3.5 6
by Jill Sorenson

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He's her only hope…

Park ranger Hope Banning's plans for a little R&R are put on hold when a plane crashes at the top of a remote mountain. Hope will have to climb the summit and assess the situation. And the only climbing partner available is Sam Rutherford—the enigmatic man she spent a night with six months


He's her only hope…

Park ranger Hope Banning's plans for a little R&R are put on hold when a plane crashes at the top of a remote mountain. Hope will have to climb the summit and assess the situation. And the only climbing partner available is Sam Rutherford—the enigmatic man she spent a night with six months ago.

For staying alive

Ever since Sam lost his girlfriend in a falling accident, he insists on climbing solo. But Hope and any potential survivors need his help. As Sam and Hope set out on an emergency search-and-rescue mission, he realizes the sparks still sizzle between them. And when they learn a killer is among the survivors, they must place their trust in each other for a chance at happiness.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Ranger Hope Banning and her sister, Faith, are about to take a rafting excursion when a plane crashes in California’s Sierra National Park. Hope hikes into the wilderness with the only climbing partner available: Sam Rutherford, with whom she had a one-night stand months before. Hope avoids relationships because of a loss in her past, and Sam feels responsible for his fiancée’s death in a climbing accident, but their attraction smolders. At the crash site, it’s clear that the pilot was murdered. Hope rightly suspects the killer has joined Faith’s rafting tour: Javier Del Norte, fleeing a drug cartel, thinks he’s found the perfect cover in the whitewater trip. The story alternates between Hope’s quest to rescue her sister and Faith’s ordeal as she’s trapped between Javier and his merciless ex-boss. Sorenson (Aftershock) crafts a riveting read with a self-reliant heroine, an emotionally tortured hero, and an interesting bad-guy-gone-good in Javier. Readers who crave sex and suspense will enjoy the pace, but they may be put off by a scene of sexual assault. Agent: Laurie McLean, Larsen/Pomada Literary Agents. (June)
From the Publisher
"Sorenson fuels this fast-paced romantic thriller with nonstop adrenaline....This twisty rollercoaster ride keeps the pages turning."
—Publishers Weekly on Aftershock (Starred Review)

"This goes down as one of the best I've ever read. Bar none."
-New York Times bestselling author Maya Banks on Dangerous to Touch

"Sorenson makes her characters realistic, flawed, and appealing. Deftly handled violent action and red herrings rush this thriller to a believable ending."

-Publishers Weekly on The Edge of Night

"One of the best books of the year...nonstop, heart-pounding excitement."

-RT Book Reviews on Stranded with Her Ex, Top Pick! 4.5 Stars

"It was definitely hot. Sooo hot. Jill Sorenson is my new favorite romantic-suspense author!"
-USA TODAY bestselling author Victoria Dahl on Crash into Me

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Read an Excerpt

Hope smiled at her sister in the passenger seat as she started the Jeep's engine. "This is going to be so much fun."

Faith groaned, glancing out the window. The sparkly insignia on her D&G sunglasses glinted in the morning light. She wasn't an early riser or a nature lover, so she didn't share Hope's enthusiasm.

"You can't bring those sunglasses on the raft," Hope said.

Faith removed them with an exaggerated sigh. Her eyes were brown, like Hope's. When they were younger, strangers used to ask if they were twins. They'd shared the same heart-shaped face and chocolate-colored curls. Although Hope kept her hair natural, Faith's was straight and blond, courtesy of the upscale salon where she worked.

Faith checked her appearance in the mirror. "I look hideous in your clothes."

"You look adorable."

Hope had let Faith borrow the shorts, tank top and hiking boots. None of her sister's chic L.A. outfits were appropriate for a whitewater adventure. Faith had spruced up the ensemble with pigtail braids, and she wore her own skimpy bikini underneath. She'd balked at the idea of donning one of Hope's demure swimsuits.

Faith flipped up the visor and stashed her sunglasses in the glove compartment. "Remind me why I agreed to this."

"Because you planned our vacation last year."

"And it was fabulous. There's nothing wrong with relaxing on the beach."

Hope drove down the bumpy dirt road toward the Kaweah River, humming along with the song on the radio. She spent a week with her sister every summer, and she always looked forward to it. Whether they were lounging in the sun or hiking through the Sierras, Hope enjoyed Faith's company.

"This weather is perfect for rafting," Hope said. The heat wave that had struck several days ago showed no signs of letting up.

"If there aren't any cute guys in our group, I'm jumping overboard."

Hope smirked at the threat. Faith had broken up with her boyfriend several months ago, and she'd seemed melancholy ever since. Her sister tended to treat men like passing fashions, easily discarded. But she'd been different with Tom, more committed. More upset when things didn't work out.

"I've met our guide, and he's gorgeous," she said. He was also gay, but that didn't matter. Faith would flirt with him anyway. "Three of the rafters are college guys, probably jocks. You have to be strong to handle a Class Five run."

Faith's eyes narrowed. "Class Five?"

"Don't worry. The rest of us are experienced paddlers."

"Hope! You know I hate exercise."

"You hate sweat."


"Not much chance of that, with water splashing you all day."

Faith made a noise of protest. "This reminds me of the time you made me hike up that huge mountain. I almost died."

"You did not," Hope said. "Physical activity is better for you than dieting. You'll get a tan and look great in your bikini."

"I don't like jocks."

"You liked Tom."

"College guys are immature."

"Not always. They could be…grad students."

Faith wrinkled her nose.

"You're not usually this choosy."

"What's that supposed to mean?"


"Are you calling me a slut?"

"No! You're just…free-spirited." If anything, Hope was jealous of Faith's casual attitude about sex. Her flashy self-confidence attracted men in droves. "I admire that."

"You should go out more."

"I know," she said, sighing. Hope was only eighteen months older than Faith, and they'd always been close, but their personalities were nothing alike. Faith didn't have a shy bone in her body. Hope was quiet and reserved. Although she wanted to meet someone special, she worked around the clock and rarely socialized.

This winter, Faith had begged her to join an online dating service. Instead, she'd gone to the local watering hole and bolstered her courage with white wine. She'd engaged in her first one-night stand—what a disaster.

"I'm still recovering from my last attempt."

"That guy was a jerk," Faith said.


"Where does he live?"

"In Long Pine," Hope said, naming the closest town.


"Let's toilet-paper his house."

With a low laugh, Hope pulled into the Kaweah Campsite on the east side of the park. "That wouldn't be environmentally responsible."

"You're such a buzz kill."

"We could use biodegradable toilet paper," she said. "How about flowers?"

Hope laughed again, turning off the engine. Their parents owned an organic plant nursery, and one of their mother's favorite sayings was "give your enemy a flower." The sisters had rebelled against her peacenik philosophies in different ways. Faith, by valuing material things. Hope, by becoming a gun-toting park ranger. She wished she could carry a bouquet of daisies to fight crime, but some situations required brute force.

Hope couldn't wait for the three-day rafting trip to start. She hadn't enjoyed a full weekend off in months. Even as they waited in the shade for the whitewater guide, her work radio trilled with an emergency message.

"All rangers please respond for SAR."

Hope had been a ranger at Sierra National Park for five years. Her job was part law enforcement, part nature guide, and she loved it. Although she was supposed to be on vacation for the next week, she couldn't ignore a call for a search-and-rescue operation. In an area with huge cliffs, swift-moving rivers and sprawling forests, accidents happened. Rock climbers fell. Hikers got lost in the woods. Children became drowning victims.

"Don't you dare answer that," Faith warned.

"I have to," she said. As a district ranger, she was required to stay in radio contact and respond to emergencies. She picked up the receiver to speak with the dispatch office. "This is Ranger Banning."

"Hope, we have word of a singleengine plane down at Angel Wings."

Her stomach clenched with unease. "Any survivors?"

"There's been no radio communication from the craft. A climber saw the crash a few hours ago and came into the station to report it."

"Which station?"

"Mineral King."

Hope swore under her breath. Mineral King was her station, and she was more familiar with Angel Wings than the other rangers. She also had experience with high-angle rescue, which this operation might require. "I'll be right there."

"You can't be serious," Faith said.

She wavered, torn between loyalties. Both her sister and her job were extremely important to her.

"Why can't someone else go?"

"I don't know if anyone else is available. The guy covering my station isn't qualified to organize a search-and-rescue."

The busy season didn't officially start until July, and it was the first week of June. They only had twelve year-round staff members with law enforcement badges. During an emergency situation, all rangers in the area were ordered to check in. Hope had to step up to this responsibility or take the heat for it. "I'm sorry," she said.

"I told you not to answer the call," Faith wailed. "Five minutes later and we'd have been on the water."

Hope hurried out of the Jeep Liberty and grabbed Faith's backpack before approaching the passenger side. "Best-case scenario, another ranger will handle it and I'll be back by launch time. I can also rent a kayak to catch up with the group."

"Are you high? I'm not going without you."

"Come on, Faith. They might have to cancel the whole trip if we both don't show. They need a certain number of people in the raft."

She crossed her arms over her chest. "So?"

"It's bad for park business."

"Park business," Faith muttered, climbing out of the vehicle. "That's all you care about."

Hope's heart twisted in her chest. She knew she worked too much. During last summer's vacation, she'd returned to the park two days early to fill in for an injured employee. Faith and Hope had argued about her dedication to her job before. "No, it's not."

"Next year we're going to Las Vegas for an indoor vacation. We'll buy cocktails instead of trail mix." Faith's mouth thinned as she pointed a slender finger at her. "And I'll make you wear my clothes."


"If I drown, I'll never forgive you."

"You won't drown," Hope said, hugging her tight. "I love you."

"I love you, too."

She let go of her sister with regret and climbed behind the wheel once again, waving as she drove away. Faith looked disappointed, even forlorn, and Hope felt awful. If she missed the entire trip, their vacation would be ruined.

Hands tightening around the steering wheel, she turned down the winding forest service road toward Mineral King.

Although she tried to stay upbeat, it wasn't easy. She worked a lot of solitary hours as a park ranger. During her time off, she enjoyed quiet individual pursuits like hiking and photographing wildlife. She'd been anticipating her sister's visit for months. Faith was right—she needed to interact with people more.

The Mineral King Station was in a remote section of the park, popular with backpackers and rock climbers. Families with small children often just drove through, and day hikers flocked to more accessible places like Giant Forest and Crescent Meadow. Because of its distance from the main tourist attractions, Mineral King had the hushed, pristine quality of true wilderness. Bear sightings were common.

She parked outside the station house, next to a forest service vehicle. Owen Jackson, a park attendant, had been appointed to take her place this morning. He sat behind the front desk, across from Sam Rutherford.

Sam was a local rock climbing celebrity, a recluse and the last person on earth Hope wanted to see.

Her mood plummeted further. Sam must have reported the plane crash. She'd been hoping for an unreliable witness, maybe a hippie backpacker who'd taken some psychedelic drugs and confused a shooting star for a horrific accident.

Sam glanced over his shoulder at her, his dark gaze skimming her body. Recognition and unease registered in his eyes, but he didn't flinch or tense his muscles. Instead, he returned his focus to Owen, as if waiting for an introduction.

How dare he pretend not to know her?

The two men appeared comfortable with each other, which didn't surprise her. Sam had recommended Owen for an entry-level position last summer. He donated fat checks to the park every year, so his suggestions were greeted with polite consideration. Hope had interviewed Owen herself and found little fault with him, other than a felony record. He'd worked on a prison forestry crew, so he had wildfire experience.

"Ranger Banning," Owen said, rising to his feet. He was a lean, cagey young man with close-cropped blond hair and haunting blue eyes. There was a thin red mark on his neck, and a larger, thicker welt on his hand. When she'd inquired about the scars, he told her that he'd had some tattoos removed.

Since his start date, Owen had been a model employee. He had a quick mind and a strong back. Unlike some of the young male park attendants, he didn't hit on tourists or drink too much. Hope had come to like him.

She wondered, and not for the first time, what connected a former inmate to a former Olympian. According to a rumor spread by women who'd struck out with one or the other, they were lovers.

Hope had personal evidence to the contrary. "This is Sam Rutherford," he said.

"We've met."

"He reported the incident."

Sam stood to greet her with insulting belatedness. "Nice to see you again.Ranger Banning."

She realized that he was fishing for her first name. Indignation filled her, suffusing her cheeks with heat.

"It's Hope."

"Hope. Right."

Judging by his expression, he remembered what she looked like naked, if nothing else. She took a deep breath, counting on her tanned complexion to mask her embarrassment. "When was the crash?"

"Around 3:00 a.m."

"What were you doing at 3:00 a.m.?"

He hesitated for a second. "Climbing."

Night climbing was unusual, but not unheard of, in summer months. Visitors took advantage of the cooler temperatures and available moonlight. Illegal activities like BASE jumping were often done under the cloak of darkness, as well.

"What did you see?"

"Just lights. I think it was a singleengine plane, flying too low. It hit the top of Angel Wings and burst into flames."

"Where were you?"

"On Valhalla. Near the summit."

Valhalla was a steep rock face directly across from Angel Wings. She checked her watch, noting that it was eight-twenty. "You got from there to here in five hours?"



"I ran."

Upon closer study, his shirt was damp with perspiration. The lightweight fabric clung to his broad shoulders and flat stomach. Maybe he'd been slow to stand because he was tired, not out of disrespect, but he didn't appear fatigued. Despite the sweat, he was an endurance athlete and it showed. From the soles of his well-worn shoes to the top of his dark-haired head, he radiated strength and vitality.

She remembered how he looked naked, too: good. Very good.

"Have a seat," she said, clearing her throat. She turned to Owen. "You've relayed this information to Dispatch?"

"Yes, ma'am."

She excused herself and stepped outside. Her mind raced with worst-case scenarios as she picked up her radio. The dispatcher answered her a few seconds later. "What can you tell me about the craft?"

"There's been no emergency transmission or distress calls from the area. No flight plan was recorded."

In uncontrolled airspace, a pilot could use visual flight rules, but it wasn't recommended. The weather over the Sierras could be dangerous in the daytime. Flying close to the mountains at night without instruments looked suspicious.

This search-and-rescue might turn into a drug-smuggling bust. "Where's Dixon?" she asked, naming the park manager.

"I haven't been able to reach him."

"What about Mark?"

"He's at Moro Rock with the SAR team. Two hikers fell. One is unconscious and the other has a broken leg."

Hope swore under her breath, rubbing a hand down her face. This was her worst nightmare. Of the twelve park rangers with law enforcement badges, only Hope and Mark Griffon were accomplished climbers. Mark wasn't available. The SAR team wasn't available. Her supervisor wasn't available.

Heart racing, she weighed her options. The clock was already ticking. If she didn't reach the crash site before sundown, she couldn't call for a helicopter. Night rescues were too dangerous to attempt at a place like Angel Wings, where extreme wind conditions were common. And when the temperature dropped, crash victims often died of exposure.

Hope had responded to a similar call a few years ago. Before she became a permanent employee at Sierra National Park, she'd worked winters in Joshua Tree, one of Southern California's desert parks. A family of four had gone down in a twinengine plane near Jumbo Rocks. Two of the wounded were children, and there was nothing anyone on the SAR team could do to save them. Hope had been training for her EMT certificate at the time. The scene was so horrific she almost quit the next day.

She didn't want to face another tragedy like that, especially on her own, but she couldn't afford to wait for a backup team. Her window of opportunity was too narrow. She had to get to the crash site and assess the situation as quickly as possible. If she left now, she'd arrive in time to request air transport.

The fastest route to the top of Angel Wings was straight up the rock face. Hiking from the Kaweah trailhead on the east side of the mountain was easier, but it would take twice as long. The only problem with a direct ascent was that she couldn't do it alone. She'd never solo-climbed Angel Wings. It was an expert-only wall, rated 5.10+ in difficulty. She needed to find a suitable partner. There were several skilled climbers in the area who volunteered for high-angle search-and-rescue.

Sam Rutherford was one of them.

At least, he used to be. These days he avoided crowds, and most people, but he'd worked more rescues than Hope. A few years ago he'd been part of the elite SAR site team at Yosemite National Park. The man also knew Angel Wings like the back of his hand, and he'd witnessed the crash. He might be able to pinpoint its exact location.

"Just a minute," she said, signing off.

Hope clipped the radio to her waistband and went back inside the station, her blood pumping with adrenaline. Instead of scrambling for another volunteer, she faced her nemesis. "Can you take me to the crash site?"

His brows shot up. "Is there anyone else?"

She'd forgotten that he had run ten miles to get here. "Yes, of course. You must be exhausted."

"No, I'm fine," he said, shaking his head. "I mean…is there anyone besides you?"

"Besides me?"

"That I can climb with."

Hope gaped at him in disbelief. She didn't know if he assumed she couldn't keep up with him because she was a woman, or if he objected to her company because they'd slept together. Both reasons offended her.

What People are saying about this

From the Publisher
Sorenson fuels this fast-paced romantic thriller with nonstop adrenaline....This twisty rollercoaster ride keeps the pages turning."

—Publishers Weekly on Aftershock (Starred Review)

"This goes down as one of the best I've ever read. Bar none."

-New York Times bestselling author Maya Banks on Dangerous to Touch

"Sorenson makes her characters realistic, flawed, and appealing. Deftly handled violent action and red herrings rush this thriller to a believable ending."

-Publishers Weekly on The Edge of Night

"One of the best books of the year...nonstop, heart-pounding excitement."

-RT Book Reviews on Stranded with Her Ex, Top Pick! 4.5 Stars

"It was definitely hot. Sooo hot. Jill Sorenson is my new favorite romantic-suspense author!"

-USA Today bestselling author Victoria Dahl on Crash into Me

Meet the Author

Jill Sorenson writes sexy action/adventure romance for HQN. Her latest release, Aftershock, was given a starred review by Publishers Weekly.

Jill lives in the San Diego area with her husband and two daughters. She draws inspiration from the diverse neighborhoods and spectacular scenery of Southern California. You can find her on Twitter much too often. Her other hobbies include reading, hiking, and going to the beach.

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Freefall 3.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 6 reviews.
beckymmoe More than 1 year ago
Strong start--absolutely loved the first half. Couldn't put the book down as Hope and Sam raced to find the killer and Faith dealt with the drama of the rafting trip from you-know-where. The second half, though, totally lost it for me. Way too much was going on, both to and with the characters. Everything was neatly and conveniently wrapped up in the end--much too neatly and conveniently for my taste. Started out in four star territory, ended in two--averaging in at three stars total. Still, I'd like to see the series continue, and hope for more consistency in book three. (I received an ARC from NetGalley in exchange for an honest opinion.)
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
My first time reading this author so i probably wont read her not into one-nite stands being a normal lifestyle even for secondary characters. The story was too drawn out...
K_Holt More than 1 year ago
Fantastic Romantic Suspense-- I loved it! FREEFALL (Aftershock Book 2) by Jill Sorenson is an outstanding Romantic Suspense. It runs 245 pages (minus front- and end-matter), and I found myself hesitant to put it down, and eager to read when I really should be doing other things. The suspense was incredibly well done...making it a compelling read and a page-turner. I enjoyed the slowly revealed back story of our characters (hero, heroine, and secondary peeps), illustrating how similar our H/h are...and yet how different. The carefully crafted characters contribute extensively to the enjoyability of the book, and their pasts were both a source of conflict and the refiners fire that made them better people when together. The chemistry was believable, the personalities consistent throughout, and the secondary characters a valuable part of the story. I loved it! Kudos to the author. Sensuality Level: Spicy Language: R-rating (yet very much in character)
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
rhonda1111RL More than 1 year ago
4 STARS I liked it but I liked the first book of the series more. I had a hard time connecting with a few characters. But Sam was kind of written that way. In fact Owen was the only guy I really liked and that in part was from the first book. I really liked Hope character the best. I think she was brave, courageous willing to risk her life for her sister and the rest of campers out their. Freefall was definitely fit the book in many ways. It had drama, mystery, suspense, lots of action plus had some sex scenes that I admit to skipping over. Every time things were going smooth something else would happen. Faith and Hope are going on whitewater raft trip. Every year they spend a week or so together for vacation. Hope planned this trip. Faith is not a wilderness girl. As they are packing up Hope's work calls her. Faith tells her not to answer. Hope is a park ranger at Sierra National Park. She has to answer. a plane had crashed down at night in the park the witness who saw it was Sam a former Olympic athlete who was climbing at night. Their is no one else who could hike up with her right away so Sam goes with her. He is famous rock climber and rich. Hope had a one night stand with him that ended badly. When they reach the plane the pilot is dead from gun shot. They start tracking the killer and find hidden bags of money and dope. Hope is worried that a killer is on the loose in the park. She is worried about her sister that she talked to going on the rafting trip without her. Plus she is worried about the other campers. Hope takes pictures with her phone of the murdered pilot and the dope for evidence and calls in the alert for the missing killer. Hope's boss calls her back into base. She is not leaving her sister Faith out their with a killer on the loose. She disregards the order. Sam tries to talk her out of it but follows her so she has some back up. Sam was in the earthquake in Aftershock. He still has memory problems from it. He does not remember his fiancée Melissa death or how she died. He is still numb to himself. He freaks out when someone around him does risky stuff but he can no problem. Faith flirts with men a lot. She has broken up with her boyfriend because he did not pay attention to her. She flirts with Jay on the raft. Someone is using the park to run drugs. Who can Hope trust? Is someone on the take at the park? Why was the pilot killed? It makes me want to go camping and hiking or just get out of snow.(It is march still when I read this) This book has heroes you don't expect and lots of bad guys and jerks. Even wildlife is scary. Full of action. After you get to know more about some of the characters they are more you like them. I want to read Owen's story next. I was given this ebook to read and asked in exchange to give honest review by Netgalley. Pub Date May 21 2013 Harlequin Publisher imprint Harlequin HQN ISBN 9780373777952 384 pages
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Meet me at 'sweet flute' there we will have our pure privacy! &hearts your boyfriend Nathan