Ophelia Nichols is a fresh hire for the EPA, and she’s ready to make her mark on the world. She’s idealistic, driven, and has a suitcase full of her favorite books to keep her company on her first assignment. Alaska wouldn’t have been her first choice of a place to go, but she can’t help but be excited by the adventure she hopes to find there. However, upon arriving to the barren land of ice at the top of the world, she realizes her team isn’t exactly full of what she would call gentlemen, and the guys they warn her about are actually pretty nice.
Then there’s Leonardo McKenna. Working on an oil rig has made him tough, and he likes his isolated life surrounded by his books and his big wolf-dog. He’s got a love for Shakespeare and the classics, and one look from him makes Ophelia realize Alaska may not be as cold as she originally thought. But his life is in Alaska and she works wherever the EPA sends her. A few days here and there might be enough for a friendship, but it’ll take more than letters and a few gifts to have something that lasts.
For Ophelia and Leonardo though, love can exist beyond the distances, and making it work is just one more challenge.
Ophelia watched as the small plane taxied away, the sleek steel blending perfectly against the cold, gray Alaskan sky. She shouldered her worn backpack and lifted the handle on her small suitcase, extending it before dragging it along the tarmac behind her. She took long steps, her tailored suit sliding over her skin as she rushed to keep up with her boss. She had met the man only moments before, when her plane landed. She felt exhausted and had more jet lag than she knew what to do with, but the air smelled clean. Being back on land and not in stuffy airports full of crying children and the sound of crinkling bags of chips had her head reeling from more than just the bitter, windy cold.
“So, you’re Ophelia,” the man said as she finally caught up to him.
“Yes,” she said, panting lightly. She really had been forced to walk quickly to match his pace. She coughed as the icy air hit her lungs. And she really should have paid more attention to the Weather Channel yesterday when her family had driven her to the airport. There was no way that she had been prepared for whatever below zero temperature it actually was. “And you’re Doctor Brendan Michaels. I’ve read all of your research papers, sir. And I went to your lecture a few years back about the decline in waterbird populations in the Northwest. Great stuff.”
The much older man gave her a quick once over and with a pfft he dismissed her just as easily. She couldn’t pretend that didn’t sting. “You’re older than you look. I would have pegged you at barely twenty instead of the twenty-five I know your file says you are. Ever been to Alaska?”
“No, sir.” Her answer was prompt, although clipped.
He nodded and kept walking. “It’ll be a hard adjustment. It always is at first.” He led her to an older SUV, an Explorer if she guessed correctly, and got inside. She scrambled to put her things in the back and slide into the passenger seat. He stroked his hand lovingly over the steering wheel and started the engine. “Gotta have a good vehicle up here. Nothing like having a nice four by four to get you around. Betcha have one of those little Prius cars right? All of the girls do these days. My daughter tells me it’s cool or some garbage like that. She’s sixteen. I’m hoping it’s a phase.”
Ophelia bit her lip and shook her head. She had to force herself not to laugh. Her vehicle was a brand new Jeep Wrangler she had just purchased for herself as a graduation present. It was more of a 4x4 and had better steering than the man’s Explorer. And it got better gas mileage too. And unlike her new boss’s apparent love, her Wrangler was a bright perfect yellow that gleamed in her hometown Colorado sun and not this drab gray that everything seemed to be made of here in no-color Alaska.
They grew silent as he drove along the bumpy, unpaved roads. Or maybe they were paved. Too much ice lay under the wheels for Ophelia to be able to tell. She snuggled into her oversized parka and sighed softly as her boss turned on the radio and the soft sounds of Motown began filling the cabin. She closed her eyes and found herself singing along softly to the end of Midnight Train to Georgia. It wasn’t really Motown, but she loved it. As Boyz II Men picked up where the previous song had left a silent void she felt her eyes beginning to grow heavy. It had been many long flights, many changeovers, and too many random airports and security checks to count.
Just as her eyes were fully closed and that comforting fuzzy feeling of sleep began clouding her mind something occurred to her. “Is daylight,” she mumbled groggily.
“Is April,” her boss replied, all too cheerfully. “Just one more thing you’re going to have to learn Cheechako.”
Ophelia yawned and stretched. She smacked her lips together, then cringed. Really not a good time to realize she hadn’t brushed her teeth since boarding the first plane yesterday. “Sir, what’s that word? Chee...Chacheeno?”
Her boss laughed. “Cheechako. It means someone that’s new to Alaska. Like you, little one. And call me Brendan. You’re going to be working for me for the next three months, so we might as well get to be on first names. No one’s too set on formality around here.”
She nodded. At least now she knew that there would be a word for her particular brand of newbie.
“It isn’t so bad,” Brendan continued. “At least you’ve got your mukluks on.” When she eyed him strangely he pointed to her feet. “Your boots.”
Ophelia blushed deeply and turned her foot so that she could see the warm, knee-high boots more clearly. “My sister found them for me. She said she saw them on some nature show a month before I got scheduled to come here. I guess she got them right.”
Brendan nodded. “She did. You’ll need more, though. I could tell you didn’t pack correctly the moment you walked off that plane. There’s a small store in town. Nothing fancy, but it’s got some basic clothes that you’ll need and a good selection of books to read. There’s nothing newer than a few months ago but at least it’ll help you pass the long days.”
She frowned at him. “Long days? Shouldn’t that be long nights?” She thought it over for a moment then laughed quietly at herself. “I forgot. Daylight is longer up here. What are we up to now?”
“Fourteen hour days. By next month it’ll be nineteen and then in June we hit twenty-four hours of straight daylight. I suggest very heavy curtains and an eye mask if you’ve got trouble sleeping with the light.” He looked pleased that at least she had remembered that much from her “Intro to Alaska” packet that he had mailed her a few months back. Honestly, she had devoured it, savoring every bit of information that she could to prepare herself for her first trip away from her family. But her brain was murky right now and she knew she wasn’t giving her boss her best showing.