Authors: Donna Grant
Tags: #General, #Fiction, #Romance, #Paranormal, #Contemporary
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The Highlands, June
Deep in a cave…
Elena Griffin adjusted her helmet while praying the LED light atop it didn’t go out. She wasn’t the adventurous, adrenaline junkie kind, but when her new boss told her they were going caving, there wasn’t much Elena could do but go along with it.
“This will be fun,” Sloan said with a wide grin.
Elena forced a smile and projected confidence she didn’t feel. “Of course.”
She’d done many things while growing up in Atlanta, Georgia, but caving wasn’t one of them. Something about the dark, musty place wasn’t somewhere she wanted to be.
Everything in her told her it was a bad idea. No matter Elena’s objections, Sloan had shown her the safety equipment, as well as how to use it, and assured her everything was going to be fine.
“I’ve been caving for years, Elena. I’ve been wanting to explore these caves for some time now, and it’s the perfect opportunity.”
“Did you get the go-ahead from the landowners?” Elena asked as she felt the thick rope and carabineers at her side. Mentally she went through how to use them, trying to become familiar in case something unexpected happened.
Despite Sloan showing her the Italian hitch knot at least three dozen times, Elena hadn’t been able to get the hang of it, and all she could pray for was that their lives didn’t depend on her tying a knot.
“What the Dreagans don’t know won’t hurt them,” Sloan said in her cheery British accent. She winked at Elena. “Get that American ass moving!”
Elena watched Sloan walk into the cave. This was Elena’s last chance to turn back, to tell Sloan to forget it. But this new job was everything she’d spent the last six years of her life working toward.
So what if she had to spend a day in a cave to cement her relationship with Sloan. It was worth it to finally be in London, to finally be climbing that ladder of success that had always seemed out of reach.
She took a deep, fortifying breath and followed Sloan.
The warm fleece hoodie she wore over her long-sleeve shirt didn’t stop the damp from settling into her bones almost instantly. It was going to take Elena a while before she got used to the cold, especially the damp cold of Scotland. In summer.
The only thing she could be happy about was knowing that she wouldn’t be staying in Scotland for long.
Since Elena knew nothing of caving, she’d done some research in the early hours of the morning when she should have been sleeping. She knew they should have at least four members to their party, but Sloan had assured her they’d be gone only a few hours and would be fine with just the two of them.
Elena didn’t exactly want to start off her new job by questioning everything Sloan said. Still, the fact of it was that it was just the two of them. And it worried the hell out of her.
That and they were on private property.
She ducked her head, thankful for the hard hat as she managed to hit a low-hanging rock with enough force that it made her take a step back.
Elena knew of Dreagan. The scotch distillery was famous all across Britain, as well as being one of the nation’s oldest distilleries.
Dreagan Industries was known to be highly private. Only the CEO, a man named Constantine, was known to the public. No last name, just Constantine. He was the face of Dreagan, though no actual face of Constantine had ever been photographed. Back through the years, it was only the person running Dreagan who was ever named.
Which was more than odd, Elena thought. Finding photos of past managers/CEOs had been impossible.
“Watch your knee,” Sloan called over her shoulder.
Elena looked up the same time she slammed her knee into a boulder. She grabbed the injured leg and bit back a string of curses. Her hatred of the cave was growing with every bump and bruise littering her body.
Sloan laughed. “You won’t offend me. Let loose with a
every now and again. I do,” she said and winked.
Elena found herself smiling despite the pain. She really was going to have to pay attention. Her mind needed to be on the cave and where she was putting her hiking-boot-clad feet or she might find herself dead.
“Take heed, Elena,” Sloan said, seriousness deepening her voice. “We need to stay focused. This is fun, but it can also be dangerous.”
“No kidding,” Elena said under her breath.
The light on her helmet was trained on Sloan. There was no way Elena was going to let her out of her sight. The last thing she wanted was to be stuck in this hellish place alone.
“Tell me again why we’re on Dreagan land?”
Sloan chuckled, the sound bouncing off the cave walls. “Because it’s one of the best caves in Britain, and because they don’t want us here.”
Elena could imagine Scotland Yard waiting for them when they came out of the cave. “And you aren’t worried about what will happen if they find out?”
“They won’t find out. Trust me.”
Trust. Elena had no choice but to trust Sloan. “Shouldn’t we leave like a trail or something?”
Sloan’s laugh was loud and long. “Ah, you Americans. I didn’t realize you played it so safe, not after how you worked to get here. I thought this would be right up your alley.”
Elena rolled her eyes and sighed. “Nope, definitely not up my alley. Seriously, Sloan. How will we find our way back?”
“I’ve been looking back every now and again to make sure I know where we’re at. I’ve gotten lost in a cave before, so I make sure I can get out now.”
“Wonderful,” Elena murmured.
The farther she went into the dark cave, the more she knew the outing was a terrible idea. But she continued to follow Sloan. Crawling, sliding, climbing, and ducking her way deeper and deeper into the mountain.
And farther away from sunlight and fresh air.
It took every ounce of her concentration, on where and how she put her hands and feet, so as not to die that she couldn’t carry on the conversation Sloan tried to have with her.
Elena had heard caving was a sport, and she never realized she’d end up using every muscle in her body. She was gasping for breath when Sloan called for a break.
She didn’t hesitate to reach into her backpack and pull out a bottle of water, which she quickly downed. It was damp and chilly in the cave, but Elena was sweating and fast becoming dehydrated.
“Oh, look,” Sloan called from her seat on a boulder. Her head was tilted to the side and her light atop her helmet shone into the darkness. “There’s a shaft here. I think we should explore it.”
“I don’t think I can. I’m beyond tired, and we still have to go back. The muscles in my arms are shaking, I’ve used them so much.”
“I thought you said you worked out.”
Elena lowered the water bottle and tried not to glare. “Lifting a few weights in the gym along with running and doing kickboxing doesn’t equate to what I’ve put my body through today.”
As if Sloan hadn’t heard a word Elena said, she looked into the gap again. “It doesn’t look far. I think it’ll be fun.”
“No.” Elena had had enough. She couldn’t go any farther and feel safe. Her job was important, but not as essential as her life.
Sloan’s head swiveled to her. She stared at Elena for a moment before a slow smile spread. “Good for you. You need to learn to stand up to everyone, including me. Now rest here while I do a bit of exploring.”
“On your own?” Elena asked, her voice pitched high in disbelief.
“I won’t be but a moment. I’m just going to put a bolt into that rock, clip on a carabineer, and tie the rope to my sling, where I’ll slowly lower myself down.”
Elena was shaking her head before Sloan was finished. “Alone? Not a good idea.”
“I’ve done things like this alone before. It’ll be fine. Trust me.”
All Elena could do was watch as Sloan rigged everything together. And before she knew it, Sloan had her feet on the side of the crevasse as she leaned back ready to plunge into the darkness.
“I promise to stay close enough that you can hear my voice.”
Elena took the boulder Sloan had been sitting on when she first noticed the open space in the ground. With her gloved hands clutched in her lap, Elena watched Sloan begin to lower herself.
“Wow,” Sloan said a moment latter. “You should see this.”
“Another time perhaps.” Elena could see the light from Sloan’s hard hat reflecting off the cave walls.
“I’ll hold you to that.”
Elena peered over the side as Sloan went even deeper. A glance at her watch showed they’d been in the cave for almost three hours, which felt more like three lifetimes.
“We need to be heading back to the surface soon,” Elena called out.
Sloan said something, but Elena couldn’t make out what it was.
“Sloan! You’ve gone too far. I can’t hear you.”
The light from Sloan’s helmet shifted upward as she raised her head. “I’ll be up in just a moment. I’m just looking around.”
“Come up higher.”
But Sloan only went lower.
Elena’s stomach clenched in dread. She was cold and getting colder, and they had been in the cave far longer than Sloan had promised.
And then Elena heard something give a loud pop. Her head jerked to where Sloan had hammered in the bolt and discovered it coming loose.
“Sloan! The bolt! It’s coming loose. Get hold of something!”
Elena prayed Sloan heard her as she jumped up and looked through her pack for the small hammer. She slammed it against the bolt, banging it back into the rock, but that would only buy Sloan a little more time.
She rushed back to the gap and leaned over to find Sloan looking up at her.
“I hammered it back in, but it won’t stay long.”
“Put in another bolt!” Sloan shouted.
Elena looked around. “Where?”
“Just find a place, and then tie your rope and throw it down to me.”
“Shit,” Elena muttered as she rushed around doing exactly what she prayed she wouldn’t have to do. “If only Sloan hadn’t gone down that damned hole.”
But she had, and now Elena had to get her out.
Elena put in the new bolt and reached for the rope. Her fingers weren’t doing as she wanted and her hands were shaking, but she was determined to tie the Italian hitch.
“I’m coming up!” Sloan shouted.
She looked to Sloan’s bolt to see it barely hanging in place. “No! Stop, Sloan!”
Before the words were out of her mouth, the bolt jerked from the rock and down into the darkness. Elena’s stomach fell to her feet like lead as she could only stare in bewilderment at the missing bolt.
There was a second of silence and then she heard Sloan scream before that, too, faded to nothing.
“No. No, no, no, no, no,” Elena said as she ran to the hole. “Sloan? Can you hear me? Sloan!”
Only silence met her calls.
She refused to panic. Elena crawled to her pack and searched for her cell phone, hoping she could call someone, but just as she feared, there was no signal.
Tears stung her eyes, but she brushed them away. She had three choices. She could lower herself in the hole and look for Sloan. She could leave and try to get help—that was if she could find the way out. Or she could stay where she was.
Elena lay on her stomach and looked over the side of the gap again. There was no sign of Sloan’s light, and she had no idea how far the chasm went.
“Oh,” she said and reached for a small rock.