Monica’s hands were sweaty and at the same time cold as she allowed herself to be pushed into the small, suffocating aircraft.
“You’ll be fine,” Donald yelled in her ear as the noise of the chopper made it impossible to hear normal conversation.
Monica nodded. Her nephew, Danny, would be laughing at her if he could see the panic in her eyes.
She forced herself into the passenger seat and ignored the sound of the door closing her in. Shoeless and sexy shoved headgear into her lap. Monica glanced his way as he switched levers and went through some sort of series of system checks before they took off.
Behind her, Tina and Walt were buckling into their seats.
Monica shifted to her right and found her belt. She secured it and fumbled with the headgear before the noise in the chopper overcame her.
Once the earmuffs were on, the noise lessened, giving her a moment of calm.
The chopper shifted, and Monica’s racing pulse lodged in her throat.
“You going to be sick?”
Soft and non-accusatory, Barefoot’s voice sounded in her ears.
Her heart was racing, but she’d yet to feel her stomach churn. “I’m OK.”
Far from OK, but maybe her voice would convince him otherwise.
Barefoot snorted. A full-on snort complete with a shake of his head. He reached over and pried her fingers off her backpack and placed them onto a large rod in the center of the chopper.
“Hold this,” he told her. “When I say up, push it forward. When I say down, pull it back.”
What? Shit. Was she some kind of copilot? “You can’t fly this thing on your own?”
“You’re shotgun, Blondie. And everyone licensed to fly is solo today.”
Monica’s stomach lodged near her thyroid. She glanced to the back of the chopper where Tina and Walt were giving her a smile.
“They can’t hear us,” Barefoot managed.
Instead of answering, he gave a thumbs-up to someone out the window and grasped his controls with both hands.
He can’t really mean he needs me to help him fly this machine.
Monica shoved the stick forward with the command and ignored her brain telling her to get off the damn chopper and walk toward the needy.
The chopper lurched and within seconds, they were in the air. The tarmac disappeared with alarming speed. Those on the ground scrambled into the next chopper and Monica felt her already chilly insides grow even colder.
Barefoot’s hand left his controls and kept her hand on the stick between them. “Keep pushing it up,” he instructed.
“You can’t fly this thing on your own?”
Instead of answering, he moved his hand away and switched a lever on his side. Monica kept her hand shoved forward, as if it were a joystick on a video game and she was close to breaking her all-time record. This isn’t happening. The sky was streaming at her, the earth was slipping away, and she had her life in her hands. Walt’s and Tina’s, too. Not to mention Barefoot’s. Not that she cared about him. Who brought a passenger on board and expected them to help pilot the flight?
The sun blinded her as they made it into the sky but Monica’s death grip on the helicopter joystick didn’t falter.
“Keep looking toward the horizon,” Barefoot instructed.
“OK,” she told him. Did she have a choice?
The world whizzed past with thick trees below them.
“Don’t look down. I need your attention on the horizon.”
Monica swallowed her stomach back. Maybe that late-night sandwich wasn’t a great idea. Donald told them to eat and she’d forced herself to down a turkey and cheese and a bag of stale chips. Normally she loved salt and vinegar chips. Only now, they didn’t feel good so close to the surface.
Barefoot’s hand moved back to hers. She’d slacked off.
Monica gripped the joystick again and forced her eyes on the sky. Good thing the pilot was watching her.
The chopper sliced through the sky at a speed that defied nature.
“First time on a chopper?”
“Yeah.” She dared a glance to her left. Barefoot was looking below them. Monica attempted a look down and gulped.
“The horizon, Blondie. Look out there.”
She swallowed. “It’s Monica.”
He chuckled and squeezed her hand still under his. “We’ll be landing soon.”
He squeezed her hand again as if he read her thoughts.
The chopper shook and pitched down a few feet.
“Just the morning wind. Ease back a little.” Barefoot moved the joystick with her until it was centered. Monica kept her hand as steady as she could, even when he moved his hand away.
At second glance, Barefoot appeared a little more together than at first glance. His shorts were tailored and his button-up shirt might seem like a typical island floral, but she knew Tommy Bahama silk when she saw it. His Ray-Ban sunglasses weren’t dime-store quality and he obviously knew how to fly his chopper.
Is it his helicopter?
“Is this your chopper?” she asked.
He glanced her way and his lips turned into a smile.
He didn’t answer.
Monica glanced behind her to see Walt and Tina staring at something below them. Without thinking, Monica glanced down as well. The trees of the Jamaican forest abruptly thinned out and large lakes appeared in the center of the landscape. Only on closer inspection they weren’t lakes… they were collections of ocean water brought in by the tsunami. In its wake were fallen trees and debris miles wide. Homes… or what Monica thought were homes, were nothing more than stacks of wood, branches, and garbage brought in by the surf.
She was miles above it.
“Oh, God.” Her stomach pitched.
“Pull back a little,” Barefoot instructed.
She did. At the same time, she forced her eyes on the sky. The ocean streamed out beyond the devastated shoreline.
Barefoot pitched the chopper to the right and Monica leaned into the craft as if her slight weight was going to make a difference in a proper landing.
Unlike the tarmac where they’d landed the first time, the spot in which Barefoot was planning on placing the chopper was a postage stamp of a yard. It reminded Monica of the yards behind the tract houses springing up all over Southern California.
Below them, someone waved an orange light.
Barefoot placed his hand over hers and pushed the lever back as the chopper slowly made its way to the ground.
As the skids came to rest on the ground, Monica released a shuddering breath. I made it. Without puking. The last part was the most impressive. Smelling up this small cabin wouldn’t bode well for future passengers.
Barefoot tapped her fingers before he pried them off the lever she’d gripped with all her life. “This is your stop,” he said with laughter in his voice.
“Right. Right.” She shook her head and unclenched her fist.
Under the sunglasses and headgear, Barefoot sent her a hundred-watt smile. Or maybe he was laughing at her. She forced her lips into a smile. “Ah, thanks for not killing me.”
Barefoot chuckled. “Be safe, Blondie. It’s a mess out there.”
Someone opened her door. The noise of the propellers along with the wind they created removed the smile from her face. Walt was standing there gesturing for her to exit the chopper. She placed a foot outside the craft and then remembered the headgear.
Barefoot’s attention was on her as she pulled the earphones off and gave a slight wave. She’d barely made it away from the aircraft and Barefoot was flying away.
Without a copilot.
Trent accepted the bottle of water Reynard shoved in his hands and downed it in one continuous swallow. The beverage quenched his thirst but what he really needed was a bolt of caffeine. Maybe even a mainline IV full of the stuff. And food. Damn… when was the last time he’d eaten? Outside of a few protein bars and similar open-the-package-and-consume-the-food products, it had been almost two days.
He’d been asleep when the earthquake hit. Knocked his ass out of bed and had him ducking into the doorframe of his house. He knew the moment the shaking stopped that he was going to be one of the lucky ones. He’d overseen the construction of his home personally. Unlike most homes in the region, his was made with standards spelled out to pass US inspections even though he could have paid off the locals to have his needs met. Trent didn’t work that way. Not with a home he’d planned on living in for a time. He had planned on staying for a year, maybe longer, then using the home for holidays.
As it turned out he stayed longer than a year, and spent his holidays in the upper forty-eight.
“Have you eaten, mon?”
“I’m good,” Trent lied to Reynard. Reynard’s own home had partially crumbled during the quake. His children, all four of them, were at their school, which sat on higher ground. It too suffered major damage but the tsunami hadn’t washed it away. That was a blessing. Reynard’s wife, Kiki, had been home while Reynard himself had already gone to work.