episode 1

1484 Words
The helicopter swooped low over the trees and Sara felt her stomach roll. Beneath her lay acres and acres of lush tropical rainforest, the canopy-forming a dense green umbrella that sheltered and concealed the exotic mysteries of the forest floor. At any other time, she would have been captivated by the wild, breathtaking beauty of her surroundings, but she was far too tense to think about anything except the meeting that lay ahead of her. The meeting and the man. What on earth was she doing dressed in this ridiculously hot, scratchy the suit, flying over the top of the African rainforest to throw herself at the the mercy of a man who didn’t know the meaning of the word? William Willson. Brilliant, dangerous, damaged. So many words came to mind when thinking of him, none of them tame or soothing. Shockingly wealthy and wielding more power than kings and presidents, he was reputedly so clever with figures that the financial press had likened him to a walking computer. Which didn’t bode well, Sara thought gloomily as she clutched at her seat, given her allergy to technology. Beneath her, the trees parted and a swollen river snaked through a deep gorge and plunged over rocks in an explosion of white froth. ‘He has properties all over the world—’ she turned to the pilot, seeking answers to the questions bubbling in her mind ‘—so why is he living out here?’ The pilot kept his eyes on the treetops. ‘Because the world won’t leave the man alone. He likes his privacy.’ Which fitted with what she’d heard about him. Ruthless, unemotional, unsentimental—the list of unflattering adjectives went on and on. Considering the man never gave interviews, there was no shortage of information on him. ‘He’s a loner?’ ‘Well, I wouldn’t exactly call him soft and cuddly, if that’s what you’re asking, not that women seem to mind. Being bad and dangerous just seems to bring them flocking. That and the power. Women can sniff out power from a hundred paces. Power and money.’ The pilot fingered the controls and then glanced towards her. ‘You don’t look like his usual type.’ His usual type? Wondering how anyone could mistake her for a billionaire’s girlfriend, Sara almost laughed. ‘I have a meeting with Mr. William Willson. His company put up the original investment for my business.’ And that investment had changed her life. ‘He’s what they call a business angel, but I expect you know that, given that you work for him.’ ‘Angel?’ The pilot convulsed with laughter and the helicopter swooped alarmingly close to the treetops. ‘William Willson —angel?’ ‘It’s an expression. It means that he invests in small businesses that interest him.’ And he’d been interested in hers. Until recently. The sick feeling in her stomach was suddenly back and Sara lifted her briefcase onto her lap and stroked the surface, trying to solder her fractured confidence. The pilot was still laughing. ‘Angel. I don’t know what he does to make his money but I can tell you one thing,’ he fixed his gaze on the horizon and fiddled with the controls, ‘the man is no angel.’ Refusing to let him frighten her, Sara straightened in her seat. ‘I don’t believe everything I read in the papers.’ ‘Obviously—’ he glanced towards her and the smile on his craggy, weathered face was faintly pitying ‘—or you wouldn’t be here. I can see you’re a gutsy girl with a mind of your own and that’s good, it will get you a long way out here in the jungle.’ ‘There’s nothing gutsy about attending a business meeting.’ ‘That would depend on who you’re doing business with.’ The mountains rose and dipped and the helicopter swooped through a green- clad valley. ‘And where. Not many people dare to visit the wolf in his lair.’ Despite her determination to keep an open mind, Sara felt her mouth dry. ‘You call him the wolf?’ ‘Not me. That’s what everyone else calls him. I just call him the boss.’ His hands shifted on the controls and the helicopter lost height. Losing her stomach and her nerve, Sara closed her eyes briefly and tried not to also lose her lunch. She’d never been any good on roller coasters. ‘I’m sure Mr. Willson is a very reasonable man.’ ‘Are you?’ He fixed his eyes on a spot far below them. ‘Then you’ve never met him. Hold on. We’re going down.’‘Going down?’ Sara stared at him in alarm, her worries about sickness and the dangers of William Willson momentarily eclipsed by that less than a reassuring statement. ‘Do you mean we’re landing or we’re crashing?’ But the pilot didn’t answer. His eyes were narrowed and his jaw clenched as he played with the controls. For a moment it looked as though they were going to plunge into the trees and then, at the last minute, a small landing pad revealed itself and he lowered the machine down, landing like a giant insect in what seemed like a ridiculously the small gap between the trees. ‘Not crashing, then.’ Sara gave a wobbly smile and let out the breath she’d been holding. ‘I had a mental image of carnage.’ ‘If you’re meeting with William then there’s going to be carnage.’ The pilot flicked a switch in front of him. ‘I’ve seen grown men in tears after five minutes with him. Take my advice and fight your corner. If there’s one thing the boss hates, it’s wimps. Welcome to the Atlantic rainforest, Miss Sara. One of the most endangered little ecosystems on our planet.’ ‘You’re leaving me? Here? In the middle of nowhere?’ Sara turned her head and looked out of the window and only then did she see the lodge—a building that seemed to consist of nothing but glass domes and smooth, weathered wood, it blended into the forest so cleverly that it seemed almost to have grown naturally amongst the trees. ‘Oh.’ She looked at the walkways suspended high above the forest floor. ‘It’s stunning. Amazing.’ The pilot was laughing to himself. ‘William —angel.’ Still chortling, he wiped a hand over his forehead and removed the beads of sweat. ‘Out you get and keep your head down until you’re clear of the blades. I’m flying back to Rio to pick up a package and then back to São Paulo.’ Sara sat glued to her seat, unwilling to abandon her last link with civilization. ‘You’re not waiting? He said I could only have ten minutes …’ And it was completely ridiculous to have traveled all this way just for ten minutes, but what choice did she have? It was that or give up and there was no way she was giving up. Her one hope was that he’d agree to give her more time because she knew that ten minutes was never going to be enough time to dig herself out of the hole she’d fallen into. ‘If there’s anything left of you when he’s finished, I’ll come back and pick up the pieces. Take the walkway over there to the left and, whatever you do, don’t stray off the path. This is the jungle, not a theme park. Watch out for the wildlife.’ ‘Wildlife?’ She’d been too busy worrying about the meeting to even think about wildlife. She glanced dubiously into the dense forest that surrounded them. Some parts were in total shade whereas in others the sun penetrated the thick canopy of trees and was channeled onto the forest floor like spotlights. Was it her imagination or was it all moving? ‘You mean insects?’ He gave a wicked smile. ‘Over two thousand different species at the last estimation. And they’re just the ones we know about.’ Trying not to think about all those legs scurrying towards her, Sara smoothed her skirt over her knees and wished she’d worn trousers. ‘And snakes?’ ‘Oh, yes, there are snakes—’ his grin widened as he glanced towards her thoroughly inadequate shoes ‘—and then there are the giant anteaters, jaguars, and the—’ ‘OK, I think I’ve heard enough,’ she said breathlessly, interrupting him with a shaky smile. Any moment now she’d be clinging to his arm and begging him to fly her home. ‘I’m sure Mr. William wouldn’t live here if it were that dangerous. The pilot threw back his head and laughed. ‘You don’t know the first thing about him. He lives here because it’s that dangerous, baby doll. He has a low boredom threshold. Likes to live life on the edge, so to speak.
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