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Eye of the Beholder
By Ingrid Weaver
Harlequin Enterprises Ltd.Copyright © 2003 Ingrid Weaver
All right reserved.
Chapter OneThe pilot's blood spattered Glenna's cheek, hot, wet and smelling like copper. Other passengers screamed, but Glenna couldn't make a sound. The gun that was pressed to her windpipe cut off her breath.
"Ten minutes," the man in the cockpit doorway yelled into his phone. "You give me an answer in ten minutes or we shoot another one."
This couldn't be happening, Glenna thought. No. It couldn't be real. Any minute now she would wake up to the squeal of her alarm and the aroma from her coffeemaker and the chess problem in the morning paper and -
The pilot thumped to the floor. His white shirt turned crimson. Blood pulsed from the black-rimmed hole in his chest to form a gleaming pool at Glenna's feet.
It was no dream. It was as real as the red stain that crept up the ivory leather of her high heels. Her legs turned to rubber, but she locked her knees to keep herself upright. She couldn't fall apart. She never fell apart. She was levelheaded Glenna Hastings, always in control, no matter what problems were thrown her way. She couldn't let herself show weakness, even if her stomach was congealing to ice and bile was burning her throat.
"Please ..." It hurt to talk. She tried to swallow past the cold metal that was jammed to her throat. "Please, let me help him."
They didn't. The leader, the one with the phone, issued orders in an unfamiliar language. Two men stepped forward and dragged the fallen man to the open doorway. There was no staircase.
Oh, no. They couldn't really mean to drop him -
Glenna winced at the sound of the pilot's body hitting the pavement. Would he make it? Or would his life bleed away on the steaming tarmac before help could reach him?
He had tried to be a hero. Despite his white hair and his grandfatherly paunch, he had done his best to resist the men who had broken through the cockpit door and commandeered his plane. His efforts had earned him a bullet.
Was that what fate had in store for the rest of them? Would they be nothing but statistics on the evening news, faceless names to be read in somber tones, then promptly forgotten?
"You!" Someone propelled her forward with a rifle butt between her shoulder blades. "Stand here in front of the door."
Glenna stumbled to obey them, grabbing the edge of the doorway for balance as she glimpsed the still form below her. A whimper rose in her throat, but she suppressed it. She couldn't fall apart, she repeated to herself. She couldn't.
She squinted against the blaze of afternoon sunlight, straining to fill her lungs with tropical air that was thick enough to spoon. Through shimmers of heat, she glimpsed a squat gray building with a glass tower and a drooping wind sock. A chain-link fence separated the runway from the rest of the airport. As she watched, a white van - an ambulance - rolled slowly through the gate and approached the plane.
Her heart had been slamming against her ribs in an exhausting sprint for the past eight hours. She hadn't thought it was possible for her pulse to speed up ... yet it did.
This was the first sign of outside help since the plane had landed on this godforsaken spot. It wasn't much - what good could some paramedics do against maniacs with guns? Yet at least it was something. It meant the passengers and crew weren't completely alone. And if the hijackers allowed someone to give aid to their first victim, then maybe there was hope for the rest of the hostages.
There was a sudden spate of conversation from the hijacker with the phone. The ambulance came to a stop twenty yards from the plane.
So near. So impossibly far away.
Glenna hadn't realized she had swayed toward the open doorway until a rough hand at her elbow jerked her back. Once more, the muzzle of a gun was shoved under her jaw.
She blinked against the tears that she couldn't quite control. She didn't know the name of the island they had landed on. She couldn't understand the demands the hijackers were shouting. But she did know that unless a miracle happened within ten minutes, she would be the next to die.
She had heard that a person's life flashed before their eyes when they faced death.
It was true.
But rather than seeing what she had done in her twenty-nine years of living, she saw what she hadn't done.
Oh, God. There were so many things she hadn't yet done. She had always assumed there would be time.
Someday, she was going to put the past behind her. She would take the chance to live like everyone else, maybe even love.
Love? How could she think of love at a time like this?
Yet if she didn't think of it now, then when would she?
If only she had another chance, she would do things differently. She wouldn't always have to be the strong one, the sensible one, the one in control. She would savor every moment of the time she was granted.
Please, God, let it be more than ten minutes.
Someone began to pray aloud. Seconds trickled past. Despair rolled through the fuselage in a choking wave. Fear was a smell in the air. Hope was as distant and unattainable as bedtime stories with knights in shining armor and happily ever after. Glenna swallowed a sob. She had left the fairy tales of childhood behind a long, long time ago.
This was reality.
There were no heroes.
Barely a leaf rustled as Master Sergeant Rafal Marek moved through the undergrowth. On his belly, using his elbows and knees, he inched toward the chain-link fence that marked the perimeter of the airport. Ignoring the sweat that trickled down his temples and the insects that whined around his head, he brought his binoculars to his eyes and focused on the plane.
The wide-bodied jet sat in isolation at the very edge of the tarmac. Black skid marks on the pavement showed where the pilot had desperately tried to bring the aircraft to a stop on a runway that was never meant for a plane that size.
Flight 481 had left Jamaica at dawn and had been scheduled to land in New York eight hours ago. Instead, it had been diverted to this crumbling strip of asphalt on a map speck in the Caribbean, its tanks so empty it was running on fumes. At this point it was unknown how the hijackers had gotten past the security measures in place at the airport and on the plane. Rafe suspected someone had been bribed or coerced into looking the other way. But how this had happened wasn't his concern. What happened next was.
"Three in the cabin, two in the cockpit." The voice crackled through Rafe's earpiece. It was Captain Sarah Fox, relating what she could see through the windshield of the ambulance.
Rafe adjusted his earpiece and activated the attached microphone. "Weapons?"
"I can see two automatic weapons that look like Kalashnikovs," Sarah said with her usual brisk efficiency. "The target in the doorway has one handgun, possibly a .45 calibre."
Excerpted from Eye of the Beholder by Ingrid Weaver Copyright © 2003 by Ingrid Weaver
Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.