Edge of Survival
Trapped on a deserted island and targeted by a deadly hunter, camp director Nicky Trailer must turn to the one man she vowed never to forgive. Luke Wolf abandoned her without a word years ago and crushed her girlhood dreams. When he suddenly returns to help her save her beloved summer camp, she doesn't want to forgive and forget. But with the mysterious hunter picking off campers one by one, Luke is the only one who can help her get off the island. With danger stalking their every move, can Luke and Nicky move beyond their past and work together to survive?
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
Worn wooden rungs creaked loudly under Nicky Trailer's boots. The ladder quivered as she climbed. She was a good twenty feet up in the air, smack-dab in the middle of Camp Spirit's main lodge, halfway between the old wooden floors and steeply slanted ceiling. The camp director's hazel eyes glanced up at the ceiling hatch high above her head. When she'd decided to store years' worth of paperwork up inside the claustrophobic crawlspace, she hadn't expected the camp's owner would ever send her on such a short-notice scavenger hunt. Especially not because he'd invited a reporter to the camp without telling her. "This still feels like a terrible idea."
"Oh, don't you worry, the loft's only three stories up, and here I seem to remember a certain tomboy in pigtails once being the youngest girl in camp history to conquer the high ropes." George Dale's warm chuckle echoed up the A-framed walls.
"That's not what I" The words froze on her tongue as she caught the twinkle in the old man's eyes. Her elderly boss was teasing. As always. Apparently he wasn't the slightest bit worried about having some journalist poking around the day before she led the most important canoe trip of her life. So why was she?
"I was the youngest camper period, and don't you forget it." Nikki flashed a grin and tucked an unruly curl of long brown hair firmly back under her bandanna. "You're not getting out of discussing this reporter thing that easily. Though if I'd realized the loft ladder had gotten this creaky, I'd have added a new one of those to my wish list, too."
Right behind patching the roof, better sports equipment and rebuilding the boathouse. There were two months until summer camp and the list of things needing repair was growing longer by the day. Her gaze ran through towering glass windows, past the cabins, down to where the morning sun set rays of light dancing on the lake. She'd spent almost twenty years among these Ontario treesfirst as camper, then counselor and now as George's second in command. Nicky ran Camp Spirit's summer and off-season camps, while George managed the business side. It was a great partnership that felt more like family than owner and employee.
If only our days weren't numbered. It was only a question of whether money troubles or George's failing health sank Camp Spirit first. His tendency to take on the neediest campers regardless of their ability to pay didn't leave much left over for new equipment and repairs. And while George's only son, Trevor, worked there occasionally, it was clear the young man would rather sell than fill his father's shoes.
Which is why tomorrow's trip is way too impor- tant to mess up by having some Toronto journalist tag along. George had invited a handful of community and business leaders for a weekend of camping on an isolated Muskoka island. He'd pitched it as "three days extreme camping, followed by a serious discussion about investing in Camp Spirit's future." She wasn't quite sure what kind of investment he had in mind, but even a donation of volunteers or equipment could mean staying open another summer or two. The trapdoor slid back easily. Dust and cobwebs filled the air.
"It's not that I don't trust you, but inviting any media up at this point is just asking for bad press." She climbed into the attic on her hands and knees. "Do you want me to get a cabin ready for him?"
"Actually, he's staying with me." George looked up at her through the hole in the floor. He ran one hand along his white beard. "Mr. Wolf is coming up as a friend, not a reporter. He's a really outstanding young man, and I wanted to make sure you had a chance to get to know him one-on-one, before everyone else arrived tomorrow. I'm hoping you two will really hit it off."
What exactly did he mean by that? It would hardly be the first time the widower had invited someone to swing by in a misguided attempt at playing matchmaker. She pressed her lips together to keep from smiling. "Well, if he's a friend of yours, I'm sure we'll get along as friends just fine."
She picked her way through mountains of old tarps and sports equipment. George was an old softie, but he had to know she had no intention of ever leaving these woods, let alone following some man to the city.
Besides, it wasn't as though the camp didn't have a steady stream of healthy, God-fearing bachelors come tramping through.
Sure, the first time a cute guy held her hand by the water and said he liked her, she'd believed him with every beat of her foolish heart. She'd been eighteen then. Louie had been nineteen and a counselor from their rival camp, with sad gray-blue eyes and a white scar that curved at his throat. He'd left without even saying goodbye, and now after watching countless other camp romances flare up then fizzle out, it was clear that while the moonlight might bring out the romantic in people, they usually just ended up walking right back out of these woods as easily as they'd walked in.
A pile of old camp mats slithered apart underneath her. "Now, remind me what"
The crash below was deafening. A wooden echo shook the floor beneath her. A cry rose to her lips but she bit it back. "George? What was that? Are you okay?"
Silence came from the hole in the floor. Her eyes glanced up toward the skylight for a second as she prayed. Please, Lord, don't let it be another heart attack. He barely survived the last one. She scrambled to the trapdoor and looked down. The ladder had fallen over. The dining hall was empty. Hopefully that meant he'd just gone to grab something. "Hey!" She kept her voice upbeat but loud. "Where'd you go? That ladder won't stand on its own."
Any response he might have given was lost in the sound of a powerful engine peeling down the camp's gravel road. She slid over to the skylight and opened it. A black sports car pulled to a neat stop beside the lodge. A man stepped out. Nicky's mouth went dry. The visitor was tall, with tousled black hair and just the hint of three-o'clock shadow along his jaw. His broad shoulders were cleanly framed by the lines of a gray suit jacket. Sunglasses hid his eyes, while the crisp dress shirt did nothing to disguise the solid strength that lay beneath it. He loosened his tie just enough to undo his top button. A frown crossed his lips. Then he disappeared around the corner toward the office door.
This was Mr. Wolf? Nicky sat back on her heels and pressed her palm against her chest. Probably just as well her first glimpse of him was through the attic window. It would give her time to get the flush of heat out of her cheeks. She ran both hands down her dirty jeans and brushed the cobwebs from her face. Then she made her way through the maze of equipment back to the trapdoor.
"Hey, George? I think your reporter friend has pulled up outside. Also don't forget about the ladder."
A fit of coughing overtook her lungs. The air was thick and bitter. Thin fingers of smoke curled through the trapdoor, setting every warning bell inside her clanging. She braced her body and hung her head through the hole in the floor. Dark smoke poured from under the door leading to the kitchen. Orange flames flickered at the serving window. Panic flooded her veins, nearly sending her headfirst through the hole.
She was alone. She was trapped. And the building was on fire.
* * *
Searing heat shot through Luke's palm as his fingers brushed the doorknob. Gingerly he placed his hand flat against the office door. Warmth radiated through it. Bad sign. Very bad sign. The faintest whisper of smoke slipped from around the reinforced door and the lodge windows showed nothing but a reflection of trees. But somewhere inside the building a fire was raging.
He scanned the campgrounds. For a split second he thought he saw someone moving in the trees. A shadowy shape in what looked like hunting fatigues was pelting up a steep path through the woods.
"Hey! Stop! Someone needs help!" The figure disappeared and Luke grit his teeth. He didn't have time to chase after him. And, if his old and regrettable memories of teenage mischief were correct, it would take him at least twenty minutes to run to the neighboring camp. But only moments ago he'd seen a woman in the attic window. Had she managed to get out safely? Being here is a painful reminder that I'm the last man any woman would want as a hero.
Hero or not, he might be the only chance she had.
Stepping back from the door, he called up to the empty window. "Hey! I'm going to call the fire department and then I'm coming to get you out." There was no response but he couldn't afford to wait. Flames were now pouring through a broken window at the back of the building. Tongues of fire licked toward the sky as he pulled out his cell phone.
He couldn't get a signal, but he remembered seeing a red emergency telephone on a pole near the first-aid station. Luke ran for it, wrapped his jacket around his fist and smashed the glass. He wrenched the handset from the cradle. "Hello? Hello? Can anyone hear me?"
"Nine-one-one. Emergency services." The voice was crisp and female.
"I'm at Camp Spirit on rural route eight. The lodge is on fire and someone's inside."
"Emergency vehicles are being dispatched to your location, can you describe"
"No. Sorry. I need to get her out of there."
He ran at the lodge and threw his weight into a solid blow aimed right at the center of the office door. It flew back off the hinges. Smoke poured out.
Sloshing his jacket in a rain barrel beside the door, he held it to his face and entered the building. A surge of hot air beat back against his body. He bowed his head and pushed through as smoke seared his lungs. It seemed as if the fire was fiercest in the back of the building, but it was only a matter of time before flames engulfed the office, too.
"Hello! Hey! Can anybody hear me?" A voice groaned in the darkness. "Hang on!"
In seconds he reached George. The one man Luke owed his entire life to lay pinned to the floor underneath a bookcase. He was pale butThank Godstill conscious.
"It's me, Luke. I'm going to get you out of here."
Shoving the bookcase aside, he grasped George under both arms and pulled him out from under it. The air was getting hotter. The smoke was growing thicker.
His mind's eye set firmly on the faint shaft of daylight cutting through the darkness, he stumbled toward it.
Clean air filled Luke's lungs as he hauled George through the doorway and up onto the grassy slope. He knelt beside him.
"I called 9-1-1. Help is on the way. But I saw a woman in the window. She still in there?"
George nodded. "Nicky."
"How do I get to her? Stairs?"
"No. Just ladder." George's voice was so faint Luke had to strain to catch his words. He turned back to the fire as George grabbed his arm. "Please. Take like " A fit of coughing stole George's words from his lungs. Tears filled his smoke-stained eyes. "Cash box "
The words hit Luke like a slap in the face. Was George asking him to run into the fire to find the camp cash box? Or was he intentionally reminding Luke of the very worst thing he 'd ever done?
There wasn't time for this. Shoving the question from his mind, Luke ran back toward the lodge, ignoring the pain in his lungs and the heat on his limbs. Soot coated his skin. He snapped off what remained of his tie, swinging loose over a shirt now more tatters than clothing.
A woman's scream filled the air. He rounded the corner and saw her.
"Nicky" dangled from the skylight window, climbing hand-over-hand down the slanted roof tiles using something that looked like a knotted tarp. Clever. But she was still almost three stories off the ground, with a sheer slide to the cement below. The makeshift rope barely reached halfway to the ground. He'd have to convince her to jump and find some way to break her fall. If he missed, she'd break every bone in her body.
Smoke poured through the window above her as he ran to her aid. He could hear sirens wailing in the distance.
The tarp chain snapped. Nicky flew backward through the air. Prayers for mercy poured wordlessly through his lips as he reached out. Her body hit his chest. The force knocked him back, throwing them to the ground. His arms tightened around her, absorbing the blow, as cement knocked the air from his lungs.
She lay on top of him for a moment, her back pressed against his chest. Her face turned towards him. Her breath came fast and hard on his neck. Wild, dark hair brushed against his face, filling his senses with haunting scents of wood smoke and wild berries. "It's okay. You're okay. I've got you."
"George. He." She tried to speak, but could barely manage a whisper.
"He's all right. I got him out. You okay to walk? We'd better get away from this building."
She rolled off onto the ground beside him. He helped her to her feet, but they'd barely gone a few steps when he felt her fall against his shoulder.
"I'm sorry," she said. "I'm not hurt. Just shaky."
He wrapped his arm around her. "Take it slow. We'll get the paramedics to check you out."
Emergency vehicles poured down the camp driveway. Doors slammed. Voices shouted. Fire hoses roared to life.
"I'm Nicky Trailer, the camp director. Thank you for saving me."
"Luke Wolf, Torchlight News. You're very welcome." A smile turned at the corner of his lips. Then it froze as he looked down at her face. Luminous hazel eyes looked up into his, shining like gold in her soot-stained face and sending disjointed memories cascading through his mind. His heart stuttered.
That Nicky? Still here? This many years later? Could it really be her? If so, did she even have any idea who he was?
She stumbled. Her hand brushed against his, sending an unsettling shiver through his skin. Her gaze dropped to his where his shirt laid torn open over his chest. A gasp slipped through her lips. Her eyes grew wider as she pushed him away and stumbled backward.
"Louie? Is it really you?" She crumpled to the ground.