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by Dani Pettrey

Learn More | Meet Dani Pettrey
Kayden scaled the rock face, the addictive burn spreading through her arms, her body. Man, she loved this—hanging on the edge of a seven-hundred-fifty-foot sheer cli$ face, knowing one wrong grab meant death.

“You’re not going to beat me this time,” her younger sister, Piper, hollered, her voice echoing across the twenty-foot-wide crevice separating them. She’d been trying to distract Kayden all morning, but Kayden knew how to ignore her sister. The person who wasn’t as easy to ignore was Jake. He was watching from the base nearly seven hundred feet below with her older brother Gage. The men had come along to “enjoy the show,” as they put it.

Unfortunately, putting Jake’s presence out of her mind was proving to be a lot harder than dismissing Piper’s taunts. Knowing his gaze was fastened to her was exhilarating. Pushing o$ with her right foot, she lunged the eighteen inches to the next handhold, knowing the move had Jake holding his breath. She held hers until her fingers grasped the hold, heat searing through her.

Jake Westin—Check that . . . Jake Westin Cavanagh was so much more than she’d realized, and quite frankly, over the past month her deepening feelings for the man had frightened her a whole lot more than the vast leap ahead. She reached the last overhang—a granite ledge butting out eight feet from the rock face. She’d have to boulder her way along the edge and then make the final leap of faith, praying she’d timed it right and used enough force to land on its leveled surface.

It was the deadliest point of the route—the one that separated the experts from the average.

Granite crunched beneath her nails as she clawed her way across the jagged rock.

The wind, growing in force, howled through the canyon below, echoing through the crevice in a high-pitched whir.

Kayden closed her eyes and stilled her mind. I can do this. She’d mastered it before. She could do it again. Her breath caught in her throat as she pushed o$ and lunged through the air, stretching her fingers until they burned—reaching, grasping for a safe hold. Her fingers made contact, and she wedged herself along the rock, her hands locked on the overhang’s lip.

Her feet found a stable notch. Pushing up with her legs and arms at the same time, with sheer will and determination, she lifted herself up.

Relief swarmed inside as she crested the ledge, her arms shaking . . . and then horror struck.

A man, his skull bashed in, faced her—his visible eye open and staring directly at her.

She swallowed the vibration churning in her throat, the scream fighting to tear from her lips. Every fiber of her being said Let go, push back, get away, but wrestling instinct, she maintained her hold as she balanced on the edge of the overhang.

Glancing over her shoulder, she assessed her options. Moving back down the way she’d come at this point in the strenuous climb was suicide. Her arms were burning limbs of Jell-O, and if she didn’t make a decision within seconds, they’d give out. She needed to climb onto the ledge with the man, needed to make sure he didn’t require help, verify that he was already . . .

She squeezed her eyes shut for the briefest of seconds, trying to drown out everything else and focus. Mustering what strength remained, she hefted herself fully onto the outcrop, her body brushing against the man’s. Swallowing the bile creeping up her throat, she edged around him, scooted toward the rear of the ledge, and took a quick moment to catch her breath before shifting into search-and-rescue mode. She needed to check his vitals, make certain he was beyond help. She prayed she would detect a heartbeat, but her gut said the organ had stopped long ago.

“Woo-hoo!” Piper shouted from overhead. “Beat you.”

Fighting the wave of nausea roiling through her, Kayden stretched out her index and middle finger, feeling for a pulse.

Just as she’d suspected. Nothing. “Kayden?” Piper’s voice grew closer, nearly directly overhead.

Kayden glanced up, shielding her eyes from the sun, as Piper leaned over the top of the face, more than fifty feet above. Her infectious smile faded as her big brown eyes fixed on the crumpled form beside Kayden.

Kayden cleared her throat. “We’ve got a downed climber on the ledge.”

“Downed or—”

She swallowed. “Dead.”

“I’ll tell the guys.” Piper pulled the radio from her harness.

Kayden nodded. “I’m coming up. Have Jake call it in.”

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