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The noise of the helicopter's rotor blades made chit-chat impossible. Just as well, really, because Finn had no idea what to say to the tiny woman sitting next to him. her eyes were wide, her knees clamped together, and her claw-like fingers clutched onto her seat belt as if it were a lifeline. What on earth had Simon done?
I've found a fabulous replacement for Anya Pirelli, his producer had said. Just you wait! A real coup!
Finn knew sales patter when he heard it and after seeing the goods on offer he wasn't sure he was buying. She certainly wouldn't have been his choice for a celebrity guest star.
She was tiny, this woman. A ballet dancer, Simon had said. If they were standing she'd barely reach his shoulders. Nothing like the Amazonian tennis player, with her sporty curves and long blond hair, who was supposed to have been sitting beside him.
No, this woman was so thin she was hardly there. Would probably blow away in a stiff breeze
Thinking of high winds, he turned to look past the pilot's head through the windshield. The meteorological report had said the storm would hit in the small hours of the morning, but it seemed that the fickle tropical weather had decided to kick up a spectacular welcome for them. A greyish-purple cloud hung on the horizon and the sea below the helicopter was rapidly turning dark and choppy.
The pilot was also frowning and he turned to Finn and shook his head before focusing once again on the darkening sky.
Unfortunately, Finn knew exactly what that meant. He unbuckled his seat belt and reached for his rucksack. Twenty quid said the ballerina baulked at this latest development and he'd be making his way to their temporary desert island home with only Dave the cameraman for company.
Seriously? Had Simon really thought this womanthis girl, almostwas suitable for a gritty survival skills TV programme? He caught Dave's eye. They both looked at the tiny, clenched woman sitting between them, then back at each other. It seemed Finn wasn't the only one who thought Simon's efforts at scraping the bottom of the celebrity barrel for Anya's replacement had been unsuccessful.
The camera operator began to move, too, making sure he had all his equipment with him. A fuller crew would be arriving by much more civilised means later, but for now they only needed Dave, who was used to haring around after Finn and doing daft things. Despite his grumbling to the contrary, Finn was sure Dave secretly loved it.
The tiny ballerina was watching them as if she'd never seen anyone load a rucksack before. She was completely still, and the only parts of her that moved were her eyes, which darted between him and the cameraman.
'What's happening?' she asked. But Finn didn't hear the words; he just saw her mouth move.
He pointed emphatically to the dark clouds hovering over the island getting ever larger on the horizon and yelled at the top of his voice. 'Storm's closing in. We have to move now.'
Her mouth moved again. He was pretty sure she'd just echoed his last word back to him.
'Now,' he said, nodding.
She was lucky. If he'd been on his own he'd have jumped into the water, the helo still moving. But it was too dangerous for a novice. They would have to jump, but onto the wetter end of a wide beach. Not quite the luxury of a slow and steady descent on ropes as he'd planned. But there was one thing he could rely on in his life, and on his TV showhardly anything went to plan. And that was just the way he liked it.
Finn prodded the ballerina's seat belt buckle. She just clutched onto it harder, almost glaring at him.
'Two minutes,' he mouthed, and pointed sharply downward.
None of her features moved, not even her tightly puckered eyebrows, but her expression changed somehow. Something about the eyeswhich he noticed were the colour the sea below them would have been if not for the storm. Bright, liquid-blue. The concern in their depths melted into panic.
Now, Finn wasn't an unsympathetic man, but he didn't have time to puppy-walk this girl. The helicopter needed to be well out of range by the time the storm hit. He just didn't have the time to spoon-feed her the confidence she needed. The only course open to him was one of tough love.
'Undo your buckle,' he yelled, miming the action with his fingers. She hesitated, but he couldn't have that. He yelled again, even as compassion tugged at himtold him to ease up. He batted it away, knowing from his days in the army that if he showed any kind of sympathy she might waver. Or freeze. Or panic.
He couldn't have any of those things. The lives of the chopper crew could depend on it.
Fear was still swirling in her eyes, and she didn't tear her gaze from his, but her fingers fumbled with the buckle and eventually it came free.
He shut that thought down before it showed on his face. He'd tell her later, when it was over. He used the same method of walking her through all the steps ready for their insertion as they hurtled towards their destination. He yelled; she obeyed. It was all good.
It seemed like an age before the helicopter was hovering only ten feet above the beach they'd be making their home for the next week. He jumped out of the open-sided helicopter without thinking, letting his knees bend, and rolled before standing up again. A Dave-sized thud beside him told him there was only one passenger left to disembark.
He turned back to the helicopter. She was standing in the doorway, her knuckles whitening on the edges. She didn't look as if she was in a hurry to let go. Too bad.
'Jump!' he yelled, and thrust his arms up and forwards.
Almost instantly he was hit full-force by a flying ballerina. She must have flung herself out the moment he'd spoken, and he'd expected to have to yell at least once more. It took him totally by surprise, causing him to lose his footing, and they both went crashing to the ground. He was only half aware of the blurred shape of the helicopter moving away and the roar of its blades quietening.
He lay there, breathing hard. Damp sand cooling his back and a shaking ballerina warming his front.
'S-sorry,' she stammered. She didn't move, though. Must be too shocked. Or mortified.
She needn't have worried. Finn liked surprises. They produced a delicious little cocktail of adrenalin and endorphins that he'd decided he rather liked. even when surprises came in the shape of flying ballerinas. He suddenly saw the funny side, and chuckled deep down in his torso.
'What did you say your name was?' he asked the unblinking pair of azure eyes just centimetres from his own.
'Alle' she croaked out. And then she tried again.
Finn grinned at her.
'Well, AllieAllegrawhoever you are ' He lifted her off him with surprising ease and dumped her on the sand beside him. He really would have to anchor her to a tree if the wind picked up, wouldn't he? Then he jumped to his feet and offered her his hand, grinning even wider. The sky was steel-grey and from the taste of the wind now whipping her long dark ponytail into her face he knew torrential rain was only minutes away.
'Welcome to paradise,' he said.