While their victim continued to be pulled up from above, Mitch started fussing over Aidan’s injuries, which were now bleeding in rivulets along with all the rainwater. The gash in his knee was three inches long and deep. His pants leg was soaked through with blood. Same with his elbow. And his face. Shit happened.
“Bad week to be you,” Mitch said mildly.
“Don’t worry, next week it’ll be my turn to get the boo-boos.”
“Hell no. I’m just that good,” Mitch said, chortling, impressed with himself, the asshole.
Aidan pushed him away. His elbow was just a scrape. His face felt bruised, but he didn’t think it was anything to be too concerned about. He could see straight and could feel all his extremities. Horn Dog had made it to the top, and now it was their turn. “Okay, let’s do this—”
Before he could finish the sentence, a lightning bolt flashed so bright he and Mitch jerked back, coming up against the rock wall of the ledge. The following boom of thunder nearly split their eardrums.
“Jesus,” Mitch gasped. “Jesus Christ, my life just flashed before my eyes. Aidan?”
“Still here,” Aidan managed, blinking hard but still seeing only white. “Too close.”
There was a radio call to verify that Aidan and Mitch were still breathing, but as was feared, the lightning strikes made it way too unsafe to bring them up. It was even more unsafe for the topside crew to stay out in the open with all the gear laid out and the trees surrounding them.
Leaving the rescue lines attached to the anchor points with the ropes slackened enough that Aidan and Mitch could sit on the ledge as close to the rock face as possible, their crew pulled back to seek out refuge.
“Sucks to be us,” Mitch said. But the truth was, they were in a better position there on the ledge than the guys on top had been. They sat with their backs to the rock and watched the storm rail.
“Nice view,” Mitch said, after a few violently noisy but awe-inspiring minutes. “It’d be better with a few hot chicks and some popcorn.”
Aidan set his head back to the rock and laughed softly. His muscles were quaking good now as the adrenaline wore off and the pain set in. Around them the thunder and lightning continued to rage, leaving them no choice but to play the waiting game.
Lily held on to the dash as Gray’s truck tossed them both around on the drive up the mountain’s fire roads. The storm had come out of nowhere, as it often did on late summer afternoons. They blew in, dumped, and then blew out.
But this one looked like it planned to stick around awhile, and it was violent. With the way the trees were bending in protest, she figured the winds were close to seventy-five miles an hour. Every few seconds lightning flashed—or rather cracked viciously—and thunder rolled.
“I can’t believe they’re out there in this,” she murmured. “It’s crazy.”
“He’s been in worse,” Gray said, and peeled into a clearing with a bunch of other trucks and rigs.
“Incident Command,” he explained. “We’re three miles out from Aidan’s position. Stay here.” Shoving the truck into park, he exited the vehicle. Lily followed suit and ran around the front of the truck, head down because of the rain.
Which was how she ran headfirst into Gray.
He caught her and she couldn’t hear his sigh over the weather but she felt it.
“What part of stay here didn’t you understand?” he asked.
“All of it.”
Hudson pulled up in a county SUV. Looking serious in his uniform, he exited the vehicle, his gaze going straight to his brother.
“What?” Gray asked him.
“You don’t have your radio on?”
“Aidan and Mitch rescued some idiot off the face, but the unit had to pull back in a big hurry when lightning hit.”
The look that crossed Gray’s face told Lily this was bad. “So where’s Aidan?” she asked.
Hudson and Gray exchanged another look.
“Someone better speak before I go batshit crazy on your asses,” she said tightly.
Hudson met her gaze. “He and Mitch are still on the rescue site.”
“You mean on the face of Dead Man’s Cliff?”
Another glance between brothers. “They’re a few miles up the trail on a rock outcropping forty feet down from the top,” Hud said.
“What?” she asked on a gasp of horror. “Out in the open with this lightning? They could get hit like those climbers did last year. Why aren’t they getting them off the face?”
When Hudson hesitated, she started to storm off toward the trail, but Gray grabbed her hand.
“Let go,” she said, heart in her throat because all she could think was that she’d lost Ashley on a day just like this. “I’ll go pull him up myself, dammit. What’s wrong with all of you? You can’t leave him there!”
“What we can’t do is have you out here in the open in a lightning storm,” Gray said. “Get back in the truck.”
She understood what he was saying, but she was picturing Aidan and Mitch on a tiny ledge, huddled in this crazy-ass storm. She tried to move forward, but Hudson caught her against him.
“Listen to me,” he said, low and calm, his arms bands of steel. He brushed her wet, clinging hair from her face so he could look into her eyes. “If I could, I’d be out there on that mountain right now, rescuing them myself.”
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