The new schoolteacher wouldn't last.
It didn't take Mitch Harris more than five seconds to make that assessment. Bethany Ross didn't belong in Alaska. She reminded him of a tropical bird with its brilliant plumage. Everything about her was vivid, from her animated expression to her sun-bleached hair, which fell to her shoulders in a frothy mass of blond. Even blonder curls framed her classic features. Her eyes were a deep, rich shade of chocolate.
She wore a bright turquoise jumpsuit with a wide yellow band that circled her trim waist. One of her skimpy multicolored sandals dangled from her foot as she sat on the arm of Abbey and Sawyer O'Halloran's sofa, her legs elegantly crossed.
This get-together was in her honor. Abbey and Sawyer had invited the members of the school board to their home to meet the new teacher.
To Mitch's surprise, she stood and approached him before he had a chance to introduce himself. "I don't believe we've met." Her smile was warm and natural. "I'm Bethany Ross."
"Mitch Harris." He didn't elaborate. Details wouldn't be necessary because Ms. Ross simply wouldn't last beyond the first snowfall. "Welcome to Hard Luck," he said almost as an afterthought.
"When did you get here?" he asked, trying to make conversation. He twisted the stem of his wineglass and watched the chardonnay swirl against the sides.
"I flew in this afternoon."
He hadn't realized she'd only just arrived. "You must be exhausted."
"Not really," she was quick to tell him. "I suppose I should be, considering that I left San Francisco early this morning. The fact is, I've been keyed up for days."
Mitch suspected Hard Luck was a sorry disappointment to her. The town, population 150, was about as far from the easy California lifestyle as a person could get. Situated fifty miles north of the Arctic Circle, Hard Luck was a fascinating place with a strong and abiding sense of community. People here lived hard and worked harder. Besides Midnight Sons, the flight service owned and operated by the three O'Halloran brothers, there were a few small businesses, like Ben Hamilton's café. Mitch himself was one of a handful of state employees. He worked for the Department of the Interior, monitoring visitors to Gate of the Arctic National Park. This was in addition to his job as the town's public safety officerPSOwhich meant he was responsible for policing in Hard Luck. Trappers wandered into town now and then, as did the occasional pipeline worker. To those living on the edge of the world, Hard Luck was a thriving metropolis.
Lately the town had piqued the interest of the rest of the country, as well. But Bethany Ross had nothing to do with that. Thank heaven, although Mitch figured she'd stay about as long as some of the women the O'Halloran brothers had brought to town.
Until recently only a small number of women had lived here. Not many were willing to endure the hardship of being this far from civilization. So the O'Hallorans had spearheaded a campaign to bring women to Hard Luck. Abbey was one of their notable successes, but there'd been a few equally notable failures. Likewho was it?Allison somebody. The one who'd lasted less than twenty-four hours. And just last week, two women had arrived, only to return home on the next flight out. Bethany Ross had actually applied for the teaching job last spring, before all this nonsense.
Unexpectedly she smileda ravishing smile that seemed to say she'd read his thoughts. "I plan to fulfill my contract, Mr. Harris. I knew what I was letting myself in for when I agreed to teach in Alaska."
Mitch felt the heat rise to his ears. "I didn't realize my
feelings were so transparent."
"I don't blame you for doubting me. I don't exactly blend in with the others, do I?"
He was tempted to smile himself. "Hard Luck isn't what you expected, is it?"
She said this with such confidence he began to wonder if he'd misjudged her.
"Frankly, I didn't know what to expect. With Hard Luck in the news so often, the idea of moving here was beginning to worry me."
Mitch didn't bother to conceal his amusement. He'd read what some of the tabloids had written about the town and the men's scheme to lure women north.
"My dad was against my coming," Bethany continued. "It was all I could do to keep him from flying up here with me. He seems to think Hard Luck's populated with nothing but love-starved bush pilots."
--This text refers to the