Well, here I am at last, the Final Frontier. The boat
just dumped me off in Valdez "which, by the way, the
natives here call Valldeeze." A dude with a beard and an
attitude corrected my pronunciation. Tell the sprout his
old man's about to start off on the adventure of a
From letters written by Roy Nolan,
BE THE HELICOPTER, and keep an eye on the torque gauge.
Ivy's dad had drilled those axioms into her head while
teaching her to fly. Like a soundless litany, his rules
flitted through her mind as the altimeter needle dropped
and she expertly guided the Bell Jet Ranger toward her
targeted landing spot high on La Grave Mountain.
Sure, she'd flown the Bell innumerable times. And yeah,
she'd attended professional flight school. But it was
still Tom's voice she heard as she systematically ticked
off the details of her landing procedure.
Pay attention to the wind, watch your approach speed,
beware a right crosswind Ã¯Â¿Â½ and never get cocky. Safety
never takes a holiday.
The Ranger hovered and then settled with a gentle bump
exactly where Ivy had planned to bring it down, the rotors
kicking up clouds of snow. As the blades slowed and the
white storm settled, Ivy squinted through her sunglasses
against the blinding sunshine glinting off glaciers,
sending up prisms of color.
Mid-April inAlaska meant that the temperature on La Grave
was a chilly twenty below. There'd been thirty centimeters
of new snow this week in the higher altitudes, and the
skiing was reportedly fantastic.
Ivy didn't know that from personal experience. She skied
cross-country and conservatively downhill, but there was
no way she'd strap boards on and attempt the heart-
stopping crevasses and perpendicular drops of these sheer
mountain cliffs. Extreme sports struck her as ridiculously
foolhardy, although of course she'd never say any such
thing to these ski bums and their guide who'd paid her top
dollar to ferry them up here.
"Okay, gentlemen, last stop. Everybody out." Ivy's voice
sounded loud in her ears as the rotors slowed. She opened
her door and balanced on a strut to help unload the men's
equipment. "Great flight, skipper. You free for dinner
tonight, by any chance?"
Ivy smiled at Glen as the muscular giant from Lake Tahoe
strapped on his skis. He'd been hitting on her the past
couple of days. He was probably in his early thirties. She
was only twenty-seven, but she'd already outgrown him.
Glen was looking for the next thrill. He wanted new
ranges, new mountains. New lovers.
She understood that, because she used to be just like
Glen. But somewhere along the line, she'd changed. Now she
was looking for Ã¯Â¿Â½ what?
Stability? Long-term? No simple answer came to mind. How
come it was always easier to know what you didn't want
than what you did?
"Sorry," she said as he looked at her hopefully over the
top of his expensive sunglasses. "I have a standing date
with my steady tonight, and for some reason he doesn't
believe in sharing."
It was a white lie. Well, maybe it was more like a
whopper. She did have a dinner date, but there was no
steady guy. Definitely not. Although Dylan was starting to
make assumptions about that, and it was time to set him
Glen pretended he'd been stabbed in the heart and had to
slowly pull out the knife. There was laughter and good-
natured ribbing from the other two guys.
"I'll be waiting at the pickup point around three this
aft. Try to keep the slippy side down, troopers."
The package they paid for through Raven Lodge included
instruction from a certified Heli-Ski guide, drop-off by
helicopter at the top of the mountain and pickup at a
designated spot at the bottom.
With a flourish and a final wave, they were off, gliding
through the powder like dancers. Ivy climbed back into the
Ranger and began her preparations for takeoff, a smile on
This was always the best part of her job, this time alone
in the copter after the customers were safely delivered to
their destination. Now she could relax as she lifted off
and skimmed over the breathtaking Chugach terrain,
catching glimpses of sparkling lakes, soaring over row
after row of tall glaciers. Ivy had been born in Alaska,
and sometimes she imagined there was still an invisible
umbilical cord stretching from her heart down to the soul
of this wild and magical land.
"It's born in us, love of the land and the air," her
father had once told her. "It's an addiction, but it's a
She lifted the Bell up and over the final peak and began
the descent to Valdez. As the ground came up to meet her,
she could see her father standing outside the mobile
trailer that served as an office for their company, Up And
Away Adventures. Tall and barrel-chested, Tom Pierce was
still ruggedly handsome and incredibly fit for a man
nearly sixty years old.
She set the chopper down precisely in the center of the
cement landing pad and shut the engine off. The rotors
thwacked as they slowed, before finally stopping. Ivy
pressed the flight idle stop button and rolled the twist
grip to full closed position. Light switches, off. Battery
Another mission accomplished, Captain.
HE WATCHED AS HIS daughter expertly landed the copter on
the pad. When the rotors stilled and the motor died, Ivy
opened the door and jumped down, her long, lean body as
toned as any athlete's. She waved her blue-billed cap at
him in greeting, then ran her fingers through the short,
thick copper curls cut boyishly close to her scalp.
Ivy's mother had had hair that same color when he first
met her, although now Frances had let hers go snowy-white.
She wore her hair long, down past her shoulders. She
styled it every morning with an artist's precision and an
arsenal of equipment. Tom had always liked watching her.
Lately, though, she closed her bedroom door. Ivy, now, she
wasn't interested in gilding the lily, not that she needed
to. She, too, was beautiful, although in a very different
way than Frances.
Ivy didn't accentuate her looks or even seem to be aware
of them, which of course drove her mother nuts. Under his
mustache, Tom's narrow mouth curled into a small,
enigmatic smile. Frances's makeup case was bigger than
most suitcases, and all Ivy carried with her was a tube of
stuff that kept her lips from chapping.
"Hey, Captain." Ivy smiled at him, her high, Slavic
cheekbones an inheritance from his father's side of the
family. Tom's sister, Caitlin, had them, too. But Ivy's
hair and her wide-set apple-green eyes were gifts from her
mother, reminding him, as always, of Frances when they'd
Tom rubbed a hand absently across his chest, where the
familiar tightness lodged whenever he thought about his
"So what's happening?" Ivy looped a hand through his arm,
and with an affectionate squeeze he trapped it against his
side. She was only a couple inches shorter than his six-
two. He'd long ago stopped caring that she automatically
shortened her stride to accommodate his limp. The old leg
injury was bothering him more than usual today, maybe a
"We got any more charters lined up?"
"Nope, not for today. Might be some last-minute tourists,
you never know." Tom shook his head. "Just got back
myself, I took that load of supplies up and dropped it
where those damn fool climbers wanted. No sign of them,
although their tent was there. I buzzed around a few
times, place was deserted."
"Probably halfway up the mountain," Ivy
speculated. "Climbers wouldn't waste a morning like this
waiting for their supplies to arrive."
"Maniacs, the lot of them."
"Yeah, well, as long as we keep our radical opinions to
ourselves, Captain, they'll go on hiring us. And that's
good for our bank balance."
"I can play nice guy with the best of them," he
snorted. "Never pissed off a client yet."
"What a track record, keep up the good work." Tom knew
that visitors to Alaska often viewed him as an eccentric
local character. He figured it didn't hurt their business
She playfully punched his arm. "You're such a phony.
Everybody knows there's a soft gummy center under that
Not everybody. He knew for a fact Frances didn't think so.
Tom squeezed Ivy's arm a little tighter and changed the
"I've got that lumber and insulation Theo ordered loaded
on the boat."
Raven Lodge was in a remote bay accessible only by boat or
plane. "I'll take it up to the lodge this afternoon if we
don't get any last-minute business," Tom declared. "Theo
really wants to get going on those new cabins. I hear he's
hired some damned yahoo from down south to help him."
"Oh, yeah? And how'd he meet this yahoo?"
"Jerry down at the Anchor introduced them when Theo was in
town a couple days ago. Perfectly fine carpenters right
around here Ã¯Â¿Â½ you'd think Theo would hire local."
"Everybody's working on the new hotel," she reminded him.
"Well, I hope this dude has more going for him than that
so-called fishing guide from San Francisco Theo hired last
The idiot hadn't known his elbow from his ass. He'd
somehow foundered a boat with four tourists out in the
Sound. Just luck that another boat was nearby, or the lot
of them would have died from hypothermia.
"Uncle Theo must have liked this current yahoo or he
wouldn't have hired him."
Tom knew she was teasing him. He grunted. "Theo likes
everybody, that's his biggest problem." It wasn't a
criticism of his brother-in-law so much as a statement of