Authors: Margaret Daley
“It won’t be easy.”
She knew it wouldn’t be easy to keep from succumbing to his male appeal. All she had to do was look at him and think about what they had shared in the short time they have been together--more than a lot of people in months. “But we’ve come this far.”
As she stared at Slade, she felt herself being drawn deeper and deeper into the swirling sea green of his eyes. She ran her tongue over her lips again to moisten them. Inch by inch he bent toward her, all while their gazes were linked. She was rooted to the ground, paralyzed by a womanly need demanding attention. They had nearly died today, and she needed to feel alive. She couldn’t resist tasting the “forbidden fruit” one more time.
“Yes, we’re halfway home.” His whispered words washed over her.
Her lips parted slightly as his mouth fit over hers and his fingers combed through her hair to hold her head still. One of his hands moved down the length of her spine to mold her body closer to his, while his other stayed clenched in her hair. He drove his mouth into hers in a fierce kiss.
When he drew slightly away, their ragged breaths merged in the small space between them. Ellie felt lightheaded and wished that she could attribute her state of mind to their harrowing experience. But she couldn’t.
“You haven’t lost your touch. You are a good kisser,” she replied breathlessly, determinedly putting some physical and emotional distance between them. “We’d better not be here if someone decides to come looking.”
Maybe if she walked all afternoon, when they camped for the night, she would be too exhausted to think, much less long after Slade. She was counting on that, because at the moment she had no idea what happened to her willpower. She must have left it back at Mr. Martinez’s villa.
“Before we leave, we should check the plane to see if there’s anything we can use in it.” His words came out tight, as if he was battling for self-control, too.
“Maybe there’s some food.”
Slade laughed. “What happened to that diet you were going to go on?”
“You know diets.” She took a quick inventory of his body and added, “On second look, I’m sure you don’t know diets. But take my word, they are easy to start and even easier to quit.”
“I doubt there’s any food. It’s not considered regular equipment for a plane, but then I guess you can dream.”
“Food isn’t a dream. It’s one of life’s necessities.”
Slade tore at the branches in his way. “What are some other necessities?”
“The usual, shelter, clothing, water.” She wasn’t sure what he was getting at, but somehow she knew she was going to regret the direction the conversation was taking.
“Nothing for the soul?”
Placing her hands on her hips, she fired back, “Such as?”
“Those are the same things an animal needs to survive, but we humans require more. Like the ability to dream.”
“Not to love?”
He tossed a small limb to the side and opened the cockpit door. “Yes, of course, to love, to feel emotions.”
“I guess you can deny those intangibles for a while, but soon you find yourself dying a little inside.”
“Are you speaking from experience?” Climbing into the cockpit to check behind the seats, he scanned the area.
“I was engaged once. It didn’t work out.”
He looked at her through the broken windshield. “What happened?”
“The usual. Our love wasn’t strong enough.”
“Strong enough for what?” he asked, bending down to retrieve some items.
“To weather deceit.”
Slade tossed out two blankets, some rope, a flashlight and a toolbox. “Did you catch him with another woman?”
“Several, to be exact. He was married and also had a mistress while he was engaged to me.”
“Then you’re better off without him.”
“Is that how you feel about your ex-wife?”
“I married on impulse and lived to regret it. I won’t make that mistake again. Marriage isn’t for me.” He appeared in the entrance into the cockpit. “No food, I’m afraid.”
For a moment he had allowed her a brief look into his past. But the moment was now gone, and Ellie realized she wouldn’t get anything else out about him. His expression was closed to her. “What are you going do with these?” she asked, examining the box while she wrestled with the disappointment his declaration had produced. Marriage wasn’t in her future either, so why should she care what he felt about the subject?
“You never know when one of those tools will come in handy. We have no weapons, since that soldier took the gun that I so kindly persuaded the nice man in my hotel room to loan me.”
Ellie lifted a screwdriver out of the box. “Come any closer and I’ll use this on you.”
“Laugh all you want, but I seem to remember you using your purse as a weapon this morning.”
She replaced the screwdriver in the box and put her hand in her pockets. That was when she realized her brooch was missing. “It’s gone!” She dove toward the plane and Slade.
He tried to scramble out of her way, but she hit him square in chest, barreling him over into the copilot’s seat. She was halfway on top of him, frantically searching the inside of the cockpit.
“I’ve got to find it!”
“My grandmother’s brooch.”
“You probably lost it back at the airport or—”
“No.” She rounded on him in the small confines of the plane. “It’s the only thing I have that belonged to my grandmother. She raised me.”
“We shouldn’t stay around here much longer.”
“I’m not leaving until I find it.”
“It’s that important?”
She nodded, then leaned over him and began to rummage through the debris.
“I realize the brooch means a lot to you, but—”
“No buts,” she cut in. “You go on without me. I’ll follow when I find it. It’s my lucky piece. Nothing’s going to happen if I’m wearing it.”
“And that’s supposed to reassure me after the events of the past twelve hours? You were wearing it then.”
“I’m alive right now and the odds were against us.” She fixed him with a determined look. “I’m not going. Short of carrying me out of here kicking and screaming, I’m staying.”
“Woman, you’re exasperating.” He stared at her long and hard. “Okay. I’ll help. But it doesn’t seem to be in here. Maybe you lost it outside when you fell.”
“It can’t be under the plane.” Ellie scrambled out of the cockpit and on her hands and knees began a careful search of the area around the plane. Tossing branches out of her way, she painstakingly went over every inch of the ground near her before moving onto the next area.
Slade went down on his hands and knees, too. “This really does mean a lot to you.”
“My grandmother is probably turning over in her grave right now. My grandfather gave it to her on their wedding night. It symbolizes fifty years of marriage.”
“Ah, the romantic again, and after all that has happened to you.”
“Haven’t you had anything you treasure more than anything else?”
“Yes, my skin.”
Her hand closed around an object buried partway in the dirt under a branch. She dug at the earth and uncovered the brooch. Hugging it to her, she closed her eyes in thankfulness.
“Now, may we go?”
Hopping to her feet, she looked down at him still kneeling on the ground. “What’s taking you so long? We need to get out of here.”
He stared at her aghast, then suddenly began laughing. “Coming.” He started to pick up his duffel bag and stuff some of their extra supplies in it. He stopped. “We can’t go quite yet.”
“I thought you were in an all fired hurry to leave.”
“We should try to camouflage the plane, so an aerial survey of this region won’t disclose its whereabouts.”
“How? Look at its size.” She gestured with a wide sweep the length of the plane.
“With branches. They’d search in the air first if they want to find us. The delay will be worth it to us.”
For the next hour they worked side by side in silence, disguising the plane’s location with branches and leaves. When they were through, Ellie had to acknowledge they had done a great job of hiding it. But the fact they had stayed to camouflage it in the first place made her even more wary of Slade Calvert.
She tried to picture him in a three-piece business suit, working behind a desk, and running a computer firm. She couldn’t. All she could see was him dressed in camouflage and combat boots and surrounded by the mountainous terrain of the jungle. She couldn’t fit him into the mold of an executive and that worried her tremendously. She had been fooled once by a man and had paid the price emotionally. She, too, learned from her mistakes.
“I think this time we’re ready to leave,” he said when the job of hiding the plane was finished.
Ellie looked up through the tree branches at the sun high in the sky. “We won’t have a lot of time to put much distance between us and this place.”
“Not as much as I’d like, but it’ll have to do. It’s all we have.”
“I’d say that’s a practical approach.”
“I believe in being practical. Fantasies can only get you into trouble.”
“But they are so much fun to dream.”
“What are your fantasies, Ellie?” Slade lifted the duffel bag and handed her the blankets to carry. “Fame? Fortune?”
“Neither. I want to make a difference with my life.”
“I haven’t figure that out yet. There was a time I wanted to get married and have a family.”
“But not now.”
“I’ve seen too much for that to be a fantasy anymore.”
“You don’t daydream? That’s hard to believe.”
“Oh, I daydream, but not about getting married.” She held up her hand. “And don’t ask me about my daydreams. A gal has got to have some secrets.” She wanted to get off the subject of her and her daydreams, which she guarded. She had told him more than she had most people. If the truth were known, she still fantasized about having a family, but reality had a way of making a person stop believing. “Tell me, when you go to work do you wear a gray, three-piece suit?”
His brow knitted. “Sometimes. Why?” He started forward.
“Oh, I don’t know. I’m trying to imagine you sitting behind a desk, giving orders, running a company. It’s hard to, under the circumstances.” She fell into step behind him as they began their journey toward the tall mountain that stood between them and the coast.
Ellie realized she loved to travel and did as much as she could, but rarely had she been in a hot, humid climate without the prospects of returning to an air-conditioned hotel room. Consequently as the hours ticked away, she felt more and more out of her element. Normally that would be okay, because she loved the unknown. But something told her this unknown territory could get her killed.
Sweat trickled down into her eyes and burned them. She constantly wiped at her face and licked her lips. Her throat was parched, and she would die for a tall, cold glass of water with big chunks of ice in it. Her muscles stiffened in protest, and her head continued to throb like the beat of a drum, a deep bass one. As she followed Slade into areas of dense undergrowth with nothing to cut a path, the branches of trees and bushes clawed at her skin that was quickly turning red from the relentless sun. She pictured herself looking like a baked lobster by the end of the day, and realized years of avoiding overexposure to the sun were going to be ruined after this short trek.
After traveling for four hours, mostly in silence because carrying on any kind of conversation took more energy than Ellie had, she finally asked, “Can we stop for a moment?”
“Only a little farther. I hear the sound of water.”
“Water?” Just the mention of the word sent her heartbeat racing in anticipation. She came alive, hurrying her steps behind Slade until she almost ran into him.
When she broke through the jungle foliage, she saw the rushing river, its muddy water filled with debris and above all not looking very thirst quenching. Ellie wanted to do something thoroughly childish, like stomp her foot in frustration and cry. Where were those crystal clear mountain streams when you needed one?
“We can’t drink that!” She pointed at the offending river of water and realized survival in the wilderness would never be her thing.
“I agree. But if we follow it upstream, we should come upon its source. And at least we can wash off in it.”
“I don’t swim in water that I can’t see through. Ever since I was nine and encountered a snake in a muddy river, that has been one of my cardinal rules. I think I’ll pass on washing myself off.” Ellie wrinkled her nose in disgust as she stared at the river, her imagination running rampant with visions of what was lurking just below the brown surface. She thought of those nature shows she had seen on television and remembered that piranhas swam in schools and could tear the flesh off something in a matter of minutes. Her skin crawled. Did piranhas live in the fresh water of Bella Isla?
“Are you sure you don’t want to wash off some of that dust and dirt you’ve collected along the way?”
“It’s part of my earthy motif, remember. I’m not ready to give it up just yet.” She sat down on the bank to watch him. Her skin continued to itch unbearably, but she wasn’t desperate enough to use water that had more dirt in it than she had on her.