Excerpt from Magic of the Drums
Simon stood by his plane, his lean, angular body braced against the driving rain and blasting wind. Lise clutched her medical bag and tried to still the flutters in her stomach. Her curls whipped her face before settling wetly across her cheek. She flung them back, slammed shut her car door, and moved toward Simon.
His body uncurled from beneath the wing, displeasure evident in every taut line. His brown cords clung to the muscular contours of his thighs and his broad shoulders seemed trapped in his chocolate-colored leather jacket.
"I thought you'd never ride with me again?" he growled.
"I thought so, too. But I have no choice."
"You don't need to do this, Lise."
"Yes, I do, and I need you to help me." There was an injured man needing medical attention and the only way to help him was if Simon flew her to him. Faster than a heartbeat, she added the one thing she prayed Simon couldn't resist, "I dare you."
He reached for her hand. "Well then, Dr. Dawson, you had better get in." Simon took her bag and threw it behind the passenger seat before helping her up the slippery metal step to the cockpit.
She was actually doing it. She was entering this devil's plaything in the most vicious weather imaginable. She had been concentrating so hard on getting Simon to fly her into the Jimi Valley that she'd been able to ignore her fear. Now it swept back stronger than ever.
She tumbled into her seat, the door clanging shut behind her. She fumbled for her seat belt, aware the flimsy strap would provide little protection in the event of a crash.
She peered through the window, but could see nothing through the rain streaming across the glass. Simon unfastened the ropes anchoring the plane to the ground, flung open the door and climbed in beside her. Now there was no room at all. Every inch of space was taken with the bulk of a very wet, very unpredictable male.
His shoulder rubbed against hers, setting her nerve endings ablaze. She drank in the smell of him: his hair as fresh and fragrant as jungle flowers soaked by the monsoon rains, his drenched leather jacket evoking the power of animals, and his skin musky, yet soap-clean, and warm with an inner heat.
"Ready?" he asked.
She nodded, unable to trust her voice, then she placed her hands on her lap, determined not to clutch her seatbelt.
Simon began flipping the labeled switches on the dashboard in front, so swiftly she could hardly tell where his hands had been and where they were going next. First the fuel, then the magnetos, then the master—master of what? Finally he pressed the starter and the propeller turned. There was a puff of smoke and the plane rocketed with sound, almost covering the din of the storm outside.
The plane began to move, bouncing down the runway like a tin can in a hurricane, gusts of wind rocking it from side to side. As it gradually gathered speed, its windshield wipers worked overtime.
Simon fought the aircraft's nose into the wind and pulled slowly back on the half-wheel. The plane lifted.
Lise abandoned her resolve and braced herself against her seat as the earth sickeningly dropped away beneath them. Simon switched off the wipers, for the rain now blew off the windows faster than it could gather.
For a moment or two the sky seemed lighter then Simon banked the aircraft to the right and headed into the thickest, darkest cloud she had ever seen.
"Damn!" he swore.
"What is it?" she whispered.
"I can't see a bloody thing."
"Can't you fly by instruments, radar or something?"
He gave a mirthless laugh. "I don't have radar and it wouldn't do us much good if I did. We're not flying above the mountains."
"We go through them. We have to find the gap into the Jimi Valley."
Lise swallowed hard. "But if you can't see—"
He shot her a glance. "It's not too late to turn back."
He smiled at her swiftly then turned back to his controls.
Rapidly, they approached the dark hills surrounding the long and narrow Jimi Valley. Lise felt her stillness was unnatural compared to Simon's constant movement. His one hand held the steering yoke while the other was on the throttle working the engine to its limit. His gaze alternated from the map clipped to the steering mechanism to the ground below.
Lise peered at the map but couldn't make any sense of the tiny lines and squiggles. She could only pray for safety. She had no control. Not over her life—she stole a glance at Simon—or over her heart.
Then the plane dropped from beneath them and she fell back into her seat with a spine-jarring thump. There was no time to breathe, no time to grab hold, before they bounced into another air pocket like a rubber dingy down a rapid.
Both of Simon's hands were on the controls now, working hard to keep the aircraft steady. The plane swooped and soared, wings dipping and rising.
"There!" Simon shouted, pointing to a barely visible gap between the mountains. Clouds clung to the gap's sides like barnacles to a ship's bottom.
"Can we make it through?" Lise shouted. "Is there space below those clouds?"
"There has to be." Simon gripped the controls with confidence. He did everything confidently. Perhaps that's what kept him safe. What seemed insane risk-taking to her was simply a challenge to him, a well-calculated exercise in determining what was possible. Perhaps she should stop worrying and simply trust the man.
Then they entered the gap.
"Hang on!" Simon yelled above the roar of the engine.
The clouds seemed to expand and engulf them in a black miasma of evil. Lise's lungs cried out for oxygen.
Lower and lower they plunged, tossed on currents of air sweeping through the passage. Jagged rocks loomed on either side, rocks so close she could have reached out and touched them. With one wing toward the ground, they barely squeaked through.
Then as suddenly as they had entered the pass, they were out the other side. Lise's breath escaped in a rush.
"Still with me?" Simon yelled.
"Yes!" Despite the danger, despite even her concern over the injured man awaiting her help in the jungle below, she could feel the excitement, the relief, of staring danger in the eye and winning. Maybe this was why Simon took risks.
Then, without warning, the trees and rocks disappeared. The relief drained from Lise's heart as a mist descended and engulfed them.
Simon pushed forward on the wheel and edged the plane lower, toward trees capable of piercing its fragile shell. After what seemed an eternity, the ground became too visible as it raced toward them.
Simon swerved to avoid the trees, his entire body in motion. His hands worked the controls while his feet worked the rudder pedals, and his gaze was everywhere: on the map, on the swiftly approaching ground, and then suddenly, briefly, on Lise herself.
"We'll make it yet," he said, and then he smiled, a slow, sensuous, heart-stopping sort of smile."I know," Lise whispered, suddenly trusting him as she had never trusted any man before.