Season of Desire: Complete Edition (3 page)

BOOK: Season of Desire: Complete Edition
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Don’t
speak to me like that!’ I say, anger making my voice slightly quavery instead of strong and authoritative, like I’d hoped.

There’s a long pause and then his blue eyes flicker up to meet mine. ‘I apologise if I’ve been rude,’ he says in a slow, deliberate way. ‘I’m simply trying to explain to you that there’s not much we can do about whatever Nature has in mind for us.’

‘I realise that!’ I exclaim. ‘I’m not an idiot. But you’re supposedly trained for all weathers! Your expertise is what you’re paid for, but maybe you’re not up to it . . .?’

There’s no response from him except for a small quiver of the head as though he’s making some kind of expression of anger, but of course I can’t see from the back seat. The road descends tight against the side of the mountain in long snaking curves. At its edge is a small railing, all that stands between us and the huge drop down the mountainside. The view is usually spectacular, of the valley below and the range of mountains stretching away for miles. I’m never afraid. The bodyguards are all ex-SAS and highly trained in advanced driving techniques. I know that they’re not fazed by the mountain roads, and after the first few times, the drive loses its power to frighten.

Today, though, there’s nothing to see. The cold steely light already seems to be fading and a freezing fog is swirling up from the valley below. It’s white and grey everywhere, and we can only make out what is immediately around us.

Oh God, this is awful! We must be travelling at a third of our usual pace. I’ll never make the plane if we carry on like this. And I
have
to get there!

I’m clinging on desperately to the hope that if we can just get to the airport, everything will be fine. Anything rather than go back to that house. Even if I can’t get to LA, maybe I’ll be able to track down some friends somewhere else and try and forget everything in parties and dancing and bottles of champagne and all the usual indulgences.

I lean forward towards the driver and now I can see the side of his face. He’s not like most of our guards, who are usually big beefy men, bursting out of their jackets like Incredible Hulks. This man has sculpted features, and he carries himself with a kind of elegance I don’t usually associate with strength – but he’s certainly strong. I can see from the set of his shoulders and the way he’s holding the steering wheel that he’s tough and muscled. His hair is cropped close to his skull, dappled with silver at the temples and dark brown otherwise.

I try not to sound as if I’m giving him orders. ‘Listen, I understand that the weather is not something we can control. But please – if you can – please can you try to get to me to the airport?’ I wait. He keeps his eyes fixed on the road and I can see now that he’s holding the wheel very tightly as he steers us around the endless hairpin bends of the mountain path. I notice a muscle twitching in his cheek and for the first time I feel a flicker of anxiety. He’s clearly working hard to keep this car under control. And, I realise, he can’t see the edge of the road with its little barrier, or easily make out the mountainside that usually rears up on the other side. It’s been whited out by snow and fog. All he can do is edge forwards, following the icy tracks directly in front.

‘Oh, God,’ I say, as I begin to take in the reality of the conditions out there. Protected in the Mercedes’ warm interior, I’ve been slow to understand what’s actually going on.

Then he speaks. ‘I’m doing my best, believe me. One thing’s for sure: we won’t be going back up this way again, not for a while at least.’

He’s right. I feel a little happier. If we can just get down, I can check in at the hotel by the airport until the weather improves. If I’m a day late to LA, it doesn’t matter so much. Jimmy will understand.

I begin to ask another question, even though I can sense his irritation. ‘How long do you think—’

Then it happens. I don’t know exactly what starts it. One moment we are moving forward, keeping in the furrows ploughed out ahead of us. The next, everything has changed. It is as though the road below us has turned into glass, and instead of gripping its surface, the tyres begin to slide. The sensation of movement changes completely, as if we’ve just driven onto a frozen lake and are gliding out over it. As we skim over the surface of the road, the car begins to turn of its own accord, apparently unaffected by what the bodyguard is doing with the steering wheel. His knuckles are white with effort, and everything about him shows he’s using all of his strength to attempt to regain control but we’re turning now, the back of the car inexorably wheeling round so that we’ll soon be reversing down the mountain.

‘Oh God, what’s happening?’ I shriek, terrified. ‘Turn it back, turn it back!’

He says nothing but is wrenching the wheel hard into the direction we’re spinning. What good will that do?

‘Turn it the other way!’ I cry, adrenalin coursing through me, making my hands tingle and shake while my insides whirl with fear. The car is still turning: we’re spinning slowly down the road. How long can he control it? Surely we’ll hit the mountainside or the barrier before too long.

‘I know what I’m doing,’ he says through clenched teeth. ‘For God’s sake, sit back in your seat and get your belt on.’

He’s right, of course he’s right. I’m feeling sick and dizzy, as we begin to enter a second cycle of a spin. I sit back in the seat as he directed and fumble for the seat belt. It seems to take forever to push it into place, my hands are shaking so badly, but just as it clicks into the socket, everything changes again. I feel the wheels grip the road, gaining traction as they hit a seam of bare tarmac, but it’s only for a second and then we’re not sliding but skidding over a layer of stones and grit, and a kind of chaotic force seems to take possession of the car. The loose skimming turns have become bumping, jerking, teeth-clattering madness. The white world outside the window judders past.

I hear him shout something out – it sounds like a curse.

The car rocks violently as he applies the brakes, the machine struggling to obey him against the powerful forces dragging it out of his control. Then, as panic fills my chest and throat so badly I can hardly breathe, I sense that we’ve entered another element altogether. With a sickening crunch, the barrier crumples, the road beneath us vanishes, and we’re out into the white void.

It happens so slowly, every instant dragged out to ten times its usual length, as I gasp, suck in a terrified breath and scream. I know it’s coming: an impact. I can almost anticipate the hugeness of it. I know it will crush me into my very core. My body is already straining against the belt as the car tips forward and begins to plummet. It veers wildly to one side, hits something and flips back the other way. I can see the blurry vision of the man in the driver’s seat still wrestling with the steering wheel. I wonder what the point is, and at the same time I wonder what it will be like when this long tumble is over and we’re smashed to oblivion at the bottom of the mountain.

I’m still screaming and yet inside, a quiet, scared voice is saying, ‘Will it hurt when I die? Will it be quick? I don’t want to be hurt, just let it be fast . . .’

And then another voice screams back in panic, ‘I don’t want to die! This can’t be happening to me, it can’t, I want to GET OUT!’

‘Let me out!’ I’m shouting. ‘Oh my God, please! No, no no!’

Then it comes: a huge, elemental jolt that sends me tearing into the seatbelt. A pain fills my chest and then I’m thrown upwards and into a blessed blackness.

 

When I come to, I have no idea where I am, or why. It’s as though a section of my memory has been discarded. I can remember being in the elevator in the house and here I am, lying somewhere strange, cold and uncomfortable. Where am I? And this is more than uncomfortable.
It hurts.

A voice is speaking to me urgently, its insistent tone piercing the fog that’s clouding my mind.

‘Come on, Freya,’ it’s saying, ‘come on, sweetheart. You need to move for me. We need to get away.’

I let out a long sigh and a burning pain clamps my chest. My face contorts.

‘Are you okay?’ the voice asks, a note of anxiety in its measured tones. ‘Where does it hurt?’

I feel too tired and confused to speak. I lift one hand towards my chest instead, trying to indicate that I’m in pain there. Every breath is sharply excruciating.

‘All right, all right,’ the voice says. It’s deep and masculine with something comforting in its timbre. ‘Take it easy. Shallow breaths, if you can.’

I can smell a strange and powerful scent. It has a metallic quality with notes of burnt rubber and I realise it’s fuel. I try to open my eyes. The world outside is a sharp jumble of black and white. It hurts to try and understand it, so I shut my eyes again.
Oh, I’m so tired. I want it all to go away. I want to sleep and I will too, even though it’s so cold . . .

‘Wake up, sweetheart!’ It’s that voice again, close to my ear this time. ‘Don’t go to sleep, do you hear me? You’ve got to put your arm around my neck.’

A strong hand grips my left wrist and lifts up my arm. The pain in my chest bolts through me again and I cry out, but he ignores it, pulling my arm around his neck despite my sob of agony. Then his arm is underneath me, another around my back, and I’m being lifted up. My head lolls onto a broad shoulder as he stands up, taking my weight with ease. Then we are moving with difficulty, jolting and swaying with every unsteady step. He’s carrying me through a deep snowdrift, the white blanket masking the rocky, uneven ground beneath. I shudder with cold. In fact, I’m freezing. Why have I not felt this cold before now?

We’re moving faster now, we must be out of the deepest drift. I’m being jolted in his arms as he strides through the snow, holding me tightly as he goes. The pain in my chest is agonising, each step stabbing me. There’s a sound behind me, a creaking, sliding, crunching noise, and I open my eyes and blink, looking back to where we’ve come, straining to focus. He stops and turns so that we can both watch. I can see the car now, a concertina’d, broken wreck of bent metal that makes me gasp. The black, twisted body is moving, slowly at first, grinding over the snow-covered stony ridge like a dark glacier, and then gathering pace until it slides over the edge of the plateau and crashes down a hundred feet in a shower of falling snow, hitting the white carpeted valley below. The impact sends up a flurry of snow as the car vanishes into the whiteness.

I can feel the bodyguard’s chest rise and fall in sharp breaths, and almost hear his heart thumping.

‘That was a close one,’ he murmurs, more to himself than to me.

Now I begin to understand our situation. The wild panic of those last few minutes before the car left the road starts to come back to me. I don’t know how long it has been since I felt that fiery pain in my chest and lost consciousness, but here we are now, in the freezing wintry afternoon, without our car. I’m rapidly losing body heat. One side of me is warm from the proximity of the guard’s body, but the other is chilled and I’m shaking with cold despite my puffy jacket.

He feels my body trembling and with one arm tries to wrap my scarf a little more tightly around me. ‘Is that better?’

I can’t feel any difference at all, except for a scrap of comfort from the softness of the scarlet cashmere, but I nod anyway.

He looks at me seriously. His face is so close to mine, and I can see right into the depths of his eyes. They are a bright blue with dark rims around the iris, and steely with determination. ‘Do you have your phone on you?’

I shake my head. ‘It was in my purse,’ I manage to say, drawing in enough breath to speak but not so much that it triggers the pain in my chest. ‘In the car.’

We both look down again to the place where the car landed. Only a few dark flecks on the snow show its resting place; to anyone ignorant of what it happened, it looks more like a couple of jagged dark rocks emerging from the whiteness than a buried Mercedes.

‘Right.’ He gives nothing away in his voice but I can guess that this not the answer he hoped to hear.

‘Where’s your phone?’ I ask in a husky whisper.

There’s a pause before he replies, then he says, ‘Charging on the front seat.’

‘Oh.’

‘Aye. Not ideal.’

Until now I’ve been too dazed by my situation to feel much more than relief that I’m somehow still alive after the car left the road. It’s amazing that we’re both out of the twisted body I saw fall into the valley. But as the reality of our predicament begins to sink in, I start to feel fear gripping me once more.

‘What are we going to do?’ I ask, staring up at him anxiously. I’m more awake now and more able to process what’s going on.

‘Don’t worry,’ he replies swiftly. ‘They’ll soon realise we’re not at the airport. Any moment now we’ll be missed and they’ll start looking for us. Your father is the kind of man who will move heaven and earth to find you, don’t worry about that.’

I wonder how well he knows my father but quickly push that thought out of my mind. Of course Dad will be frantic when he realises what’s happened.

‘Can we climb up to the road?’ I ask, and crane my neck to look over his shoulder at the mountain towering above us.

He glances back as well and says dryly, ‘I don’t think so. Unless you’re hiding some crampons and a few ropes in that jacket of yours.’

I see what he means: there’s a steep wall of rock behind us that disappears into the white fog that shrouds everything more than a few feet away. There’s no clue of where the road might be.

BOOK: Season of Desire: Complete Edition
6.44Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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