A Matter of Trust | Chapter 22 of 33

Author: Susan May Warren | Submitted by: Maria Garcia | 1551 Views | Add a Review

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16

PLEASE, GOD, let me not be killing Ella’s brother.

The prayer simply bubbled up, more like a moan of desperation as Gage wound his way toward the ridge. He’d tried to make the ride as smooth as he could for Oliver, but the trail he’d cut last night was designed for speed, not comfort.

He tried to cushion the jarring of the drops between trees with his knees and arms. Occasionally, Ella, behind him, let out a tiny gasp of terror, but she stayed on his line without a word.

His entire body ached. And not just from the fatigue of staying up most of the night, but . . . he longed to rewind this day, back to last night. To before her revelation of her betrayal.

They came to a clearing, the morning sun turning the snow to crystal, the powder thick, save the groove he’d made through it last night. He skidded to a stop, breathing hard.

Oops, too fast, because Ella slid up behind him, nearly tumbling over into the stretcher, bypassing it with a quick cut, a spray of powder.

“Gage!”

“Sorry, I should have given you warning.” He set Oliver down, rolled his shoulders.

She glanced at him. “No, it’s fine.” She fell to her knees, scooted over to Oliver. “He’s still out. But he’s breathing.”

He pulled out his walkie and put in a test call. No answer.

She pushed herself up. “How far are we from the ridge?”

“Maybe another hour, at the speed we’re going.”

He sort of expected her to press him to go faster, but she just nodded, her mouth grim.

He couldn’t take it. “Ella, listen, about this morning. I was just . . . you just . . .” What? Because suddenly he ached to put it behind them. Wasn’t that his hope in moving home, to Mercy Falls? To break free of his mistakes?

You’re not the only one whose life was destroyed over it.

Maybe not like his, but clearly neither of them had emerged unbroken.

And he was tired of looking over his shoulder, of trying to piece together his life.

I don’t care. It doesn’t matter.

Yes, that’s what he wanted to say, wanted to cross the distance to her, pull her into his arms.

Start over, like the pristine grace of a fresh snowfall.

She shook her head. “Let’s just get Ollie down, and then I promise I’ll never bother you again.”

Right. Priorities.

Still. “You’re not a bother, Ella,” he said, and picked up Oliver.

Her eyes widened. “You’ve got to be kidding. I’m completely a bother.” She picked up the tail end. “Let’s go.”

He urged his board forward and started down again slowly through the trees. The sun bled through the shaggy pines, fingers of shadow pressing on the powder between glimpses of golden light. Such silence sliding through the trees like this—nothing but the swish of their boards. He loved freeriding, getting lost between the trees.

Maybe, someday, he could start over.

Oh, who was he kidding? The accident and the lawsuit shattered his pro career. No sponsor would take him now . . .

And yet, a little voice he couldn’t help hearing whispered, So? He liked his life with PEAK Rescue. Liked saving lives. No, he couldn’t change the past, make Ella break her confidentiality, and resurrect his career. He could only choose what he did next.

What if he just . . . forgave her? No one was forcing him to hold this grudge, to hate her for not sacrificing herself for him.

She cared for him. And just a couple hours ago, he was sure he loved her.

He felt the change in the wind even before they reached the ridge. Sharp and frigid, it thundered up his jacket, turned his overheated body into a shiver.

They came out to the ridge, the snow sweeping off it into the drop below. This time, Ella came up slowly, as if sensing the danger.

The sun had risen and now turned Crystal Point and the Going-to-the-Sun Range a glorious, snow-capped lavender. But the wind buffeted his helmet, his jacket, raising the collar. No way PEAK would be able to bring the chopper in.

He made the call anyway. “PEAK HQ, this is Watson, come in. Over.”

Almost instantly he heard Jess’s voice. “Watson, PEAK HQ. We’ve been trying to reach you. The chopper is a no-go. We’ve sent Ty and Pete in on snowmobiles. Over.”

“When?”

“Two hours ago. They’re planning on meeting you at the base of Bishops Cap. Over.”

“Wilco. Are you in radio contact?”

“Roger.” She gave him the frequency.

“We’ll ski along the ridge, then down the northern edge of Bishops Cap. If I can’t get ahold of them, tell them to look for us on the eastern wall.”

“Wilco. How’s Oliver?”

“Not good. He had a seizure. How’s Bradley?”

“Your dad operated on him last night. Says he’ll be fine.”

He glanced at Ella, who was standing away, listening, her arms wrapped around her waist.

“Okay, we’ll see you in a few. Watson out.”

He slipped the walkie back into his pocket. Met Ella’s gaze. “You can do this.”

She nodded.

Then he knelt by Ollie, took off his glove, and took his pulse.

Regular, if not a bit fast, but it bothered Gage that Oliver hadn’t woken up. Maybe if he had more than EMT training, he’d know what to do.

He put his glove back on. “Let’s go. Pete and Ty are on their way on snowmobiles.”

She moved over to the back of the stretcher.

“Listen, we’ll take it slow along this ridge—it’s pretty steep, but we’ll skirt the trees. It’ll come out on Bishops Cap.”

She nodded. “I’m with you.”

He hated how much he wished that were true.

He picked up the stretcher, his shoulders burning, but started the slide across the ridge, along the cornice. His thighs burned as gravity and the wind fought to push them over the edge.

He heard Ella breathing hard behind him and realized that she was probably in agony, holding onto the rope as if to slow them down.

This wouldn’t work once they reached Bishops Cap. The steep, nearly straight-down face would push the stretcher down on top of Gage, regardless of his strength. And Ella couldn’t hold it back.

Unless . . .

He had it worked out by the time they topped the cornice at the peak of Bishops Cap. A painfully steep drop, edged on one side by runnels of granite, and along the other side by another deep bowl. The snow glistened pure and unblemished, deceptive. When Gage had taken his epic run, he’d run the bowl fast, cutting hard the entire way down. But he’d never manage that with their makeshift stretcher.

“Ella, do you think you can cut a line down this?”

He glanced at her, and she let go of the rope, unbuckled one boot, and skated up next to him. Stared over.

He said nothing, but he hoped she read in his words exactly what he meant.

I trust you.

To cut a line, yeah, but also to help him figure out tomorrow. How to be the guy who made the right choices and didn’t let his mistakes take him down, but turned them over to God.

Maybe even to trust God, believe that he had something good for Gage.

So he let his question hang in the air.

She turned to him, finally. “I think so. Why?”

“We’re going to go down this backward. I’ll turn him around, go behind you. You guide us down.”

A flare of panic, or perhaps just doubt, flashed in her eyes. But she turned again to the slope. “Okay, let’s do this.”

And right then, all the residual anger broke away. Ella might have been the woman who’d stood against him three years ago, but she’d done it because she’d been trapped, just like him.

It was time to set them both free.

“You can do this, Ella. And this time, I’ll be right behind you.”

She blinked at him, then nodded and gave him a whisper of a smile. Then she knelt beside Oliver. “I am believing you can hear me, Ollie. You’re going to be okay. Just hang on.” Then she pressed a kiss to his forehead.

He frowned, began to squirm.

“Oliver?” Gage knelt beside him, too, raised an eyelid.

Pupils reactive to the light. Oliver groaned. “Leave me alone.”

“Not quite, pal,” Gage said.

Oliver opened his eyes, looked around, clearly confused.

Ella leaned into his line of vision. “Ollie, it’s okay. You had a seizure. But we nearly have you down the mountain—just hang on, okay?”

He frowned again, fear in his eyes.

“You’re in good hands,” Gage said, meaning Ella, but she nodded.

“Gage will get you down.”

He looked over at her, then back to Oliver. “No, we will get you down.”

Oliver swallowed, and his eyes fluttered closed.

Gage stepped in front of the stretcher, turned, and grabbed the stretcher in a dead lift. Wow, Oliver had gained ten pounds in the last five minutes.

Ella took the front end line.

“Big, sweeping turns, okay?”

She nodded. Then with a smile she said, “Try and stay in my line.”

No problem.

divider

Just go slow. Ella kept the words in her head, turning them over and over as she slid down Bishops Cap. Steeper than it looked in the pictures online, the face was more a spoon, dropping fast into a long run at the bottom.

She just had to make it down the face. She gripped the line, guiding the stretcher on the thin board, glancing back now and again at Gage, who braked with everything he possessed, trying not to run her over. He had to be in agony, his legs on fire.

And it was up to her to guide them home. “No, we will get you down,” he’d said to Ollie.

It was the first time he’d said that—we, together, like a team.

She didn’t know what to do with the confusion stirring inside her.

The wind whipped off the edge of the bowl, and it caught her, threw her off balance. She held out her arms, fighting for control, her legs shaking. If she went over the edge of the lip, she’d fall into the next bowl.

And that one boasted a cornice just waiting to collapse.

She made her turn, wide and gentle, brought the makeshift sled around, and traversed her way across the bowl, the other direction, toward the ridge.

“You’re doing great!”

Gage’s voice carried on the wind, and she glanced back at him. He held up the sled as if he’d been lifting weights his entire life. Nodded at her. “But keep your eye on the slope!”

Right. She skidded toward the next turn, took it easy and wide. Gage followed her.

See, this wasn’t so hard. Just one turn at a time, not unlike how she’d slarved Angel’s Wings.

And maybe that was the key to figuring out how to get Gage to trust her again, to prove to him that she wouldn’t betray him.

Just go slow. Keep it easy. Except nothing felt slow or easy with Gage. Theirs had been a whirlwind romance from the beginning. Sure, he hadn’t actually asked her out until the third day, but by then they’d spent nearly every waking hour together.

She had already given away her heart to Gage Watson by the time he walked away from their table.

So maybe she couldn’t go slow . . . but she wouldn’t pressure him. Wouldn’t make him feel as if he was stuck with her, just because he’d rescued her brother.

At the bottom, still a few hundred feet down, she spied a couple of snowmobiles emerge from the thick forest. They angled up toward the snowfield at the base of their bowl.

“Pete and Ty!” she yelled.

He didn’t answer her, so she looked back. “Pete and Ty are below!” She pointed down.

But he was looking at her. “Turn, Ella! Turn!”

She whirled around and saw the lip of the bowl coming up, too fast. She cut hard, fighting to bring Ollie’s feet around, but the action swung the sled around too hard.

Like a whip, Gage flew over the edge, taking Ollie with him.

“Gage!”

Her grip on the backpack strap twisted her around, hard, and in a second she landed on her backside, the strap ripping out of her glove.

But she didn’t have time to call out, because the force of it turned her over, and suddenly, she was sliding.

Face first, down the mountain, plowing into the thick powder.

This was how people ended up in tree wells, buried head first, never to be seen again. She rolled her feet up and around in a moment, edged her board hard into the slope.

Too hard. A burn shot into her ankle, lighting it afire, and she couldn’t stop herself from crying out.

But the scream disappeared into the frothy white silence of the powder still drifting down around her.

She lay there a moment, unmoving.

And then, “Ollie!”

She pushed herself up and barely made out the pair of them. Gage had flown into the next bowl, a thick, powdered section riddled with trees and rocks. No doubt that without his charge, Gage could easily handle the terrain, maybe even turn the run into something spectacular.

But not now. Now he flew down the hill backward, dragging Ollie behind him.

Oh Gage. She watched, stranded, her heart thundering as he fought his way down the steep slope, clearly trying to slow them down or even stop. But the board ran with a mind of its own. Gage barely steered them around trees and boulders.

Then, in what seemed a superhuman move, Gage managed to swing the sled around, maneuver himself behind it.

And slow them to a stop.

He bent over, breathing hard, halfway down the slope.

She let out the breath she’d been holding.

Then, suddenly, he looked up as if searching for her.

“I’m over here!” She tried to push to her feet, but her ankle screamed in pain, so she stayed on her knees, waving. “I’m fine!”

Just a little lie, but maybe he’d heard her because he waved back. Gestured her to come to him.

And oh, how she wanted to. Force herself to her feet, fight her way down the hill. Help Gage bring her little brother to safety.

Except for her ankle. And the very real sense that Gage really didn’t need her. Had never needed her. Frankly, had been humoring her this entire time. And she’d nearly gotten him and her brother seriously injured.

As she pushed to her feet, the pain shot up her leg, nearly sent her back to her knees.

Below, Gage had clearly spied the guys because he began to inch his way down the slope with Ollie. They angled for him, cutting a line through the snow, the motors from their machines thundering in the air despite the distance.

She gritted her teeth, began to slide down.

Her ankle gave out on her, the pain blinding, and she sat again in the snow. She’d have to scoot down, on her bottom. Except the powder was too thick, and she found herself just digging a hole.

Below, Ty and Pete had reached Gage. They were maneuvering Ollie onto the emergency rescue sled attached to the snowmobile.

For a moment, she dearly wished one of them might see her stranded on the hillside and head her direction. But the powder would bury the sled as they plowed uphill.

She had to get to them.

Ho-kay. This couldn’t be harder than delivering a four-hour speech to her fellow senators, a filibuster move that had backfired.

Except, this couldn’t backfire.

Now Gage had turned, was looking up at her. She saw him wave.

She waved back. Yeah, I’m just fine. Enjoying the view.

Tears filled her eyes as she got up, gritted her teeth. Pointed her snowboard downhill.

Gage was still waving, now both hands in the air.

Huh?

She raised her hands too, held them out, like a giant shrug.

And then, Gage was moving, still waving his arms.

Yeah, she knew she was taking her time but—

And then she heard it. A crack, then a low rumble behind her.

She went cold as she turned.

Just to confirm the truth.

The cornice had unlatched from the top.

The mountain was coming down in waves of thick snow.

She screamed as she aimed her board straight downhill and flew.

Comments

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Alice
Great book, nicely written and thank you BooksVooks for uploading

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