Hot as Sin Page 55

She forced a small smile, trying desperately to keep the faith.

After putting his pack back on, Sam got to work quickly screwing the bolts into the rock beside them, using them as hand- and footholds to climb up and over the rock. Too soon, he disappeared from view.

For three days, he’d only left her side once, when the cabin had been on fire at the campgrounds. After ten years of being alone, sixty seconds without him had her heart pounding, especially when her brain rewound to the conversation they’d had just before heading out here: “What if some deranged fan of yours thinks this is the perfect way to finally meet you, way up in the Rockies with no one else around?”

She couldn’t understand why anyone would want to go to that sort of trouble over her. But still, she found herself looking at the forest with wary eyes, until even the sound of the birds and the leaves rustling in the breeze fell on suspicious ears.

God, how she hated standing on the trail helplessly waiting for Sam to come back.

That’s when it hit her—she didn’t need to wait. She knew how to climb up the rock, and had left most—if not all—of her fear of heights behind her on that first rock face with Sam two days ago.

She was just reaching for the first set of bolts when she heard voices.

But who could Sam be talking to way up here on an unmarked trail in the middle of nowhere?

Her first thought was that the police had already come. But even from a distance what she was hearing didn’t seem like a friendly conversation.

Oh God, she thought with increasing alarm, had Sam been right? Was the anonymous tip to the police a trap?

She knew what he would tell her; he’d insist on her turning around, going back to the Farm, calling the police, and waiting somewhere safe for his return. But there was no way she could leave him to fend for himself.

Sam had saved her so many times. Now it was her turn to save him.

Reaching for the bolts, she pulled herself up off the trail. Her heart immediately started racing, her palms began to sweat, and her legs trembled like crazy. But even though her body was still doubting she could do this, her heart knew differently.

Sam had taught her how not to be afraid.

Taking a slow, deep breath to calm herself, she put all of her focus on the goal of getting up and over the rock, refusing to leave even a smidge of room for fear to creep back in.

As she climbed, the grunts and curses from the other side of the trail grew louder, more intense. Moving as quickly as she could over the rock without slipping, she finally got high enough to see down over the other side to the trail.

Her breath caught as a stranger pointed a gun at Sam. But instead of backing off, Sam threw himself against the man, knocking him hard into the rock beside the trail. It occurred to her that something about the man’s face was vaguely familiar, but she didn’t have time to try to place it, not when she needed to find some way to stop Sam from being shot.

As she clamored across the rock faster than she would have ever thought she could, Sam looked up.

“Dianna, get the hell out of here!” he shouted, momentarily distracted by seeing her.

And then, as if in slow motion, the man gave an unholy roar and shoved Sam with all his might.

Her mouth opened and she thought she screamed as Sam’s boots slipped on the slick trail and his heavy pack pulled him backward off the edge, sending him flying through the thin mountain air.

CHAPTER TWENTY-ONE

SHOCK PARALYZED her, making her fingers slip off the cold metal bolts. She was sliding down the rock, but instead of hitting the trail and falling off the edge to her death, she was caught by the man who’d pushed Sam. No!

Hands clamped down over her windpipe and she gasped for air. She needed to find a way to get away from this man and go get help for Sam.

If he was still alive after his fall. If she could even find him.

As she struggled to fight her way out of the man’s strong grip, her mind, her heart, and her body were all revolting at the thought of Sam dying.

From the first moment she’d met him, he’d been larger than life. After all the risks he’d taken in his life as a hotshot, after all the fires he’d outrun, she refused to believe that Sam could die like this.

He had to be alive. She’d know if he were dead, wouldn’t she?

Or was that just a lie she had to tell herself so that she could keep going without him? Especially when after ten years of stubbornly denying their love for each other, she’d known in her gut that they were on the verge of a new start.

Not a terrible ending.

The man’s fingers clenched tighter around her neck and chills overtook her at the same time that her vision darkened.

“Don’t pass out on me now, bitch,” the man growled, removing his stranglehold on her neck just in time.

Taking in huge gulps of oxygen, when the fuzzy black dots finally cleared from her vision, she realized she was looking straight into the barrel of his gun.

“Big tough guy like that, you’d think he would have put up more of a fight. But I picked the perfect spot,” the man bragged. “There’s no way he could have survived the fall. Serves him right for being in my way. Always protecting you. Now that I’ve gotten rid of him, you’re all mine.”

A thick, murky fog came at her, swirling into her head, threatening to take her down. She’d fainted only once before when she’d worked too many hours under hot lights without a break and this was exactly how she’d felt before she dropped.

“Get up.”

Everything was spinning as she rolled onto her hands and knees. Bile rose in her throat and somehow she held it down, instinctively knowing better than to show her fear.

Pulling herself to her feet against the rock face, she turned to look at him. His cold, glassy eyes, his twitching mouth, and his shaking, white-knuckled hands told her just how unhinged he really was.

She’d never seen anyone look so angry. So deadly.

“What do you want with me?” she finally managed to croak from out of her bruised throat.

“You killed my brother.”

She stared at the stranger in disbelief. What was he talking about?

“I’ve never hurt anyone,” she immediately protested. “You must have me confused with someone else.”

He shook the gun at her, his finger poised on the trigger.

“Oh no, I know exactly who you are. Big, fancy TV star. Everyone wanted a piece of you at the hospital. But nobody gave a rat’s ass about my brother.”

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