“I watch out for you when he can’t. Hudson does too.”
She stared at him, stunned. “I watch out for myself,” she said.
“Yes and you usually do a damn fine job of it. Except I saw you presumably heading toward DMC and that’s code red.”
“Code red,” she repeated.
“You might’ve been in trouble.”
“I’ve been out here hiking for weeks and I’m still not mental enough to attempt free-climbing that damn, cursed mountain,” she said. Maybe even yelled.
He winced. “Not physically in trouble.”
“So you thought, what, that I might fling myself off the edge and you called Aidan to run in and save the day?”
“Better to be safe and apologize later,” he said. “Except a rescue call came in. A climber was reportedly stuck on a ledge above the river. Aidan’s S&R team caught the call, and everyone thought it might be you.”
“Except that I’m not actually climbing anymore,” she said again, this time through her teeth.” A thought occurred to her, and she narrowed her eyes. “So if you thought I was out there being stupid, why were you at my place?”
“Because maybe I knew that you and your smart-ass mouth aren’t really all that stupid.”
This actually slightly mollified her.
Gray used his Bluetooth to try calling Aidan again. No go. He made another call and then Penny’s voice filled the air.
“Hey,” she said. “I thought we were meeting for a quickie on your break—”
“You’re on speaker,” Gray said quickly. “And I didn’t give you the safe word!”
Penny laughed. “Sorry. Whose ears did I burn? Tell me it’s Aidan. I love messing with his head.”
“It’s me,” Lily said.
“Hey you! We still need to grab that drink.”
“Later,” Gray said tersely. “Baby, where are you?”
“In your office, where you’re supposed to be.”
“I’m going to be late,” Gray said. “We’re heading up the mountain. Aidan’s on an S&R. I’ll be at Incident Command. Call if you need me.”
“Is he okay?” Penny asked, all serious now.
“Yes, but he thinks they’re looking for Lily and I’ve got her right here.”
“I can read between the lines on that one,” she said. “You’re worried his head isn’t in the game. And it’s one hell of a storm coming too. Go take care of our boy, I’ll handle things here.”
On scene at the top, Aidan and Mitch peered over the edge and found the victim curled into the fetal position as the wind beat at her, her head and face covered by the hood of her thigh-length sweatshirt.
Aidan’s gut tightened. “Don’t move!” he yelled down, not at all sure she could hear them. “We’re coming! Keep your head covered!”
There was some discussion with Incident Command on whether the wind was too strong for a rappel and rescue. If so, they would have to pull back and wait out the storm.
Aidan was vibrating with impatience. Mitch put a hand on his shoulder and met his gaze. “I’m going down there either way,” Aidan told him.
“Of course we are,” Mitch said.
Incident Command gave the go-ahead for the rescue—with the stipulation that they would be called back at a moment’s notice if the wind worsened, or at the first sign of lightning. Lightning would stop everything cold, as the guys up on the top, out in the open with the gear, would be in the direct line of danger.
Not that it would stop Aidan, if it came to getting Lily off the face.
From the top of the cliff to the outcropping was a good forty feet. And down to the river was a hundred feet more. The Zodiac couldn’t get in close due to the huge boulders at the river’s shore, but they’d stick around in the event anyone hit the water.
With the crew setting up the rigging, Aidan and Mitch pulled on their full-body harnesses in preparation to go over. They checked each other’s gear and checked the rigging setup to make sure the anchor points—in this case three tall, sturdy cedars—were strong enough for the three ropes they needed.
Aidan was in a huge hurry to get down there, but he still took the extra minute to double-and triple-check that all of the knots were properly tied and everything was correctly attached and tightened. Then he peered over the edge again, unable to take his sights off the all-too-still figure curled forty feet below, not moving. The distance was just enough to not be able to see clearly enough to identify or even catalog injuries, and that was the worst part. His heart kicked hard, and though he was trained to stay calm and alert and steady, his training threatened to go out the window.
Given the go-ahead, Aidan and Mitch went over the edge together, Mitch on the left of the climber and Aidan on the right. They made excellent time descending, aided by the blistering wind trying to tear them from the mountain.
They each landed lithely on their feet in the very small space on either side of their stuck climber, who was still curled up on her side. Aidan immediately crouched low, put a hand on her shoulder and she rolled to her back and opened her eyes.
Only it wasn’t a she at all. He was a kid, maybe twenty years old, lean and lanky.
Mitch, crouched on the other side of the kid, met Aidan’s gaze.
Not Lily. Not even close.
“Easy,” Aidan said when the kid jerked in shock in the very tight space. “We’ve got you, but no sudden movements. What’s your name?”
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