A blogger for Vortex Storm Chasers, Brette Arnold didn't expect her adventures to land her in the same place as Ty, the guy who she walked--no, ran--from over a year ago. She had her reasons--good ones. The kind that tell her that falling for him again would only lead to heartache. But Ty isn't the kind of man to give up--not on the missing students, or on her.
Life and love hang in the balance in Susan May Warren's breathless story of holding on to hope during a deadly summer of storms.
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About the Author
Susan May Warren is the USA Today bestselling author of over fifty novels with more than 1 million books sold, including Wild Montana Skies, Rescue Me, A Matter of Trust, Troubled Waters, and Storm Front. Winner of a RITA Award and multiple Christy and Carol Awards, as well as the HOLT Medallion and numerous Readers' Choice Awards, Susan has written contemporary and historical romances, romantic suspense, thrillers, romantic comedy, and novellas. She makes her home in Minnesota. Find her online at www.susanmaywarren.com, on Facebook at Susan May Warren Fiction, and on Twitter @susanmaywarren.
Read an Excerpt
Ty Remington blamed the homemade orange marmalade cake for why he found himself huddled under an overhang off some faraway path in Glacier National Park, shivering, praying he might live through the night.
Rain bulleted the enclave, a shallow divot in the granite at the lip of a now-rising flowing mountain creek. Wind tore at his thin rain jacket — he'd given his fleece to the couple huddled behind him, eking warmth from the scant fire he'd built. The blaze gave off a meager trickle of smoke and heat, but hopefully enough to keep them from hypothermia.
If it hadn't been for the growl in his stomach when the fragrance of Karen Reycraft's signature cake tugged at him, arresting his escape from the Fourth of July celebration at Mercy Falls Community Church, he'd be sitting on his leather sofa, watching through his window for fireworks to light over the river bridge in town.
Or he might have said yes to Gage Watson's invitation to join him and his girlfriend Ella for a movie.
Instead, he'd grabbed a plate and fallen into the potluck line ahead of Renee Jordan, proprietor of the local Free Fall B & B. Who happened to be worried about a couple of guests who hadn't shown up for breakfast this morning. "They left for a hike in the park yesterday and never came back."
Yes, she'd knocked on their door, just in case.
Ty reined in the urge to remind Renee that she ran a vacation rental. That maybe Mr. and Mrs. Berkley wanted to be left alone.
She added, "I just know how scary it is to be out there alone in the park with a storm coming. I was hoping, since you're on that rescue team ..."
There went his appetite, because unwittingly Renee had landed a lethal blow with the trifecta of arguments: in a storm, alone, and they might be in real trouble.
Most of all, maybe he could help.
Ty's gut had begun to roil with the weight of what if. He pulled out his map of the park and found the moderately strenuous and remote trail Renee had suggested to them. "The Dawson Pass hike has the best huckleberries," she said in defense.
Yes. It also passed through prime grizzly territory.
Not to mention the 2,935-foot climb.
Although, with its sweeping views of Dawson Pass, the seven-mile trek to No Name Lake could be the most dramatic day hike in the park.
"Maybe I'm overreacting," she said.
Ty had finally left his cake behind and headed over to PEAK HQ.
"You sure they're out there?" This question had come from Chet King, co-founder of the team.
After a thorough study of the map, as well as a call to local park rangers, Ty's best answer had been, "Not in the least. But my gut thinks yes."
His gut. He'd actually looked at Chet and delivered that statement. And yes, okay, he'd added a wince, a little what-to-do shrug, but still, he'd stood there like his gut might be the homing beacon they needed to activate a callout.
Chet had pursed his lips. Added a deep breath.
So maybe Ty shouldn't be listening to his gut. But it had told him the truth more than once.
Like when it warned him that journalist Brette Arnold would only cause trouble. He just hadn't quite realized it meant she'd break his heart.
Clearly, his gut needed to be more specific.
With Renee's words, however, it had grabbed ahold of him, an uncanny, bone-deep feeling that someone was hurt. "Since you're on that rescue team ..."
A placeholder, really, the guy who helped carry things. Once upon a time, he'd been the chopper pilot, but he'd screwed that up, and royally, so now he simply showed up for callouts and hoped not to ride the bench.
Maybe he could really help, for once.
"It's a holiday, no need to call in the team. I'll just ride out there and take a look," Ty had said.
"It won't be nice for long, so put a hup into your step," Chet said. "Take a radio with you."
Ty parked his truck at the Two Medicine Lake campground and knocked off the first four miles by taking the ferry across the lake.
A mile in, as he turned toward the Dawson Pass trail, the faintest rumble of thunder sounded beyond Flinsch Peak to the north.
Spotting a couple hikers headed down the trail from No Name Lake, he asked them about Jan and Richard Berkley, but they hadn't seen them.
He stopped for a moment at No Name, sweat trickling down his spine. He'd shoved a first aid kit, an overnight survival kit, and an extra blanket into his pack. The weight of it burned into his shoulders.
Maybe his gut was just reacting to the wannabe inside him. The fact that he hated standing on the sidelines, that without EMT training or rescue climber certification, he usually drove the truck or hauled up the stretchers, muscle that filled a gap in the team's roster.
He'd thought about upgrading his certifications, but getting EMT training felt like admitting that his days as a pilot were behind him. So what if he hadn't flown anyone but himself ... and recently, Chet, for his biennial exam. He would get back in the cockpit when he was ready.
Shoot, maybe it was time to face the truth. Without something to add to the team, he could be replaced with any number of the volunteers that showed up every year for callout training.
Ty had no doubt that only Chet's affection for him kept him on the payroll.
Ty had glanced at the storm gathering to the northwest — a rolling black thunderhead still forming on the horizon, bisected by jagged mountain peaks and rimmed on all sides by the mid-afternoon sun.
A couple miles later, he emerged through the tree line to the spit of a light rain. No Name and Two Medicine lakes were tucked into the valley below. The wind bit at him as he turned and ascended the south slope of Flinsch Peak. Bighorn sheep scuttled off the shale-littered trail.
When Ty's foot slipped on the slick rock, he stopped, breathing hard.
This was silly. The Berkleys had probably risen early and headed to Bigfork for breakfast at the Echo Lake Café.
Ty was leaning over, cupping his hands over his knees, when he heard it. A scream, and it echoed through the canyon, up the slope, and niggled the weight in his gut.
Maybe a hawk, but he stood up, listened.
It sounded again, and this time he recognized it as the shrill rasp of a whistle.
He reached for his own whistle and let out a long blow.
Three short bursts answered, the universal signal for help, and the hum in his gut roared to life. After returning the signal, he dug out his binoculars and cast his gaze over the trail that jogged up toward the pass. Then he swept his vision down, across the forest of lodgepole pine and huckleberry that dropped into a steep tumble from the trail.
The whistle continued to blast.
He stepped off the trail to angle his search and nearly slipped on the now-icy layer of snow that crusted a fissure in the rock. As he looked down, his heart stopped, lodged in his ribs at the footprints that bled down the snowfield.
Not a steep pitch at first, but the crust had broken off, and as he dragged his glasses over the field, he spotted the debris of where falling bodies had churned up snow, probably fighting for purchase before plunging down a scree slope into the trees.
A fall of nearly a hundred feet, although not straight down. He couldn't make out anyone at the bottom but followed his hunch anyway and backtracked down the trail. Finding a crossing place, he hiked down the base of the scree, shot out three blasts from his whistle, along with a shout, and received an answering report and headed into the trees.
Jan and Richard Berkley had huddled up for the night under the wings of a towering lodgepole, both nursing significant ambulatory injuries.
When she spied Ty hiking down through the bramble of forest and shaggy fir, Jan had dropped the whistle from her mouth, pressed her hands over her face, and wept.
"Hey, hey. It's going to be okay." Ty swung his pack off his shoulder and assessed the couple. Jan, who looked to be in her midfifties, suffered from a seriously sprained, if not fractured, ankle.
"It's my fault. I was taking a picture, and I just ... it was stupid." This from husband Richard, who spoke through pain-gritted teeth. Medium build and athletic, with graying hair at the temples, Richard reminded him a little of Mark Harmon. He held his arm possessively to his body, but it was his leg that had Ty worried. Broken for sure, the foot hanging at a grotesque angle.
"I tried to stop him, but he just went over —" Jan started.
"And I took her with me." Richard's voice tightened. "Stupid. We tried to hike out, but ..."
Yes, okay, Ty would sign up for that EMT course at the local college because he'd really love to know whether it was shock, pain, or just the cold of the storm turning Richard pale. He worked off Richard's shoe and checked for a pedal pulse.
"He has blood flow," Jan said. "I've been checking. And I think we're past the danger of shock, although I know he's in a lot of pain."
Lean and tall, with her brown hair pulled back in a ponytail, Jan wore a rain jacket, Gore-Tex pants, and hiking boots. She wiped her eyes. "Sorry. I'm just tired. And cold."
Cold, yes. Because with the storm spitting down at them, hypothermia, even in July, could be their worst enemy. "Let's find protection, and then I'll go for help."
"What?" Jan grabbed his arm. "No — please. You can't leave us."
"I have a radio, but the mountains will block the signal. I need to hike out if I hope to contact my team."
"There's a storm coming. Please, don't leave."
Please, don't leave.
Like a punch to the sternum, the words, the earnestness of her voice unseated him. He drew in a shaky breath, the memory of his mother's voice just as swift and brutal. "Please, Ty, don't leave."
"Let's find shelter," he'd said, hating the promises he was already making.
He'd twisted his bad knee carrying Richard down the mountain, but he gritted his teeth until he found the overhang, and by the time he gathered kindling and made a fire, the night was falling in a hard slash around him, the sky igniting with slivers of lightning, the rain icy on his skin.
Not a hope of the PEAK team hearing from — or finding him — on a night like this.
Ty slid back inside the cave, made sure that the fleece stayed tucked up to Richard's neck, then coaxed the fire back to life with one of the few still-dry branches he'd found on a low-hanging nearby pine tree.
"How did you find us?" Jan pressed her fingers to her husband's neck, checked her watch.
"Renee Jordan corralled me at church. Said you were missing."
Jan settled by the fire, put her swollen ankle up on her backpack. "And that's it — you just decided to look for us?"
Huh. When she put it like that ... But he could hardly add, My gut told me you were out here. "I dunno. I guess the thought of you out here, alone, hurt ..." He lifted a shoulder. "Besides, I'm on a rescue team."
"Oh, so you're a natural hero." Jan smiled at him from across the flames, and for some reason, it spilled warmth through him.
Still, he shook his head. "No. Trust me, I'm not the hero on the team. I just ... I know what it feels like to be alone and hurt and ..." He couldn't say much more, the memory lurking.
So he shut his mouth, his throat burning. He didn't look at Jan.
The silence that fell between them turned lethal to his resolve to keep the story to himself. He blew out a breath. "I was in a car accident when I was ten, in the middle of a blizzard, and I ... I wanted to go for help, but ... anyway, I watched my mom die right in front of me. So ..."
He clenched his teeth against the rise of a forbidden and ancient grief. Strange timing, but he decided to blame Jan and her uncanny resemblance to Elyse Remington.
"I'm sorry," Jan said.
He looked out at the storm. "I should have hiked out —"
"And get lost in the storm? You were ten."
He blinked at her for a second, then caught up. He was actually talking about the storm raging here, on the mountain. Nevertheless, Jan's words still sunk in. But it didn't matter how often he heard that truth. It still felt like he should have done something to save her.
He stopped shivering and held his hand to the warmth of the flames. "I'll leave at first light. We'll get you out."
"Richard's injuries aren't life-threatening." Jan grabbed his hand, squeezed. "I'm a doctor, trust me. We'll be okay. It's enough to know we're not alone."
And for some reason — maybe the fatigue, the storm, maybe even the ache in his knee — right then, Brette Arnold tiptoed into his brain.
Even after eighteen months, or nearly, still she had the power to run an ache through his bones, right to his heart. With it rose a desire to hit something, to let out a shout.
In his less sane moments, it even caused him to resume his search for her.
Because, deep in his gut, he knew that she was in trouble. And regardless of the fact that she didn't have the courage to stick around, didn't have the courage to reach out, didn't have the courage to admit she needed him ... she did.
And if Ty knew one thing, his gut was rarely, if ever, wrong.
How Brette had hitched herself to three daredevil storm chasers who followed clouds for a living, she didn't quite know. One day she'd snapped a picture of a funnel churning up a Colorado prairie, the next she'd hitched a ride with the team from Vortex .com as their blogger-slash-photographer.
No, wait, in between there she'd posted the legendary picture on Facebook and sold it to Nat Geo for enough money to pay her cell phone bill and the monthly rent on her long-term POD container in Boston. A container she might never see again, the way Geena drove.
"We're going to hydroplane! For cryin' out loud, slow down!" A rare shout from their fearless captain, Jonas Marshall, as he slammed his hand on the front dash. Dressed in a black T-shirt, the orange Vortex.com emblem on the breast, and a red cap with his short brown hair curling out the back, he looked every inch the storm warrior who regularly reported on-the-scene updates to the Weather Channel.
His other hand steadied his computer on the front seat mount. On the screen, Doppler radar spit out, every two seconds, what looked like a child's coloring of an amoeba twisting and curling across a gridded map of Kansas.
Hopefully Jonas had an idea where to send them to intercept the forecasted tornado, because to her eye, they'd driven right into a line of squalls. And everyone knew that a squall line was a series of thunderstorms all in a row, and while impressive, it fought for the warm air necessary to fuel tornadic conditions.
In short, on the other side of this torrential rain might be nothing but blue sky. No swell of winds, no mesocyclones, no storm hook inside which the tornadic winds would organize, form a funnel, and drop to earth.
A wild-goose chase that netted them nothing but another day of endless driving and fatigue, and frankly, she couldn't remember the last time she'd eaten.
"Listen, you wanna get out of this mess or are we actually going to catch a tornado on this little cross-country trip?" Geena snapped as she gripped the wheel of their extended Suburban. Petite and tough, with a tribal tattoo up her arm and her jet-black hair twisted into an Oklahoma Sooners ball cap, Geena drove with the tenacity of a NASCAR champion. "Is this the gust front or not, Mr. Weather?"
Beside Brette in the backseat, Nixon smirked at Geena's name for Jonas, even as he angled the camera out the window to the northwest where the eerie green horizon turned black. He'd freshly shaved his head and face, and with his mocha skin and eyes, he looked fierce and very capable of standing up to and capturing on video whatever nature dished out.
Jonas blew out a breath and examined the amoeba on the screen. Encased in an outer edge of green that marked the precipitation, the layers comprised a fiery mix of yellows, oranges, and reds all the way to the supercell core.
"We're on the southern edge of the storm. Just keep going west. We'll break free of this and hopefully be right in the path of the mesocyclone. But please stay on the road."
"That's why you hired her, Big J, to bring you up close and personal," Nixon said.
"I hired her because you wanted your girlfriend on this summer's excursion," Jonas snapped. "Look out — there's trees! Sheesh, Geena!"
Brette tightened her grip on her seat belt as Geena maneuvered around a downed branch scooting across the road.
Geena glanced at him, smacked her gum. "Take a breath there, boss. I'm only going thirty."
Excerpted from "Storm Front"
Copyright © 2018 Susan May Warren.
Excerpted by permission of Baker Publishing Group.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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