Copyright © Belle Scarlett, 2015
“MAYDAY, MAYDAY, MAYDAY. Miami Tower this is Whiskey Tango Foxtrot 3, a Cessna 152 with total engine failure attempting emergency water landing. Repeat, we are going to ditch. Last known position nine hundred and thirty-two miles northeast of Miami from Bermuda. Latitude 25.48North, 80.18West. Fifteen hundred feet heading two hundred degrees…no, wait. My magnetic compass just went tits up. It’s spinning like a top. Last stated known position is…incorrect. We are off course and broadcasting in the blind. Do you read, Tower? Repeat, do you read? My altimeter is going haywire. I’ve lost all navigational systems. I’m losing airspeed. Tower, please advise…”
Trista stared in shock at the back of the pilot’s head of thick brown hair. His rugged frame filled the small cockpit directly in front of her. As he barked terse intel into his headset mic, the small aircraft jolted and lurched through the choppy air over the Atlantic. Meanwhile, her heart felt like it was pounding somewhere in the vicinity of her throat.
Her fingers dug into her passenger seat armrests. She automatically looked for reassurance at the dark-haired, broad-shouldered man folded into the spare passenger seat to her right, also sandwiched behind the cockpit. As if feeling her panicked gaze upon his skin, his sharp, dark-green eyes swerved to hers in silent reply.
This was bad. Shitty bad. And they both knew it.
“Well, I suppose they don’t call it ‘The Devil’s Triangle’ for nothing,” she quipped weakly. Neither man in the small plane laughed.
Up front, the pilot’s deep, resonant voice tenaciously repeated the distress call on his headset, apparently still getting no reply from Miami. “MAYDAY, MAYDAY, MAYDAY. Miami Tower this is Whiskey Tango Foxtrot 3…”
The small plane’s nose dipped sharply. Then came a giant bang. The passenger-side door popped open followed by turbulent air rushing in with the force of a giant’s warm breath.
Trista’s stomach lurched at the turbulence. Had her seatbelt not been clipped snugly across her lap, she no doubt would have been tossed to the low ceiling of the small plane like a piece of hollow straw and sucked right out of that open door to free fall a couple of thousand feet into the sea.
The pilot struggled expertly with the plane’s yoke to control the craft’s wild descent.
“All things considered, I have to say this has been one hell of a vacation I’ll never forget,” she whispered to no one in particular.
Outside the small circle of glass to her left, the vast, dark-blue Atlantic was getting far too big in her window.
“Don’t look. Hold on to me,” the other passenger by her side commanded over the din of rushing air. She loved his voice—strong as oak and calm as a summer night. She clung to it like a beacon in a maelstrom.
“Whatever happens, don’t let go of me. Do you hear?” His firm, confident tone acted like smooth, aged whiskey to dull her jumpy nerves. She nodded dumbly and found her hand engulfed in the warm grip of the large man seated next to her. Her fingers curled trustingly around his. If he said everything would be okay, it would be.
They were falling into the sea with alarming speed now. Yet his touch had the ability to make her feel as safe as if she were in a peaceful meadow.
The plane rattled uncontrollably as it glided just above the waves. She squeezed her eyes shut.
The Cessna skipped off the ocean’s surface. And broke apart.
She sank into the liquid darkness that enveloped her. A sudden reverse current of warm seawater sucked her away from strong, grasping hands that had somehow held her fast during the final moments of the crash. Those capable fingers had managed to unbuckle her seatbelt as the ocean rushed into the open passenger door, filling the small craft’s submerged passenger compartment and cockpit with seawater and a plethora of furious bubbles.
Now she was free of the plane, drifting under the ocean surface. It was like bathwater, really. She was quite content—relaxed even. Except that her head throbbed. And she couldn’t open her eyes. Where was she? What had happened? All of a sudden, answers to those questions were cloudy.
There was a more immediate problem. Her burning lungs were now trying to breathe in saltwater. That wasn’t exactly going well.
She felt a relentless grip on her arm. Someone pulled her upward, toward the surface. The air hit her face. A sharp blow landed between her shoulder blades. She choked and sputtered, the seawater spewing from her lungs and out of her mouth. All at once she could breathe again, but still her eyes did not open.
She was spent, draped limply against a muscled torso, her nose and lips buried in the curve of his neck. The sensation of bobbing buoyantly in the swells assailed her as he treaded water for them both with powerful sweeps of his legs. By now, she’d know his touch in the dark. But who was he? It seemed important that she remember that detail.
“Do you have her?” he shouted from somewhere over the waves.
“Over here,” the same male voice growled a reply somewhere in the vicinity of her right ear.
Her mind slipped into blankness after that. She didn’t know for how long.
Then the two voices that were one and the same echoed again in her ears from opposite directions mingled with the sloshing of waves. The words were fuzzy and made little impression on her, except that the voice in her ear and the one a short distance away sounded like the same man. How strange that he should be talking to himself. Whoever he was.
“I’ve got it inflated…”
“…her into the raft. Hurry.”
“I’m trying, Thane. Damn it…”
“Hold her steady, this is…”
“…damn the sharks.”
“…careful with her, Alec!”
She yearned to open her eyes. She wanted to see the owner of that intoxicating whiskey voice and thank him. But her eyelids felt like lead. If she tried to force them open she just knew the pain in her head would split her skull in two.
She felt a firm but gentle touch all over her body, checking her limbs and the sensitive area at the top of her ribcage, just underneath her breasts. Even in her slumbering state that light, probing touch created a primal sense of warmth and well-being deep within her.
“No broken bones.”
Her mind tried to focus on his soothing, deep tones as an anchor to keep her floating near the surface of consciousness. It was no use. She drifted down again, in and out of partial consciousness, only overhearing occasional snippets of urgently spoken words here and there like a radio station broadcasting with a weak signal.
“…do something about that cut on her head…”
“Over there. Do you see it? It’s…”
“…current’s pulling us away from the shoreline.”
“…keep paddling, Alec.”
Her mind eased back into full, blessed unconsciousness. She knew no more for some time.
She heard a rustling in the foliage behind her and whirled around. The giant wolf emerged from the tree line that ended many yards from the precipice where she stood nude in the moonlight. Her shoulder-length hair stirred against her bare neck in the island breeze sweetly perfumed by the indigenous fauna. The wolf padded silently toward her, head raised proudly to look her in the eye.
“Stay back!” She took an unconscious step backward toward the cliff’s edge.
“…you hear me? Trista? Wake up, cowgirl.” The man’s deep voice sounded from somewhere above her. She was glad he was back.