Here he is, ladies and gents. Beautiful Criminal is out!
Long days, precious nights…
Mima Etu lives a quiet life with her sled dogs in the stunning Canadian Rockies. But that all changes when she stumbles upon a plane crash while out on a supply run. She’s shocked to discover the pilot is still alive—though barely. With the sun setting and the temperatures quickly dropping, Mima knows he’d never survive the trip to the nearest hospital. So she takes the stranger back to her cabin. As he heals, his vague answers to Mima’s questions about the flight tell her he has secrets. But more disturbing is the consuming, immediate attraction she senses between them.
Before he lost control of his Cessna and plunged into a pilot’s hell, Gabriel Miller was on a deadly mission with precious cargo. Now he’s awakened in the comfort of a log cabin with a gorgeous woman tending to his every need. Her soft-spoken beauty sparks his longing for a different kind of life….and it isn’t long before they surrender to a blazing passion. But their blissful days are numbered. For the owners of the cargo are bent on finding Gabriel—and once they do, they don’t intend to leave any witnesses behind.
Gabe guided his Cessna 172 Skyhawk as low as he dared over Athabasca River, headed toward Victoria, British Columbia. His boss, Colton McCoy wanted the merchandise delivered by early evening, and time was running short. Due to thick clouds and wind gusts, he’d set off from the private airport near Edmonton two hours later than scheduled, and now, as ice fog overtook the windshield, he wished the flight was canceled all together. Every muscle in his body was as tight as a drawn elastic trying to keep the damn plane level. Most pilots worth their salt knew the Great White North had a mind of its own and the weather could change from pretty to shitty in a second.
Tired of this shit was an understatement. He’d put his life on the line for McCoy too many times. He’d broken necks and busted wallets for the old man. Delivered drugs to every corner of this godforsaken earth. Took a bullet one too many times. And he was dead tired of it all. But this was his job and Gabe owed Colton his life.
An uneasy feeling festered in his gut, a warning this trip would end up worse than the last, but turning back now wasn’t an option. The cargo secured in back needed to be delivered without delay, no matter how insane the weather turned, and there was no landing strip for a good hundred miles in any direction. Which basically meant Gabe was an idiot for accepting this job—not that he had a choice.
The landscape ahead looked gray and white—the only visual cues to height and distance was the river below the mountain peaks. Flying at this low altitude was borderline suicidal, but getting caught on radar would put Gabe behind bars. He’d rather take a crazy chance than wear the orange jump suit. He’d rather die than be locked in a cell that would remind him of that cage his partner had rescued him from five years ago.
The nightmares still plagued him.
Gabe squinted to concentrate on the flight path ahead as snow hit the windshield, creating the illusion of a time-warp tunnel.
Flying flowed in his veins. His grandfather and father were distinguished pilots in their own right—Grandpa a fighter pilot in the Second World War, and his father one of the best bush pilots in northern Canada. Neither of them would be proud of what Gabe did for a living, but this was what he did best. He was up in the sky before he could walk and he loved the freedom of being up the air.
“Always fly the plane…never let it fly you,” his father always said. Those words had kept Gabe alive on more than one occasion when a flight got out of control.
He chuckled, recalling his last trip to Columbia and the ruckus ditch they’d called a landing strip. The Skyhawk came down on one wheel and skidded across the muddy runway, stopped only by a tree stump in the ground that barely prevented him from going over the hillside cliffs.
Now, as he flew low over the Canadian Rockies, Gabe realized this flight would have been a dangerous mission at any time, never mind during midwinter when his chances of surviving a crash were practically zero. But he lived for reckless adventure, always abiding Colton’s demands. Over the years, the more dangerous the job, the more excited he was to take it on.
But as the gray hairs kept growing, and his body continued aching, he wondered if there was more to life than this. More than risking his hide at every turn and living a solitary existence. More than busting his ass for Colton McCoy and his empire. The reckless need for speed and danger had already begun to lessen in his early thirties. If he could get away with it, this would be the last mission. It was high time he put up his feet and enjoyed the money he’d fought hard to earn.
A shift in turbulence made the plane jolt so hard Gabe collided against the dash.
He gripped the throttle, keeping the nose level as the engine surged with a loud roar, then eased to a low rumble. Gabe looked down at the instrument panel and blew out a curse when the needles spun out of control.
“Don’t do this to me now, baby. Come on,” he urged, patting the dash with one hand and pulling the throttle back slightly with the other. The Skyhawk was his baby. They’d been through hell and back on missions some might consider suicidal.
Chinook winds battered the plane, tossing the aircraft around like a dry leaf.
Every time he shifted the throttle another gust tossed him in the wrong direction. Left with little choice as the engine sputtered and lost momentum, Gabe opened the side window to view the landscape below. The river twisted like a snake beneath him, and on each side the towering Rockies left no room for a safe landing.
Strong winds blew snow off the mountains, creating tails of white through the sky, making it impossible to see exactly where the mountain ridges started or ended.
The engine sputtered again before the props stilled. Nothing but the sound of the wind howled through the cockpit.
Gabe held the throttle in a pointless death grip. The Cessna was now in the hands of the shifting Canadian winds. There was no time to pray, even for a man who didn’t believe in God, and he could not radio “Mayday” and risk the authorities finding him. His life and the cargo were now at the mercy of the wild.
He caught a brief glimpse of snow-covered mountains ahead, before the plane took a nosedive into the white depths below.