by: Norah Wilson
Series: The Standish Clan
Genre: Contemporary Romance
Release Date: January 5, 2016
Publisher: Something Shiny Press
Ocean Siliker has come back to Harkness, New Brunswick in defeat, after failing to set New York on fire with her playwriting. The first item on her agenda? Climbing White Crow Cliff, where her best friend Lacey Douglas died six years ago. If she conquers the mountain, perhaps she can rediscover her courage. But the only thing she finds herself is…lost.
Family obligations have left Titus Standish stuck in Harkness. While his younger siblings went off into the world, he stayed, working the farm and running the local search and rescue. He was there when Lacey fell to her death and blames himself. He dreads the day another mission takes him up there again. But when Ocean’s mother calls, concerned that her daughter is wandering the mountain, he leaps into action.
Ocean is thrilled to be found…until she sees her savior. She’s known Titus Standish all her life, and has loved him almost that long. But at four years his junior, she was just a kid with a crush. When Titus finds her, he’s determined to march her back down the mountain to safety. But Ocean has other plans; she’ll be damned if she’ll give up this trek. Yet all trails seem to lead to one place…straight into Titus’s arms.
For what felt like the hundredth time, he shouted her name. And this time—thank you, God— she answered.
“Here!” The shout came from his right. Relief washed over him.
He’d found her; she was safe.
This time it wasn’t going to end badly. This time Harkness Mountain wouldn’t win.
He started toward the sound of her voice, picking up his pace. Pushing a pine branch out of the way, he finally saw her standing in front of a huge boulder. It hit him again how completely grown up she was. Slender, but strong-looking, and rounded in all the right places. Glossy black curls poked out from beneath a knit toque, framing a slightly square-shaped face with high cheekbones. Those enormous blue eyes no longer looked too big for her face. Her cheeks were red with the cold.
As he moved closer, a mental picture of him taking her face into his hands to warm those chilled cheeks flashed through his mind. His lips tightened. That thought was not put there by his wilderness survival training. It might be chilly, but there was zero risk of frostbite. No need in the world for him to touch her. Irritated, he pushed the image away. He had a job to do.
“Are you all right?” he asked when he reached her. “Are you hurt in any way?”
She shook her head. “I’m fine.”
“Not overly. I’m dressed in layers.”
He nodded. At least she’d known enough to dress properly. The temperature was sure to drop further as the sun moved through the afternoon sky and evening set in.
“I’m surprised to find you here.”
Ocean blinked. “Not too surprised, surely? I mean, you were calling my name, right?”
“Surprised that someone—especially someone from Harkness—would be foolish enough to go hiking on this mountain without telling anyone.”
Immediately, her eyes narrowed. “How’d you know I was here?”
“Your mother called.”
“So she did hear me. I didn’t think she could. The connection was terrible.”
“Dad didn’t mention anything about a phone conversation,” Titus said. “But I gather you left a map of the trail system on your bed.”
“Ah, that’s where I left it. You didn’t happen to bring another one with you, did you?”
Of course he had an extra map with him, neatly zipped into a protective water-proof map holder in his backpack. The latest edition, complete with all the trail warnings highlighted in yellow—his own personal touch. But he wasn’t about to tell her that. He didn’t like the wild and quick hope he’d seen in her eyes when she’d asked.
“Well, do you have one?”
“Don’t need one,” he said. “I know my way around the mountain. It doesn’t change much from year to year.”
“Or at all.”
He shrugged. “Just like the town. Some things never change.”
She held his gaze for long moments before she looked away. He felt something in his gut stir with that blue-eyed scrutiny.
Yes, Harkness was the same.
The same stores lined the town streets, and though there might be a new coat of paint on some of the old buildings, they were painted the exact same colors as before. Buzz Adams was still chief of police. Trinity Delong ran the town’s only bed and breakfast.
And despite all his grand plans, Titus Standish was still at the family farm.
“What brings you back to town?” he said. “The last I heard, you were living the high life in New York City. Writing the next big Broadway hit.”
He lifted an eyebrow. “Did I say something wrong?”
“Not at all.” She forced a smile. “But contrary to popular belief—or not so popular belief—the producers of Mama Mia have nothing to fear from me.”
Ah, hell. He usually knew enough to keep his foot out of his mouth. Well, he’d opened the subject now. “New York didn’t work out the way you wanted?”
“Not even close. I’m home to stay this time.”
The sudden silence was broken by a raucous cawing. Titus glanced up to see a crow making its way from tree to tree. He watched it until it was lost in the shadows and silence.
Shadows. It was getting late. Afternoon would be giving way to night before too long.
Fortunately, he had enough daylight left to get her back down the mountain. But damned if he was in a hurry to get going. If he had his druthers, he’d stay here and talk to this grown-up Ocean, maybe find out why that look had flashed in her eyes when he’d asked about New York.
But he knew his responsibility. He had to get her back down to safety, back to her car and home to her mother.
“I’ve an extra canteen of water if you need—”
She waved off his offer. “I’m fine. I brought water.”
“How’s your energy level?”
“Energy level?” She frowned. “I don’t know—average?”
He suppressed a smile. “I meant, when was the last time you ate?”
“Minutes ago. I had some chocolate dirt.”
“Energy bar,” she clarified, as she picked up her pack and shrugged it back onto her shoulders.
He snorted. “We’ll start down then. I’ll have you back home with your mother by seven.”
He could have sworn the temperature dropped at the sound of her voice. When he met her gaze, those soft eyes had turned to stone.
“What do you mean, you’ll have me back?”
Titus ran a hand over his stubbled chin. “Is there a problem?”
Apparently, there was, judging by the way she was gaping at him.
“Unbelievable.” She shook her head. “Just like that, you think I’m going to follow you down the mountain?”
He did not like the way this was suddenly going. What had just happened here? Usually when he rescued someone, they were grateful. It wasn’t like he was looking for a round of applause, but a little less hostility would be nice.
“Ocean, we have to go now,” he said. “We have to make our way back to Yasmine—”
“But we’re so close to Angel Trail.”
“We are, but—”
“Yes!” She did a fist pump. “I knew it! How close am I?”
Titus pressed his lips firmly together.
He had to maintain his authority. There were times for negotiation, but this wasn’t one of them. He couldn’t leave her blundering around the mountainside with night approaching.
“There are dangers up here, Ocean. Hidden drop offs. The darker it gets, the more dangerous the traveling will become. We’re going back to Yasmine, then down, and it’s not up for debate.”
“Well, you’re right about one thing,” she said. “There won’t be any debate. No matter what some people might think, you are not the king of this mountain, Titus Standish.”
His pulse leapt. “We’re going back, now, even if I have to carry you every step of the way.”
“So, what? You’re going to manhandle me, Titus?”
Her voice was low, and he was pretty sure her words weren’t meant to sound like a sexual challenge. But damned if his body didn’t respond that way.
“Only if I have to.”
Her eyes widened.
And for the briefest, stupidest moment, he thought the matter was settled. That he’d won this battle of wills.
Then she leveled him with a gaze that scared him. “I’m heading up to White Crow Cliff. Nothing’s going to stop me, Titus. Not even you. I’m going to where Lacey died.”
Where Lacey died.
The words hit him like a jab to the solar plexus. One he hadn’t braced himself for. Yet one he’d spent the last six years bracing against.
It threw him off balance long enough for Ocean to turn on her heel and march away.
He blinked, bringing her back into focus as she put more distance between them. “Ocean, come back. Don’t be crazy.”
She turned around, but kept backing away. “I told you, I’m going up.”
“Not that way,” he said. “Seriously, Ocean. Stop.”
“Not the boss of the mountain, Titus. Remember?”
Grinning, she lifted her hand and mimed dropping a mic, like she’d just demolished him or something. He’d have laughed, under different circumstances. On this mountain, it wasn’t funny.
“Christ, Ocean! Watch out!” He started toward her, his body filling with liquid dread. “There’s a drop off behind you.”
Heeding his urgency, she did turn around then. She should have had plenty of time to stop. But as she turned, the toe of her boot caught an exposed root and she stumbled. He raced toward her while she fought to regain her balance. For a fleeting second, it looked like she’d righted herself, but then she started sliding over the edge, losing her footing on the slippery mat of pine needles.
“No!” He lunged, managing to grab the hood of her bomber jacket. It separated from the coat with a tearing sound that ripped right through to his soul.
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A USA Today bestselling author of contemporary romance, romantic suspense and paranormal romance, Norah lives in Fredericton, New Brunswick, with her husband, two adult children, two dogs (Ruby and Neva) and two cats (Ruckus and Milo).
Norah is a three-time finalist in the Romance Writers of America's Golden Heart contest. In 2003, she won Dorchester Publishing's New Voice in Romance contest.
In addition to writing romance, Norah also writes in the mystery and YA genres with writing partner Heather Doherty. The mystery is the cozy variety, not the thriller variety (they dare you to read a Dix Dodd mystery and not laugh out loud).
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