Pregnancy of Revenge(60)

By: Jacqueline Baird

The sun was low in the sky when she awakened and, rising off the bed, she straightened her T-shirt and slipped her feet into white canvas loafers. She was thirsty and, running a hand through her dishevelled hair, she headed for the kitchen. A glass of juice would be good.

She filled a glass, drained it thirstily, and replaced the glass on the bench. Idly she looked around and wondered where everyone was. She strolled out onto the patio, and heard the sound of voices raised in what sounded like argument and the plaintive cry of some animal in distress. Walking around to the rear of the house, she glanced between the clutter of outbuildings to the rock garden and cliff beyond that provided a natural security barrier to the outside world, and her mouth fell open in shock.

Marta was at the entrance to Aldo' s cave and crying her eyes out. Tomas was trying to comfort her, and Marco was speaking on a cell phone. The other security man from the gatehouse was surveying the cliff face.

Charlie heard the cry again before she reached the others, and as she lifted her head her heart turned over with shock. It wasn't an animal, but Aldo.

A couple of feet from the cave was a deep narrow fissure in the rock that widened out some twenty feet up and reached almost to the top of the cliff. Aldo had somehow managed to climb to where the gap widened and a narrow ledge protruded slightly. A colourful kite was visible on the ledge, no doubt Aldo' s reason for the dangerous escapade. Unfortunately, with his small hands gripping the slight overhang and unable to haul himself up, he appeared to be stuck.

Tomas was struggling to climb up the fissure, but he was too large. Swiftly assessing the situation, Charlie did not hesitate. All three of the men were far too large to navigate the narrow chimney, and hastily she explained to Marco, who spoke the best English, what she was going to do. He tried to argue that the rescue team were on their way. But one glance at the perilous position of Aldo told Charlie they might be too late and she said as much, adding as reassurance, 'I am an expert rock climber and I free climb for fun. Trust me.'

And seconds later she began to climb. Looking up, she cried words of encouragement to Aldo. She had no doubt she could reach him—she had to. But she had grave doubts that she could get him back down safely. Her expert eye quickly concluded the ledge was her best hope. With luck she could lift him onto it and wait for the rescue service.

She quickly realised how Aldo had managed to get so far.

The first fifteen feet were quite simple, providing a choice of finger and toe-holds. But she was a good deal larger than him and as she grazed her thigh, her knees and her back she cursed the fact she was wearing shorts and canvas shoes. As she got higher and the fissure widened again, she felt the sweat break out over her whole body as she struggled to find finger holds.

She paused for breath and thought of her unborn child, praying her exertions would not cause any harm. With one hand she sought the next hold, a tiny gap. It was big enough for Aldo' s small fingers but she had to grasp it with her fingertips. Her knuckles white with the strain, she hauled herself up a little further. She chanced a brief glance down and they were all staring up at her, degrees of fear on their faces. She forced a confident smile to her lips for Marta' s benefit, and then searched for the next hold, vaguely registering the sound of a racing car and sirens in the distance.

Her chest heaving, she looked up at Aldo. 'Keep still, stay still, Aldo. Fermaressere , , she called softly and hoped it was the right word—she didn't want him any more frightened than he already was. Taking a deep, ragged breath, her heart pounding fit to burst, she made one final effort. Legs and arms aching, she struggled on until she was alongside him.

'Charlie.' He stared at her, his dark eyes terrified and his little face streaked with tears.

'Don't move, it's all right. I'm here.' Using all the skill of years of training, she found toe-holds either side of him, her own body covering his, and with her superior height and reach she curved one arm over the ledge, her long fingers searching to find the safest grip.

This was the difficult part, Charlie knew. She could simply hang there and wait for the rescue service—but if he panicked and let go, would her body take the weight? She doubted that would work, because any sudden movement on Aldo' s part would probably dislodge her. The alternative was to tighten her grip on the ledge with one hand and hope to push him up and onto the ledge taking his weight at her own time.