First Chapter Sneak peek at our upcoming holiday collection: Love, Christmas!
This week’s contribution comes from bestselling author, Mimi Barbour.
Frosty the Snowman…pup!
Holiday Heartwarmers Book #4
Chapter One… (Sneak Peek – unedited version)
Ice shards blew against the Cessna’s windshield and vision became limited. The previously relaxed pilot suddenly changed to a man with a mission. Tension ramped up and the earlier warm atmosphere turned cold as fear constricted throats unable to swallow.
“We’re going down aren’t we?” Hali Gibson’s voice hadn’t risen from her normal tones. Not even a little. But inside, hidden deep in her emotions, lived a wild spirit that screeched and then whimpered. I don’t want to die! Not yet. Not now!
Clutching the leather panel in front of her as if by sheer want and personal influence, she could force the noisy plane back up into the blanket of white sleet that had suddenly appeared, she clung and bit back her screams.
The pilot bellowed over the plane’s roar. “I’m afraid so. Hold on! Up ahead, there’s a frozen lake we might use as a landing strip. Maybe we’ll make it.” He aimed his voice toward her and issued orders. “Just don’t panic.”
“I never panic.” She screamed back, her eyes feeling like they were protruding two inches from their sockets.
That got his attention but just for a second. His expression fierce like that of a warrior pitted against an enemy larger than life, he yelled, “Brace yourself!”
In comparison to her own instability, she noted the giant-like man behind the controls appeared ridiculously steady. As if he’d force-landed his small Cessna in the middle of the frozen Alaskan outback any number of times. He kept speaking into his earphones giving their particulars and using the word “Mayday” to get attention.
It had certainly gotten hers. Who could blame her for thinking two voices might add more impact. Her screamed maydays certainly had more force than his.
With only a thin layer of plastic between them and the thickened white sleet that enveloped the small aircraft unexpectedly, the fragile windshield seemed totally inconsequential.
For a few seconds, Hali wished herself back in the small airport in Ketchikan and pictured a sock in her mouth stopping her from insisting she needed to be his passenger. Why in hell had she fought so hard to be here now? God must be punishing her for being so pushy.
Hali listened to the roar of the small engine working as hard as it could, fighting against the elements of nature. She decided that when one faced death, seconds lasted longer, which gave people time to reflect. Why me, Lord?
Forced to endure, she tightened every muscle in her body and prepared to meet her maker.
A humming noise from the pilot caught her attention. Watching him previously manoeuver the small plane, she’d seen the skill it had taken to manipulate the controls, hold the aircraft steady and if sheer will could force this bird through the white wall of hell, he’d be the one to do so. But damn, did he have to sing them to their demise?
What the…? The guy was singing Frosty the Snowman. Of all the crazies in the world, trust her to beg this particular Looneytune to let her come with him just so he could serenade her last moments on earth with a children’s Christmas carol.
Without realizing she would, her voice melded with his only she used the words. If it helped calm his nerves, she was all for it.
On the other hand, he hadn’t yielded to their dilemma, in fact, quite the opposite. As if in hand to hand combat with the devil himself, he fought like a man possessed. Continuing to fly blind, the control panels delivered instrument readings he needed to keep the plane from plunging out of the sky.
Tipping from side to side didn’t help her nerves whatsoever. The harsh roaring of the engines revved to ear-splitting levels. Hali supposed the reverberation had increased because of their escalating descent.
The sudden howling going on from the crate in the rear of the plane ripped at Hali’s soft heart and guilt hit her hard. Because she was a wuss for driving long distances alone, she’d decided to take this bush plane into the wilds of Alaska from Ketchikan to Juneau rather than drive the 300 miles to deliver her cousin’s new puppy. Now, because of her cowardly decision, the gorgeous animal would most likely die
My fault. All my fault. At the airport, after she’d been bumped from the regular flight, she’d beseeched this pilot to let her and the dog come with him. Seems there’s a pecking order in Alaska. If you owned the Airlines, you were first in line and could change the route anytime you wanted, even if Christmas was only a few days away. Which left paying customers angry but forced to wait for the next flight.
Hali, unexpectedly stranded, had pleaded with this man to no avail. In her excitement, she’d even dropped her suitcase which had flipped open, scattering her belongings everywhere. Like a gentleman should, he’d helped her collect her property, had handed her over underwear, sweaters, even her going-away gift from the girls at the office, which had softened his stubborn expression slightly, but he’d still refused her pleas.
It hadn’t been until the person who’d originally bumped her had his say and a large chunk of money changed hands that the tall man had agreed to the arrangement. Within a few minutes, he’d rounded her up, got them belted into the place and they’d taken off.
Now she was locked into a sardine can, with a complete stranger controlling her life and—go figure… she’d begged to be here.
While her mind was travelling through time, the pilot had pulled off a miracle. They were speeding along a stretch of ice, hovering slightly above the ground. Battered on both sides, the winds didn’t like being robbed of their prey. As the man in charge searched for a place to safely set the little plane down, he fought to keep them from tipping.
With visibility much better at this low altitude, up ahead, Hali saw what he did. There was a sheltered bay surrounded by trees. The lake looked to have less snow. And, cleared from the driving winds, the visible frozen surface invited them to drop in and stay a while.
Singing louder, blended in with sobs of joy, Hali swiped at her eyes, blinked repeatedly and watched the pilot set the plane down as gently as the buffeting wind would allow. Finally, he drove it closer to the shore and brought them to a complete halt.
In seconds, he’d turned off the motor. As if the turning of the key stopped their nightmare, it cut off their mingling voices also.
Hali watched him drop his face into his now shaking hands. Without realizing her intentions, she reached over to touch, pat, wishing she could hug. Finding her own hand enveloped in a tight grip, she didn’t move. For her, connecting in this way with another human being was a normal action and so she allowed them these magical moments before voicing her relief. Truthfully, she’d choked up and words wouldn’t be forced through clogged emotions.