Authors: Lindsay McKenna
Cait moved to the next tie-back, running her fingers over the area. She looked at Dominic. “Let’s get a portable stress unit up here and measure each one. I don’t like this.”
He blew out a long breath, his hand resting tensely on his hip. Cait followed his worried gaze down to the cofferdam directly below them. “Yeah, let’s do that. You call it in. I’m going down there to check out that sheeting one more time…”
She was about to agree when a spasm of fear trembled within her. She watched him slip and slide back down the hill. A clawing sensation seared her throat, and she lurched forward, her face whitening with shock.
“No!” she screamed, reaching out in Dominic’s direction.
He had not heard her strangled cry. She watched in horrified fascination as he lumbered down to the cofferdam, entering it on the landslide.
Her breath came in sharp, unrelenting sobs. She heard Dolph’s booming voice over the staccato of rain. She dropped to her knees, a cry lodged in her throat, just as Dominic turned and looked back up the hill. His features tensed and he spun around, climbing back to where she had fallen.
She was breathing in halting gasps as he reached her side. His pale face tightened as he lifted her to her feet. “Cait? What’s wrong? What is it?”
Her fingers clawed convulsively at his yellow slicker, her eyes wide and frightened. “Don’t go—no—” she cried hysterically. “You’ll be killed. You can’t go down there. No.”
Miserably Cait stole a look at Dominic, who sat on the stool, his elbow resting on the blueprint table. She clasped her hands together in her lap, feeling sapped and guilty.
“I’m sorry,” she whispered painfully.
“Don’t be.” He roused himself, coming over and kneeling in front of her, taking her muddied hands within his. “Cait,
that fear is from the past. That cofferdam resembles a gas platform in some ways, or at least the cavern that they pulled Dave out of. Your mind sees that and you lose control. You’re going back to the time he was killed…experiencing the horror again, the terribleness of his death. You see that now, don’t you?” The urgency in his voice brought scalding tears to her eyes, and she sniffed, wiping them awkwardly away with the back of her hand.
“Y—yes, I do now. Oh, God, Dominic, every time I see you going into that—that—coffin I—I lose control of myself.” Her voice became strained, haunted. “I love you too much to lose you.—Do you see that?”
“No—no, Cait. You aren’t going to lose me, for God’s sake. That sheeting isn’t going to break. I’m as safe there as on land. You know that, dammit. You’re an engineer. You understand the built-in stress factors as much as I do.” He grabbed her by the arms, shaking her gently. “The logical part of your mind knows that.”
“Yes!” she cried, breaking his hold and standing up. “Of course I know that! But I don’t know it here!” She pointed to her heart, her eyes large with fear. “I don’t want to lose you, Dominic!”
He rose slowly, watching her grimly. “Look, it’s been almost thirty hours since you slept. I’m taking you back to the camp and you’re going to sleep.”
When Cait awoke seven hours later, Pedro drove her back to the office. Louie roused himself as she entered.
“Go back to sleep, Louie. I’ll work in the other office.”
He smiled grimly, yawning. “No way, darlin’. Besides, I got a five-minute cat nap just now, and feel better than ever.”
Cait managed a small smile, riffling through the messages and reports from all parts of the drowning site. Louie looked at her closely. “For someone who’s supposed to be in love, you ain’t lookin’ too good, Rose. What’s wrong?”
Cait jerked her head up and stared at him. “Who told you?” Her voice was brittle, almost accusing.
“Dom told me,” he said quietly. “Rose, darlin’. Relax, will you?”
“I suppose he told you about my—my fear?” she snapped.
“No—no, he didn’t. He just said you were, edgy and needed some sleep. Hey,” he remonstrated gently, rubbing her shoulder, “this is Louie, your friend, remember? Rose, what’s eatin’ at you? Come on, darlin’. Let it out.”
“If I really loved him, Louie, I would take his word that he’d be safe down there in the cofferdam. But I can’t! God, I just can’t, and it’s not that I don’t love him enough!” Her voice was filled with anguish. “I love him so much it hurts! I—I’ve never loved anyone so hard in my life—not even Dave. With Dave it was like living with a quiet, peaceful pool. Dominic is like an ever-changing ocean. He’s so wonderful. Oh, Louie, what am I going to do? How am I going to control this fear and at the same time convince him I really do love him enough to overcome it?”
“Just by the fact that you recognize the problem and want to cope with the situation. Neither of you knew it was going to happen like this, darlin’.” He shook her gently, a smile edging the corners of his thin mouth. “And don’t you dare think that he’s going to stop loving you just because of this silly quirk.”
She got up slowly, wrapping her arms around herself. A terrific gust of wind hit the side of the office trailer, making it shudder like a wounded beast. “Louie, I’d better get back on the job…assess the damage. Do you know where Dominic is?”
“Last I heard, he was at the warehouse, darlin’. Get yourself down there. You’ll be a sight for sore eyes to him, I know.”
By the time she staggered into the makeshift office, Cait was soaked to the skin. Dominic was on the field phone when she entered the small room filled with men huddled around the potbellied stove.
A small path was made for her, and she forced a smile for the men’s benefit. Dominic’s head lifted, his gaze meeting hers. He wearily replaced the receiver. Pushing wet strands of black hair off his forehead, he muttered, “Those damn tie-backs are weakening…”
Cait’s face tightened and paled. “And the hill? What’s the consistency of the earth?”
Dom looked up, his eyes hungrily taking in her entire body. “Completely saturated.”
“Damn,” she swore softly, clenching her fist. “What’s the last weather report?”
“Rain will end in another six hours. You can feel the temperature dropping, so the front’s gone by, thank God.”
He managed a sour smile, turning around on the stool and resting both arms on his thighs. “It really doesn’t matter anymore. We’re at twenty inches, and expecting three more before it’s all over.”
“And the cofferdams?” She could barely get the words out.
“The PZ-38’s are standing up to it. I have a crew going down every thirty minutes to monitor the condition of the green concrete and shoring.”
Her heart was thudding dully in her breast. “All right”—” her voice quavered audibly “—”let’s go up there. I want to see it for myself.”
Dominic looked at her strangely, opened his mouth to say something and then shut it. He shrugged into his rain slicker and threw on his hard hat. Turning to Dolph he said, “You and the boys stay here and warm up. Send men down two at a time when your break is over.”
,” Dolph agreed.
Cait said nothing as she got in on the passenger side of the truck, letting Dominic drive. It was cold.
“You all right, Cait?”
She jumped and turned, staring at him. “Y-—yes…the temperature.”
He put the truck in gear and they crawled through the shrouded morning light toward the river. “Did you get some sleep?” he asked.
“Yes. Did you?”
“No. Things fell apart right after you left.” He managed a grin. “Nothing goes right without you around,
Not a damn thing.” He reached over, clasping her hand and giving it a hard squeeze. “You know I’m going to have to go down in that cofferdam.”
It was a statement, not a question. “Yes,” she answered. “I know.”
Her eyes sought out the reddish hill above the cofferdam, trying to estimate the ability of the tie-backs to hold the thousands of tons of wet earth in place.
“Why can’t you send your workmen down there to check for you?” she squeaked.
“Would you?” he returned gently.
Cait hung her head, tears scalding her eyes. “No.—You’re not a very good leader if you can’t do it yourself….”
He braked the truck and turned off the engine. Reaching out, he drew Cait to him, his strong mouth seeking the softness of her lips.
A small cry echoed in her throat as he kissed her longingly. It was a tender, eternal kiss that left her breathless. He studied her face as if to impress it in his memory one last time.
“We’ll do it together,” he whispered huskily. “Come on.”
He kept a firm grip on her elbow as they climbed the gooey hill of earth, both panting as they reached the crest. The tie-backs stared mutely back at them, and Dominic raised his chin, his eyes narrowed, gauging the potential of the soil to push the concrete slabs over on them. Rain slashed cruelly at their faces and Cait ducked her head, shielding her eyes from it with her other arm. Her heart pounded unrelieved in her chest, and her throat ached with unshed tears, as they cautiously made their way along the temporary scaffolding to inspect the tie-back anchors.
“Here,” Dominic rasped, and pulled out a small flashlight to look for obvious stress cracks in the cable buttons.
Cait held her breath as he carefully checked each of them. “Well?”
She drew in a deep breath. “Good.”
“Move on down. The second one is two ties over,” he ordered. Her foot suddenly slipped, and a small cry was torn from her throat. She felt Dominic’s viselike grip on her shoulder as he hauled her back from the edge. Trembling, she gulped in air.
“All right?” he breathed, holding her tightly.
Her voice was unsteady. “Y-—yes. Hurry. Let’s get this over with.”
“Damn,” he growled, inspecting the second anchor point. “It contains ten button failures and twelve obviously overstressed points.”
He hurried her along the small scaffolding, inspecting each of the remaining anchors, until they were safely away from the potential landslide area.
Planting his fists on his hips, he studied the situation, glancing first at the hill and then at the cofferdam. He looked at his watch and then over at Cait.
“I have a plan. If this baby does decide to go, we might, just might have a chance of saving that cofferdam.”
“I should have thought of this earlier! Come on. Let’s hurry. I need to get to a radio.”
She sat in the cab, shivering, her arms wrapped around her as she listened to the excitement in Domnic’s voice. He was calling up four D-9 Cats to begin shoving tons of earth away from the top of the crest tie-backs, thereby alleviating some of the downward
gravity-pressure of the soaked soil. It might then relieve the tie-backs and, if they were lucky, everything would remain intact.
He hung up, grinning broadly, and gave her a sound kiss. “See what happens when you’re around? I get the most inventive ideas.”
She managed a small smile. Some of her fear was beginning to abate. His lowered voice broke into her careening thoughts. “Are you ready, Cait?”
Her heart plunged into the pit of her stomach, and her mouth went suddenly dry. He was going down there…Down from where he might never return. She turned, her eyes filled with agony as she looked across the distance. Her heart
didn’t want him to go. But her mind intruded.
Go with him. Prove your love and trust in him—. He wouldn’t go down there if it weren’t reasonably safe
“We can do it,” he coaxed softly. “Together, Cait. Now.”
She could barely hear the rain for the roaring of blood through her skull as they carefully made their way down the steep embankment. Her knuckles whitened as she gripped his forearm to stop from slipping. God, she had to trust his decision…had to go on…go down there. He wasn’t going to be killed by the landslide.
Cait’s darkened gaze swung skyward to the heavily laden clouds and then to the hill that seemed to tower over them like a giant. It looked so serene, so quiet and safe. But at any moment it could buckle…. A shiver of fear moved up her spine, and she stiffened. Dominic offered his hand as they climbed onto the green concrete foundation at the bottom of the cofferdam.
“You’re doing fine,” he whispered encouragingly, placing his arm protectively about her waist as they threaded around the rebar that stuck up like pins in a cushion.
A suffocating feeling washed over her, and she wanted to shriek. The PZ-38 sheeting seemed to close in like corrugated monsters ready to pounce upon them. Miserably she shook her head, stumbling. No, she couldn’t let her wild imagination destroy what they had just discovered in each other. There was no way she could allow it to destroy her burgeoning love for Dominic.
“Look out!” a voice screamed far above them.
Cait gasped as Dominic wrenched her off her feet, pushing her heavily against the wall. There was a shearing sound intermingled with more warning cries, and suddenly the cofferdam quivered as tons of muddy earth slid into its mouth.
She whimpered softly, clinging to Dominic as he lifted her away from the wall, nearly carrying her toward the shore wall. Wildly she looked to the right—mud slithered like a huge boa constrictor into the bottom of the cofferdam, released from the failing upper-retaining wall. He breathed in harshly. “Are you all right?”
Cait nodded numbly, her skin pulled taut across her cheekbones.
“Dolph!” he roared. He hoisted Cait above his head, toward outstretched hands. “Get her out of here! Now!”
She started to struggle, but the German’s meaty hands hooked her beneath each armpit and she was suddenly pulled clear of the cofferdam. She had lost her hard hat, and the rain plastered her dark hair against her frozen face as she stared down at the lone figure in the bottom of that hungry, insatiable monster.
She heard Dominic roaring a series of orders that sent men and machines scurrying like ants into the breach in the upper retaining wall. She stumbled backward, her hands across her mouth. She wanted to escape, to run away. But Dominic intended to stay there. He wasn’t afraid. He knew what he was doing. Suddenly the strangling cape of fear slid off her shoulders, and she was able to take in a full breath of air. Shakily she pushed the wet hair off her face, feeling her muddy fingers streak her skin, but not caring. She saw Dominic twist around, a grin on his face. He waved confidently to her and then returned to directing the men with shovels and buckets. The rain was easing now to a light sprinkle, and she turned away from the cofferdam, slowly trudging through the ankle-deep mud in an easterly direction, toward Bahia Linda.
By the time she found what was left of the path, the murky skies were breaking up in jigsaw-shaped clouds. The biting wind turned to a gentle breeze, and she took another deep, calming breath.
Despite the ravages of the torrential rains and the debris carried by the Rio Colorado, the small bay was untouched by the storm. Here and there, gray horneros flitted from one cypress tree to another, calling for their mates. Cait made her way down the narrow trail, her rubber boots making prints in the black sand as she traversed the beach to a moss-covered log at the other end of the cove. Miraculously the blue water of the lagoon remained clear of silt.
Sitting down, Cait rested her hand against her forehead, shutting her eyes tightly. Soon the sounds of peace chased away her anxiety, and she relaxed.
Her mind cartwheeled over a hundred facets of her relationship with Dominic. Had it only been a few months since she had fallen so helplessly in love with him? Where had it all begun? How had love reawakened her grieving heart and coaxed new life into it?
She thought of Dave, and for the first time there was no answering squeeze of pain. Dominic had been right—with time, the pain would leave completely, and only the warmth of good memories would remain.
She picked up a broken twig that had been torn loose in the wind. She had been like that twig—torn loose from its steady mooring in a happy marriage and cast helplessly adrift. Yet meeting Dominic had changed all that.
She looked up, watching the churning clouds part to allow a weak stream of sunlight to touch the jungle across the river. Dominic had been a light to her, helping her to realize that love did not die, that it was possible to continue living and loving.
A soft smile touched her haggard features as she stared down at the twig. Yes, love had shown both of them that it was possible to hope…to laugh…and to share the good and bad times—together. She had confronted her worst fear—losing him—and she had won. Their love had been tested early, and had held fast.
Cait was unaware of Dominic’s presence until she heard the soft snap of a water-soaked branch beneath his foot as he approached. She jerked her head up, watching him walk slowly across the beach. Her heart skyrocketed and she sat up straighter, clutching at the twig in her hand as he halted a few feet from her. He was spattered with mud, and his hard hat dangled limply in his left hand as he caught and held her questioning gaze.
Another sensation squeezed her heart when she realized he had gone without rest for almost forty hours. The enormity of his physical endurance shook her as her eyes scanned the deep lines at the corners of his eyes and mouth. Three days’ growth of beard made his features gaunt, and the rain-soaked clothing rounded out his disheveled form.