Read an excerpt from Chocolate & Sensibility
A short sweet Novella you can start on your coffee break and finish before bed
The last thing Sophia Perkins expected to do today was to tuck her head between her knees and prepare for the possibility of a crash landing. Damn her father for insisting he could fly from the mainland ahead of the storm.
With her arms wrapped around her legs, she remained calm and dared to raise her head for a moment. Pellets of rain slammed against the triple layer of plexiglass. From this altitude, only the tops of the giant Kapok trees were visible through the torrential downpour that blanketed the rainforest canopy. Their tall branches reached out for the small propjet, beckoning it closer to the dense landscape of the Pacific foothills of the island below.
Below, a barely visible strip of a runway cut through the thick rainforest of Ocino Cacao Plantation. Under normal weather conditions, landings were often turbulent. A fraction off when landing, and the plane with everyone on board would become a tangled mess in the undergrowth. Today's unexpected storm increased the odds of miscalculating the landing.
Even for Sophia, who had flown on and off of the island many times, this flight from the coast of Ecuador was the worst she had experienced in a long time. She empathized with the other passengers, four members of a TV production crew that included Lily Peradou, the host of The World is Your Truffle.
The ground came up fast and the sound of thunder rattled around the plane. The motionless propeller on the left wing reminded anyone who dared to look of the power of the storm. A flash of lightning had engulfed the plane shortly after takeoff. It took out the propeller, and God only knew what else. With conditions worse behind them, her father, the pilot, had decided against turning back.
At the time it had been the right call, but now, as the storm worsened, her father assured everyone the crash position was only a precaution for landing.
"I hope we won't have to toss any of my camera equipment off this plane," Al, the TV crew’s cameraman, expressed his concern that they might have to lighten their load.
Once again, her father reassured them. "No worries back there," he announced loud and full of confidence. "All that heavy TV production equipment you crammed into the cabin has no effect on this plane staying in the air. This propjet may be small, but has less moving parts than a big commercial airline. We'll easily land on the one engine - even in this storm."
Sophia suppressed a laugh. Just like her father to make light of any situation.
"You look fairly calm. Do you fly in this kind of weather often?" Seated next to her, Lily Peradou took a long deep breath.
"Only in the rainy season. It's just stared." The plane swayed and rattled along with Sophia's nerves. The little plane felt like it was about to roll with the wind. No reason to alarm Lily. Sophia offered a silent prayer that nothing in the cockpit had been taken out when the lightning struck.
She kept up the idle chatter not only to distract Lily, but also to keep herself from thinking about the windy, wet mess outside. "Once we get through this, you'll appreciate the good side of the rainy season."
"There's a good side to all this rattling and shaking?" Lily's voice quivered as they flew through a large cloud filled with storm wind.
"I can’t guarantee a good hair day with all the rain and humidity, but it will cool off." Sophia twisted her long hair to the side.
"We’ve been filming cacao farms all over the world for a year now. The one thing I learned my first week on this shoot is that the rainforest is unforgiving when it comes to your hair." Still bent over in crash position, Lily removed her baseball cap, revealing her pink spiked hairdo. "No worries. My hair is wash and go."
"Great haircut for a humid climate." Sophia held her emotions in check, forcing a smile in spite of their situation.
"Anyone listening to us would think we're crazy," Lily said. "Who talks about hair at a time like this?"
"I hear you ladies." Across the aisle, Al sat straight in his seat. His camera lens focused on them. "The viewers will love it. Smile, girls. Unexpected events like this make for great TV."
"Yeah, right," Lily said. "They'll find your cassette alongside the elusive black box."
"There's no need to worry about searching for black boxes." Sophia might not have voiced her thoughts so vividly, but they were along the same line as Lily's. Was this really the time to start filming?
Al obeyed and tucked his camera securely between his legs before resuming crash position.
It was easy to understand why Lily was such a popular TV host. She was living proof a woman could be strong and independent without sacrificing her gentle side. Her crew proved their loyalty by traveling with her to the far corners of the earth. The ratings were proof her fans loved her.
Sophia understood the Ocino's interest in the show and its charming host was about more than the publicity it would bring to their chocolate plantation. Their business connection to Lily's family, Peradou Chocolate went way back.
They say your life flashes before you in situations like today's. Sophia closed her eyes and pictured her first landing on the island. She was twelve years old at the time, and had already lived in twenty different places, never belonging in any of them. From the window of the plane, she had seen a wild boy sprinting along the narrow path between the rainforest and the runway. From that day on, the boy, Luis Ocino, became her best friend, and the rainforest her home.
Her only time away was when she and Luis had left the island to attend college in the States. Lily returned with a PhD in horticulture. By that time, Luis already had a position with a prestigious New York law firm. Oddly enough, the firm was on retainer for Peradou Chocolate.
Even though Luis never gave her any reason to believe otherwise, Sophia often wondered if he and Lily ever had been more than friends. Around the same time Luis gave up his lucrative practice to return to the island, rumors hit the chocolate world that Lily Peradou had alienated herself from her famous family.
The plane vibrated along with an announcement from her father, shaking her thoughts back to the present precarious situation.
"We’ve got a slight problem. It seems the lightning blew the light which tells me if the landing gear are all working," the major said loud and clear over the rattling and shaking.
There was a simultaneous gasp from the passengers.
Lily reached for Sophia's hand.
Sophia didn't want to like Lily, but she did. She wanted to find a fault that would make her less valuable to Luis and his family, but Lily's family had connections in the chocolate world that had a lot to offer the Ocinos. A match between her and Luis could create a conglomerate that would dominate the chocolate world. Even if Lily was no longer close to her family, she was still a Peradou.
"What your father just said, that's bad, isn't it?" Lily's voice cracked.
"Don't worry. He'll figure it out," Sophia grasped Lily's hand. She had suspected something else was wrong. At this point, her father would usually be on the intercom joking with the passengers, telling them stories about his life since they had come to the rainforest. Her own palms were starting to sweat, but she felt a responsibility to the other passengers. "He flew lots of combat missions in Viet Nam. This is nothing compared to the stories he's told about avoiding enemy fire."
Still incredibly calm, the major announced, "I've signaled ground control. I'm going to fly back over once. Let's hope the landing gear is visible to whoever is on the ground."
"How can they see through all this rain?" Lily asked.
Sophia was well aware of the poor visibility. The rainforest had its own set of rules. It wasn't unusual to get lost in a sudden downpour when all you could see was what was smack up against you. She had no answer for Lily.