In spite of her initial hesitancy, she’d taken him into her bed and it had forever changed what he meant to her.
Whatever that was.
But it wasn’t a mystery how he felt about her. She thought of how he looked at her, how he always seemed to be looking at her as if he couldn’t help himself. How he was there whenever she needed him.
And then there’d been the “I love you.” Hard to discount that. Aidan never said something he didn’t mean.
Her heart rolled over in her chest, exposing its tender underside as it tended to do in all matters Aidan, leaving her … vulnerable.
And both giddy and terrified at the same time.
She needed to relax. Some people did that with yoga, or meditation, or even a trip to the spa. Lily was starting to learn, or maybe it was her remembering, that she felt most at peace on the mountain. She put on her hiking clothes and, as she had every day since getting the package, added Ashley’s scarf. Today there was a wind that made her glad for the added protection.
Two hours later, she stopped at what had become her favorite place atop the mountain, where she could see everything and feel closest to Ashley. And the fact that it was getting easier each time to get there made her feel good. This was her haven now.
Not the place she had to fear.
She let out a deep breath and a lot of tension. The wind kicked in and pushed at the trees high above her, making them sway and dance. The staccato sounds of the branches hitting each other along with the chatter of the squirrels as they ran for cover was comforting because it sounded like …
There was only one thing missing, of course.
“Hey, sis,” she whispered, fingering the scarf. “I’m back.” She let out a low laugh. “Turns out I can’t stay away. I feel you here, Ash.”
She drew a deep breath and looked across the chasm at Dead Man’s Cliff. “I’m so sorry. I’m sorry I ever climbed that stupid cliff. And I’m sorry you did too. Most of all, I’m sorry you can’t be here now.” Her breath hitched, constricted by tears. “I miss you so much.”
When she’d first come back to Cedar Ridge, she’d honestly believed that she needed to get to the mountain and stare down the face where Ashley died. Actually, she’d thought that until this very second, but the truth was she didn’t need to. If anything, what happened to Ashley there had taught her that there were some things that weren’t meant to be conquered at all.
She knew the truth now. In losing Ashley, she’d also lost too much of herself. Lily needed to come back to Cedar Ridge to remember how to live.
Yes, being here was a visceral reminder of a terrible tragedy.
But it was also home.
She let that knowledge settle in, warming her from the inside out. It didn’t take away her losses, but gathering Ashley’s scarf closer, she understood something else.
It wasn’t supposed to.
Ashley would always be a part of her, maybe one of the best parts, and she didn’t have to let that go. She just had to be able to live the life she was supposed to live.
“Thanks, Ash,” she whispered.
The wind caressed her, and she turned her face into it. It felt like Ashley’s spirit telling her it was okay to carry on, to keep chasing adventure. That’s who she was, and this was where she belonged.
Aidan was in the middle of an S&R training exercise with his team, hanging off the side of Heaven’s Peak when they were radioed about a weather change.
They ended the exercise and were still packing up when Aidan’s phone beeped. Seeing Gray’s name pop up on the screen when he knew where Aidan was and what he was doing made Aidan pick up the call. “What’s wrong?”
“She’s back at it,” Gray said.
Aidan grimaced. “Look, man, I’ve told you, whatever bedroom games you and Penny decide to play, just leave me the hell out of it—”
“Not Penny, you idiot.”
“Kenna?” was Aidan’s next guess. “You gotta give her a job, man, or—”
“I gave her a damn job, I gave her the ski school. Now stop talking and listen to me. It’s Lily. She’s back on the mountain. She just passed out of our range, heading north. Which isn’t exactly the way back.”
No, north from there would take her straight to Dead Man’s Cliff.
“And there’s a hell of a surprise storm brewing,” Gray said. “This morning we had a zero percent chance of precip. Now we’re at one hundred percent, expecting high winds and flash floods in the basin.”
“She’s still trying to get up to where Ashley—”
“She goes up there as often as she can,” Aidan said. “I’m sure she’s fine.”
“She’ll be okay. She’s strong and more importantly, smart.”
“Your call,” Gray said, and disconnected.
Half an hour later Aidan was back from Heaven’s Peak. He’d decided to call Lily and meet her up on the trail. For company, not because he doubted her abilities. If she wanted to face the cliff, they would do it together.
But before he could, a rescue call came in—a report of a climber stuck on a ledge of Dead Man’s Cliff over the river. That was it, that was all the info they got, no exact location, no ID of the caller or the climber, nothing.
And Aidan’s heart stopped.
What if Lily had gotten to the top, been caught up in the moment, and gone climbing on the face? He called her cell but was sent right to her voice mail. In the meantime, Search and Rescue mobilized and set up an incident command center back at the clearing where Aidan and the others had left their vehicles, doing so in fifty-plus-mile-per-hour winds and an oncoming storm.
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