I stare at Constantine, certain I heard him wrong. “What do you mean I have to do this reap alone?”
He continues to scan the green blips on the radar. I still haven’t gotten used to the idea that those dots are people who are about to die. “Nate is on another assignment and this reap needs to get done—ASAP.”
Reaping, that’s my job. I’m an Angel of Death, a grim reaper of idiotic spirits for GRS, Grim Reaper Services. People who die in stupid ways are my clients. Lucky me. Nate, my partner, reaps violent criminals. Way more impressive than my job, and more dangerous. Admittedly, I’ve grown to depend on Nate and the thought of doing an important reap on my own is daunting. “Where am I going?”
“North of Fairbanks, near Coldfoot.” Constantine straightens and looks at me. “These are...special clients. I’m trusting you’ll get this done quickly and quietly.”
“Special? As in particularly stupid?”
“Far from it.” He steps past me and heads toward a desk. “The inn you’ll be traveling to is owned by a friend of mine.” He tears off a sheet of paper from a small tablet and hands it to me. “Finesse and discretion are mandatory.”
I give an unladylike snort. “I’m sorry, have we met? Finesse is not my greatest skill.”
He places his hands on my shoulders and slowly rubs. Sparks of electricity shoot down my arms. “I have faith in you, Lisa.” My heartbeat quickens. I’ll admit I’ve imagined Constantine and me in a few hot and heavy positions, but I’ve never told anyone. Not even my best friend Vella. There are two problems with my fantasy about Constantine. First, I’m not sure he’s human. Secondly, if he’s not, getting jiggy with him might be like supernatural crack. What if he ruins me for other men? It’s not a chance I want to take. Plus, he’s never offered.
A sigh slips from me and my shoulders slump. “I’m not getting out of this, am I?”
He lowers his hands. “Nope.”
I look at the paper. “The V V Inn. Never heard of it.”
“It’s very upscale. Only the most elite clientele stay there,” he says.
I’ve lived in Alaska all my life. There are a lot of expensive remote lodges that serve the wealthy, but I’m surprised I’ve never heard of this one. Not even a mention. “When do I leave?”
Constantine hands me another sheet of paper. “In three hours.”
My mouth drops open when I look at the electronic ticket and charter flight information. I give a huff of protest. “I’ve got to make arrangements for the kids. I can’t just drop everything.”
My argument falls on deaf ears. Constantine stares at me with his beautiful, but unwavering, silver eyes. “You’ll figure it out.”
When I agreed to be a grim reaper they told me there would be village travel. But I didn’t think I’d be venturing out so soon—and so alone. “I’ll see if my mom can watch the kids.” I fold the flight information and shove the paper into my pocket. “I got this.”
He gives me a soft punch in the arm like we’re buddies. “I knew you’d come through for me, Carron.”
“Yeah,” I grumble. “That’s me—reliable.”
With only three hours until my flight I walk to the elevator, the list of things I need to do already swirling in my mind.
I glance back at Constantine.
My brow furrows. “Yeah, I got it.”
What does he think? I’m going to tell my mom I have souls to reap so I’ll need her to watch my kids? Hardly. When my parents found out I took the plunge and got a job at GRS after my husband died, they weren’t all that thrilled. What would they say if I told them I was actually an angel of death and not a case manager at an employment agency? Either I’d be medicated and committed, or my mother would be. Lying by omission was the best course of action.
On the way home I call Vella and make arrangements for the kids. I also pull into a convenience store and buy some junk food. It’s a guilt purchase. Yes, I’m not above bribing my kids into compliance.
By noon I’m sitting on the jet, trying to relax. For some reason this job doesn’t feel right. Why such a rush? Why me? And who are these special clients? I hate not knowing what I’m getting into. Hopefully Constantine’s request for discretion is because the spirit is rich or famous. Maybe I’ll be reaping a sheik or a movie star. My mind delves into all sorts of possibilities. Maybe I’ll be reaping Elvis. Now that would be cool.
The flight to Fairbanks is uneventful. The airport is packed from all the tourists and I have a hard time locating the charter service I’m to take to the inn. I stare at a small glassed-in kiosk in the far corner. There’s no discernible marking to indicate this is the company I’m to use, or that it’s a charter service at all. But from the vague directions on my instructions this has to be the place.
I stop in front of the glass. “Hi.”
A young guy looks up from his book and smiles. “May I help you?”
“Yes.” I drop my carry-on bag and hold up my sheet of paper. “I’m supposed to catch a charter to the V V Inn. Is this where I do that?”
His eyes widen slightly and then travel down my torso and back to my face. “Are you sure you’re going to the V V Inn?”
This pisses me off. Maybe he’s used to wealthy clients that aren’t dressed in capris and flip flops. “Lisa Carron.” I stare at him, as if my name should answer all his questions.
He checks his computer and then looks back at me, his smile tight. “Yep, you’re on the schedule.”
No shit, Sherlock. “Great. What now?”
He opens the door next to the glass and ushers me in, relieving me of my bag as I pass him. “I’ll take you to the lounge and the pilot will get you when it’s time to board.”
The corridor he leads me down is narrow and rather dark. After a minute he stops at a smooth wooden door and opens it. “You can wait in here.”
To say I’m surprised when I step inside is an understatement. What I thought would be a utilitarian waiting area turns out to be a plush lounge. So this is how the other half lives.
Leather furniture is arranged in groupings, making conversation easy. I zero in on the snack bar—mainly the beverages supplies. Everything from bottled water to wine.
“Make yourself comfortable.” The guy sets my bag on a luggage rack. “There’s snacks and drinks.” He points to a computer. “You’ve even got free internet access. The only thing you can’t do is watch porn.”
I cock an eyebrow. “Oh darn, how will I spend my time?”
He smirks and I realize he was joking. Funny. He glances at his watch. “It will probably be about forty minutes until you board. Remote for the television is on the table. Bathroom is behind you. And if you have any questions just pick up the black phone and hit one. It’s a direct line to me.”
“Thank you,” I say again. I won’t lie, I’m anxious for him to leave so I can enjoy the room. Rarely do I get time alone. Never in such a posh environment. I nod. “I’m sure I’ll be fine.”
“I’ll let them know you’re here.” He leaves, shutting the door behind him.
For forty minutes I bask in the luxury of the lounge. Strawberries, honey roasted peanuts, and chocolate wafers. I try to open a cabinet labeled coffee, but it’s locked. No matter, I’d rather have a glass of wine.
Too soon I’m ushered out the room and onto a plane by a stoic, heavily bearded pilot. He looks more like a lumber jack but in Alaska that’s not unusual. With as few words as possible he gets me settled in one of the eight seats. Besides the pilot, I’m the only passenger. There’s no safety briefing beyond buckling up. I ease forward to look out the window. I don’t love small planes and I send up a silent prayer that we won’t crash. Maybe being a grim reaper on the job gives me added protection—at least I hope it does.
My stomach does a little flip when the nose of the plane lifts, pulling us into the sky. Fairbanks isn’t a huge place and within minutes we’re beyond the city limits and flying over bush Alaska. Rivers wind across the county side. While still at a low altitude I scan the ground passing below us. Even though they’re tough to spot, I catch a glimpse of two moose in a stand of trees. They look like brown dots and I probably wouldn’t have seen them if one hadn’t been walking.
But soon we’re too high to make out details so I relax. The flight is just over an hour, maybe two depending on the winds. On a map, Coldfoot doesn’t look that far, but Alaska is a lot bigger than people think.
The drone of the engines eventually lulls me to sleep. I must have been more tired than I thought because I wake up when the plane banks left, into a pass. I scoot forward to look out the window again. Cabins dot the landscape but when we enter the pass any sign of people disappears.
The mountains rise on both sides of the plane. Thin waterfalls pour out of cracks in the rock face, dropping hundreds of feet. My stomach lurches slightly and I feel the plane nose downward. I press my face to the window, trying to see where the pilot plans to land.
A couple minutes later the narrow pass opens to wide tundra. Groves of trees spot the landscape and a river branches to the right. The beauty of the area takes my breath away. I’ve lived here all my life but I never get tired of the scenery.
I glance down, my eyes rounding. Below the plane is a pack of what looks like wolves. No way, they must be huskies. Maybe somebody at the inn runs a team. They appear a lot bigger than any huskies I’ve ever seen though, but it’s hard to tell from this height. When the pilot banks the plane I glimpse the inn.
At first I’m not sure what I’m seeing. The place is huge. In the middle of nowhere, sat a long main building with a wing off the back. Dozens of buildings litter the area. Some look like cabins. Others are bigger, maybe apartments. It’s like a hidden wonderland. If this is how the rich and famous live, sign me up.
As the plane approaches, I wonder what my room will be like. I could handle a few more days of luxury accommodations. We touch down on a wide gravel strip and taxi to a hangar. Several vehicles are parked and I see a man standing near a black SUV, obviously waiting for the plane.
He’s hot. Not just good looking, but rugged and sexy in flannel and jeans. Just the way I like them. It’s nice to know that even though I’ve been a widow for over a year I’m not dead inside. I appreciate a nice tush or rock hard abs as much as the next gal.
The plane stops and the engines power down. I stand, slightly hunched and sidle between the seats to the door. After a minute it opens and the Alaskan sunlight streams in. I glance at my phone. It’s nearly seven p.m. That’s another thing I love about summer here, twenty four hours of daylight above the Arctic Circle.
As I exit the plane the hot guy offers his hand. “Watch your step.”
I attempt an easy smile and accept his assistance. The last thing I want is to end up face down on the ground. “Thanks.” His hand is hot. Not sweaty, ick hot, but the kind of warmth that seeps into my skin. I ignore the shiver that ripples through me. “I’m Lisa Carron.”
“Yeah, we heard you were coming.” He let’s go of my hand. “I’m Jon.”
“Nice to meet you, Jon.” From his tone I get the impression he’s not thrilled about my arrival. Is that because I’m a reaper? I’m not sure how to broach the subject so I just dive in. “So, do you know why I’m here?”
He picks up my bag from the ground where the pilot set it and walks toward the black SUV. “Yep.”
I take a couple of skipping steps to catch up with him. “What were you told?”
“That you were here to take care of our ghost problem.” He pulls the back door open and tosses my bag on the seat. Then he turns and looks at me. I skid to a stop. His eyes, though a beautiful hazel, are unwelcoming. “That you’re some kind of grim reaper.”
The fact he knows surprises me. “Not some kind of grim reaper. I am a reaper.”
His brow furrows and he nods. “Okay, you are a reaper.”
“I know it’s hard to believe but it’s true.”
“Get in.” He opens the driver’s door and slides onto the seat, shutting it in my face.
“Okay.” Jackass. I circle the SUV and climb in. We’re silent for a few seconds as he shoves the car into gear and edges onto the road. Tension zings between us. Always one to try and fill an awkward silence I start to ramble. “You may not believe this but the supernatural world does exist.”
He snorts and looks at me like I’m a complete idiot. “Really?”
“Yeah, really. I don’t expect you to understand.”
“Do you even know where you are?”
I’m not sure what that has to do with anything, but I give him my sweetest smile. “An Alaskan resort for the most—” I lift my hands and make air quotes. “The most elite.”
He gives me a look crossed between confusion and wariness. After a few seconds he focuses on the road. “Okay, because for a second I wasn’t sure you understood the scope of this.”
“Don’t worry, Jon, I get it.” I cross my arms over my chest and nod. “Discreet and quick. Those are my orders.”
We don’t speak again until we reach the inn. It takes all my effort not to gawk and gush at the sight of the building. The place is bigger than I thought, like a ginormous plantation mansion in the middle of bum frickin’ nowhere. Despite the bright sun, the place has an ominous feel. As I exit the SUV I notice the windows are draped or sealed in some way. Maybe it’s closed for the season, which would be weird because summer is prime tourist time in Alaska.
Maybe the ghost I’m to reap has caused so much havoc they had to shut down the place. I follow Jon up the steps to the sprawling front porch and into the inn. It takes a few seconds for my eyes to adjust, but I see the interior is impressive. Soaring ceilings, wood everywhere, definitely a hangout for the wealthy.
“Why is it so dark in here?” I ask.
Jon snickers but doesn’t answer my question. “Asa, this is Lisa.” He drops my bag on the ground. “Seems she’s a reaper and… she’s all yours.” He walks to the registration counter and leans against it, scowling at me.
“Ignore him,” a male voice says from my right. I turn to see another guy walking out of the shadows. “Jon’s a little short on manners.”
Wow, he’s drop dead gorgeous. Young, buff, and all Vin Deisel-ish, I think my panties just caught on fire. “Hi.” My voice comes out a little too breathy. When he gets closer I see he’s in his mid-twenties. Suddenly I feel like a cougar. Down girl. “Asa, is it?”
“Yes.” He strides toward me in a way that makes me think military. Maybe it’s his straight posture. Maybe it’s the fact that he’s sporting a shaved head and wearing dog tags. Stopping next to a wall, he flips on a switch for an overhead light and I get the full effect of the inn’s interior—and him. Both are impressive. “So you’re going to rid us of our ghost?”
My eyes are drawn to the others in the room. Not people, but spirits. Three that I can see. “Ghosts.”
“Excuse me?” he says, as if not understanding.
I take a deep breath. “Do you know you’ve got a lot of dead people walking around here?”