The Maverick Millionaire

By: Alison Roberts

Then they’d plucked a badly injured seaman from the deck of a yacht that was limping out of trouble with the broken mast that had been responsible for the crewman’s head injuries. The chopper was full. Overfull, in fact, which was why Ellie had been left dangling on the winch line until they could either juggle space or get to a spot on land.

With her vantage point of being so much closer to the water as the chopper had bucketed through the menacing shark-gray sky, she’d been the one to spot the bright orange bubble of a life raft as it had crested one of the giant swells and then disappeared again. In the eerie light of a day that was far darker than it should be for the time, it had been all too easy to spot the two pale faces peering up at the potential rescue the helicopter advertised.

The helmet Ellie wore had built in headphones and a microphone that sat almost against her lips. Even in the howl of driving wind and rain and helicopter rotors, it was easy to communicate with both her pilot, Dave, and fellow paramedic, Mike.

‘Life raft at nine o’clock. At least two people on board.’

‘We can’t take any more.’ It was Dave who responded. ‘We’d be over limit in weight and this wind is picking up.’

There was a warning tone in those casual last words. Dave was a brilliant pilot, but he was already finding it a challenge to fly in these conditions. Some extra weight with the approaching cyclone getting ever closer might be enough to tip the balance and put everybody in even more danger.

But they couldn’t leave them behind. The full force of Cyclone Lila wouldn’t be felt for a good few hours yet, but they shouldn’t still be in the air as it was. All aircraft would be grounded by the time they reached land again. It was highly unlikely that this life raft would be spotted by any other boats and, even if it was, it would be impossible to effect a rescue.

If they didn’t do something, they were signing the death warrants of another two people. There had already been too much carnage in this disastrous leg of the Ultraswift-Round-the-World yacht race. At least one death had been confirmed, a lot of serious injuries and there were still people unaccounted for.

‘We can get one,’ Ellie said desperately. ‘He can ride with me on the end of the line. We’re so close to land. We can drop him and try going back for the other one.’

There was a moment’s silence from above. It was Mike who spoke this time.

‘You really want to try that, Ellie?’

Did she? Despite the skin-tight rescue suit she was wearing under her flight suit, Ellie knew she was close to becoming hypothermic. Would her fingers work well enough to manipulate the harness and carabiner clips to attach another person to the winch safely? She was beyond exhaustion now, too, and that old back injury was aching abominably. What if the victim was terrified by this form of transport and struggled? Made them swing dangerously on the end of the line and make a safe landing virtually impossible?

But they all knew there was no choice.

‘Let’s give it a try, at least,’ Ellie said. ‘We can do that, can’t we?’

And so they did, but Dave was having trouble keeping the chopper level in the buffeting winds, and the mountainous swells of the sea below were impossible to judge. Just as they got close enough to hover near the life raft, the foaming top of a wave reached over Ellie’s head and she was suddenly underwater, being dragged through the icy sea like a fish on a line.

And that did it.

She wasn’t under the water for very long at all, but it was one of those moments where time seemed to stand still. Where a million thoughts could coalesce into surprising clarity.

Eleanor Sutton was totally over this. She was thirty-two years old and she had a dodgy back. Three years ago this hadn’t been the plan of how her life would be. She would be happily married. At home with a gorgeous baby. Working part time, teaching one of the subjects she was so good at. Aeromedical transport or emergency management maybe.

The fact that she could actually remember this so clearly was a death knell. This kind of adrenaline rush had been what had got her through the last three years when that life plan had been blown out of the water so devastatingly. Losing personal priorities due to living for the ultimate challenge of risking her life for others had been the way to move forward.

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