There were four places on Dead Man’s Cliff where a ledge overlooked the river, not a single one of them a safe place in a storm. A two-part plan was put into place. First, a Zodiac raft with a two-person crew would attempt to pinpoint exactly which ledge from far below. Second, Aidan, Mitch, and the rest of the team would come in from the park entrance, holing up at Dead Man’s Cliff’s trail-head until they got word from the Zodiac crew on which direction to go.
The wait wasn’t easy.
“We don’t know it’s her,” Mitch reminded him.
True. And it didn’t matter. Either way, they were going to get that person down safely. But God, he hoped like hell it wasn’t Lily. They had a high success rate with rescues overall, but Dead Man’s Cliff had earned its name the hard way, and all too often a rescue turned into a recovery.
As in a body recovery.
Aidan slammed the door on that thought and forced himself into work mode. The four overhangs were spread out over a few miles along the river. Within half an hour, the Zodiac crew called with the news that they’d found the lost hiker on outcropping number two, about four and a half miles from where Aidan and his crew stood.
They drove the mile and a half of fire road they had, and then had to hike the other three miles to the location.
It was a long-ass walk, hauling all their rope and gear in the wind. By this time the Zodiac had reported in with more details on their victim. The stuck climber was in a sweatshirt, hoodie up, and leggings, so no age or sex could be determined. It could be anyone out there.
But not Lily, he told himself. And yet a small doubt remained, messing with Aidan’s head. He locked that shit down and kept moving as the Zodiac made contact with the stuck climber. Sign language communication only, since they couldn’t hear each other over the roar of the wind barreling through the canyon and the water rushing along the canyon.
The climber was stuck. They couldn’t—or wouldn’t—go back up, and down wasn’t an option.
With each step Aidan’s fear grew that it was going to be Lily and he wouldn’t be able to get to her before the storm swept her off the ledge.
Lily got back home frozen and desperate for a hot shower. She was shocked to find Gray coming out of her place with a grim set to his jaw.
“Lily,” he said, looking shocked as hell to see her.
Who else was he expecting?
But before she could ask, he had his cell phone to his ear. A few seconds later he said, “Fuck!” and stared at her. “You’re not up at Dead Man’s Cliff.”
“No,” she said slowly. “I never planned to be. I got to the three-quarter mark and turned around. The storm—”
“Fuck,” he said again, and hit the stairs, running down them toward his truck.
“Wait!” she yelled after him. He didn’t, so she took the stairs at a dead run as well but didn’t catch up to him until he was just about to peel out of the lot.
“I don’t have time for this, Lily,” he warned when she stood at his driver’s window. “Aidan’s on a rescue up there and he’s distracted, thinking it could be you. I’ve got to at least get to Incident Command and radio him, let him know you’re safe so he gets his head in the game.”
She stared at him for a single beat and then rounded his truck—in the front, so he couldn’t leave without running her over. She climbed into his passenger seat.
“No,” Gray said.
“You’re wasting time.” She hooked up her seat belt. “Go.”
“I’m not bringing you up there.”
“Save your breath and hit it.”
Gray gritted his teeth and hit it.
“Tell me everything,” she said. “Including why either of you could think I’d be stupid enough to climb Dead Man’s Cliff alone, ever.”
He drove fast through the driving rain but utterly in control as he laughed low under his breath.
“What?” she demanded. “What’s so damn funny?”
“You’re as stubborn as he is,” Gray said. “You two deserve each other.” He spared her a quick glance. “I hope you stick this time.”
She met his gaze, though it was difficult.
He went brows up. A silent but demanding Well? if she’d ever heard one. Pretending not to read Eyebrow Speak, she turned to the passenger window, watching as they flew through the storm. “What is going on, why were you at my place, and why were you surprised to find me there?”
He didn’t answer.
“I swear to God, Gray—”
“I saw you on the monitors,” he said. “And per protocol, I called Aidan—”
He grimaced. “Shit. You’re going to get pissed.”
“Already there,” she said tightly.
Another grimace. “Okay, you’re not supposed to know this, none of you are supposed to know this. We’ve had a Penny Protocol in place since the beginning. And now we have a Lily Protocol.”
“Which means?” she asked in a deceptively quiet voice that sounded way calmer than she might have imagined she could come up with.
He didn’t answer.
“Gray,” she said.
That muscle ticked in his jaw again. “Look, it’s about keeping our people safe, okay? He watches out for Penny when I can’t, and I …”
“You what?” she asked, eyes narrowed.
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