Note! Yesterday’s contest is still open, and you can earn another
entry by commenting here today!
When reading through the submissions for Blue Collar, I looked for stories with different flavors of heroes. I didn’t want all mechanics, cops, or plumbers (odd, I didn’t get a single plumber!), so when I found Tray’s story, a hero who worked as a surveyor, I thought, yeah! Add the fact the story was set in Alaska, and that it had a very real conflict the hero and heroine had to resolve, and I knew I had a winner! Enjoy this snippet! ~DD
Excerpt from Tray Ellis’s “Full of the Wildlife” in Blue Collar
When her surveyor boyfriend returns from the Alaskan wilderness, a woman considers his proposal one more time
Carrie Abaco stretched in bed. She pointed her toes and raised her arms. Something gently popped along her spine, and she relaxed again. Her body heat warmed a small section of the bed, keeping the early morning crispness at bay. When she’d pointed her toes, she’d discovered a colder patch beneath the blankets. The seasons shifted again, as they always did. The comparative warmth of the fleeting Alaskan summer ebbed away into an early fall.
She didn’t mind the cooler bed in the summer. In fact, she appreciated not being sweltered all night long by the length of another body pressing so close to hers. As soon as summer waned, though, she longed for her absent bedmate. Keegan Porter kept the bed nice and warm, like a constantly blazing heat source, whom she could wrap her arms and legs around. The overly sultry summer bed-sharing, though, was the only downside she could count against having Keegan around all the time. Excepting that, she missed him terribly.
Carrie yawned and flipped away the covers. She rolled out of bed and eyed the calendar tacked to the wall. She’d placed a bevy of red stars, marked with a red felt tip pen, on today’s date.
Keegan returned from the wilds for one week of vacation. Then he’d go back for another three-month surveying session before Alaskan winter would finally shut down the surveying operation. Spring would make it possible for people to tramp around in the wilderness again, but in the meantime, Keegan settled into her home for the winter. That late fall date had stars drawn in gold and silver on the calendar.
Usually Carrie pulled on jeans and a T-shirt and carried around a windbreaker to cut the occasional chill. Clothing needed to be functional and comfortable for work, not overly revealing. Carrie had a boyfriend, and she didn’t need to attract unwanted attentions from other guys. Today, she yearned to look nicer. She wanted Keegan to remember why he returned to her, and perhaps why he should consider giving up his surveying job to stay in town.
She combed through her closet. She liked wearing pants, but those didn’t show off her best asset. Her long, slim legs looked way better when she wore a skirt. A short cherry red skirt, with black flowers embroidered close to the hem, that stopped a few inches above her knees would pair well with a white cotton blouse cropped at her waist, giving her a trim figure. She pulled on the outfit and twirled in front of the full-length mirror on the inside of her closet door. Her honey-colored hair curled all around her face, and her dark hazel eyes took on a certain pizzazz with the red and white color combination that surprised her. She looked vibrant, and she liked it. She resembled a woman out of the fashion magazines. A blue jean jacket completed the ensemble and would keep her warm while she walked to work.
Carrie lived less than a quarter mile from the Elk Rack Lodge, which her mom and dad owned and operated. They’d bought out the previous owner ten years ago when her dad was compensated with insurance money for an injury received while out on a commercial fishing boat. Her two sisters helped sometimes, in between managing their growing families. A small, but competent, staff kept the Lodge running smoothly in all other aspects.
In her twenties, Carrie had rebelled against the family and living in Alaska. She’d gone to college down in the lower forty-eight and stayed there. She’d earned her degree in Hotel Management, and she’d also earned a broken heart and wasted-away bank account from the likes of one smarmy, quick-talking love ’em and leave ’em jerk. She’d slunk home, embarrassed and poor, and her family took her back as if no time had passed. It had taken a few years for her confidence to rebuild, and even longer for her desire for another partner to return.
Carrie didn’t bother with breakfast or coffee in her own home. Plenty could be found at the lodge. She brushed her teeth and set off for work.
“Oh la la!” called out Amy, the desk clerk, when Carrie entered. “Look at you!” She stepped around the desk to look Carrie up and down and flash a thumbs-up. “Gorgeous.”
Carrie liked Amy. They’d grown close since spending so much time together at the front desk. Amy was quite a bit younger, with a lot of aspirations and a very optimistic attitude that should get her where she wanted. Sometimes, Carrie envied Amy’s positivity, but usually, she recognized its value and let it give her own mental status a buoyant boost.
Natalie popped into the foyer from the entrance to the kitchen where the continental breakfasts were prepared. “You do look extra nice,” she said. Her dark hair swished past her face as she shook her head in confusion. A bulb seemed to go off in her head, and her brown eyes sparkled. “I bet I know what today is!”
“Me, too!” Amy hopped up and down and clapped her hands together.
Carrie didn’t blush. Dating a man for six years meant everyone knew they were intimate. This wasn’t an early romance. Carrie gave them both smiles. “Yes, Keegan comes in today.” She brushed past Natalie into the kitchen area.
“What are your plans for tonight?” Natalie asked as she returned to clearing up the mess on the serving trays.
Continental breakfast had already been available for a few hours, and the guests tended to make a terrible mess. Carrie wondered if they were so sloppy in their own homes, or if they let themselves be messy because they knew someone else would clean up after them at the Lodge.
“I bought steaks and enormous potatoes for baking,” Carrie said. “Sour cream, butter, and some chives I’ll chop up. And an apple pie for dessert. We’re staying in.”
“Of course you are,” Natalie said. She didn’t add any twist or nuance to her words. She made it a commonsense statement. “Man’s been eating nothing but sandwiches, jerky, dried fruit, and candy bars for weeks.”
“And drinking and washing in bleach-sanitized water pumped up from the nearby river.” Carrie stuck out her tongue in distaste. “Gross.” Her reputation as a frontier sort of girl was always a bit shaky. She liked town plumbing and town water systems.
Carrie poured herself a cup of coffee from the carafe and doctored it liberally with cream and sugar. Then she picked up a lemon Danish and nibbled one edge. Lemon always seem to be left over. Everyone gobbled up the cheese, cherry, and strawberry Danishes first. Carrie didn’t mind. She loved the sweet and sour lemon goo in the middle of the pastry.
Natalie chuckled. “Bless his adventurous heart. I surely wouldn’t want to be out there doing that job.” She shuddered. “Too many bears and too many mosquitoes.”
Carrie sipped at her coffee. “There are bears and mosquitoes here, too.” Everyone kept their trash locked away until shortly before pick up, because audacious bears rambled wherever they pleased. No one could control the enormous swarms of mosquitoes.
“Yeah, I know. But not quite as many.”
Carrie nodded. “The region is very primitive.” And dangerous, she thought.
Keegan laughed off the danger, saying he’d easily passed the federal Bear Safety and Firearm Qualification course, and he got to carry around a sawed-off shotgun with special lead slug ammunition. Besides, nobody had been mauled in years. His job was perfectly safe, he’d told her numerous times.
His assurances didn’t stop Carrie from having nightmares. When she wasn’t dreaming about rampaging bears, she dreamed about horrible chainsaw mishaps.
Sobered from thinking about all the challenges Keegan faced on a daily basis, Carrie finished her breakfast and went to help Amy at the desk.
The morning rolled by slowly, and Carrie imagined she could hear the float plane roaring in every other minute, which she never could because the Lodge was too far away. Only tourists and general customers ambled in and out of the Lodge, although Carrie perked up every time someone entered. Her mom flitted by briefly, reminding her that Carrie and Keegan were invited to dinner later that week.
Carrie crouched behind the counter to organize loose papers and pens. Somehow, the lower shelves always got jumbled by the end of the day.
“Hey. When you’re off work, can I walk you home?”
Carrie’s heart hammered in her chest, and she jumped straight up.
Keegan stood at the desk, looking scruffy, tired, and very happy to be there.
“I’m done now,” Carrie said. She bustled around the desk and rushed into Keegan’s arms. He kissed and hugged her, and she kissed and hugged him back. He smelled freshly scrubbed. His bushy beard frazzled her chin, and she remembered how she had to get used to that every time he returned. Even though the lower half of his face was obscured by facial hair, his eyes remained the kindly blue she’d fallen in love with.
He looked just as he had three months ago when he’d left for another surveying season. Moderately tall, compact, strong, and wiry thin, he had the perfect build for thriving in the wilderness on modest amounts of food and never-ending amounts of exercise and effort.
“Have a nice afternoon,” Amy called to them, her voice full of sunshine and glee.
Carrie waved at her, hardly turning her head. She and Keegan linked up hands, and Carrie grabbed her jean jacket with one free hand.
“How was your trip?” she asked as they strolled down the street, headed to her small house.
“Long,” Keegan said. He pulsed his grip around her hand. “You look really nice.”
“Thank you.” Carrie glanced down to their hands. Even Keegan’s fingernails were as clean as they’d ever been. Months out bushwhacking through understory nearly every day tended to leave them ragged and filthy, but he must have scrubbed them dutifully before coming to see her. The nails shined and only the barest hint of stain remained on his fingers and under his nails.
She unlocked the front door.
They stepped over the threshold. The moment the door closed behind them, Keegan’s arms went around her.
“I’ve been waiting for this,” he said, breathing the words against her neck. He kissed and nipped at the skin from the notch at her throat to the rounded end of her jaw line. “I missed you so much.”
“I missed you, too.” Carrie pulled him farther into the room. They stumbled together, Keegan not letting go, and collapsed onto her sofa.
Keegan paused, his gaze fastening on hers. “Are you still—” He let the words hang.
He’d never been good at voicing delicate issues.
“Yes,” Carrie said, and then deliberately added more information so that there could be no miscommunication. “Still on birth control. And I haven’t been sleeping around. You’re the only one. You?”
Some women worked out in the wilderness as part of the surveying crews. Opportunities were available, if Keegan wanted to pursue them. Carrie’s heart thumped in her chest. Cheating was always a sensitive topic. Her once-broken heart never did seem to entirely heal.
“Only you,” Keegan promised. “I don’t want anyone but you. You know that.” He went back to licking her neck, but didn’t remain there long. He rubbed his bearded face down the center line of her chest, his hands cupping along the sides.
It tickled, and she giggled.
He pulled at the blouse, searching for buttons or zippers. Confusion crossed his face. “How do I get this off?” he asked. “It’s too nice for me to—”
Carrie wiggled her hands free from where he’d trapped them between their bodies. “Scoot off,” she said.
He reluctantly moved away.
She quickly pulled the blouse over her head and deftly unfastened her bra.
Keegan tugged at the waistband of her skirt, finding the zipper and sliding it down.
Carrie shimmied and slid off her skirt and underwear.
“You, too,” Carrie said.
Keegan yanked his jeans down and his shirt off. He didn’t bother with underwear, so there was none to remove. He reached for her again, his hands clasping her solidly around the hips, the waist, traveling down to brush against her thighs. He leaned back down to capture her mouth in a long kiss.