Book 3: Adrenaline Search & Rescue Series
A low buzz of propellers settled in his ears then inched down his spine like an eerie warning. Timothy Dextor planted his feet a little firmer on the gravel. He leaned on his truck door and stared upward, waiting for the first glimpse of the chopper to break through the low December cloud cover.
The deep-toned buzz in the distance increased in volume briefly before stuttering. The noise smoothed momentarily then choked again leaving a far quieter pulse accompanied by the thin whistle of the north wind.
His skipped heartbeat changed to a rapid pulse as the bright red body of a chopper burst from the clouds. A red top, twirling as it fell, the side to side motion barely balanced by the spin.
The rapid descent could mean disaster within the next thirty seconds. That is, if someone other than who he expected was flying.
Sure enough, the next move was not a continued free-fall toward certain death, but the re-ignition of the tail rotor. With a smooth swoop toward the clearing on the north, the helicopter leveled then hovered over the treetops with scant meters to spare.
Tim grinned. Good to know some things hadn’t changed. The entire time it took for the chopper to circle then land neatly beside the large industrial looking building, he was busy thinking about the things that had changed. Like him. Like his priorities.
Changes that meant the meeting that was now inevitable would be fiery and exciting and, hopefully, far more satisfying than the last time they’d been involved. Him and Erin.
The passenger door on the chopper opened. A slim man eased himself to the ground, pausing to rest his hands on his knees. His head hung low, and his body language screamed his discomfort as he fought to stay vertical. By the time the main propellers slowed their rotation, the man had finally found his feet and made his way none too steadily toward the building.
Such a typical Erin tactic.
Tim was too far away to see details, but he could picture her perfectly. The thick mass of hair she kept drawn back into a ponytail most of the time. Her smooth dark skin, soft under his fingers. Her long, lean body, firm under his demanding touch. Her dark eyes that would glitter at him in amusement. In passion. Flash all too often in anger.
All those images were crystal clear in his memory.
It was definitely Erin who exited the pilot’s door a minute later. Confident body position, head held high. Damn near cocky in her circle around the chopper and subsequent strut to headquarters.
Yeah, that was something that hadn’t changed one bit, and Tim was glad. Of course it also meant his chances of getting kicked in the nuts sometime in the next hour were at an all-time high.
The thought of the coming storm shouldn’t have made him grin so hard.
It had taken five minutes longer than Erin Tate expected to break the most recent applicant. Five minutes, and a spiraling descent wild enough that if she’d had been a passenger and not behind the controls of the chopper even she might have questioned their chances of survival.
Only she was the one handling the stick and adjusting controls, and that made all the difference. It was why she’d avoided the fate of the newest member wannabe to the Lifeline team who was in the change room attempting to pull himself together after his abrupt and explosive episode of nausea.
She squared her shoulders, stared at the wall and determinedly hid the smirk that wanted to escape.
Across the room her boss tossed her a dirty look. “You realize I’m onto you, right?”
“Of course, you are. Sir.”
Marcus Landers snorted his disbelief. “And don’t try to hand me that ultra-polite sirshit. Not now. Not after you’ve convinced all the candidates I’d shortlisted that they’d rather be stationed on Kodiak Island than join the insane crew based in Banff. What are we supposed to do on the next call-out? Go without a paramedic?”
“I have no objection to a competent search and rescuer joining the team,” Erin insisted.
“Sure looks that way to me.” Marcus tossed five files onto his desk, the papers spreading like fall leaves tossed in the wind. “All qualified, all eager to move here, and the longest any of them lasted is three weeks. I deserve an explanation. What is your goddamn problem?”
Erin eased back on her flippant mindset a notch. It wasn’t Marcus’s fault, but he needed to understand she wasn’t deliberately being a troublemaker. “I didn’t like their attitudes,” she shared honestly.
“Their attitudes?” Marcus’s brows were near the ceiling. “This from the woman who tells me to fuck off on a regular basis, and you had a problem with their attitudes?”
Erin twisted to face him.
Marcus had established their elite search and rescue team years ago with the reputation of hiring only the best. They went into areas and hauled people out of danger at the risk of their own lives. Climbers, avalanche specialists—people not only skilled in what they did, but who craved the adrenaline rush that came from staring death in the face and snatching people from the edge of disaster.
He leaned back in his chair and waited expectantly, and a frustrated sigh escaped her. Marcus supported their team through thick and thin. His experience in the field before he’d lost his arm and been grounded meant he knew what they were up against.
Trouble was he occasionally focused too hard on the job skills rather than the weakest link in the people themselves. Erin almost hated to do it, but her boss needed to be schooled in one harsh reality. “I’ve never suggested you should drop to your knees and service me, though, have I?”
Instant shock registered on his face. “You’ve got to be kidding.”
“Took the one who lasted three weeks that long to corner me in the change room to suggest he’d waited long enough for a taste of brown sugar.”
“Crap.” Marcus took a deep breath. “Erin, I’m damn sorry.”
She shrugged. “Not your fault the members of the old boys’ club are threatened by a female in a position of authority. You aren’t the one with the problem.” Erin stiffened her spine again. “Only I won’t work with the asses.”
“Which means it is my problem. We need a full team in place before the winter holiday season gets under way.” Marcus rested his one good hand on the desk, his amputated left arm tight to his body as he stood. “The medics from the hospital—they’re good on a temporary basis?”
“Never had an issue with any of them.”
He nodded, then made a face. “I’ll arrange for more loaners while I extend the search for new members, but in the meantime?”
Erin waited as he strode to her side to poke his finger directly in her face.
“Next time here’s bullshit happening just tell me instead of taking matters into your own hands. I don’t doubt your skills or your ability to make a point. This is a team, however, and you’re a vital part of it. Anyone who can’t respect that doesn’t deserve to be a part of Lifeline.”
“Dealing with them is so much fun, though,” she deadpanned.
He rolled his eyes. “Ten million dollar chopper, and you’re using it to teach respect. How about we do it my way in the future, alright?”
Erin grinned. “I’ll think about it.”
She scooted out of Lifeline HQ before the next round of fireworks started. Marcus was right. While she was more than capable of taking care of herself, there was a warm glow inside knowing someone else was about to feel the wrath for their idiotic behavior.
The parking lot held one more vehicle than expected, and she paused. Her bit of showboating must have attracted tourist attention. Better to nip this in the bud and make nice—a little one on one conversation could hush up any potential rumours.
A tall man stood outside his truck, staring into the distance with his profile toward her. Jet-black hair just long enough to curl slightly at his neckline topped what was a lovely looking masculine build. It was a warm enough December afternoon that she’d grabbed a light coat, forgoing the thick winter parka needed on more inclement days. This fellow wore a much faded leather jacket, collar flipped up against the wind. A scruff of beard shadowed a firm jawline, lips that were firm and slightly parted in a cocky smile.
Hmm, under the right conditions she liked a little ungroomed cockiness.
“Can I help you?”
The stranger turned from examining the airfield to face her. A pair of brilliant blue eyes caught her full on. There were lines at the corners of his eyes, his skin deeply tanned from exposure to the sun. A vast amount of time spent outdoors was clearly written into his skin. She stepped a couple paces closer before her eyes and brain connected.
Her stranger was all too familiar.
The slightly cocky smile bloomed into a full out grin, teeth flashing white against his skin. “Hello, love. Good to see you up to your old tricks.”
The roundhouse kick that burst free was instinctive. It was wrong, perhaps, to lash out physically at someone she hadn’t seen in years, but the response was as involuntary as breathing.
Her heel failed to make contact with his gut as planned, however. Instead she found her foot trapped in a strong grip, and before she could adjust her attack he’d flipped her around, catching her against his body with her arms pinned behind her back.
“Kitten, pull in your claws,” he warned.
His voice stroked nerve endings even as her blood boiled. She struggled briefly to assess his hold, but unless she truly wanted to hurt him, he had her locked in position. “I’m not your kitten, and you can goddamn let me go before I call the cops.”
“Just protecting myself,” he said.
After all the time that had passed since they’d been together, the flash of anger that hit was far too strong. She ground the word out through clenched teeth. “Spider.”
She hadn’t expected to be instantly set free. Had thought maybe he’d forgotten what the word meant. Or that maybe he would simply ignore her.
Yet a second later only the icy wind surrounded her.
Tim not only let her go, he retreated far enough away they were in no danger of any further accidental physical contact. “That wasn’t nice,” Tim growled.
“Neither was…” She shook her head. This wasn’t the time or place for the discussion, especially since she wasn’t even sure if she wanted to bring up their disastrous past. “Forget it. What are you doing here?”
He raised a brow. “Isn’t it obvious?”
Erin opened her mouth to lambast him for being an obnoxious jerk when it hit. Hard. “You’ve come to apply for the position on Lifeline.”
“Right in one, love.” He tilted his head toward the chopper. “Don’t think you can scare me off with your circus tricks either.”
Dammit if he wasn’t right. What’s more, Lifeline was important to her, and the skills Tim possessed were exactly what the team needed. She wasn’t going to chase off the best candidate out of some egotistical revenge. The knot in her stomach didn’t make it any easier to deal with the potential issues involved in having the man around again, though. “You have an interview?”
He shook his head. “Figured I’d do a cold drop in. Unless you want to put in a good word for me?”
Jeez. Bossy bastard had her over the coals, and he knew it. Was gloating over it.
She directed a warning glare his direction. “Push me too far, and I swear I’ll find a way to fix you. As in how they fix animals. Got it?”
She didn’t wait for an answer, simply twirled on her heel and returned to HQ. The candidate she’d shaken up earlier dodged aside and all but ran for his car as she passed. One solid tug jerked the main door open, and she was back in the staff area, the familiar displays on the walls and the relaxed and yet efficient setting calming her nerves even as Tim’s body only half a pace behind set her off balance.
Marcus glanced up from where he was working behind his desk, his gaze leaping off her to the man stepping into sight on her right. “What’s up, Erin?” Marcus asked.
She took a deep breath. “Marcus, this is Tim Dextor. He’s a SAR trained paramedic. The best I’ve ever been with.” She didn’t wait for Marcus to respond, just turned to Tim and poked him in the chest, staring him down, longing for a reason to smack him a good one. “Don’t fuck with me again.”
She ignored the question in Marcus’s eyes. Avoided looking into Tim’s face for fear of what she might see there.
Most of all, though, she ignored the ache in her belly that said far too strongly that working with the man was going to be incredible and horrid for all sorts of reasons.
The best I’ve ever been with.
As her words echoed in her brain she had to admit the comment applied to far more than his skills as a SAR.