Season of Desire: Complete Edition (4 page)

BOOK: Season of Desire: Complete Edition
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‘Then what do we do? Stay here?’

He doesn’t answer at once. Then he says, ‘That would be sensible. The car will be warm for a while yet. If they come out with heat-seeking equipment, that’s what they’ll find. It might be more visible from the air than it is to us in any case.’

‘Visible?’ I look around at the white, misty world we’re lost in. The idea of being seen seems entirely hopeless. I whisper, ‘Oh my God.’

‘Listen,’ he says brusquely, ‘we’ve been lucky so far. We hit the plateau instead of falling bang slap into that valley – that was just a matter of a few feet. And I got us out of the car before it fell. There’s no reason why we can’t go on being lucky. If we can’t go up, then maybe it makes more sense to go down.’

‘Down?’ The idea is horrifying. ‘You can’t be serious!’ The only way I know of getting down a mountain is skiing.

He glances down at me again, and I’m suddenly aware that I’m in the arms of a total stranger, and even though he’s employed to ensure my safety, I am relying on him more than I ever could have anticipated. He blinks at me, his expression impassive. His lips tighten as he thinks. Then, without warning, he turns and carries me swiftly over the snowy ground to the wall of mountain. In the comparative shelter of the sheer mountainside, he puts me down. I’m worried that I have no strength to support myself but as I’m lowered I find that my feet can take my weight, though a cramping pain seizes my chest as I stand on the ground. I can’t help whimpering with it.

‘Here,’ he says, ‘let’s build you some shelter so you can sit down.’

He starts to hollow out a space in the snowdrift at the foot of the rocky wall, scraping out snow with his bare hands until he has made an oval shape. As he goes about it, he starts to talk in his deep Scottish burr, speaking in a curiously sing-song way that I guess must be to keep me calm. ‘So, we’re going to be found, don’t you worry about that . . . but just in case it takes longer than we want, I have to get you a little warmer. I’m going to tuck you in here and then I’m going to scout about a bit so I can assess our situation. I want to find out where we’ve fallen and if there are any easy routes out, and if there’s a wee bit of shelter in case we have to wait a while—’

He goes on but I’ve stopped listening, as soon as I grasped the fact that he’s going to leave me here in this little snow cave he’s made for me.

‘Wait!’ I cry, putting one hand on his arm. ‘You can’t leave me here!’

He glances at me and a smile curves his mouth. It’s a handsome mouth, I realise, with well-shaped lips above a strong square chin. ‘You can’t exactly come with me. You’re hurt – not badly, I think, but enough to mean you’re in no state to walk.’

‘I can walk!’ I say, panicked. I take a few steps but quickly stumble, gasping with pain. He reaches out and steadies me, one strong hand on each of my arms.

‘I don’t think so,’ he says softly. ‘I’ll be quicker without you, do you understand? Just wait here and rest, and I’ll be back in a jiffy. Don’t be afraid. I won’t leave you alone.’

‘I’m not afraid,’ I retort. It’s not strictly true but I resent the idea that I’m helpless, a pathetic scaredy cat. ‘But if you get into trouble, you might need me to help you.’

A smile flickers momentarily on his lips but to his credit he doesn’t allow it to stay there. ‘Good point,’ he says gravely. ‘You’ll just have to trust me on this one. Believe me, I’ve been trained for exactly this kind of situation.’

I look at what he’s wearing: jeans, a black jumper over a shirt and a dark well-cut suit jacket over that, a just discernible grey stripe in the black wool. On his feet are well-polished leather shoes, already caked with snow. ‘In that get-up?’ I say sardonically.

He flashes me a steely look. ‘In any get-up. Now sit down and let me get on with sorting out this less-than-desirable situation. God, look at you.’

I’m shaking with cold, and my teeth are chattering. My fingers are numb and yet simultaneously burning with the icy cold. My toes are the same inside my ridiculously thin high-heeled black boots. He steers me back to the snow cave he’s made and lowers me down until I’m sitting. Then he tucks my hands inside the sleeves of my puffy jacket – thank God I put it on instead of the sparkly white tweed I was considering – and rewraps my scarlet scarf around me tightly. I let him. I suddenly don’t have the strength to resist.

He comes down to my level, his face opposite mine. He’s serious now. Very serious. So serious that real fear swoops through me. ‘I’m going to leave you, but not for long, I promise. If you hear any helicopters, come out into the open and wave that scarlet scarf of yours as hard as you bloody can, understand?’

I nod, trying to stop myself shaking.

‘Good. You’re brave. I won’t be long.’

Then he’s gone, his dark form striding out over the snow before it’s quickly lost in the fog. I’m all on my own, on a freezing mountainside. And no one knows where the hell I am.

 

I wait, shivering, trying to recall anything I’ve learned about survival in cold conditions. I mustn’t sleep, I remember. Instantly I feel desperately tired and long only to close my eyes and surrender to my deep fatigue.

No – no! I mustn’t. Stay awake, Freya, for God’s sake.

I remember that I mustn’t drink alcohol because the sensation of warmth it gives is an illusion.

Well, that’s very useful,
I tell myself sarcastically.
Hold the gin and tonic, barman! I mustn’t get tipsy before I freeze to death.

What else? Stay warm. Stay alert. Try and give a clue of your whereabouts to potential rescuers. All I have is my scarlet McQueen cashmere scarf with its motif of black skulls. If this doesn’t stand out against the snow, nothing will. It’ll be more use as a flag than keeping me warm.

I struggle to my feet, fighting against the awful clenching pain that grips me when I try to move. What have I done to my chest? Have I cracked a rib? Pierced a lung? Displaced my heart, torn an artery . . .? Cold fear rips through me at the thought that I’m dying from whatever injury I sustained in the car’s ricocheting plummet down the mountainside. Every minute that ticks by is taking me closer to my body shutting down completely. Without medical attention, I may be finished . . .

Shut up,
I tell myself firmly.
Being afraid is not going to help. Even if I’m dying, I’ve got to use what strength I have left to help myself as much as I can. Otherwise I might as well curl up here and give up.

Breathing in short, shallow breaths to keep the pain to a minimum, I pull myself up out of the seat and begin to hobble through the snow into the open. I’m nervous. I’ve skied enough to know that there could be treacherous hidden ridges, invisible to the eye because of the effect of white on white. I might stride out onto what I think is flat ground, to find that I’ve walked over the edge. I can understand now that the bodyguard was right – we’ve been amazingly lucky. This small plateau broke the car’s fall down the mountain. The protection of the vehicle’s heavy reinforced frame meant that while its outer body crumpled around us, we were kept relatively safe as it bounced from outcrop to outcrop and landed here briefly before sliding on to land in the valley below.

As the slenderness of our escape comes home to me, I’m shaking even harder, and not just from the cold.

Oh my God. I should be dead.

But I’m not. Not yet, at least. And until I am, I’m damn well going to keep trying.

I take the scarlet shawl off my shoulders and lie it down on the snow. It takes a long time to get around it, pulling it out to its full extent. It’s about a metre square, the bright red and black vivid against the white. I’ve nothing to anchor it with, and even though the cashmere seems to stick to the snow, I worry that it will be blown away by the strong wind that comes in freezing buffeting gusts, so I gather up scoops of snow and make small mountains at each corner that I hope will hold it down. My hands are so frozen that I can hardly feel the cold, let alone force my fingers to do what I want, but somehow I manage. When the scarf is weighted down as much as possible, I stumble back to the small snow cave and collapse down, exhausted by the effort and in agony from my chest.

How long has he been gone?

It must be at least twenty minutes, maybe longer. I blink out into the fog, looking hopefully for a dark shape emerging from it, but there’s nothing. I wrap my arms tightly around myself, tucking my icy hands back into the sleeves of my jacket. For the first time, I begin to imagine the reality of freezing to death. The heat will leach gradually from my body until there will be no warmth to be had from my skin. My body will begin to close down, cutting off the blood supply to my hands and feet, and my heart will slow. Then, perhaps, delirium will come as my brain begins to lose oxygen, or perhaps I’ll simply fall into a blessed sleep that will end in nothingness.

But I don’t want to die! I’m too young!

My existence might seem futile to many people but, like everyone, I want to live. I want love, to have a relationship, to have children, to grow old.

Is that not going to happen?

I yearn to be home – even in that awful mountain retreat – with all my heart. I close my eyes and think of my mother.

‘Hey! There you are!’

My eyes flick open. I’ve never been so happy to hear another voice in my life. ‘You’re back!’

He’s there, right in front me, his face grey with cold but his blue eyes bright. He reaches out and puts an arm round me. ‘Of course I am,’ he says with a laugh. ‘Didn’t I say I’d come back? And I’ve got some good news!’

‘They’ve found us!’ I cry, relief drenching me like a wonderful warm shower.

‘Not quite,’ he says quickly, but he’s still cheerful. ‘I’ve got us the next best thing. If we have to stay out here, then I’ve discovered exactly what we need. And I’ve got to be honest with you – they’re not going to find us for a little while yet.’

‘They’re not?’ My spirits swoop downwards and I feel bleaker than I can ever remember.

‘Not till this is over.’ He gestures behind him into the white air, and I can see that a swirl of snowflakes is falling from the low sky. ‘The storm is here. That’s why we have to get moving. Right now. Do you hear me, Freya? We’ve got to go. Now.’

Chapter Three

The journey seems to last forever, but I can only register it as icy stumbling through the cutting, blinding snow. I’m feeling cold now – properly cold, right into my bones – in a way I’ve never experienced before. It’s as though I can never be warm again. The whirling snow is flung into our faces by the searing wind and all I can be sure of is the hand holding mine and leading me onwards.

At least I won’t die alone.

It seems impossible that we can survive this storm. It’s growing in strength with every second, the wind howling around us and the snow thickening until it’s like walking through stinging white water. I don’t know where we’re going and I don’t care. Then we are descending, climbing downwards somehow, and I’m up to my waist in snow, then out again, then plunging into its depths. The bodyguard pulls me out and impels me onwards, even though I’m moving in a kind of frozen trance, hardly even noticing my pain. All I want is for it to stop.

Then, after what has felt like hours, he does stop. I am still stumbling forwards and I crash into him, coming up hard against his body. I groan with agony. He shouts something but the wind whips away his words before I have a chance to make out what he has said. A shape looms up before us, but I can’t discern what it is. Then he pulls me forward and to my astonishment, I’m sudden out of the howling torrent of the snowstorm and in quiet darkness.

I’m shivering so hard I can hardly speak. I blink, looking about me, my eyes gradually becoming accustomed to the dark. ‘Wh– wh– where are we?’

He’s shaking snow from his jacket, brushing it out of his face and eyes. ‘We’re lucky again,’ he declares. ‘That’s three times in a row. We might be at the end of our lucky streak but it may be all we needed.’

I’m gazing at my feet and the rough dirt floor I’m standing on. We’re inside, I’ve grasped that. But where?

He’s saying, ‘Come on, we have to get you a little bit warmer.’

‘What is this place?’ I manage to say and this time, he turns back to me with a glowing smile that almost, for a moment, warms me with its happy optimism.

‘It’s a shepherd’s hut,’ he explains. ‘It was used in the old days for summer lodgings. The shepherds would come up with their flocks for the grazing and stay with them the entire season, before taking them back down to the villages for the winter. It’s not been properly occupied for years, though. Now it’s used by mountaineers and walkers who need a place to shelter if the weather changes. I’ve seen a few places like this in the Alps: little stone – we’d call them bothys in Scotland – one-room cottages.’ He starts to move around, looking in every corner of the small room. There’s a large fireplace on one side just by the door we came in at, and I can see the remains of a fire in it. Along the other three walls are beds or couches, roughly made from crates and planks. A small glazed window is built into one wall on the side that looks out over the mountain, but there is nothing but white to be seen beyond it. The walls are thick – the windowsill is over two feet deep – and the wind doesn’t seem to penetrate them, even though they are bare stone. On the sill are some boxes and the bodyguard is already looking through one of them. ‘Aha!’ he cries, lifting out a box of matches and a large silver torch. ‘Just what I’d hoped for. And look.’ He pulls out a laminated card with writing on it. He begins to read out loud. ‘Welcome. This hut is for the use of all who need it. Please leave it as you would hope to find it. If you can leave replacements for what you use, or money in lieu, please do. Otherwise, take what you need. This is not a place for holidaymakers but for those in genuine need of shelter, so do not abuse it. It is regularly checked. You are kindly asked to sign the visitors’ book to record your presence here. Thank you.’

BOOK: Season of Desire: Complete Edition
11.88Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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