Click on the cover to enlarge
© Patricia Crossley. Nothing may be copied from these pages without the permission of the author
Dancing with the Devil
*-won second place in the romantic suspense category of the Lories a contest for published authors
* is a nominee for a Bloody Dagger Award from All About Murder.
Jazz Hargrove leaves her reporting assignment in the Horn of Africa to settle her father’s estate and finds herself plunged in a deadly drama. She is good at her job as an international reporter. She's in line for an award and due for another promotion. Back in the small, provincial capital she'd left fourteen years before, she realizes with mounting terror that someone from her past is watching her, and he wants her back. Together with a man she does not wish to trust, she must face her worst fears to save a child drawn in to the web of danger.
Pete Browning is a freelance photographer recently assigned to Jazz's crew. An ex-cop with a failed marriage and a past drinking problem, he is not interested in falling in love, but he is determined to protect Jazz as the threats around her grow, until his own family becomes the target of a murderer.
Jazz and Pete have no choice but to pursue the stalker into a world of danger. Chemistry sizzles between them even as they follow the steps of a madman. Drawn together by necessity, they learn much more about each other and their own hidden fears and desires than they ever expected, as they continue DANCING WITH THE DEVIL.
ISBN 1-931761-50-7 Available now from Atlantic Bridge
paperback now available ISBN 1-931761-53-1
About Murder Reviews
With the Devil word-weaves suspense and romance into an
Howard Hopkins, All About Murder Reviews (read the complete review)
Reader review, August 2002
Suspenseful and taut, this novel is well worth the time and money. Ebooks often have little known authors that are worth discovering, and such is the case here. Jazz is a heroine that is easy to cheer on as she finds love and danger. Not perfect, she has weaknesses, which make her easier to relate to and more believable. Pete is a loveable hero, though not the alpha male that often populates the position. again rendering him more realistic. This is a story that could be real. (AFKillgore)
Five Roses from Escape to Romance:
This book was a page turner for me. This book had it all; love, romance, murder, mystery and a stalker that was hunting Jazz down and making her wonder who he was and why he was stalking her. There was hardly a moment to breathe in this book. I wanted to keep turning the pages and since I was trying to fit in this book with a lot of other things going on in my life right now, suffice it to say that I still managed to read it in four heavy-duty days. Deborah Barber
From Road to Romance
The plot is intricately woven and there are red herrings galore. Patricia Crossley manages to keep the readers guessing till the last page. The character of Jazz is beautifully and clearly depicted. Her past and her actions are credibly displayed and she comes across as a brave and enterprising woman. Passion between the lead characters erupts as quickly as a volcano and is equally hot and scorching. The bad guy is terrifying and leaves a vague sense of menace hanging throughout the book. The pace is taut and this fast-paced tale makes for some great suspenseful reading. Very intricate! Rhea.
Four hearts from the romance readers connection
DANCING WITH THE DEVIL is a refreshing change of pace. While the storyline may not be unique, that can also be true of any romance story as there are only so many different plot devices, however, Jazz’s character did something that amazed this reader. Towards the end, the villain tells her to show up and not involve the police or her boyfriend, the first thing Jazz does is calls Pete and tells him to call the police. Finally, a heroine with the guts to do what she knows is right! The outcome is something you will have to find out for yourself of course, and I do recommend you buy the book and find out just what happens. Tracy Farnsworth
Read the first two chapters
Jazz woke, heart pounding, eyes instantly wide open. She could see nothing in the half-light, could only feel the softness of something smothering her. She struggled for breath and clawed at the covering that clung to her face, cutting off the air. Her fingers caught in the protective netting strung over the bed and she ripped at the drapery, frantic to free her head and arms, sucking air into her starved lungs. Once free of the mosquito netting, she sat up on the camp cot while her heart beat slowed to normal. Maybe she'd had the dream again, maybe it had just been the drift of fabric over her face. Whatever, the sounds of activity outside the tent told her the day's activities had begun.
Rolling off the cot, she pushed her way out of the remaining netting, careful to check the floor as she picked up her boots. She shook each one out in turn before she thrust her feet inside. One of the crew had found a small scorpion in his film pack the day before. It was tiny, about the size of a fingernail, and it scurried away to disappear into the sand floor.
Leaving the boot laces loose, she stood up and pulled on a shirt. The sun was well up, beginning to send warm fingers of heat through the canvas. She heard a truck engine coughing somewhere, the gas evaporating as usual before the motor could catch. Vehicle maintenance wasn't a strong point in the crew of people they'd hired in this corner of Africa.
She pulled the hair back out of her eyes with hot, dry hands, tying it impatiently with an extra large elastic band that had been holding the pages of her notebook together. Everything was covered by a thin layer of dirt that managed to work its way into every crack.
Yawning and stretching out her back, she shuffled over to the kerosene stove and groped for the matches.
As the water boiled, she put the beans in the hand grinder and turned the handle. The aroma of freshly ground coffee spread like a blessed perfume around her, masking the scents of dust and greasy clothing and overheated engines. If she packed nothing else, she always made sure she had a supply of good coffee. It went into her travel pack along with the other less glamorous essentials like maps and notebooks, a Swiss Army knife and a Mag Lite.
A few minutes later, she stepped outside into the sandy compound with her first lovely cup, black and steaming in the morning air, and contemplated a scene of organized chaos. She took a sip and let the taste linger in her mouth. Under the palms that gave scant shade, a group of natives was busy loading the back of a flat bed truck, shouting, cursing and laughing in a cacophony of sound.
She watched Abdul step around a group of men across the clearing and move quickly to her side. She took the last swallow of coffee. "What's going on?"
He smiled briefly, a flash of white teeth against the dark skin. "We must move on. Wind storm coming."
She looked up into the cloudless sky. "When?"
He shrugged and spread his hands in the fatalistic gesture she'd grown to know so well. "Two, maybe three hours. Wind, sand. It will be most unpleasant."
"Where are we going?" The frantic activity reminded her of the "bug out" scenes in M*A*S*H* that she'd watched on TV as a kid.
Another voice interrupted. "We'll pull out and try for some shelter. We'll need a windbreak of some kind." She turned to find the photographer, Pete Browning, behind her, looking as disheveled as usual and with two cameras slung round his neck.
"The rebels will have to contend with the storm, too," he added. "We might get a few days cease fire."
A couple of men emerged from the tent she'd just left, carrying her folded cot.
She frowned, fully back in the present. "Let's do some interviews, get hold of someone who thinks he's a leader. It's about time we got some first-hand information. We could go ahead with Abdul to translate and scout around—" She took a step away, ready to organize the quest for extra background.
Peter laid a hand on her arm. "Not you, Jazz," he said as he pulled a folded piece of paper out of his upper shirt pocket. "This came through during the night."
She felt the tiny bump of her heart as her pulse beat faster. Her promotion! Already. She kept her face impassive as she took hold of the warm paper, the creases already marked in brown by the ubiquitous sand. Pete and Abdul watched her as she unfolded it, the sounds of the camp suddenly hushed in the thickening air. The message had been sent from the newspaper's head office yesterday afternoon and had been passed on through Nairobi to their location in Somalia.
"To: Jasmine Hargrove," it began. "Regret to inform you your father deceased June 19. Request your presence. Urgent. Contact Willis and Greene, lawyers…" and a series of contact numbers followed.
She read it again, searching for details, for an explanation, for some kind of personal word. Suddenly, the flimsy paper trembled in her fingers. She swallowed hard, trying to clear the dust from her throat, and opened her mouth, but no sound came out.
Her mind raced to take in the news. It obliterated all thoughts of her job. He was gone and there was no explanation. Suddenly, the hot tears burned at the back of her eyes and she blinked hard. No chance now to have it out with him, to make him understand. How did he die? She turned the paper over. There were no more details.
"I read it, " Pete said. "I’m sorry."
She drew in a deep breath. "My father—"
He gathered her into his big arms and squashed her against his cameras. Instinctively, she resisted for a moment, then decided she needed to be held. She didn't care about the discomfort; it felt good. She moved slightly, so her cheek rested against the flatness of his chest and she felt the steady beat of his heart. He held her firmly, not too tight, his hands steady on her back.
She had to move away. "I'm sorry," she said, suddenly embarrassed. "I shouldn't have done that." She lifted her hands and pushed her hair back from her face. "They want me to go home. There must be a lot to settle."
"Yes, of course." Pete let her go and turned to Abdul. "You'll need to put Ms. Hargrove's bag in the Landrover."
"No," she whispered, an icy panic clutching at her despite the oppressive heat of the desert. "You don't understand, I can't go back there."
He patted her shoulder, misunderstanding. "Don't worry about the storm. You've got time. Is that right, Abdul?"
Abdul nodded and flipped one hand in a kind of "maybe" gesture. "But be very quick."
"The crew will manage without you," Pete said as she still hesitated. "We all understand. Believe me, everything will be fine."
She looked at him for a moment, searching for words. But there were none. She drew in a deep breath. She had to go. She hadn't gotten where she was by wimping out on what had to be done. Besides, it would be worse to have to sit out the storm and then leave.
"Let's go for it."
"You're on." Pete flashed her a grin as he pulled on a jacket scattered with pockets and took out some sunglasses. He hadn't shaved, and dark stubble followed the line of his jaw. To her astonishment she found herself wondering how it would feel under her fingers. A lock of dark hair fell over one eye and he pushed it back impatiently. He looked as if driving out in an imminent sandstorm with a grouchy reporter was exactly what he wanted to do.
"I'll drive her to the airfield," he yelled to Abdul's back, then turned to her again. "Move it, Jazz. You've just about got time to get the plane out before the storm hits." He strode off, shouting orders to send a radio message to the tiny airstrip in the valley.
In a daze she pushed her clothing into a couple of bags and picked up her pack that was always ready to go. There wasn't much else to worry about. The crew all traveled light these days, never knowing when they'd have to bug out just like those doctors and nurses on the TV show. At least they had only themselves to worry about, no sick people to think of and little equipment.
"Let's go, Jazz," Pete yelled from outside the tent. She grabbed the bags with her laptop in its case and lifted the tent flap. Most of the area was now bare, all their equipment bundled onto the trucks. Pete sat behind the wheel of the Landrover, waving at her to get in. Within two minutes they were bouncing down the rutted, hard–packed sand that passed for a road.
For several minutes they bumped along without speaking. Pete bent forward, gripping the wheel tight. She watched him as he concentrated on holding the line while the whole vehicle shook and jolted, rattling and clanking on the cracked earth. His dark hair blew in the breeze, whipped up by their speed. Big aviator sunglasses hid his eyes.
"Hold on to your back teeth," he yelled above the noise of the engine. He gave her another wide grin, taking his eyes off the road for a second.
She nodded grimly, hanging on for dear life to the support bar of the open vehicle. Pete fell silent, concentrating on hanging on to the juddering steering wheel. She supposed he would drop her at the airfield and then find his way back to the group wherever they were. He seemed to know what he was doing.
"How long will it take you to catch up with them again?" she gasped as her rear end hit the hard seat one more time.
"Not too long, I hope." He craned his neck to see around Jazz and peer at the horizon. She saw anxiety in his eyes.
She glanced in the same direction, towards a grey haze that seemed to spread like oil over the burnished sky. "Is that the sand storm?"
"'Fraid so." He pushed even harder on the throttle and the Landrover bucked and jumped like an untrained pony. What looked like a hard, flat surface from a distance was sprinkled with half buried rocks and ridges of solid sand.
"Ouch," she said as her knee came up to meet the dashboard.
He didn't turn to look at her, but she sensed an increased tension in the set of his broad shoulders under the khaki drill shirt.
Suddenly the Landrover seemed to take off and sailed several feet through the air. It landed with a solid thump and immediately listed to one side.
"Shit!" Pete took his foot off the pedal and threw the gear shift into neutral. He hauled on the hand brake and was out in an instant looking at the back wheel.
Jazz scrambled to follow him. The tire lay in shreds. A deadly combination of speed and sharp rock had ripped it from the rim.
"You okay?" Pete asked belatedly.
She nodded. "Where's the spare?"
Pete looked back at the grey cloud. No longer a smudge on the horizon, it spread visibly towards them, growing as it drew nearer. A dark wall approached them and the wind blew on their faces, its intensity increasing by the minute. The air grew noticeably cooler as the sky disappeared in the murk. Jazz took off her soft green hat and pushed her hair back as it whipped around her face, narrowing her eyes against the dust. A faint groaning came from the direction of the wall: the wind announcing its presence. She'd read about the power of wind and sand, about how it could scrape paint bare in a few minutes.
Pete hauled an unwieldy bundle from the back of the vehicle.
"There's no time to change the wheel. Grab hold of this," he shouted. "We'll have to try to get the top on."
She felt his urgency in the speed of his movements. Her hands fumbled in her haste as she took one side of the canvas that flapped and writhed like a wild thing as they struggled to fit it back over the supports. Pete's muscular forearms flexed with effort as he fought to bring the fasteners together. When one side was secure, he stopped to wipe his streaming face and glanced at the darkening sky once again. His expression was carefully blank as he turned back to the job.
The pressure of the wind hurt her ears, and the sand, already whipping past them, burnt and stung her face. She tried to speak, but her mouth filled with dust, and the swirling air snatched her breath away, making her gasp like a drowning person. She hunched over, struggling to stay on her feet.
Pete grabbed a shirt from the back seat and held it out to her. "Here, put this over your head."
"Thanks." She took the cloth and wound it over her head, fighting to pull in the strands of hair that clung to her cheeks. She folded the rest of the shirt over her mouth and nose, leaving only her eyes free.
After what seemed an eternity, the top was in place. Pete opened the door. "Now get in! Close everything up!"
Only a moment's hesitation. She struggled back into the Landrover and fastened the last of the grommets to hold the canvas in place. Pete followed immediately, cursing and spitting sand from between his lips. Quickly they found and closed all the air vents, shutting off the thin, stinging ribbons of sand that blew in.
A filtered, greenish-yellow light penetrated the eerie darkness inside the canvas walls. She felt the vehicle move and rock as the wind caught it, trying to roll the whole thing over. She gasped and seized the handholds on the doors.
"Hold tight," Pete said. His hand reached out and felt for hers. She let her fingers lie in his, grateful for the comforting strength that came through to her in his touch. The sides of the vehicle closed in on her, excluding the outside world, shutting out sound and light, entombing her in the airless shell reeking of weathered canvas and dust. Sweat began to bead on her face; the car was turning into an oven.
She loosened the shirt from around her head, freeing her mouth and nose to pull in the air she desperately needed. The whistling, moaning noise from the wind rose in pitch until she longed to block her ears. Underneath the sound, she could hear an increasing patter of sand hurled against the canvas, like some demented rock band practicing a music that no sane audience would ever want to hear.
Bit by bit, it grew darker still and hotter in the pitiful shell of the car. Despite the wild sounds from outside, she could hear the gasps of their tortured breathing. She grasped Pete's fingers in an involuntary spasm and she felt his hand warm and solid against hers. The other noise gradually decreased as the light dimmed. They were now inside the wall of sand.
They were buried in a tomb of a vehicle.
They would never be able to open the doors, dig their way out.
Panic rose in her, sweeping through her body like a fever until she could think of nothing else but air and freedom. She let go of Pete's hand and clawed at the rest of the shirt still clinging to her head and face. When she was free at last, she turned to the door and tugged at the latch. Over Pete's ragged breathing, she heard a whimpering cry, and realized it was her own voice, frozen in her throat.
Pete's arm came round behind her, holding her tight against him. His hand closed over hers again, warm and rough, yet gentle. His body was a rock beside her, a haven in a sea of panic. He held her fast against her struggles and raised one hand to lift the hair from her face and mouth. "Hush, you're okay," he whispered. "You're okay. Just lean on me. Don't think about it. We're safe."
She gave a strangled cry and with a dry sob she buried her face against his chest, fighting to control her shaking. The nightmare of the Vancouver cellar had left her with a terror of confined spaces, of being trapped inside a box with something terrible…
The sound of Pete's voice gradually broke through her panic as her breathing slowed. He spoke slowly, soothingly, as if to a child.
"…so you never know what family will do," he was saying. What on earth was he talking about?
His hand lay on her head, stroking her hair. "…so my sister was there with this TV host who wanted to know what she thought people did on a first date. It was one of those cutesy shows that have kids answer ridiculous questions. Marian, that's my sister, said: 'On the first date, they just tell each other lies, and that usually gets them interested enough for a second date.'" He shifted against her. "I'll just move my arm a bit." She felt him adjust his position so that her neck rested in the crook of his arm.
She tried to moisten her lips with a dry tongue. It was an effort to speak. She didn't know if the words would come out of her tight throat. "She was probably right," she said. Her voice broke in a little croak at the end.
He moved again in the cramped space to look down at her. "You were listening," he said with a smile. "I was desperately trying to think what I would do with a claustrophobic woman who was determined to claw her way out before the storm's over."
She took a deep breath to make sure she could speak, that her voice wouldn't shake and give her away. "I'm okay…"
"Try to hold on. We're all right. Let's not talk too much."
Jazz knew what he meant. They needed to conserve their air. They could be here for hours, days.
They would use up all the oxygen… She tried to pull her mind back to other things, tried not to think of each breath diminishing the supply of air… The sand building up…
Pete settled her against his shoulder again and gently pushed the hair back from her face. His lips were close to her cheek and he made soft, soothing noises. Jazz closed her eyes and made a supreme effort of will to control her breathing and to sit very still, not thinking of what was outside.
After what seemed like a long time, Pete stirred and stretched as best he could. Miraculously the pounding and wailing had ceased.
"Has it stopped?" she asked through dry lips.
"I sure hope so." He cocked his head to one side. "Can you hear anything?"
"No." She wiped a hand across her face and felt grit under her fingers. She tried to find enough moisture in her mouth to swallow and coughed on the sand that had sifted between her lips. Pete pulled a small green scarf from around his neck and gently brushed her face.
"Sorry it's not very clean."
She took it from him and crumpled it into a ball. The cloth brought a reassuringly musky male scent. "Lean forward," she said.
Very carefully, she dusted the sand from his eyebrows and traced the strong line of his lips. The sand clung to the stubble of his beard. She was very conscious of his gaze on her face as she concentrated on not sending debris into his eyes. With a final flick of the cloth she sat back.
He took the scarf from her and bound it outlaw style over his mouth. "Put that cloth over your face again," he said. "Let's give it a go."
He turned away from her, towards the side of the Landrover that leaned lower, bracing his feet against the door. "With any luck," he said, "it will still open. The sand will be piled on the other side and this door could be almost clear. Put your arms round me and push against me when I say."
She felt the muscles of his back flex and move against her as he drew in a deep breath. She linked her hands against his chest and laid her cheek on his shoulder.
On his count of three, Jazz shoved him with all her strength. She licked cracked lips and tried not to think of water.
"Again," he said. "I think it moved."
She strained every muscle as she pushed with all her might.
Each minute seemed like an hour until Pete had cleared enough of a hole for her to slither through. She stood beside the Landrover, breathing in deep, sucking blessed air at last into her lungs. The wind had dropped but the so-called road had disappeared. As far as she could see there was an unbroken expanse of rock and sand with no trace of the trail they had followed.
"We were lucky," Pete said.
Jazz stared at him wordlessly.
"It could have been even stronger and lasted for days," he explained. "At least we know where we are."
"We do?" She brushed sand from her arms and legs. It was everywhere, on the surface of her skin and in every conceivable spot on her body. She coughed and wiped some dust from her mouth with her sleeve.
"Yup. That's the way we came." He pointed in a direction that looked exactly the same as any other. "This vehicle carries some water. I'll try to reach it."
He thrust his head and shoulders back inside and she saw the Landrover lurch as he thrust his way into the car. At last he re-emerged grasping a plastic jerrycan of water and the mouthpiece of the shortwave radio that was mounted on the dashboard.
"We're in luck. The crew put in the supplies." He unscrewed the top of the can and held it out to her. She fought the impulse to drink all the beautiful, life-giving, tepid water that tasted of warm plastic and took two restrained gulps, trying to swirl it all around her mouth before swallowing it.
"Good girl." Pete took one mouthful and fitted the cap back on. "Did you bring the satellite phone?"
She shook her head. "I left it for the crew."
He held out the radio speaker on its spiral cord. "Let's try this. Do you know how to work it?"
She nodded a yes and took the receiver from him, knowing that if the unreliable crew back at the base hadn't checked the batteries recently, they wouldn't reach anyone. She tried the call three times over the dead air. Nothing.
She turned to face the direction he'd indicated. "Is that the way we walk?"
"That's where the camp was, but we don't walk."
Suddenly she was unreasonably angry: angry at the elements, angry that Pete had witnessed her weakness in the car, angry at her father for dying at this particular moment. "We have to do something. There's a map and a compass in my kit. Do you expect us to sit here and wait to die of thirst?"
"We won't die of thirst if we're careful. What do you expect to find back at the camp? They all left soon after we did. There will be nothing recognizable about the site. No provisions, no shelter, no water. Here we have shelter, we can make shade, we have some water, and Abdul knew where we were headed."
She still wanted to argue with his calm logic. "We could make for the airfield."
He nodded, his expression serious. "We could. Except that I'm not one hundred percent sure of the direction with the track blocked out. We don't have enough water to carry us through a long trek under this sun. Even with the compass it's too risky. The first rule for survival is to stay put."
She stood for a moment, searching for another suggestion that would make them move. Frustrated energy buzzed through her, urging her to take action, so she could at least appear to be finding a solution to their situation. Nothing came to mind.
"Well, don't just stand around," she said. "Let's make ourselves some shade."
Pete nodded. "But we'll take it easy. No more than ten minutes in the sun at a time."
It took them over an hour to loosen the canvas top of the Landrover and spread it enough to make an improvised lean-to shelter under which they could lie, motionless, waiting for dark or rescue, whichever came first. Pete allowed them another ration of water.
She drank it out in the open, postponing the moment when she would have to crawl into the shelter. Would have to lie there for hours with the canvas just inches from her face. The air would be heavy and hot— "What I'd really like is a tall, cold glass of mint julep," she said. "On a verandah with a ceiling fan to stir the air, lots of ice in the glass and just enough rum…" She patted the jerrycan of warm water. "What's your favorite?"
"I don't drink."
She turned towards him. This was interesting. Some personal quirk. She'd never noticed in their previous assignments whether he drank or not. "You must be the only photographer I've met who doesn't."
"Maybe." His lips were pressed together in a thin line and she couldn't read the expression in his eyes. For a moment, she was tempted to pursue the topic, make the most of this revelation of an unknown detail in his life. Then he looked at her, and her breath caught in her throat. There was pain in his eyes, determination too, and defiance. She no longer wanted to dig away at his reasons for not drinking alcohol. She set the water down in the shade of the vehicle.
"Do you have extra clothes in those bags of yours?" Pete asked.
"A couple of sweaters, some socks."
"You'll have to get them out. It will be cold tonight."
Why hadn't she thought of that? She'd been in this country longer than he. She should have been the one checking that they were as prepared as possible for survival.
Pete dived once again into the vehicle and reappeared with the soft canvas bags carrying her clothing and notebooks. He thrust them towards her. "Take out what you need, and we'll use the bags for backrests."
Irrationally, she wanted to refuse, to tell him she had a better idea, but of course she hadn't and of course he was right. In silence, she pulled out sweaters and socks and zipped the bag closed.
She refolded the clothing, laid it carefully to one side, and watched Pete kneel down to smooth the sand and place her bags against the tilting side of the Landrover. The space was beginning to look suspiciously like a double bed.
"You might as well come in and rest," he said. "Conserve your strength."
The last thing she wanted to do was lie next to him and wait passively for rescue, like a puppy in a pet shop window. Besides, there were a couple of things to attend to before she could settle for the night. She moved away from the slope of the dark canvas. Pete stood up again.
"Excuse me for a moment," he said and walked to the other side of the crippled vehicle. In a few moments she saw the back of his head and he remained motionless, obviously taking care of a call of nature.
He turned and came back to her. "Sorry it's not more comfortable, but at least it's private."
"This won't be the first time."
"I know. Just walk a few paces away. Don't lose sight of the vehicle."
What did he think she was? An inexperienced rookie? She strode a measured ten paces from the car and unzipped her pants, keeping her back turned. She could write an article on bathroom facilities around the world if she thought she could ever sell it. So far, her favorite had been the Russian two seater in white porcelain with blue flowers. The memory made her smile.
She trudged back through the sand to find Pete already lying inside in the shade, propped on one elbow. Shadows fell across his face and upper body, making it hard for her to see his expression. He was squeezed up into the corner against the wall they had made with the canvas top spread out from the vehicle. He stretched out a hand.
"Come inside. You can stay on the side closest to the opening."
She tossed her head. "I can take the inside place—"
"No you can't," he interrupted. "You need to be close to the opening." He sat up and smoothed the already smooth sand. "Just as I need to stay away from alcohol."
She met his direct gaze, holding his eyes with hers. He understood her problem, understood that she was ashamed and frustrated by her perceived weakness.
"Thank you," she said simply. She pushed the jerrycan of water between them, catching the little smile at the corners of his mouth as she did so, and slid in beside him.
He lay on his back, staring up at the sloping canvas above them, his hands behind his head, one knee bent up as he tried to fit into the confined space. She was grateful to him for taking the worst spot, only too aware of what she would have gone through had he called her bluff about taking the narrow space up against the canvas wall.
"Do you want to talk about your dad?" he asked gently.
She turned her face away from him. "There's not much to tell. He was larger than life in every respect. Lots of money, lots of friends, lots of land, lots of battles. The two of us had some spectacular fights." She shook her head at the memory and sighed. "I guess they need me to settle the estate."
"You haven't been home for awhile?"
"Not for fourteen years. I decided I couldn't take it at home anymore and I left when I was seventeen. I never went back."
"And your mother?"
"My mother had a hard time. She left my dad after my—" she paused for a moment unsure that she really wanted to continue, then took a breath, "—little sister died. She was called Jeannie."
She felt him take her hand again and tried to pull away, but he held on and she relaxed. The warmth of his rough, dry hand was strangely comforting.
"I've got a little sister, too," he said. "Except she's not little any more. She's twenty-eight with two kids."
Just as she opened her mouth to ask him more, she felt him sit up to open the water bottle again. The shape of him was blurred in the fading light.
"It's nearly dark," he said. "Take a drink while we can still see and put on the sweaters and the extra socks."
"What about you?"
"I'll be fine. I've got a jacket."
It wasn't easy to struggle into the sweaters without more contact with him than she wanted. She more or less had to lean against him as he guided her hands into the armholes and pulled the warm material over her head.
"I feel like the Michelin man." She pulled her hair free from the neckline of the second sweater.
He leaned back as far as he could in the confined space and looked her up and down. "Nah, you're much prettier. Now, take your drink."
She swallowed another gulp of water, and he replaced the top and pushed the container to one side.
"What about you?" she asked again.
"I've had enough. You're going to have to lie against me. We need to conserve body heat and stay as close together as possible."
Jazz knew he was right, but this was one more thing she hadn't thought of. He gently turned her on her side so her face was towards the opening. Carefully he placed the length of his body against her and wrapped his arms around her. The weight of him was unexpectedly comforting, and her bottom fit snugly into the curve of his body. She felt him move and understood he was pulling the jacket he'd spoken of over them both, to form another little tent inside the one they had created.
The sudden darkness of the desert night had already fallen and she felt the air rapidly cooling against her face. They were alone in a vast wasteland, without food, with a limited water supply, with no means of communication, but she felt secure. Pete had kept her safe from her own fears during the storm, telling her stories about his sister to keep her mind from the terror.
"Does your sister still say funny things?" she murmured into the darkness.
"You bet." His voice came from just behind her left ear. "Keeps us all laughing. She's a great mom, too."
"That's important." She thought of Jeannie. How much had she been able to laugh in those last months before the disease took her completely?
Pete shifted slightly against her.
"You're not married?" she asked.
She waited for a beat, but all he said was: "How about you?"
"No, never married. She moved her leg to ease her calf muscle. "I've never been much interested in being married. Too many complications in this job. Transfers, assignments…" She let her voice trail off.
"Where's home?" Pete asked gently.
"I've got an apartment in Toronto, but I'm never there. Dad lives—lived—in Victoria. Oak Bay. But he had interests all over the Okanagan."
"I know it." He sounded as if he was smiling. "My mother lives in Victoria now and my sister's just outside. Mom retired there to be near Marian. Nice place."
"Uh huh." Victoria was Canada's number one retirement spot with its mild climate and beautiful scenery. She was growing drowsy with the warmth of Pete's body against her back. She closed her eyes. "I'll get the plane tomorrow," she whispered.
"Sure you will," he answered.
She woke in a panic again, not knowing where she was, feeling the weight of an arm over her, holding her down, the pressure of a strange body against her back. She raised her arm and hit the canvas roof just inches away.
Pete's voice came out of the semi-darkness and she felt his strong hands on her, holding her. "You'll bring the whole thing down on top of us."
The thought of the canvas collapsing on her, enveloping her in heavy, airless darkness was enough to make her pause. She struggled to control her breathing, to tell herself that there was air and light and space outside, easily accessible.
Pete propped himself up on one elbow and peered at the luminous hands of his watch.
"It's just about dawn. It'll be warmer outside in a half hour or so. Are you cold?"
"No." She wasn't cold at all. In fact, she was comfortably cozy, especially where Pete's body lay alongside hers, especially where his arm had been draped across her side, where his hands had touched her to soothe her sudden fear.
"Can you wait a while for some water?" he asked, settling back down.
"Sure." How long did he expect them to lie here in this kind of close, decidedly intimate contact? She would only have to turn to him and–
"I think it's warm enough now," she said. "Outside, I mean."
Before he could answer her, she pulled herself away from him and plunged her head and shoulders through the opening in the canvas wall. She thrust her arms forward and dragged herself unceremoniously out of the makeshift shelter.
The air was a shard of ice stabbing at her lungs, making her suck in her breath and hug her body with her arms. The first radiance of dawn brightened the horizon with shades of coral, purple and magenta. The sky above her was still the soft, deep indigo of the desert night, but as she watched, the fingers of light crept forward, extinguishing the bright stars one by one. After a moment, she stretched out her back and took another breath of cold air.
Pete emerged from the shelter, struggling into his jacket.
"What now?" she said.
He ran his hands through his hair that was sticking up around his head. "We wait."
"Wait for what?"
"For someone to find us. It's not as if no one knows where we were heading."
He handed her the water jug and she took another mouthful. The water was icy cold now and she shivered.
"Told you it was too early to get up," he said with a small grin.
She eyed him warily. "It will soon be full light, I like it better outside."
She pulled the top sweater down around her hips from where it had ridden up in her hasty exodus from the shelter and stamped her feet against the chill. "I'd kill for a cup of coffee," she muttered. The bite in the air and the drink of water was reminding her that she'd left without breakfast the previous day. "Do we have anything to eat?"
"'Fraid not." He thrust his hands into one of his many pockets and drew out a battered pack of chewing gum. "You're welcome to this," he said, holding it out to her. "At least it will keep moisture in your mouth."
She shook her head. "Maybe later. We won't be here very long."
She knelt down beside the shelter and fumbled in the shadows for her bag, feeling for it where it had served as a pillow. She rummaged through it, found a brush and sat back on her heels. The elastic band that held her hair was tangled in the mass of curls at the nape of her neck and tugging on it hurt like hell. She muttered under her breath.
"Hold on." She felt Pete's fingers on hers. "Let me."
He squatted beside her and very gently and carefully he loosened the band and drew out the locks of hair.
"Thank you," she whispered.
"Give me the brush."
"No, I can— "
He took the brush from her fingers and began slowly stroking it through her hair, from the crown of her head to the tousled ends. It felt wonderful. Her whole body responded to the soothing massage and she felt herself relax.
"You've done this before," she said.
"Yes, I have," he replied.
She waited for him to continue, to explain how he came to be able to brush a woman' s hair in such an expert way, but he said nothing more. Maybe I don't want to know anyway, she thought. Maybe it would just lead us into territory where we shouldn't venture.
Pete broke into her thoughts. "I want you to take advantage of the shade in the shelter as much as you can, but we won't be easy to spot from a distance, so I'll stay on watch."
She turned abruptly and the brush caught in a vicious knot of hair "Ouch, enough," she said. "Sorry. I'll take the brush now." She faced him on her knees. "You don't think I'm going to sit in that horrible shelter like some Victorian miss protecting her complexion from the sun, do you? I can take my turn on watch."
She saw his mouth open to protest. "I'm a reporter, Pete, I travel the world for my stories. I've frozen in the mountains, I've thrown up in an Atlantic storm, I've fought crowds of panicking refugees. I can stay on watch for an hour."
He held up his hands in mock surrender. "Okay, okay." He looked at his watch. "You take the first hour. I could use some more sleep."
The magnificent colors of the dawn faded quickly to the monotonous greys and browns of the desert. It was impossible to pick out detail on the ground more than a few hundred yards away. Total silence reigned in the sandy wasteland. No birds penetrated this far, no animals emerged to investigate the intruders. Only a few scrubby, half dead pieces of vegetation clung to life. The morning dragged by on creeping feet, growing hotter and dustier by the minute. Jazz removed her sweaters. Pete slept for an hour, and when he emerged for his watch, he tied one of her bright colored shirts to the useless aerial of the Landrover, but the cloth hung limp and lifeless.
He spoke little, but she saw him replacing the clothing and the bags under the canvas shelter, patting down the sand where their movements had made ruts and ridges. Did he expect to spend another night out here? They could go without food, but their water supply was getting low. He picked up his camera and took some shots of the makeshift shelter and the surroundings. When he finished he saw her watching and gave a shrug. "Never miss a picture," he said.
She'd seen his work. He was good. "How long have you been doing this?"
"About eight years as a freelance." He pulled out a canister of film from one of his pockets and began to open up the camera. "I've always had a camera in my hand for as long as I can remember. Just didn't make it into a job at first." He took the finished roll out of the camera and slipped it into his pocket. She wondered what he'd done in the years before he devoted himself full time to photography. Before she could ask, he continued. "I like capturing the reality of things, showing people a world they would never know." He gestured out into the desert, towards the horizon. "At one time, all this would have been just an artist's impression, if it was depicted at all. So at some fundamental level, not quite real. But a good photograph is different. A photograph is almost as good as being there."
"Unless it's doctored—"
"Ah, there's the rub. My pictures will never be played with. You can be sure they're honest, just like your articles." He gave her a broad grin. "I'll get off my soapbox."
They settled into silence again, waiting. Jazz tried the silent radio one more time in the hopes of a miracle, but there was no sound, not even a crackle of static to raise her spirits.
They sipped twice at the water and when it was time for her second watch, she accepted a piece of gum. At midday she was sitting in the airless shade, scribbling in her notebook, putting the finishing touches to an account of what had happened, when Pete sprang to his feet and began waving his arms over his head, yelling at the top of his voice.
She scrambled up, spilling her pen and papers around her and rushed to his side. A dot on the horizon was moving at a snail's pace. She kept her eyes fixed on it, shading her face with her hand in an attempt to see more clearly. With agonizing slowness, the dot became a blob, then the blob metamorphosed into more than one shape, moving in unison.
"What is it?" she said. "Can you make it out?"
Pete continued to squint against the brightness and rubbed his eyes. He took hold of one of the cameras around his neck and peered through the lens, adjusting it carefully. "Got them," he said. "It's someone on a camel."
Her heart sank. A wandering Arab with a camel was not what she was hoping for. He might have food and some precious water he'd be willing to share, but he wouldn't have a radio. Depending on where he was headed, it could take him a week to deliver a message.
"Has he seen us?" she asked.
"I think so."
She ducked back into the shelter and began stuffing her clothes and papers into her bag.
"How many camels does he have?" she called.
"At least two."
She scrambled to her feet. "Good. We'll ride with him to the airfield."
Her spirits rose at the prospect of movement, of action, but it seemed an eternity before the camel driver was close enough to make out detail. He was nothing more than a mound of clothes on the lead camel, swathed in loose folds that covered his head and mouth. When he arrived within hailing distance he raised a hand and shouted.
Pete waved back. "It's Abdul."
"Well, thank God for that." At least it wasn't some nomad who spoke no English and rarely ventured into civilization. "Why hasn't he brought a Landrover?"
Pete gave her an enigmatic look. "We'll ask him."
Abdul made his camel kneel and slid down with practiced ease.
"I am thankful to Allah to find you safe."
"Not nearly as thankful as we are to see you," she answered. She didn't want to sound ungrateful, but she had to ask the question. "Um. Couldn't you bring a vehicle?"
"Sorry, miss," Abdul answered. "The vehicles are finding it difficult to start. They have sand in the engine. And there is no road anymore. The camel can travel where a Landrover cannot."
Pete clapped him on the shoulder. "Quite right, Abdul," he said cheerfully. "You did exactly right. Wouldn't want to get another Landrover bogged down would we?" He turned to Jazz. "Ever ridden a camel before?"
She shook her head.
"You can add it to your long list of exploits. Don't get too close to its head. If they can reach you, they like to bite and if they can't get to you, they spit."
"No, no, sir," Abdul protested. "Adiva is kind and gentle. That is also the meaning of her name. But first I think you must be hungry."
He opened a leather pouch at his waist and withdrew a package wrapped in cloth. He spread dates, figs and nuts before them. It looked like a feast.
"Abdul," she said with her mouth full, "you're a guardian angel."
The man smiled and made a small, courteous gesture. "Please, miss, if you have eaten enough, come with me. I will help you." He guided Jazz to stand next to the huge wooden saddle on the kneeling animal. Adiva's mouth moved constantly in a rhythmic chewing and her eyes followed Jazz's movements. The creature had long eyelashes and big, mournful brown eyes. She smelled of dust and dry fur and well used cloth.
The damned animal's going to know I'm an amateur, Jazz thought. Can camels throw a rider? But she had no choice.
"You'll need a lift up," Pete said, stuffing the last date into his mouth. "Put your foot in Abdul's hands."
She placed her foot in the man's cupped palms and then felt Pete at her back. His hands were on her hips and she could swear he put his shoulder under her behind. It was all over in a flash, before she could react, and she slid onto the hard seat, inadequately padded with pieces of smelly old rug and ragged cushions.
She refused to look at Pete. She settled herself with dignity between the horn and the backrest and wriggled back and forth to find a comfortable position.
"Hold tight, Jazz," Pete called. Abdul gave a kind of click and a hiss and Adiva's rear quarters lurched upwards, making Jazz cling to the saddle for dear life. In dignified slow motion, the camel lumbered up to stand on all fours.
Pete handed her bag up to her and then swung himself up behind Abdul on the other, larger camel. "I told you I'd get you to the airfield," he said with a grin. "Let's go."
Abdul leaned over to take hold of Adiva's bridle rein and they set off at a measured, swaying pace.
The little caravan bumped to a halt near the white concrete building of the airfield. Jazz had learned quite a bit about camels in the last three hours. First, they were deaf to all noises save those made by their master. They were arrogant, self opinionated, complacent—and they could trot.
She'd spent most of the three hours hanging on for dear life to the lurching, rocking seat while Adiva followed the swaying rear end of the other beast. After a while, it had become almost hypnotic, and by the time the airfield was in sight, she felt she was starting to get the hang of the ride. Her stomach, however, thought it had barely survived a storm at sea. She swallowed hard against the nausea that threatened to overwhelm her.
At another click and hiss from Abdul, Adiva stopped and stood patiently.
"Hang on tight," Pete called out. She was getting tired of hearing him tell her to hang on.
Without warning, Adiva sank down to her front knees, almost sending Jazz headfirst over the pommel. She slid forward on the wooden seat, adding bruises to places she wouldn't mention.
As she gasped for breath, the camel's hindquarters went down and she was propelled back to sit upright in the saddle once more.
Pete was by her side in a moment, holding out his hand to help her down. With difficulty, she raised her leg over the horn and slid into his arms. He held her, his hands strong and warm on her back.
"Are you okay?" he asked.
She'd endured the jolting ride in the Landrover, had almost suffocated in the storm, had slept on the ground in bitter cold and suffered the sickening motion of the camel. Pete had been beside her, his strong body shielding her, his good planning protecting her. For once, she'd not had to fight entirely on her own; she couldn't ever remember feeling so comforted and safe.
For moment, she allowed herself to enjoy the sensation of Pete's chest pressed against her as she felt with her toes for the stony ground. The sleeves of his shirt were rolled up to the elbow and she rested her hands on his forearms, feeling the warm, smooth skin under her fingers. The muscles and tendons rippled gently as he held her more tightly.
This is just a reaction to the stress of the situation, Jazz, she told herself. How many times have you seen this happen when men and women have come through a dangerous episode together? It was one thing she'd always guarded against.
She pushed away from him. "I'm fine," she said and removed herself gently from his embrace. She searched for words that would convey gratitude without exposing too much of herself. "Thank you for all you did. I'm glad you were with me."
She brushed sand from her crumpled cotton pants and reached for her bag. She nodded towards a small plane on the runway. "Can I take that?"
"We'll check." He took her elbow and they went to find someone who could help.
She took off an hour later in a swirl of dust and gravel. Through the cloud she could see Pete watching the departure, shielding his eyes as she lifted into the air. At least she could fly a plane, even if she wasn't much good at riding a camel.
She heaved a sigh of relief as she rose into the clear sky. It was funny how she hated confined spaces on the earth, but the cramped seating allotted to the pilot never bothered her. It must have something to do with the limitless vistas through the windshield.
Pete had given her a kiss on the cheek before she climbed into the cockpit and she'd leaned into him for one last time. "If I get to Victoria, do you mind if I call you?" he'd asked.
This was the little, seemingly insignificant moment on which her whole future could turn. This was harder than almost anything she'd done in recent years. She looked into his face. "Sure, give me a call sometime," she answered, forcing a cheerful grin, and gave him a return peck on the cheek before she turned towards the plane. (end of extract)
Trade paperback: $14.50
E book Price: $5.00
Files are delivered zipped and
If you prefer to order by mail, click here to find a printable order form.
* IMPORTANT: Please be sure if ordering by snail mail to include the title and format desired. Also include your email address so we can send you the url to download your purchase
Available in the UK from http://ebooks/whsmith.co.uk
Also available from: Fictionwise, ebookad, Handango; Bookbooters.com, bookselecta.com Ltd, , eNovel.com, LLC, KBS Books, Pleasuremix Interactive, LLC, swotbooks.com, The Virtual Bookden, Virtual Publishing Group, Inc., WHSmith Online, eBookMall, Inc
This book is also available at:
Click here to read extracts from my other e-books: