Authors: Sally Clements
Tempest’s voice was breathless with excitement. ‘I’m free!’ She wobbled off the chair and knelt beside him. ‘Let me untie your feet.’
She unknotted the old rope, then wrapped her hands around his arm, straining to pull him up. Her fingers slid down his arms to his handcuffed wrists.
‘There’s nothing we can do about these until we find the key. We better get out of here before they come back.’
She guided him to the sliver of light under the door.
He heard a rattle of the doorknob, and then her sigh of frustration. ‘It’s locked.’ If she was acting, she deserved an Oscar for her performance.
He put his ear to the door and listened intently. He jiggled the feeling back into his aching legs. They might need to run when they got out, and right now, his legs were barely able to stagger.
‘I think we must be alone. Stand back, I’m going to kick the door down.’
She sounded eager, as though she might do something rash again. He wished he could search her face for any sign of deceit. Dealing with her voice alone was disorientating.
‘I don’t want you doing anything reckless, Tempest. You have to follow my lead and stay behind me, out of the way.’
Jake frowned. The last thing he needed was for her to throw herself headlong into danger again. She was difficult enough to protect as it was.
‘I’m not kidding, these men may be very dangerous,’ he warned.
‘OK, I get it. We’ll do it your way, let’s just get out of here.’
Jake kicked the door open into a narrow corridor. He grabbed Tempest’s hand and pulled her along to the next door ahead of them, which was also closed.
‘Let me try.’ She rotated the handle and pushed. ‘It’s locked.’
Jake kicked at the door and the rotten wood shattered. Light flooded the corridor, blinding him for a moment. Tempest’s hand curled around his upper arm. She was standing right behind him. He stumbled out into the fresh air, and stared in surprise at the choppy waves of a cold, grey sea.
The sun’s brightness was blinding. A stiff breeze whipped her face, and Tempest turned away from it instinctively. They must be near the sea. The smell of ozone filled her nostrils, and her lips stung with salt. Tempest blinked, and an image appeared from the whiteness in watery stages like an instant Polaroid picture. Her jaw dropped open. The familiar London cityscape was gone, replaced by grey waves topped with foamy caps that her dad had called seahorses.
‘Are you alright?’
The breeze lifted thick strands of inky black hair from a forehead pleated with a confused frown. Jake’s piercing gaze swept her head to toe. The tan she had admired in the museum had faded to white, but he was still fantastic-looking, with sweeping cheekbones and a strong jaw clenched against the blowing ocean spray.
‘Tempest.’ His gaze shifted to her hair. ‘Or should I call you Red?’
‘Nobody calls me Red and gets away with it.’
He grinned and moved closer, crowding her personal space, blocking out her view of sea and sky. The air between their bodies seemed charged. Her heartbeat quickened.
God, he’s tall.
She took a step sideways.
‘Ouch!’ Her ankle turned on the rocky surface, shooting an arrow of pain through it. She shifted from side to side, trying to relieve the pain.
‘What happened?’ Emerald eyes pinned her like a butterfly to a board. Her legs were jelly. She stumbled against the solid bulk of his chest, and a shudder rolled up from her core. It had been horrible in the dank darkness.
‘Sorry, I’m a bit wobbly.’
‘You’re still in shock. Probably feeling the after-effects of the sedative.’
His chest was hard and warm. It was tempting to lay her cheek against his heart, hear if being so close was having the same effect on him as it was on her. But now wasn’t the time. They were in trouble. She shot him a quick glance. Apart from his pallor, Jake looked ready for anything.
He glanced around. ‘There doesn’t seem to be anyone about, but we’d better get away from here.’
Tempest stared at the building they’d escaped from, tracking the lighthouse’s height with wide eyes.
‘Look at it, Jake.’ The windows were filthy and rotten. The surface was covered in pebble-dash, a dingy grey, in desperate need of fresh paint. ‘Nobody’s lived here for years.’
Crying gulls circled overhead, intensifying the tangible air of desolation.
‘I agree, but the people who brought us here might be around.’
She tilted her head sideways, bringing all her senses into play, not just the usual ones. The place looked deserted.
‘No. There’s nobody here but us. I can feel it. We should go back in and check for food and water.’ She released his arm and stepped away, immediately feeling bereft, but more in control. ‘We’re going to need it.’
‘We should watch for a while, make sure there’s no one up there.’
With his hands cuffed behind his back Jake wasn’t able to touch, but the authority in his voice stopped her in her tracks.
She shook her head. They didn’t have time to wait. ‘No. We need to get provisions and disappear before they get back, you said so yourself. I know we’re alone, I can sense these things.’
Her family and friends knew her intuition was rarely wrong. Jake, however, hadn’t had the benefit of seeing her gift in action so it was hardly surprising that he eyed her as if she were crazy. There was no time to explain, she’d have to resort to logic.
She spoke slowly and clearly, as though she were lecturing a child. ‘Anyone in there would have heard you kick the door in.’
He hesitated, and then glanced upwards with a frown creasing his brow.
‘You’re right. It looks empty. You stay here and I’ll be back in a minute.’
God, he was stubborn. Tempest pulled in a breath. He couldn’t go with his hands bound behind his back. Even if he were lucky enough to find anything, he wouldn’t be able to pick it up. Unless he used his mouth. The mere thought of Jake’s clever mouth tangled her insides. She shook her head.
‘Your hands are tied behind your back, how the heck will you pick up anything? I’ll go. With any luck I’ll find a key to unlock you.’
He scowled. ‘I don’t like it.’
‘Well, I’m not exactly mad about it myself.’
But she needed to get in there and if Jake went too, she would be at a disadvantage if the kidnappers attacked them again. To her relief, he seemed to see the sense in her argument.
‘I’ll wait here for you.’ Jake crouched down in a small hollow in a patch of gorse around the side of the lighthouse. ‘You have ten minutes. Then I’m coming to get you, bound hands or not.’
‘I’ll be out in five.’
Tempest sprinted to the lighthouse, and sneaked inside. It smelt dank and mouldy. Blooms of rot painted dark ivy trails around the top of the walls. Wet patches bled through plaster which had come off in chunks in some areas, and she crept around them carefully. Her ears strained for any sound. Her back ached with the tension which wound her body tight as a spring, ready for any hint she should flee.
Tempest pulled in a breath and held it as the door creaked open to reveal a small room, with a rough wooden table in its centre. She crept closer. The table was empty apart from a blue backpack and a couple of litre bottles of water, which she stuffed into the bag with shaking hands. There was a dresser against the back wall, and she moved towards it like a stealthy soldier creeping through jungle. Mugs hung from a line of hooks. The final hook held no mug, but a much more valuable prize.
She grasped it tightly, then hefted the backpack over one shoulder and weaved out into the light again. Her breath escaped in a puff, and she broke into a run to where Jake waited.
‘Keys!’ She held up the small bunch in triumph, fingering one small silver key in particular. ‘I think this one is for the handcuffs.’
Tempest worked the key into the keyhole, freeing him. A band of red, abraded flesh decorated his wrists like bracelets. She winced, slipping cuffs and keys into the bag. He must be in agony.
He stretched his arms above his head, then rotated his shoulders a few times to free his tight muscles. The sight of his flexing torso stopped Tempest in her tracks, banishing all coherent thought in a fevered rush.
‘Come on.’ He dragged her to a faint path leading down to a rocky beach. ‘We should get down towards the waterline. There may be a cave we can hide in.’
The path was rocky and uneven. Small stones broke away, tumbling down the hill. Tempest’s high heels slid on the skree. Her arms flew out and she almost fell.
‘Careful.’ He pulled her close, and her heart thumped at the warmth of his body. They searched the cliff face for any sign of a cave.
He pointed. ‘There.’ A half-hidden dark entrance was barely visible. ‘We need to get out of sight, hurry.’
She glanced back. There was no-one in sight, and the air was still and silent but for the mournful wailing of sea birds. Their hurrying feet made the cave entrance in moments.
With a shudder she crept in. The walls of the shadowy cave ran with glistening water. The air was foul, heavy with the stench of decaying corpses of sea creatures. Warmth flooded her nonetheless. It was safe. For the first time since they’d got out of the lighthouse, her shoulders relaxed their tight hunch. She sank down onto the soft damp sand in relief.
‘What’s in the bag?’ Jake asked.
She handed him the backpack, then wrapped her arms around her knees, hugging them tight. Hunger bit, and her stomach growled. The men kidnapped them at least a day ago. There might be plenty of fish in the sea, but there was no chance of catching any without a rod or a net.
Jake untwisted the top of a bottle of water and handed it to her. Once she’d drunk her fill, she passed it back. Electricity shot through her when their hands brushed. It was cold in the dank interior of the cave, but the goosebumps racing up her arms were from his touch, not the chill air.
She longed to curl up next to him and feel his body heat seep into her. Her intuition told her that his solid, capable assurance was real. But her intuition had been wrong once concerning a man, and she dared not drop her guard. She stared out from the darkness into the sunlight. Beyond the entrance to the cave, a makeshift jetty extended into the grey water.
Satisfaction warmed Jake’s core. The cave was exactly what he’d hoped. A place to keep her safe while he investigated the island. He stretched out cramped legs, flexing his protesting calf muscles. ‘I’m going to scout out this place. You stay here and keep an eye out for boats.’
Tempest shook her head. His satisfaction evaporated like mist on a hot day.
‘No.’ She placed her hands on her hips and glared. ‘I’m coming with you.’
‘You’re not exactly dressed for it, Red.’
His gaze scanned her curves. The ripped grey skirt revealed acres of long shapely leg and her nosebleed heels looked definitely worst for wear. The white shirt would make an easy target against the grey green scrub. Taking her with him would put her in danger.
Her chin tilted up and her eyes flashed with the light of battle. ‘I’m coming. If you don’t take me, I’ll follow you.’
He tried another tack. ‘Can you even walk in those heels?’
‘I’ve been walking in heels since I was twelve,’ she parried disdainfully. Her expression changed the moment she glanced down. ‘The shirt is a problem though, it’s too bright.’
She glanced around, eyes settling on a dark red vein running through the rock on the back wall. She walked over and picked at it with a fingernail.
‘It’s some sort of clay or sandstone.’ She rubbed her finger against her shirt, colouring it a dull red. ‘This’ll do.’
She undid the top button of her shirt, and then her eyes darted to his. ‘Turn around, please.’
He raised an eyebrow, but obediently turned away for a few minutes.
He glanced back. She held the shirt in her hands now, rubbing it against the seam of clay. The shirt had turned a dirty terracotta, but he barely noticed. His eyes ran slowly over the small breasts outlined in her white lace bra and awareness blazed inside him like a forest fire.
His mouth dried, and he turned away abruptly. He closed his eyes, but the image was burned into his retina. The fact that she was even more gorgeous undressed was a fact he wished right now he wasn’t aware of. He couldn’t protect her if she refused to play ball, and she’d be safer next to him than creeping along behind.
Jake took a deep breath, and gave in. ‘Get dressed. I guess we’ll get it done quicker if we both go.’
Tempest stuffed her arms into her now reddish shirt, and fastened the buttons. ‘Ready.’
She followed him out of the cave. They passed the lighthouse along a rough track that led to some old cottages and an abandoned castle. Jake’s leg muscles ached as they clambered to the summit, stopping once to drink water from the backpack.
The view from the top was magnificent. Or would be, if he wasn’t so worried. Dread formed a hard stone in his gut. ‘We’re on an island.’
The ground fell away sharply towards the sea. Below them, hundreds of nesting seabirds grappled for purchase on sharp cliffs. Screeching calls filled the air and their sulphurous droppings stank. He turned on the spot, staring out to sea. The island was little more than a rock. On the horizon, a speck of land was barely visible.
Jake scanned the island again. A large H was painted on the grass at the side of the cottages. The grass had been flattened into a circle.
‘There,’ Tempest breathed, spotting it too. ‘A landing pad. They must have brought us here in a helicopter.’
There was nothing else to see so they retraced their steps to the lighthouse, then continued on to the jetty.
Anger welled up in Jake’s chest, fed by desperation and frustration. ‘We could be anywhere. If these crooks steal the Egyptian gold, they’ll make a move on my mother. I need to be off this goddamned island.’
His mother would make an easy target without his protection. A lock of hair tumbled into his eyes and he pushed it back impatiently, incensed by the forced inaction. Acid flooded his gut and he pulled a deep lungful of air. There wasn’t any point in getting so wound up, it wouldn’t get them anywhere. Jake sat down on the worn wooden boards of the jetty and stared out across the water.