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Charlotte Howard

Stranded - Text copyright © Charlotte Howard 2018

Editing, cover art, and formatting by Emmy Ellis @ © 2018

All Rights Reserved

Stranded is a work of fiction. All characters, places, and events are from the author’s imagination. Any resemblance to persons, living or dead, events or places is purely coincidental.

The author respectfully recognises the use of any and all trademarks.

With the exception of quotes used in reviews, this book may not be reproduced or used in whole or in part by any means existing without written permission from the author.

Warning: The unauthorized reproduction or distribution of this copyrighted work is illegal. No part of this book may be scanned, uploaded, or distributed via the Internet or any other means, electronic or print, without the author’s written permission.

Chapter One

Sara closed her eyes and took a deep, soothing breath. She listened to the sound of the waves crashing against the shore and the call of the gulls swooping through the air. She inhaled the salty scent of the tides that drifted on the breeze.

“Ow! What the fuck?” Opening her eyes, she glared at the man kneeling beside her, with her swollen, enflamed ankle in his hand.

When she’d first met Kai, she’d thought he was a Polynesian Adonis, with his wavy black hair tied into a high bun and loose tendrils just touching his broad, sun-kissed shoulders. Tribal tattoos covered his left shoulder and biceps, spreading across his neck, chest, and back. Now, she thought he was some kind of sadomasochist.

“I don’t think it’s broken, so we’ve got that going for us.” He sank back into the sand and touched the wound on his temple, examining the sticky red residue on his fingers.

“And who made you a doctor?” Sara snapped. “You can’t even fly a fricking helicopter!” She jerked her head in the direction of where the metal and plastic wreckage had sunk into the depths of the Pacific Ocean.

“Hey! I can’t predict a fuse blowing.”

“Don’t you check your machines ahead of flying or something? Like, I dunno, a safety check?” She seethed as the pain shot from her ankle up her leg. When she’d jumped from the chopper, she’d landed on a rock beneath the water, slipping and crashing into another.

“Be grateful I know how to auto-gyrate. If we’d been any lower–”

Sara shot a look at him. They were lucky to be alive. She leaned forward to rub at the sore spot. “We’re going to die,” she cried, tears falling down her cheeks. Her dream Hawaiian holiday had become a nightmare.

“No, we’re not. I sent a mayday before the electrics cut out. Chances are good the coastguard are already on their way.”

“And if they didn’t get it?”

“Worst case scenario? Nobody notices we’re missing until this evening, and then the coastguard will come looking. Nevertheless, we should make a shelter and find water.” He glanced around them, Sara following his gaze.

If it wasn’t for the fact that they were stranded and had no way of making it back to civilisation, especially with her injury, she’d have thought that where they were was beautiful. The white sands gave way to a leafy line of palms and other dense vegetation climbing up the side of a high mountain.

“At least we won’t starve.” Kai nodded at the trees heavy with coconuts.

“Where are we?”

“One of the smaller islets in the atolls,” Kai said. “Helicopters fly over all the time with tourists. We’ll make a fire, and maybe one will see us.” He reached for the khaki rucksack he’d had the sense to grab prior to climbing out of the sinking helicopter and tipped the contents onto the sand—a small green plastic box with a white cross painted on the front, a bottle of water, and an energy bar. “Shit,” he said on a hushed breath.

“What? We can use this, right? I mean, we have a first-aid kit and water.”

“One bottle isn’t going to last us very long, not in this heat. We must have lost the rest…” He examined the bag and stuck his hand through the jagged hole at the bottom. “Fuck.” He glanced over his shoulder at the shoreline. Debris had arrived with the ebb and flow of the tide, along with an oily rainbow. “So much for the conservation programs,” he muttered, rising then moving towards the water.

Sara flopped back on the sand. “This is all his fault,” she muttered to herself, cursing her ex-fiancé, Miles. If he hadn’t jilted her at the altar, she wouldn’t have taken her sister’s advice to go alone on the honeymoon. If she hadn’t been on her own, she wouldn’t have taken the damn helicopter flight. Miles wasn’t the best flyer anyway, so a helicopter tour would have been out of the question. But he wasn’t with her. He was with Tara. The name left a bitter taste in her mouth. Bile rose in her throat at the thought of her boyfriend—her fiancé—with that bitch of a chief bridesmaid. “Bastard,” she cursed, peering up at the blue sky and the one white wispy cloud that floated past.

The sound of snapping branches caught her attention. She looked back to see Kai had moved up the beach from the water and free-climbed a leggy palm. He dropped fronds and coconuts down to the sand. The sun glinted on his bare skin, and his back muscles rippled with each tug and pull that he gave the trees.

“What are you doing?” she called, lifting a hand to shade her eyes, her sunglasses lost at sea, along with everything else in her bag.

He scrambled down the trunk and stripped away the thinner leaves, adding them to a pile beside a stack of driftwood.

“Let me help…” Sara tried standing, but the pain in her ankle was too much and she collapsed with a groan back onto the sand in a pathetic heap.

“Here…” Kai rushed to her aid. “Let me help you.” He scooped her into his arms and carried her up the sand, nearer to where he’d been working.

She wrapped her arms around his thick neck and inhaled the scent of sea salt and sweat from his skin. It was all very masculine. Miles would never have been caught half-naked, climbing trees and building fires. He’d have sat on the beach and waited for the coastguard, or even a passing boat, to eventually arrive. But Kai? He was a take-charge man.

“Thank you,” she said when he put her down.

“Let me take another look at that ankle.” Carefully, he lifted her foot and balanced it on his leg. “Looks like it’s swelling.”

“What about you?” Sara sat up and moved aside the strands covering the cut on his hairline.

“It’s just a scratch. You know, we were both pretty lucky to get out of that with minor injuries.” He opened the first-aid kit, took out a bandage, and wrapped it around her ankle. “I think it’s just a bad sprain. I’m not a doctor,” he said with a wink, “but you should keep your weight off it.”

“I wasn’t planning on hiking out of here.” A nervous laugh edged her words, and she caught the glimpse of a smile flickering across Kai’s lips.

“No, but I do need to find us some fresh water and real food. Even if my mayday got through to the authorities, it could be hours before they find us. Are you allergic to anything?”

Sara shook her head. “I don’t think so.”

“Tylenol?” He snapped open a plastic cap and passed her a couple of white tablets and the water.

She swallowed them down with a swig and handed the bottle back to him.

He took a drink for himself then recapped the bottle. “We need to ration it in case I don’t find any, although there are plenty of coconuts. Are you going to be okay while I go and have a look around?”

“What if you get lost?”

“I won’t.” He smiled as he folded up the rucksack and placed it under her foot, but his reassurance was lost.

Her stomach twisted at the thought of being alone. Still, she pinched her lips together and gave him a nod.

Kai reached out and swept a stray strand of blonde hair behind her ear. “I won’t be long. When I get back, I’ll start making a shelter. Stay in the shade for now, but watch out. You don’t want a coconut landing on your head.”

“What will you carry the water in?” she asked.

“I need to find it first.” He stood and brushed off the sand from his arms and legs. “If you get thirsty, take small sips. You might be in shock, even if you don’t realise it yet. Drinking too much, too quick, could make it worse.”

“Okay.” She nodded.

“And don’t go anywhere.”

Sara snorted and laid back, resting her head against her folded arms. She listened to the snapping branches and shuffling leaves while Kai made his way through the undergrowth. Soon there was only silence and the natural sounds of the island—squawking birds, the crashing waves, the breeze through the foliage… It was the kind of place she’d seen on TV, in the movies and on social media posts: What would you do if you were stranded on this piece of paradise?

Well, now she knew. She’d visualise her own funeral and imagine her friends and family burying an empty casket, while she festered and burned on her piece of paradise.

Tears welled in her eyes, and she wished she was back in her Seattle apartment, listening to screaming sirens and blaring horns through her windows.

She cursed Miles and Tara. If it weren’t for them, she wouldn’t be here now.


Chapter Two

Kai broke through the thick jungle growth and stood in awe of the sight ahead of him. He was a native Hawaiian and had spent his entire career flying around the archipelago yet he’d never seen anything like this.

Fresh water streamed down the face of the extinct volcano, splashing into what looked like a shallow lagoon. It was so clear the sand and stones were visible beneath its surface. Honeycreepers and finches flitted from branch to branch, their bright plumage shimmering under the sun’s bright rays.

This was a piece of Heaven, untouched by man, and he wondered if any of the birds were on the endangered species list or if they’d even been discovered yet. He felt like an intruder, an unwanted Peeping Tom, spying on an unknown civilisation. It would have been wrong for him to disturb their way of life, but he and Sara needed water and food. He had no idea if his message had reached Oahu, or anyone for that matter. He didn’t know how long they’d be stranded there.

Slowly, he moved away from the utopian scene and made his way back to the shore, where his passenger, his responsibility, waited for him. He thought the worst when he saw her lying on the sand, her eyes closed and her body completely still. His first-aid training was limited, but he didn’t think her ankle was broken, but there could be internal bleeding.

“Sara?” He winced and hissed a breath as his head throbbed. He’d hit it quite hard on the glass when the helicopter had veered to the side, hard enough to fracture the window. But his mom had always said he had a thick head. “Sara?” he repeated, louder this time.

She murmured something, her head rolling from side to side. Shock? Heatstroke? It could be anything.

“Sara!” He grabbed her shoulders and gave her a shake.

“What?” She opened her eyes and sat up, clutching at her head and then at her ankle. “Fuck… What happened?”

“I don’t know.”

“I must have fallen asleep. My throat feels like it’s on fire,” she complained with a scratchy voice.

“Here. Have some water.”

He held the bottle to her lips, and she drank from it gratefully.

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