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Yesterday, I spent the afternoon in Little Rock hanging out at a coffee shop with the members of a bookclub. I had a great time! Thanks for the cappuccino, Chris! We talked about books, they asked me about my life as a writer (I hope I didn’t bore them too much), and I signed a bunch of books. Here’s the gang:
I’m in the right upper corner, then going clockwise, Heather, Chris, Katie, Emily and Madonna (I hope I got those right!).
Did I mention it’s my birthday today?
The opening to Hot Blooded came to me as I was researching parks in Texas. I lived in Texas for nine years, but I’m ashamed to admit that I’ve never been to Palo Duro canyon. When I started to look through the photos I found online, saw some of the rugged peaks, and then when I saw this photograph, I had just the right place to begin.
Then I started the real research, contacting rock climbers to make sure I had the techniques down, knew the equipment. I’d climbed in college, but that was forever ago. I struck up an online conversation with Blake, who reviewed my climbing scenes and offered some helpful tweaks. I know this one’s not sexy, but I had so much fun writing this scene. I hope you enjoy it.
When the first small drops began to fall, Cass McIntyre welcomed the light shower the forecasters had predicted. Already halfway up the route she’d chosen, she’d worked up a nice sweat.
The rain quickly cooled her skin, which was caked in a thick, itchy layer of canyon dirt and chalk. The lazy breeze accompanying the rain fanned the burning cuts on her bare legs and arms, giving her a mental boost of energy.
After another fifteen feet into her ascent—chilled and achy now and getting a little impatient with the worsening conditions–she found a narrow ledge. She unhooked her biner from the rope, and decided to wait out the cloudburst, a rare occurrence in the Panhandle and extremely deadly because the rock face she climbed had become as slippery as mud.
She took small comfort in the phrase she’d heard over and over since she’d first moved to Canyon, Texas that ran like a mantra through her head. If you don’t like the weather in Texas, wait a minute.
Her mistake had been believing that piece of homespun advice.
Not that she was anything more than mildly annoyed at this point. The awe-inspiring view from her perch above the canyon floor placated her restless nature and soothed the deep ache in her chest that had choked her at the start of the climb.
Low-hanging clouds obscured the sunlight and provided an unexpected cooling to a hot spring day. Soft, gray mist filled the Palo Duro Canyon, softening the light and air, the moisture causing a burst of brilliant color to erupt from the fading wildflowers carpeting the rough terrain—bright orange from Mexican hat and Indian blanket, and a cheery yellow daisy-like flower whose name escaped her at the moment.
Determined to salvage some enjoyment from her adventure, she settled on the ledge, dangling her legs over the side, and ignored the water soaking through her thin tee and shorts.
Half an hour into the storm that had grown steadily more insistent, she kissed off making the summit and planned a quick rappel to the distant hollow below.
However, as she unwound her long rope from the straps of her backpack for a hasty descent, her narrow perch disintegrated. Rock made fragile by the water splintered into rough shards and gravel that tumbled down the sheer precipice.
Cass dropped the rope and jammed her hand into a crevice in the rock to anchor herself while she reached beside her for her pack. But she was too late.
More of the ledge crumbled. The backpack slid away, leaving her stranded with only the shorter rope she’d used between cams—not nearly long enough to attempt a descent.
“Jesus. I don’t fucking believe this,” she whispered furiously.
Pissed off with her rookie mistake, she pulled the trigger on the cam she’d used to secure her rope above the ledge and wedged it deeper into the crevice. She attached one end of her short rope to the cam and tied the other to the belay. Then satisfied she’d done everything she could to remain safe, she settled again on the last little remnant of her eroding perch.
She’d have to wait for rescue—something she’d never live down. A frequent climber who often provided advice to weekend enthusiasts, she could already hear the razzing she’d get from her fellow park rangers.
She only hoped the team sent to retrieve her wouldn’t include the one man she’d come to escape. She could only imagine the black, judgmental glare he’d give her for inconveniencing him. Add this fiasco to last night’s and she figured he’d just as soon let her rot on the side of the cliff as drop her a rope.
With nothing left to do to keep her mind from obsessing over mistakes she couldn’t undo, Cass sat on the narrow ledge high above the canyon floor with her head bent against the rain, watching it fall like the tears she refused to weep.
Frustration fueled her emotions–not fear or loneliness– she ruthlessly insisted to herself. Cass never cried, and she sure as hell wasn’t starting now. She’d gotten herself into this mess. She’d just have to figure a way out.
However, the only plans she could come up with required a little patience and a lot of humility–qualities she didn’t possess in abundance. With nothing to do but hunker down and wait, she finally let her mind wander back to what had brought her to this moment.
The ascent of Fortress Cliff was supposed to be a way to blow off steam after a stressful week and even more horrendous night. Stress of a sort she hadn’t anticipated when she’d flipped her career with the state police months ago and entered the park service.
Who’d have thought a job patrolling a bit of paradise on earth could put kinks in her neck that only a climb up a rock wall could unknot?
Patrolling campgrounds in the late afternoon and evening to ticket park visitors who made illegal fires, arrest underage drinkers, or search for hikers who’d lost their way on the trails was everything the superintendent had promised.
Fielding complaints from one intensely sexy rancher with an uncanny ability to find her when she did her best to evade him had been an unexpected test. One she’d failed miserably.
Thunder rumbled through the darkening clouds, pulling her back to her present predicament. She couldn’t wait out the storm. Her situation was becoming more precarious by the second. She’d have to hope Mavis let the rescue personnel dispatched from the Canyon Volunteer Fire Department know she hadn’t checked back in at the park’s headquarters. Since rescue would have to come from the top of the escarpment, she needed to give them a sign to help them find her quickly.
Closing her eyes, she cursed softly to herself. She’d have to add one more humiliation to the day–this one a deliberate choice. She eased her arms inside her t-shirt, clumsily removed her bra, pulled it from under her shirt, and thrust her arms back through her sleeves.
Then leaning as far from the rock wall as her harness would allow, she drew back her arm and let the bra fly toward the branches of a juniper tree hugging the edge of the cliff.