Hold Your Breath by Katie Ruggle
Release Date: April 5, 2016
In the remote Rocky Mountains, lives depend on the Search & Rescue brotherhood. But in a place this far off the map, trust is hard to come by and secrets can be murder…
As the captain of Field County’s ice rescue dive team, Callum Cook is driven to perfection. But when he meets new diver Louise “Lou” Sparks, all that hard-won order is obliterated in an instant. Lou is a hurricane. A walking disaster. And with her, he’s never felt more alive…even if keeping her safe may just kill him.
Lou’s new to the Rockies, intent on escaping her controlling ex, and she’s determined to make it on her own terms…no matter how tempting Callum may be. But when a routine training exercise unearths a body, Lou and Callum find themselves thrust into a deadly game of cat and mouse with a killer who will stop at nothing to silence Lou—and prove that not even her new Search and Rescue family can keep her safe forever.
She’d been kidding—well, kind of kidding—when she’d hollered at him to cook, but there was a definite smell of bacon in the cabin when she emerged from the bathroom twelve minutes later, smug about her speediness. After she threw on some warm and not-too-smelly clothes, she followed her nose to the kitchen, where Callum was indeed slaving over a hot stove. Leaning against the wall, she enjoyed the view of him standing at the stove, his sleeves pushed up to reveal his muscled forearms, lining up the strips of bacon into perfect formation.
“You know,” she teased, “you could have your own calendar. You’d only be wearing an apron in this shot. Although that’s kind of asking for spitting bacon-grease burns, isn’t it?”
He flushed, and she realized she was getting pretty proficient at making him turn red. “Did you want breakfast or not?” he grumbled, forking the bacon onto a paper-towel-lined plate.
“Wait for the eggs. And yes, very impressive.”
“You’re making eggs, too? I might just keep you.”
Although he was trying to hide it, a smile was fighting to break free. “You’re on toast duty.”
Lou glanced at the digital display showing the charge left in her batteries. “If you want me to use the toaster, I’m going to have to turn on the generator. The sun’s not high enough yet to produce much power. That’s what happens when you get up at the crack of dawn.”
He just gave her a look. “We don’t have to have toast.”
“No, it’s okay.” Heading for the front door, she said over her shoulder, “If you made bacon and eggs, the least I can do is make toast.”
Throwing on her boots but skipping the coat, she ran outside to the small shed that housed her generator. She opened the valve that allowed propane to the generator and reached for the start switch. A strange hissing sound and the strong smell of propane made her hesitate. Instead of turning on the generator, she pulled her hand back and closed the valve.
Trotting back to the cabin, she made a face. There always had to be something going wrong. Why couldn’t she just eat bacon with Callum in peace?
Inside, she nudged her temporary chef aside to grab a spray bottle from under the sink.
“What’s up?” he asked, turning off the burner, immediately slipping into calm and competent mode. It was like he could smell the start of a potential crisis.
“Propane leak,” she said, squirting some dish soap into the bottle and filling it the rest of the way with water. She grabbed her coat on the way out this time. Callum followed her silently. As they crossed the yard, the only sound was the crunch of snow beneath their boots. Although she had on her brave face, Lou couldn’t help glancing around at the surrounding trees. Everything was still and quiet, without even a breeze or the chatter of a squirrel. It felt like the forest was holding its breath, watching.
“Leave the door open, would you?” she asked as they both entered the shed. “There’s no other light in here.”
After she opened the valve again, she sprayed the soapy water in a stream where the propane line connected to the generator. When no bubbles formed, she frowned.
“Am I crazy, or do I hear and smell a leak?”
“You’re not crazy.” Taking the bottle from her, Callum began spraying the length of the propane line. At about the midpoint, large bubbles formed, and Lou closed the valve.
“This was cut.” Callum’s voice was grim as he examined the slice in the line.
Leaning her chin on his shoulder so she could see the hole as well, she growled, “That’s it. My tires and front door are one thing, but you don’t mess with someone’s toast!”
“This isn’t funny, Lou.”
“I know.” She sighed, standing. “It’s scary and dangerous and becoming really expensive. Joking in the face of adversity is just what I do.”
There was a loud bang, and everything went dark. With a yelp, Lou grabbed Callum’s arm, needing something to hang on to in the sudden blackness. There was no one in here with them—she knew that. And yet, she couldn’t help but feel a hot breath against the back of her neck…couldn’t help but imagine hands reaching for her in the dark.
“It’s okay,” she reassured herself more than Callum. “The door just blew shut.”
“There’s no wind.”
“It had to be the wind.” Lou released her death grip on his arm and shuffled in the direction of the door, holding her hands in front of her. “The alternative is too freaking scary.”
“I’ll get it.” Catching her, Callum gently tugged her behind him. She grabbed a fistful of the back of his coat and followed him the few steps to the door. He opened it slowly, peering around outside before stepping forward to allow Lou out of the shed.
Although it was a relief to escape the darkness, standing outside felt almost as nerve-racking. Her gaze darted around the snow-covered ground, looking for tracks of some kind or any kind of evidence to prove or disprove that someone had been here…though she wasn’t sure yet which she preferred.
“Do you think he was here last night?” She examined the packed snow around the shed entrance, looking for a boot track matching the ones under her window.
“Could be.” Callum closed the door behind him. “Or he could’ve done this two nights ago, and we just didn’t notice. When was the last time you ran your generator?”
“Three days ago?” She squinted in thought. “Maybe four? I know I didn’t turn it on yesterday, so the propane line could’ve been cut at the same time as the honey thing.”
Cocking his head, he looked at her. “But you don’t think it was.”
With a shrug, she moved around to the other side of the shed, still looking for tracks. “I’m probably being paranoid—”
He interrupted with a snort. “Are you paranoid if someone’s really after you?”
Her smile was more pained than amused. “Something woke me last night—or this morning, I guess. It’s just a feeling, but I think he was out there.”
Callum waved her toward the front door. “Let’s eat and then go to the clinic. You can call the sheriff on the way to Connor Springs.”
Climbing the porch steps, she asked, “Shouldn’t we wait for Rob to get here?”
“He knows the way, and you don’t lock your generator shed.” With a disapproving look, he added, “You probably should.”
“It has a lock,” she protested. “I’m just not exactly sure where the key is.”
He grunted, and she resisted the urge to make a face. Callum was the only person she knew who could fit a reprimand into a single wordless noise.
“Eggs,” he said, “and bacon. Can’t waste bacon.”
“Definitely not!” she agreed with appropriately theatrical dismay, and then laughed when he gave her a look. But her laughter died as Callum headed into the house, leaving her alone on the porch. Lou paused, skin prickling, and twisted her head to scan the trees. She couldn’t help but wonder if someone was there even now, watching. Waiting.
Wanting to hurt her.
When she’s not writing, Katie Ruggle rides horses, shoots guns, and travels to warm places where she can SCUBA dive. Graduating from the Police Academy, Katie received her ice-rescue certification and can attest that the reservoirs in the Colorado mountains really are that cold. While she still misses her off-grid, solar- and wind-powered house in the Rocky Mountains, she now lives in Rochester, Minnesota near her family.
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