In only two months, Hold Your Breath, Book 1 of the Search and Rescue series, will hit the (virtual and physical) shelves. Here's a preview to help tide you over until April 5th.
In the remote Rocky Mountains, lives depend on the Search & Rescue brotherhood. But in a place this far off the map, trust is hard to come by and secrets can be murder…
As the captain of Field County’s ice rescue dive team, Callum Cook is driven to perfection. But when he meets new diver Louise “Lou” Sparks, all that hard-won order is obliterated in an instant. Lou is a hurricane. A walking disaster. And with her, he’s never felt more alive…even if keeping her safe may just kill him.
Lou’s new to the Rockies, intent on escaping her controlling ex, and she’s determined to make it on her own terms…no matter how tempting Callum may be. But when a routine training exercise unearths a body, Lou and Callum find themselves thrust into a deadly game of cat and mouse with a killer who will stop at nothing to silence Lou—and prove that not even her new Search and Rescue family can keep her safe forever.
Jumping into a hole cut in the ice covering the reservoir was a stupid idea. In fact, of all the questionable decisions she’d made since abandoning civilization for her tiny mountain cabin seven months ago, this was probably the worst.
At least, Lou mused wryly, it was a beautiful place in which to do a dumb thing. The sun lit the snowcapped mountains circling like sleepy sentinels around them, and the wind chased powdery snow across the frozen reservoir. Despite the cold, it still smelled strongly of fish.
“Ready for some ice-rescue training?” Derek bumped his neoprene-covered arm against hers. He seemed much too cheerful for a guy about to dive into glacial water.
“Aww, Lou.” When he tried to pat her head with one of his bright blue gloves, she ducked out of reach. “Nervous?”
“Of course not. Why would I be nervous about jumping into a hole in the ice and swimming around in thirty-two-and-a-half-degree water? Why did I join the Field County Rescue Dive Team and not the Jamaican Whatever again?”
“Because I would not be on the Jamaican Dive Team,” Derek answered. “And I make it worth the cold.”
“Yeah, not really.”
“Hey!” He smacked her arm, she laughed and whacked him back, and then it evolved into a full-fledged slap fight. The blue-nitrile shade of their gloves made them look like life-size cartoons, and Lou couldn’t hold back another laugh.
Callum’s bellow froze her in place. She shot Derek a wry glance before turning to face their team leader. She took careful, deliberate steps in the clumsy dry suit boots, as humiliation was better served in small doses. Being caught goofing off was bad enough. She didn’t need to fall on her ass, as well.
“Yes?” She eyed his scowling face. It was too bad about his surliness, since Callum was a joy to look upon otherwise, in a gladiator-meets-drill-sergeant kind of way. His blond hair was military short, and his eyes were a startling and beautiful blue against tan skin. His jaw was square, and his body… Taking a deep breath, she carefully did not check out the neoprene-wrapped perfection below his neck.
“What are you doing?”
Somehow, answering “Fooling around with Derek,” did not seem like the best idea. “Uh…nothing.”
He stared at her, heavy frown still in place. “It didn’t— Never mind. You’re like a terrier with ADD. Why can’t you stand still for five minutes?”
“Because…” She shot a glance at Derek. The traitor had taken several steps back and was pretending to examine a seam on his dry-suit sleeve. “He… I just…um, the gloves…”
Callum let the silence hang for several seconds. When he eventually turned away from Lou, she let out the breath she’d been holding and shuffled over to rejoin Derek. Once there, she punched him lightly—well, sort of lightly—in the kidney.
“Ouch.” He gave her an injured look. “What was that for?”
“Why am I always the one who gets in trouble?”
“Because you’re the one who starts it.”
“Do not,” she protested, realizing she’d gotten a little loud only when Callum’s eyes focused on her again. Dropping her gaze, she studied the half-frozen puddle in front of her boots. It seemed as if every single time she did something embarrassing, Callum was there, watching her with the look—a mix of exasperation and irritated bafflement. The sad part was that, even after three months of getting the look, Lou still wasn’t able to smother the obnoxious butterflies that fluttered in her belly whenever she was the center of his attention.
“You done?” he asked. At her nod, he jerked his chin toward the icy reservoir.
Lou fell in line with the six other divers, taking slow, exaggerated steps to avoid tripping over her own neoprene-wrapped feet or slipping on the ice. As they reached the large opening that had been carved out earlier in the day for the training exercise, Lou peered at the water, frowning.
“What’s wrong?” Derek asked, stepping up beside her and following her gaze as if looking for the answer to his own question.
She shrugged. “All that ice around the edge makes the water look really cold.”
Bumping her with his elbow, he snorted. “It is cold, genius. It’s literally freezing, which explains all the hard stuff we’re standing on.”
Lou elbowed him back. “Dork,” she grumbled.
He smirked at her.
“The ice is just under ten inches here,” Callum announced in his schoolteacher tone—the one that always made Lou want to act up like a contrary third grader. “Is that thick enough for a group of people to walk on?”
“Wouldn’t it have been better to confirm that before we left shore?” Lou muttered, making Derek snicker. Callum sent a sharp look her way.
“It’s thick enough,” Chad answered, taking a step toward Callum. “It’d even be okay to drive on it.”
“A car or light truck,” Chad said quickly. “For anything more, twelve inches would be better.”
“That’s what she said,” Derek whispered loud enough to make everyone except Callum laugh. Even Chad grinned before dropping his chin to hide it.
Callum let his gaze fall on each person in turn. The chuckles died, replaced by awkward coughs.
“So this ice is safe?” he finally asked when silence had fallen over the team members.
“Yes.” Chad was the first to speak up again, and Lou winced. He’d obviously already forgotten the four hours they’d spent watching training videos that morning.
Wilt gave a slow, sad shake of his head. “No ice is safe,” he said in the Arkansas drawl he held on to even after forty years in Colorado. Lou liked Wilt. He was a soft-spoken man who kept quiet unless he had something important to say. When he spoke, everyone shut up and listened. Wilt was in his sixties, with a thick mustache that drooped over his mouth, giving him a perpetually mournful expression.
“Good, Wilt,” Callum said. “Glad someone was paying attention this morning. We have to be especially careful of weak spots after the warm spell last week. Even though it’s been cold the past couple of days, the ice probably hasn’t recovered yet.”
Chad’s shoulders sagged. Knowing all too well how it felt to be under the heavy weight of Callum’s displeasure, Lou shot him a sympathetic glance. He avoided her gaze.
“Okay!” Callum clapped his blue-gloved hands together. “Everyone in the water. First time in is the hardest, so it’s best to get it over with.”
Lou eyed the water doubtfully, shuffling a little closer to the edge of the hole. She had a lot of scuba diving experience, but most of it had been in tropical locations. This was new to her.
“What if my suit has a leak?” Chad asked. Lou whipped her head around to stare at him. Hell. She’d never thought about a leaky suit. Her newly panicked gaze flew to Callum’s face.
“Your suit is buoyant enough that it won’t matter, even if it fills with water to your armpits.” Callum waved a dismissive hand. “You’ll still float.”
Slightly relieved but trying not to think about how freaking cold thirty-two-degree water up to her armpits would be, she turned her attention back to the opening in the ice. Derek had already taken the plunge.
“C’mon in,” he said, letting his legs float to the surface and leaning back as if he were in an easy chair. “The water’s fine.”
Deciding to just get it done, Lou took a breath and jumped in. When her head went under, she instantly realized her mistake. Once the shockingly cold water hit her face, her lungs clamped down, squeezing out all her oxygen. She didn’t even try to figure out which way was up but just let her suit float her to the surface instead.
She felt a tap on the back of her hood and yanked her face out of the water. Callum was close enough for her to see the deep creases between his eyebrows.
“You good?” he asked.
After examining her face carefully, he shook his head. “Never do anything halfway, do you, Sparks?”
Since she didn’t know if that was a compliment or an insult, she kept quiet. Her legs kept wanting to float to the surface behind her and tip her onto her front as the others climbed in more carefully. Scowling, she tried to force her lower half down but ended up flailing unsuccessfully.
“How are you staying upright?” she asked Callum, craning her neck to keep her face out of the water as her legs headed for the surface again.
“Tuck them to your chest and then push them straight down.” He swam toward the icy ledge as she struggled to master her buoyant suit. She finally managed to shove her legs down so her body was more or less upright.
“Ha!” she crowed, slapping the surface in victory. “Got you down, bitches!”
“Did you just call your legs ‘bitches’?” Derek asked from directly behind her, making her jump. Her upper body tilted forward, but she got herself back under control.
“Yep. Occasional evidence to the contrary, I am in charge of all my body parts.”
“Glad to hear it.”
“Everyone out!” Callum bellowed, levering his body onto the ice with ease. “Exit the water on your front like a seal and then roll away from the edge. Remember, the more you can distribute your weight, the less likely it is you’ll go through the ice.”
Lou flattened her hands on the ice and tried to hoist her body out of the water, but it looked a lot easier when Callum did it. Her legs, damn the rogue bastards, floated forward and up, catching under the ledge. She managed to slam the edge of the ice into her belly, driving out her breath.
“Nice, Lou,” Derek mocked as he slid gracefully onto the solid surface. “You’re like a special seal.”
“Oh, shut up,” she muttered, panting, as she hauled herself out of the water.
This, she could tell, was going to be one hell of a day.
“Sparks!” Callum bellowed. “You’re up!”
She sighed, relinquishing her spot on the rope where she’d been helping to pull the “victims” and their rescuers out of the water and across the ice. It was like a lopsided game of tug-of-war—all brute strength and teamwork—and she’d actually been getting to like that part of training, despite the hard work. But now that she wasn’t pulling, she noticed her eyelashes had frosted over, and her neck and the top of her chest were clammy from the water that had leaked into the suit after her full-body plunge.
Trudging over to Callum, she lifted her arms so he could wrap the end of the rope around her middle. Although she’d watched three of the guys perform an in-water rescue, she was still nervous. The ice-rescue veterans had made it look easy, but she had a feeling her first time wouldn’t go so smoothly.
Callum handed her the victim’s harness, which looked like a skinny pool noodle. It was attached to her rope with about six feet of line. That way, the victim would be first out of the water, and she’d be behind him, in a position to help lift him onto the ice.
“When you get to the victim, carabineer should be in your right hand,” Callum instructed. “The other end goes in your left. Get control of your suit before trying to save anybody. Approach the victim from the side or back, talk to him, harness him up, signal the guys to start pulling, and lift your knee to help boost him onto the ice with your thigh. Once you get your hands on him, do not let go of your patient. Got it?”
“Yes.” Her voice sounded a little uncertain, so she firmed her jaw and tried again. “Yes.”
Callum’s mouth quirked up on one side. If it had been anyone but Callum, Lou would’ve thought he was holding back a smile.
Okay. Okay, she could do this.
She approached the edge of the ice, crawling when she was ten feet out and then moving to her belly and sliding across the last yard. Swinging her legs around, she dropped feetfirst into the water, careful to keep her face above the surface this time. She looked back at where Callum stood on the ice. He bumped his closed fist on the top of his head, the signal for Are you okay? She answered in the affirmative with a matching fist-to-head bump before heading toward her “victim.”
Holding her face out of the water, she swam toward Phil, who clung to the ice on the other side of the opening with melodramatic panic. Lou had to bite back a groan when she saw how he was putting every ounce of community-theater experience into his role of drowning victim.
Coming up next to him, she tried to get her legs underneath her as she spoke. “Hang on, sir. I’m Louise Sparks with the Field County Dive Team. We’re going to get you out of here.”
Phil’s pretend struggles increased, and his thrashing hand slapped the water, splashing it into her face. Air left her lungs again at the breath-stealing cold, and her legs floated up behind her. Damn it. When she could move her body again, she drew her knees up and pushed her feet straight down, glaring at her grinning victim.
“Oops,” Phil said. “Sorry, Lou.”
“Uh-huh,” she muttered as she moved around behind him. “I’m hooking this harness around you, sir, so the team on shore can pull you out.”
She struggled to reach around Phil’s wide girth, wishing she’d gotten skinny Wilt as her victim instead. The dry-suit gloves made her fingers thick and unwieldy, and she fumbled with the carabineer. To make matters even more silent swear worthy, Phil had resumed his melodramatic struggling.
“Don’t make me drown you,” she snarled, jerking her head back so his flapping elbow didn’t connect with her eye.
“Where’s your compassion, Lou? I’m a panicked, hypothermic tourist here.” The bastard sounded as if he were about to laugh.
“I’ll show you compassion,” she muttered through gritted teeth. “And if you’re hypothermic, shouldn’t you be getting tired and sluggish?”
“That sounds threatening.” Phil was definitely laughing, the ass. “As soon as you save me and I get out of the hospital, I’m going to file a complaint with your superior.”
“That’s where you’re wrong—there is no one superior to me,” she said, letting out a relieved grunt when she finally succeeded in hooking the carabineer through the metal loop of the harness.
Phil laughed and then wiggled several feet sideways, pulling his slick, neoprene-covered body free of her grip.
“Never let go of your patient!” Callum yelled. “Once you put your hands on him, you do not let go until he is being lifted into the ambulance, understand?”
With a heavy sigh, Lou tried to maneuver behind Phil again, but he was surprisingly agile for such a big guy. Plus, the training had been tiring, and she still had to help hoist Phil’s bulk out of the water. Clenching her jaw, she lunged toward him, managing to latch her arms around his waist.
“Got you!” she crowed, but her satisfaction was quickly overruled by irritation as her legs floated up behind her again, curving her spine into an awkward partial backbend. With Phil’s body in the way, she couldn’t pull her knees up very easily. After several unsuccessful attempts at getting her legs underneath her, she kicked out in frustration. But instead of passing through unresisting water, her booted foot hit hard against something.
“What the hell?” she mumbled, looking over her shoulder. She couldn’t see whatever it was through the murky water. It had felt fairly firm, although it had moved with her kick. She was tempted to thump it with her boot again, but reconsidered.
“What?” Phil had finally realized she was ignoring him. He quit his fake struggling, twisting his head around to follow her gaze.
“I kicked something.” She kept staring at the water, as if she’d suddenly develop X-ray vision. Her arms were still locked around Phil’s middle. No need to get yelled at for making the same mistake twice.
“The Mission Reservoir Monster?” he asked in his best spooky voice.
“What’s taking you so long?” Callum called from the ice. “For Christ’s sake, Sparks, your victim would be dead by now. Just complete the recovery, and let’s get his body out of the water so we can notify his next of kin.”
“You gave up on me so quick, Cal,” Phil whined. “Aren’t you even going to start CPR?”
“No way,” Derek yelled back. “He knows where those lips have been.”
“What’s the problem?” Callum didn’t sound amused. He did sound annoyed.
“There’s something under the water. I kicked it.”
“Shark?” Chad suggested.
“Seriously?” Derek scoffed. “In a freshwater reservoir?”
“Maybe,” Chad muttered with a shrug.
“Well, it didn’t bite me, so hopefully that rules out both the Reservoir Monster and all woman-eating fish.”
Moving a few feet closer, Derek peered at the water. “If it’s anything valuable, I call dibs.”
“No way!” Lou protested. “I’m the one who kicked it. Finders keepers!”
Callum expelled an impatient sigh loud enough for Lou to hear, even across the twenty feet that separated them. He moved to the edge of the ice and slid gracefully into the water. As he swam toward them, Lou turned back to scan for the unidentified object.
At first she thought she was imagining it, but she could definitely see something down there, and it was getting larger and more distinct with each second. She wondered if her kick had knocked whatever it was loose, allowing it to float to the top. As she stared, holding her breath, the faint shape got closer and closer, until a large, gray mass bobbed to the surface. Lou gave a muffled shout, her arms tightening around Phil. A part of her knew what it was as soon as it surfaced, but a larger portion refused to accept it.
No. No way. No way.
“Is that a body?” Derek yelled from the ice.
“Yep, that’s a dead guy,” Phil said, his voice as casual as if it were a beer can floating next to them and not the waxy gray back of a corpse.
“Huh.” Derek didn’t sound too freaked out about it, either. “Lou, I’m good with finders keepers, then. You can have it.”
She couldn’t respond. For once, no words would leave her mouth. All she could do was cling to Phil’s middle and try to breathe. It wasn’t working.
As he pulled up next to them, Callum looked at the peacefully bobbing mass of flesh. “Fuck.”
Lou’s lungs had locked up again, and she felt as if her face had been dunked back into the frigid water. She couldn’t tear her eyes away from the bloated body.
“Hey, Cal?” Phil still sounded much too calm. “Where’s the head?”
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