Mountain Ranger Recon

By: Carol Ericson


“Meg, I don’t want to leave you and Travis here alone tonight.”

She’d been longing to hear those words all night, but not under the present circumstances. Not under any circumstances where Ian would feel obligated to stay.

“I think we’re good, Ian. We’re not even sure there was ever anyone lurking around outside.”

Ian’s eyes narrowed to cold slits. “Why are you pushing me away, Meg? I’m not interested in sharing your bed. It’s not just about you anymore. I have a son in there, and I’m here to protect him.”

His words lashed her face and she dropped her head, allowing her hair to create a veil around her hot cheeks. He wanted his son but not her. “Okay, you can stay.”

She jerked away from his gentle touch and pushed up from the couch. “I’ll get you a blanket and pillow.”

When she returned, Ian stepped over the coffee table with one long stride and enveloped her in a warm embrace. When he stroked the back of her hair, she melted against him…just a little.

“I should never have used your tour group. I never meant to drag you into my operation.”

“Maybe it was fate. You discovered your son.” And rediscovered he had a wife who could never admit how much she had missed him.








Prologue

He crouched beside the edge of the outcropping that had saved his life and peered at the trail snaking below him toward the small village at the base of the mountain. He narrowed his eyes and assessed the terrain—rugged but doable. He had to get to that town if it killed him. And it just might.

He flattened his belly against the rough slab of rock, scooted toward the edge and swung his legs over the side, sliding the rest of his body into oblivion. He hung onto the ledge with calloused hands, his legs swinging freely beneath him, the sharp pain in his ribs almost cutting off his breath. He fumbled against the side of the cliff with the toe of his boot until it met the foothold he’d scoped out minutes before.

Bracing all of his weight on the meager indentation in the side of the mountain, he released his grip on the edge of the outcropping and did a freefall before clutching at some scrubby bushes for support.

Okay, off his stone savior and pinned to the side of a hostile cliff.

The rough-and-tumble trail below him beckoned, and he extended his long frame, searching for the next foothold. He could do this. Somehow he knew he’d done it before—maybe not this particular cliff, maybe not this particular trail—but his hands and feet moved with a natural rhythm down the face of the mountain.

His head throbbed and he could feel his scalp prickle as the knot on the back of his skull grew bigger and harder. As if to remind him he had other injuries to worry about, a trickle of blood crawled down his cheek and he flicked it away with his tongue—blood, sweat and dirt creating a nauseating taste in his mouth.

He glanced over his shoulder, tempted to release his hold and drop to solid earth, but his aching body couldn’t absorb another fall. He continued his scrappy descent, blocking out the protesting screams and wails from the various cuts, scrapes and bruises dotting him from head to toe.

Two feet above terra firma, he dropped to the ground, his heavy boots cushioning the impact. As he hit the dirt and gravel feetfirst, he crouched down and folded his body forward, almost touching his forehead to the ground.

The rising sun warmed his back, and he rolled his shoulders to spread its heat through his stiff torso. He jerked his head up at the tinkling sound of a bell and gazed at the village hugging the bottom of the mountain.

Licking his lips, he pushed to his feet. He squeezed his eyes shut briefly against the pain that shot through his skull. Then he put one foot in front of the other as he trod down the trail toward civilization. He hoped to God someone down there could tell him how the hell he’d awakened on an outcropping in the middle of a mountain range.

Oh, and it would be a big plus if someone could tell him his name.





Chapter One

Meg O’Reilly’s heart slammed against the wall of her chest. And it had nothing to do with the altitude.

A tall, athletic man hopped off the Rocky Mountain Adventures van and Meg gulped, feeling like one of those cartoon characters with the googly eyes. The drop-dead gorgeous tourist with the short brown hair and drool-worthy body ignored her—and her googly eyes—while he helped a blonde adjust a backpack.

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