Hot as Sin Page 24

“There’s more you’re not telling me, isn’t there?”

A muscle jumped in his jaw. “Will’s heard rumors.”

“What kind of rumors?”

“The Feds have been trying to shut it down for years, sure that they’re hiding something. Evidently, the Farm looks clean from the outside, like nothing more than a group of green advocates wanting to live off the land.”

“Maybe it is clean,” she found herself saying out of desperation, even though she was suddenly sure that her fears for April’s safety were completely justified. “Maybe they aren’t doing anything worse than growing medical marijuana. Maybe they’re all just looking for a simpler life?”

“Maybe. But word is the owner of the Farm hasn’t been off the mountain in more than a decade. He’s built his own little world up there. Doesn’t need any part of civilization. Makes you wonder why. Especially since most communes aren’t growing pot anymore.” His expression was as serious as she’d ever seen it. “Methamphetamine is king, Dianna, and the drug makes people crazy, obliterates their brain cells. Don’t forget what happened in Jonestown,” he said, referencing shootings, poisonings, and mass suicides at the intentional community in Guyana led by California cult leader Jim Jones in the ’80s.

Oh no, she thought, no longer able to wallow in denial, what have you gotten yourself into, April?

“There is a primitive dirt road that heads toward the commune, but it’s totally impassable right now due to some trees that went down during late spring storms.”

With every word he said, she could feel herself sinking deeper and deeper into despair. “But we’ve got to get there, Sam.”

“My friend will drive us as far up the road as he can get.”

His eyes moved from her face to her arms, then her legs. He was clearly trying to assess her in some way. But how?

“I’ve spent a lot of time in these mountains, both as a hotshot and for pleasure. Everything within a fifty-mile radius of Vail is rugged mountains,” he informed her. “Fast-running rivers, steep rock faces, vertical hikes over boulders. It looks like the fastest way to the commune will be by river and then up through the mountains on foot.”

For the first time, Dianna wished she was less well versed in designers, and more in bagging high peaks. The only research she’d done on mountaineering had been when the star of Man vs. Wild had been a guest on her show, but even then she’d known that her viewers had been more interested in his smoldering looks and sexy British accent than his outdoor skills.

She figured she could easily handle camping and rafting. Water and dirt weren’t her problems.

Heights, however, were.

April. Think of April.

She didn’t have time for the butterflies in her stomach. She hadn’t gotten to where she was by allowing herself to be weak or to ever give in to her fears. She wouldn’t start now, when it mattered most.

“I can handle it, Sam. I work out at the gym with a trainer and I’ve taken some self-defense classes for a segment we did a couple of months ago, even though I haven’t spent much time outdoors. Not since—” She made herself finish her sentence. “Not since I moved to San Francisco.”

He looked into her eyes for several uncomfortable moments. “I can find your sister alone, Dianna.”

Wasn’t he the one who’d told her that he admired her for never running from a challenge? Regardless of the possible danger, she wasn’t going to back down. No matter how hard the going got.

“No way,” she said as evenly as she could, given how fast her heart was racing and how irritated she continued to be with his heavy-handedness. “I’m not going to sit here and wait for you to bring her back.”

“It’s not going to be easy,” he warned her again.

“Nothing ever is.”

His mouth tightened. Clearly, he wasn’t happy with her choice. Well, too bad.

Moving back toward the door, he said, “We’ve got to be prepared with tents. Whitewater equipment. Climbing ropes. I’m going to head out into town to pick up some gear before the stores close for the night. I want you to stay put while I’m gone.”

She didn’t have time to respond to his latest order before he was gone, knowing she had no other choice but to rely on his judgment and decisions for the time being. But as soon as she got her bearings back, she was going to let him know that she was subservient to no man.

Her head was still throbbing, so she downed a couple of Tylenol before packing up the clothes and toiletries she wouldn’t need in the Rockies to send home with Ellen. It didn’t take a wilderness pro to see that pretty much everything in her suitcase except her underwear would be useless on their trek to the commune.

Throwing her lingerie into a pile on top of the bed, she called her friend to quickly explain the situation. Ellen rushed into her room from the cafeteria a few minutes later.

“Are you crazy? You can’t go into the wilderness to find April!”

But Dianna’s mind was made up. “I’ll be safe with Sam,” she told her friend, even though, in truth, the exact opposite was true.

Although she knew with absolute certainty that he would keep her safe from the elements, she also knew that it would be nearly impossible to keep clear of the dangerous temptation he presented. Especially when his touch made her skin tingle and her brain forget why locking lips with him had been—and still would be—such a terrible idea.

“I promise to check in with you as soon as I can.” To forestall any further discussion, she said, “Thanks for taking my bag back home with you.”

“I really don’t like the sound of this,” Ellen said again.

Dianna silently agreed as she gave her friend one last hug good-bye. The entire situation was a powder keg ready to blow up at any second.

———

Sam came back to the hospital with two large backpacks full of gear. He’d had to push past the same wall of reporters on his way in and he was more irritated by them than he had any right to be. They were simply doing their job, even if he hated the way they were all trying to get a piece of Dianna.

She’d been all his once. Now she was a public commodity. And he was as much a stranger to her as any one of the reporters outside.

To make matters worse, he couldn’t get away from the look on her face when he’d asked her why she’d left.

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