Authors: Molly E. Lee
“Damn. If I ever find out which asshole from the bar tipped her off to your whereabouts, I’m going to throat punch him.” Rain’s voice was sharp, ice cold, and absolutely adorable.
I couldn’t contain a laugh.
“This isn’t funny,” she said but was chuckling, too. “Your crazy ex is forcing us to waste precious time and energy. We’ve got enough risks already against us.”
I stopped next to a small ledge we’d have to climb in order to maintain our direction. “If I didn’t know better, I’d say you were holding me responsible for this new setback.” I clasped my hands together and held them by my knees in a squat position, offering her a more secure foothold up.
She rolled her eyes. “This
your fault,” she said, bypassing my offered hands and grabbing hold of the rock with sure fingers. She secured her booted foot in a small notch, using it to push herself up and onto the ledge.
I used the same foothold she had, ignoring her hand when she offered to help pull me up. She was just as proud and independent as ever. It was annoying, yet sexy as hell. When she popped her hands on her hips, waiting for me to right myself, I had the intense urge to grab hold of those hips and yank her body against mine. I could kiss the breath right out of those lungs and remind her exactly who she’d belonged to.
Then I remembered last night, how close I’d been to doing just that, and she’d shut the charged moment down. Neither one of us could afford to get caught up in emotions like that right now. As she’d pointed out moments ago, we already had too much against us.
“This isn’t my fault,” I said, once I’d locked my dick down.
“You’re the one who clearly has horrible taste in women.”
I cocked an eyebrow at her. “Really?”
“In the last decade at least.”
“Trust me, when I hooked up with Corrine, her sabotaging my future endeavors was the last thing I expected.”
“Obviously.” Rain pursed her beautiful pink lips, and again I saw the hint of jealousy I’d seen last night. So it hadn’t been the wishes of an alcohol-induced brain. She had some residual feelings somewhere in there, and it was enough to peek through her hardened eyes.
I took a step closer to her, sliding my hand along her right hip, not giving a damn that the cameras rolled. Looking down at her, I breathed her scent in deep. “Every woman since you has been a mistake, Raindrop. Just a pathetic attempt to fill the void you left in my heart.”
A sigh slipped from her lips, which trembled as she held my gaze. She placed her hand on my chest, and my heart raced harder for reasons entirely separate from the strenuous climb we’d undergone for the past hour. Her blue eyes turned to ice, and she pushed me away. “You can’t say things like that.
bailed. Not me.” She motioned with her hand for me to step in front of her on the small ledge where we stood. “Lead the way.”
Right. The mission.
Get your shit together.
Rain was tempting on the best of days, but seeing her battle as hard as I was myself? It gave me hope that something would work out between us in the future. Hope that after I told her the truth about everything I’d lied to her about she’d forgive me. But that hope was more dangerous than the mountains, Corrine’s team, or the military on both sides of the border we danced so close to. Because it had the power to strip away everything I’d come to depend on in my life—the show, my expeditions, my need to survive when I hadn’t been strong enough to save.
Hope was a whisper in the dark, tempting me to the edge.
“This mountain seems to have gotten steeper since the last time I was here,” I said, looking directly at the camera on Rain’s hat as we climbed yet another drastic incline. My breath was short from the strain. I flashed the camera a smile. “Or maybe I’m just getting older.”
Rain chuckled despite the intense focus she had on me while she climbed. She, just like my crew, had it way worse than me. They had to constantly worry about camera angles and keeping me in the camera’s sights, all while making the same climbs, jumps, or treks I did. I didn’t envy them in their task, but I damn sure was impressed at their strength every time we completed a shoot, and while I missed the boys from my crew, Rain was proving to be one of the smartest, strongest, and, for sure, sexiest partners I had ever had. That last bit set my focus back more than I’d like, especially when she climbed ahead of me, giving me an eyeful of that perfect ass before turning around so she could film my approach.
As we settled near some trees for a quick breather, I scanned the area before speaking to the camera again. “This entire mountainside is teeming with trees, which is a real blessing since we’ll lose the daylight soon and be forced to make camp. I can make use of the fallen branches for shelter, and usually there are a wide variety of edibles living in and around trees—insects for sure, woodland creatures if we’re super lucky.” I shifted from my crouched position, smacking the nearest tree. “I’ll show you how to quickly put together a makeshift shelter, something strong enough to withstand the cold winds that blow brutally through the mountains at night. And, hopefully I’ll be able to scrounge up something to eat, to get a bit of energy back that we lost on the climb today.”
Talking to my audience had become natural early on, but there was a difference in my attempts to connect with them on this shoot. I knew it could be my last chance to do so, and that put a sharp edge to every decision I made. I motioned for Rain to stay put while I scavenged the surrounding area, scooping up long sticks and fallen brush from the trees. Sweat popped from my brow, and I had to remove my hat to wipe it away. Today’s climb had started to sink into my body, as did the lack of food or water since this morning. My muscles ached and strained with each movement, and my tongue was nearly dry.
I carted my haul over to a good flat area right up against the mountainside and smacked the hard, rock wall. “This wall will serve as a great defense against the winds,” I said and began the work of making the shelter.
I threaded the more flexible sticks through the longer, thicker ones, until I had a decent-sized piece of woven-together wood, and leaned it against the mountainside. “This isn’t much, but it will help shelter me from the cold, and any wildlife that may wander by.” I took chunks out of the large pile of brush I had and packed it against the openings in the stick wall, and behind it where it connected with the rock. “And this leafy brush will help insulate the small area.” I dusted off my hands after securing the last piece and slipped inside, back first. My knees were unprotected, but my core and up would be covered. “As you can see it’s not the grandest of shelters, but with what little I have to use, plus the energy I’m running low on, it’ll do.” I crawled out. “Now, we have to build a fire, and hopefully I’ll get some rest tonight. Finding water will be my main priority tomorrow, as I can already feel the effects of dehydration settling in.” I motioned to my head, before touching my lips. “My head is aching, and my lips are cracked. Locating a water source when you’re stranded will be the key to your survival. So while we try to evade our
down there”—I cut my eyes in the general direction I knew Corrine’s team to be, most likely setting up camp as well with the lowering sun—“water will be the main focus.”
Rain remained silent as I explained each step I took to start the fire, using the brush as kindling and the dry sticks to rub together. It took me an hour, but I finally got the brush to smoke, and I very gently blew on it until a flame caught. Every time I felt the heat from a fire I created with only what was around me sent adrenaline flowing through my veins. Though I’d done it hundreds of times, it wasn’t an exact science, and each time was a huge victory.
“Fire.” I smiled at the camera, holding up the small flame that burned in my brush-bundle before I set it against the larger pile of sticks surrounded with rocks that I had made near my shelter. “This will also help keep wildlife away, and the heat isn’t bad, either. Now, if only I could find something to roast on it, it’d be a really good day.” I glanced around, the sky turning purple with dusk. “I’m about to lose the light, though, so hunting is out of the question. Perhaps tomorrow I can wrangle something. Or who knows, maybe King Solomon’s treasure trove has a good burger joint inside.” I chuckled at my own joke, hoping it registered with viewers if this ever got to air. “One can dream. And on that note, I think I’ll sign off now, and try to get some sleep. Until tomorrow.”
I reached up and flicked the off button on my own GoPro and Rain followed suit.
“You’re a natural,” she said.
I shrugged. “I’ve been doing this for a while.”
“It’s like you were always meant to.”
“How are you feeling?” I asked, my eyes trailing her body, wondering if she felt as bad as I did.
She rubbed the back of her neck before slipping off her pack. “I thought I was in shape. This mountain begs to differ.” She unfastened the tent from the bottom of her pack and held it to her chest. “Are you sure you want me to use this? I feel pretty wretched, with you having to sleep in that.” She pointed to the shelter I’d made.
“Of course. You aren’t showing anyone how to survive when stranded on a mountainside. Put it up. It still won’t be the most comfortable, but you’ll be warmer and protected from bugs.”
It didn’t take her long to set up the tent so that it hugged the mountain wall close to where I’d made my own bed, but I could see the effort it took her, the way her arms moved slower than she wanted. The offer to help her set it up was on the tip of my tongue before I quashed the urge. Rain had always taken pride in doing things on her own, and if she needed help, she’d let me know. I’d learned that the hard way when I once tried to show her how to properly cast a fly fishing rod when she was struggling instead of letting her figure it out herself. Her tenacity to accomplish whatever challenge before her had me pining after her way before I’d ever let her know.
After she finished, she took a seat across the fire from me, instead of crawling in and devouring a bottle of water and MRE I knew she had in her pack.
The gesture made my chest fill with a heat stronger than the flames I sat next to, and I had the urge to thank her for kindness with my lips. “Raindrop,” I chided instead.
She settled deeper into the relaxed position she sat in. “I’ll retire when I’m good and ready, Compass.”
I raised my hands in defense.
“You think Corrine’s team is settling? Or will they keep moving through the night? I’d really rather not have to wake up with them on top of us.”
“You know what I mean.”
I knew that I’d be thrilled to wake up on top of her, near her, anywhere I could touch her. “No,” I answered. “They’d be suicidal to try that climb at night. Corrine is ruthless, but she doesn’t have a death wish.”
“Good.” She hugged her knees to her chest and rested her chin on one. Her eyes burned bright with the reflection of the flames in them, and the grin she donned put the light to shame.
After she’d worn the faraway look for too long, I lightly touched her wrist. “Are you with me?” I asked, wishing I could read her as well as I used to.
“No.” She smiled. “I was thinking about Brownie.”
“Don’t say brownies. That’s cruel with how hungry I am.”
She laughed, and I drank it in. That was the Rain I remembered. Easy, less tense, and with a smile that had the power to get me to say yes to literally anything the woman wanted.
“Oh,” I said and shook my head. Her mind must have been as overrun with the past as mine was. “That old grizzly bear in Montana?”
“He was such a friendly bear.”
I shook my head. “Only because dangerous, wild animals have no power against your charms. Seriously, Rain, I thought he was going to eat us that day we wandered off camp to—” I didn’t bother finishing the sentence. I’d made love to her after taking her on a picnic deep in the Montana forest, far from the cabin her parents had rented for the trip.
“I guess that explains why I always did so well with you.” She laughed again, stopping the memory in its tracks.
“Ouch.” Her accusation that I was a wild animal was completely on point. I had ensnared her loyalty and then turned on her when she least expected it. Maybe I was worse than the animals she photographed for a living, because at least none of them had hurt her like I had. Thank God.
“Maybe it’s the trees; they remind me of Montana. The way Brownie had surprised us at a very vulnerable moment.” A flush of red dusted her cheeks, visible only slightly in the glow from the fire.
We’d barely finished getting our clothes back on before the massive bear had wandered past our picnic blanket, heading toward the river I’d chosen as the perfect place to sneak in some one-on-one time. I’d gone rigid, shielding her as it had walked right up to us.
Rain hadn’t flinched or trembled. She’d simply placed her hand on my tight chest, stopping any sudden movements to grab her and bolt. She moved in front of me, despite my silent plea for her to stand the fuck still. She couldn’t though. She’d never been able to resist getting as close to the wild as she could.