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Excerpt: Just My Luck

Excerpt: Just My Luck

Book 5: Escape to New Zealand

Nate Torrance knew he was going to fall that day. He just didn’t realize how far he’d go.

He reminded himself desperately that he was wearing a safety harness. That the harness was clipped into a rope, that the man on the other end was his most trusted friend, and that he, unlike Nate, actually knew what he was doing. But none of those messages seemed to be reaching Nate’s sweating hands. Now he understood the reason for the bags of chalk many of the other climbers in the gym wore clipped to the back of their harnesses. Too bad he didn’t have one.

He made the mistake of looking down, and actually felt his arms tremble. He was a good fifteen meters up, with another five or so to go to reach the top. And he didn’t think he was going to make it.

“Another foothold for your right foot, just up and to the right.” He heard the voice coming from beside him, looked across in surprise. And there she was, the reason he was up here hanging on so hard it hurt, like a baby monkey clutching its mother’s fur. The girl who’d got him into this mess. Her slim, graceful body leaning back a bit in her own harness, dark almond-shaped eyes showing concern, the wide mouth smiling encouragingly. Encouragingly. At him.

“Just move your foot,” she suggested again. “Don’t make your arms do all the work.”

Nate told his foot to move, but it refused to obey. In fact, he realized with disgust, he was frozen to this wall, terrified at the thought of the endless space beneath him. All because he’d seen a pretty girl and had had to follow her.

“Lean back in your harness like I am,” she instructed now. “Take a rest. The rope will hold you, and your friend will too. You can’t fall.”

He obeyed the instruction, only because his hands were desperately slippery with sweat by now, his fingers cramping in their unaccustomed position, gripping the ridiculously tiny knobs.

“That’s good,” she said as he put all his weight on his harness. The relief was immense, and he had to force himself not to sigh with it.

“I’ll stay with you,” she said. “If you’re ready to go down, or if you want to try climbing again.”

“I’m good,” he said brusquely. “You go on.”

She glanced at him in surprise, then something in her expression shifted. She shrugged, grabbed for a handhold, and resumed her swarm up the wall like a . . . like a cat. If cats climbed walls. Her sleek, dark brown ponytail swayed against the crossed straps of her deep yellow tank top, and her bum looked every bit as choice framed by that harness as it had when he’d first seen it. When he’d followed it up this bloody thing like some kind of hormone-crazed teenager.

“Try something easier first,” Mako had cautioned. But oh, no, Nate thought bitterly. He hadn’t listened. Mako had been coming to the climbing gym for a month or so now, ever since they’d come back from the World Cup. Had kept talking about his lessons, until Nate had become curious to see what all the fuss was about. “Mental fitness,” Mako had called it when Nate had expressed his surprise. Climbing didn’t seem like an obvious choice for his best mate. Mako didn’t exactly possess the lean, streamlined body type that predominated in the gym. Not so much of a racecar, Mako. More of a tank.

But when Nate had seen the two women preparing to tackle the toughest-looking wall in the place, the sport had become a whole lot more attractive.

“That climb’s dead hard,” Mako had cautioned again as Nate clipped into the rope at the base. “I’ve only done it a couple times myself, and you’ve only just finished with the training ones. Try something easier first, mate.”

“She’s doing it,” Nate had argued, jerking his chin toward the rope fixed next to them, where the brunette had already begun her graceful, startlingly rapid ascent, belayed by a truly spectacular blonde who hadn’t looked at them, her eyes glued to her climbing partner, her hands moving steadily to keep the rope taut.

“She’s good, though,” Mako had attempted to explain. “Right,” he’d sighed in resignation at Nate’s scowl, clipping into the rope himself. “Belay on.”

Now, Nate got the point. This was a lot harder than it looked. He glanced down at Mako again, still patiently holding the rope, his broad brown face upturned, and could read the concern there.

“All right?” Mako called, his voice booming in order to be heard in the cavernous space. “Coming down?”

“Nah,” Nate answered. “Climbing.”

The brunette was already being lowered down as he progressed on with grim determination. Her slim legs were outstretched, toes in her climbing shoes bouncing lightly off the wall as she passed him on her descent. She glanced across at him, and he tried to feel less like a sullen fool as he pinched his fingers around tiny protrusions, wedged his toes against bits of rock that were surely much too small to hold his weight. But she didn’t say anything, which was good. Because Nate knew he would only have snapped at her again.

***

“I’m actually driving men away now,” Ally told Kristen wryly. She clipped into the top rope with a few quick motions so her friend could attempt the challenging climb, then looked across the gym and saw the two men leaving. “I knew I was out of practice, but this is ridiculous.”

“What happened?” Kristen asked. “I’m always so nervous about belaying you right, especially on something that high, I didn’t realize what was going on.”

“He froze,” Ally said briefly. “Tried something too hard for him, got scared. And he’s one of those guys who can’t handle screwing up, or a woman making a suggestion.”

“He was brave, though, to try this climb,” Kristen said.

“Or just trying to impress you,” Ally said with a smile, determined not to let one encounter with a jerk ruin her day. Too bad. He’d been pretty attractive until he’d opened his mouth and spoiled it. Not handsome, maybe, but he was working the tough, intense thing for all it was worth. And that was one terrific body he had there, muscular and hard. Not overly tall, six foot or so, but wow, was he fit. He’d tried to pull himself up by his arms, that was all. Like so many men, he was used to being able to rely on his upper-body strength, and hadn’t followed through with his legs enough. And when you coupled sweaty, nervous hands with the strain of all your body weight hanging from your fingertips, a mind could get out of control fast. She’d seen it often enough.

“I’m not the one he was looking at,” Kristen protested. “That was you, all the way.”

“Really?” Ally couldn’t help feeling a little cheered by that, until she remembered his scowl when she’d tried to help him. “He must not have seen you, then. That’s a first. Put that one on your calendar.”

“Don’t say it like you’re jealous,” Kristen said. “It isn’t really that much of a compliment.”

“Right,” Ally said dubiously. “Having guys walk into doors and fall down stairs because they’re looking at you isn’t a compliment.”

“They don’t want to know me,” Kristen explained. “They don’t think, gee, I’d sure like to talk to her, she looks so smart and interesting, like they probably do with you. They just want to have sex with me.”

She finished clipping in, looked up at the wall assessingly. “I’m not sure I can make it all the way up this one,” she said, reaching back for her chalk bag and rubbing her hands together. “But I’ll give it a shot.”

Ally smiled at her encouragingly. “As soon as you’ve had enough, just let me know and I’ll lower you down,” she promised.

“Right.” Kristen took another deep breath, let it out with a whoosh. “Face the fear,” she muttered. “The only failure is the failure to try.”

“OK,” she said with determination. “Climbing.”

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