One Snowy Night (Sweet Home, Alaska #1) - Patience Griffin

Chapter 1

THIRTY-FOUR-YEAR-OLD HOPE McKNIGHT tried not to watch the clock, which hung on the dingy blue wall of her minuscule living room. But it was impossible to keep from glancing at it every other second. She turned and gazed out the frost-covered window into the pitch-black of night and shivered before peeking at the clock again.

Ten thirty.

Ella should’ve been home from the football game an hour ago. Calling and texting her daughter’s cell phone hadn’t eased Hope’s worry, as Ella hadn’t responded.

Hope always agonized over Ella’s safety when it snowed, even when it was only a dusting. Sweet Home was remote, with winding roads leading in and out of the town, population 573—Alaska Native people, transplants, and multigenerational Alaskans like herself—and Hope knew better than anyone how treacherous the roads could be. Plus there was a deeper threat hanging over their little house. For the past two Friday nights, her sixteen-year-old daughter had staggered in the front door, clearly drunk. Hope felt defeated . . . and guilty. Lecturing Ella from birth about the pitfalls of alcohol—even being the head of the local chapter of Mothers Against Drunk Driving—hadn’t prevented her daughter from getting caught up in Alaska’s number one pastime.

Is Ella doomed to repeat my mistakes?

Hope tried to shove the thought from her mind, but she couldn’t stop feeling—down to her bones—that Ella’s drinking was inherently her fault.

Hope glanced at the car keys hanging on the hook by the front door. At least there was that: Ella wouldn’t be driving. But that didn’t mean she wasn’t getting a ride home with another inebriated teen.

To stop fretting, Hope pushed herself off the couch to rearrange the furniture in her living room, anything to occupy her mind. At one time she’d thought about getting a degree in interior design, but that was before. And because her living room was tiny, the rearranging took no time at all. She needed something else to keep from going crazy with worry. She strode to the closet and pulled out a rucksack. “I’ll start packing without her,” she said to the empty house. Every year they took several snow camping trips in the thick forests surrounding Sweet Home, where Hope could test Ella’s survival skills.

Hope’s gaze traveled to the clock once again. Yes, according to the experts, only five percent of what people worried about actually happened. But Hope knew that danger lurked around every corner, ready to ruin lives. She was living proof of how a good life could turn awful in an instant. And how, once things went bad, there was no way to turn back time and recapture the joy she once had. When her parents named her Hope, they’d made a grievous error . . . because she had none. She hadn’t been prepared for what life had thrown at her. Her job one now? To prepare Ella for what lay ahead, good or bad.

She went to Ella’s room and unearthed her daughter’s backpack from beneath a pile of clothes. As an exhausted and overworked single parent, she’d thrown in the towel about Ella keeping her room picked up. In the vast scheme of things, an untidy room wasn’t important. Having the skills to make it alone was. Knowing how to survive in the wild was key, too. Their camping trip would only be two days—Saturday and Sunday—the first days Hope had had off since September.

She dug past the second layer of clothes on the floor but couldn’t find Ella’s wool socks. Just as she was going to look in her daughter’s closet, Hope’s phone rang. She raced for the other room and caught it on the tail end of the second ring, knowing it had to be Ella.

“Where are you?”

But Hope was wrong. It was Piney Douglas, the closest thing she had to a mother now. Not that she didn’t love Piney, but Hope’s heart sank. Where are you, Ella?

“Where am I?” Piney chuckled. “I’m in my drafty apartment above the Hungry Bear”—the grocery store–diner where Hope worked. “Where else would I be?”

“I thought you were Ella.” Hope could’ve added that Piney might’ve been anywhere, even the cabin next door to Hope, where Piney’s boyfriend, Bill Morningstar, lived. Bill was known throughout Sweet Home for making Alaskan quilts.

Piney clucked. “Ella’s fine. I’d know if something was wrong.”

Hope sighed, thinking of Piney’s crystals, tarot cards, tea-leaf readings, and other psychic stuff. Bill thought Piney’s belief in the spirit world was complete rubbish and didn’t seem to think twice about voicing his opinion.