Stranded With The Boss(10)

By: Elizabeth Lane



 Banking the plane, he veered sharply to the right. The sudden move caught Tessa’s attention. “What’s happening?” she demanded. “Why are you turning us around?”

 Dragan willed himself to speak calmly. “We’re losing fuel—almost out. We need to set down while we can.”

 “Down there?” She stared out the window at the wild mosaic of forest and water.

 “Not if I can help it. The company has a fishing lodge a few miles from here. If we can make it that far, we’ll have a safe place to stay until help comes.”

 For a long moment she was still. Suddenly she turned on him, her hand gripping his sleeve.

 “I don’t believe you! This is just a trick to keep me away from the trial! Get back on course now or so help me, I’ll have you arrested for kidnapping!”

 “Look at that gauge, Tessa,” he snapped. “This is no trick. This is real. Now let go of me and pray that we can make the lodge before I have to land this plane!”

 * * *

 Releasing her grip, Tessa stared at the fuel gauge. The needle was hovering just above the empty line. If this was a trick, it was a convincing one.

 The plane had descended into clouds and rough air. A howling wind rattled the fuselage. The craft bucked and lurched, fighting its way downward. The twins began to cry. Tessa yanked frantically at her seat belt, hands fumbling with the buckle.

 “What the hell are you doing?” Dragan’s voice thundered.

 “My babies—”

 “They’ll be safest right where they are. So will you. Now stay put!”

 Tessa braced against the jarring turbulence, eyes scanning the cloud-blurred landscape for some sign of shelter. She could see nothing below but water and trees, with a few open patches of what she guessed to be bog. A flock of white gulls swooped past the plane, just missing the windshield.

 Dragan’s hands were steady on the controls. Only a muscle, twitching along his jaw, betrayed his unease. With the clouds moving in, it was getting harder to see the ground. He had to be depending as much on the GPS as on his vision. His grim expression told her he had yet to find what he was looking for. Knowing he needed all of his concentration for the task, she kept herself as silent and still as possible so she wouldn’t distract him.

 Even with the headset on, Tessa could hear her twins crying above the drone of the plane. It was all she could do to keep from ripping off her seat belt and rushing back to clutch them in her arms. But Dragan was right. They were safest as they were, and so was she.

 “There it is. Two o’clock.” Dragan’s voice, crackling through the headset, startled her. Through the trees in the direction he’d indicated, she glimpsed something flat and brown at the foot of an inlet. Then it was gone, hidden by the clouds. “Hang on,” he said. “We’re going in.”

 He’d spoken none too soon. As the plane banked right and angled into its final descent, the engine sputtered and stopped.

 The sudden stillness was terrifying. Tessa forgot to breathe. Could they make it as far as the inlet or would they fall short and crash into the trees? What would happen to her babies?

 Time seemed to stop as the plane glided down through clouds and battering wind. The floats raked the treetops. There was a split second of air before the plane skimmed the water and came to rest like a settling bird, twenty yards from the beach.

 Rain spattered the windshield. Beyond the waterline, Tessa could make out thick pines half screening a substantial log building. Wherever they were, at least they’d have shelter.

 Dragan switched off the engine and lifted away his headphones. His breath whooshed out in a powerful exhalation. “You can see to your babies now,” he said. “Try to keep them quiet while I radio for help.”

 The twins were wailing at the top of their lungs. Tessa flung off her belt and scrambled back to the rear seat. At the sight of their mother, their cries diminished to whimpers. Unbuckling their harnesses, she lifted them onto her lap and hugged them fiercely close. Holding them this way had been easy when they were tiny. Now that they were active toddlers it was different. Missy flung her little arms around Tessa’s neck, hanging on as if she never wanted to let go. Maddie was already struggling to get down and explore the plane.

 Love burned through Tessa like the stab of a hot blade. Her little girls were her whole life. What would she have done if they’d come to harm?

 From the cockpit she could hear Dragan on the radio, shouting through the static at somebody on the other end. The relief that had swept through her when the plane landed was congealing into cold rage. Dragan’s skill as a pilot may have just saved their lives. But it was his reckless, high-handed behavior that had created the danger in the first place. The crash landing could have killed them all—including her precious babies.

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