Her snow machine lurched to the side. A scream slipped past her lips before she could hold it back. Her brain scrambled to assess what the hell was happening as she spun out. From the corner of her eye, she saw a blade from her vehicle skidding off and away. The world became a blur of white as she skidded…
Toward the edge of the cliff, with icy waters below.
Horror spiked through Wade for a flash before instincts kicked into overdrive. Sunny didn’t have more than an instant before her snowmobile would catapult over the ledge.
His arm snaked out. And right between spins, he snagged her around her waist. Muscles screamed as loudly as the shrieking engine beneath him.
He steered with his other hand, straining to keep his snowmobile level and on the path while he leaned. Eyes locked ahead, he was still too aware of the danger less than a foot away. A sheer drop-off into icy waters.
The back of Sunny’s snow machine rammed into his, launching his ride sideways. He refused to let go of her. He clamped his legs tighter to the seat. Stayed put. For now.
Like with rescue missions in the past, he trusted his training and forged ahead. Yet, a flicker of doubt snapped at his brain, niggling him with the hellish possibility that he could fail Sunny.
But if he did, he would damn well die trying. He gritted his teeth and hauled harder, a shout punching through his body as he ripped her from her sliding vehicle.
She slammed against his chest. Her arms clamped around his neck and he cut the power. Fast. Praying he hadn’t run over her legs in the mad flail of limbs. But thank God, thank God, she was alive. He eyed the trajectory of his snowmobile, gauging if he would need to bail before it… skidded… to a… stop.
The engine shuddered and choked, sputtering off sideways across the path.
“Sunny?” he shouted into the mic, into the air, not wanting to waste a second on finding out how best to reach her.
She stirred in his arms, twisting to turn around. “I’m okay… I think…”
His brain went numb with relief until everything else blurred except the feel of her alive and unharmed against him. He ripped his helmet off, flipped up her faceplate, and sealed his mouth to hers. Hard and insistent. She froze, but only a second, before locking her arms around his neck and giving back with every bit as much urgency. Her body pressed closer, firmer, against his. If it had been even remotely possible, he would have been inside her right here, right now, on the edge of a cliff in below-freezing temps. The magnitude of the moment, of what could have happened, scraped at his already raw insides and he tore himself from her.
He leaned over, holding his knees, sucking in gulps of air. Blinking back the fog, Wade looked down. An arm’s reach away, the ground dropped off into nothing but air. Below, shattered parts of the snowmobile bobbed between chunks of ice floating like crystal barges in a small river.
Sunny had been that close to death.
Every other time threats had come their way, she’d been able to pull herself out of the fire. But it made him f**king ill to think what would have happened to her if he hadn’t been here. He did this sort of thing for a living. He’d plucked people from the jaws of death before. So what had him so off balance now?
She rested a hand on his back. “Maybe we could call for a tow,” she joked halfheartedly.
“My phone was on your ride.” He pulled away. Right now, he needed to get his head on straight and see to safety, to survival.
“But it was my backpack that went over.”
“I tucked it into your backpack. If we got separated I wanted to be sure you had a way to call for help. I have a GPS tracker in my pack and a beacon in my boot, so we’re not completely cut off from the world.” He walked to his snowmobile, boots crunching over ice. “I need to make sure this ride wasn’t tampered with too.”
“Too?” She padded softly over to stand beside him. “What do you mean tampered with? And what about your GPS tracker and a beacon?”
“Did you really think I would climb this mountain without making sure I could be found?” His brain was shifting into professional mode again, leading him down the logical trail to what very well could have caused this seeming accident. “I don’t have time to argue. We can’t afford to think anything that happens right now is coincidental. As much as I want to get this trip over with as soon as possible, I’m not risking either of us using this vehicle until I’m sure it’s in 100 percent working order.”
He hunkered down for a closer angle at the skis along the bottom, not even certain what he was searching for but determined to find it. If they set off on foot, they would have to bunk down in a cave for the night. But if they could double up on the snowmobile, they had more options. It was worth giving the vehicle a look-see.
Besides, he could use the time to get his thoughts together so they stopped humming like a damn beehive in his head. But instead of dimming, the noise only increased, droning louder until he realized it wasn’t in his head. He looked up sharply just as Sunny shaded her eyes.
“Wade?” Her hand slid to her waist, where she kept her knife strapped. “I think someone’s driving down the path.”
Brett flung his parka over the hook in the mudroom and unwound his scarf after his flight back from the islands that morning. He still had to go over to the plant, but since he would be working late, he wanted to stop by home first.
Seeing Andrea always brought his world back into focus again.
One foot at a time, he kicked off his boots in the mudroom, lining them up precisely. Andrea had always kept the house immaculately clean and organized before the accident and he tried to keep things as close to normal as possible. Otherwise, she fretted over things she wished she could do, the way life used to be. She had a live-in sitter, but as he knew well, caring for Andrea was a full-time job in itself.
He would hire a houseful of help in a heartbeat. He certainly had the money now. But he couldn’t afford to draw undue attention to himself with conspicuous consumption. Especially not when he was so close to a bigger payoff. Large enough to finance a life of ease in Europe and access to every doctor, every experimental treatment possible.
Soon, baby. Soon.
Echoes of the helper clanking pots and singing in the kitchen drifted into the mudroom. He ducked his head inside with a finger over his mouth. “Shhh.”
Mrs. Glotov waved from the dishwasher, loading lunch plates. Nodding his thanks to the widowed nurse’s aide and all-around helper, he tucked his gift for Andrea on the counter. Treats from the fishing lodge, from her aunt who owned the place. Oatmeal rhubarb bars, her favorites.
When he and Andrea moved to Europe, she would no doubt miss her only remaining relatives—the aunt, uncle, cousins. It already frustrated her that she couldn’t live on the island, but she needed to be on mainland Alaska with reliable medical care nearby.
Eventually, she’d conceded he was right, and she would see he was right about this move as well. Soon, he would give her the Swiss Alps for a view, along with a host of the best new doctors. He was doing everything he could to secure her future, to find the cure they’d hunted for so fiercely these past five years.
He pulled out his BlackBerry and checked the connection. Strong. Good. He logged onto the Web for a quick message check in his special account set up to deal with correspondence from the mountain village. A speedy look through showed nothing new from Sunny or Misty, but he hadn’t expected any, as they were both away from computers. And Sunny should be dead by now from her rigged snowmobile. Wade would have to turn back.
With Sunny out of the picture, he could pull this off. He eyed the remaining thirteen messages, including ones from Ryker Everett, Phoenix Foster, and Astrid Foster… all of which he could take care of later.
For now, he needed to see his wife, to remind himself of the main reason he must succeed. Early tomorrow, the power plant explosion would rock Alaska. After that, he would be very, very busy.
Tiptoeing in his stocking feet, he started around the corner; a floorboard squeaked and he paused. But everything stayed quiet, other than the ticking grandfather clock and the wind whistling along the eaves. She usually napped this time of day, and he could think of nothing more perfect than sliding in bed beside her.
He opened the bedroom door slowly… and found it empty. He scanned the spotless room, decorated in her favorite vibrant reds, with a picture window and a huge, perfectly made bed.
Once she’d come home from the hospital, he’d brought in a special hospital bed, king size, with controls on her side as per her medical needs. But they could still sleep together. He scanned the room—her medications resting on a wooden tray, her favorite photos lined up along the dresser.
The two of them fishing together.
Snow-machine racing together.
The last photo had been taken the day before her accident. Now she lived in a wheelchair. Which wasn’t in the bedroom?
Frowning, he pivoted. Her helper would have called him if there had been an emergency. He walked deeper into their three-bedroom house, one of the spares used by the live-in, the other room used as a study.
He stopped outside the home office and sighed with relief. Sagging against the doorframe, he took a second to draw in the look of her, still alive. Even after all the years since her accident, he woke up at night in a cold sweat, reaching across the bed to make sure she was breathing.
Nightmares still tortured him. Seeing her crumpled and broken on the bottom of the icy slope, the snow around her tinged red with her blood, had been the most devastating moment of his life. He’d gotten another chance to be with her, to take care of her better this time around.
Andrea was his weakness. He knew that. But he’d channeled that into strength. He would do anything, anything, for her.
She sat at her computer, her link to the outside world, she often said. Her typing splint strapped to her wrist, she poked the stylus along the keyboard, using her other wrist to move the mouse. Andrea insisted on staying active, sharp, useful. Via the Internet. She called herself a “virtual volunteer,” something he’d never heard of before, but hey, if it made her happy, he was all for it.
This year, she’d settled in as a grocery order taker for the elderly, doing store-to-door orders. She talked to the seniors on the phone, then entered their shopping lists into some online forms.
She damn near broke his heart every day.
Quietly, he made his way across the room, slid aside her thick red ponytail, and kissed her neck right where he knew she could still feel the press of his lips to her skin.
Her hand fell to the side and the stylus clattered against a pencil holder. Andrea turned her head, her green eyes sparking with tears…
Raising her hand again, she rammed the keyboard with her stylus and demanded, “Who the hell is Misty?”
Shock nailed his feet to the floor. How the hell could she have stumbled on that name? That person? His thoughts raced about what else she could have discovered or what else she might have done to follow up on her fears. He was a man with too much to hide.
“Misty? I’m not sure what you mean.” He chose his words carefully, unsure of how much she knew and not wanting to feed her a tidbit she hadn’t uncovered.
Andrea nudged the controls on her electric wheelchair, turning to face him more fully. “I’m a lot more computer savvy than I used to be, so don’t bother denying it. You’ve been cruising an Internet dating site, setting up a meeting with a girl named Misty.”
“You seem to have everything figured out.”
He was mad. Truly angry. How in the hell could she believe even for a second that he would cheat on her? There were a million different things his principled, honorable wife could have accused him of that would have been true. But this—not ever.
His nostrils flared and his pulse throbbed in his temple.
“I can’t believe you aren’t even going to try and deny it.”