Hot as Sin Page 39

“Lean into me for a second.”

She didn’t hesitate to take him up on the offer.

“Everyone gets sewing machine leg on their first climb.”

The fact that he was talking to her as if they were sitting in a coffee shop rather than clinging to cold rock a hundred feet in the air helped snap her out of her panic. She needed to follow his lead, keep the conversation going, pretend she was shooting a live show.

“There’s a name for what my legs are doing?”

“You bet. It’s perfectly normal.”

He didn’t offer to help her down off the rock and she appreciated how well he knew her. Even though she was scared spitless, she couldn’t turn away from helping April.

“I want you to trust me, Dianna. Tell me why you’re afraid of heights.”

She was so surprised by what he was asking that for a moment, she forgot she was hanging on to the edge of a cliff with her fingertips.

“I just am.”

He laughed softly, the mellow sound running through her veins like a sedative. “Nice try. Now what’s the real reason?”

God, she didn’t know. She’d just always stayed away from ladders and rooftops. But before she could say this to Sam, a picture flashed through her mind and she gasped.

“What is it?” he asked, holding her steady with his body.

Her breath came fast again. “I think I saw a man fall when I was a little girl.”

“Who was it?”

She closed her eyes, tried to place his face. “I don’t know.”

But something told her he was important, especially when she thought about the way her mother had behaved later, crying and raging at Dianna.

“I think it was one of my mother’s boyfriends.”

In a soothing tone, Sam said, “The man fell, Dianna. Not you. It wasn’t your fault. You were just a little girl who saw too much.”

Amazingly, her heartbeat began to slow. Was he right? Could she have developed a phobia because of what she’d seen happen to someone else?

“Do you want to talk about it some more?”

Her heart swelled, knowing that he was no longer angry at her, that at the very least they could get through this as friends helping each other.

“No, I think I’m okay now.”

“Good. Then let’s try doing this a different way. We’re going to climb up together.”

God love him, he made it sound so easy.

“How?”

“Like this, with you cradled against my body. I’m going to strap your harness through mine. Every move you make, I’ll make with you.”

Again, instead of making her feel like an idiot for diving into deeper water than she could possibly swim in, he was putting his own life on the line. Then again, hadn’t he jumped into this rescue mission without a thought for himself from the very beginning?

“I can’t let you do that, Sam. I could kill us both.”

The low rumble of his laughter blew across her earlobe again. “Don’t worry, babe, I won’t let you do that.”

Of all the insane places to be hot for a guy, this one took the cake, stuck on the side of a rock, wrapped up in ropes. It struck her, then, that he’d done the impossible. He’d eased her fear enough for crazy desire to come rushing back in.

Slowly, inch by inch, they climbed up together. She couldn’t see the ground around his large body, which was a very good thing given what had happened the previous time she’d looked down. She focused all of her energy on the peak, and although rock climbing ranked as one of the most difficult things she’d ever done, before she knew it, she was actually making it up the side of a mountain.

“We’ve got it under control,” Sam said.

Safe in the curve of his large body, Dianna almost believed him.

The muscles in her arms and legs and stomach ached as she hugged the wall. Even the rest periods where they held on to a small ledge so that she could catch her breath were hard work. And then, after what seemed like an eternity, but was probably only twenty minutes or so, she was gripping the edge of the rock and pulling herself up to the top of the cliff.

Standing at the peak brought an unexpected smile to her face. She couldn’t believe how powerful she felt after facing down one of her biggest fears. Her first climb safely behind her, she was able to see what a huge adrenaline rush it had been. It was a new sensation, totally different from the rush of taping a live show for millions of viewers.

She’d assumed she’d be a complete wreck after climbing up the rock, but the reverse was true. She felt invincible, ready for any challenge that came her way, which was good because the challenges were lined up before her, one after the other.

Why, she suddenly wondered, had she been afraid of heights for so long?

And what else was she afraid of that she shouldn’t be?

They donned their heavy packs, and when they hit the hiking trail Sam said, “You set the pace. If my coordinates are right, we should be there in about thirty minutes.”

She led the way up the narrow deer trail, moving steadily, and she was actually grateful for the hard physical labor, for anything to focus on besides her worries about her sister, which only increased as they hiked closer to the commune.

Constantly looking at her watch, the minutes ticked down. Twenty-five, then twenty, then fifteen as they traversed a steep switchback, until suddenly, Sam grabbed her arm.

“We’re here.”

She looked around and saw nothing but tree stumps and bushes, but she knew the GPS on Sam’s watch was accurate. He motioned for her to give him her pack and when she did he slid both of their bags into the bushes. “Are you ready to do this?”

Dianna’s heart jumped into her throat, but she said, “I’m ready.”

CHAPTER FOURTEEN

“I’M GOING to take the lead now,” he told her quietly. “If anything looks dangerous, if it looks like we’re in any kind of danger, I want you to get the hell out of here.”

She shook her head. “You shouldn’t even be here. April’s my sister, not yours. And no matter how dangerous the commune is, I’m not leaving without you.”

His expression was harder than the granite they’d just climbed. “I can take care of myself and I will find your sister. But I won’t let you risk your life. And I won’t let you get hurt. Promise me you’ll go for help if something happens or we aren’t setting one foot onto the commune.”

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