Writing Challenge: Thrill and Inspire!

by Evan Yeong

A many of you probably know by now, we have two new Inspirational Limited Series in the works! We’re acquiring for both Inspirational Cold Case and Inspirational Mountain Rescue, and we couldn’t be more excited for what writers have in store for us.

Given that I’m actually going to be working on one of them, crafting this week’s challenge meant removing bias from the equation. That’s why I’m asking all of you to share a 400 word scene from a potential submission for either series. What’s’ more, I want to see you use that scene to try to hook us.

If you’d like to take a stab at Inspirational Cold Case that could mean luring us in with an intriguing mystery, or the irresistible tension developing between the investigators! They know their focus should be on their duty, not each other.

For those more interested in Mountain Rescue, maybe it’s setting the scene for a couple perched over a perilous drop! Or perhaps its the cozy ski lodge closer to the beginning where they first meet, completely unaware of what’s to come.

While this won’t necessarily capture everyone’s attention, one element you could choose to feature is the angle of faith. After all, that’s what helps to set these two miniseries apart from a Romantic Suspense, for example. Having that play an effective role in the narrative could help you to stand out!

This is an open-ended challenge to be sure, and a number of guidelines and suggestions can be found on the first page I linked to, as well as this editors’ wishlist. Where it differs from others in the past is that we’re actively looking to have our interests piqued. While we always expect great writing from these challenges, we’re hoping that these submissions get us wishing there was more!

You have until 11:59 PM EST on Sunday (4/19) to leave a comment below with your scene. As we’ve been alternating, this time around we’ll be selecting our Editors’ Choice Top 3, to be announced Tuesday (4/21). Good luck, and see you all back here next week!

UPDATE: Consider me floored. We received a grand total of 40 eligible submissions over this past weekend. What’s more, they were really good! You all took this prompt to heart and did your best to really hook us, and it worked.

We were so impressed by your submissions that we made a bit of an exception and expanded this to our Editors’ Choice Top 5! Here they are in the order we received them (as we couldn’t choose which we liked best)-

Mary Shotwell drew us in with the contentious first meeting of her couple. It sets up their conflict really nicely, and even reveals a little about the her hero’s faith. It feels like the start of a wonderful romance between an unstoppable force and an immovable object.

Yvonne R. brought us into a bustling police station, which helped set the stage for her Cold Case mystery. We especially loved Marco’s entrance, as hearing those three words before we can even see him tells us so much about this character.

Mairibeth creates plenty of curiosity by having a school set for demolition. She does a fantastic job creating a sense of dread that surrounds the area. The final line ties the hero and heroine together, and left us wanting to know more about their tragic shared past.

Joice also has a couple who have gone through their own difficult life experiences, but the mood is different. There’s a somberness there, but also a sense of intimacy between them. Having that be cut by the sudden call effectively jolts them and the readers out of the scene.

Gina Bell presents her heroine’s faith in a way that progresses her relationship with the hero, and that feels natural and unforced. The reveal that they’re going to be partners on this case may be expected, but it also works and promises much more to come between the two.

Thank you to everyone who participated, and especially those who commented and encouraged their fellow writers. We’re ecstatic with all of the excitement you’ve shown for our two new limited series, and can’t wait until we’re finally able to start publishing them!

113 replies on “Writing Challenge: Thrill and Inspire!”

She was more alert of her fear than the cold winter wind biting against her skin. Her fear pierced the darkness and stretched into the call of the shadows. Her brother was there and reminded her beneath her fear there was hope. She leaned against the tree, he laid on her lap feeling every bit of the pain in his ribs, a sharpness that looped within his bones. As long as she could keep him alive, they would make it out of the wilderness, away from the foothills of the mountains and the snow. She had never seen so much snow, she had never been stranded. She had never been more sure of how strong her faith was now. All she needed was to pray. She knew their blessings would come. They should have never come out here, they should have never missed the warning sign. When she heard footsteps crunching in the snow, she pulled out her gun, it was firmly in her hand, praying she had just one bullet left. A stranger stood in the snow, he raised his hands, motioning to her brother’s wound.
“I can help him. I have somewhere you both can go. You have to trust me. He will die out here if you don’t.”

“How did you find us out here? Not when there’s nobody anywhere they must be a hundred miles, more than that from us.”

“If you don’t let me help you, it can be worse than this.”

“How do I know I can truly trust you?”

He removed his ski goggles and the black ski cap.

“You can’t be him. You died. I buried you.”

“There’s not much time. I can explain it all to you when we help him.”

She grabbed his arm as he tried to check her brother’s pulse. He sighed.

“How could you leave me? How could you leave me and not tell me you are alive?”

“If we don’t leave they will come back and find you.”

“Who are they Trent?”

“They are why I could never return to you. They are why I’m with you now. They are why I’m going to make sure I am here for you now. I know it’s not too late.”

“It’s not too late for him but I don’t know where we stand…Yet.”

At the lodge, he looked at her and she knew he never stopped loving her.

Setup: Savannah Thompson is fighting to save the ranch her father gambled away. Developer Jackson Wakefield has purchased the property to turn into an exclusive resort bordering the scenic Gila National Forest in New Mexico.
When kidnappers take them hostage, the two will be forced to rely on one another if they want to survive.
The kidnappers were under the impression they’d snagged the woman Jackson Wakefield was engaged to marry. Of course, Savannah wasn’t any sort of jet-setting socialite. The mistake in her identity was probably the only thing keeping her alive.
Shuffling with discontent, her unwilling companion stood. The top of his head almost brushed the ceiling. He took a few steps, all the narrow space allowed.
“I can’t take being locked down her much longer,” he complained. “I hate small spaces.”
Reaching up, he pushed at the trap door. Locked securely, it didn’t budge. Their captors had chosen their prison well. Unless a shovel and pick suddenly appeared out of thin air, there was no way out of the cellar. Digging with bare hands would be useless. The dirt floor was packed as hard as cement.
Savannah straightened. The last thing she needed was an antsy man on her hands. Some people had a problem with little cramped places. She wasn’t one of them. A slender wisp, she found it easy to shimmy into narrow places. As an Army chaplain and mechanic, she had no problem repairing equipment that required work in a tiny space.
She put out a hand. “Calm down,” she said, speaking in a slow, easy tone. “If you panic, you’ll hyperventilate. We don’t have a lot of fresh air down here.”
He clawed at his silk tie, loosening it. “I’m about to burn up.”
“Sit down and breathe.”
Jackson dropped. “Something’s got to happen soon. What’s taking so long?”
“We’ll find out when they think there is something we need to know.”
“Whatever they ask, I’ll tell my people to pay it.”
Savannah gave him a chary look. “You really think they’ll let us go?”
“Why wouldn’t they?”
“They shot down three people. I don’t think these guys are going to give us a pat on the head and send us skipping home any time soon.”

Scene for Inspirational Cold Case:
Seeing the prison where her step-father lived for the past seventeen years, brought back memories of Riley going to visit her mother in a similar-looking structure. Libby was long dead, and all Riley had to clear her mother’s name was this man who got Libby in the mess to begin with.
“Just show him the pictures and ask if he remembers anyone.”
Riley looked at Tucker Brant, grateful for the chance to help on a case she had personal interest in, the only reason she was involved.
They walked down a hallway toward the room her step-father was waiting.
“Do you really think he’s going to turn in his friends now, when he could have years ago?”
Tucker shrugged. “You’d be surprised what people are willing to say when they think they have nothing to lose.”
Riley pressed her lips together. Three years behind bars hadn’t changed her mother’s mind. She’d given up instead.
They passed a room with folding chairs set in rows. The cross on the wall drew Riley’s attention. She said a prayer for strength at having to see the man who altered her family’s life. A few more steps and they were at the door where Dale Stewart waited on the other side.
She turned to Tucker. “Can you come in with me?”
“I thought we agreed he’d be more likely to talk to you?”
“Yeah, but you’re a cop. He might think you can get him a fluffier pillow or something.” She didn’t want to take comfort in this man’s presence, but while he looked good in a suit, there was something steady about him, something that calmed the uneasiness flowing through her. She held his gaze, waiting.
“Fine. I’ll go in with you.” He opened the door, motioning her to go first.
Her step-father sat with his hands clasped on the table, a smile teasing his mouth, his eyes sharp with intelligence. For a man sitting in a cell for almost two decades, he looked surprisingly healthy. His smile sharpened when his gaze shifted to Tucker behind her. “Well, if this isn’t interesting, but not really a surprise, you with the son of the man who put me here.”
Riley glanced at Tucker, the truth of her step-father’s words apparent on his face. It seemed she was her mother’s daughter, comfortable being with a man who spoke more lies than truth.

(Mountain Rescue)

The proof of God’s love lay in the wild beauty of the Great Smoky Mountains in springtime. At least as far as Jenny Higgins was concerned. She sucked in a lungful of the earthy air, letting the mountain setting fill her with joy. Dogwoods and redbuds held tight bundles of white and pink blossoms, promising a glorious show in a matter of weeks, while tiny violet and white flowers, too impatient to wait any longer, sprouted through the brown leaf litter. Squirrels quarreled overhead, and she had spotted several deer along the trail.

Nothing could touch this place in her heart. A place shared only with the glory of God’s love. Though she hadn’t attended church services in three years, not since her wonderful husband, Caleb, had died, at least she could still spend time in God’s temple of nature. Here she could feel His smile, see His touch.

The warm morning had shifted into afternoon mugginess, hinting at the bad weather to come later that night, as Jenny, her nine-year-old son, Jason, and his Lab mix, Tucker, hiked through the woods, on the way to Jenny’s favorite spot. A waterfall situated several miles off the main trail.
She’d taken this trip many times growing up with her brother, Tommy, and his best friend Nash Jacobs. She’d been eighteen months younger than Tommy, but they’d always been close. His friend, Nash, hadn’t minded her tagging along, either. A quick stab of guilt and pain passed through her heart, as it always did with the memory of the tall, gangly boy, always at Tommy’s side. She shot a glance at Jason, who was growing like a weed, all arms and legs and feet.

But most boys were gangly, weren’t they? Yet, those green eyes of his hadn’t come from her side of the family. Recently, she’d caught Tommy studying his nephew, and she worried he might start asking questions she didn’t know how to answer. As far as the world was concerned, her son was the beautiful result of a bad decision she’d made in college. She’d managed to stem Jason’s questions, but time was running out. Soon, she’d have to tell him the truth, and it scared her to death.

Not that she’d meant to keep Jason’s father in the dark, but time had opened up a rift between them. After that fateful night, he’d made it clear he wasn’t ready for a relationship, and it’d broken her heart. He’d left for the army shortly after, been injured in combat while saving a civilian, had to cope with the loss of his leg…

Oh, Nash, she thought, how could I ever tell you my secret now?

Hi Stacie, while I really enjoyed your submission I regret to say that it’s ineligible due to going over the word count. Sorry!

Marcy slapped my fingers as they inched near my teeth, “No biting.”

I nod and pretend I hadn’t imagined this moment in so many ways over the years. My back straightened as a familiar stride echoed down the hallway – a sound I hadn’t heard in eight long years.

“Ms. Lewis. Detective Hartford is here. He’ll be the lead on your case and arrange witness protection for you and your daughter.”

I didn’t look over to Officer Denton as he spoke. His words were faint over the roaring beat of my heart. My cheeks flushed as I looked for the nearest exit.

Oz Hartford’s hard footsteps stopped as he neared the door. The air in the room felt tight in my lungs as I struggled to gain control over my breathing. I should turn around and face him, but I wasn’t ready yet.

“Ms. Lewis?” Officer Denton stepped forward and put his hand on my back, “It’s okay. We’ll get you through this.”

“Mila.” His voice was loud with that thick Kentucky accent. The one I adored for so many years. There was sympathy in it and gave me the courage to turn around to face him.

There he was, all six feet of him in the doorway, leaned against the frame. His skin was tanned, and his eyes wiser. His thick brown wavy hair longer than he had worn it when we were married.

“Detective Hartford.” I cleared my throat as I forced the words out. I brought my eyes up to meet his, immediately regretting not covering up the slight grey that had grown in my roots.

“She’s alive.” His eyes glistened under the fluorescent lights.

I offered a slight smile. Oz had been there that morning when Sophie went missing. We searched the woods for hours together, only coming home when it was too dark. Our skin slashed from the branches and brush we beat through, and our voices horsed from calling out her name.

“It appears so.” I was still angry she had never reached out to me and that I never had a twin feeling that she was still alive.

“You have a daughter?” He stood up straight and stepped into the room, closer to me.

“What’s the next step?” Marcy asked in a firm voice as she linked her arm through mine and pulled me close to her.

“I had a feeling you weren’t going to adhere to the warning.” Jake leaned against the arms of the metal gate.
“Where’d you get that idea?” Sarah’s hair slicked back into a high messy ponytail, the blond hair as dusky as the dirt trail winding off to Mt. Adams behind him.
“I’m pretty good at reading people.” He took off his ranger’s hat.
“Is that so?”
“Yep. When I warned you in town yesterday about the trail closure, you gave me a look.”
She shifted her weight to one leg. “A look.”
“Pretty close to that one right there.” He chuckled. “I’ve seen all sorts of folks along this trail. They all have one thing in common. They’re all running, either towards something, or away from something. Which one is true for you?”
“I told you back in Stabler. It’s none of your business. I have every right to hike.”
“Not if you’re on federal land. Outside the fact that you’re hiking a national trail, that mountain you’re so desperate to traverse is part of the National Forest.”
She stiffened, stalwart as the douglas firs towering over them. “I’ve been on the trail four months and three days, over two thousand miles. I’ve worn through three pairs of hiking boots, and have pretty much come to terms with losing my pinky toe on my right foot. No amount of early season snowfall is going to stop me from completing this thing.”
Jake held the smirk at bay. The fire in her eyes burned brighter than Mt. Sinai in Exodus. Had he not told Harold the other day how he hadn’t dated in a year because no woman he knew had a fierce passion? One that rivaled his love for the mountains, for the park, his Creator—heck, for life itself.
And here Sarah was, this beautiful stranger ready to wring his neck out for stopping her passion.
“I don’t doubt you,” he said. “But the trail ahead doesn’t care about your goals or feelings. We’ve already had two rescues this week. If you continue on, up that mountain, I can’t guarantee a successful rescue.”
She clasped the straps of her backpack along her shoulders. “I can live with that.”
“Then we have a problem.” He put his hat back on and stared right into those hazel eyes, the same ones that snagged his soul outside Stabler Sporting Goods. “Because I can’t.”

I really enjoyed this scene…I feel that the characters dialogue came naturally and you set the scene very well. I’m going to give myself away here and say I typically stick to standalone novels rather than the Harlequin lines because the longer books come off more authentic to me, but I would read the rest of this book!

(Inspirational Mountain Rescue)

There was something compelling about Jessica Burns, Ethan thought to himself, as they circled over the town, and Jess looked down with a wide smile, fingers of sunlight sliding over her auburn hair.
Beyond the beauty, there was something to her gaze that called to him, something at odds with the funny, cheerful façade she’d shown him so far. Something he had seen in that quiet moment, behind the hotel, before he’d known her name. He thought it was an engrained loneliness, which he could only recognise as he carried the twin of it himself. Like calling to like, the same aching emptiness inside two people who were surrounded by others, and still felt alone.
They completed their loop over the town, and he admired as always, the quaint prettiness of Inniswood, bordered by a clear, still lake on one side, and alpine forests on the other.
A slight wind had picked up, as he turned the small bush plane toward the glacier, the next stop on the tour. Despite her earlier nerves, his passenger now seemed comfortable with their altitude and he couldn’t help watching Jess in the mirror a moment longer, as she raised a delicate hand to the glass, and pressed slender fingers against it, her green eyes reflecting the forest underneath.
“O Lord, how great are your works?” Jess suddenly whispered, too quiet for Ethan to hear, if not for his headset, and he felt goose bumps trail over his skin at her longing, reverent tone.
His faith had been something he had always held dear to him, a companion against that bone deep loneliness he had felt since his brother’s Hugh’s death. Rooted in family ritual so deeply, it was impossible to separate his faith from his most loved traditions. Sunday mornings was church and seeing his friends, and lunch that his mother and father cooked together. Laughter and happiness radiating out of their simple cabin.
Similarly, when he contemplated the glory of the mountains, as the sunrise stained them pink and gold, like cathedral windows, and smelled the sharp green sap of new growth, a sacred incense, he lost the distinction between the mountains and his church, and felt himself to be walking on sacred ground.
Jess’s eyes caught his just then, and he saw the awe on her face. Her emerald eyes were arresting, something in them harkening back to the oddly intimate moment they had shared the night before, looking at the stars. Two strangers standing under a divine sky, suddenly connected by mutual wonder.

Hi Joanna, I’m sorry to say but your submission is ineligible due to exceeding our word limit.

This would be for the Cold Case from a current WIP. Words: 393
This would be the second most difficult day of Mary’s life. The psychiatrist warned her. Take time to breathe. Allow the memories to surround you but don’t drown in them. Choose only the good memories. It sounded so simple; she’d agreed to this trial run. It was her best bet to escape the hospital she’d signed herself into last fall after she lost all that was precious to her.

Familiar smells engulfed her when she opened the door to the living area. Everything was just as she had left it, tidy but not perfect. Tom hated her compulsive behavior of everything had a place and that’s where it belonged. She’d left a few things lying around to show him she could be a little messy. Cory’s favorite doll lay on the sofa where she’d tossed it. A rush of panic hit her at the sight. No. It wasn’t true. She wasn’t gone. Not her baby, not the beautiful life she created and nurtured for four years, enjoying every second of motherhood.

She set the toast on the table and walked over to the sofa. Dropping down beside the doll, she hesitated only a second before hugging it to her chest. It smelled exactly like the fruity shampoo Cory loved so much. She remembered the day the doll arrived by mail. Cory had picked it out online and they’d ordered it for an early birthday present. It was an ugly doll with the scrunched-up face of a newborn, but when you touched the tiny wristband it made those little whimpering baby noises that were endearing to every mother’s heart.

Mary rocked back and forth and sobbed into the soft pink fabric of the doll’s onesie. “Oh, Cory… I miss you so much!”

A knock on the apartment door she’d forgotten to close made her look up.

Standing in the doorway was a dark-haired man in a grey sheriff’s uniform with polarized sunglasses hiding his eyes. “Excuse me, Mary. It is Mary, correct?”

She dropped the doll onto the sofa. “Who are you?”

“Emilou asked me to come up and check on you.” He stepped inside though she hadn’t invited him and glanced around. Was he uncomfortable? Well, he should be.

“Why?” She caught a whiff of his aftershave and a shiver danced over her skin. Tom had used the same scent—Polo Blue.

Luke Williams sat down at his laptop and called up the program that read his emails to him. Most of them were from people grateful that his blog had drawn attention to their missing and murdered loved ones.
Luke was just grateful that it allowed him to play a small part in righting terrible wrongs.
Was that your plan for me all along, Lord? Was that why I survived the accident?
Suddenly, the computer started reading out an email that made him sit up straight.
My goodness, he thought. The Evans murder.
Andrew Evans had been a noted consumer advocate and something of a role model for Luke. Evans had taken on the biggest challenges and shed light on fraud after fraud. But all that had changed fifteen years ago when a mail bomb had ripped through his kitchen, killing Evans and severely injuring his wife and ten year old daughter.
(Inspirational Cold Case)

Luke remembered how much of a media storm the case had been. A storm that had been stoked by the fact that Evans’ widow and daughter had disappeared into hiding soon after the murder.

I was spinning in the air, dangling on my climbing ropes. Me, the qualified, top-notch trail leader was dangling on the wire. I hadn’t noticed how close to the edge I had gotten, but I almost remembered feeling pushed. Was I pushed? My head was hurting. Dangling, spinning, I couldn’t catch my breath. All I could think of was Cody laughing at me with the other rangers over breakfast. Cody never took me seriously. No matter how hard I tried, he always had something snarky to say after I had laughed at him last summer for thinking the rock he had found in the road was a meteorite. (It wasn’t. He had it checked by scientists.)
My trail followers were screaming at the top of their lungs at the top of the mountain. I could see the beauty of Zion national park down below, the sloping river and the small buses and horses. I tried not to look but couldn’t help myself.
My walkie talkie turned on to a ranger’s voice. It was Cody. Instead of being scared, he was pleased. “Hello, are you there? Alice? Hello?”
“Yes, here I am,” I said.
“Help is on the way, Alice,” said Cody. “Can you climb back up?”
“I’m dangling,” I said, crying. “I hit my head and slipped.”
“Well, you’re in no real danger if you-” he stopped himself. “We’re coming right away. Can you just hold on? No pun intended of course.” He was trying to be nice. But to no avail. “I’ll say a prayer with you,” he said, trying to be sweet.
“Okay,” I said.
“Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep. If I die before I wake, the angels will come and my soul take.”
I started sobbing silently, the tears running down my cheeks and landing far down below. I felt like I was going to be sick, dangling on my ropes while Cody only just laughed. I held my breath and decided that soon it would be over. Then I would scream at Cody.
It took ten minutes for help to come, while Cody tried to calm me down and tell me jokes. I think it finally dawned on him that I was maybe about to die. I tried to figure out how I could get out of the scheduled long backwoods map trek with Cody now…

“I can do anything, anything. I am small, not tall, but I can do it all.. “ Young Raygen sang the song she wrote herself repeatedly, each time with a different tune and lyrics.
“We should sing a song from church instead,” May said to the child. “Maybe ‘Jesus Loves Me?’ or ‘This Little Light of Mine?’”
“I love those songs!” she said. “I wish I had my Bible with me.”
“Me too.” She had been praying since she found Raygen, fallen off the trail into this frigid mountain lake. God was with her, but for how much longer? Was it His will for them to enter Heaven tonight, or would they be saved?
May’s shoulders were killing her and she could no longer feel her feet. How much longer? Another hour? An hour and a half?
A few moments later, Raygen stopped singing. “Look! It’s a helicopter!”
The helicopter hovered above her, adding an unpleasant noise and wind and waves to the already horrid experience. But she didn’t care.
First, a basket was sent down. Maneuvering Raygen from her shoulders to her arms, she managed to place her in it, and watched as the basket was raised to the copter.
A few minutes later, the basket was sent down again. Her muscles were too stiff to operate. She couldn’t climb in.
She could see the figure being lowered from the helicopter, but couldn’t make out any features. At least not until he was nearly right on top of her. He was a good looking guy, too. He looked a lot like–
He just nodded. “Slip into this harness, and hold onto me.”
“What are you doing here?”
“I have come to save you. Now, slip into the harness. . .”
“No!” She slipped into the harness and held onto him for dear life. Together, they rose like angels floating over the sea. She could smell his cologne, feel his stubble as their cheeks rubbed together. Such a good man, a man of faith, and also masculine and strong.
“You didn’t tell me you did helicopter rescues,” she said, over the din of the blades.
“I learned when I was a missionary, doing the Lord’s work overseas.”
“Well, thank you!” If only we were married, she thought. I would kiss him.

Cold Case
Grace looked up from her desk when she heard the door of the police station open, interrupting her endless pile of paperwork.
This was a small, quiet dispatch. She knew everyone in town by now. This man was a stranger.
He was tall, muscled, with shaggy dark hair, stubble, and pale skin. He looked to be about forty, not much older than she was. His eyes were what caught her attention. They were pale, grey or washed out blue with dark rims around the irises. They were eyes that drew attention. On his face was a guarded look she recognized. That, along with the poor-quality tats on his knuckles told his story.
There was a pause, while he examined her as closely as she’d done him.
“You’re the sheriff?” His voice was rough. Smoker?
She nodded.
“You’re new, since my time, so I’ll catch you up on my story. My name is Brian Gifford. I’m back. I’ve served my time, I’m sober, and you’ll see me at church. But I’m going to find whoever killed my family and sent me to prison for it. I hope that won’t be a problem for you.”
With another assessing look, he turned and left, leaving her speechless.
To date, her assignment here had been a sinecure. Some lost hikers, drunk and disorderly on a Saturday night at the tavern. An occasional domestic, or teens drinking and vandalizing the school.
She’d taken this post for the quiet. She’d needed time to lick her wounds, regain her peace and sense of purpose. She wasn’t looking for trouble.
It looked liked trouble had found her.

Tommi Walcott used her shoulder to push open the incident room door. It swung inward easily, allowing her to enter. As always, she was early, no else was about.

She carried her box of personal belongings over to the plain grey desk with a piece of masking tape that said ‘Walcott’. No one had a window. Those were placed high on the east wall behind the last row of desks.

The room’s stillness was a welcome respite from the rest of the building. At the best of times the Wolseley City Police Headquarters was organized chaos. Today was no different, except for Tommi everything was different. New job, new challenge, and a new start.

The case board was placed in front of the six desks. A small frown puckered Tommi’s brow when she noticed there we photos and writing already spidered across the white board’s length. The information drew her forward. Apparently the new cold case team had its first file.

A facial reconstruction sketch of a teenage boy was linked with an arrow to the photo of another. Both of whom appeared to be related. Probably brothers.

As Tommi scanned the board information, the door swung open again but she ignored it. There was plenty of time for introductions when everyone was present.

“It’s never twins,” said a deep voice, two steps behind her.

Tommi didn’t jump, but it was a near thing. She looked over her shoulder at the male. Easily six foot, dark feathered with an olive complexion. Marco Anzio’s skin absorbed sunlight and produced the perfect year round tan unlike her freckled covered skin. She had brown hair and brown eyes from her French-Canadian mother, but didn’t benefit from his ancient Mediterranean roots.



She gestured at the white board. “Do you know anything about this file?”
He came to stand next to her, although a foot away. “I brought this case with me when I transferred.”

Great, that would put Anzio further ahead than her. He’d probably get to be deputy lead. ‘It’s not a competition Tommi.’ She could here her father’s word even now. ‘Just do the best job you know how.’ And be civil.

“Nice, we won’t be twiddle out thumbs then. I hate not being busy.”

He slide large hands into the front pockets of his jeans.”I know,” he said with that annoying half-smile.

She gave Anzio a brief grimace and then strode back to her desk to unpack and get started on the case.

Her head throbbed, the dull whump, whump, whump palpitating like…
Like the drum of helicopter blades.
The moment her brain processed the thought Paige’s eyes flew open, then just as quickly closed again as pain shot through her skull. She grit her teeth, squeezed her eyes shut, envisioning the chart she showed patients. On a scale of one to ten, one being mild discomfort and ten being the worst pain possible she was a solid six.
Whump, whump, whump. Thoughts of helicopter blades returned and Paige tabled the pain, working desperately to unscramble those last moments. They – she, the pilot, and two of her father’s special agents – had been traveling from a charity event she’d agreed to attend on his behalf. They’d boarded the airbus to return to the embassy in Vilnius so she could make her flight back to Chicago when…
When what?
She desperately searched for answers. Fog had obscured the densely forested mountains, and she’d finally given up trying to catch glimpses of the landscape below when Department of State Special Agent Riker Kennedy had barked an order to cover her head. She must not have had time, otherwise she wouldn’t feel like she’d been grand slammed in a wrestling ring or – in a crash.
The blinding realization made her eyes snap back open. The bank of seats was still miraculously intact, but the helicopter itself looked shredded, chunks of metal stripped away and what was left of it – along with the occupants – lying at a precarious angle.
She could see the agent seated next to her, now. He was strapped to his seat, head drooping. “Hello?” Her call went unanswered. She tried again. “Wake up!”
The plea went ominously unanswered. She struggled with the release catch on her belt, tumbling forward when it popped loose, then clawing her way back to the agent in the unstable wreck. She grabbed his wrist, felt for a pulse that wasn’t there before noticing the curls of black smoke, the acrid smell of jet fuel.
The impact had been catastrophic, but the chopper hadn’t exploded.
“Lord, be with his family.” She breathed the prayer, leaving him and maneuvering forward as quickly as she dared. The smoke thickened into ominous billows; she was running out of time. “Please let the others be unhurt.”
The pilot was gone, but Agent Kennedy had a strong pulse. He was also an easy six two, outweighed her by at least eighty pounds, and was unconscious, his harness jammed.

I’m so sorry, CM, but your submission exceeded our word count limit and isn’t eligible to be picked.

Cold Case

“Well, aren’t you a sight for sore eyes?” Hazel panted in a not very ladylike manner, her hands firmly on her waist to make sure a spleen or kidney didn’t pop out. It had been a wild goose chase tracking him down and she wasn’t going to let him sail off into the sea and disappear again.
“Are you ignoring me, Detective Hunter?” she said, a little louder this time. Perhaps he hadn’t heard her over the hum of the boat’s engine.Trent, who was barely recognisable in his fishing gear rather than a suit, glanced at her, grunted and continued untying his boat. He crouched down and didn’t seem to care that his trousers were torn, he had oil on his face or that his hands were red raw where the rope ran through them. He was as rugged as the mountains that surrounded the bay of this pretty seaside town. Hazel Waldridge, who was in her standard black trouser and sensible shoes work combo as always, stuck out like a sore thumb.
“I’m not a detective any more,” Trent growled, looking up briefly. “Go back to England, Hazel.”
She swallowed back the hurt that churned in her chest. She’d only gone back home because her reputation in the field had been trashed and Trent had played a big part in that.
“Oh don’t you worry,” she said, crossing her arms, “I’ll be on the first plane home.”
“Best news I’ve had all day.” Trent tossed the rope on the deck and the boat rocked, the water frothing at its side. “Now if you don’t mind,” he saluted and turned on the ignition.
“She’s back!” It came out more of a shout. She hadn’t wanted to just blurt it out like that but Trent hadn’t given her any other option.
“What did you say?” He called. Trent turned off the power and the boat thrummed to a stop.
“I said, she’s back. So you’re right, I am getting straight on that plane, but you’re coming with me.”
He clenched his fist and punched the air.
“You’re wrong. It was five years ago. You need to let this go Hazel.”
“Ten dead women beg to differ.”
Trent sighed, his eyes fixed on the deck. “And were they…”
Hazel nodded. She’d prayed many times to have that particular image wiped from her head. “You better tie up that boat.”

***Setup: (Cold case)
Ari Hayes is Arrowtown’s (New Zealand) best investigator but she often finds herself fighting against the stigma of sexism in the workforce. She is given a chance to prove herself when a chilling murder case opens but this won’t be a solo mission. Ari finds herself paired with heart throb Darrien, a Sydney city sider with with a known ability for cracking investigations in record time.
Ari and Darrien must work as a team to put the case to rest once and for all, but will she succumb to this playboys charm?***

In a cluttered office with creaking floorboards on the upper floor of the station Ari Hayes stared out her window. She’d known he would be coming. Chief Dechart had given her the news this morning, someone is murdering the homeless in Queenstown, and as head detective she is to get to the bottom of it. However, she isn’t to go out into the field alone and her new partner was flying in, per special request, from Australia.
She shook her head. Figures, that he would appoint her with a man. Even though she would be perfectly capable to work on her own. She absentmindedly tucked a stray brunette curl behind her ear as she gazed at the Lake Wakatipu mountains that were tipped with snow. A view that always brought her a sense of peace growing up. She loved her hometown and she would go to any means to continue to protect it.
No, it wasn’t a glamorous job nor did it pay much and more often than not she received criticism by the media peppered with words that insinuated she was too small or too feminine for a job. She’d come to learn that protecting her home was a thankless business. But this was her community and that was how she viewed it. Her town. Her people.
Oh, she’d seen him drive up, all right. The bureau seemed to have found themselves in a spare pile of cash to fork out the money needed for a Jeep Cherokee. Highly irrelevant.
She’d watched as he stepped out of the grand vehicle and headed for the reception doors, recognising the city swagger in his stride almost immediately. He was just another intruder thinking he was better than everyone else. Someone that thought his profound city education gave him the upper hand on things. Just another man that thought he could do the job better than any woman could.
She cleared her head and sighed. Outside her door she could now hear the muffled greetings of her colleagues. No doubt, Gretta would be gushing over his bright blue eyes, broad shoulders and wavy black hair. Even if Ari didn’t trust him, she had to admit he was good looking.
Keep it professional, she reminded herself, you’re on a mission here.
Straightening her blazer, she decided it was time to go meet this profound investigator from Sydney. Her new partner. She smiled. Yes, she could handle Mr. Carter.

The snow crunched beneath Alexandra’s feet as she approached the makeshift roadside shrine. Someone had constructed a white cross out of two pieces of birch wood and fastened it together with twine and planted it firmly in the ground. A framed picture of Noelle Carpenter leaned against the cross, and the stubs of melted candles that surrounded the weathered blue frame were dusted in flakes. She swept her gloved hand across the foreground to unearth the word Noelle, arranged in small polished rocks in front of the photograph. Further excavation revealed that larger rocks surrounded her name in the shape of a heart. Alexandra wondered if this was the work of one person or a whole community of mourners, and she was unsure which truth she hoped to uncover.
The girl in the photograph was frozen in time. The top she was wearing along with her bangs and hairstyle were reminiscent of days gone by, and Alexandra guessed that she was maybe one or two years younger than she herself, or at least she had been before her unfortunate and untimely end.
She turned her head up to the sky, which was infinite and white and indistinguishable from the ground below.
“Please God, help me to understand why would you take a soul so young.”
She did not speak the words as much as hear them in her heart. She knew that the answer lay in the gifts God had given her.
The cars racing along the highway had muffled the sounds of the man approaching from behind her until he was within a few yards. Alexandra twisted her head quickly toward him as her fingers tingled. There was no reason to reach for her gun but in this rush of adrenaline she was glad to know it was by her side. She squinted and searched for the eyes that were hidden beneath his sunglasses.
“You knew her too?” he asked.
Alexandra was not sure what to say. Before yesterday she’d never heard the name Noelle Carpenter and now she would have to explain her presence to this stranger. But strangers do not frequent roadside shrines. She quickly surmised from his stylish beard and name brand hat that he was close to her age as well, a contemporary of Noelle’s. If he was a local he would know that she was not a classmate, and if he knew the dead girl well he’d know Alexandra was not family. But what if this man was involved in her disappearance? She could not yet let on that she was investigating this case but knew that sticking close to the truth would be her salvation. So she spoke the only words that came to her mind.

I’m sorry, Patsy, but your submission exceeded our word count and isn’t eligible for our Editors’ Choice Top 3.

(Inspirational Mountain Rescue)

Bracing her ski poles against her hip Madison’s numb fingers struggled to tighten the band on her borrowed ski goggles. The last place she’d expected to be tonight was in line for a ski lift and on her way to the mountains for a few days. But a new case with a witness that called for a woman with high-level security clearance and hand-to-hand combat skills meant she was one of the only agents available to take it.
Securing her goggles, she took another look at her new witness. Towering a good foot over her petite 5’5 frame, Cameron Barnett could easily pass for a linebacker and definitely didn’t look like he needed her protection. Moving to the front of the line she stepped up next to him and was surprised when he offered his hand to help her into the approaching chair. Nodding thank you, she sat down and scooted back as far as she could. Heights were not her favorite thing in the world.
“You did well back there.” She told him quietly. “Pretending to be someone you’re not, even for your own safety, is hard.”
“Thank you.” The words were short but held a tangible pain. His file mentioned his long-time friend and mentor was shot and killed just two days prior. Sympathy washed over her heart for the hurt she knew he was experiencing. Lord, please bring him comfort and peace.
Looking out into the distance she could make out a small group of men in all black on snowmobiles, they seemed to be riding hard and fast in the direction of the lift. As they got closer every instinct she had started going off. They were coming for Cameron and she knew she needed to think fast.
“Cameron, I need you to put your arms around me. Quickly.” Pushing the goggles up she turned to face him. “Look over my shoulder, do you see them?” Placing her hands on both sides of his face she angled his glasses so that she could see the riders behind her.
“We need to convince them we’re just a regular couple on the lift. Pretend we’re deep in convers–.” her words came to a halt as he unexpectedly pressed his warm lips to hers. The chaste kiss was nothing more than a cover up to keep them both safe but for a single moment she forgot to breathe.

You had me at snowmobiles! They definitely set the stage for suspense. I also like your character names, they just work with the scene.

Cold Case
Brady took a deep breath as he entered the diner where Anya was working. He headed to the bar and waited for her to ask his order. He rubbed his palms across his knees and sighed as he looked at the newspaper in front of him on the bench. In a few moments she was in front of him. Her beautiful smile made Brady’s heart flutter as she poured his coffee, but he pushed those feelings aside.
“We need to talk.”
Anya let the other waitress know she was taking a ten-minute break and they headed to a booth.
Brady watched her with concern. He was about to change her entire world, but it was too late to back out now. He pushed the newspaper between them and pointed to the headline.
Anya started at the picture of her father.
“What is this about Brady?” she asked him with horrified eyes. “Why is my father in the paper again?”
Brady leaned forward to comfort her but, as usual she pulled away from him. Her face was set and determined as she snatched up the article and began to read.
Sam Daly has come forward with new information just days before his own death. A nurse at the aged care facility where he was living has contacted our reporter with the story. Twenty years ago, Sam was the colleague of Gordon Maier, the man who killed a family of four while drink driving. Now, Sam has claimed that Gordon was innocent saying that the man he remembers never drank alcohol or abused drugs.
“Gordon was a good man and I believe someone told him a secret that caused others to want him dead,” Sam recalled. “On our last job, I left him with a man who had been stabbed in an alley to get the gurney. When I returned the man was dead and Gordon looked visibly shocked. I thought it was just the death, but after a few minutes Gordon left the shift saying he wasn’t well. That was highly unusual for someone as dedicated as he was. I think he knew something. Something that that man told him. I never saw him alive again.”
Anya gasped and looked up from the article. Could it be possible that her father really was innocent after all these years?

Evan strapped himself into the rear seat of the B117 copter and tucked his emergency bag underneath. The rotors were already spinning, the engine buzzing like an oversized lawn mower.
He hooked up his helmet to speak to the rest of the crew. “What’s the emergency?”
Moira, the ex-army pilot, flicked a few switches on the console. “A couple went over Abernathy Gorge.”
“How bad?” The gorge was renowned for its beauty and the 200 meter waterfall. He automatically braced his feet as the helicopter left the ground, heading toward the mountains looming over the valley.
“One with a broken leg, one with suspected spinal injuries and both with exposure. They went over during the storm last night. The path would have been treacherous.”
Taking in the details, Evan started formulating a plan in his head. Both would need to be winched up. He checked over the stretcher, ensuring the straps were correctly attached. Speed would be essential. “Who called it in?”
It was Brett, the third member of the team, a former army medic turned paramedic who answered. “The new hospital doctor was out with her church youth group for a hike. Apparently, she used to fly into disaster areas and do emergency triage, lucky for the hikers. She sent a couple of the teenagers down the gorge until they were able to get a signal on their mobile phone.”
A vague suspicion gnawed at his gut. “Who’s the doctor? Anyone we know?”
Moira answered. “She’s a local. Meredith Lane. She’d be around your age.”
His gut rebelled and he was relieved to note it was the swoop of the copter dropping lower over the gorge, rather than his reaction to the name. It was fourteen years since he and Merry parted ways when she was in her final year at med school and he was taking his own medical degree into the army. “Yeah, I knew her.”
He leaned over to look down at the gorge, seeking out the distinctive signs of people against the scrubby bush and rocky precipice. Movement caught his eye and he saw a bunch of kids waving, their colourful parkas standing out against the green.
He spotted the adults, perched precariously on a narrow ledge halfway down the vertical drop. He recognised Meredith’s mop of bright red curls as she crouched over a body. He’d given up praying years ago, but the impulse to ask for help from the almighty came from deep in his past. “Don’t let her fall. God, don’t let her fall.”

As biased as I am towards your hero’s name, I regretfully have to mention that you exceeded our word count. I’m sorry, Fiona.

Thanks Evan. The name wasn’t intentional and I already deleted 100 words from the scene to try and meet the word count so it was probably never going to happen. I didn’t realise it was strictly no more than 400 words. I will know another time I guess.

No worries, I assumed it was just a coincidence! And yes, there’s always next time. There should be another challenge appearing around here within the next couple of weeks!

“This is the cleanest I’ve ever seen Charlie’s desk. Where are all his case files?” Ann-Marie’s manicured nails clicked on the old wood desk as she pretended to read the worn desk nameplate, “Detective Harley Crosser.”

She wondered what those intelligent dark eyes saw as they assessed her slowly. He tapped his head. “Up here.”

His new colleagues smothered their smiles. He hadn’t won any friends. “Ah, a hot shot. Who did you annoy to end up in the Cold Case division?”

His answering frustrated glare made her green eyes dance amusedly. “With your personable demeanour I’m imagining a long list of irritated superiors.”

The strong face emanated annoyed acceptance that she wasn’t going to go away. Suspecting he would snap rudely, his colleague interrupted, “Ah, Crosser this…” .

But Crosser arrogantly ignored the warning, lifting impatient brows.

Disappointed, Ann-Marie dismissed, “Try to play nice with your colleagues Detective. They might have pertinent information that could prevent a future bout of the foot-in-mouth affliction you seem to suffer from.” Sniggers echoed round the office as she took her leave.

Watching her walk away was a short-lived pleasure. She’d knowingly poked the bear. And this particular bear roared.

This was his job. His life! And she was toying with it.

“Happy birthday Ann-Marie.”

Beautiful green eyes turned back to him expectantly. Waiting.

Harley’s teeth clenched. He shouldn’t have to explain why his talent was wasted on dead-end cold cases. He was a high adrenaline, first forty-eight hours man with the department’s second highest clearance rate.

“You tapped Charlie’s desk where he kept his pile of ‘Lest we forget’ cases.”

He gestured to her handbag, “You’re carrying archived police case file 32655B – the Becker family homicide. Only survivor was their blonde, green-eyed daughter who would be twenty-four today.”

“With that manicure you’re not a cop. So you’d only be granted custody of that file if you’re a prosecutor.” Her tension increased, confirming his suspicions.

“Since this isn’t traffic duty like your boss threatened after my outspoken speech to the media, I guess I should thank you for my current career move.”

His sarcasm hit its mark, but still he’d impressed her.

Ann-Marie approached determinedly, passing him the file. “Show them my faith isn’t misplaced.”

Harley’s gut clenched. He’d unwittingly given her hope where there was none.

“Find me a new crumb to follow Detective. And I’ll pave your way back to Homicide.”

Word count – 399

Mitch and Hayley stood side by side at her granite kitchen counter. She removed the newspaper clipping from the box. The headline read “Family of Slain Businessman Lay Him to Rest.” The photo accompanying the story was grainy, so she picked up the copy her father must have gotten from the newspaper’s photographer. The bewildered expression on the eight-year-old boy’s face tore at her heart.

“What’s that?” Mitch asked, holding out his hand.

She handed it to him without meeting his gaze. “My father spent many nights after the murder staring at that photo. Maybe to remind himself the man had a family. This case haunted him.”

“I remember when this was taken. I couldn’t understand why anyone would kill my father. It’s the reason I became a lawyer.”

“I would have thought cop.”

“The cops had the guy. The prosecuting attorney let him go.”

“There wasn’t enough evidence to hold him.”

His still-haunted brown eyes implored her. “Is that what your father told you?”

“No. It’s what the contents of this box told me.” She removed a report her father had written twenty-five years ago when the murder happened. “My father didn’t talk about this case. It was the only one he couldn’t solve.”

“Is that why you became a cop?”

“That and being a cop runs in my family. Two of my brothers, three of my uncles, my grandfather, and my great-grandfather all are or were cops.”

“A whole family of cops. My family steered clear of law. My sister has her own floral business and my mother fell apart when my dad died.”

“I’m sorry.”

“So am I. A lot of things changed when he died. Family vacations. School. Church. Haven’t been inside a church since the funeral. Couldn’t understand why God would take away my father. Well-meaning people would say it’s God’s will. What kind of God is that?”

He sounded like a tortured lost soul. “I’m not a strong believer in tragedy being God’s will.”

“Discussing that aspect isn’t why I’m here. I want to solve his murder. With your help, that is. How many of these cold cases have you worked on?”

“Um. This is my first.”

“That’s reassuring.”

“I’m very creative and persistent.”

“I’ve heard unorthodox and obstinate.”

“Just someone’s perspective.” She smiled. “Believe me, those traits come in handy when people don’t want to talk.”

The flatland trail streamed behind the group following Jim as the youngsters easily trudged up the rising path. Other than worrying about spiders and snakes, they each carried their own weight. Mrs. Black, or Angela as he had known her, remained silent other than a few comments to the girls. She seemed knowledgeable about the forest, pointing out poison ivy and spotting several blooming azaleas and mountain laurels. She still had a thing for beauty, snapping pictures of small plants and views of the surrounding Blue Ridge Mountains.
She kept the girls between the two of them, whether for safety or avoidance, he wasn’t sure. He thought it was probably the latter since she did her best to be out of talking range. She probably guessed he had questions, but didn’t want the girls to hear their conversation. Why was she using an alias?
A scraping sound alerted his senses. He put a finger to his lips and motioned for the pre-teens to be quiet. The girls looked around curiously but Angela’s eyes were wide. Her gaze shifted from trees, to moss covered rocks, to the canopy above. Mistrust oozed from her like a bad aura. They needed to talk soon.
The sound echoing through the forest came from nature. A majestic buck scraped his antlers on a tree and then bent to graze on a patch of grass. His head snapped up when Angela’s daughter Kate, or was she a step-daughter, pulled out her phone and captured a picture with a loud snick. The graceful creature bounded off through the trees as a gunshot rang through the forest.
Splintered wood shattered an overhanging limb. Angela and Kate pulled the other girls to the ground. Jim followed as he fumbled for the silver whistle that hung around his neck and began to blow.
“Stop!” Angela hissed. “Are you crazy?”
“No, I’m trying to keep us safe from some illegal hunter’s bullets.” Jim put the whistle to his lips, producing a discordant blast. Another bullet pierced the air and bark peppered down on their heads.
“Please Jim.” Her voice shook as she pulled a pistol from her vest, and returned fire.
“What is going on?” Heather and Marcie cringed at the edge in Jim’s voice.
Angela and Kate just glanced at each other with raised eyebrows. Something was very wrong.

I like the suprise ending. Great suspense builder. I live in the Blue Ridge Mountains. Nice to see a story set here.

Cold Case: Without Trace

‘I know what you’re trying to do here, Nina.’ Rye Cullen let go a manila folder sending a cloud of dust motes into a yellow bar of light streaming across his temporary desk.
He rubbed a hand against stubble as he glanced up and saw hope shining bright in her blue eyes. ‘A word of warning. I don’t believe in miracles.’
For a split second, her eyes dulled. She swiped at a blonde curl on her forehead and stepped back.
Even though a twinge of meanness stabbed his conscience, his words had at least doused her curiosity. Maybe now she’ll keep out of his personal space.
Instead, she sat on the corner of his desk and crossed her arms. ‘You wouldn’t be in this job if you weren’t adaptable, Chief Inspector. I have total faith in the belief people can change. You can change if— ‘
‘If you drop that closed-off barrier you hide behind.’
Hide? He wanted to laugh out loud at her ridiculous suggestion, but turned to the window and scanned the cold, unforgiving distance of a darkening sky. True he had a past he always tried to keep two, size ten steps in front of. It worked for him. A past without barriers had taught him love made him vulnerable. Powerless. He would never put himself in that position ever again. And right now, he could do without miss nosey questioning his work methods.
‘I get the job done. That’s all that matters.’
Back to business. He slumped down into his chair and steepled his fingers. He’d given himself a generous two weeks to solve this case. The sooner he’s done, the better.
‘Rule one. If we’re to work together, you don’t get to ask me any personal questions. Got it?’
‘Got it. Except, I have a question. Rule one only applies to work hours, right?’
He couldn’t help rolling his eyes at the small frame clad chin-to-toe like a kindergarten teacher. He’d come to the small coastal town of Thornton to spear-head a cold case that recently garnered new information. He was assured of having their best detective as his assistant. They lied. Having met Nina Rice, he could easily cite spiritual differences for their incompatibility. First thing tomorrow, he’d insist on having a new assistant…one less distracting…
‘I work twenty-four seven.’

Cold Case
The Cozy Corner was a twenty-four hour diner that sat on the edge of Unity. It was hugely popular during the day, but after midnight, it was mostly frequented by workers from the factories after the late shift.
Willow and Sean took a seat at the back of the diner and the waitress brought coffee and menus.
He opened a packet of sugar and stirred it into his black coffee. “So, Willow, as much as I am happy to see you again after so long, you want to talk about David Barton? That’s a name I hoped to never hear again.”
Willow tapped her nails on the scarred wood of the tabletop. “David’s death has haunted me for the last twenty years. I can’t even go to Mass on Sunday mornings without people staring and whispering. Everyone thinks I killed him, or at the very least, I had something to do with his death.”
“The only people who still remember are a few busybodies. He shrugged and tossed aside the empty sugar packet. “It’s been a long time since that summer. His death was an accident, let it be, Willow.”
“I can’t, Sean. I only remember falling and waking up in a hospital bed with no memory of that night. Maybe I did push David down the hill, and maybe he grabbed my hand and pulled me along with him.”
“You didn’t kill him. He pushed you. He was evil, Willow. There’s no other way to describe David Barton. There were two people involved in the incident, you have no memory, and the other is a dead man. You need to accept that you’ll never know the exact truth.”
The waitress returned to the table and Willow quickly scanned the late-night menu. “I’ll have the Belgian Waffle with strawberries and whipped cream.”
Sean pushed the menu aside without looking at it. “I’ll have three eggs over easy, bacon, hash browns, and pancakes.”
He sure sat straight. He didn’t want to revisit the past. He was an officer of the law, but once they were so close. Shouldn’t he want to find out the truth? She waited until the waitress was out of earshot.
“I need you, Sean. I need all the records from the case, including the autopsy report. I’ve hired a forensic pathologist.”
His grey eyes focused on her brown eyes. “Why now, Willow? Why not let things remain as they are? Let the past stay buried.”
“Nothing stays buried forever, Sean.”

(Mountain Rescue Submission)

“I’m Sam Morgan, nice to meet you.”

“You’re…You’re a woman?”

Sam withdrew her hand and eyed the helicopter pilot towering above her. So far her big homecoming was not getting off to a great start. She bristled before realizing the source of the confusion.

“My military father thought he was going to have a son. When he got stuck with a daughter instead, I got stuck with the name Sam. Just for the record, my mom calls me Samantha,” this time taking the safe route offering a warm smile in exchange for her hand. “You are my pilot from Steele Aviation Services, right?”

He studied her through hooded eyes before returning a lukewarm smile. “I am Trent Steele. If we quit wasting time, I can take you the scenic route before landing in West Glacier.”

Sam, thankful the helicopter lifted off shortly thereafter leaving the town of Whitefish behind along with the awkward encounter.

All her troubles were forgotten as she soaked in the breathtaking view of the glacier-carved peaks of the Rock y Mountains, sculpted by the hands of God, before the feeling of something wet and cold in her hand broke the reverie.

“Midnight, sit.” Trent Steele barked out the command accompanied by a disapproving scowl.

Removing his nose from her fingers, the black Lab put his head down with a disheartened sigh.

The large bird seemed to come out of nowhere, hitting the front windshield with the velocity of a meteor. The force of the bird strike shattering the glass in front of the pilot seat throwing Trent forward in a violent thrust knocking him out cold.

Samantha gasped in shock as frigid air blasted through the broken window permeating the small interior. She stared at Trent’s lifeless body as the helicopter started to sputter and spiral out of control.

She swallowed hard before jumping into action. “Mr. Steele! Please wake up!”

Midnight joined her in trying to help rouse his owner with a chorus of piercing barks and sharp nips at Trent’s hands dangling useless by his side.

The helicopter cut a dizzy pattern through the sky as the outside world flashed by in a distorted blur. Any minute now they would smash into a mountain. Their time had run out. Given no other choice, it was up to her to attempt an emergency landing.

“Oh, Lord, please help us. Our lives are in your hands.”

Darby jerked as the knife pushed against her body. How could she have been so wrong? What would they say when they found her? ‘Poor Darby Dawson, she finally got what she wanted…front-page news.’

Two months earlier:

Nothing had changed, but yet so many things weren’t the same as Darby moved further into the childhood home. Frilly pillows and candles were scattered throughout the large room. The heavy drapes that she hid behind as a kid were gone. The air closed in around her. Barely back in her hometown and already wanting to run away again. “The place looks nice.” She placed the suitcase at the foot of the stairs.
“Isn’t it great. Your brother had it redone for my birthday. Have you lost weight?”
Darby shook her head. She knew four more questions were about to follow. “No, I’m the same.”
“You look tired. Are you working too much?”
“It was a long flight, that’s all.”
“Do you need money? You know I have all that your dad left.”
“I’m fine, Mom” That statement was somewhat questionable since her journalism career was pretty much at a loss. As her boss put it so kindly two days ago in his office, ‘Dawson, you better take this time and think about what’s important to you.’ She had been wondering about that same question for the past few years.
“How about a boyfriend? Jeffery Sims is single again. His third wife left him.”
“Mom, have you ever considered Jeffery’s wives leave him for a reason?” Darby knew the last thing she needed was a man.
“Please, he’s the sweetest boy I know.” Mom tugged at the scarf hanging around her neck. “I see you still have that same quirky fashion.”
Darby stepped back and straightened the silk material. “How about we talk about the murder? That’s the main reason I’m here.” The harsh stare forced her to add. “Yes, I’m here to see you too.”
“I’m sure Beau Burks can give you the information needed for your little crime magazine.”
“Why would I talk to Beau about a cold case?”
“He’s the new sheriff.”
Darby let her body flop down in the straight back chair. “Beau’s the sheriff of Peak’s Edge?” Facing her ex-fiancé wasn’t something she was prepared to do.

Morgan Chapman adjusted her goggles and pictured tomorrow’s headlines: Destination Wedding Disaster. Deaths caused by jumping from a perfectly good airplane.

If only Morgan had thought twice before agreeing to be her best friend, Chloe’s maid of honor.

Outside the plane’s tiny windows, sunbeams sparkled along the mountainous view, giving the snowcaps an iridescent and almost trustworthy appeal. Almost. Until turbulence interrupted the magic and smashed Morgan back into her tandem jumper.

She turned as much as possible to sneak a better glance at AJ, her partnered groomsmen. His buzzed hair screamed military, but as they were tethered together, it proved difficult to determine the hue. Possibly a shade of red? Different from the last three blond guys the happy couple, Chloe and Stan, had set Morgan up with. Or rather tried and failed.

AJ double checked their harness and removed his mirrored sunglasses, tucking them into a pouch behind the pilot. He caught her staring back at him and smiled as he tugged on his goggles. A flutter spread from her stomach, and she forgot about her jumpsuit’s collar rubbing like sandpaper against her neck.

Maybe skydiving with a stranger to an adventure wedding didn’t involve a complete lack of judgement.

The light over the doorframe turned green, and the side door slid open. Morgan sucked in a gasp as clouds whipped past, and she dug her nails into the nearest handle. Was it too late to be a best friend and maid of honor by proxy?

AJ rested his hand on her shoulder, giving the signal to jump. But it was his wink that froze her. His eyes weren’t plain brown. They had an outer layer of blue.

“Arik?” The wind stole her voice. She clawed at her chest. Was her harness tightening, or was it the fifteen-year-old memory of the last time she’d peered into those eyes?

Arik was Stan’s old army buddy! How was that possible? Her heart pounded like the final warning to escape danger, however her body was numb. Just like her heart.

After a popping sound roared from one of the engines, the plane pitched left, and suddenly, she was falling. Fast.

She swallowed a scream and prayed. Somehow, she’d entrusted her safety to Arik Jameson—the person who ruined her brother’s life.

If she lived, how would she survive Chloe’s wedding adventure with him as the best man?

“Making a living out of the misfortune of others. Nice. So how do you sleep at night Roddy?”
Eugenie Stanton turned the full force of her glare on the tall man lounging against the door post. The old worker’s cottage in trendy Paddington was nicely renovated, probably by the owner, judging from the paint-stained jeans and ratty Midnight Oil T-shirt draped over his lean frame.
This was not the time to discuss heritage colours or fitness tips. Eugenie was on a simple mission. Should be done and dusted by now, money in the bank and satisfied client, but for the intransigence of Roderick Williams.
“Roderick, sweetheart. Not Roddy. And I sleep very well at night thanks. What was it you said you wanted?”
Eugenie drew in the long, calming breath which her pastor had recommended for stress and smiled sweetly. No judgement, she reminded herself. Buying lost property at the Queensland Rail auctions was a perfectly legitimate if slightly scummy way to make a living. And why should he give up his haul to a woman who turned up on his veranda out of the blue?
“Look, can I come in? I can explain.” She tucked a curly strand of brown hair back into an untidy bun, stuck her hands in the back pockets of her best jeans and tried to look winning.
Roderick shook his head regretfully. His pale blue eyes were amused as he looked her over from head to foot as though she were a candidate for the Shooters and Fishers Party.
“Uh uh, Miss Jean Brodie. You turn up at my house on Sunday afternoon and demand that I return a dusty old suitcase which I paid for with the sweat of my brow and which is now legitimately my property, and then insult me.”
Eugenie’s eyes narrowed. Literary smart asses were the worst. She decided to try a different tack. Any private investigator worth their salt would have a veritable arsenal of tools, and her aim was to be one of the best. She concentrated on making her brown eyes glisten with emotion.
“Look, I’ve gone about this all wrong. My client is distraught. Her poor, confused grandmother left that bag on the train, must be six months ago, on a family trip to Sydney.”
She peered over his shoulder at the suitcase standing in the dark hallway.
“So sad!”

It had been over a decade since Ailsa had stood here, looking through the school gates. Of course, the security fences and demolition notices hadn’t been there then.
Thankfully, the acrid smell of smoke that had lived in her memory all this time was gone. Tears filled her eyes, and she blinked them away. By this time tomorrow, the school would be gone, reduced to a pile of rubble. When the building where her sister had died was gone, would she finally feel a sense of closure? Her hands clenched into fists in her pocket.
She heard footsteps coming towards her along the dark street and instinctively her fingers closed around her car keys. She glanced along the road. A man was coming towards her. He walked slowly, staring in at the old school, just as she was. She pushed her sense of unease away. If the building was being torn down tomorrow, she was hardly going to be the only former pupil wanting one last look.
The man stopped a few metres away, but she didn’t acknowledge him, didn’t want him to see that she’d been crying.
“Ailsa? Ailsa McKenzie?”
She jumped at the sound of her name and turned, wiping the last of the tears from her eyes. No one even knew she was here. How could anyone… and then he stepped forward into the orange glow of the streetlight and even after a decade she recognised him. The second last person she’d ever wanted to see again.
He’d changed, his blond hair had darkened, and he was taller and broader than she remembered him being. Still, she would have recognised his eyes anywhere, the palest blue like a summer sky.
“Why are you here?” Lochlan looked away, towards the school they’d attended together for three years. Until… until the fire.
“One last look. Before it’s demolished.”
He swung round to look at her. “Haven’t you heard?”
“Heard what?”
“It’s been delayed.”
Her stomach clenched, and she felt lightheaded. That couldn’t be right. This was all supposed to be over tomorrow so that she could move on with her own life.
“Some guy broke in. An urban explorer. Took photos inside. Photos with proof.”
“Proof of what?” But there was only one thing that Lochlan Fraser would be interested in proving.
“Proof that my brother was not responsible for your sister’s death.”

(Inspirational Cold Case – 396 words)

I really love this. Lots of foreboding at the start, and some fab lines! “The second last person she’d ever wanted to see again.”And the last: “Proof that my brother was not responsible for your sister’s death.” I want more!

Poppy’s heart was grieved to hear Sebastian talking of making amends, as if forgiveness wasn’t available to him.

“Your burden is great indeed,” she said, “if you feel you have failed God.” Impulsively she leaned forward and touched Sebastian’s hand. “I’m no Sunday School teacher, but surely you know that God’s forgiveness is infinite? If you truly repent of your sins, which I’m sure you do, then God will have forgiven you already.”

Sebastian didn’t pull his hand away, but he didn’t turn it so that he could hold hers either, which is what Poppy had been half hoping he would do.

He shook his head, slowly. “It’s true, God may have forgiven me,” he spoke slowly. “But I will never forgive myself.”

“Then you can never live your life fully, joyfully.” Poppy exclaimed. “You are only living half a life.”

“Genau. That is correct.” He looked up at her and the light in his fierce blue eyes had dimmed. “I am living half a life.”

Despite her deep sympathy, Poppy couldn’t help feeling a flicker of something else at this. She ran her fingers through her hair in agitation. “But don’t you see, that’s a sin in itself?”

He raised his eyebrows and Poppy immediately kicked herself for pushing too far. “I have told you this much already. I am a great sinner.”

Poppy couldn’t sit still any longer. She jumped to her feet and strode over to the window, even though it was impossible to see anything at all through it, and put a hand to her racing heart. Why was she getting so worked up?

Calm down, she told herself. There’s nothing to be gained by losing your head.

Sebastian was still sitting quietly at the wooden table. She reminded herself that this was the man who had come out in treacherous conditions to help her look for Hannah. It was the man who had picked her up after her fall down the Streiferhorn, and the man who’s quick thinking had prevented them both from being buried beneath the avalanche. Not only that, but according to Felix Beckenbauer, Sebastian had saved more than 50 walkers, skiers and climbers who had got into difficulties on these mountains in the last three years. His bravery with the mountain rescue squad amounted to local legend.

Who was she, Poppy Monroe, to stand in judgement on such a man?

They were in the backyard of Santiago’s house. In the table along with the case file was the white envelope, the only lead they had on her sister’s disappearance. An unexpected breeze blew sending the file flying, Elisa reached out to grab it, and her sweater sleeve slipped, showing the skin on her wrist. She felt Santiago’s gaze. Elisa knew exactly what he was seeing, a large faded scar she had tried to erase with a tattoo.
“And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them.” Elisa couldn’t help a bitter smile when she heard him pronouncing the biblical passage she had tattooed almost ten years ago.
“Old mistakes.” She said.
“Tell me. Please.”
“After Megan’s disappearance and my father’s death. I went to live in a foster home. Things weren’t good. I ran away. For a while, I was always running. I made some bad choices. Alcohol. Drugs. Until on my seventeenth anniversary, I decided to end it. I gave up.” She felt the scars tingling under her sleeve. “When I woke up in the hospital, there was this woman. Lucy. She didn’t ask questions or judged. Instead, she took me to live with her, gave me a family, a life. Lucy was very fond of this biblical passage.” She stopped and took a deep breath. “Six years ago, one of the teenagers she was trying to help stabbed her so he could steal her watch. She bled to death, alone, in a cold street.” Elisa closed her eyes. “After that, there wasn’t much left to believe.”
For a moment, Santiago stared quietly at her. “In my teenage years, I was following a rough path too. Fighting. Stealing. But before things got really out of hand, God saved my life.” Santiago lifted his trouser. Surprised, Elisa saw that his left leg finished just above his knee, bellow he had a prosthetic leg. “Boat accident. It cost me one leg and almost lose my life to realize that God had a purpose for me.” He took her wrist in his hands. Elisa held her breath. “Sometimes, love is hard.”
The sound of her cell phone ringing was like a scream in the night. Shaking, Elisa got up to answer.
“What happened?” Santiago asked when she came back.
“Another envelope arrived.”

Cold Case ~ Inspirational
Something about Evan Lang unnerved her, and it wasn’t that he was in a wheelchair. There was something in his impenetrable dark eyes, the enigmatic countenance that gave nothing away. Did he ever feel shock, surprise, anger, happiness? His face gave nothing away.
Perhaps it was a useful trait in his line of work.
With his elbows on the oak desk, he tented his fingers and rested his chin on them. After a long silence, he finally spoke. “What exactly are you looking to hire me for? Your message was rather vague.”
Milly Vale exhaled. Maybe this was a mistake. She survived this long without knowing the truth, maybe she could just compartmentalize what she thought she knew, and tuck it away deep, deep into the back of her mind.
“Miss Vale?”
“I need you to investigate the disappearance of a child thirty years ago.”
He sat back in his chair. “Thirty years? You know the chances of finding a missing person become slimmer with each passing day, let alone three decades. I don’t think I’m the person for the job.” He reached for his Rolodex. “I can give you a referral.” He then stopped and looked squarely at her. “I don’t mean to sound cruel, but I don’t recommend getting your hopes up or wasting your money.”
His voice was kind.
“I’m not looking to locate a missing child, Mr. Lang.” She chuckled, but it wasn’t a pleasant chuckle. “The child was found. I’m fairly certain the child returned was the wrong child.”
She liked the way his eyebrows shot up in surprise. Sher managed to crack his mask. If he thought that was shocking, he hadn’t heard anything yet.
“I don’t think I quite understand, Miss Vale.”
“It’s quite simple. A two year old girl vanished from her home. Several months later, the child was found a hundred miles away and returned to her parents. Life went on.”
“It’s quite unusual. But why question it now?”
“The child who returned spoke a different language. The police and doctors assured her parents it was from trauma the child experienced. She was only two. She was speaking gibberish.”
“Why are you so fascinated with this case?”
“Because the child returned was me. I need you to give me back my true identity.”
This time, he did not react. She plucked a prewritten check from her handbag and pushed it across the table. “I assume that is enough for a retainer?”
“I…suppose…” he wavered.
“Good,” she smiled faintly. “Now there’s the matter of the skeleton I found hidden in a cold cellar.”

Hi Bunny, I’m sorry but you’ve exceeded our word count limit and aren’t eligible this week.

Cold case (word count 399)

“You did what?” Detective Jon Heller said as he almost chocked on his morning cup of coffee. Glaring at the nervous rookie who handed him a file and pointed to his office, “Ms. Ravenwood already is sitting there waiting for you.” He rolled his eyes and dabbed his tie with his hand. He didn’t care if there was a coffee stain. What he did care about was the audacity of this green pup of an officer taking liberty to schedule the interviews for this case, that was just assigned to him by the new police chief. He got the dreaded Shannon Jefferson’s case. He flipped through a file relating to Shannon’s case as he walked to his office. Shannon Jefferson was dead, found crumbled at the end of a staircase in a family owned pawn shop. First, it was thought to be accidental. But when the labs came in, it was ruled a homicide. She was thought to be all alone at the shop. No suspects, No leads, Nothing. And that was five years ago.
As opened his door to his office, he caught a scent of roses. It wasn’t overpowering, it was light, unassuming. Much like the fragrance that his dead fiancé would wear, her death he felt responsible for.
He fought to bring a smile to his face. Jon flicked over a glance to Miss Ravenwood. She was pretty, very pretty. “Miss Ravenwood, I’m Detective Jon Heller, how can I help you?”
She cleared her throat. “Willow. My name is Willow Ravenwood.”
He nodded. “Okay, how can I help you?”
Willow titled her head. “Actually, I’m here to help you. Your Police Chief, Ted Simmons called me. It’s regarding the Jefferson case.”
He lifted his eyebrow in question. How could she help him? “Anything you got will be a plus.”
“There’s a diamond ring missing and it’s in connection with her death. If you find the ring, more likely your find her killer.”
He quickly jotted down the information and asked. “Who are your sources?”
“Oh, it’s first-hand source”
Jon dropped his pen in disbelief. Is this a joke, was the police chief playing him? “Miss Ravenwood, I need some clarification. Shannon died five years ago. How did you get this information?’
Willow raised her hand. “I’m aware how preposterous this sounds. But, like the movie-I see and talk to dead people. I’m a medium.”

(Cold Case)
“Wait,” Travis choked out. “We were split up as newborns for money?”
“That and because it was easier to place single babies than triplets,” Claire said, a guilty expression on her face. “I’m so sorry. I’ve lived with the remorse of what I did wrong for years. I found God and have wanted to make amends for years but never had the strength. Until now.”
Travis tamped down the anger and the hurt echoing in every inch of his body. It sickened him to think of the impact of the decisions made. “What else can you tell me about my brothers? How did my mother die?”
“Margaret Simmons, your birth mother, was supposed to meet me to turn over her newborn daughter for a client. She never showed up. About a week later, I saw an article in the paper where she was found dead in the river. They suspected murder. As far as I know, no one was ever arrested, and the baby wasn’t found.” Claire’s gaze grew hazy as though she remembered a time best forgotten.
A sister. Travis paced the room, trying to think of what to ask, but his brain was in overload.
“Is there anything else you can tell us that would help find his siblings?” Allison took charge, coming to stand next to him, one hand on his arm as if sensing his pain.
Professional PI and a compassionate woman, Allison’s strength gave him the edge needed not to throttle the woman standing in front of him. Or arrest her. Not that it would do any good. The statute of limitations was up, something he was sure Claire realized before her confession.
“There are more of you—as in brothers and sisters. Seven in total. The youngest is the one who disappeared.”
Seven. Travis fought against the suffocating heartache threatening to consume him. God had brought him to this point for a reason, waiting until he was old enough to deal with the news and do something about it. Led him to become a police officer. And now, he’d trust God to help him discover the truth.
He owed it to his brothers and sisters to reopen the case and investigate, especially for the sister who had vanished. And then there was his birth mother. She may not have been mother material, but she didn’t deserve to die.

Inspirational Mountain Rescue
(Set up: After hiking into the back country of Glacier National Park, Natalie and her boyfriend Todd have a major fight for a frivolous reason. Natalie is left behind as her boyfriend stalks back down the trail.)

Natalie sat down hard on the boulder next to the trail where she and Todd were hiking. That was, they had been together hiking before the fight. Now Natalie was alone. And Todd was long gone, back down the trail.
Natalie’s stomach roiled. Todd was acting so spoiled, and rash, leaving her alone out here in the back country. She wasn’t afraid to be alone. She had her bear bells. And she knew the way back to the lodge, but would she find him checked out when she got back? Or would he be waiting there to apologize like all the other times they’d fought.

Natalie reached down and untied the laces of her tan hiking boots. Pulling off her boots, she stretched out her toes and rolled her feet. It felt so good.
Natalie sighed. Todd had said he wasn’t able to celebrate on her birthday. He had to work instead. He’d been working a lot lately. In fact, this trip to the mountains was the first time they’d been together in weeks. Todd even wanted to cancel the trip because he was too busy, but Natalie insisted because of the deposit they couldn’t get back and, secretly, because she thought this might be their last chance to patch up their relationship.
Natalie laced her boots back up as it began to rain.
Oh no.
She thought the rain was supposed to hold off. At least that’s what the sign said at the Ranger Station.
Time to head back. Natalie pushed off the rock and started down the trail quicker than she had ascended. She knew she should watch the un-groomed trail for rocks and tree roots, but the view was so captivating.
God had really pulled out all the stops. Mountains rising up in clusters over a blue-green lake. It was the most beautiful sight she’d ever seen.
Just as Natalie was rounding a curve at the edge of a drop off, she slipped and landed hard on her knee and left hand.
Damn! Her knee was scraped up and her hand had little bits of stone stuck into her palm but what really hurt was her ankle. Wow, it hurt.
Natalie gingerly pushed herself up and tried to rotate her hurt ankle.
Ow! It hurt a lot. She must have slipped in the muddy mess the trail was swiftly becoming in the rain. Pulling her fleece more tightly around her, she tried to stand. It didn’t work.
What now? Either her ankle was sprained or, worse, broken. And she was stuck out in the wilderness. Alone. With no way to get back to the lodge.
Natalie pulled out her cell phone and dialed Todd. He’d help. But there was just dead air on the phone. No reception.
What was she going to do now? She scooted herself under a spruce tree’s branches and dialed 911. That might work. It didn’t.
Her best chance was if Todd came back looking for her or if the Ranger Station realized there was someone left out on the trail.
They had registered for back country hiking and told the ranger – Brady – their route. Maybe Brady would send out someone to look for her. She’d just have to wait. Unless she wanted to crawl back to the lodge.

An hour later, Natalie was soaked to the bone and shivering. She was beginning to think the crawling idea wasn’t so bad, when she heard a helicopter in the distance.
God had provided a savior! That is, if she could get them to see her. She crawled out from under the spruce tree, that was doing no good anyway, and pulled herself across the trail to the edge of the cliff. Natalie yanked off her fleece, despite the cold, and waved it frantically, back and forth. The red color might catch their eye. She called out to them even though she knew they’d never hear her above the roar of the helicopter.
It was getting closer and she was sure they’d seen her when suddenly they banked left away from her. Tear started rolling down her cheeks. This couldn’t be happening.
But then, the helicopter came around, hovering parallel to her position.
They had seen her! She waved her jacket again and yelled.
The helicopter moved closer and closer to the cliff as a swinging ladder was thrown out the side door.
A man’s leg stepped out of the helicopter door onto the ladder.
Oh boy. Was she supposed to go up that swinging ladder, hanging out over the mountain below? She wasn’t exactly afraid of heights, no she loved climbing up the tails, but she didn’t want to swing out over the abyss.
The man climbed down the ladder, his muscled back to her. He looked strong. That was a good thing, right? She’d probably need a little help on that swinging thing out there.
As he got closer to her, Natalie balked. Maybe that crawling idea wasn’t so bad after all.
The man, turned and held out his hand.
It was Ranger Brody.
Thank God! A familiar face.
He smiled and curled his fingers in a beckoning motion.
As Natalie pulled herself up using a nearby tree, Brody smiled again.
“Hey,” he said. “I figured you might need some help.”

Dana Gambelli slammed the car door and marched up the sidewalk towards the Haley, Texas Police Department. She had not worked her fanny off for 6 years at the Dallas PD to be sent to this one horse town to help re-investigate the disappearance of some dry, dusty artifact that had gone missing 10 years ago. She never should have told her Chief about that art history class she took in college.

Dana was good at what she did though and she knew it. So did her Chief, which was why she was here. The added bonus was that she knew how to be discreet. Whatever this drab little piece of Egyptian art was, it was worth a small fortune. It was also connected to the Wells family, the wealthiest family in this part of the state. They would not be happy the case had been re-opened. They were, in fact, the reason it had been closed prematurely almost 10 years ago. Amazing what chain of events a witness coming forward could set in motion.

Dana stopped under the shade of a giant oak and leaned against the tree. “Oh God,” she murmured softly, “we’ve been through a lot together. Remember the Blackwell case? I’m gonna need you with me in this one too. I know you have my back and –”

“Are you alright?”

Dana whirled around and stared at the tall, long haired cowboy. At least he could have been a cowboy with those boots, faded jeans, and cowboy hat.

“I’m fine,” she said

“You were mumbling,”

“I wasn’t mumbling, I was praying,”

“Praying? Nice. Well, I’ll let you get back to it.” He flashed her a smile and a wink.

Dana’s blue eyes widened. “You have something against praying?”

“No,” he smiled again and it was just as jaw dropping the second time. “I just don’t usually do it in front of the police department. I’m using my detecting skills and guessing you’re not from around here?”

Dana shook her head, her blonde ponytail swinging. “You would be right.”

“If you need any assistance while you’re in town, let me or one of the other officers know. I’m Detective Ryder.”

“Detective Jake Ryder?”

He nodded and Dana groaned. Just great.

She squared her shoulders, met his gaze head on and held out her hand. “Detective Dana Gambelli. I’m your new partner.”

Hi Gina. I missed this one when reading through the subs. It’s really good. Congratulations! Well-deserved.

Cold Case – Word Count 400

The bars were icy under Adina’s curled fingers, her thumbnail absently chipping the paint. Seeing the inside of a jail cell was sometimes part of her job, but getting used to it was not.

Behind her, sat the two men she met earlier to make the exchange. But the woman cowered alone in the corner captivated Adina’s attention. Holes dotted the cuffs of her sleeves, and old coffee stained her top. There was something off about her presence. It didn’t make sense why she’d been at the drop off with the other two.

The woman’s head jerked in her direction, and instinctively, Adina scanned her features. The mole on her chin sparked recognition in Adina’s eyes.

Matilda? she mouthed.

The woman dropped her gaze.

Come on, look at me.

The door whooshed open, vacuuming the stale uncirculated air from the room, and in strode the officer who ambushed her and the others. The sight of him made Adina tremble with rage. He ruined her sting operation. It was only by God’s grace she wasn’t dead now. The nameplate stretched across his chest pocket spelled SILAS.

He inserted the key which scraped and scratched the lock’s tumbler, and at the sound of its decisive click, Silas hauled it open. He pointed an index finger at everyone except Adina. “You three can go.”

Head down, the woman exited quickly, while both men ambled, glaring at Silas as they passed.

“The woman, you can’t release her,” Adina hissed under her breath.

“Oh? Enlighten me.”

“She’s a missing person, Matilda Watkins. Vanished from…”

He cut her off. “Trinity College five years ago. I know the case. Disappeared and presumed dead. My father was the lead investigator.”

“She’s not missing, or dead. That’s her.”

“I booked her myself. ID card said Connolly Devon.”

Soreness radiated from Adina’s jaw. She released the bars, pushing off them. If this muscled clown didn’t believe her, she’d pick up the trail when she got out. “Has my supervisor called? Special Agent Tamara Saavedras. She’ll clear this up.”

“I don’t care if you’re FBI,” every initial enunciated. “Feds need to be invited in by local law enforcement before setting up sting ops in their jurisdictions. An anonymous caller tipped us off to your gun buy happening in my county. If you think, I’m going to let anyone do their dirty work around here – criminal or otherwise, God help me.”

‘I can do this,’ I told myself, even though every aching muscle told me I couldn’t. At the end of today’s trek, we would finally reach K2’s base camp.

‘Are you okay? You’ve fallen a little way behind the others.’

I jumped out of my skin at the deep timbre of Ash’s voice behind me, and those teeny hairs on the back of my neck shivered a little. Just about every part of me shivered in anticipation when he spoke. When he unzipped my tent to pass me my first cup of tea of the day, as a new dawn broke over the spectacular Himalayas behind him. When he touched my arm to point out a flower.

I needed to get myself under control. ’I thought you were leading the party,’ I said, hoping he’d take his mesmerising chocolate-brown eyes off me.

‘We all take turns,’

’Like the lead goose?’ I pointed to the perfect v-formation of Bar-headed geese passing overhead. I stopped long enough to track their journey above the majestic snow-capped Himalayas. ’I’ll never make lead goose,’

‘We can all surprise ourselves,’

‘Easy for a decorated special forces officer to say,’

‘Hey, this special forces officer was once a fat Indian kid who played computer games all day.’

‘No way,’ The image made me smile, but I wondered if he’d opened a door into his past to invite me to share something in return. If he was, he’d get the edited version, like everyone else.

‘I’ll show you a photo when we get to base camp tonight,’

I’d find a way to avoid that. As soon as we got to base camp, this crush was over. From base camp, it was a swift helicopter ride back to reality. His world was all peaks and summits, snow and glacier. Imagining him my world was like trying to visualise a snow leopard in downtown Delhi. Impossible.

Almost as impossible as hearing a bang that sounded like a starter pistol. I hardly had time to form a question in my mind before I heard a deafening roar. With an instinct I didn’t even knew I had, I pushed Ash backwards into the safety of a crevasse in the rock on the path as snow tumbled past us.

Lightning illuminated the night and Benjamin wanted to punch Daniel squarely in the jaw. What was the man thinking, putting his sister in danger like this?

“There.” Maty pointed to a copse of trees and shrugged out of her pack as thunder rumbled louder, closer on the heels of the lightning.

“Promise me you’ll stay here.” He gripped her shoulder with one hand, took her pack with the other. His emotions swirling like the cauldron of clouds above. He couldn’t bear to watch lightning sear into her skin, heating her body, only to leave her barely alive as it excited into the ground. “Crouch as small as you can.”

Lightning slashed through the sky. His feet moved before he could force himself to pull away his hand. Thunder rolled, but he heard her concerned be careful. He tossed the packs as far as he could, then dashed for a spot fifty feet across from her, just as another strike and crash echoed across the cliffs.

His heart pounded in his ears as he positioned himself. Balancing on the balls of his feet, he crouched as low as he could. Hard for a man of his size. He glanced at Maty. Tiny woman that she was, she looked like a little toadstool. Head tucked between her knees, arms over her head, her rounded form sat atop small feet, the only part of her touching anything else.

Benjamin’s muscles grumbled even as adrenaline shot through them at another lightning flash. This one much closer, considering the crack of thunder came almost instantaneously. Oh yeah, he’d give his childhood best friend a piece of his mind when they made it to his cabin. What on earth could have scared the ex-Ranger enough to ask his sister to return from the ends of the earth just to rendezvous with him in these mountains? And why send Benjamin along, too?

But as he continued to steal glances at Maty, Benjamin knew he would’ve come anyway. He couldn’t desert her. Not again. He’d had a choice that first time fourteen years ago. Somewhat of a choice at least. As a boy on the verge of manhood, having just lost his mother, he let his anger, his grief, his desire to attempt Christ-like forgiveness, drive him to accept a meeting with his father.

A choice that turned out to be the worst decision of his life.

(Inspirational Mountain Rescue, 400 words)

Andrew had risen early, to the smell of spruce trees, and headed onto the fresh snow, skiing alone. He still felt as if he had access to a secret place, a snowy Narnia. Mountains meant peace to him.

The mountains here in Colorado were different from the ones Andrew knew and loved in the Scottish Highlands. They were far higher and the areas of the Scottish ranges he was accustomed to seemed tiny in comparison to the Rockies. These majestic mountains, with their ranges within ranges, seemed to stretch on forever.

Andrew had immediately felt at home in Vail. He belonged in the mountains and had come to realize that strange ones were not really strange at all. He’d skied all over Europe but had never visited North America before. This truly was an awesome place.

His first class today was for adult beginners. He preferred teaching children. They were so enthusiastic, in their tiny snowsuits, and didn’t worry about looking foolish. However, a cancellation spot had been taken by a new housekeeper, a staff perk at the resort, and Andrew was looking forward to making her acquaintance.

The first thing Andrew noticed about Louisa was the way she held herself. Her posture radiated confidence and emphasized her height. She must’ve been almost 6.’ He found it hard to guess her age. Her hair was completely pushed under a bright purple beanie, but there were a few stray brunette wisps. Her complexion was fresh and her features strong. She had a Roman nose and dark brown eyes. She was stunning.

Most women would probably feel ridiculous in the mismatched, clashing clothes she wore, clearly hand-me-downs, but she didn’t seem to notice. Perhaps she simply didn’t care. Her eyes gleamed as she chattered to the others. She had an energy to her that made it seem like there was nowhere in the world she’d rather be.

When he called the group to order, she turned her face to him. It radiated joy.

An angel.

Andrew hadn’t expected to meet anyone during his time here. Had he thought about it, perhaps he would’ve deemed finding himself as more important than finding someone else, even though by now he should’ve outgrown that traveler cliché. But he still needed to figure out who he was, which route he’d choose. Back to the tiny island where his father preached? To God?

Or towards something? Someone?

Thank you Yvonne! I never know how these things are going to turn out. I think they probably live happily ever after though!

You know it’s just come to me Mairi, that it’s not necessarily that mountain they need rescued from… Or even that continent. Glencoe’s just up the road from me and one of my favourite places.

Above him a blur of fluorescent yellow told Joe he had found the climber he was searching for on the approach to Mt. Rolleston. He could see the girl lying in a gap between two rocks. The coming darkness would wash the color away soon and it would be difficult to find her even with the visual sighting. Joe had seen fatalities happen in good conditions and people walk out of situations that should have killed them. It was hard not to believe in divine providence, and to pray for it.
“Foxhole Christian,” his grandfather called it, but he had fought at Gallipoli – and had a bronze medallion to prove it, at least the mountain made no promises that you would come back a hero.
“Did you pray, Grandpa?” Joe asked him.
“What you do is,” the old man told him “is you tell God, every breath is a prayer and you’re covered.”
He wasn’t a kid anymore, but it wasn’t cheating Joe realized. Sometimes breathing was everything.
Even in the best of conditions, the climb was expert and he had no idea what a solo climber was doing out this late in the season. The scree slope was slippery and Joe struggled to cover the last distance to reach her. This was a dangerous part of a rescue, the urge to move faster to reach a victim. An unstable slope could break a leg and he would never get to speak to her.
He had been out rounding up strays when the search and rescue text came in, finishing up chores before heading home.
“Working in the vicinity of Rome Ridge,” he let them know, “I’ll keep my eyes open.”
The pic of a girl standing on a shingle bar in the Waimakariri River distressed him, even then the water level looked high but her exuberance of being outdoors was obvious. She had pulled off her hat to let the wind trail her hair out behind her. The cascade of color was the same gold as the fading leaves of the Kotukutuku trees near the bank. She would need her strength now, he could see that her head was down and he couldn’t tell if she was unconscious or saving her strength. A cold rain was starting and whatever her condition they would need cover if they were going to survive the night.

“Hold on. Hold on! Don’t you dare quit on me, Jess!”
Ethan bent over to peer through the open window, but dared not touch the car, which teetered precariously on the ledge above the river. The water was rising swiftly, and would soon sweep the little compact right off the bank and into the rushing water.
“You should take Milo,” she told him, gently gathering the little Yorkie from where he huddled in her lap. “If something happens to me—”
“The only thing that’s going to happen is that I’m going to get you out of this car,” he said. “Listen up, because we don’t have much time. I’m going to use the winch on the front of my truck to stabilize the car. It might feel a little scary when the tension hits the line, but it will hold the car long enough for us to get you out of there.”
He watched her through the window, noting her pallor and the dark circles under her eyes. The three hours she’d spent alone in the car, literally hovering between life and death, had clearly taken a toll.
“All I need is for you and Milo to hang tight a couple more minutes, okay?”
She nodded, and Ethan ran to get the winch controller. If he didn’t pull this off, those big, blue eyes were going to haunt him for the rest of his life. Sliding on his back in the mud, he carefully secured the line to the car’s frame.
Jessie screamed his name, and he scrambled up to see an uprooted tree barreling down the river. Hardly daring to breathe, he grabbed the controller and hit the button to pull in the tension on the line.
“Hold,” he muttered. “You have to hold.”
The line pulled tight and the car groaned, tipping forward until the tires made contact. Dropping the controller, he ran to open the door.
“Now,” he said.
Grabbing her hand, he pulled her out of the car and dragged her to safety. Clutching Milo under one arm, she shivered against his chest and watched as the tree slammed into the car and swept it into the river.
“I kept praying,” she told him, her voice muffled against his shirt. “I prayed for God to take care of us.”
He grinned down at her, his heart still galloping in his chest. “Who do you think sent me?”

The original scene has him disconnecting the winch before the tree makes contact, but I cut that sentence to meet the word count.

Mountain Rescue

Ryder shifted his oar to the other side of the raft and turned to check on his passengers. His gaze roamed over the group of teenagers before landing on their youth leader, Shay. She was a tiny thing. With her sun-streaked blonde hair pulled back into a ponytail, she looked more like one of the teenagers she was chaperoning than the woman who’d partnered with his brother Jackson, to save these youths before the gangs swallowed them up.
Instead, it had been Jackson who’d been swallowed up. Jackson, who now lay in a coma fighting for his life.
Ryder ground his teeth together and forced himself to turn back toward the front of the raft. Anger coursed through his veins. The same anger he’d been fighting since the attack on his brother two months ago. He reminded himself that ‘Second Chances’ was the path God had chosen for him. But no matter how many times he prayed about it, the pain encasing his heart wouldn’t allow him to shake the notion that if not for his involvement with Shay and this group of troubled teens, his brother wouldn’t have been in such a dangerous situation.
He sucked in a deep breath, offering up another prayer for God’s help in ridding himself of the dark emotions that seemed a constant companion these days.
He believed in second chances, and with God’s help, this trip would help these kids get one.
They were coming up on the Hermit rapids known as the roller coaster of the canyon. There were no rocks to navigate in this stretch of white water. Instead, the narrow canyon walls created the waves that could be just as hazardous if he lost focus.
Ryder shifted his weight as the current pulled at the raft. Suddenly, the sound of thunder booming rose above the crashing of the rapids. He jerked his head back, his adrenaline spiking at the grey mass looming in the sky behind them.
Every river guide’s worst fear sprang to mind—Flash flood.
“Paddle harder.” he shouted. “We have to get past these rapids and make it to higher ground.”
He glanced back, his gaze connecting with Shay’s. Knowledge of their situation had darkened her eyes to navy blue. She lifted her chin with determination and strength, igniting a spark of admiration within him.
Crack! Gunfire echoed through the canyon.
“Get down.” Miguel shouted.

“You are the detective?” Her eyebrows raised as she shifted a little in the chair.

“I’m the detective. You have information on the case?”

Carl flipped to a new page in his notepad, waiting for her to talk. Focusing his attention back to her, she sat motionless. “You do have information, right?”

“You are working on the Maloney case? The one from fifteen years ago, down on the Marmaton River?” Her eyebrows were back in place, but her voice squeaked a little. She shook with the jostling of her knees, fingers fidgeting with the table edge. This woman’s nerves were working overtime. She had his full attention.

“The very one. Could I get you a bottle of water?” He moved forward, making an effort to relax his shoulders and offering her a lopsided grin. He’d read the latest guru on how to make witnesses comfortable enough to confide all. Might as well give it a whirl.

Her shaking stopped. She shifted forward. “No, I’m fine thanks.”

“My name is Detective Rupert. Carl Rupert. They told me your name is Riley Jones.” He worked to keep his voice friendly, smooth and calm. “It’s very nice to meet you.”

“Thank you, Detective. It’s nice to meet you, too.”

Moving closer, he spoke in low tones, almost a whisper. “What you are doing can be a little nerve wracking. If there is anything you don’t understand or you have any questions – feel free to ask me?”

“I think my sister may have seen the crime.”

“What makes you think she may have seen it?”

“We were there.” Her voice caught as tears welled up in her eyes. She closed them. Maybe she wanted to hold back the tears, or maybe the memories.

“You were there?” Carl shot a look over Riley’s shoulder to Detective Liles. Liles shrugged.

“We were playing in the woods. All I remember is Margie telling me to hide behind this huge fallen tree. She told me to be perfectly quiet. Made it a game somehow, I…I…don’t remember exactly.” Trembling, she swiped at a tear.

“Go on.”

Riley sniffled a little, letting out a nervous laugh. “That’s it. Margie would be the one to talk to. Her nightmares started again after the news story.”

“Her name?”

“Margaret Rochester.”

Liles’ arms dropped from a folded position. Carl grabbed his pen. The answer to his prayers. A real lead.

Cold Case Submission

Special Agent, David Luria, read the text message again.

Meet me tomorrow at Al’s, two hours after our usual time. Stay in your car. M.

After all this time, why is Miranda Steller, his best friend’s widow, and a journalist, contacting him?
David’s attempts to reach her had failed, but he confirmed she wrote for a publication that investigated war crimes and religious prosecution around the world. His FBI unit handled missing persons cases.
Maybe it was work related, but then, why so cryptic?
David reached Einstein Deli’s, also known as Al’s, a few minutes before eight the following morning. Within seconds, a navy sedan appeared next to his SUV. The tinted passenger side window rolled down.

“I’ll drive,” a woman with blonde hair said, lowering a pair of large framed sunglasses to reveal her face. “Please hurry.”

Miranda sped off before David clicked his seat belt. She handed him a similar pair of glasses.

“There are cameras everywhere.”

Putting them on, David said, “Hello to you, too.”

She took the Mass Pike entrance, heading east. “I’m sorry for the theatrics. Something’s come up. Actually, I’m not sure if it’s something, or if I’m overreacting. I figured you would be the best judge.”

“You? Overreact? Nice hair by the way.”

“Oh.” Miranda pulled off the wig. The dark curls David recalled sat in a messy bun on top of her head.

She joined a steady line of traffic in the middle lane. Staring straight ahead, she released a deep breath. “What if a young woman, an American, told me she may have been kidnapped sixteen years ago? A man and a woman she didn’t know dropped her off at a Swiss boarding school and left her there. The school told her the man called occasionally, checking up on her, but she never heard from the woman or her parents again.”

“I’m listening.”

“Then, three days ago, someone claiming to be that man, called her. He said her father was still alive, but her mother had been murdered.”

“By whom?”

“The father.”

“Here in the U.S.?

Miranda nodded.

“Okay, a U.S citizen, and possible crimes on U.S. soil. Do you have a name?”

David noticed she was chewing her lower lip.

“Uh huh.”

“Are you waiting for a drum roll?”

“Maxim Lenkov.”

It came out in a whisper.

David didn’t need to hear the name again.

He saw red.

Charlie stomped through the underbrush ignoring the stickers and snarled twigs that scratched at the cold, bare flesh of her legs. Her head buzzed. Her lungs burnt. The smell of the black smoke that had woke her from her sweet dream, and thrust her into this nightmare, still saturated the air around her.

“What on earth are you doing?” Drew called after her.

“I’m getting help!” She yelled back without slowing her pace. If she stopped moving, stopped to process what had just happened, she would crumple into a ball and cry and that wouldn’t solve anything.

Charlie heard the thudding of Drew’s feet come up behind her. She begged God to make him go away, but as she felt Drew’s firm grip on her shoulder, she knew her prayer had gone unanswered.

“Will you stop it? I have a plan!” Charlie yelled tugging her shoulder from him.

“Is the plan to get yourself killed?”

Charlie spun on her heels to face him and pressed her hands into her hips in a defiant stance trying to appear braver and stronger than she felt.

“When we flew in, I still had cell phone reception around the peak of that mountain.” She pointed to one of the two mountains that made the valley the lodge resided in. “It wasn’t until we dipped under the crest that my bars disappeared.”

Drew pressed his hands to his forehead and forcefully ran his fingers through his blonde hair that was now singed and streaked with soot.

“That is a real mountain.” He said. His tone suddenly condescending. “Like an Everest style mountain – not a well-kept tourist site. There aren’t trails to follow or guideposts to show you the way.”

Charlie copied his tone hoping he felt just as belittled, “I don’t need trails or guideposts. There is only one way to get to the top of a mountain – Up.”

“It’s not that simple – “

“Either is watching a half-burnt man die.” A sob escaped Charlies chest as a vision of Joey flashed in her mind.

Drews voice softened. “Charlene, this is awful, I know -”

“Charlene?” Charlie repeated her name in disbelief. “You lied… I asked you if you remembered me and you lied.”

“What are you talking about?”

“I haven’t used my full name since I was 16.”

Drews eyes darted away from her face. An admission of guilt.

“Why would you do that?”

Mountain Rescue
As Mindy drove the truck up the driveway of her farm in Western Pennsylvania, she had an uneasy feeling. The drive always made her smile.The sky was looking dark and menacing with unpredictable spring weather.  Usually, whatever the weather that God chose for the day, she tried to find the beauty. Life was way too short and no one knows what tomorrow may bring.    Slowing to a stop next to the fence, she knew something was wrong.  Sassy was not waiting for her whinnying at the sound of the truck as Mindy let it slowly navigate the driveway.  When Mindy got out of the truck, she quickly scanned the smaller pasture near the house where she usually kept Sassy since she had trouble seeing at times.  “Ok, calm down”, she muttered to herself. She is probably in the barn, but once in the barn with the lights on, she could see she was not in her stall.  At this finding Mindy’s heart sank, “Please, dear Lord”, she prayed, “let her be all right”.  Mindy turned around and went back outside,just then she saw the board off the fence.  Suddenly, the panic began to rise in the pit of her stomach, scared at what may be wrong with Sassy.  A truck engine coming up the driveway interrupted her thoughts.  With one quick glance she could see it washer neighbor, Tom. He was a kind man, who had attracted her attention.  But, she was very backward and more of a tomboy than a princess.    He pulled the truck near her and immediately got out, the look on his face did not ease her fears.  “Hi Mindy”, Tom said, “Are things ok?”. Before she could answer, he looked at the fence and said, “Where is Sassy?”.  “I don’t know, I just came home and she is not here”, stated Mindy.“I was hoping she was here”, he said.  “A storm is moving in and I heard some whinnies coming from the edge of foothills over near the creek. “    Before he could finish the sentence, she went back in the barn and brought out her heavy coat that would keep her dry, and a spotlight.  “I am going to look for her”, she said.  “You can’t go by yourself and do not even argue with me, I am coming with you”, he said as he grabbed his coat and another light out of his truck.  She did not say a word, relieved to have the help.  “ Let’s go before she gets too far”, and at that they started through the field in search of Sassy. 

Sorry, Melissa, but due to being over the word count limit your submission isn’t eligible this week.

“We work as a team, or not at all.” Cassie slammed the bright orange flight helmet into her locker. “I won’t have some hot shot paramedic out hot-dogging it, risking my patient or my crew. All we have up there is trust in each other, and you broke it.”

Lucas hoisted his med kits onto a work table and unzipped the one holding vials of pain killers. Her pink cheeks chapped from the cold burned brighter under his glare. “Tell that to the mother of the nine year old kid we just saved.”

Cassie was one of the best pilots he’d ever worked with, but her precision often led her to err on the side of too much caution. Sometimes you had to push the limits to save lives. That kid had been in a bad way, he’d be lucky if he wasn’t paralyzed or brain damaged.

The rubber soles of Cassie’s flight boots squeaked closer. He felt the warmth and energy from her hand hesitate before she laid it on his arm. “Look it was an innocent kid. I get it. Even a world champ at stuffing emotions in a box like you can’t be unaffected.”

He pushed a vial of morphine into an empty slot. She had no idea how deep and dark that box was for him. Thin, emaciated bodies of Afghan kids, burned over their entire bodies, or legs blown off. Some rich, privileged kid broken on a ski slope in the Alps, was hardly a dark tragedy compared to devastation he’d seen. That others may live. It was the oath and motto he’d lived by his entire adult life. He knew his limits and capabilities, even if Cassie didn’t yet.

He shrugged her hand off his shoulder. He didn’t want her peace offering. The heat from her hand still burned into his skin. Since the day he’d seen her walk into the hangar, she’d ignited a fire in his gut. One he didn’t feel like fanning at the moment. If ever.

“We’re family here. We have to trust each other not to create more accidents.” Cassie’s hand dropped. Her tone clipped. “The weather was turning, and we were stuck between major obstacles that I wouldn’t have been able to see. If I can’t fly us out of there, it doesn’t matter if you saved him or not. I made the call, you ignored it.”

Jenna panned the landscape below. The sunset bathed the mountains in dark and eerie shadows, which did not help her feel better about this death climb whatsoever. In an hour, the weather would be more hostile. Making the trek nearly impossible. Each breath burned her lungs and they still had 200 feet to reach the summit. Her climbing partner Matt, who was more like her brother, lagged behind and looked like a little dot from her vantage point.
“You coming or not?” She yelled and put her hand around her throat. Every breath was excruciating at this altitude.
He didn’t answer. She watched to make sure he was still moving. Snow and ice bit through her snowsuit like a ravaged animal and chills coursed through her bones. She didn’t care how long it took, she was getting him to the summit and would not need rescuing no matter what Bryant had said earlier.
“The chance of you surviving in these conditions is extremely low.” He’d said. “What exactly are you trying to prove?”
She knew it was crazy, but it was Matt’s goal and she was determined to help him achieve it, especially now. But that was none of Bryant’s business, so she opted for a generic response. “Nothing. I just like a challenge.”
He’d smirked and held her gaze like he was searching for something. The frenzy of flurries in her stomach had rivaled the actual flurries outside.
Faint crunching sounds told her Matt was close. She turned just as he pulled himself beside her.
“Almost there, buddy. You good?” She kept her tone lighthearted, even though she was worried. He was in no condition to climb and they both knew it.
“Uh, well.” His words breathless and weak. “I can’t see.”
“What do mean you can’t see?”
“I mean I can’t see anything!”
She lifted his face mask and recoiled. Blood dripped from his mouth and frostbite covered his nose. She quickly put his mask back on and reached for her satellite phone. Acute mountain sickness was no joke and it could take his life if she didn’t hurry.
She called the rescue team at the lodge and prayed Bryant didn’t answer. She shouldn’t care who answered, as long as someone on the other end could help. She hated to admit it, but he was right. He was so sure of himself it drove her crazy!
“Hello?” A smooth voice jolted her back. She forced herself to focus on Matt’s safety and nothing else.
She told Bryant the coordinates and halfway expected him to say I told you so. But he didn’t.
“We’re on our way. Can you get to 20,000 feet? The chopper can’t get much higher in these conditions.”
“I’ll try.” She said. But Matt was already having a hard time moving. She threw one arm over her shoulder and started the descent. She prayed for the Lord to place a hedge of protection around them as she slowly climbed back down the mountain. Below the death zone.

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