Stranded With The Boss(9)By: Elizabeth Lane
A cooing sound from the rear caught his attention. He turned in his seat to see Tessa’s twins gazing up at him. A nap and a meal had transformed the pair from little screaming monsters to cherubs from a Renaissance painting, with Titian curls and sky-blue eyes.
Dragan tended to avoid children. Their innocence tore at his heart, stirring shadowed memories, sights and sounds he wanted only to forget. He’d vowed never to have children of his own. There was too much suffering in the world, too much danger.
He scowled over the seat at the little girls. The twin on the right smiled and giggled. The one on the left scowled back at him. Tessa had told him they had different personalities. He could see that already.
“So what are you two thinking?” His voice startled the smiling twin. Her blue eyes grew even bigger. Her sister’s suspicious frown didn’t change. “If you could talk, what would you say to me?”
“Da.” The smiling twin—by now he’d guessed she was Missy—began to jabber, making little nonsense sounds that were her version of conversation. When she turned her head, Dragan could see the tiny mole on her earlobe. He’d guessed right.
“So how about you, Maddie?” He addressed her sister. “What do you think of all this?”
“Phhht!” The flawless raspberry was punctuated by an impressive spit bubble.
Dragan couldn’t hold back a chuckle. At last, a female who spoke her mind!
“I see you’re getting acquainted.” Tessa climbed back into the plane and closed the door.
“You’re right, they do have different personalities.”
“See, I told you. Maddie’s quiet and restless like her father. I guess Missy is more like me.”
“Snuggly—that was how you described her. Are you snuggly, too?” It would be fun finding out, he thought.
“No comment.” She fastened her seat belt and slipped on her headset, as if to shut him out. “Let’s get going.”
Dragan taxied away from the dock and swung the nose into the rising wind. The plane skimmed across the water and roared skyward. The air was getting rougher now, turbulence buffeting the wing and the fuselage. It was nothing that couldn’t be handled, but he’d be relieved when they touched down in Anchorage.
Yet he knew that the time was limited for him to learn all he wanted to know about Miss Tessa Randall. So far he wasn’t making much progress.
She’d finished her sandwich and sat silent as the plane rose above the turbulence and leveled off in calmer air. Was she nervous about the flight or had he crossed the line when he’d asked if she was snuggly? Maybe she’d had a talk with herself in the terminal and concluded that she was being too friendly with a man who was planning to rip her apart in court.
The only sound from the twins was Missy’s contented babbling. The twins, thank heaven, seemed to like the drone of the engine and the motion of the plane. He could only hope the tranquility would last.
They’d passed over the old Norwegian fishing village of Petersburg and were headed in the general direction of Sitka when Dragan happened to glance at the fuel gauge.
His heart dropped.
The indicator was almost on empty.
Dragan stared at the fuel gauge in disbelief. He’d watched the attendant fill the tank in Ketchikan. Given the distance they’d flown, it should be at least three-quarters full. But he had to trust what the indicator told him. The tank was almost empty.
The plane had to be leaking fuel. Nothing else made sense. Maybe the fuel line had broken or become disconnected, or some unseen object had punctured the tank. The problem might be as simple as the fuel cap coming loose. Whatever it was, he had to get the plane down before the fuel ran out and the engine quit.
Willing himself to keep calm, he glanced at Tessa. She was looking out the window and hadn’t noticed the falling gauge. Good. The last thing he wanted was to have her panic. He would try to keep her unaware until he had a plan.
The country below was a vast jigsaw puzzle of islands, inlets and fjords. Landing on water shouldn’t be a problem. But if he came down in the wilderness, he’d be marooned with a woman, two babies and no supplies. The plane had a radio, but with a storm coming in, any rescue might be days away. He needed to get his vulnerable passengers somewhere safe.
Clouds were rolling in ahead of the storm, already obscuring his view. He had to make a decision fast.
Petersburg was too far behind, Sitka too far ahead. But the company lodge where he flew wealthy clients might be within reach. He checked the plane’s GPS. The lodge was just thirty miles to the northeast. It was their best chance, maybe their only chance.