Here’s a look at the beginning of Pedicures & Prejudice. Enjoy!
The helicopter lurched forward and I swore for a second that Vince was up to his usual tricks. My bestie’s husband was a bit of an adrenaline junkie. Causing his helicopter to take a dip would be just his idea of fun. But then there was rattling. And the power went out. I would never forget the all-out panic that filled me as we continued to race toward the ground. Hysteria. That’s the word I’d later use when recalling the crash. I may have screamed. I know Aria did.
Instinctively I reached for Finn’s hand. He clasped his hand firmly with mine and with my other hand I braced for impact on the roof of the cabin. My feet were pushed into Vince’s seat in front of me. I squeezed my eyes shut as our aircraft made its rapid descent.
Sweet sugar, this is how it’s going to end. I was going to die in a helicopter crash in the desert.
Finn’s grip on my hand tighten. I turned and opened my eyes, staring hard into his. His gaze was just as intense.
“I love you,” he said.
At least I think that’s what he said. It was hard to make out anything over Aria’s screams. It didn’t matter. I didn’t need to hear the words to know that my only regret in life was that I hadn’t had a chance to marry him.
The helicopter swooped and swirled out of control. Vince fought to steady the aircraft.
“Hold on!” he yelled, followed by some additional words in Spanish. Trust me, I was holding on as tight as I could.
Aria screamed right until the moment the helicopter crash landed in the brush.
“OOF!” My body was thrown hard and pitched forward, where it remained, saved by the five-point harness that I clung to like a kid on a roller coaster ride. “Get out, get out, get out,” was all I could say. I kept thinking we needed to escape the fuselage before something catastrophic happened, like an explosion. Not a rational thought, but I couldn’t blame my brain for thinking that way. My fingers couldn’t work fast enough to unbuckle myself.
“I got you, babe.” Finn was quicker than I, having escaped his harness in less than five seconds, and he helped me undo mine in a hot second. Vince apparently had done the same. I saw him kick Aria’s door open, jump out and turn around to help his wife down. Finn and I followed route and managed to safely climb out of the aircraft and stumble after them in the desert.
“Guys, everyone okay?” Finn asked, taking inventory of the group. I looked at my arms and legs as if seeing them for the first time. Miraculously, I was unharmed.
“Vince, your eye,” Aria said, her voice hoarse from all the screaming.
Vince’s face had pretty nasty-looking gash above his eye, splitting his eye brow. Aria went to raise her arm to brush his hair out of his eyes and winced.
“What’s wrong?” I asked.
“It’s just my shoulder.” I could already see a bruise forming on her bare shoulder from the impact of hitting her right arm on the door when we crashed. In fact, I was sure we’d all be sporting a few bruises, but I would take that any day over what could have been. Aria burst into tears and I knew how she felt.
My Nana in heaven was one busy guardian angel. With one hand holding Finn’s, I reached up with the other and squeezed the cross around my neck, closing my eyes and letting out a deep exhale of gratitude.
I looked over at my bestie. Vince was doing his best to calm her down, but she was getting more worked up by the second. I struggled with a way to help, feeling much the same—overwhelmed. I turned to look at Finn. He had something else entirely on his mind. He wrapped me in the most tender hug and I was sure he would never let me go.
“I thought that was it, babe,” he said, kissing the top of my head. I squeezed him a little bit tighter.
“I know.” I would have liked to stay that way, but the fact remained that we were standing in the middle of the Mojave Desert with a crashed helicopter and my hysterical best friend. I gave Finn an extra squeeze and lifted my chin to kiss him softly on the lips before letting go of his embrace.
“The girl, the girl, the girl.” Aria stammered.
“What girl, sweetie? I’m right here. Amelia’s back home.” Amelia was Vince’s six-year-old daughter, but that’s not who she was referring to. In fact, she wasn’t referring to me either. Aria pointed at the scrub brush right besides us. I spotted the brightly-patterned bag first. It looked like a purse, or maybe an overnight bag. I dropped Finn’s hand and took a few steps closer and wished I hadn’t.
Sweet sugar, the bag belonged to the body of a woman. She was sprawled out face-first on the desert floor. Thick red blood clotted her hair, and a bloodied rock lay just in front of her. There was no point in rushing to her aid. In fact, I took a couple steps back.
My first instinct was to reach for my cell phone and call the police. But my cell was in my purse, which was still back at the helicopter, and I really didn’t want to go back and search for it. I shudder to think what would happen if the entire thing blew.
Fortunately, Finn had carried his phone in his back pocket; however, the way he started to walk around in a circle told me there wasn’t much hope for a signal. And Vince was focused on trying to get Aria to calm down. Unlike me, this was Aria’s first time finding a dead body.
“What do we do?” I said to Finn. We had to alert the authorities about the poor dead girl, and our fate wouldn’t be much better if we didn’t find a way out of this barren land.
I knew it was a bad idea when Vince offered to take us for a ride. I should have listened to my instincts and not the tourist operator’s enthusiastic assurance. Something tells me his opinion was heavily swayed by the wad of cash in his hand.
Finn motioned with his head toward the base of the foothills, where another type of smoke rose steadily into the air. “What about that over there?” he asked.
It was hard to tell for certain, but if I squinted hard enough it looked like an SUV with a tent set up beside it. Who would have ever imagined that anyone would readily go camping out here? Maybe I was more of a city girl than I thought. I could only hope that the people who were camping weren’t the same ones responsible for this poor woman’s demise.
Finn and I led the way with Aria and Vince trailing after us. I noticed a sign marking the Valley of Fire Campground about the same time we noticed a couple of four-wheelers heading in our direction. In the twilight, the lights of the off-road ATVs bounced off the rough terrain. I thought back to the body in the desert not more than a quarter mile behind us and the lights riding toward us. First a helicopter crash, then a dead body, and now this? Vegas was not how I imagined it. I wondered if Vince’s SOS calls had reached anyone before we crashed.
“How confident are we that they’re the good guys?” I asked Finn.
He looked at the surrounding scrubby landscape, seemingly drawing the same conclusion as me. “If they’re not, we’re in trouble. There’s nowhere to hide.”
PEDICURES & PREJUDICE
.99 cents for a limited time