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THE PROBLEM WITH GREAT exit lines was that they had a way of making a liar out of a man.
Kirk stood on the edge of the cliff and gazed out over the valley below. The countryside was just as he remembered it — dry limestone slopes dotted with cedars and scrub oaks, dropping down to shady bottomland intersected by shallow creeks. In the distance lay Prescott, a little newer and shinier than it had been fifteen years earlier, but with enough of the old landmarks still standing to remind him of what life there used to be like.
He peered over the edge of the cliff to the bottom of the ravine, where the second-unit crew had finished inflating an air bag big enough to catch a grown man falling from a great height with a minimum of bodily injury. The average person in his right mind wouldn't consider taking a six-story dive with nothing but a glorified balloon to break his fall, but for Kirk it was all in a day's work.
He loved the rush of that heart-pounding moment right before a stunt, whether he was flying across a gorge on a motorcycle or hurling himself off a ten-story building. Of course, a gust of wind at the wrong time could knock him inches off course, which could be deadly.
And that made the rush even better. Off to one side in a cordoned-off area stood several townspeople who had come out to witness the excitement of making a movie, and the irony of it wasn't lost on Kirk. In that crowd were undoubtedly some of the very people who at one time would have stood in line to give him a one-way ticket out of town. He dropped his forehead to his hand to rub away the twinge of pain he felt there, amazed at how just thinking about Prescott's narrow-minded citizens was enough to give him a headache.
When the producer said they were investigating the possibility of shooting in the Texas hill country, Kirk hadn't thought a thing about it. Texas was a big state, and the hill country covered a lot of acreage. Then the scout returned with the news that he'd found the perfect location — Prescott — and memories Kirk wished had stayed buried forever had come flooding back.
No. That wasn't completely true. There had been one good thing. Someone he'd never been able to forget.
Kirk looked up to see Andy approaching, walkie-talkie in hand. "Yeah," he said with a sigh. "Just a little headache."
"One too many beers last night?"
"Not unless one is one too many."
"Then it must have come from sleeping on one of those mattresses at that dinky little place we're staying. Just once I'd love to work on a big-budget picture. You know. The kind where they put you up somewhere besides the No-Tell Motel."
"I believe they call it the Bluebonnet Inn."
"Is everything set up?" he asked Andy.
"Yep. As soon as the doctor's on site, it's a go." Kirk came to attention. "What? She's not here yet?"
"No, and she'd better arrive in a hurry. We're losing the light, and Dan's screaming that he doesn't want to set up the shot again tomorrow. The budget is already so tight it squeaks."
Dan Pederson was one of the tougher directors to work for. It took nothing to piss him off, and the lack of a mandatory doctor on site when the producer insisted on one would certainly do it. But all Kirk could think about was the doctor herself. If she didn't make it for some reason
At the bottom of the ravine, a red SUV swung around in a semicircle and came to a halt. The door opened, and a pair of long, jeans-clad legs appeared. A woman emerged from the car, pulling off her sunglasses to survey her surroundings.
It was her. No doubt about it.
Even at this distance, there was no mistaking that lithe body, that graceful walk as she approached Becky, the production assistant. As they exchanged a few words, a soft breeze picked up her dark, shoulder-length hair and stirred it around her face, and when she threaded her fingers through it and tossed it back as he'd seen her do a thousand times before, it was as if the past fifteen years had melted away.
Becky's voice crackled through Andy's walkie-talkie. "Okay. The doctor's here."
Andy turned to Kirk. "The wind's up a little."
"It's nothing. I can adjust."
"Okay, then. On with the show."
Kirk had never believed in fate. He believed a man made his own way in the world with no influence from unseen forces that moved people around like chess pieces. But when he'd discovered a week ago that the woman he was sure had gone on to a place much bigger and better than Prescott was living there again, he had to wonder if cosmic forces hadn't conspired to bring them together one more time. Now all he could think about was going back to that fork in the road he'd stood at fifteen years ago and finding a way to explore the path he hadn't taken.
And as soon as he threw himself off this cliff, that was just what he intended to do.
WHEN AMANDA SAW THE HEIGHT of the freefall the man was about to take, she decided either he was minus a few brain cells or had a death wish. Likely both. A good psychiatrist could probably sort out those problems, but she treated bodies, not minds. Her job was simply to be prepared to care for any injuries that occurred. And all for a stunt to jazz up some low-budget biker flick with B-grade actors that would probably go straight to video.
She scanned the set, which included a couple of trailers, camera equipment, a crew milling about and a gigantic air bag at the foot of the cliff designed to cushion a fall from a very long way up. She hadn't wanted to be there in the first place, and the unnecessary risk she was getting ready to witness only made matters worse. Unfortunately, she'd had no choice.
They need a doctor, Louise had said, and you need some time off. That means you'll be spending a relaxing week on a movie set whether you like it or not.
When the chief of staff of Prescott Medical Clinic had pulled rank on her, she'd had no choice but to agree. Most of the time, Amanda appreciated Louise's no-nonsense approach. This was not one of those times.
Amanda admitted she was a workaholic, and it had always amazed her that some people thought that was a bad thing. The townspeople gathered here to watch the action wouldn't have believed it, but she would much rather have been back at the clinic. A week of sitting around a movie set twiddling her thumbs just wasn't her idea of a good time.
She'd arrived today with a trauma bag over her left shoulder stuffed full of emergency equipment and drugs. In her other hand she held a portable defibrillator, which would come in handy for any heart-stopping injuries. It was only because she came so well equipped and the hospital was so close that the producer hadn't insisted on having an ambulance on the set.
She looked up to the top of the cliff and the man standing at the edge of it, then turned to Becky, the production assistant who had greeted her.
"Sure is a long way up there," Amanda said.
"Here," Becky said, handing her a small set of binoculars. "You can see better with these."
Amanda lowered the bags she held to the ground and put the binoculars to her eyes. "That air bag has to look like a postage stamp from up there."
"He's done this kind of fall before."
"It's a little windy, isn't it?"
"He's a pro," the woman said as she scribbled something on her clipboard. "He knows how to deal with that."
The woman might have been talking about an accountant crunching numbers for all the tension in her voice. And the man at the edge of the cliff seemed equally relaxed, apparently scoping out the fall he was about to take. He stood there with the kind of assurance that said he was indeed the pro Becky said he was. And what a body. Long, lean legs, broad shoulders, biceps bulging beneath a dark T-shirt. Hmm. Very nice. And his face
Amanda froze. His face. It looked familiar.
She fiddled with the binoculars to sharpen the view, then focused on the man again. By then, though, he'd turned his back to speak to someone behind him, and in that view he could have been one of a thousand other thirtysomething men with the kind of body that would make any woman do a double take.
Then slowly he turned around again, and recognition struck her like a hammer blow.
She whipped around to Becky. "What's his name?"
"His name. The man doing the stunt."
"Kirk," she said. "Kirk McKenzie." Suddenly Amanda felt as if all the oxygen had been sucked out of the atmosphere. She gasped with disbelief. God in heaven, it really was him.
Of all the places in the world Kirk could be right now, he was standing on a cliff ready to jump, which meant he was still pushing his luck, still defying anything and everything in his way, up to and including gravity itself. In spite of what had happened between them, the feelings she'd once had for him surged through her again, practically knocking her to her knees.
He walked to the edge of the cliff, checked his position, then turned around backward. The wind gusted again. He seemed to teeter slightly, and Amanda's breath caught in her throat.
Then he fell backward over the edge.
The wind caught his shirt and billowed it up. He seemed to fall forever, like a hawk taking a nosedive. He hit the air bag, and for a moment Amanda thought everything was fine.
He'd landed too close to the edge, the bag barely cushioning his fall. He tumbled off of it onto the rocky ground, his head slinging hard against it.
Everyone on the set froze, a few interminable seconds ticking away as they grasped what had happened. Then there was shouting. People surging toward him. And in the next few seconds, Amanda realized the worst. He wasn't getting up.
Her heart beating wildly, she dropped the binoculars, grabbed her equipment and took off toward Kirk, shouting for somebody to call 911. Shoving a few people aside, she finally reached him and knelt beside him. When he still wasn't moving, dread welled up inside her. But as she reached for his wrist to find a pulse, he began to stir and his eyes fluttered open.
He inhaled. Coughed. He tried to rise, but she put her hand against his shoulder. Until she could get the para-medics out here with a back board, he was staying down.
"Kirk? Can you talk to me? Tell me what hurts."
"Nothing," he said. "Just need to catch my breath." She didn't believe a word of that. Even if he didn't have broken bones or contusions, he'd landed so hard that he had to hurt like hell.
Amanda pulled out a penlight and checked his pupils, relieved to find them equal and reactive.
"Do you remember what happened?" she asked him.
"Hit the bag wrong," he choked out.
"Do you know where you are?"