Holly knew the romantic helicopter ride up to the remote peak of Whisky Mountain was a bad idea. But she never expected it to snatch her fiancé from her—or destroy her life. A few fiery seconds turn a postcard-perfect morning in the Canadian Rockies into a snowy hell, thirteen thousand feet above sea level. And in the midst of grief and agony, Holly catches sight of a scene in the ice that will haunt her until she can return and discover the truth.
Oliver Nelson could see the stranger had a mystery inside her. The scars on her face, the pain in her eyes, the insistence that he teach her completely alone—no one needs to learn rock climbing, or so he thought. But the more he gets to know her, the more he admires her drive, her ingenuity, and that little edge of recklessness. If she can trust him with her story, he’s ready to follow her wherever her heart takes her.
But nature’s deadly beauty isn’t the only danger waiting for them on Whisky Mountain. To survive, Oliver and Holly will have to move fast—and think faster . . .
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From the moment Holly climbed into the helicopter, a sense of foreboding plagued every thought. Three times in her life she'd had a premonition about death. Each time it'd come true. But she wouldn't say anything. Not when Milton, her new fiancé, had paid so much money for this exclusive trip. And especially not when he'd looked like an excited teenager when he'd first spied the chopper at the ski resort. Holly forced her brain to focus on the mountain scenery around her, rather than the tendrils of dread inching up her spine.
This once-in-a-lifetime opportunity was supposed to be fun. But the buffering wind and shuddering windows made it so far from fun she could barely breathe. According to the pilot, a private picnic on the west summit of one of Canada's highest peaks had never been done before. But Milton had charmed the man with both his expert persuasion skills and his generosity with money. So much so that the pilot simply couldn't refuse.
Twelve thousand dollars had been his tipping point. For that, not only did they get a private helicopter, but the pilot also provided expensive champagne, a gourmet feast, and a folding table and three chairs, ready to be set up wherever they wanted.
Milton was capable of convincing anyone to do anything. Her being on Whiskey Mountain was a testament to that. She never did anything that even hinted at danger.
Death had a way of following her. Her brother died as a three-week-old baby. Her father went to work one day and never came home. Her best friend died in a freak accident that'd perplexed all the authorities. Even her one and only pet didn't make it past puppy stage. And Holly was only twenty-four years old. Based on that average, one death every five or so years, she was due again. She smacked the disturbing statistic away and wiped her sweating palms on her ski pants.
Shielding her eyes from the sun, she looked up at the mountain peak. The snowcapped granite wall jutted skyward like an enormous shark fin. It was an interesting color, like the rocks were gilded in copper. She wondered if that's why it'd been named Whiskey Mountain. With each foot they rose, it appeared to grow wider and higher, and the very tip glistened like a diamond.
The helicopter shot over the ski resort's highest cable car station, leaving behind the last signs of civilization. The lump of dread, deep in the pit of her stomach, hit a whole new level. The white terrain stretched as far as she could see. Even the trees had given up trying to live here.
When Holly had suggested to Milton that they take a vacation, she'd envisaged lying in hammocks on a deserted beach, sipping fancy drinks out of coconuts. Not this. Not high in the mountains where snow and ice blanketed every surface. Cold weather seeped into her bones. Her mother said it was because she didn't eat enough. Her fiancé said it was because she didn't eat meat. Ever since their first date, two years ago, Milton had been trying to coax her off her strict vegetarian diet.
"Having fun?" Milton beamed at her. His eyes were hidden behind mirrored glasses, but she could picture the dazzle of excitement in his brown irises that she'd come to love.
Swallowing a bitter taste in her mouth, she decided to dodge his question. "It's magnificent." The last thing she'd do was voice her fear, not when he looked to be enjoying it so much. And especially not in front of Milton's son, who'd commandeered the front seat next to the pilot. Kane had visited more countries in his seventeen years than Holly had dreamed of.
He hated Holly ... and had made it his mission to tell her so at every opportunity. He blamed her for breaking up his parents' marriage. She hadn't. Their marriage was fractured long before Milton strolled into the coffee shop where she worked.
Holly had suggested to Milton that a vacation would be the perfect opportunity for Kane to get to know her better. She was desperate to prove to Milton's son that she was worthy of his father's love. At least, that'd been her plan.
The helicopter crested another peak, and other than the occasional jagged rock, snow covered every surface. The pure white was almost blinding. Whiskey mountain loomed in the near distance, and instead of marveling over its majestic grandeur, Holly felt its ominous presence like it were a demon. She clutched her knees, desperate to stop them trembling.
The first three days of their vacation had been a mixture of heaven and hell — Milton being the heaven and Kane being the latter. The kid was driven to steal Milton's attention at every opportunity and voiced his anger at Holly frequently. Kane liked to remind her that he was grown now, and not just in age either. He was taller than her, which wasn't hard given that she was only five foot three. He was heavier too, and could almost outweigh her twofold.
This helicopter ride and proposed mountaintop picnic was Milton's idea. His grand plan of alpine seclusion meant they'd have no distractions and would be practically forced to talk to each other. Maybe that's what was driving Holly's fear. So far her attempts at conversation with the cantankerous teenager had resulted in either insults or silence.
The helicopter banked sharply to the left and Holly clutched Milton's wrist. Either he didn't notice her grasp or he was too engrossed in the scenery out his window. Whichever it was, he didn't look her way. Kane whooped from the front seat, obviously feeling none of Holly's apprehension. The pilot maneuvered the chopper through a couple of twin peaks that skyrocketed into the air like dueling monoliths.
The second they crossed the threshold, wind slammed into the windshield like buckshot. Vibrations rattled every bone in her body, and with fear twisting her gut she clutched Milton's wrist harder. The padded headphones were no match for the thunderous roar and her seat shuddered — as did everything else.
Terror dug its claws into her throat as she watched the pilot's white-knuckled wrestle with the gear stick. His lips were drawn into a thin line, his eyes bulging.
Her heart exploded and she dug her nails into her knees.
They plummeted. She screamed.
And in that instant, Holly knew her premonition was about to be realized.
The chopper ricocheted off the icy surface, and one of the helicopter's skids snagged on something, pitching the aircraft sideways like it'd been punched in the gut. Her head whipped back, slamming into the window. Spears of pain shot up her neck, blinding her with dazzling stars.
They hit the snow nose-first. Glass shattered. Metal twisted. Everyone screamed and the spinning rotors sliced at the snow, splintering into hundreds of missiles.
Kane shrieked. As did the pilot.
Blind panic had her clawing at the seat, desperate to hang on.
With a thunderous roar a giant chunk of ice fell away, opening an enormous crevasse. The dark gash cut a swath through the white surface and the chopper plunged into it.
Kane shrieked as he hurled through the shattered windshield and disappeared into the dark hole.
"Kane! No!" Milton lunged forward, fingers outstretched. Desperate. But it was too late.
The chopper kicked into a violent spin and Holly smashed against the side of the cabin. Her door sprung open, spitting her from safety, and she released a bloodcurdling squeal as she fell.
Ice walls whizzed by in a blur.
She slammed onto something solid, punching the wind out of her. Every bone crunched upon impact. Her face hit the wall and an explosion of pain ripped through her brain.
She fought agony.
She fought blackness.
A squeal in her ears pierced her conscience. It was a couple of thundering heartbeats before she remembered what'd happened.
The gaping hole in the snow.
Falling from the helicopter.
The pain. All the excruciating pain.
She forced herself to focus through the torture. Her tongue seemed foreign, as did her lips, and she swallowed back the metallic taste of blood.
Agonizing shrieks lured her from her own horror.
For a couple of panic-stricken heartbeats she thought she was blind. But it was blood in her eyes causing the darkness. She tried to reach up to wipe it away, but her left arm was a useless lump at her side.
Screams echoed from every angle.
Alert now, she forced her body to move. Gasping at the pain and fighting dizziness, she dragged herself upright. With her right-hand glove she wiped blood from her eyes. "Milton." She tried to speak, but either no words came out or she couldn't hear.
Blinking away blood, she deciphered shapes and shadows. Pain and terror flooded every thought. About fifteen feet above to her right, the helicopter loomed. The craft was jammed into the crevasse, trapped by walls of ice. It was tilted sideways, with the nose wedged against one side and the tail on the other. Inside, the pilot's face was blazoned with agony. It was his screams that echoed in the frozen chasm.
"Milton." Her voice was a brittle croak and she swallowed back another mouthful of blood.
As her eyes took in her situation, her brain struggled to comprehend it. Holly had fallen into the crevasse. The ledge she'd landed on was barely two feet wide. Milton and Kane had fallen from the helicopter too. But she couldn't see either of them.
Gripping with her gloved fingers, she dragged herself forward and peered into the void below.
"Milton!" His crumpled body was a bloody blemish on a lower ledge of the opposite side of the chasm. His legs were bent at shocking angles. He was only fifteen feet away, yet it might as well have been a thousand.
He didn't move.
"Milton!" Despite the pain in her jaw she yelled his name.
The pilot's shrieks made it impossible to hear anything else.
Holly panted against her pain, rolled onto her stomach, and wailed at the blaze of agony slicing through her. Gasping for breath, she stared at Milton's body, begging for a sign of life. Dark red blood stained the ice around him. He was facedown, but his head was turned her way. He looked peaceful. Like he was sleeping.
The pilot's screams changed ... more shrill, more desperate.
Holly looked up at the chopper and her heart leapt to her throat. Flames licked the inside of the cabin. The pilot fought the blaze with his bare hands. His shrieks cut to her core and she tore her eyes away. Shielding her ears with her gloves, she rolled away from the edge and squeezed her eyes shut, blocking out the horror.
An explosion ripped the helicopter apart.
Metal and giant chunks of ice rained down on her and, forcing past the agony, she curled into a ball, covered her ears, and prepared to die.
Thousands of missiles pelted her already battered body. Searing pain burned her face. Her hip and back suffered the brunt of it. But it was over as quickly as it started. The ensuing silence was deafening. It took Holly a few heartbeats to convince herself she was still alive. Ice and snow weighed her down and she wrestled herself free.
With the chopper gone, sunlight permeated the crevasse. Blinking against the glare, she crawled to the edge again and looked down. A sob caught in her throat.
Milton was gone.
The plummeting chopper carcass had swiped the opposite side, taking Milton and his narrow ice ledge with it. She burst into tears. It hurt like hell as great racking sobs shuddered through her.
It was an eternity before the tears stopped and the enormity of her situation hit her.
She pushed back from the edge and glanced to her left.
What she saw made a scream tear through her like rusty razor blades.
Her world tilted, darkness crept in, she fell sideways.
Everything went black.CHAPTER 2
Blip. Blip. Blip.
Holly couldn't move. Her arms were lead weights. Her body was pinned down as if covered in a concrete blanket. She searched her memory, trawling for something ... anything to help piece things together.
Blip. Blip. Blip.
Her tongue was leather, hard and dry, and rolling it around produced no moisture. A broken body flashed into her mind, legs bent at hideous angles. She groaned at the gruesome sight.
"Hey, it's okay."
A woman's voice floated to her; it sounded miles away.
"Doctor, I think she's waking up."
Holly pried her eyes open, but the bright lights pierced her brain. A hand on her arm was warm, yet she felt chilled to her bones. A frozen body appeared in her vision again, then another. Ice clung to their eyelashes. Their lips were blue. She groaned at the images, desperate to shake them free.
"It's okay, Holly. You're in the hospital."
"Do you know where you are?"
Holly tried to see the man who was talking. But the images kept coming ... flashing across her brain like an old 8mm film. Shattered glass. A broken body. Blood stained snow. A golden heart-shaped locket. Two frozen bodies. A fiery explosion. Falling ... falling.
Groaning again, she blinked against the glare, searching for clarity, but at the same time wanting to hide from reality.
Blip. Blip. Blip.
Images of her fiancé swirled through her mind ... smiling ... laughing ... bleeding ... lifeless. "Milton."
The soft touch of a hand had her believing it was him. Milton's hands were soft, his touch always gentle, delicate, like he cherished every inch of her flesh.
Excerpted from "Out of Mind"
Copyright © 2018 Kendall Talbot.
Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
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