THAT ONE MOMENT

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Fresh froma devastating break-up, Ricki Sheridan sought refuge high in the RockyMountains, convinced a brutal survival challenge would restore herselfconfidence.  

Or so she
thought.

Strong and
seasoned mentally and physically, she looked forward to proving she still had
the ability to survive the worst conditions.

It was
important to her. From the ROTC program in high school and college, to a Crime
Scene Forensic Investigator in the U.S. Navy, she knew how to push herself.
Now, she was a game warden in the Dallas, Texas area. Exactly where she wanted
to be. Everything in her life was in control.

Except her
heart.

Russ
Desmond charmed his way into her life. A detective in the Dallas force, she
never questioned his sincerity. His dashing smile, killer body, and like-minded
goals convinced her it must be the real thing. The door to her heart opened and
she took a chance on love for the second time.

Because of
a painful experience with a high school sweetheart and his infidelity with her
best friend, she turned to military training to put the humiliating experience
behind her. She pushed the limits and concealed all thoughts of love or
relationships.

Until
Russ.

She let
herself trust, again. Put the past behind her. Decided it was time to open her
heart and begin anew.

For two
years, she thought she had the world by the tail. A trusted best friend, Leila,
a handsome boyfriend, the perfect career. What could go wrong?

But it
did. Horribly wrong.

She found
Leila and Russ in bed together.

The raw
pain burned in her memory. She ran.

Now, here
she was on the top of a mountain at Wolf’s Den Lodge about to careen down the
side of a cliff.

Of course,
a knight in shining armor would come along. Isn’t it always the way the story
goes? But, she was determined to destroy any chance of a storybook ending.

His namewas Kory Littleton, head trail boss. He looked the part. Dark, wavy hair, greatsmile, flannel shirt, strong build. He offered help, but she rebuffed him. Theone thing she hadn’t mastered was her temper and she let it fly. 

Nonetheless,
weather conditions intervened with no choice but to camp on the mountainside
with him. An emotional wreck and to her horror, she broke down in tears, something
she abhorred. Emotional exhaustion.

Kory
recognized the signs. He did everything to comfort her, masking his own
emotional pain in the process. By the light of the fire, and in the heat of the
moment, they shared a kiss.

That one
moment changed everything.

Ricki
realized she’d never experienced passion before that kiss. Her body vibrated
from it, the skies opened, and she saw everything clearly. As quickly as she
allowed the fire to burn, however, she shut it down.

It’s not going to happen, again.

Kory had closed
himself off from emotion ever since his ex-wife left. She was a city girl. He
shouldn’t have tried to force her into his life style. His work was his
mistress now. The mountain a stern taskmaster. Something out of his control
moved him to kiss Ricki. He literally felt the earth move as their lips
touched.

What just happened?

Disciplined
and efficient, it wasn’t like him to act on impulse. But, he just did. Now
what? It was so unprofessional. He’d have to apologize.

The kiss
left him unnerved and he disappeared into the woods. He returned to find her in
front of the fire. She looked small sitting there, alone. Vulnerable. He wanted
to scoop her up in his arms and protect her. But, he wouldn’t. Instead, he apologized.

Something
flickered across her face when he told her he was sorry. Disappointment?

She
accepted his apology and that was the end of it.

A medical
emergency took Kory down the mountain in the middle of the night.

He leftSteve Gorman, another trail boss, to guide Ricki to the base camp where she meta new friend, Rebecca Blair. Together they tackled all the elements ofsurvival. However, it wasn’t lost on Rebecca that Ricki couldn’t get KoryLittleton out of her mind.  

Kory
wanted to go back up the mountain, find Ricki, and explain. His boss, Wolf
Kelley, had other ideas. Take two new clients to the higher lake.

One of
them was Russ Desmond, but Kory had never heard Ricki mention his name. He
wouldn’t find out who he was until fate stepped in.

The
farther Kory travelled up the mountain the more determined he became to find
his way back to Ricki, somehow. When they arrived, he left Russ and his partner
in the other trail boss’s care and returned to Ricki’s camp.

He found
her building a raft. No matter how hard he tried, she gave him the cold
shoulder.

Until the
storm changed everything.

Ricki was
determined to save her raft and braved the storm to secure it.

Kory found
her the next morning half dead. After she revived, he offered her a way to
change the course of her life, a job in the mountains with him.

She
refused.

Disheartened,
Kory returned to the other camp, high on the mountain.

The storm
left Ricki’s camp devastated and unusable. They had no choice but to hike to
the higher lake and join forces with the other camp.

Almost
immediately, she spotted Russ and chaos broke out in the camp.

All
confrontation halted because of the threat of a rogue bear.

Sentries
were posted and all available men took their turns on watch.

Except,
Russ Desmond.

He hovered
in the trees until he caught Ricki alone, grabbed her from behind, and dragged
her into the woods.

All her
training kicked in as she convinced him to let her go. A false promise to
return to Dallas with him reassures him and he released her.

She has nointention of keeping that promise. Instead, she found Kory, and together theyleave the camp to hike back to the lodge to notify police.  

Unfortunately,
Russ finds out she’s gone and follows them.

A bear
derails Ricki and Kory’s plan of escape and leaves them at the mercy of Russ’s
sociopathic revenge. A life and death struggle in the middle of a huge mountain
brings Kory and Ricki closer.

Skill, and
a little bit of luck, defeat Russ in the mountain wilderness and lands him
behind bars.

Kory urges
her to stay and start over with him, but her guilt and self-doubt leave her
unable to believe in herself. She returns to Dallas.

Unable to
cope with the memories back home, she accepted a new job in a small town
seventy-five miles from Wolf Den’s Lodge, but doesn’t tell anyone, not even
Kory.

In a
strange twist of events, Russ is released from jail and the nightmare begins
again.

Will Russ
find her?

Will Kory
come to the rescue or will he become a victim of Russ’s maniacal plan?

A story of
how an indomitable, self-reliant woman falls prey to the vulnerabilities of the
heart.

 



THAT ONE MOMENT

By

Patty Wiseman

CHAPTER ONE

Ricki
Sheridan didn’t expect to die falling off a mountain ledge.

One
misstep, a soft spot on the trail, and her leather hiking boot slipped over the
edge, sending a shower of gravel over the jagged cliff. 

Unbalanced
and top-heavy, her scream echoed across the deep ravine like a wounded loon
falling from the sky. She jerked the backpack to the right, dragged her left
foot up the ridge, and fell against the rocky cliff gasping for air.

Amisty fog wet her face and chilled her fingers while tendrils of fear snakedaround every nerve.  Breathe, Ricki, you
didn’t go over. You’re okay.

Sheshrugged the pack off her shoulder and eased her sore body onto the makeshiftcushion.  The trembling persisted,
uncontrolled, and violent.

That
was a little too close.

Thankful
no one witnessed the near disaster, she gulped the crisp mountain air to
restore balance and quiet the pounding in her chest. A mixture of grit and
sweat slid over one brow and stung her eye. The only thing available to erase
the grime and unbidden tears was the sleeve of her faded denim shirt, which she
hastily swiped across her face. 

The
pup tent on top of the pack slid to one side. She stood to re-center it and
mumbled, “This trip might be a bad idea. I should have stayed in Texas.” 

Ricki
is a strong woman most times, but the most vulnerable aspect of her personality
failed her, again. When it comes to men, she always chooses the wrong one. This
time was the last straw, because this time it involved her best friend. 

Anotherdeep breath diminished the shaking. “Lucky I didn’t tumble down on top of thesecond team.” 

“You
alright?” 

The
deep male voice made her jump and spin around. Off balance again, she teetered
to the right and kicked another spray of gravel over the edge. 

The
man reached out to steady her. “Whoa, let me help you.”

His
name was Kory Littleton, one of the trail bosses. She saw him at Wolf’s Den
Lodge, noticed his ink black eyes and quick smile, but chose to hang back and
keep her distance. When the group took to the trail, she decided to bring up
the rear. As a result, she fell farther behind the others, but that suited her
purpose. Her goal was to be alone. She aimed to keep it that way. 

“Thanks,I’m fine, just tripped. Pack is a little off balance.  I’ve got it covered.”

 Her wanna-be rescuer ran a hand through thick,
raven hair, assessed her with a glance, and said softly. “You look like you
need a little break.”

Overcomewith a sudden awareness of her physical state, her hand went swiftly to her owndisheveled mane.  She smoothed the
windblown tangles as best she could. “I said I could handle it. It’s steep
here, that’s all. I was looking up instead of the trail. No harm done.”

“What’s
your name?”

She
ducked her head. “Ricki Sheridan.”

He
stretched out his hand. “We didn’t get to meet formally. I’m Kory Littleton,
Trail Boss.”

“I
know who you are.” The rude retort wasn’t natural to her, but necessary to keep
the distance she coveted. 

“Isaw your name on the list. Nice to put a face to it.  Ever been on a pack trip before? This is a
good mountain to start on.”

To
her relief, she didn’t have a chance to answer. Another group arrived in single
file, impatient, and unable to pass.

A
short, scruffy man scanned the sky and looked back at Kory. “You gonna stop on
this narrow ledge or what, Chief? It’ll be nightfall soon.”

Shadows
darkened the snow tipped peaks, clouds drifted across the late afternoon sky,
and a keen breeze cut through Ricki’s thin shirt. 

She
shivered.

Littletonstepped around in front. “Take your troop on ahead. The lady experienced asmall set-back. Her ankle’s bleeding. I’m gonna doctor it.” He lowered hisvoice.  “Watch the trail over there,
Steve, it’s soft. Don’t want anyone to slip off the mountain.”

Steve
Gorman eyed the edge of the trail and turned back to survey Ricki’s injured
ankle. He nodded and spit a stream of tobacco juice into the dirt.

She
looked down. Blood oozed over the thick, woolen sock onto her low rider boot.

“Next
time, try the high-tops. They’re safer,” Steve said. He brushed by, motioning
the others to follow. He and the rest of his band followed him around the bend.

“Sit
down, the first aid kit is in my pack,” Kory ordered.

Her
chin rose in defiance, another chink in her armor—a quick temper. “Thanks, I
can bandage it. Take care of the rest of your group.”

He
grinned good-naturally and gave her a cheerful salute. “I’m an Eagles Pass
Trail Boss, ma’am. We never leave anyone behind. That’s our motto. I’m the head
guide, gotta set the example.” The bulky pack slipped easily off his broad
back.

“Headguide, huh? What makes you so special?”
Embarrassed about her clumsy mishap, she couldn’t resist the urge to
goad him. 

“Oh,
I don’t know, probably because I’ve been around longer—saved a few more lives.”
The smile flashed again before his teeth ripped through the adhesive bandage.
“Now hold still, I’ve done this a couple of million times, we’ll be through in
a flash.”

She
flinched at his touch, a small shock of pain raced through the ankle.

“It’s
bruised, and it’ll be tender, but should be fine,” he said.

She
watched his face as he worked. The image of trail boss conjured up flannel
shirts, knee-high boots, a gruff personality, and five o’clock shadow. This one
is different. Clean shaven, strong white teeth, weather-roughened skin, and
he’s kind. He’s got the red flannel shirt down, though.

Sheshivered again, this time from his strong hand holding her ankle sogently.   “Look, Mr. Littleton, I
appreciate your help. The backpack got the better of me, I admit…packed too
heavy. I’ll fix it and be right along. Please get back to the others. I’m an
experienced back-packer, thanks to my father. I know the mountains.”

“Thename is Kory. Steve is my back up. We need to stick to the rules. I’ll help yourearrange your load, and we’ll both catch up. We don’t leave anyone behind,remember?  ‘Fraid you’re stuck with me.
Can you put weight on the ankle?” He slung her pack over one shoulder and
heaved his pack over the other arm.

She
winced at his reprimand, but eased herself to a stand. “Yes, it’s okay.”

Taking
orders wasn’t her strong suit. From the ROTC program in high school and college
to a Crime Scene Forensic Investigator in the U.S. Navy, she was used to having
the upper hand. But, that was all over now. After her enlistment was up, she
turned civilian and applied for a Game Warden position in Dallas. Wildlife
suited her more than a stuffy office. She thrived in the outdoors with nothing
to confine her but the blue sky. 

“Better
get a move on then. There’s a wide spot in the trail up ahead. We’ll reorganize
there.” He disappeared around the bend.

She
followed slowly, testing the ankle with each step.

Sprawled
on a rotten log, he systematically unloaded the first few contents of her pack.
The boyish grin flashed, again, as he held up a small book. “Ah, reading
material. Hope you don’t plan to keep your nose in a book the whole time. This
is a retreat, I know, but don’t forget there are nine other people here. Good practice
to interact with the other campers.”

She
snatched the book from his hand. “Put it down. It’s my journal and none of your
business. I said I’ll redo my pack.”

Kory
drew his hand back— the smile disappeared. “Sorry Ricki, I meant no harm. Chill
out, I didn’t peek.”

She
flung the remaining contents on the ground one a time. “This trip’s a big
mistake. I’m heading back to the lodge.”

Hisvoice changed from jovial to real concern. “Hey, slow down. You’ll never makeit back down the mountain before dark. The weather calls for a storm sometimetomorrow.  I can’t let you go.” He picked
up each item she threw at him and organized them according to weight and size.

Shestamped her good foot. “You can’t stop me. I paid my money. It’s on my head. Idon’t want to do this anymore.”   

To
her horror, hot tears trickled down her face. She started to shake.

In
one stride, he reached her before she toppled over. “I apologize, Ricki. Sit
down. You’re exhausted. Six miles is a lot when it’s uphill luggin’ a pack, especially
if you haven’t done it in a while. I’m here for a reason, let me do my job.”

Suddenly,
weakness overcame her in a most disconcerting way. She collapsed against him,
sobs wracking her body. 

His
strong arms encircled her. He wiped two large tears from her cheek with his
thumb, and whispered softly, “It’s okay, Freckles. We all have our breaking
point.”

 “Don’t call me Freckles!” She gulped between
sobs, the unpredictable temper blazed hot.

“I’m
sorry—again. I can’t say anything right, it seems. Too long in the mountains, I
guess.” He hesitated. “I meant it as a compliment. They’re very pretty on you.”

“I…I
never cry. Never.” The temper subsided into annoyance.

He
held her a little too tight and whispered a little too softly in her ear,
“Maybe it’s time to let go.”

The
sobs stopped abruptly at the intimate encounter. She pulled away and wiped her
eyes on one dirty sleeve. “It’s over now. It won’t happen again.”

He
turned, grabbed a bedroll, and spread it on the ground. “Sit.” His voice left
no room for argument.

Never
in her memory had she done anything so embarrassing, so out of character.
Self-control was one of her strong suits, a source of pride to her. Military
training had a hand in that. 

He
rearranged each item in her pack, buckled it up, re-cinched the straps, and set
it against the dead log. “All done. Feelin’ any better?” He squatted on both
heels in front of her. “You’re in no shape to hike down the mountain. Let’s see
if we can sort this out before we rejoin the others.”

Her
protest withered on quivering lips. Voices echoed in the faded forest. Someone
or something was about to round the bend.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Author

Patty Wiseman

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