Home > Slow Burn by Starlight (Lost Harbor, Alaska Book 10)

Slow Burn by Starlight (Lost Harbor, Alaska Book 10)
Author: Jennifer Bernard

Slow Burn by Starlight

 

 

Jennifer Bernard

 

 

Contents

 


Chapter 1

 

Chapter 2

 

Chapter 3

 

Chapter 4

 

Chapter 5

 

Chapter 6

 

Chapter 7

 

Chapter 8

 

Chapter 9

 

Chapter 10

 

Chapter 11

 

Chapter 12

 

Chapter 13

 

Chapter 14

 

Chapter 15

 

Chapter 16

 

Chapter 17

 

Chapter 18

 

Chapter 19

 

Chapter 20

 

Chapter 21

 

Chapter 22

 

Chapter 23

 

Chapter 24

 

Chapter 25

 

Chapter 26

 

Chapter 27

 

Chapter 28

 

Chapter 29

 

Chapter 30

 

Chapter 31

 

Chapter 32

 

Chapter 33

 

Chapter 34

 

 

About the Author

 

Also by Jennifer Bernard

 

 

One

 

 

It would be no exaggeration to say that Ruthie Malone had been dreaming of this moment her entire conscious life.

Obviously as a newborn she hadn’t been pining after Ralphie Reed. But by the time toddlerhood rolled around, she’d generally toddled in the direction of her angelic blond playmate. Family legend held that her first word had been “Waa-fee.” R’s were difficult for a six-month-old, but everyone knew who she was crying for. In fact, she’d even claimed the nickname “Ruthie” because it sounded so much like “Ralphie.” Now it was too late to ditch it, especially here in Lost Harbor, where everyone knew her as Ruthie and probably always would.

In New York, where she’d just finished graduate school, no one called her that. In New York, she’d ditched a lot of things. Her nickname, her shyness, her awkwardness, her social anxiety—well, mostly—and her boring wardrobe.

Not her crush on Ralphie, though. Not a chance.

“Ruthie, where do you want this?”

She startled at the arrival of Chrissie Yates, who was carrying a large bottle of wildcrafted yarrow ale into the lighthouse—the perfect setting for this birthday dinner.

“Right here.” Ruthie pointed to the intimate round bar table she’d carried in here earlier and carefully positioned next to the lighthouse’s angled windows. The lighthouse—long-decommissioned—was her realm. Chrissie had hired her as the director of the newly established Lost Harbor Museum of Homestead Life and Alaskan Oddities.

At first, she’d been worried about coming back to Lost Harbor. The last thing she wanted was to backslide into the shyness that had crippled her as a child. But now she saw it as an opportunity to present the new, vastly improved, grown-up Ruthie to her hometown. And most especially to Ralphie Reed.

Today was his birthday. Not only that, but he’d just gotten back to Lost Harbor after a long fishing trip. She’d jumped at the chance to lure him to the lighthouse for some of his favorite foods. A completely updated list, by the way. Research was her thing, after all. She’d never met a question she couldn’t answer with enough research.

If grad school had offered a class on Ralphie Reed 101, she would have aced it.

Chrissie set the bottle and a couple of glass tumblers on the table and gave a whistle as she surveyed the scene. Ruthie had set the table with a sunny bouquet of late-summer wildflowers, with several lottery tickets nestled in with the calendula. From her research, she’d learned that Ralphie was obsessed with winning the lottery.

“Ralphie won’t know what hit him,” Chrissie said.

“You think he’ll like it?” Ruthie twisted her hands together anxiously. “Has he changed a lot in the last eight years?”

“Ralphie never changes,” Chrissie assured her, flicking her blond ponytail over her shoulder. Her blue eyes sparkled as she took in the rest of Ruthie’s preparations. An Igloo cooler next to the table, stocked with backup beers—Bud Light in case the home-brewed ale didn’t hit right. An iPod played a channel of ’80s pop music, Ralphie’s favorite. A scented candle flickered in the evening light, even though the sun wouldn’t be down for a few more hours yet.

Chrissie sniffed. “What’s that smell?”

“It’s the candle. Can you believe I found a candle scented with saltwater taffy? It’s Ralphie’s favorite.”

“I’m sensing a theme,” Chrissie said dryly.

“Well, it’s the first chance I’ve had to see Ralphie since I got back.” Ruthie’s defensiveness kicked in automatically. “You know we played together a lot when we were kids.”

“Ralphie does love to play.” Chrissie said that under her breath, but Ruthie caught it anyway. She knew perfectly well what Ralphie’s reputation was. He was…well, pick your word. Player. Lady-killer. Manwhore. He flirted with everyone. Tourists, locals, single women, married women, even the occasional man. It was his nature. He loved to make women—and the occasional man—happy.

“I know you disapprove of…all this.” Ruthie waved at the table. She’d had to shove a few glass display cases to the side to make room for it. But she was the museum director, after all. Over the past few weeks, she’d filled the space with displays of native narwhal scrimshaw art, pioneer-era willow snowshoes, and the pouches the early trappers wore against their chests to prevent the precious sourdough inside from freezing. In one corner she’d set up a playback booth where people would listen to stories from old-timers told in their own voices. She couldn’t wait to start those interviews.

Chrissie threw up a hand. “I didn’t say that. Obviously, you and Ralphie have a history. Anyway, I like Ralphie. Who doesn’t? I just…I mean…I hope you don’t…”

“I’m not picking out my wedding bouquet,” Ruthie said dryly. “I get it.” She tugged her lower lip between her teeth. “It’s just…I want him to see the grown-up me, you know? I was always so shy when I lived here before.”

“You don’t need to explain a thing to me, I promise.” Chrissie gave her a sympathetic squeeze on her shoulder. “He’ll be blown away, I have no doubt. I just want you to have fun. I’m sure Ralphie’s good for that.”

Ruthie lifted her eyebrows, since that sounded a little like a slam.

“You deserve some fun,” Chrissie continued. “You’ve been working your ass off getting this museum open. I’m so grateful you took this job. If you wanted to wine and dine a raccoon in here, I’d support you.”

Still sounded like a slam. But Ruthie didn’t care. Obviously, Chrissie didn’t know what it was like to go on a date with the man who’d been her fantasy since childhood. In New York, as she’d developed her own style, figured out how to deal with her curly red hair, and worked hard on her social anxiety, she’d dreamed about the moment that Ralphie Reed saw the new Ruthie Malone.

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