An opening in the trees revealed thickets growing beside a creek with green
algae coating the rocks. The afternoon heat working in tandem with the heavy
downpour gave way to sweltering humidity. She removed her rain and sweat-
soaked shirt in favor of the cooler camisole underneath. Although she had packed
a light waterproof jacket, the storm came without warning. The almost horizontal,
wind-driven rain swept the ridge, plastering her hair to her head. Drenched, their
clothes clung to their bodies. It was impossible not to notice Will’s ripped torso
underneath his wet shirt. Stop looking at his body. She observed his stolen glance
at her assets when she took off the outer layer. To rid her mind of those thoughts,
she shook her head and turned her attention back to the task. She agonized about
the frightened little boy, knowing the first twenty-four hours were the most critical.
Would he survive the night if they didn’t locate him soon? A sense of unease
gnawed at her.
At the same moment she turned toward Ranger Walsh to ask what they
would do if they didn’t find him before dark, thunder roared through the forest
making her words inaudible. The crunch of twigs and leaves beneath their feet
turned into splashes as the rain persisted. They slogged through ankle-deep mud,
around jutting rocks, and over blown-down trunks and branches. The wind
whipped, and the downpour continued, slowing their progress.
The trail narrowed with sharp drop-offs on the left side. Walking in a single
line, Ranger Walsh led, Will followed him, and she took the rear position. In a
fraction of a second, she recognized what was happening ahead. Seized by fear,
she cried out as Will stepped in a pool of mud, lost his footing, and tumbled down
the side of a cliff.