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Turbulence, p.7

Turbulence, page 7



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  “Wow,” Will breathed, leaning against Micky. “Another minute and we’d have been inside.”

  Dana exchanged a glance with her partner. “Talk about a close call.”

  “Close only counts in horseshoes,” Micky informed her. “Let’s go.” He held on to Will’s good arm and the two waded across the ditch.

  Dana gathered the equipment that she and Micky had brought. She soon realized that she couldn’t carry everything in one trip unless she abandoned some of the town’s medical gear or Micky’s tools. Hating to leave anything behind, yet dreading the alternative of wading across the ditch twice, she waited for inspiration. None came.

  “Is it my imagination or has the water level risen?” she called.

  Micky halted in his tracks to face her. She could see the rain dripping off the bill of his cap. “It’s risen.”

  That was only to be expected. She’d been too busy to pay attention to the weather, but now she realized the rain was falling in earnest.

  “Come on,” he urged impatiently. “It’s only about knee deep. You don’t mind getting wet, do you, Red?”

  “Not at all, flyboy.” If he was going to call her by that blasted nickname, then she’d use one, too.

  He grinned at her as if he knew her game and wasn’t offended—the lout!—then headed toward the plane with Will, leaving her to brave the ditch alone.

  No, being wet wasn’t the problem. She simply balked at the idea of meeting a snake, especially a poisonous one, without a piece of sturdy glass between them. However, waiting for the water to recede wasn’t an option.

  Nor was asking Micky to help her. He had his hands full with Will as they fought the wind and the rain to reach the plane. So what if she had to cross the ditch twice? The situation could be worse.

  Now that she thought about it, the fact that he had left her to fend for herself obviously meant that he believed her quite capable, even if he wouldn’t admit it.

  Clutching that idea like a talisman, she carefully hoisted the drug box high and started across the ditch. As Micky had predicted, the deepest water came to a point just above her knees, which suited her to a T, since she hadn’t tended her cut yet. It took her several minutes, but once she reached the other side, she set her cargo on the road and retraced her steps.

  She had just begun the last leg of her return trip when she saw Micky striding toward her, his slicker flapping around his long, lean legs.

  “You came back,” she called out, both surprised and secretly glad that he had.

  “Only to see what was taking you so long.”

  She should have known he’d find something to complain about. It wasn’t as if she were sitting on the bank enjoying the scenery.

  “I’m moving as fast as I can,” she retorted as she slogged ahead a few more steps.

  “Yeah, well, bump it up a notch or two. We don’t have all day.”

  “I’m aware of the weather,” she grumbled. Tipping her face to keep the rain out of her vision as much as possible, she focused on her footing. Thank goodness for sturdy work boots. She would hate to wade through this water with only tennis shoes to protect her toes from the native aquatic life.

  “Get out of the water. Now.”

  She still had several yards to go and resented his terse order. “I’m trying.”

  “Not fast enough.”

  “What do you expect me to do—fly?” she asked sarcastically.

  “Yeah, but since you can’t—” His face turned grim as he muttered a single expletive. “Don’t move.”

  And men complained that women couldn’t make up their minds. “You just said—”

  “Don’t…move. Not a muscle.”

  His deadly calm voice, the way he’d fixed his gaze at a point beyond her, and the sudden appearance of his firearm provided enough clues to piece together a horrifying picture.

  Her mouth grew dry as she choked out the words. “How close is it?”

  When he didn’t answer, she braced herself for the worst.

  ACTUALLY THE COTTONMOUTH was only a few yards away, which was much too close for comfort. Micky had been trying to keep an eye out for snakes, but this one had literally appeared from out of nowhere. If it struck Dana, he’d never forgive himself.

  “Are you sure I can’t make a run for it?” she asked. “If I drop everything—?”

  He shook his head. “Don’t move,” he cautioned again. “The snake can swim faster than you can run, even if you lighten your load.”

  “Then what are we going to do?”

  “Stay calm.” Whatever her faults, she’d kept her head so far, which was more than most women in her situation would have managed. As for what they were going to do, it would take too long to explain. From the way the snake had slowed to check out its surroundings, Micky didn’t want to put it on the defensive. The best case scenario would be if it ignored the two of them, especially Dana, and simply swam past, but he doubted if they’d be so lucky. These snakes were adept at honing in on warm-blooded animals, and right now, he and Dana were the only ones in sight.

  Knowing that he’d have to choreograph the next few seconds perfectly to get out of the pickle they were in, he mentally rehearsed his move.

  The snake drifted closer to Dana, its head raised and pointed in her direction.

  Time had run out. It was now or never.

  Without hesitation, Micky took one giant stride into the water, placing himself between Dana and the snake. With one hand, he grabbed her arm and heaved her behind him as he raised his handgun. Certain of his aim, he pulled the trigger.

  He was prepared for the firearm’s noisy retort and the splash of the water as the bullet struck its target.

  Dana, however, was not. She dropped the backboard and the crowbar, then screamed as she stared at the bloody spot where two pieces of snake floated instead of one.

  Now that he thought about it, he was glad Dana had pitched a fit about the gun she’d discovered. Otherwise it would still be lying in the kit, useless to anyone.

  “You should have warned me,” she shouted at him as she stood in the water, three small steps away from relatively dry land.

  “It would have taken too long.” He moved closer to her.

  “What if you’d missed?”

  “I didn’t.”

  “But what if you had?”

  He shrugged. “I didn’t. I couldn’t.”

  “You couldn’t, could you?” Her sarcasm was obvious. “I suppose you’re a sharpshooter on a Texas SWAT team when you’re not jetting around the countryside.”

  He grinned, deciding that she looked rather endearing in spite of her drowned-rat appearance. “No, but I get in a lot of target practice.”

  “A bulls-eye painted on a piece of cardboard isn’t anything at all like a moving target, much less one as skinny as a snake. I may not know anything about guns, but I do know that.”

  She was itching for a fight as far as he could tell, which wasn’t an uncommon method to relieve stress. She needed to let out her frustration and he was willing to oblige. He had his own tension to work out, but he’d prefer dragging her to a horizontal surface and relieving it with some physical activity rather than tossing words around.

  His way might be more gratifying, but she was too angry to appreciate such a suggestion. He waited a few seconds for her to calm down, realizing how gorgeous she was when her temper flared. But then, he knew that, which was why he’d purposely stoked her fire by calling her Red on this little excursion.

  “You’re right,” he agreed solemnly. “But I wasn’t going to miss.”

  “If you had, the snake would have gone straight for you. And then where would we be? Stuck out here in the middle of nowhere, without a pilot to get us back.” Her voice rose as her scolding gained momentum. He understood her reaction. First came the yelling to release the tension, then the hugs of relief because all had turned out well, and finally, once emotions had settled down, another round of scolding.

  Micky wanted
to go straight to the hugging part.

  “And you claimed that people from Texas had common sense,” she railed. “That was the stupidest stunt I’ve ever seen in my entire life.”

  “I couldn’t shoot if you were in the way,” he pointed out.

  “Regardless, you took a huge risk.”

  “I knew what I was doing and I didn’t miss,” he repeated, hoping that if he said it often enough, it would register in her brain that everyone was all right. “If you want to argue about this later, I’ll be happy to when we’re safe and sound. Now, unless you want to attract a few of our friend’s family members, we should get away from the water.”

  He moved to higher ground, then realized she hadn’t followed. “Dana?”

  Her eyebrows were drawn into a straight line and her dark eyes looked haunted in her pale face as she stood at the water’s edge. “Yeah?” she squeaked.

  Realizing that the incident had shaken her up more than he’d originally thought, he gentled his voice and held out his hand. “Come on.”

  She nodded, but didn’t move.

  Well, hell! Another strong gust, carrying what seemed like a bucket of rain, struck his face.

  “We should go,” he coaxed.

  Again, she nodded, but remained frozen in place.

  He made his way back down the slope, already prepared to carry her out of harm’s way if necessary. “Take a couple of steps toward me. You can do it.”

  Her chuckle was weak. “I’m trying, but I can’t.”

  “Sure you can,” he cajoled. “Just put one foot in front of the other.”

  He touched her shoulder and felt her shaking under his hand. Damn! She really was spooked.

  “Come on,” he urged again. “You’re so close.”

  She shuffled her feet and he wanted to simply haul her up the bank, but he knew that wasn’t the best way to handle the situation.

  “You’re doing great,” he praised as she slowly moved forward. From the sheen of perspiration on her upper lip and the grim determination on her face, he knew she was accomplishing this feat only through sheer will.

  His respect for her grew.

  “You’re almost there. One more big step.”

  With his hand under her elbow, he guided her to the road. “We made it.”

  She glanced down at the ditch. “Yeah, we did,” she said, sounding relieved, but still not quite like the spunky woman he knew her to be.

  Hell! Drastic circumstances required drastic measures. She needed something to take her mind off her close call, something to melt the fear holding her in its frozen grip, something that would completely refocus her attention. Only one thing came to mind and he didn’t hesitate.

  He kissed her.

  He’d been wanting to do this from the moment he’d first seen her in the command post. Although he’d suspected a kiss would be a pleasant experience, he hadn’t dreamed that the power it generated would match the impact of the approaching storm.

  Holding her close against him, breathing in her scent, he could have sworn the rain sizzled as soon as it fell on them. Her lips slowly warmed under his and he stopped thinking in terms of a clinical method to bring her out of shock. Instead he simply focused on the woman.

  She tasted like peppermint and smelled as fresh as the great outdoors. Determined to make her relax, he wrapped both arms around her and pulled her toward him until she was plastered against his full length. His body instantly responded and he hoped she wouldn’t think he’d stuck his gun in the front of his pants.

  At first, she shivered and he held her tight, willing her to feel safe. Gradually her tremors disappeared, until finally, she melted against him with a whimper.

  Micky tucked her head under his chin and simply rubbed her back as he waited for her to recover. She had every right to be rattled by the experience; he was, too, although he took great pains not to show it. If she’d been afraid of getting bitten, his fear was of helplessly watching it happen. Little did she know that he was drawing as much comfort from these few seconds in each other’s arms as he hoped she was.

  Another strong gust, one that actually caused him to sway on his feet, reminded him that they couldn’t stay out here much longer.

  He spoke directly into her ear. “Are you okay, now?”

  She pulled out of his embrace, her face pink, as if she were embarrassed. “Yeah. I don’t know what came over me. I’ve never done that before.”

  He shrugged. “Don’t worry about it. You were entitled.”

  Another gust knocked her against him and he grabbed her to keep them both from falling. “We’d better get going,” he said.

  Without a word, she gathered up the crowbar and other tools from the water’s edge while he retrieved the carryall containing the unused splints and bandages that bobbed along the bank.

  The wind had grown more fierce in just the last few minutes and he mentally clocked it around thirty-five miles an hour. It wasn’t strong enough yet to make it impossible to be outdoors, but it packed enough force to make a person unsteady.

  The good thing was that the feeder bands had switched directions and he could take off into the wind, provided they did so before conditions changed. Because the plane was due south of them, the southerly gusts acted in their favor and they covered the distance in half the time.

  The sandy-haired scout—Eddie, if Micky remembered his name correctly—lowered the stairs and gave them a hand inside.

  “I was wondering if you’d ever make it,” he mentioned, sounding relieved as he took the only empty seat in the rear of the plane. “I was watching for you from the cockpit.”

  At Micky’s raised eyebrow, Eddie added, “Don’t worry. I didn’t touch anything.”

  Micky closed the door, then scanned his passengers. They were all quiet, wrapped in the blankets he’d provided. Between the cramped space and their body heat, they’d dried out a little from the soaking they’d received on their own trek to safety.

  He could see the burning question in everyone’s eyes. Had they simply exchanged a bad situation for one that was far worse?

  He didn’t intend to fail.

  His resolve, however, couldn’t stop the wind from rocking the plane. Taking an extra blanket to towel off as much water as possible, he squeezed past Dana to reach the cockpit.

  “You’ve been promoted to flight attendant of Flynn Airlines,” he told her as he settled into his seat.

  “Does the job come with hazardous-duty pay?”

  He grinned. “I’ll put it in next year’s budget.” He glanced over his shoulder at his passengers and raised his voice. “I hope y’all have strong stomachs because I’m afraid we’re in for a bumpy ride. Don’t leave your seat for any reason.”

  He turned back to Dana. “Make sure everyone’s strapped in. I’m going to get us in the air.”

  “What? No peanuts, pretzels or sodas to pass out?”

  At least she hadn’t lost her sense of humor. “We’re flying super-economy class only.”

  Micky ran through his preflight checks while Dana tended to their passengers, then he spoke to the regional control tower via his headset and received the latest weather information. Unfortunately the controller’s recommendation to stay put wasn’t an option. If Micky did, the hundred mile or so winds projected to arrive would toss his plane around like a paper cup and the man at the other end of his radio knew it.

  His other choices were only marginally better. He worked out his alternatives, shared them with the controller and signed off just as Dana slipped into the copilot’s seat and fastened her safety harness.

  “Everyone’s ready to go,” she said after she positioned her headset over her ears.

  “How are your patients?”

  “Fine for now.”

  He checked his gauges. “Ewing, too?”

  “He still has a headache, but his vital signs are stable.”

  “You’re positive.”

  She frowned. “Are you questioning my judgment?”

>   “No. I just want to know their condition because we have a slight change in plan.”

  She hesitated. “How slight is slight? We are going to a hospital, aren’t we?”


  “Why not now?”

  “The nearest medical facility is west of here, at Alice. But we can’t fly west any easier than we can fly south to Turning Point.”

  “Why not?”

  “They’re in the same strong weather cell that we are.”

  “Which means…” She stared at him expectantly.

  “We have to head north.”

  “To where?”

  “With luck, to Beeville. It all depends if I can punch through this cell or not.”

  “And if you can’t?”

  He didn’t want to think in terms of can’t. “This isn’t the first storm I’ve flown through,” he informed her. “I’ve done it before.”

  “In weather like this?”

  “Not quite, but close enough.” He wouldn’t be in this one, either, if Ewing hadn’t hit a few steers.

  “It isn’t too risky to take off, is it?” She motioned to the rain-covered window.

  “We have about a thirty-mile-an-hour headwind, which is good for the moment.” He decided not to spell out his immediate concern. Even with the unexpected boon of the wind changing directions, they might not have enough runway to reach their takeoff speed. If that was the case, she’d find out soon enough if it was too risky or not.

  As for the other problems, he’d face those if and when they occurred.

  “Don’t worry. We’ll make it,” he told her, seeing the worry on her face even though she didn’t voice those fears.

  “Are you giving me a guarantee?”

  “Only death and taxes are certain.”

  “My taxes aren’t due for nine months and I’d rather postpone any encounters with the Grim Reaper for another sixty or seventy years.”

  “Me, too.” He started the engine. “Here we go.”

  “Into the wild blue yonder,” she quipped.

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