Authors: Sandra Brown
Tags: #Contemporary, #Suspense, #Fiction, #Romance, #General, #Man-Woman Relationships, #Vietnam War; 1961-1975, #Northwest Territories, #Survival After Airplane Accidents; Shipwrecks; Etc, #Romantic Suspense Fiction, #Wilderness Survival, #Businesswomen
This rugged face didn't belong in an office; he spent a good deal of time outdoors. It was an agreeable face, if not a classi
ally handsome one. There was a hardness to it, an uncompromising unapproachability that she had also sensed in his personality.
She wondered uneasily what he would think when he regained consciousness and found himself alone in the wilderness with her. She didn't have long to wait to find out. Moments later, his eyelids flickered, then opened.
Eyes as flinty gray as the sky overhead focused on her. They dosed, then opened again. She wanted to speak, but trepidation held her back. The first word to cross his lips was unspeakably vulgar. She flinched, but attributed the foul language to his pain. Again he closed his eyes and waited several seconds before opening them.
Then he said, "We crashed." She nodded. "How long ago?"
"I'm not sure." Her teeth were chattering. It wasn't that cold,
No it must have been from fear. Of him? Why? "An hour, maybe."
Grunting with pain, he covered the lump on the side of his head with one hand and levered himself up, using the other hand as a prop. She moved aside so he could sit up straight. "What about everybody else?" "They're all dead."
He tried to come up on one knee and swayed dizzily. She reflexively extended a helping hand, but he shrugged it off. "Are you sure?''
"Sure they're dead? Yes. I mean, I think so."
He turned his head and stared at her balefully. "Did you check their pulses?"
She changed her mind about his eyes. They weren't like the sky at all. They were colder and much more foreboding. "No, I didn't check," she admitted contritely.
He nailed her with that judgmental stare for several seconds, then, with a great deal of difficulty, pulled himself to his feet. Using the tree behind him for support, he struggled to stand up and regain his equilibrium.
"How...how do you feel?"
"Like I'm going to puke."
One thing about him, he didn't mince words. "Maybe you should lie back down."
"No doubt I should."
Still holding his head in one hand, he raised it and looked at her. "Are you volunteering to go in there and check their pulses?" He watched the taint color in her cheeks fade and gave her a twisted smile of ridicule. "That's what I thought."
out, didn't I?"
"Yeah," he said dryly, "you got me out."
She didn't expect him to kiss her hands for saving his life, but a simple thank-you would have been nice. "You're an ungrateful—"
"Save it." he said.
She watched him lever himself away from the tree and stagger inward the demolished aircraft, pushing aside the branches of the tree with much more strength than she could have garnered in a month.
Sinking down onto the marshy ground, she rested her head on her raised knees, tempted to cry. She could hear him moving about in the cabin. When she raised her head and looked, she saw him through the missing windshield of the detached cockpit. He was emotionlessly moving his hands over the bodies of the pilots.
Minutes later, he thrashed his way through the fallen tree.
You were right. They're all dead."
How did he expect her to respond? Nah-nah-nah?
e dropped a white first-aid box onto the ground and knelt beside it. He took
ut a bottle of aspirin and tossed three of them down his throat, swallowing them dry. "Come here," he ordered her rudely. She
oted forward and he handed her a flashlight. "Shine that directly into my eyes, one at a time, and tell me what happens."
She switched on the flashlight. "The glass over the bulb was cracked, but it still worked. She shone the light directly into his right eye, then the left. "The pupils contract."
He took the flashlight away from her and clicked it off. "Good. No concussion. Just a rotten headache. You okay?"
"I think so."
He looked at her skeptically, but nodded.
"My names Rusty Carlson," she said politely.
He barked a short laugh. His eyes moved up to take in her hair. "Rusty, huh?"
"Yes, Rusty." she replied testily.
The man had the manners of a pig. "Do you have a name?"
"Yeah, I've got a name. Cooper Landry. But this isn't a garden par
y so forgive me if
don't tip my hat and say,
Pleased to meet you.
For two lone survivors of a disastrous plane crash, they were off to a bad beginning. Right now Rusty wanted to be comforted, reassured that she was alive and would go on living. All she'd gotten from him was scorn, which was unwarranted.
"What's with you?" she demanded angrily. "You act as though the crash was my fault."
"Maybe it was."
She gasped with incredulity. "What? I was hardly responsible for the storm."
"No, but if you hadn't dragged out that emotional, tearful goodbye to your sugar daddy, we might have beat it. What made you decide to leave ahead of him—the two of you have a lovers' spat?"
"None of your damned business," she said through teeth that bad been straightened to perfection by an expensive orthodontist.
His expression didn't alter. "And you had no business being in a place like that—" his eyes roved over her "—being the kind of woman you are."
"What kind of woman is that?"
"Drop it. Let's just say that I'd be better off without you."
ng said that, he slid a lethal-
looking hunting knife from the leather scabbard attached to his belt. Rusty wondered if he was going to cut her throat with it and rid himself of the inconvenience she posed. Instead, he turned and began hacking at the smaller branches of the tree, cutting a cleaner path to make the fuselage more accessible.
"What are you going to do?"
"I have to get them out."
"The...the others? Why?"
"Unless you want to be roommates with them."
"You're going to bury them?"
"That's the idea. Got a better one?"
No, of course she didn't, so she said nothing.
Cooper Landry hacked his way through the tree until only the major branches were left. They were easier to step around and over.
Rusty, making herself useful by dragging aside the branches is he cut them, asked, "We're staying here then?"
"For the time being, yeah." Having cleared a path of sorts, he slipped into the fuselage and signaled her forward. "Grab his boots, will ya?"
She stared down at the dead man's boots. She couldn't do this. Nothing in her life had prepared her for this. He couldn't expect her to do something so grotesque.
But glancing up at him and meeting those implacable gray eyes she knew that he did expect it of her and expected it of her without an argument.
One by one they removed the bodies from the aircraft. He did most of the work; Rusty lent him a hand when he asked for it. The only way she could do it was to detach her mind from the grisly task. She’d lost her mother when she was a teenager. Two years ago her brother had died. But in both instances, she’d seen them when they were laid out in a satin-lined casket surrounded by soft lighting, organ music, and flowers. Death had seemed unreal.
Even the bodies of her mother and brother weren't real to her, but identical replicas of the people she had loved, mannequins created in their images by the mortician. These bodies were real.
She mechanically obeyed the terse commands this Cooper Landry issued in a voice without feeling or inflection. He must be a robot, she decided. He revealed no emotion whatsoever as he dragged the bodies to the common grave that he'd been able to dig using his knife and the small hatchet he found in a toolbox beneath the pilot's seat. He piled stones over the shallow grave when he was finished.
"Shouldn't we say something?" Rusty stared down at the barbaric pile of colorless stones, put there to protect the bodies of the five men from scavenging animals.
"Say something? Like what?"
"Like a scripture. A prayer."
He shrugged negligently as he cleaned the blade of his knife. "I don't know any scriptures. And my prayers ran out a long time ago." Turning his back on the grave, he stamped back toward the airplane.
Rusty mouthed a hasty prayer before turning to follow him. More than anything, she feared being left alone again. If she let the man out of her sight, he might desert her.
That was unlikely, however. At least not right away. He was reeling with fatigue and on the verge of fainting. "Why don't you lie down and rest?" she suggested. Her strength had deserted her long ago. She was running only on adrenaline now.
"Because night’s coming on fast," he said. "We've got to remove the seats of the plane so we’ll have room to stretch out in there. Otherwise you might have to spend a night in the great outdoors for the first time in your life." He sarcastically added the last as an afterthought before reentering the airplane. Moments later, Rusty heard him cursing viciously. He came out, his brows drawn together in a fierce scowl.
"What's the matter?"
He held his hand up in from of her face. It was wet. "Fuel."
he said, impatient with her ignorance. "We can’t stay in there. One spark and we'll be blown to China."
"Then don't build a fire."
He glared at her. "Once it gets dark, you'll want a fire," he said scornfully. "Besides, all it would take is a spark from anything. One piece of metal could scrape against another and we'd be history."
"What do we do?"
"We take what we can and move."
"I thought it was always best to stay with the airplane. I heard or read that once. Search parties will be looking for a downed plane. How will they find us if we leave the crash site?"
He cocked his head arrogantly. "You want to stay? Fine, stay. I'm going. But I'd belter warn you that I don't think there's any water near here. The first thing I'm going to do in the morning is look for water."
His know-it-all attitude was insufferable. "How do you know there's no water?"
"No animal tracks around. I suppose you could exist on rainwater for as long as it held out
but who knows how long that will be."
When and how had he noticed that there were no animal tracks around? She hadn't even thought to look. In fact, having no water was almost as frightening as having to cope with wild animals to get it. Search for water? How did one go about that? Wild animals? How would she defend herself if one attacked?
She'd die without him. After several moments of deliberation, that was the grim conclusion she reached. She had no choice but to go along with whatever survival tactics he knew and be grateful that he was there to implement them.
Swallowing her pride, she said. "All right, I'll go with you." He didn't even glance up or otherwise acknowledge her. She had no way of knowing whether he was glad or sorry over her decision. By all appearances, he was indifferent. He was already making a pile of things he'd salvaged from the wreckage. Determined not to be ignored. Rusty knelt down beside him. "What can I do to help?"
He nodded toward the luggage compartment of the aircraft. "Go through the luggage. Everybody’s. Take whatever might come in handy later." He handed her several tiny suitcase keys, which he had obviously taken off the bodies before he buried them.
She glanced warily at the suitcases. Some had already popped open as a result of the crash. The victims’ personal belongings lay strewn on the damp ground. "Isn't that...violating their privacy? Their families might resent—"
He spun around so suddenly that she nearly toppled over backward. "Will you grow up and face facts?" He grabbed her
the shoulders and shook her. "Look around. Do you know what our chances are of coming out of this alive? I'll tell you: Nil. But before I go down, I'm going to fight like hell to stay alive. It’s a habit I have."
His face moved closer to hers. "This isn't a Girl Scout outing gone awry; this is survival, lady, Etiquette and propriety be damned. If you tag along with me, you'll do what I tell you to, when I tell you to. Got that? And there won’t be any time to spend on sentiment. Don't waste tears on those who didn't make it. They're gone and there's not a damn thing we can do about it. Now, move your butt and get busy doing what I told you to do." He shoved her away from him and began collecting pelts
the hunters had been taking home as trophies. There was mostly caribou, but also white wolf, beaver, and one small mink.
Holding back bitter tears of mortification and accumulated distress. Rusty bent over the suitcases and began sorting through their contents as she'd been instructed. She wanted to strike out at him. She wanted to collapse in a heap and bawl her eyes out. But she wouldn't give him the satisfaction of seeing her do either. Nor would she provide him with an excuse to leave her behind: he would probably grab at the flimsiest.