True North

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9780312979850: True North

Rustic Colorado is hardly Claire Brown's idea of a primo vacation spot, but the week-long getaway at romantic mountain lodge promises to heal a rift with her increasingly detached fiance. Armed with her trusty laptop and constantly ringing cell phone, Claire can't help sensing, though, that her fiance might not be as committed to their relationship as she is. The dead giveaway: he's brought another woman along of their romantic holiday...

As proprietor of Hunter's Lodge, John McBride is duty-bound to find suitable accomodation under his sold-out roof for the cell-phone addicted, just-jilted guest. as a red-blooded man whose pet peeve is a workaholic woman, he's determined to steer clear of the suddenly single dynamo who just checked in for the next nine days. But the annoying, yet very alluring, Claire has a way of popping up when he least expects it--and as John soon discovers, so does true love...

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About the Author:

Beverly Brandt grew up in the Pacific Northwest, dreaming of becoming an author while on the all-too-frequent cold and rainy camping trips her family favored. Her life took a detour through fast food and financial analysis, but she finally returned to her first love--writing. She now lives in sunny Florida, thinking up new ways to torture her characters while ordering room service at beachfront hotels and vowing never to go near a tent again.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

True North
Chapter 1GLANCING AT HER WATCH, CLAIRE BROWN DID THE SAME calculation she'd done a hundred times over the past week.The flight from Seattle to Aspen was scheduled to leave at 7:30 A.M. She'd already called the airline once to make sure the departure time hadn't changed. Counting backward, she gave herself enough time to arrive at the airport an hour early to meet her fiancé and added an extra half hour for bad traffic. She was down to only twenty minutes to finish her makeup, dry her hair, get dressed, and finish the last of her packing.Claire took a deep breath, picking up the pace of her morning routine. Her first hope of "maybe the cab will be late" turned almost immediately to "please, don't let the cab be late" as a new worry creased her brow. She had better call the cab company again.With her blond hair mostly dry, she pushed a tortoiseshell headband behind her ears and zipped up the neatly packed bag of toiletries. Although she was accustomed to packing for two- or three-day business trips, not week-long vacations, she made sure that everything fit neatly into one large suitcase and an overnight bag. She refused to be one of those women who felt she had to bring every change of clothing she owned on vacation just in case she got a sudden invitation to meet the queen of England or something equally implausible. She knew plenty of women like that, women who went on two-day business trips with enough junk for a month. Usually, those were the ones who expected her to help them lug their crap through crowded airports or heave their incredibly heavy bags up into the overhead luggage bins.Claire shook her head, then placed her makeup bag intothe carry-on next to her cell-phone charger, her emergency change of underwear, the book she might want to read during the three-hour flight to Colorado, and four months' worth of back issues of Money magazine she hoped to catch up on during her time off. Nobody could accuse her of not being able to fend for herself, she thought proudly. Tightening the belt of her robe, she picked up the telephone and dialed the number of the cab company."Star Taxi," came the curt reply after the fifth ring."Good morning. This is Claire Brown. I have a cab scheduled to take me to Sea-Tac at five-thirty this morning. I want to make sure he's going to be on time."There was a long pause on the other end of the line and Claire thought they'd been disconnected. She was about to hang up and redial when she heard a long-suffering sigh."Listen, lady, you've called three times in the last twelve hours. The cab's gonna be on time. Please stop calling."Claire studied her perfectly manicured nails. She hated to be a pest, but she'd always found it worked best to keep on top of people. Otherwise, they ignored you, or forgot about you, or ... well, they didn't do what you wanted them to do when you wanted them to do it. "I'm sorry, I just wanted to make sure he'll be here on time."The dispatcher's terse swearing preceded the click of the phone. Claire listened to the dial tone for a second before hanging up her own receiver."How rude," she muttered, then turned her attention to the pile of neatly folded clothes sitting on a chair in her bedroom.She began snipping R.E.I. tags off her new clothes in preparation for loading the last of her gear into her suitcase. Unlike her fiancé, Bryan, Claire was not an avid outdoorsman, so their nine-day sojourn into the wilds of Colorado had meant a brand-new Gore-Tex wardrobe for her. Claire looked over at the colorful brochure sticking out of her carry-on case and had to admit that staying at the luxurious, twenty-room Hunter's Lodge could hardly be considered roughing it.She smiled, then tucked a snowy white T-shirt into a pair of stiff khakis and slipped a dark brown sweater over her shoulders. A nice pair of leather flats and, ta-da, she thought, eyeing herself critically in the full-length mirror, you are ready for anything, just like that catalog said. The outfit was perfect for an early September day, warm enough to keep out any chilly breezes, but she could always take off the sweater if she got too hot.After hanging her robe on the back of the bathroom door, Claire hefted the carry-on over her shoulder and glanced at her watch again. Five minutes till the cab--The knock on her front door interrupted her thoughts. She took a deep, calming breath. The cab was early.A second knock had her scurrying down the stairs, her suitcase banging against her shins. Glancing through the peephole, she saw a short, elderly man wearing jeans and a light blue jacket with the Star Taxi logo embroidered over the right breast."Morning," the man said cheerfully as she opened the door."Good morning. Here are my bags." Claire handed him her overnight bag and suitcase, then turned to pick up her purse and the heavy computer bag she'd left in the foyer when she'd arrived home the night before.Making sure all the lights in the townhouse were off, Claire gave the room one last once-over and saw the light on her answering machine blinking furiously. She cursed silently as the strap of her laptop bag dug into her shoulder. Someone must have called while she'd been in the shower. Or, they could have called last night, she supposed. She was at the office even later than usual, trying to get everything in order so she could leave for her vacation. She'd arrived home after midnight and didn't remember even glancing in the direction of the phone.A short, yet insistent, burst from the horn of the taxi made the decision for her. She'd have to ignore it. It was probably her friend Meg, calling to wish her bon voyage. Or maybe it was her mother. Had something happened toFather? Claire hesitated on the threshold. Maybe she should--The driver tapped his horn again and a light went on in the townhouse next to hers. Claire turned away from the insistent blinking of the message machine. Rather than dawdle and risk the cab driver waking up the entire neighborhood, she shut the door, locking away the sight of the red blink with a click of the dead bolt 
"Brown residence. Sumner Brown speaking."Claire unconsciously straightened up in the back seat of the cab and cleared her throat. "Hello, Father. It's Claire," she began, then cursed herself for an idiot. Of course it was Claire. Who else would be calling Sumner Brown "Father"? She shook her head, rested her cell phone on her shoulder, and took a deep breath, blaming her nerves on the extra cup of coffee she'd hastily swallowed this morning. "There was a message on my machine this morning but I didn't have time to listen to it before I had to leave. Did Mother call?""I don't know why she would have. Everything's fine here."Claire tried to contain her disappointment at the cool tone in her father's voice. Obviously, he couldn't conceive of either her mother or himself calling their only child just to chat. She supposed she should be grateful that nothing was wrong and attempted to cover her disappointment with her usual Miss Chipper Good Daughter routine."Things are great here, too. I landed the Prime Seafood account last week, which puts me in the Million-Dollar Club again this year. My boss said I might be up for another promotion before the year's out." She'd been working on reeling in the Prime Seafood account for over two years and was proud of her coup. The claims-adjusting contract was worth more than two hundred thousand dollars to her office alone, and the promotion would make her the youngest senior account coordinator in the company."Hmm. Well, I'll tell your mother you called," SumnerBrown said before hanging up, leaving Claire staring at the blank display of her cell phone.The urge to scream was almost overwhelming. It was just like the first time she'd ridden a bike without training wheels. Frankly, it was just like it was with every accomplishment in her life. She'd proudly exclaim, "Look, Daddy. Look what I can do!" only to have her father barely acknowledge her existence. Frustrated, she stuffed the phone into her purse and stared out at the bumper-to-bumper traffic on the dingy gray highway. Red brake lights flashed on and off, on and off, as they crept like multicolored snails on the rain-slick pavement.How was it that her father could make her feel like an inadequate little girl in the space of a two-minute conversation? And why did she let him? When was she ever going to learn that the parental well was not the place she should dip into for approval? There were other, better places for that--namely, work, where she was consistently rewarded for her efforts. Work never let her down, and for that she was grateful. At least there was something in her life she could count on.Claire put a hand on the laptop bag sitting next to her on the seat, then looked at her watch and felt her frustration grow. Her thirty-minute cushion had been eaten into by the eight-car pileup they'd passed on the freeway. To make matters worse, she was beginning to suspect the cab company had sent her the only driver in the state who strictly obeyed the speed limit. They were on the last leg of their journey, having just taken the exit to the airport where the speed limit plunged to twenty miles an hour. Other cars sped past them, doing at least forty now that traffic had finally thinned out a bit."Could you speed it up a little?" Claire asked the back of the cab driver's head.He met her eyes in the rear-view mirror and answered earnestly, "I'm sorry, ma'am. I'm already exceeding the limit by three miles per hour."Claire forced herself to take a calming breath. The urgeto leap over the seat and shove her foot down on the accelerator was almost overwhelming. "You must learn to accept that which you cannot change," she closed her eyes and chanted silently to herself. That's what Nathan, her Guerrilla Yoga instructor would say. Of course, then he'd kick the crap out of something. She'd bet there wasn't much Nathan couldn't change when he set his mind to it, but supposed that was the difference between the Zen of a former Navy SEAL and that of an insurance claims adjuster like herself."Here we are." The cab finally crawled to a stop alongside the airport curb.The airport was already bustling with travelers, even though it was Saturday and just past 7 A.M. The two lanes of traffic reserved for dropping off passengers and luggage moved in a chaotic rhythm as the cars jockeyed for position at the terminal. Claire chastised herself for not allowing enough travel time as she handed some bills to the driver and struggled to balance her luggage.She pulled her bags into the terminal and got in line behind the single other passenger waiting to check in at the first class counter, wishing she'd been able to cram a week's worth of clothing, hiking boots, backpack, and other associated outdoor gear into something that would fit into an overhead bin. Instead, she'd allowed herself a larger bag, thinking that she'd have plenty of time to get it checked before the flight.Glancing at the long line of coach passengers waiting to check in, she congratulated herself for having splurged on first class tickets for Bryan and herself and hoped his morning was turning out better than hers. They had agreed to meet at the gate since he was coming from his house south of the airport and she from her townhouse in Kirkland, a suburb east of Seattle. They hadn't talked at all during the past week and Claire assumed the plan hadn't changed since she didn't see him waiting for her here at the check-in counter. She'd been so busy at work trying to make sure everything would continue to run smoothly the week she'dbe gone, she hadn't had time to give him a call. He must have been equally busy, since he hadn't called her, either. But the last time they'd talked, he'd sounded excited about the trip, a gift she'd given him two months ago on his thirty-fourth birthday.Shifting her laptop bag to her other shoulder, Claire wished she shared more interests with Bryan. He loved all kinds of physical activities, especially those that involved rain, dirt, and not taking showers for days on end. Claire preferred her exercise to be of the one-hour, air-conditioned, top-of-the-line-equipment variety. Their differing interests were what had prompted her to send away for a brochure after she'd run across an article about Hunter's Lodge in Colorado. She and Bryan had spent so much time apart these last few months, she hoped this vacation would help them to reconnect emotionally. And what better place to get connected than a romantic lodge in the Colorado wilderness? Hooked by beautiful pictures of nice, clean people wandering around the forest with glasses of wine or plates of sumptuous-looking food in their hands, Claire had spared no expense on her birthday present to Bryan. They were booked into the most expensive suite at the lodge, which featured a whirlpool bath and an authentic river-rock fireplace right there in the room."Next, please," the ticket agent called, having finished with the passenger ahead of Claire.Struggling with her bags, Claire hefted the heaviest one onto the ticket agent's scale before reaching into her purse for her driver's license and frequent flyer card."Good morning. I have an electronic ticket on flight 604 to Aspen."The agent took her identification and began typing rapidly on her computer. Claire started to relax. She was going to make it. She'd just have to rush through security and maybe do a little sprint down the concourse, but she'd be meeting Bryan in less than five minutes and everything would be fine. Claire interrupted her mental pep talk as she noticed a puzzled frown come over the ticket agent's brow.The woman's nails clackety-clicked over the computer keys at an even faster pace."Is something wrong?""Mmm ..." The ticket agent's eyes remained glued to the screen and Claire's blood pressure inched upward. "I'm sorry, Miss Brown, but it appears as if your reservation on flight 604 was canceled a week ago.""But, but ..." Claire sputtered, then started over. "I didn't cancel my reservation. Could you please check again?"The agent eyed her up and down, as if considering whether she was worth the trouble."Please," Claire pleaded. "My fiancé and I are going on our first vacation together. He's probably waiting for me at the gate right now, wondering what's happened. Could you check again?"The clackety-clicking began again, then stopped with an air of finality. "I'm sorry, Miss Brown, but your reservation was canceled by Associated Travel Services last Monday. Is that the travel agent who booked the ticket?""Yes," Claire answered, confused. She hadn't asked ATS to cancel her reservation."Perhaps you should call them. Can I help the next--""No, wait, please," Claire interrupted desperately. "Can I buy another ticket? I can work this all out with the travel agent on Monday.""Certainly, Miss Brown, but all the first class seats are sold. If you'd like to get in the economy line, I'm sure they can help you. Now, can I help--"Claire had ten minutes before the plane left without her. She did not consider herself an aggressive person by nature, and, later, she would be slightly embarrassed by the forcefulness brought on by desperation."No," she said frantically, raising her arms out at her sides like a traffic cop. The w...

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