the claims. Charity felt as if her destiny had finally arrived.
Two weeks later, after hours spent searching the Web for mining information and poring over stacks of library books, she contacted a real estate broker in Dawson City where the newspaper article had been set. A dozen long-distance phone calls later, she used half of the money she had inherited when her grandfather died last year to make an offer on a twenty-acre gold claim.
A photo of the property the owner called the Lily Rose, arriving via the Internet, showed A cozy one-bedroom cabin on a wild, rushing stream. The cabin, the advertisement read, has modern, indoor plumbing, a convenient kitchen, and a rustic rock fireplace. Existing furniture and mining equipment are included.
It sounded perfect to Charity, who closed the all-cash sale ten days later.
Smiling at the memory, she stuffed a last heavy sweater into her soft-sided bag, then struggled to buzz the zipper closed. She was only taking two suitcases: one with her can't-do-without personal items like shampoo, makeup, and hair spray, the other with jeans, sweaters, tennis shoes, and hiking boots. She wasn't sure exactly what else she would need so she had decided to buy the rest once she got there.
The good news was she was keeping her apartment. Hope, the oldest of the three Sinclair sisters, had agreed to move in next week and pay the rent for the next six months. Hope had an idea for a string of magazine articles that revolved around happenings in New York, London, and Paris. Charity's small apartment worked perfectly as an affordable base of operations.
And six months was perfect. She didn't plan to move away for good. An adventure was simply that. Once it was over, she would return to New York and decide what to do with the rest of her life.
Charity grinned as she thought of the exciting journey she was about to undertake, and set the second suitcase beside the front door.
There's a land where the mountains are nameless
And the rivers all run God knows where.
There are lives that are erring and aimless
And deaths that just hang by a hair.
There are hardships that nobody reckons
There are valleys unpeopled and still.
There's a land-how it beckons and beckons
And I want to go back, and I will.
-Robert W. Service
By the time the plane taxied to the gate and the passengers dispersed at the Whitehorse Airport-Canadian time 3:09 P.M.-Charity had been in the air eleven grueling hours. Her neck had a kink the size of a hen egg, her back ached, and her mouth was so dry she couldn't spit if she had to. God, she hated flying.
She consoled herself with the fact that she had arrived safe and sound. "Cheated death again," she whispered when the wheels hit the ground and she was still in one piece. The airport just north of town was small but appeared to be well run, or so she thought as she collected the first of her bags off the conveyor belt.
Unfortunately, the second bag-the one with her makeup, toothbrush, vitamins, nail file, and facial cleansers-failed to arrive. Realizing she was the last person left in the baggage claim and the conveyor belt had stopped moving, she wearily trudged over to the counter and began to fill out the necessary forms.
"Be sure to put down where you'll be staying," said the clerk behind the counter, a middle-aged woman with thinning, mouse-brown hair and a bored expression. "We'll get the bag to you as soon as it comes in, eh?"
It was the Canadian "eh?" that made her grin. She was there. She had made it to Whitehorse, first stop in her wilderness adventure. That was all that mattered.
She signed the form, thanked the woman, and made her way out to the front of the building to look for the taxi stand. As she stood at the curb, staring out at the vast expanse of open space around the airport, Charity's heart slowly sank. If there were any regular taxis-maybe not in a town of less than twenty thousand-they had left with the rest of the passengers. Instead, parked at the curb was a battered Buick at least ten years old with a rusted-out tailpipe and oxidized blue paint.
"Need a ride, lady?" The driver spoke to her through the rolled-down window on the passenger side of the car. He had a large, slightly hooked nose, dark skin, and straight black hair. In Manhattan he could have been Puerto Rican Pakistani, Jamaican, or any of a dozen myriad nationalities. Here it was clear the man was an Indian. First Nation, they called them up here.
My first real Indian. She barely stopped herself from grinning. "I'm staying at the River View Motel. Can you take me there?"
"Sure. Get in." No offer to help with her luggage, no opening the door for her.
Charity jerked the handle, hoisted in her black canvas bag, and climbed into the backseat, wincing as one of the springs poked through the cracked blue leather and jabbed into her behind. She shifted, hoped she hadn't torn her good black slacks. She hadn't brought that many street clothes along. "The motel's on the corner of First and-"
"Believe me, lady, I know where it is." The car roared away from the airport, windows down, the icy, mid-May wind blowing her straight blond hair back over her shoulders.
She had started off this morning with the long, blunt-cut strands pulled up in a neat little twist, a few wispy tendrils stylishly cut to float around her face. But the pins poked into the back of her head as she tried to get comfortable in the narrow airline seat and she finally gave up and pulled them out, letting her hair fall free.
By the time the dilapidated car reached downtown Whitehorse, she looked as if she had been through a Chinook, northern slang for windstorm only not nearly so warm. The driver, a thick-shouldered man wearing a frayed, red-flannel shirt and a worn pair of jeans, took pity and carried her bag into the motel lobby while she dug some of the money she'd exchanged in Vancouver for Canadian currency out of her little Kate Spade purse. The bag was too small for the sort of travel she had undertaken, she had already discovered. She wished she had brought something bigger along.
Something that would have held her now-lost makeup kit and toothbrush.
Charity paid the driver and watched the battered old Buick pull away, then turned to survey her surroundings. As small as it was-a pin dot compared to Manhattan-Whitehorse was the capital of the Yukon Territory. According to the books she had read, the city had been founded during the Klondike Gold Rush when tens of thousands of prospectors journeyed by ship to Skagway, Alaska, then climbed the mountain passes to the headwaters of the Yukon River.
In the downtown area, a lot of the old, original, false-fronted
buildings from the late 1800s still lined the street,
making it look like something out of a John Wayne movie.