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Wish You Were Here

Wish You Were Here by Christie Ridgway
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As unofficial matchmaker for beautiful Abrigo Island, Zoe Cash practices her own form of no-risk romance. And when Yeager Gates arrives in town for a little R & R, Zoe decides that he'll be her latest project. But the secure world Zoe's created for herself is turned upside-down when she finds herself falling for the sexy fighter pilot.

Yeager's flying days might be over, but spending time on Mother Earth with tantalizing Zoe is putting him back on solid ground. Yeager makes no secret of the fact that his island stay is temporary, but when the time comes will he really be able to leave Zoe behind—for good?

HarperCollins; June 2009
384 pages; ISBN 9780061952234
Read online, or download in secure EPUB
Title: Wish You Were Here
Author: Christie Ridgway

Chapter One

Someone was breathing on Yeager Gates's right arm. The exhalations, cherry-lollipop-sweet, fanned against him in time with the surges of the ferryboat that chugged through the Pacific Ocean toward Abrigo Island. Seated on the aisle, but trapped between his buddy Deke Nielsen and the Breather, Yeager tamped down his irritation, squeezed his eyes shut behind his dark glasses, and pretended to be asleep.

With each choppy bounce of the boat along the waves, cool wind puffed through an open window against his cheek. He could hear the buzz of conversation from the few other passengers, feel the thrum of the ferry's engines against the soles of his running shoes, and smell the sharp tang of saltwater-as well as the sticky aroma of each gust of the Breather's breath.

One row of seats behind him, a woman started speaking excitedly. "There it is! I think I see the island!"

The breathing stopped as small footsteps scurried away, and the sense of being scrutinized disappeared too. Relieved, Yeager tugged his cap down farther on his head and slumped deeper against the cushioned seat, stretching out his stiff leg before him.

He released a slow sigh. The whole point of this escape from Houston's space community was to avoid prying eyes, even those so obviously child-sized. Screw the hospital's pen-clickers, who claimed withdrawal and avoidance were classic signs of the first stages of grief. He'd be damned if he'd cry about anything. He just plain needed to get away, so he could focus on the healing that would get his life back on track.

The woman behind him was speaking again. "The island's right there. Rising out of the mist. See? The green cliffs, the sandy beach, palm trees." Her voice hushed. "It looks ... enchanted,"

Other voices in the ferry's cabin rose in matching and unignorable excitement, and uneasiness ran down Yeager's spine. When Deke had offered to take him along on the trip, he'd only said Abrigo was the southernmost of the Channel Islands off California's coast. He'd said it was a good place for a man to go underground. But he'd said nothing to warrant the other passengers' eager anticipation.

He'd said nothing about enchanted.

Yeager elbowed his friend. "You promised anonymous, Deke. Enchanted doesn't sound like anonymous."

He felt the other man's shrug. "Relax. It's just an illusion. Happens on foggy mornings.

The island suddenly pops up from the haze on the horizon."

The woman behind them was exclaiming again in wonder. "One moment it was misty, and the next it just ... appeared."

A second voice joined in. "This is my third visit, and it still amazes me. So lush and green against the deep blue ocean. Two hours by ferry, and it's like arriving on another world."

Deke's shoulder nudged Yeager. "See? Just what you wanted, right? A break from reality.

A break from reality. He needed one for damn sure, he thought, thumbing his dark glasses more firmly against his face. A break to get his life together. A break to understand why, though last year he'd hugged fifteen stories of rocket fuel as it shot him into space, he couldn't think past tomorrow without his hands shaking.

He sucked in a gulp of ocean air while deep, deep in his belly a desperate but unnameable emotion rumbled. He didn't want to believe his life would never be the same. Could never be the same.

"You all right?" Deke asked.

"Why shouldn't I be?"

Deke's voice sounded doubtful. "Sure?"

It wasn't so hard to grin. "A-OK."

"Then let me tell you what's ahead. The ferry will take us to the harbor directly adjacent to the village of Haven. Houses, including the one where we'll stay, are mostly on the hillsides surrounding the town."

Yeager's right leg cramped in tension. Village. Houses. "That sounds like a lot of peohis birth certificate, he'd been raised to flyThough he and his dad formed more of a twoman air squadron than a family, the nomadic life of an air force brat had suited him as much as controlling a joystick had later satisfied his soul. And the only real order of his father's he'd ever rebelled against was when Yeager chose to become a navy jet jockey instead of an air force one.

A jet jockey. That was who Yeager was. A man who needed nothing more than a place to sleep and a training schedule that included plenty of hours in the air. A flyer, an astronaut.

All right, an astro-man. But Yeager shook his head. Despite the fact that he'd been made, he didn't owe anything to a cherry-breathing, privacy-busting little kid.

The boat bucked forward, and the Breather steadied himself with a hand on Yeager's arm, then spoke again. "You sunged that song. I liked it."

Yeager groaned, bitterness bubbling to the surface. What he'd done for his country! Somehow those Sesame folks had persuaded him to lend his lousy baritone to a duet with that gawky yellow bird. The words hadn't left his brain for weeks, something about every body and every bird needing a place to nest.

"I hate that song," he muttered.


Yeager opened his mouth to repeat the statement. Louder this time. But then he pictured the Breather standing beside him. He remembered Big Bird's cocked and feathery

head. Elmo's bug eyes and rounded orange nose quivering with interest. The passel of Sesame kids who'd looked up at him with starsand moons-in their eyes.


With a resigned sigh, he flattened the paper against his aching thigh.

Beside him, Deke chuckled. "I've been hearing rumors since the accident. Disappointed women claiming you've turned from playboy to Boy Scout. Now I believe 'em."

Yeager ignored him, He particularly ignored the crack about the disappointed women and turning Boy Scout. He'd deal with that problem later. With reluctant fingers he started scrawling.

Only his first name. Even if the Breather showed it to mommy and daddy, what would "Yeager" mean to them?

No reason to think they'd connect it to Yeager Gates. To the Yeager Gates who had once explored the universe but who now couldn't cross the street on his own...

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