This seems to be a timely Snippet Saturday for many people, given that snowstorms are working their way down the East Coast. Hope everyone stays nice and warm! Perhaps ensconce yourself on the couch with a book and a cup of cocoa.
As soon as I heard that the theme for this week was A Cold Place, I knew right away that my snippet would be from REBEL. (You can already tell by the cover that cold weather is ahead!)
Set in the Canadian Rockies (what would eventually be known as Alberta), REBEL has our hero and heroine, Nathan and Astrid, trekking through the rugged, beautiful and dangerous mountains as they search out powerful magical totems. Parts of the Canadian Rockies are perpetually blanketed in snow and ice, including the glacial valley where Nathan and Astrid search for the Wolf Totem.
Easier in theory than practice to cross an ice field. The whole of the icy plain was riven with cracks and crevasses, faults that hid their depth beneath thin crusts of ice. A wrong step could send either of Nathan or Astrid plummeting twenty or more feet into white nothingness. They tethered themselves with rope, and she shouldered her rifle in order to carry a short pickax to chop into the ice, should one of them start to fall. Only one set of grappettes in their gear, and Nathan insisted that Astrid wear them to keep her footing secure.
“What about you?” she asked.
“My footing’s better without shoes.” The ice on his bare feet felt cool but not bitter.
So she strapped the four-spiked grappettes onto the front of her boots, and, with the aid of her walking stick, they began to slowly, slowly cross the ice field towards the peak which did not echo.
The rope stretched between them as she would step, test the strength and depth of the ice with her walking stick, and then move on, Nathan behind her. His beast snarled at being led, yet the man knew it wasn’t a leash but a source of strength. Only a damn fool would go bounding across the ice field without guidance or care, and he wasn’t that.
“It’s good there hasn’t been any recent snowfall,” she said over her shoulder. “Hides the crevasses. Very dangerous. Makes every step uncertain.”
“I know something about uncertain steps,” he said, dry. “Every day in Victoria was that for me, a constant danger.”
Astrid threw a wry smile of understanding over her shoulder.
“This icy crossing,” he said. “It’s like life.”
“Two people, bound together,” he said. “Doubt in each step should the world collapse underneath them. And if one falls….”
“The other would plunge down, too,” she finished.
“Or be the means of their salvation.”
She paused for a moment, giving him a charged look that sent heat and awareness sparking through him, before turning back to their trek.
She was careful as she moved over the glacial field, but confident. Alert, yet unafraid. Becoming, with each foot forward, more the girl she had been before the death of her husband, as well as the wise woman she had developed into afterwards. Maybe Nathan had helped shape her change. He wanted that. He wanted to imprint himself onto her as she had marked and changed him.
His reverie snapped as a patch of ice Astrid tested suddenly buckled. A chasm opened. Slabs of ice shattered, spreading out in a lace of fractures. The ice beneath her feet shuddered, then fell. She fell with it, too fast to use her ax for purchase, to fast to speak even a word. The tip of her braid disappearing into the ice was the last he saw of her.
Nathan threw himself back to stop her fall. He dug his heels into the scraping ice and skidded, scrabbling for a foothold. He grabbed the rope leading from his waist, felt the burn of it sliding through his palms. Then there was a hard tug as the length of rope played out and she dangled in freefall. He gritted his teeth against the pull, the combined weight of her and her heavy pack suspended in midair.
Holding tight to the rope, he turned over and dragged to the edge of the chasm, knees digging into the slippery, granular ice. He braced himself above the opening in the ice, arms shaking as he wedged against the frozen breach, and looked down. Astrid hung over a crevasse that seemed to stretch down into oblivion. Hot terror coursed through Nathan as the rope between them groaned, threatening to split.
“Drop the pack,” he called.
She looked up, naked relief in her eyes, then frowned. “Our gear—”
“Your life,” he shot back.
Seeing that there was no choice, she began to tug the straps off her shoulders. Her efforts ran up the rope, pulling on him with sharp jerks, and he tensed his entire body to brace them both. Sweat chilled his back. He clenched his teeth with effort until his jaw throbbed. Then, relief. The pack fell from her, careening down into the icy void. He didn’t hear it land.
She still held her pickax and stuck it into her belt, her rifle over her shoulder.
“Climb,” he yelled.
Lips tight, she did. Hand over hand, she drew herself up the rope, while Nathan supported her weight over the opening. She was a hell of a lot lighter without that son of a bitch pack. When she was high enough, he leaned back and hauled up the rope, arms aflame. After several agonizing minutes, her hands appeared at the edge of the crevasse. He grabbed her slender, strong wrists and pulled until he groaned.
Then she was out, and he wrapped his arms around her with enough force to make her gasp. Dimly, he realized he was shaking. But not from effort.
Her arms were also around his shoulders, her fingers interlaced behind his neck, as they both half lay, half sat at the rim of the chasm, breath coming in frantic puffs, hearts knocking against each other. Finally, she raised her head, and he pulled back enough to look into her flushed, lovely face.
“Another typical afternoon for the Blades of the Rose,” she murmured.
“Insanity.” He brushed his lips over hers.
She returned the kiss. “No better way to live.”
“Or die,” he countered.
Her look was surprisingly thoughtful, considering she had just been dangling over frozen death minutes earlier. Thoughtful, but the darkness that once might have overtaken her did not appear, and that gladdened him. She murmured, “That’s the price for an extraordinary life.”
“And we are extraordinary.”
“We are, without a doubt.”
Would that we all had a sexy shapeshifter to help us navigate an icy parking lot!
While you’re staying warm, don’t forget to check out the other fine Snippet Saturday authors!