“But you don’t need to,” Aidan insisted. “We don’t need Dad here right now.”
Hudson slid him a glance. “On a scale of one to goat-fuck, how stubborn are you going to be about this?” Hud asked.
Aidan just gave him a hard look.
“So goat-fuck then,” his brother muttered. “Perfect.”
They pulled up to the incident command center and joined the fray.
“Gonna be like hunting a needle in a haystack,” Hudson said, squinting at the fog.
No doubt. During the summer months they had more rescues than any other time of the year. With its sheer rock face for climbing, challenging trails for hiking, and some decent rapids, Colorado was a magnet for what they called weekend walkers—people who were office-dwellers during the week and adventure-seekers on the weekend. They were the main reason things stayed so busy for S&R and the fire department.
Depending on the runoff from the surrounding creeks and estuaries, the river rapids could go from an easy class two up to a class four in a blink, making it all too easy to run into trouble. And in spite of the carefully posted warnings, the signs were all too often ignored. It was as if people lost all common sense the moment they smelled fresh air and got onto a dirt trail.
Today’s trouble came courtesy of a group of six girlfriends who’d gone on an overnight hiking expedition to Eagle’s Cove. They’d decided to prank the sole single girl in their midst into thinking she was being tracked and stalked by Bigfoot because he could smell her virginity. Terrified, she’d run off, heading into the woods.
And had not been seen since.
This had been at midnight, but the girls hadn’t called it in until four a.m. because they thought she’d been playing a return trick on them by disappearing.
Plus, they hadn’t wanted to get in trouble.
But then a bear had crossed their paths, and they’d all run screaming into the night, racing all the way back to base, convinced their friend had become Bigfoot bait.
Aidan wasn’t too worried about the bear sighting. They’d most likely seen a black bear, known to be meek and mild-tempered—unless you got between a mama and her cub. That always changed the game. Hoping for the best, Aidan and Hudson geared up with the others on their team. Mitch had caught an extra shift at the fire station so he hadn’t made it, but the rest of them headed out into the predawn light.
There’d been plenty of June snowstorms over the years, and it was definitely cold enough for one today, but there was no precip in the forecast.
Two hours into the search, the sun had come up and they’d found the girl’s bandanna hanging off a branch. She’d gotten as far as the base of North Peak.
Problem was, this sat at a crossroad and they had no way of knowing which way she’d gone. Alone in the dark, frightened, she could’ve chosen any of three options.
The team split into pairs, each taking a different direction, with Aidan and Hudson continuing north. A quarter of a mile later they found a torn piece of sweatshirt material snagged on another branch.
“Shit,” Hudson muttered, and they both looked up farther north—to Dead Man’s Cliff.
Had the girl left the trail and tried to climb the rocks down? The trail did vanish into nothing in a few spots, it was entirely feasible to get turned around and completely lost in less time than it took to blink.
“This is no place for a novice,” Hudson said.
Hell, it wasn’t a place for an expert. Dead Man’s Cliff had claimed far too many lives, and yet people still ignored the warning signs posted everywhere and purposely left the trail and risked their lives.
Aidan had seen far too many deaths in this area, but the one that always stuck with him, and in fact still gave him nightmares, was Ashley Danville’s. He had to shove that thought aside or he wouldn’t be able to do his job. They radioed in their new information and kept going.
An hour later they found another breadcrumb—the missing girl’s shoe.
“Not a good sign,” Hudson said, the master of understatements.
“She was moving fast,” Aidan said. “Probably scared out of her mind.”
Hudson pointed to yet another STAY OUT OF THIS AREA sign. “Why do we bother with these?” He shook his head. “Maybe she hasn’t seen any of the Scream movies, the ones where the girl who runs off on her own dies a horrible death.”
They kept going. An hour later, Aidan stopped again. Shoving his sunglasses up on top of his head, he crouched down next to a low-lying manzanita bush and stared at the shoe that matched the one they’d already found, this one dotted with some blood. “Shit.”
Hudson echoed the sentiment and radioed it in.
A few minutes later they heard the thumping beat of the search chopper flying overhead.
Their radios crackled in stereo as the report came in from the helo. The missing girl had just been spotted one hundred yards north of Aidan and Hudson’s position, off the side of the trail, where she’d apparently fallen and was clinging to some undergrowth.
Aidan and Hudson raced to the spot and peered over the side.
Yep, there she was, twenty feet down, conscious and hyperventilating by the looks of things. “Shannon,” Aidan called down while Hudson prepared the rope, harness, and attachment point. “How you doing?”
She burst into loud sobs while simultaneously cussing out her coed sisters with enviable creativity.
“It’s okay, we’ve got you now,” Aidan told her. “Just hang tight, we’ll be right there.” He looked at Hudson. “Hit it.”
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