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By´╝ÜTiffinie Helmer

“My wife. And, lucky for you, an NP. She’s the best thing we got in medical care out here.” Lynx stepped out of the truck and walked around the front.

Aidan opened the door and gritted his teeth. Getting into the lodge was going to be the easy part. Seeing the occupants was going to hurt.

“Ready for this?” Lynx asked.

Aidan didn’t know if he was asking about his physical well-being or the emotional havoc to come. “Not much choice in the matter,” he mumbled.

Lynx put his arm around Aidan’s back. Aidan swung an arm around his shoulder and they hobbled to the front door of the lodge.

The door opened and Fiona, Lynx’s mother, stood there, looking the same as Aidan remembered. Round and happy—well, more concerned at the moment—she’d always seemed to make the best out of what life handed her, and it didn’t seem as though that had changed.

“Aidan Harte! I thought I’d seen a ghost when you pulled up.” She quickly looked him over. “Always coming to my place injured in one form or another, aren’t you?” She motioned for them to follow her. “Come on. Let’s get you patched up. Can’t wait to hear the story on this escapade.”

A lump lodged in his throat as he looked around the lodge. The walls of its rough homespun interior were decorated with vintage mining materials and snow shoes, while over-sized furniture sat in intimate corners and soft old leather couches flanked the stone fireplace.

Fiona was the closest thing to a mother he’d had growing up, since his own mother had checked out most of the time. Fiona had fed him cookies, washed his scraped knees, and scolded him within an inch of his life when he stepped out of line. Damn, he didn’t want to deal with these old feelings.

God, he hoped Raven was no longer living here.

Please, he prayed, let Raven be happily married and living in the Midwest somewhere. Far away from Chatanika.

“Bring him in here.” Fiona opened the door to one of the guest rooms. The room was decorated simply, with an old quilt on the bed, a wooden rocking chair in the corner, and an old thrift store dresser. Criss-crossed skis hung above the queen size bed, and diamond willow lamps sat on birch nightstands. Nostalgia hit him like a snowplow. The lump in his throat grew.

Lynx threw him down on the bed, and Aidan landed with a bounce. He held up his leg to keep blood from getting on the spread and gave Lynx a dirty look. He didn’t care that Lynx hated him, but he needed to take better care with Fiona’s things.

“Lynx,” Fiona scolded. “That’s no way to treat an injured man.” She’d grabbed towels from the bathroom, and folded back the quilt, laying the towels down. “All right, Aidan, you can set your leg down now.” She gave him a once over. “Whatever did you do to yourself?”

“He got himself caught in one of his father’s bear traps,” Lynx said with a sneer.

“No.” Fiona gasped. “Oh, you poor thing.”

Next she was going to be kissing his forehead and smoothing back his hair like she used to do. He wondered if she still had blueberry shortbread cookies in the cookie jar.

“What is Earl thinking?” Fiona tsked.

“Apparently, he’s no longer thinking or doing much of anything.” Lynx gave a cat-like grin. “Earl’s dead.”

Fiona sighed. “Well…”

There was no, ‘Isn’t that a shame.’ Or, ‘I’m so sorry for your loss.’ Nobody in the room would shed a tear for Earl Harte.

“I take it you sent for Eva?” Fiona asked Lynx, who nodded. “Good. I’ll go and grab some medicinal beverage. Aidan, I’m sure you could use a drink.”

Oh yes, he could. “Thanks, Fiona. For everything.”

“You’re welcome. It’s good to see you, son.” She walked over to the bed and smoothed the hair back on his forehead. “You always did have the best manners around.” She left the room. The lump that had been forming in his throat clogged it closed.

“Suck up,” Lynx said. “I’ll never understand why she doesn’t hate you like the rest us.”

He had to clear his throat to speak. “She doesn’t blame me for the sins of my father.”

“Acorn doesn’t fall far from the tree.”

“Have you ever seen an acorn tree growing in Alaska?” He tightened his jaw. “And I’m not my father.”

Lynx snorted, but looked away like maybe Aidan had touched a nerve.

A woman entered, who Aidan thankfully didn’t know. A little thing except for her very pregnant belly, with blond hair cut short and spiked around her pixie face. She reached up and gave Lynx a kiss. Interesting. She also carried a black bag. Must be the nurse practitioner.