Adrenaline Search & Rescue - 1
Wonderful people have encouraged me at every step of this adventure. Anne Scott brought me into the publishing world and guided me through everything from track changes to how to fill plot holes. Bree Bridges and Donna Herren have been my sounding board (or two by four) as needed. Maya Banks’s encouragement to try something new came at just the right time. My agent, Kim Whalen, is a rock star in her own right, not even blinking when I submitted a “so, I kind of have an idea, what do you think?” proposal. And now the team at Berkley lifts me to new heights: Cindy Hwang is every bit as amazing as I’d heard. The art department has brought Marcus and Becki to life.
To every one of you: Thanks for sharing your skills and cheering me on.
Grand Teton, Wyoming
Thick fog enveloped her, fading the brilliant green needles of the nearby spruce to a nondescript grey. Becki adjusted her grasp on the climbing rope, reset her feet. Worked to steady the rolling in her gut.
“You ready? Sometime today would be great.” Dane’s teasing tones removed the sting from his words.
“Bastard,” Becki muttered as she peered over her shoulder in yet another futile attempt to find a safe path off the mountainside. What she needed was for the dense cloud cover that had rolled in out of season and out of nowhere to vanish.
“I heard that.”
She snorted in spite of the fear tangoing in her veins. “Bastard with Superman hearing. Good for you.” She squinted, then opened her eyes as wide as possible. It was no use. “Dane, I can’t see a bloody thing. I could be on route, or hanging over a thousand-foot free fall for all I know.”
“You want me to go first?”
Now he offered. “You couldn’t have said something fifteen minutes ago? Jerk.”
He laughed. The familiar sound warmed her in spite of the tension there’d been between them the entire weekend. She and Dane had been climbing partners and lovers for long enough to forgive a few strained conversations.
“Yeah, but I’m your jerk, right?”
Becki sighed. Even with his moments of childishness, and the peculiar way he’d been acting the past couple of weeks, she did care for him as much as she cared for anyone. “Yes, Dane, you’re my jerk.”
“Bec? Love you.”
She leaned back, staring up the hillside. Maybe a glimpse of his face would explain the uncharacteristic quiver in his voice. “Dane?”
All hell broke loose.
The rock wall to her left gave way, an entire slab of granite dropping in one chunk. A splash of red flashed past as Dane shrieked. Becki’s heart pounded, the echo of her own scream loud in her ears. Then her rope harness jerked, dragging her upward, slamming her against the mountainside as she lost her footing.
As Dane fell, the rope connection between them dragged her in the opposite direction toward their safety anchor. She twisted, tucking in her legs, using her elbows and upper arms to attempt to belay their motion. Scrambling for a firm hold, palms ripping against small rocks.
As quickly as it began, Becki jolted to a stop.
Knuckles throbbing with pain, breath ragged, she grabbed blindly for where the rope attached to her climbing belt. She slid her aching hands upward, following the thick cord to discover the coarse bark of a stump, the twisted fibers tangled around the jagged protrusion.
She hauled herself higher using small footholds, clinging to the mountain until she could add additional loops to make the accidental anchor more secure.
She screamed into the misty abyss. “Dane.”
Becki alternated between glancing down for a sign of her partner and peering upward, trying to calculate how far from the top she was.
The eerie silence from below caused her hands to shake. Her limbs jerked as she climbed, adjusting ropes, anchoring herself and keeping Dane’s lifeline in control.
A soft breeze pushed the clouds against her, soaking her to the skin, but increasing her hopes. If the wind picked up and blew away the mist, she’d be able to see Dane easier.
Still no answer as she scrambled to set additional anchors.
Another moment passed before she managed to pull herself over the lip, now farther to the right than she’d been when they first reached the edge to rappel down. The sight of the raw new surface where the mountain had given way made bile rise. She shoved away the fear—she’d have time to freak out after her partner was safe.
“Dane. Answer me, dammit. Whistle.”
The rope was heavy with his weight, so she had to assume he was unconscious. Becki calmed her breathing and centered herself, methodically grabbing the equipment she needed to belay him.
The wind increased as she worked, flapping the edges of her hood as if ghostly fingers were playing with her. Visibility improved as she maneuvered into position, each move careful yet as rapid as possible.
“I got you, Dane. Hang in there, okay? Everything’s going to be fine.”
She wrapped her fingers around the cord to haul him to safety.
The mountain shifted again.
The secondary rope she’d anchored to a sturdy tree snagged tight before she’d fallen more than a couple of meters. The backup system locked her in position as the main rope, the one leading to Dane, jerked erratically. Becki skidded on the moving rocks, scrambling to find a place to stand. She twisted, planting her feet into a wide stance to stop from spinning. It worked enough to put her facing the wall, a shower of stones descending from above and crashing into her shoulders. Instinctively she ensured the safety lock on Dane’s lifeline was engaged, her fingers moving rapidly even as something heavy struck her helmet, and the world went black.
Banff National Park
“I’d like to fire their asses. Every damn one of them.” Marcus stared out his office window at the clouds wafting past Mount Rundle. The peaceful serenity of the Banff panorama didn’t match his internal turmoil.
“You’d regret it when you get a call and need a full crew to go save a Boy Scout troop in trouble.” David gestured for him to sit. “Stop pacing. Your team made a mistake. They screwed up. Look on the good side. It was a training exercise, and no one died.”
If they’d still been teens, Marcus would have thrown a fist in David’s direction. “Look on the good side? Since when did you become Suzy fucking Sunshine? You ripped the ears off one of your first-year students last month for messing up. I hold my team to a higher standard than a bunch of rescue wannabes.”
“My student? Oh, come on. That’s different.” David snapped his mouth shut, probably annoyed that his rare outburst had been carried on the grapevine.
Marcus dropped into his desk chair, pleased to witness his brother’s guilty expression. Being fuming mad didn’t mean he couldn’t enjoy taking a dig or two. He was glad they didn’t work together, though. Years ago David had taken his backcountry skills in a different direction, choosing to pass on his expertise to the next generation. He’d established one of the highest-ranked training centres in North America. Graduates from David’s institute were currently employed across the United States and Canada, hauling people out of life-and-death situations in the mountains and rivers of national parks and other wilderness settings.
Teaching had never been on Marcus’s agenda. Instead, he’d been busy saving the bloody world. Using his abilities in one or another of the hot zones where getting caught was less a matter of apologizing and offering restitution, and more about picking up as many pieces as you could find and shoving them into a bag to take home.
Now, years later, Banff had become a safe place where when things got tough, there was someone who cared unconditionally. Because he was the first to admit there were times he was less than easy to get along with.
David nabbed a magazine off the side table and shook it at him. “This conversation isn’t about my school, or my students. If your squad blew it, deal with it. They need a bit of boot camp. They’re spoiled. Being named ‘the best of the best’ has gone to their heads. Plus, they’re spending more time in the bar enjoying people fawning over them than they are training—it adds up, bro. Mistakes were bound to happen.”
Excuses weren’t acceptable. Marcus shook his head. “Not on my watch. That’s not what getting selected to work for Lifeline is about. I expect them to be on all the time, David.”
“I know, I know. When you organized your squad, you said you were going to keep it tight and make it special. Three years—God, I can’t believe it’s been such a short time. You’ve done amazing things with them, but maybe you need to regroup.”
Marcus dragged his hand through his hair and consciously released a slow breath. Regrouping was what he was doing, but pouring a tall glass of something strong and forgetting everything for a while was tempting.
Three years didn’t seem like long enough to have changed his entire direction in life. Globe-trotting and working undercover—he hadn’t expected the secretive recovery operations he’d been involved with to last forever, but he’d never thought his career would vanish with one bad decision.
On someone else’s part.
He glanced involuntarily at the stump of his left arm. On a side table just beyond his line of sight lay his modified prosthetic, the one he wore only when absolutely necessary. Physically he’d healed and moved on. Mentally—there were still days when cursing wasn’t enough.