Friday, February 10, 2012

Sheltering Love
by Elizabeth Goddard

A scientist reveals his discoveries. . .unless his survival depends on hiding them.

Graeme has existed in a state of dread for far too long. Conducting research high in the crowns of ancient redwoods, he's almost convinced that he's not hiding like a coward from the demons of his past. That is, until the stunning Alexa discovers him and tips his world in the tree tops over. Then he's torn between showing the world what he's found. . . and disappearing altogether.
This is Alexa's last chance to prove she's capable of producing an award-winning documentary. But she never expected she'd have to return to the place she fled years ago. A place that still holds nightmares for her. When Graeme stands in the way of completing the documentary, Alexa wants to know why.

When their greatest fears collide in the heart of the wilderness, Alexa and Graeme both must learn to trust in the sovereignty of God's plan, not only for the moment, but for the rest of their lives. Can they each bury the past long enough to nurture love?

Chapter 1

Siberia couldn't be worse.

Or at least Alexa Westover felt like she'd been exiled. Traveling from New York to the west coast to work on a documentary, she was returning to the place where she'd spent her childhood. Northern California and the redwoods would ignite memories and most of them she wouldn't welcome.

She jiggled the key in the lock of the pinkish, paint-chipped door to her room at the Redwood Motor Inn. Swinging it open, she threw her luggage on the double bed covered with a floral spread and breathed in the heavy scent of cheap lavender air freshener.

Barry Seymour, her cameraman, handed off her forgotten toiletry bag and her briefcase holding her laptop.

"Is that everything?" she asked.

He grunted and took one step over to the door to his room.

She slammed hers. A few seconds later, she heard his door slam as well. Barry hadn't said a word on the hour and a half drive up the coast to the state park. She plopped on the bed and kicked off her heels. A prima donna couldn't have been more ungrateful than Alexa at the moment.

Shame hovered near her conscience, threatening to temper her exasperation. Landing a job shortly after getting her degree at Columbia University had been really, really lucky, even for her. A million people dreamed of creating a successful documentary, but only one percent were actually given the chance to see their ideas produced in a professional and lucrative manner. Alexa was one of the few, thanks to a keen-eyed professor at Columbia who'd seen something in her worth recommending to his friend at Simon Productions.

Clive Gates quickly assessed her talents and hired her. But soon Alexa found herself in deep with this powerful man in the film making industry. She'd been his special project—someone he planned to groom in the business, and now, she was not only heartbroken, but exiled because she'd dared to speak her mind, challenging him in front of others.

Who was she kidding? He'd lost interest in her months ago, personally and professionally, and the respect she'd initially garnered from her peers was nowhere to be found. All her ideas and suggestions were continually shot down, placing her business acumen and creativity into question by everyone at Simon.

She exhaled, long and slow.

I don't even know who I am anymore.

Nor did she care at the moment. The only thing she wanted was a hot shower. She stumbled from the bed and into the small, sixties-styled bathroom and flipped on the shower to get things steaming while she put a call into Clive. She'd spent the awkward drive up the coast formulating her words.

Looking at her Smartphone, realization dawned. No signal. What? She'd forgotten that little detail—but then again, she would have thought by now more cell towers would be installed.

Her chance to write, direct, and produce her first documentary and make a favorable impression in this close-knit film community were quickly fading, taking her hopes and dreams with it. Funny that should happen in the very place where she'd grown up.

Alexa stomped into the bathroom. No steam clouded the mirror. No hot water. No cell signal. What about Internet?

And in the end, there would probably be no interview with Graeme Hawthorne either. Where had she gone wrong? Alexa replayed this morning's events in her mind.

Heels clicking and armed with nothing but an outline of her script, Alexa strode down the university halls of Humboldt University in Northern California, mentally preparing herself to interview the leading expert in redwood forest biology for her documentary. Changing World, Changing Forests—a film about the effects of climate change on forest ecosystems—hadn't been her first choice, but she told herself she'd make it shine.

Professor Peter Bryant had readily agreed to the interview, and she'd sent him the questions a week ago to help him prepare.

Barry strolled next to her, taking one step to her every two. Stocky and dressed like a lumberjack, he preferred to wear casual attire and didn't look like he belonged at the university. But he'd definitely fit in with their final destination. As they neared the end of the hall, monarchs took flight in her stomach. Alexa thumbed through various release forms and looked over her notes as she walked. "Don't forget to catch the light in his eyes, okay Barry? And let's make sure his office is quiet enough for good sound—"

"I know what I'm doing." Barry's cold tone left no doubt to his thoughts.

He had years of experience as a cameraman, and Alexa would do good to use that to her advantage rather than alienating the guy. She knew he'd not wanted to accompany her. Somehow, she'd have to fire up his enthusiasm for the project as well as her own if she had any hope of creating an award-winning documentary—something she would need if she was going to take charge of her career again.

The door to Professor Bryant's office stood open, allowing Alexa entrance into a small award-certificate and diploma-decorated reception area accented in soft earth tones. A woman with short, graying hair smiled up at her from a neat document-laden desk. A nameplate rested next to a bonsai tree, engraved Trish Thompson.

Her best professional smile in place, Alexa thrust her hand forward. "Alexa Westover with Simon Productions. We have an appointment with Professor Bryant."

Trish slowly stood as her jaw slid open. "Oh, I'm terribly sorry." She came around the desk. "Didn't you get my message?"

The monarchs in Alexa's stomach dive-bombed. "Message?" she asked and waited—her hopes tied up in the receptionist's answer.

"Professor Bryant was in a car accident this morning and is in the hospital. I hoped to catch you before you left, but I must have missed you. Still, your office should have informed you at some point. I'm sorry for your trouble."

Distress battled with compassion. "I'm sorry to hear that. I hope he's going to be all right."

Alexa waited for Trish's response, counting on a hopeful outcome.

"Thank you for your sympathies. I'll be sure to let him know."

"Could we see him and let him know in person?" Alexa cringed at the way her question sounded. Was she overstepping?

"I'm afraid that wouldn't be possible." Trish eased forward and edged her hand under Alexa's elbow, slowly escorting her to the door. "He won't be available for quite some time."

With quick efficiency, Alexa removed her elbow from Trish's grip. "Isn't there anyone else we can see while we're here? This documentary is time-sensitive and very important."

Trish seemed to consider her request but said nothing.

"Please, we've come a long way."

"There is someone who might be able to help." Trish scribbled on a piece of paper and handed it to Alexa. "But, I'll give you fair warning. He won't be easy to find, nor will it be easy to garner his cooperation."

Alexa glanced at the paper. Graeme Hawthorne. "No phone number?"

"I don't have his number, and if I did, I'm sure it wouldn't do you any good."

What did she mean by that? "Then how do I find him?"

"He's conducting his research in the coastal redwoods near Jedediah Smith State Park. Find a place to hang out with the locals. He'll turn up sooner or later."

"That's very. . ." Strange.

Trish merely shrugged and mouthed a voiceless `I know' as though she'd heard Alexa's thoughts.


Graeme Hawthorne took aim with his high powered compound bow and shot the fishing-line-threaded arrow. The projectile soared toward the canopy and lobbed over one of the lower branches almost twenty-five feet high.

The call from a local naturalist came early this morning, informing Graeme there might be a tree taller than Hyperion, the redwood tree believed to be the world's tallest living thing at just over three hundred seventy-nine feet.

Seventy feet taller than the Statue of Liberty.

Climbing the towering evergreen and dropping a tape measure was the only way to be sure. After a five mile hike in search of the tree while wearing his pack heavy with climbing equipment, Graeme refocused his energy. He still had an hour and a half or more of ascending the trunk to reach the crown, or the top of the tree. He tied a nylon cord to the fishing line and dragged it over the branch, then did the same thing with the main rope he would use to climb.

In becoming a forest canopy scientist, he'd learned his tree-climbing skills from the best climbers at Humboldt University. More than three hundred feet of rope hanging in a u-shape over the branch, Graeme assembled his gear, which included a safety harness, a helmet, and soft-soled boots, and hoisted himself up the tree using a complex assembly of rope and carabiners.

Sequoia sempervirens. Latin for forever living.

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