Excerpt from Chapter One of
Book One in The Sky King Ranch Series
Susan May Warren
By the time Dodge got to the hospital, he’d already broken his first promise.
It was a Saturday, the same day the sun turned the Copper River into blades of ice, lethal and brilliant as they shoved and jockeyed out of Denali’s shadow south into the Gulf of Alaska. The dawn had broken at the respectable hour of 7:42 a.m., and with it, the sunrise not only brought a southernly gust of warm air that cracked the freezing point and turned the starting line of the Iditarod to mush and grime but also laced the air with the scent of spring.
A balmy 37 degrees in Anchorage, nearly a heat wave this time of year.
Which only brought out the crazies.
As he stalked through the waiting room of Alaska Regional and punched the elevator button, Dodge shot a look at the flat-screen where the news recapped yesterday’s celebration, aka the parade through Anchorage of the fifty-seven or so mushing teams. People dancing on icy berms, high-fiving the mushers, tailgaters wearing board shorts along with fur caps and mukluks, children wanting to pet the dogs. Outsiders from the Lower 48 were trying to grab selfies with local celebrities.
The mushers would be starting on their thousand-mile journey from Willow Lake later today, and with that information from the reporter, Echo Yazzie slipped into Dodge’s mind.
No. He shook her away, got on the elevator, and rode it to the third, med-surg floor. As he got off, he recognized the smells of a hospital, not that different from Walter Reed, and his insides clenched.
He wouldn’t stay long.
Of course, the old man hadn’t died in the accident, and maybe that was crass of Dodge, but if he had, maybe it would all be over, the burn in Dodge’s gut finally extinguished.
He spotted his sister, Larke, standing at the end of the hall, staring through the window at the blue sky, the muddy streets. She stood with her back to him, so he only guessed it was Larke, her long blonde hair in a singular braid down her back. But she also wore a Sky King Ranch flight jacket, the words emblazoned on the back, so that seemed a dead giveaway.
A man sat in a nearby molded chair, his hair cut military short. He considered Larke with worried eyes.
Probably Riley McCord, her SEAL husband. Perfect. With Dodge’s luck, his brother Range and Riley would have met on some classified SEAL mission, become best of pals, and Riley would have gotten an earful of family dirty laundry over a post-mission debriefing.
Dodge, of course, starring as the villain of the story.
He braced himself. “Larke?”
She turned, and of course she looked older—the last time he’d seen her she’d been eighteen and joining the Army.
And he’d been sixteen and just stupid enough to think that he had his life buttoned up.
“Dodge?” She wore trauma in her eyes, probably fatigue and worry, but also residue from the years she’d served as a medic. Still, he wondered if she had been the one to find the wreckage of their father’s DHC-3 Otter bush plane. His friend Moose had been sketchy on that part when he’d called to tell Dodge about the accident.
Glancing at the man in the chair, who rose, Larke put her coffee on the ledge of the window. “Wow. I didn’t think . . . I mean . . . how did you find out?”
Dodge wished she’d finished her first thought. She didn’t think . . . what? That he cared about the old man? That he’d ever return? That he didn’t think about his choices nearly every day, especially recently?
“Moose Mulligan, down at Air One Rescue,” Dodge answered.
Larke wore a pair of jeans, Sorels, and a wedding ring on her left hand, but he knew that, too, thanks to the Copper Mountain Good News’s online portal.
He just kept his subscription for the obits. And maybe the police report. Really. The fact that it listed her engagement to a Navy SEAL a couple years ago was just a bonus line item.
“Have you been in Anchorage all this time?” She seemed to be working her words, trying not to accuse.
He felt it anyway.
“How’d it happen?” He glanced at the other man—Riley—now standing. Big enough, built like a linebacker, he stepped close to Larke and put his arm around her.
Dodge met his eyes even as Larke spoke.
“Otto Smith saw him go down and called it in. Dad was low, coming in for a landing at the Copper Mountain airfield, and his wing clipped a tree. Otto wasn’t sure but he thought the wing might have detached before it hit.”
“A faulty wing attachment?” His gaze went back to Larke, having found some solid ground in his silent face-off with Riley. Riley loved her—he would protect her, and Dodge appreciated that. Larke might be two years older than him, but she was still his sister.
“It’s the only way we can figure it.” Her gaze flitted toward the closed door that Dodge guessed was the old man’s room. “He’s been flying for forty-nine years. He doesn’t make mistakes.”
“It doesn’t have to be a pilot error for accidents to happen, Larke. Weather. A wind gust. Anything can happen in the bush.”
Her jaw clenched and her husband tightened his grip on her. He finally held out his hand to Dodge. “Riley McCord.”
Dodge met it. “Dodge Kingston. When did you two finally hitch up?”
“Before my first tour,” he said. “About a year ago.”
Dodge didn’t ask if he knew Ranger, figured it would come up if it needed to. “Congrats. Sorry I wasn’t there.”
“We eloped,” Larke said. “You and the boys were too hard to track down, and Dad already gave his blessing, so . . .”
She was being kind with her words. Truth was, he hadn’t a clue where Ranger, and especially Colt, had landed on the globe. And he didn’t ask. Just because they were triplets didn’t mean they were close. At least, not anymore.
To continue reading Chapter One of SUNRISE, click here!
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