Authors: Margaret Daley
Tags: #Harlequin author, #Debra Webb, #Carla Cassidy, #Romantic suspense, #Rita Herron
The sound of pounding footsteps grew louder at the back of the church. Brock took a few seconds to assess their situation, then seized Samantha’s hand and ran for the side window. It was open and he dived through it, followed by Samantha, who landed on top of him, knocking her breath out.
By the noise filling the air, several men must have burst into the church as Samantha rolled off Brock and scrambled to her feet, dragging air into her lungs.
“It won’t take them long to discover the broken plank of wood,” Brock whispered, crouching behind a bush at the side of the church.
He examined the open compound. They would have to cross it to get to their plane. They didn’t have time to go along the outskirts of the mission. "I’m not thrilled by the odds stacking up against us. This certainly wasn’t the way I’d planned it in Manaus." Brock turned to Samantha and cupped her face to get her full attention. “I know you’re scared, but listen. We have to make a run for the plane.” He gestured toward the yard. “Across there.”
“But they’ll see us.”
“Probably. But it’s our only chance to get to the plane before they do.” He prepared to make a run. “How were you at the hundred-meter dash?”
With that they started to race across the compound. Earlier that day it hadn’t seemed very big, but now the yards between them and the plane seemed like miles, and Samantha’s legs couldn’t keep up with Brock’s longer ones.
A shout behind them momentarily caused Samantha to falter. Then the sound of gunfire and a bullet whizzing by her head propelled her to move even faster. She had seen it countless times in the movies, but her life wasn’t supposed to be like that. The movies were fantasy, the guns only firing blanks, but the men after them were firing real bullets. A bullet struck the dirt near her foot, scattering the earth in clouds of dust, and she poured every ounce of strength into her legs.
A few feet in front Brock slowed, scanning the dark terrain near the planes. With the runway so short, even Samantha realized their chances at night were slim. Suddenly he altered his direction and ran toward the jungle near the edge of the landing strip, glancing back to make sure that she was following.
When he plunged into the total darkness of the trees, he waited for Samantha, taking her hand—it was becoming such a natural thing to do—before moving deeper into the dense foliage. He put his fingers over her mouth to indicate the need for quiet. He knew she had a hundred questions for him, but the time to answer them wasn’t now.
They went several hundred yards into the jungle before Brock found a tree to climb. He motioned Samantha to go up the trunk first, his ears attuned to the slightest unnatural noise.
Secured in the branches of a large tree, they were about fifteen feet off the ground. He situated himself next to Samantha and put his arm around her. She was trembling.
“We’re safe,” he whispered into her ear.
"Safe? Two stories up in a tree? I’m not a cat." She moved, as though trying to make herself more comfortable on a precarious perch.
“You weren’t hit, were you?” Brock asked when she didn’t say anything, which wasn’t like her one bit.
She shook her head and molded herself even more into the curve of his arm. “Why are we here?”
The night sounds of the jungle masked their whispers, so Brock took a chance to explain his decision, “I don’t think we could have made it taking off at night from that runway.”
“I figured as much. I’m not sure that’s what you should call it. It’s more like a patch of open jungle,” she said with a shaky laugh.
“We’ll have to wait till dawn, then take our chances on getting back to the plane.”
“But surely they’ll be guarding it.”
“No doubt. But I believe the risks are less at dawn than now. Try and get some sleep. Tomorrow will be one
* * *
Thirty minutes later, Samantha still fought the weariness in every pore of her body. But there was no way she could have slept, even in Brock’s arms. She constantly surveyed the jungle for any signs of the men from the mission, or even a predator who hunted at night. Didn’t jaguars live in trees and hunt their food at night? Then she remembered seeing a picture of one draped over a branch about ten feet above some kind of deer, the cat’s eyes fixed on its prey below.
“Relax, Sam. It’ll be hours till dawn.” Brock kneaded the tightness in her shoulders.
“You sound like running for your life is an everyday occurrence for you.”
“No, but I’ve had a few brushes. When you go into uncharted territory, that happens occasionally.”
He tensed, again laying his fingers over her mouth. For a few minutes Samantha couldn’t tell any sound that was different from the constant chorus of insects. Then she heard the slashing sound. Some men from the compound were heading toward their tree.
The sound of their machetes cutting the foliage stopped. One of them cursed.
Paul—Samantha would know his gruff voice anywhere—said, “We can’t find anything out here in the dark. We’ll track them tomorrow. They won’t go very far.”
“Miss Prince won’t be able to escape us like her brother. I’ve taken care of that.”
Samantha felt a momentary lift in her spirits. Mark had escaped. That meant he was still alive—if something or someone else hadn’t gotten him. But what had the man meant by:
I’ve taken care of that
. How? Her or Mark? Her elation evaporated.
The two men’s voices faded as they headed back to the mission.
Samantha’s spirits plummeted even more when she evaluated their situation, which didn’t look one bit promising. “They will be back tomorrow morning.”
“And we won’t be here.” Brock leaned back against the tree and pulled Samantha against him. “Sam, at least close your eyes and rest. I need you in top condition tomorrow. I won’t mislead you. It will be hard getting out of here.”
“What if they did something to the plane?”
“They need their plane. We’ll take that if we have to. And if we can’t, then we’ll walk out of here. We’ll do what’s necessary.”
She followed his gentle command and closed her eyes, willing her body to relax against his strength. At least they were safe for the next few hours. Her exhaustion swept through her, and she eased into a deep sleep, comforted by Brock’s even breathing and steady heartbeat.
Hours later, someone was shaking her. Even though her bed felt so hard, she didn’t want to get up. “Sam! We’ve got to get going and be in place at dawn.”
The urgency in Brock’s voice roused her completely. She forced herself to leave the security of his arms and climb down from their tree. Near the bottom a branch dug into her leg, and she bit her lower lip to keep from crying out. It was still dark in the jungle, the canopy of trees blocking out all light, even from the moon. But she felt a trickle of blood run down her leg and knew it wasn’t just a scratch.
Silently, like a night prowler, Brock moved forward toward what Samantha supposed was the landing strip. She was so completely turned around that she didn’t know which way she was going. Her leg throbbed where the branch had speared her, but she kept up with Brock.
At the edge of the jungle Brock halted and crouched down to evaluate their chances, peering through the foliage. There were two men with rifles guarding the plane, their bodies silhouetted against the gray light of dawn. Both planes looked untouched.
“We need to create a diversion,” Brock whispered. “Any ideas?”
“And how do you suggest doing that?”
“You mean you aren’t carrying dynamite in your backpack? I always thought you came prepared.”
He smiled. “Maybe a fire will do. I do have matches.”
“Wait! Did you notice the gas-powered generator next to the house? If we can set fire to that, then the gasoline in it will explode.”
“I like that, Sam.” He started forward.
She grabbed his arm. “Where are you going?”
“To blow up the generator, general.”
“Not without me.”
“Listen, I’m all for togetherness, but if I get caught you still have a chance to get away. Besides, when the generator goes, I want you to get inside the plane. When I come running, there will be no time to waste.”
“What about the other plane?”
“I’ll take care of it.”
“What are you trying to be? A hero? I thought that wasn’t your bag of tea.”
He brushed his finger down her jaw line, the look in his eyes incredibly tender. “I’m just trying to keep both of us alive. There’s nothing heroic in that.” Then in a brisker tone, he added, “Now, follow orders.”
“I think I’ve just been demoted to private,” she muttered as Brock headed along the edge of the compound toward the house and the generator.
The gray tint of dawn began to turn to a rosy hue in the eastern sky as Samantha waited, counting each second that Brock was gone. Though she knew he intended to blow up the generator, when the noise thundered in the air, she jumped, her heartbeat accelerating quickly.
The explosion was her signal to move, but for a few seconds Samantha’s gaze was fixed upon the billowing flames that leapt toward the heavens. It was seeing the two guards hurrying toward the fire that finally impelled her to run to the plane. Crouched low, she scrambled up onto the wing and practically fell into the copilot’s seat.
After strapping herself in, she scanned the area for Brock, praying he made it out alive, because she knew in her heart without him she had no chance to make it back to Manaus. She didn’t even know which way to go, let alone how to fly a plane.
Fifty heartbeats later, she saw Brock climb onto the wing and thrust the cockpit door open. He got into the pilot’s seat and started the plane.
“Any problems?” she asked.
“Yes, them.” He tossed his head in the direction of the two priests rushing toward the plane with their guns firing.
One bullet struck the wing of the plane on Samantha’s side. She stared at the hole it made and thought of all the dull things she would love to be doing right now in New Orleans.
Brock turned the plane around and began to taxi down the short runway. The sound of the gunfire ricocheted through Samantha’s mind as more bullets hit the plane. They picked up speed, the dense jungle wall at the end of the runway coming closer and closer. Only a few yards away from the tree barrier the nose of the plane lifted, followed by the wheels, then the tail. They were airborne, passing several feet over the tops of the trees.
“We made it!” Samantha exclaimed, wanting to throw her arms around Brock and kiss him for pulling it off.
“And they shouldn’t be following. I removed the spark plugs from their plane before setting off the generator. We’ll be back in Manaus before they can go anywhere.”
“The first thing I want to do is celebrate. There for a while I didn’t think I’d ever see Manaus again.”
“One celebration coming up tonight.”
This time going over the sea of green Samantha didn’t feel so frightened. They had brushed death and survived. She knew from the two men that Mark was still alive. Somehow she would find her brother and everything would be fine.
Her smile was full of satisfaction—until she spied Brock’s scowl. Alarmed, Samantha sat up in her seat. “What’s wrong?”
Brock examined the instrument panel again. "The oil pressure is dropping–fast.”
She knew there was a reason she didn’t like to fly. "Can we make it back to Manaus all right?"
“No." Brock searched the terrain, deep lines grooving his forehead.
The engine stalled. The propeller froze. The plane began free falling toward the sea of green below.
Stunned, Samantha tensed, bracing her hands in front of her for the collision. Her gaze was riveted to the green carpet of trees below. Her mind went blank.
As the plane glided quickly downward on the air currents, Brock looked for a place to land. But they were flying over dense jungle with no clearings.
"I see a river." Brock pointed slightly to the left. "I’m going to try to land on the water. Let’s just hope we can stay up long enough to clear the trees along its bank." He maneuvered the plane in that direction.
The jungle kept getting closer, looking like a ravenous monster ready to devour them. Suddenly Samantha couldn’t look any longer. She squeezed her eyes closed and almost laughed when she remembered she hadn’t paid one of her book distributors before she left New Orleans.
The jarring impact pitched Samantha forward, her head smashing into the panel, then she was thrown back in the seat. For a few seconds blackness hovered. She felt dizzy, her skull pounding from a bump on her forehead, but she was alive. They hadn’t actually crashed. Brock landed the plane in the water.
She slowly straightened, amazed that her body even worked. When she opened her eyes, the plane was in the middle of a river and was being carried downstream on its current. They were sitting at an angle, one wing partially below the water.
Samantha’s gaze veered to him. He was slumped forward, his body seemingly lifeless, his head against the wheel, his eyes closed. Blood from a long cut on his forehead ran down his face. The sight of his wound galvanized Samantha into action. With a trembling hand she felt on his neck until she found his pulse. To Samantha’s immense relief, it was steady and strong.
Taking a tissue from her canvas bag, she wiped the blood from his wound and face. She was thankful that the blood was already starting to clot. Past bandaging and cleaning a wound, she didn’t know what she was supposed to do for an accident victim.
She was considering tearing her extra cotton blouse to use as a bandage when she remembered the first aid kit Brock had put under her seat before they left Manaus. From the kit she withdrew the necessary items to cleanse and bandage his gash. She dabbed a cotton swab soaked with antiseptic on his wound, tentatively at first, but when she realized she wasn’t getting anywhere, she used more pressure.
Coming to, Brock moaned, batting her hand away. “Remind me never to leave a wake-up call with you, lady,” he mumbled, touching his forehead and wincing.