Left, and she’d get to an extremely popular hiking trail that would take Lily to about nine thousand feet and give her an incredible, awe-inspiring view.
Right, and she’d get to Dead Man’s Cliff. The trailhead had a sign posted that read:
EXPERIENCED HIKERS ONLY
NO FACE CLIMBING
STAY OFF ROCKS AND OUTCROPPINGS
For most, this served as enough of a warning. But for the daredevils, it was an active dare.
And a death wish, of course, for those who chose not to listen …
Like Lily, when she’d been younger and far more stupid. Once upon a time she’d wandered all over this mountain looking for a way to challenge herself and she’d found it here. Hiking up to the top of Dead Man’s Cliff and free-climbing on the face was the one thing she’d been able to do that Ashley hadn’t, and remembering how she’d bragged about it backed up the air in her lungs.
Because of course Ashley couldn’t possibly let the unspoken dare go. Nope. She’d had to attempt to beat Lily, as she did at everything.
And she’d died because of it.
Lily’s heart started a heavy, fast beat as she stared at the sign another moment and then …
Took a step back.
Maybe back then she’d had no fear, but that had changed. Big-time. Feeling responsible for your sister’s death did that to a person.
And your dad, too, a little voice inside her added. Don’t forget.
As if she could. He’d collapsed at Ashley’s funeral from a heart attack and had died en route to the hospital.
With them both gone, Lily’s mom had decided leaving town was the best way to heal. She retired and sold the house. So Lily had taken off, too, meeting up with her mom once a year, or as often as their paths crossed—not easy, since her mom loved to travel. Lily was only back in Cedar Ridge now because she needed the job. But standing at the trailhead she suddenly knew she’d also come back for something else—to somehow find forgiveness.
Maybe then she could finally really move on.
She was still standing there when her phone rang. Not recognizing the number, she hit IGNORE. A minute later came a text from that same number:
If you’re looking for something bad for you, try me instead.
Lily stilled. She didn’t have to be told who it was, she could hear Aidan’s voice as she read his words. But how …? Where …?
She whirled around, searching above her for the security camera she hadn’t realized was out here. Though it made sense. In the past ten years, Cedar Ridge’s popularity had boomed. It was much more remote than the most well-known Colorado ski parks, but for the people who wanted extremely challenging, rugged, and out-of-the-way adventure, it was here at Cedar Ridge for the picking.
She couldn’t find the camera, but knowing she was being watched, she hit REPLY:
How did you get my number?
She got a reply in seconds. Jonathan.
She growled, then hit DELETE and left. A few minutes later she received another text:
Funny, coming from Aidan. Oddly enough, back when she’d known him, he hadn’t been a natural risk taker. He’d been sharp and ready, willing and up for anything, and maybe a tad bit feral—but though he’d often found trouble with his brothers, he’d been smart about his walk on the wild side.
In truth, he had been her complete opposite.
Still was. Now he’d become the risk taker—firefighting, S&R—and she the cautious one.
And he was sitting in front of the security feeds somewhere, watching her, aware of what she was doing and knowing she’d failed.
Her thumb hovered over DELETE, but somehow her wires got crossed and she typed a response instead: Just out trying to acclimate to altitude again.
His reply was immediate: You were born acclimated.
Yeah, maybe he was right. But she was no longer that girl he’d known, kissed, and found lacking.
And yet, here she was taking on her biggest adventure of all. Coming home to where she no longer had a home, where she was constantly reminded of why she’d left in the first place, forcing herself to face her demons and grief.
And then there was once again seeing the first man to have ever stolen her heart.
Which meant that maybe she still had a little bit of risk taking inside her after all.
That evening Aidan strode to his truck after a hell of a long day, his eyes gritty with exhaustion, his stomach rumbling from eating nothing but a few PowerBars all day long.
The lost hiker call had turned out to be a false alarm, and Aidan had ended up making the board meeting after all, which was how he’d seen Lily on the monitors, hiking toward Dead Man’s Cliff.
He’d been surprised, though he shouldn’t have been.
If he’d lost one of his siblings on the mountain and had left Cedar Ridge shortly thereafter, it’d probably be one of the first places he’d want to go see upon his return as well.
But he wouldn’t want to do it alone.
He’d started to go up after her when he’d gotten another S&R call—a three-year-old had wandered out his back door into the woods and vanished.
It’d taken several heart-stopping hours to find the kid three hundred yards from his house, asleep at the base of a huge cedar tree only a few feet away from a steep drop-off.
Now Aidan was finally heading home. An evening thunderstorm was moving in, and, as always in the Rockies, it moved fast. In the five minutes that passed while he stopped for a desperately needed soda, the sky had darkened considerably. Thunder rolled in with the rain, loud booms that made the earth shudder. Already the roads had become slick and dangerous, but that didn’t give him pause. Cedar Ridge was rustic, remote, and isolated, and only the hardy and the durable lived here.
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