Table of Contents
Title Page (#u2f429886-ec37-5b44-b775-f47dde89ee7c)
About the Author (#u0e514fa0-5613-5d8f-af16-404f1ede927f)
Chapter One (#u72bf83b3-e5e7-5fd2-91bd-062e5afc1e03)
Chapter Two (#u7e118c18-6ff6-5df2-893e-2e39b819591b)
Chapter Three (#u7b8d1f45-89dd-56d9-86d7-94072b6d8781)
Chapter Four (#litres_trial_promo)
Chapter Five (#litres_trial_promo)
Chapter Six (#litres_trial_promo)
Chapter Seven (#litres_trial_promo)
Chapter Eight (#litres_trial_promo)
Chapter Nine (#litres_trial_promo)
Chapter Ten (#litres_trial_promo)
Chapter Eleven (#litres_trial_promo)
Chapter Twelve (#litres_trial_promo)
Cindy Dees started flying aeroplanes while sitting in her dad’s lap at the age of three, and got a pilot’s licence before she got a driver’s licence. At the age of fifteen, she dropped out of school and left the horse farm in Michigan where she grew up to attend the University of Michigan. After earning a degree in Russian and East European Studies, she joined the US Air Force and became the youngest female pilot in the history of the Air Force. She flew supersonic jets, VIP airlift and the C-5 Galaxy, the world’s largest aeroplane. She also worked part-time gathering intelligence. During her military career, she travelled to forty countries on five continents, was detained by the KGB and East German secret police, got shot at, flew in the first Gulf War, met her husband and amassed a lifetime’s worth of war stories.
Her hobbies include professional Middle Eastern dancing, Japanese gardening and medieval re-enacting. She started writing on a one-dollar bet with her mother and was thrilled to win that bet with the publication of her first book in 2001. She loves to hear from readers and can be contacted at www.cindydees.com
This one wouldn’t have been possible without
Nina, Sheree and Tashya. Thanks, ladies, for the
inspiration, laughter and sand between
my toes when I needed them.
Another gust flung the tiny airplane sideways like a storm-tossed cork. Tom Laruso’s formidable muscles strained as he fought the controls, leveling out the Cessna floatplane’s wings and easing it down toward a lower and hopefully smoother altitude.
“Are we going to die?” the woman beside him quavered.
“Nah. This is just a little turbulence. No big deal. Think of it as a giant roller coaster. Take my advice, little lady, just sit back and enjoy the ride.”
She subsided, white-knuckled, beside him. Didn’t look as if she was buying the roller-coaster line. She’d been insane to insist on this trip, and he’d told her as much before they left the big island. But the client, who’d called herself only Madeline C., had been adamant. She had to get to Vanua Taru tonight. Hey, if she had a death wish, who was he to stand in her way? It wasn’t like staying alive held any great appeal to him. He was game to dance with death if she was.
But now that they were out here flirting with the leading edge of a Category Three hurricane—cyclones, they were called out here in the South Pacific—he wasn’t so sure this was the way he wanted to go. He’d much rather lose himself in the bottom of a whiskey bottle and just drift away, numb and painless.
The plane lurched, its left wing jerking up suddenly and half flinging him into Ms. Madeline’s elegant lap. His right hand gripped her thigh, which went as rock hard beneath his palm as any self-respecting stair-climber queen’s. He murmured an apology and pushed himself upright. His biceps strained as he wrestled with the yoke and finally bullied the plane back into more or less level flight.
She would have to look just like Arielle. Tom glanced over briefly at his passenger in the waning dusk. Hell, she even smelled like Arielle, all light and floral like some damned butterfly. It was uncanny, actually. The fine bones, silver-blond halo of hair, the dreamy, mint-green eyes. How many women anywhere looked like that? And to have two so similar come into his life one right after another… Yup. Weird. If Arielle was haunting him, he’d kill her…oh, wait. She was already dead. Searing guilt twisted in his gut. God, he needed a drink.
Something flashed at the edge of his vision, a streak of light, falling from above and slashing through the arc of the propeller. The plane bucked. The engine hitched and coughed. Not good. Instinctively, he pushed the yoke forward, putting the plane into a descent. When in doubt, get out of the sky and land. Or in this case, float. Miles and miles of ocean stretched away in every direction. All the landing zone a guy could ever ask for. Even if it was heaving into massive mountains and valleys of salt water as the cyclone approached.
He started to glance down at the engine gauges to see if any caution lights had illuminated on the master warning panel, when another flash of white light streaked past his peripheral vision. Crap. Another lightning strike.
He had no more time to think on the possible implications of the strike as flames erupted from the engine cowling directly in front of him. His passenger screamed. Immediately he shoved the nose over as hard as it would go. They had to get down!
The steep dive blew out some of the fire, but it was coming out the other side of the engine, if the woman’s continued screams were any indication. No time to reassure her, though. Not as if he had any comforting words for her, anyway. They were in a world of hurt. He fought the jerking plane grimly. The wild aluminum bronco was winning. This wasn’t turbulence. Something was terribly wrong. The propeller wobbled, horribly unbalanced, all but shaking the little plane apart.
The ocean loomed near. He literally stood on the rudder pedals and hauled back on the yoke for all he was worth. The Cessna groaned its protest, metal creaking and wing spars shuddering under the strain of the g-forces he was violently overloading them with.
C’mon, baby, hang together just a few more seconds. Every muscle in his body strained, pushed to the limit to maintain control of the aircraft. Were he not as strong a man as he was, they’d already be spiraling out of control into the sea.
Something tore off the nose of the plane and flew back, slamming into the windshield directly in front of him. The Plexiglas cracked into a crazed spiderweb that completely blocked his vision of the angry mountains of water just below.
He shouted at his passenger, “We’ve got to bail out! Open your door and jump! It’s not far to the water!”
He glanced over only to see her face contorted into a soundless scream of terror. She’d frozen on him. He let go of his own door handle to reach across her and push her door open. He shoved her toward the yawning void.
And then the plane exploded.
The burst of light and heat was blinding, like being consumed by the sun. He registered a vague sensation of the Cessna evaporating around him, flying outward until nothing remained but fire and the deafening roar of it. He floated weightless for a millisecond, then the explosion slammed into him in all its fury.
The world went black.
Madeline hit the water feetfirst, stunned by how much the impact hurt and how cold the ocean was. It shocked her horrified mind into a moment of utter, frozen panic, but then the icy chill penetrated and jolted her back to full awareness.