The light plane circled the small coastal town before making a perfect landing with a soft swoosh on the water. Kathy West heaved a heartfelt sigh of relief. She hated flying. The crucial take-off and landing always rattled her, even on a jumbo jet like the one she had just taken from Toronto to Vancouver.
In this four seater Cessna from Vancouver, there had been no respite for the last hour. She had white-knuckled it all the way, her hands gripping the arms of her seat so tightly they had cramped up. Barely breathing had left her light headed. Nevertheless, she felt that her efforts had not been in vain; they had remained in the air. As soon as the plane came to rest on the smooth water of the inlet, she took a well-earned breath; letting it out in a long sigh.
“Safe and sound, Miss West,” said her pilot, Red Michaels, who had informed her a minute before takeoff that everyone called him, Crash. He had hustled her on to the aircraft before she had time to turn and hightail it back to the terminal.
So here she was in Halfway Junction—three thousand miles away from her home, her old life—and David. She and David Barton were practically engaged; they had everything but the formality sewn up. As Kathy gazed out the window of the bobbing aircraft at the town she had chosen to be her home for the next year, her heart fluttered with apprehension. Had she made a mistake? In all her twenty five years she had never done anything this impulsive.
David had laughed when she told him about going out west. “Halfway Junction? Are you kidding me? I can’t imagine you anywhere but in a big city with shopping malls and coffee shops on every corner.” Her peeved expression might have caused him to temper his remarks. “I mean, it’s not as if you couldn’t do it, Kate. You could do anything you put your mind to. But why the boonies? Your life here is just about perfect as it is.” Then he gave her that dazzling smile of super whitened teeth that he bestowed on his best clients. “Plus, I’m here.”
Maybe all that wasn’t enough anymore—not for her, at any rate.
Crash opened the cockpit door and disappeared. Kathy uncurled her hands from the handles and unbuckled the seat belt but she remained where she was, breathing deeply. She felt the thud when the pontoons hit the dock. From the small window she watched two men on the wharf catch the ropes the pilot threw at them, and secure the plane safely to the wooden walkway.
“Okay, Miss West, come on out,” Michaels called from outside the open cockpit.
Gingerly, Kathy stepped to the doorway. Crash balanced on one pontoon. He held the wing bar with one hand and extended his free hand to her. “Just take my hand and jump down to the pontoon,” he said encouragingly.
She regarded him in disbelief. “Did you say jump?” She looked down. The distance between her feet and the float was daunting enough. Then she caught a glimpse of the cold blue water lapping between the two pontoons and courage failed her. Given a choice, she would rather give up her crazy adventure and go home, but that would require a return trip in this vehicle piloted by a man known far and wide as Crash. There were no good options here.
The pilot decided for her. Without hesitating, he grabbed her arm in a firm grasp and tugged her down to the float. She had to steady herself, thankful Mr. Crash kept tight hold on her. One of the men on the dock grabbed her free hand and plucked her neatly off the pontoon to the safety of the solid planks of the wharf.
if she were inclined to such extravagant gestures she would have bent down to kiss the wooden sidewalk. As it was, she had a great deal too much reserve and decorum in her DNA for that kind of emotional display. Instead, she wrapped her arms about the nearest man’s neck with a grip requiring two strong hands to loosen. Embarrassed, Kathy stepped back from the stranger, kept her head down, murmured her thanks, and abjectly apologized in one breath.
“Atta girl,” Crash said with obvious pride. “I knew you could do it. I’ve sent my share of baby flyers out of my little nest.” He gave his plane a loving pat.
Both men chuckled. “He’s right, ma’am. Crash ain’t never lost a passenger yet.”
Which begged the question of how the man acquired his nickname. Kathy chose not to go there.
Crash disappeared into the plane for a minute and emerged with Kathy’s small overnight bag and medium-sized suitcase. To her shock and astonishment, he tossed them willy-nilly on the dock. “There you go, Miss West. Have a nice day, now, you here?”
Before Kathy could react to her bags being flung about so carelessly, the second man quickly gathered both of them and set them in front of her. “Here, Miss West. I hope nothing was breakable.”
“Thank you, Mr….?”
“Josh Coulter, at your service, Miss West. Your knight in shining armour over there is Sam Greenwood,” he said, indicating the man beside her. “Most folks call him Sammy,” he added.
“Pleased to make your acquaintance, ma’am,” Sammy said
“Thank you, Sammy.” His accent and speech reminded her of the Beverly Hillbillies. In fact, with his rusty beard, straggly blond mane, and wiry build clothed in jeans and rumpled denim shirt, he even looked the part. “I’m not usually so forward with a stranger, but I was so glad to feel solid ground under my feet, and, well, I hope I didn’t offend you with my death grip.”
A wide grin revealing a few missing teeth reassured her. “No siree, ma’am. I was not offended. In fact, that is, I would be happy to…aw shucks, Ma’am. It were my pleasure, entirely,” the flustered Sammy Greenwood said, as his cheeks above the beard turned bright pink.
Josh Coulter laughed. “What he means to say, Miss West, it that he will endure your gratitude anytime, even if it does temporarily cut off his windpipe.”
Kathy turned her attention to Josh Coulter then; really looking at him for the first time. Her breath caught. He was the handsomest man she had ever seen; the classic tall, dark, matinee idol standing in front of her “at her service”. Some lucky girl waited at home for this stunning man. Kathy pushed the thought away. That was none of her concern.
Hearing the plane engine revving up behind her, Kathy turned. She was surprised that the pilot was ready to taxi out into the bay again. Sammy was about to throw the lines back on the pontoons. Suddenly she felt like the last way back to her old life was about to fly away.
She swayed slightly, and Josh reached out his arms to steady her. “Careful, Miss West,” he said softly. “Are you okay?”
No one should look that good, she thought. From his thick black windblown hair to his denim jacket and casual jeans, he was every inch a perfect male specimen.
Pulling herself together, Kathy stiffened her spine. “Yes, thank you—again,” she said.
“Is someone meeting you?” Josh asked. “Do you need a lift somewhere?”
She checked her wristwatch. Four o’clock in the afternoon. The sun was amazingly high for such a late afternoon hour, she noted. “I probably should go to the hospital,” she began.
Sammy interrupted. “I can take you there in my truck, ma’am. Are you hurt, or sick?”
Kathy smiled gently. “No, no, Sammy. It’s just that I’m supposed to see the director of nursing. I’ve got a job there. And please, call me Kathy.”
“Remind me to have that surgery I’ve been postponing,” muttered Josh under his breath, but she heard it.
It reassured her that she might not look as travel worn as she felt, which lifted her spirits. She refrained from looking at Josh again too closely. It was enough that his sheer masculinity seemed to reach out and touch her across the space between them. “Can”—she cleared her throat and tried again. “Can you direct me to the hospital?”
Sammy pointed eagerly in the direction of the townsite. “So happens I’m headed that way myself. I can take you there, ma’am. My truck’s parked over there.” He pointed to a rust colored pick up that looked like it belonged in a scrap yard, but Kathy couldn’t mistake the glow of pride on Sam’s face. She smiled. Even with the casual travel pants and shirt she wore, she was way over dressed for such a mode of transportation.
With undisguised regret on his face, Josh said, “I would go with you two but Crash is taking me to another job site.” He saluted to the hillbilly. “Sammy, drive that old crate as if you were carrying eggs, do you hear? Eggs.” Josh winked at Kathy before turning towards the light plane she had left only moments ago. “I’ll be back in a few hours.”
The words had no sooner left his lips than a huge explosion ripped the air. As the four of them stood in silent shock, a cloud of black smoke billowed up in the distance. It rose higher and higher until it shrouded the tall pine trees that surrounded Halfway Junction.
to be continued…any thoughts?