By: BL Bonita | Other books by BL Bonita
Published By: Noble Romance Publishing, LLC
Published: Sep 19, 2011
ISBN # 9781605928340
Published By: Noble Romance Publishing, LLC
Published: Sep 19, 2011
ISBN # 9781605928340
Word Count: 24,671
Available in: Epub, HTML, Microsoft Reader, Mobipocket (.mobi), Palm DOC/iSolo, Adobe Acrobat, Mobipocket (.prc), Rocket
DescriptionA mountain woman's peace is about to be disturbed.
Mima Etu lives a quiet life with her sled dogs in the Canadian Rockies. During a routine run with her best friend, she comes across a recent plane crash and a pilot on the brink of death. With the sun setting and the temperature dropping, taking him to the nearest hospital isn't an option. She brings the mystery man back to her cabin and nurses him back to health.
On a deadly mission with precious cargo, Gabriel Miller loses control of his Cessna and plunges into pilot's hell. He awakens in the comfort of a log cabin with a gorgeous native woman tending his every need. Her soft-spoken beauty sparks his longing for a different kind of life--and a torrid love affair. But their liaison is about to end. The owners of the cargo are out to find him, and they don’t plan on leaving any witnesses behind.
Reader Rating: Not rated (0 Ratings)
Sensuality Rating: Not rated
Gabe guided his Cessna 172 Skyhawk as low as he dared over Athabasca River, headed toward Victoria, British Columbia. His boss, Colton, wanted the merchandise delivered by early evening, and time was running short. Due to thick clouds and wind gusts, he'd set off from the private airport near Edmonton two hours later than scheduled, and now, as he flew through ice fog, he wished he'd cancelled the flight all together. Weather in the Great White North had a mind of its own and could change from pretty to shitty in a second.
He glanced over his shoulder at the cargo in the back of the plane before returning his attention to the scene ahead. An uneasy feeling festered in his gut, a warning this trip wouldn't be as easy as the last, but he couldn't turn back now. There was no landing strip for a good hundred miles in any direction.
The landscape ahead was gray and white—the only visual cues to height and distance were the river and mountain peaks. He shouldn't be flying at this low altitude, but he couldn't risk being caught on radar either.
He squinted to concentrate on the flight path ahead as snow closed in around the plane, hitting the windshield, creating the illusion of a time warp tunnel.
Flying flowed in his veins. His grandfather and father were distinguished pilots in their own right—Grandpa a fighter pilot in the first world war, and his father one of the best bush pilots in northern Canada. Gabe was up in the sky before he could walk. His best memories of his dad were of the times they'd flown together, either delivering goods to villages and towns only accessible by plane, or bringing hunters out to the bush camps. He'd learned his trade from the best, and, even though this weather made him a little nervous, flying through it wouldn't break him.
"Always fly the plane . . . never let it fly you," his father always said. Those words had kept him alive more than once when a flight got out of control. He chuckled, recalling his last trip to Columbia and the ruckus ditch they'd called a landing strip. He had come down on two wheels and skidded across the mud-filled runway, stopped only by a tree stump in the ground, which barely prevented him from going over the hillside cliffs.
Now, as he flew low over the Canadian Rockies, he realized this flight would have been a dangerous mission at any time, never mind during midwinter when his chances of surviving a crash were practically zero. But he lived for reckless adventure, willing to engage in any dealings his boss demanded. As far as he was concerned, the more dangerous the job, the more excited he was to take it on.
Colton was like a father to him, and he'd do just about anything for the old man. He'd taken Gabe under his wing after his father died more than twenty years ago when Gabe had reached the ripe age of fifteen.
Why Colton wanted the delivery done today, he wasn't sure, but if anyone questioned the boss they may as well fuck themselves. Gabe was usually the one to deal with the new blood who usually had shit for brains, and it wasn't pretty. Knowing this, he always did as the boss ordered, lest he be the one to take the beating. He did his job well, on time, without raising a brow. It was all part of the grand scheme of things.
A shift in turbulence made the plane jolt. He gripped the throttle, keeping the nose level as the engine surged with a loud roar and then eased to a low rumble. He looked down at the instrument panel. The needles were spinning out of control; it was like flying through the Bermuda Triangle on a bad day.
"Don't do this to me now, baby. Come on," he urged, patting the dash with one hand and pulling the throttle back slightly with the other. The Skyhawk was his baby, and they'd been through hell and back on missions some might consider suicidal.
Chinook winds battered the plane, tossing the aircraft around like a dry leaf. Every time he shifted the throttle, another gust tossed the plane hard to the left and then to the right. Left with little choice as the plane sputtered and lost momentum, Gabe opened the side window to view the landscape below. The river twisted like a snake beneath him, and, on each side, the towering Rockies left no room for a safe landing.
Strong winds blew snow off the mountains, creating tails of white through the sky, making it impossible to see exactly where the mountain ridges started or ended.
The engine sputtered again, and the props stilled.
Gabe held the throttle in a pointless death grip. The Cessna was now in the hands of the shifting Canadian winds. There was no time to pray, even for a man who didn't believe in God, and he could not radio "Mayday" and risk the authorities finding him. His life and the cargo were now at the mercy of the wild.
He caught a brief glimpse of snow-covered mountains ahead, before the plane plunged down into the white depths below.
New Year's Day
Mima Etu angled the sled, helping the dog team work around a dangerous bend in the trail. With one mukluk on the runner, she pedaled with the other, helping the team keep their pace as they climbed the embankment running alongside the river. Her legs trembled, and she sucked in short, sharp breaths from the exertion, but there was no way she'd let Mary win.
Just past dawn, the foggy morning promised a mild day. She filled her lungs with the wilderness air, thrilled to be out running so early in the morning. Sledding was food for her soul.
Mima and her friend, Mary Billings, pushed both teams hard, fighting for the lead along the straightaway, their sleds mere inches from each other. Where Mary had a seven-dog team of smaller Samoyeds, Mima ran a five-dog team of larger Siberian Huskies and Greenlands. Mary's team was quick while Mima's had more power.
"You're out of shape this year," Mary shouted over the jingling sled bells and panting dogs.
"It's the first day of the year, asshole," Mima yelled back. They both laughed and pushed harder.
Best friends since childhood, the women encouraged each other and spent as much time as they could exercising their dogs on the trails. Today was like any other, and the crisp, calm weather was perfect for sledding.
"I'm gonna beat you again," Mary teased, pedaling behind her sled, hustling the dogs along the trail. Her sled picked up momentum and pulled ahead of Mima's.
"Like hell. Haw!" Mima's team took the left turn tight around a rock cut, taking the advantage. Her sled slid past half of Mary's team. They continued quickly along the trail, weaving around snow-covered pines and boulders bordering the river's edge, but, on the next straightaway, Mary's team charged forward, leaving Mima in their snowy wake.
Those damn dogs of hers are quick on the line. Mima smiled despite Mary passing her. The woman always gave her a run for her money, but she enjoyed the challenge. One of these days she'd beat her, and then she could rub it back in her face.
"Easy. . . easy," she called out to her team. They slowed to a leisurely pace along the trail, allowing Mima the chance to gaze at the surrounding wilderness without distraction.
She loved it out here. The crisp, white scenery of mid-winter. Towering mountains in every direction. The partnership she enjoyed with her dogs. This was her life and her home. Peaceful, beautiful, and simple. She'd heard of people who couldn't live without telephones, fancy houses, or the latest sports car. A person surrounded in luxury took the small things in life for granted. Those people knew nothing about the tranquility of the wilderness. That was fine with her. She didn't want strangers coming onto her land and making this beautiful place into some vacation spot.
Her sled—still decorated from the Christmas season—jingled with every bump as the team ascended the foothills toward her home. They struggled up the embankment. The two wheel dogs, Musti and Little Red, pulled hard; their job was carrying the weight in the back. Mima hopped off the runners to help ease their burden. As soon as they crested the hill, the team suddenly halted.
Mima caught her chest on the handlebar, nearly toppling over the sled.
"What the hell?"
Mary's team stood still in the middle of the trail, with the brake secured in the snow. Her dog's snouts and ears pointed anxiously toward some unseen presence beyond the trees. Mary trudged through the knee-deep snow around the bush line.
Mima frowned, wondering what Mary was staring at as she set her brake in the snow and stepped on it. The dogs stretched and scooped up mouthfuls of snow as she made her way past them, toward Mary.
"What is it?"
Mary waved her arm, gesturing Mima to come closer. "I think it's a plane."
Oh, no. Mima moved as quickly as she could through the snow until she came across the deep crevasses where the plane must have hit. Her stomach twisted with anxiety wondering what they'd find. She halted beside Mary when her gaze met a crumpled, blue and white Cessna. The light snow that had fallen last night covered the plane in a thin, white blanket.
A sprawling birch jutting up alongside the steep embankment was all that kept the plane from plunging into the river below.
"Mary, do you think that's the plane we heard yesterday evening?"
"I don't know, but I don't see any tracks from a rescue team. This is a fresh crash. What if there's blood and guts in there?" Mary looked at Mima. Unshed tears glinted in her eyes. She didn't take bloody scenes very well. Not after one of her dogs decided to jump at a spinning plane propeller a few years back. Poor Mary had nightmares for months after that horrific scene, and she hadn't gone near a plane since. Mima couldn't blame her.
Mima offered a reassuring smile. "I'll go look. Stay with the dogs before they yank the brakes and take off. They're getting restless."
Mary's chin quivered, her expression fraught with worry. She nodded, looking forlorn and then headed back to man the teams. Mima guessed she was probably thankful she could stay busy watching the dogs instead of peering into a place of possible death. Who knew what waited beyond that twisted pilot's door?
Mima turned her attention back to the plane, reminding herself to stay calm. She took a deep breath and squared her shoulders before trudging through the snow to the belly of the plane. Eerie silence charged the air. She looked back at Mary and shook her head. Even the dogs stood still, quiet, staring at the plane as if they knew something horrible lay within.
The plane was so crumpled she couldn't tell if it had wheels or skis.
She made her way to the cockpit and sucked in a sharp breath. A man lay slumped over the steering wheel, his head leaning against the dashboard. Somehow he had managed to stay in his seat even though he wore no seatbelt. His skin looked gray, like he was frozen. Dried blood covered the left side of his face. He must have hit his head on the window, which was broken.
Turning back to Mary, Mima shouted, "There's a pilot here. I think he's dead."
Mary's eyes bulged. "Did you check his pulse?"
Hand trembling, Mima reached through the busted window and pressed her fingertips to his throat. She nearly cried with relief as a weak pulse fluttered against her fingertips. The pilot twitched, and she yanked her hand back as if burned. "Holy shit! He's alive! We need to get him out of here."
She stared down at the crumpled pilot door, her mind racing to come up with a plan.
"Hang in there, buddy," she said. Even if he couldn't hear her, she felt better knowing the man still had a chance if they could get him out of there. The whole right side of the plane was buried deep in the snow, lodged against the birch tree. And the left side must have hit the ground first, causing it to crumple. As she glanced back at the dogs, an idea suddenly came to her. Using the team's strength to pull the door might be the pilot's only hope.
"Mary, unhook my team, and bring them over. I need them to pull the door open."
Mima remained beside the pilot as Mary rushed back to her sled. She removed the gang line connecting the dogs to the sled and secured it to the hook line. Then, holding Nitchie's collar, Mary guided the team to the plane. After a few minutes struggling to set them up straight ahead of the door, she passed Mima the snow hook to wrap around the handle of the pilot door.
Excited and charged-up, the dogs barked and jumped wildly.
Mima tied the hook end around the door handle. When she was sure the hook would hold, she motioned for Mary to stand by the dogs. "They need to pull hard, or this door won't budge."
"Okay." Mary jumped and clapped her hands, revving them up, and shouted, "Hike hard!"
The team lunged forward, pulling the gang line taut and snapping the crisp air like a whip. Metal creaked and groaned, shifting from the frame as the dogs worked the line. "Hike!" Another hard tug and the door broke way, hurtling into the snow behind the wheel dogs.
"Whoa!" Mary lunged for Nitchie, grabbing his collar before the team took off down the trail. While Mary busied herself reattaching the gang line to the sled, Mima plotted their next move. They needed to get the pilot out, but if she used the dogs to pull him, they might injure him more.
"Now for the fun part," Mima said as Mary returned. "He's not a small guy."
Mary pulled herself up to where Mima stood and looked inside. "Maybe if we both take an arm we can pull him out. We're not that weak."
Each of them grabbed a shoulder and tugged hard, dragging his limp, heavy body up and out from the cockpit. All three of them tumbled from the plane, landing in the snow. Mima struggled to catch her breath. She pushed up on her elbow and burst out laughing. The pilot had landed on top of Mary and shoved her into the snow beneath him.
"It's not funny, jackass," Mary said, her voice muffled. "I can't breathe."
Mima righted herself and rolled the pilot's body off Mary, who glared at her. She pursed her lips and pushed herself to her feet.
The women dragged his body to Mima's sled and got him in the basket. Exhausted didn't begin to describe how Mima felt, but, thanks to Mary noticing the crash, and the dogs taking out the door, the pilot might survive. Mima tucked him in tight with the blankets she kept in the sled.
Mary stood on the other side of the sled, staring down at the frozen pilot. "Should we get him to town?"
Mima contemplated the best course of action. "It'll be dark soon, and he needs heat. Besides, you still need to make it home." She looked around the surrounding bush, thinking she didn't really want to bring him home. But how dangerous could a half-dead man be? "Best bring him to my place, and see what happens first. I could always radio a rescue helicopter in the morning if he needs it."
Mary patted the man's shoulder. "You're lucky we found you, buddy." Then she went back to her sled and yanked her snow hook out of the ground.
Both teams jumped at the command and surged forward. Mima and Mary maintained a brisk pace, pushing the dogs to the peak of their power and speed. As they pulled away from the crash site, Mima looked back in the general direction of the plane. What was he doing flying alone way out here? She knew plane crashes happened often enough, but flying over this area during midwinter was like knocking on death's door. This range of mountains was known for its turbulent winds. Either he didn't know where he was, or he had to fly over this area. Either way, he had a rabbit's foot up his ass that she and Mary had taken the old trail today. Otherwise, he would have died out here, alone, in that wreck of a plane.
* * * * *
A couple hours later, Mima and Mary stood at the foot of the bed in Mima's cabin. They stared down at the stranger, each one lost in her own thoughts.
"Where do you think he's from?" Mary asked quietly.
"I don't know, but I've never seen a man around here with that many earrings." Small, double-hoop, gold earrings in one ear, and a single diamond in the other, made the pilot look like a rugged gypsy. Now that his color had returned—an olive complexion—Mima thought him handsome, even with the jagged scar across his right cheek. Wavy, shoulder-length, dark brown hair matched his five o'clock shadow. She wondered if his eyes were as sexy as the rest of him. He looked like a modern outlaw.
Too much time had passed since she'd felt attraction to a man, and, of course, finding one near dead was the best she could do.
She'd cleaned the blood on his face with a warm wash cloth and stitched up the cuts where his head had smashed into the window. He didn't move an inch as the needle and thread pierced his skin. Either he was seriously out cold, or his pain tolerance was impressive.
They'd removed his frozen clothes, leaving only his boxers on, and tucked him under the thickest blankets Mima owned. She and Mary looked at each other in curiosity when their undressing revealed a body marred with scars and a missing baby toe. The toe could have been lost to frostbite, even though he didn't look like the mountain-climbing type. But the scars? There were so many; Mima stopped counting at twenty.
The pilot had a body like a hero from an action movie. Thick, corded arms and broad shoulders, tapering to a narrow waist and sculpted legs. Tight boxer-briefs stretched taut over his crotch. Mima blushed, dragging her gaze away from him.
"You thinking what I'm thinking?" Mary's eyes glinted with amusement as she clucked her tongue.
"That you're fucking lucky to have a stud like him in your bed." Mary stared down at the stranger as if she wanted to eat him.
Mima laughed, shoving her best friend's shoulder. "The guy's half dead. Give him a break."
"Well, I need to go home before it gets dark, or Tom might get worried. Think I should look in the guy's plane and bring by his luggage or whatever personal things he might have in there? He didn't have a wallet on him."
Mima shrugged. "I guess. If you want. He's stuck here for now anyway until I decide what to do. So far, I think he's only out from the bump on his head and the cold."
"Poor guy, eh?" Mary giggled, giving the pilot a pat on the foot. Then she turned away from his imposing body to give Mima a big hug. "Okay, g'night, babe. Have fun. I'll drop by as soon as I can."
"Radio when you get home, okay?"
"Sure thing, boss." Mary tapped the heels of her boots and saluted her. Mima laughed and gave Mary a friendly push toward the door. The woman was playing the part of the comedienne at the worst time.
Mima sighed and looked back at the stranger lying in her bed. He wasn't out of danger yet, and she had a feeling that when he woke up there could be more trouble to come.