Once Upon A Time…Has Never Been This Hot.
Four months later...
“Hey, Faith. Better fire up the chopper. You’ve got a last minute run to make.”
Faith Anderson stopped cleaning the helicopter and twisted to look at Trent. The early September sun blazed near the horizon, casting long shadows along the ground. She raised her hand, shielding her face against the glare.
“You’re kidding, right?” she snapped, pointing at the sun. “I’ve got less than an hour of light left, and my duty day ended ten minutes ago.”
Trent shrugged. “Hey, I just pass along the orders.” He shuffled forward, handing her the sheet of paper. “You only have to zip out and pick up two geologists at the new drill site. It’ll take you twenty minutes, round trip.”
“Did you miss the part where I told you my duty day is already over?” she said, grabbing the paper just the same. “And it’s more like thirty minutes if I get a good tail wind coming back.”
“Like I said. I just pass this shit along. But if it helps any, I was told these guys are out from the head office. Might not look good if they get stranded for the night because you’re a bit tired.”
“Tired!” she bit back. “A fourteen-hour day with eight hours of slinging...that’s not just a bit tired.”
She paused and glanced over the request, relieved when she didn’t see Donovan’s or Parker’s names anywhere. But Trent was right. It’d come straight from the president of the diamond company...probably the guy’s son or something. If she let him rot for the night, chances were her ass would be on the next flight to Yellowknife. And she needed the money. It was the one reason she hadn’t quit after she’d walked out on Donovan. Even the chance of running into him or Parker wasn’t enough to compensate for the loss of wages. If she just made it through one more month, she’d have enough money to pay off her brother’s debt...and she’d finally be free.
“What the hell are they doing out there, anyway?” she sniped, climbing down off the skid gear. “I thought everything was ready to start up first thing in the morning?”
“How the hell should I know?” said Trent. “All I got told was that they’ve been checking the rig. Something about a new kind of drill bit for the core samples. Who knows? Those rock jocks never make any sense to me.” He turned, glancing at her over his shoulder. “So ya gonna go get them?”
She cursed, tossing the paper inside the machine. The other pilot was out on an overnight run to Yellowknife, and with a weather system moving in, they could get stranded for more than the night if she didn’t at least try.
“Fine. But that means I’m limited to eight hours duty time tomorrow. And if the damn sun sets before I get back, I’m so getting overtime for this shit.”
“Right,” he smirked. “I’ll mark it all down on the log sheet.”
“I mean it, Trent. Eight hours tomorrow!”
Trent chuckled and left, humming quietly as he headed towards the mess hall.
She cursed under her breath when her stomach growled—she hadn’t had dinner yet, either. She climbed into the machine, wondering if Trent had planned this on purpose and began pushing in circuit breakers and flipping switches. The loud whine of the motor lit the air as she pressed the starter and engaged the engine. The helicopter sprang to life, rocking back and forth as the rotors gained speed, blasting the ground with a steady wash of air. She shook her head, slipped on her helmet and checked the gauges, running through the final series of checks.
She pushed the talk button, lifting the chopper into a graceful hover. “Traffic, helicopter alpha—papa—romeo departing MacKay camp, heading west for drilling station delta. Climbing to fifteen hundred.”
Empty static hissed back as she shifted the machine forward, rapidly gaining speed. She didn’t expect a reply, but on the off chance there were other aircraft in the vicinity, at least they’d be on the lookout for her.
Faith banked to the left, skimming over the mess tent as she headed out across the desolate terrain. If her dinner plans had been spoilt, she could at least hope to rattle a few dishes as she left. A satisfied smile touched the corners of her mouth as she flew across the landscape, nothing but the constant hum of the helicopter to keep her company.
“I’m so done with this bush shit,” she said, checking her gauges as she levelled off, scanning the horizon for other aircraft. “Five years is more than enough. I need a better job.”
What she needed was to be around men who didn’t punch her in the arm as they walked by and who stared at more than just her breasts when they talked to her. What she needed was a life.
Faith sighed as memories of Donovan skipped through her mind. She couldn’t deny the pang of longing that settled between her legs, or the tumbling feeling in her stomach as her chest clenched so tight she found it difficult to breathe. Four months alone, and she was still hopelessly in love with him.
You mean with them.
She shuddered at the thought, not sure what to make of it. She hadn’t realised how ingrained Parker was in her life until she’d left them both behind. Missing Donovan was a given, but the hollow feeling in her heart whenever Parker’s face materialised in her head didn’t make any sense. Surely she hadn’t developed feelings for her lover’s best friend?
He was waiting for us, in our bed.
Donovan’s words echoed in her mind, bringing the familiar inklings of doubt. She’d never considered the possibility of a different kind of relationship, and a part of her wondered if she walked out on her greatest adventure? Since that night, she’d nearly called him on several occasions, but had hung up before the line had connected. What do you say to a man who pushed your very limits, but offered his soul in return? It was obvious he and Parker had been keeping something from her, and if there was one thing she couldn’t sanction, it was lying. She was still paying for her brother’s lies, and that kind of disappointment lasted a lifetime.
A single tear pooled at the corner of one eye. She’d thought Donovan would’ve at least tried to contact her...make her listen to his explanations. But she hadn’t received so much as an angry email from him, and that only confirmed the nagging feeling swirling in her gut. He hadn’t been in love with her, and the sooner she accepted that and moved on, the better.
Pain punched through her heart at the thought, and she tried to distract herself with the passing scenery. Just her luck, she’d get off track and have to spend the night in the helicopter. She sighed, checked her instruments and gazed down at the ground. An endless blur of spiny trees and rocky earth passed beneath the bubble, making her feel lonely and small. She used to love the vast expanse of land, but now it only reminded her of everything that was wrong in her life...how she didn’t have a life.
A strong gust of wind buffeted the aircraft, dropping it a hundred feet. Faith tensed, dragging her thoughts back into the cabin. She looked at the horizon, cursing the band of clouds building ahead of her. Pockets of visible rain loomed over the flatlands periodically illuminated by flashes of bright lightning. She glanced at the map, gauging the distance to the small drilling station. It’d be tight, but she might be able to get back in the air before the storm reached the clearing.
Faith pulled more pitch and pushed the nose forward, gaining speed. It would only buy her a few minutes, but that might be all she’d need. The helicopter shimmied in the gusting wind, making her grateful she’d missed dinner. As strong as her stomach was, the constant turbulence grated on her nerves.
She cursed and lowered the machine, skimming across the treetops. An opening in the landscape blossomed into view, marking the cabin’s location. She lowered the power, broadcasting her intentions out across the radio as she readied the chopper for landing. Large drops of rain splattered on the bubble, distorting her view as she bled off the remaining airspeed and settled the machine across the small log pad. A flash of light flickered across the sky, followed by a low rumble.
She shut the machine down, not willing to chance the gusting winds. The men hadn’t so much as glanced out of the cabin windows, adding to her growing tension. If they didn’t get airborne before the edge of the storm passed over, they’d all be stuck for the night.
Faith jumped out of the helicopter, secured one of the blades as it slowed to a stop and grabbed the rifle out of the baggage compartment. While it was only sixty feet to the cabin, she never left the machine without it. Grizzlies were unpredictable this time of year, and she wasn’t in the mood for any more delays. She shielded her face against the onslaught of wind and rain, and ran for the door. How the guys hadn’t heard the chopper land was a mystery to her, but she’d tanned their hides if they weren’t ready. They had five minutes—ten tops— to beat the weather before they were trapped. And as nice as it’d be to spend a night away from the camp, holing up in a drilling rig with two silver-spoon mama’s boys wasn’t her idea of fun.
She yanked open the door and stomped her feet on the rough, burlap mat as she stepped into the cabin, slamming the door shut behind her. “Why the hell aren’t you boys geared up and ready?” she snapped, leaning the rifle against the wall as she rounded the small corner that led into the main area. “I swear. I’ve already had to extend my duty time— if you guys strand me out here all night, I don’t care who your daddy is, I’ll...”
Her voice faded into a stunned silence as she stopped dead, staring at the dimly lit room. Dozens of candles wavered in the growing darkness, their tiny flames creating pockets of warm light, bathing the room with a cosy glow that made the shadows on the walls flicker and dance. A large blanket had been wrapped around the rig, hiding the dull metal and keeping the draughty air from swirling about the room. A small table and three chairs had been squeezed into one corner, while an oversized bed dominated the other. Pillows spilled across the duvet adding depth to the already thick mattress.
A flash of movement caught her eye and she turned as a shadowy figure stepped out from behind the rig, his brown hair flecked with red from the muted light. The tight feeling in her chest increased, and she blinked, not sure how she stayed on her feet as a wide smile broke across his face.