Heather raised her chin to let the sunlight soak into her face. It was the first real day of spring in Alaska, and after months of darkness the sun felt wonderful. Closing her eyes, she thought about taking a nap, but she could hear Tyler playing with his friends down on the shore and knew that it wouldn’t be long before he’d be up on the deck showing her some treasure that he’d found. At eight, he was a precocious little boy, always busy, always questioning, and it was a relief to let his teacher take on his questions for a little while.
Life at Homestead House had turned out better than she’d ever imagined it could when Seth and Lauren asked her to join the staff of Montgomery Renewable and Reclamation. After years at the EPA with little advancement, she’d thrown caution to the wind and made her temporary move to Alaska permanent, leaving the safety of her government job to play a role in the progressive plan that Seth Montgomery had launched.
She loved the excitement of watching Seth’s vision come to life, the huge wind turbines were just as beautiful as the land where they were located and she’d become a lover of nature in her time here as well. At first it had been difficult for both she and Tyler to adjust after living in the city for so many years, but after a few months of fresh air and freedom Tyler never wanted to live anywhere else and Heather had to agree with him. She’d never been happier, her job was fulfilling, she had great friends, friends that she could depend on, but there was still a small part of her that wished there was someone to share it all with.
Lauren was her best friend but at times it was difficult to be around she and Seth, their love so apparent that it made her longing even stronger. At only twenty-six, she had a lot of her life left to live, and she hoped that she wouldn’t be living it alone, but at the rate she was going that’s exactly what might happen. There were plenty of nice men in her life, attractive, educated men who would have been more than happy to occupy that place, but none that sparked those kinds of feelings.
She’d promised herself that the next time she became involved with a man, it would be someone who made her feel special, someone who would treat her the way she should be treated. Her disastrous experience with Tyler’s father had taught her what she didn’t want in a man, but she wasn’t quite sure what she did want. Although that wasn’t quite true, she knew that she wanted a man who made her tremble with desire, who made her forget everything but what it felt like to be loved.
Just as she’d predicted, Tyler ran up on the deck interrupting her dark thoughts. It was a relief to be distracted, to be reminded that her little boy was the most important thing in her life. Someday he’d be gone, off to college and a life of his own, then she’d have time for herself, right now he was what was important. Love would just have to wait for a more convenient time, she told herself, as she listened to Tyler go on and on about the turtles they’d seen, shaking her head because she knew that for the next few weeks those turtles would be the topic of many conversations.
When they’d first moved to Homestead House, she’d been a little concerned about the school Seth and Lauren had founded for the children of the people who had come to work on the project. Besides being modeled after the old one room school house, the children would be going to school all year, and she wasn’t sure if taking away summer break was such a good idea. But after two years, she had to admit that Tyler was thriving, book work in the winter and exploration of the outdoors in the summer was giving him a well-rounded education.
Today they’d been exploring the tidal pools, learning about the ocean, its creatures, and all the things it supplied for them. Tomorrow they’d be spending the day in the barn learning about the animals that they all depended on for their food as well. It was a hard lesson for some of the younger children, but an important one considering where they lived, and part of Seth’s commitment to educate them on how people influenced the planet in both good and bad ways.
Later in the summer, that class would go out into the back country and explore one of the reclamation sites, a trip that everyone was looking forward to. Heather had been out in the field plenty of times in the course of her job but this would be a different kind of trip, one where she’s have no more responsibility than to keep an eye on her son and to help him learn how important it was to take care of the Earth. It was two weeks she’d been looking forward to since the snow had begun to melt a few weeks ago, a two-week vacation she was more than ready for.
Heather had discovered that first summer that she loved camping, loved the feeling of surviving with only what you absolutely needed, of catching and finding her own food. Mostly she caught fish, but she’d snared a couple of rabbits and hoped to add hunting to her list of skills. Had anyone told her three years ago that she’d be thinking of taking a gun and shooting her own meat, she would have laughed in their faces. But Alaska had changed her, made her understand that everything was connected, that it was possible to survive without supermarkets and convenience stores.
She was more than ready to share what she’d learned with Tyler who was just as eager as she was for the trip to the Alaskan outback. In only two years, he’d learned to love his adopted home and rarely ever spoke about their lives before they’d moved. Of course, she couldn’t blame him, their life in the city had been difficult. She’d done her best to give him a nice home, but Washington D.C. was an expensive place to live, and as a single parent the best she’d ever been able to do was a cramped two-bedroom apartment, Tyler’s room so small it must have once been a closet.
“Mom!” Tyler’s voice brought her out of her thoughts, “I was trying to tell you about the turtle.” He said, hands on hips clearly annoyed that she hadn’t been listening.
“I’m sorry sweetheart. Tell me about the turtle.” She said, all her negative thoughts vanishing when her son sat down beside her and launched into the story of how he’d spotted the turtle for the third time.
Marshall turned in his chair so that he could look out the window, hoping that if he didn’t look at the review he’d forget the words printed on the page. He’d been so sure that this performance would finally bring him the praise that he’d been seeking, but the theatre critic had been even more ruthless this time. Making it clear to any reader that he was tired of having to watch Marshall in yet another poor production of a great play. Of course, the man hadn’t trashed only Marshall, the director got a share of his venom as well, which seemed only fair since he was the one controlling the action.
Getting up from his chair, he crossed the room and stood by the window trying to shake off the mood that had settled on him when he’s read the review. Closing his eyes, he took several deep breaths, feeling his old equilibrium return when the smell of grease paint, moldy fabric, and dust filtered into his nose. The theatre had always been the one place he could call home, had for a long time been the only place that he felt he could truly be himself. If he lost it he wasn’t sure what he’d do with his life, but it was beginning to look like he’d never achieve his dream of appearing on Broadway.
He’d toyed with the idea of producing his own play, of having total control of both the actors and the director, surely that would make the difference. If he used his own money, hired only best staff then things might be different, and the critics would finally see that he really was a gifted actor. Money certainly wasn’t a problem thanks to the Montgomery fortune which had given him a nice little trust fund, a trust fund that was worth billions of dollars and thanks to his brother Seth seemed to be growing larger every day.
They’d come close to losing everything a few years ago when their father died, but Seth had managed to bring Montgomery Mining to a dignified end forming Montgomery Renewable and Reclamation instead. Marshall hadn’t really cared what Seth did as long as his money was safe and there to support him while he followed his dreams, but Seth wasn’t happy with that attitude, wanted Marshall to be involved, had even suggested that he become their spokesperson.
Marshall had laughed at the idea. He was an actor not a spokesperson, making informational videos was the last thing he wanted to do. But his brother had refused to let it drop, had been pushing him every chance he got to give up acting, to face the fact that he was only a decent actor, that he was never going to make it big. He could just imagine what his brother was going to say when he saw this latest review, it would only fuel the fire, give his brother one more reason to think that Marshall’s acting career was over.
He was already getting angry at the thought of the confrontation that was sure to come when the phone on his desk buzzed. Sighing he crossed the room to the desk thinking that it was probably his brother calling to rub it in, but when he got to the phone he saw that it was Mike at the security desk not his brother. He rarely got visitors this time of day but the only time Mike buzzed him was when there was someone to see him, a pleasant thrill rushed through him at the thought that just maybe a fan had come to see him, it happened every now and then.
“Hey Mike.” He said when he picked up the phone. “What can I do for you?”
“Well, Mr. Montgomery, there’s a woman here to see you.” Mike said, then hesitated.
“Please tell me it’s not that reporter. I’ve talked to her all I’m going to. I don’t care what my brothers are up to, I’m not sad to see my family’s business taken apart and I have no opinion on renewable energy.” Marshall recited as he did every time a reporter called to get his side of the story.
“It’s not that reporter Mr. Montgomery. The lady says that she’s written a play for you.” Mike said, then seemed to be talking to someone in the background. “She says that it’s the perfect role for you, that she’s been a fan for years and finally got brave enough to come and see you.”
Marshall thought about that for a moment, he’d had his share of crazy fans, and women who wanted to get close to him because of his money, they all used the same ruse to get close to him. But he was in such a down mood that a little adoration wouldn’t hurt, might give him the lift he needed to move forward from the review. Still it was stupid to let the woman into his dressing room.
“Tell her that I’ll be down in a few minutes.” He said and hung up the phone without waiting for a reply from Mike, it wouldn’t do to keep the woman waiting, she was a fan after all.
Heather felt her phone buzz in her pocket and wanted to scream, today had been one of those days. All she wanted to do was pick Tyler up from school, take a hot shower and pretend the day had never happened. Pulling the phone from her pocket she looked at the screen relieved to see that it was only Seth and changed direction, a chat with Seth might make her feel better. His enthusiasm for life had a way of rubbing off on the people around him and right now she could use a boost.
She found him in his office, the desk covered in papers as it always was. “Hey, what’s up?” She asked, sitting down in the only chair that wasn’t covered in stacks of papers.
“Just the usual.” Seth said, gesturing to the mess in his office and shrugging his shoulders. “But something has come up that I think you might be able to handle for me.”
Heather had been working for Seth for two years now and knew that his relaxed attitude was a cover for the anxiety she could clearly see in his eyes. “You know I’ll do anything you need me to, but I hope it’s not a trip to the stockyard again.” She said, reminding him that she wasn’t good with the animals and never would be.
“Don’t worry, I’d never do that to you again.” Seth said, laughing. “But what I’m going to ask you to do might be just as distasteful.”
“That doesn’t sound good.”
“I wouldn’t say it’s bad, but the thing is I need your help.” Seth seemed at a loss for words, something she’d rarely seen.
“You’re beginning to scare me.” Heather said, concern on her face.
“Sorry, I just don’t know how to ask you to do this.” Seth said, then took a deep breath, “I need you to do a personal favor for me.”
“A personal favor?”
“Yes, I’m sure you’ve met my brother Marshall.”
“At the wedding I think.” Heather said, wondering where this could possibly be going.
“Well I think he may have gotten himself mixed up with the wrong woman.” Seth said, then added. “I need you to go to Anchorage and assess the situation, see what’s going on up there.”
“You want me to spy on your brother?”
“That’s a blunt way to put it, but yes. He’s been trying to make it as an actor for years, but now I’ve heard a rumor that he’s going to produce his own play and star in it.” Seth was relieved to have finally gotten the words out, it had never been easy for him to ask for help.
“I’m not sure I understand what the problem is.” Heather said, trying to remember anything she could about Marshall Montgomery who she’d met very briefly at Seth and Lauren’s second wedding.
Seth sighed, “The problem is that my brother is a bit naive, from what I’ve heard this woman showed up at the theatre with a play she supposedly wrote especially for him. But when I tried to find information on her, I found nothing, no driver’s license, no social security number, nothing. It’s like she didn’t exist until she showed up in Anchorage.”
“That is strange, but I’m not sure what you expect me to do, he is a grown man.” Heather didn’t like what Seth was asking of her at all.
“I know this is a lot to ask, and let me assure you that I wouldn’t ask if I wasn’t really worried. Marshall never had it easy when he was a kid, our mother died when he was only four and our step-mothers were not the mothering types. Dad chose them more for the physical attributes and youth than anything else, they were trophies he could display.” Seth explained, hoping that Heather would feel bad for a motherless kid.
“What exactly do you think is going on in Anchorage? How much trouble could he possibly get himself into?” Heather asked, trying not to feel bad for Marshall, who had seemed like a stuck up, vain man when she’d met him.
“I’m not sure, but something tells me that this woman is bad news. I’ve heard rumors that he’d been spending money left and right, that he’s put her up in the best hotel in town, a suite no less. It just doesn’t feel right, Marshall is venerable to anyone who praises his acting, to anyone who he thinks can further his dream of becoming a star on Broadway.”
Heather sighed, it was pointless to question Seth any further, she knew that in the end she’d go to Anchorage, but she had one more argument. “What about Tyler? How long is this going to take?”
“Well, I hope it won’t take too long, but he can stay with us while you’re gone. You know we’ll take good care of him and I promise you that when this is all over, you can take a week off, maybe take Tyler somewhere fun.” Seth said, with a huge smile, knowing that he’d won.
“That sounds like bribery.” Heather said, shaking her head.
“Yep, and since I’ll be paying your salary while you’re there, you might find a bit extra in there.” He added, winking at Heather.
“You make it hard to refuse, but I have to be back here for the science trip. I’m not going to miss that.” Heather said, knowing she’d been beat and that she’d be on her way to Anchorage in a few days.
“I’ve booked you a room downtown not far from the theatre, and this is for expenses.” Seth said, sliding a credit card across the desk. “Thank you for doing this Heather, it means a lot to me.”
Heather stood in the doorway of the hotel room looking around her in shock. She’d expected a nice room, but not a suit and certainly not a suite in the fanciest hotel in Anchorage. When she’d walked in the front door exhausted from the long drive, she’d immediately felt out of place, the huge hotel overwhelming in its grandeur. But then she’d looked around and realized that most everyone was dressed much like her in jeans and tee-shirts and she was reminded again why she liked Alaska.
There were very few places where people would spend a ridiculous amount of money on a hotel room and still dress like they were out for an afternoon hike. She was put even more at ease by the front desk staff who once they learned who she was went out of their way to make sure she had everything she needed. In fact, the nice young man who’d brought up her luggage was even now opening the blinds and checking to make sure the room was ready.
“It looks like you’re all set, Ms. Whitcomb. Mr. Montgomery said to make sure you have everything you need so please don’t hesitate to call me if you need anything. Here’s my card.”
Heather took the card from him, trying to suppress a grin, apparently even the lowest of the staff kept up appearances. She slid the card in her pocket and offered him a tip, but he waved it away, “Mr. Montgomery took care of everything.”
When he’d left and shut the door behind him, Heather couldn’t help but run over to the bed and jump on it. It was the biggest bed she’d ever seen, covered by a plush comforter and a mound of fat pillows, and she sank deliciously into it. Shrugging off the guilt she suddenly felt leaving Tyler, she reminded herself that he hadn’t even batted an eye when she told him that she had to leave him with Seth and Lauren.
It had hurt her feelings until she realized that it was a good thing that Tyler had people in his life that he liked enough that her leaving didn’t matter. She knew that he would miss her, she’d miss him too, but this might be good for both of them. Raising a child as a single mother had come with a lot of hurdles, especially since she had little family of her own, but the people at Homestead House had become their family, a fact she sometimes lost sight of.
Of course, that was the reason she was here, Seth trusted her like family, and she couldn’t let him down. The first thing she planned to do was see the current play that Marshall was starring in, the reviews had been terrible but it would give her a chance to evaluate the man without him knowing she was there. She had no idea how she’d introduce herself to him when the time came, couldn’t imagine that he’d appreciate his brother sending someone to check up on him.
But she’d cross the bridge when she came to it, even to her the story that she and Seth had come up with seemed a bit far-fetched, considering the fact that Seth had made it very clear that he’d never supported Marshall’s acting career. Seth had insisted that it would work, that if Marshall thought Seth was going to help him finance his next play, he’d fall in line quickly. She certainly hoped so, because if Marshall turned her away there was little she could do about it and she’d have to go home defeated.