Since this is Leap Day 2012, I decided to share a scene from my work-in-progress, a Paranormal Romantic Suspense with the working title Blindsight. Be forewarned, the passage is a lot longer than our usual posts. In this scene the hero and heroine each must overcome their fears to take leaps of faith in order to escape with their lives from a drug lord’s wilderness compound. They are strangers to one another. My heroine, Meli, is blind but far from helpless. Freddy is her Guide Dog as well as her only family. My hero, Hector, has never known a blind person but owes Meli his life
Meli held tightly to Freddy’s collar and wished she knew exactly what Hector was doing. Would he anchor the rope to a tree? Or to the electric fence Killingsworth had told her about at her orientation? How would Hector circumvent Mendoza’s sophisticated alarm system?
She heard him grunt and then small rocks ricocheted down the cliff like warning shots from a pellet gun. Her heart hiccupped. Please, God, don’t let him fall.
A barely-audible sing-song whisper came from Hector. The soft, sibilant rhythm resonated in her memory, and she found herself mouthing the words of a prayer. Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with you…
She drew in a startled breath. Hector was afraid of heights.
The next thirty seconds or so were punctuated by furtive noises she couldn’t readily identify. Next, she heard dirt and pebbles skitter down the cliff. She held her breath, listening.
After a moment of silence Hector gave a low whistle. Exhaling, she let go of Freddy’s collar and crawled toward the sound. A moment later, a strong hand grabbed her elbow. “Whoa,” Hector said in an urgent whisper. “There’s a cliff, remember?”
She gave a stiff nod, holding her temper. She wasn’t an idiot. By the sound of things, she could tell it was a couple of yards to the drop off. She was in no danger. He released her arm.
Her thoughts turned to her coming descent. She’d have to release the rope and drop the last few feet into the water. The slap, slap of ripples lapping the bank twenty-five feet below caught her breath in her throat. Freddy didn’t have hands to release the rope.
She grabbed a fistful of Hector’s shirt. “How do we get Freddy down?”
He cleared his throat. “You go down first, he’s second, I’m last.” He pried her fingers loose from the cloth.
“But how will you get him down?” she said, thinking he’d misunderstood the question.
“I’ll explain later.”
She stiffened. Was he treating her like a kid again? Or couldn’t he figure out how to get Freddy down the cliff? She struggled to breathe. If she descended first, he could force her to leave Freddy behind.
No way could she let that happen. “Freddy goes down first.”
A warm wet tongue licked the back of her hand.
“Have it your way,” Hector said, his voice flat. He grunted and claws scrabbled the ground. Freddy gave a surprised yip and then a small landslide of dirt and pebbles pinged down the cliff face.
A large splash in the river below quivered her heart. She surged toward the edge of the cliff. “Freddy!”
A strong arm clamped around her shoulders and a big hand covered her mouth. “He’s fine,” Hector said into her ear. “Swims like a champ.”
She sank her teeth into his palm. Swearing under his breath, he jerked his hand away.
“You arrogant ass,” she hissed, shaking with fury. “You could have given him a heart attack. Freddy’s old. You’re lucky I don’t push you in after him!”
“If you’d gone down without arguing, you could have helped him,” Hector said.
She fisted her hands and fought to keep her voice low. “I’m not an idiot and I’m not your little slave. I know a helluva lot more about Freddy than you ever will. You should have taken thirty seconds to explain the situation so we could work together.”
After a moment of silence, Hector said. “We can argue later. Let’s move.”
Meli sucked in a deep breath and then blew it out. He was right. She pressed her lips together and nodded.
She let Hector tie the rope around her waist because doing it herself meant he’d want to redo the knots. Pulling off her dark glasses, she stuffed them into her bra so she wouldn’t lose them.
When they were ready, she backed on her hands and knees to the cliff’s edge, then dropped do her belly.
“I’ll keep the rope taut,” he said. “Find a toehold and lean outward so you can walk down the rock face as I feed you the line.”
Meli bit back a sharp retort. She was a climber from way back. She could do this in her sleep—not that Hector would believe her.
He wrapped the fingers of her right hand around a short end of rope. “When you’re down as far as you can go, I’ll whistle. Drop your legs and pull hard on this to release the knot. Can you swim?”
She jerked her chin up and down.
“Go downstream. I don’t want to land on you. There’s a fallen log jutting out from the bank about a hundred yards down. The current’ll carry you there.”
She set her jaw, slid back and let her legs drop over the edge.
“Fred’s made it up onto the log,” Hector said softly.
She couldn’t move for a moment while her heart and stomach unknotted. She hadn’t lost Freddy.
Forcing herself to take her time, she descended the cliff face.
When a low whistle sounded above her, she knew she’d reached the end of her rope. She dropped her legs, twisting so she wouldn’t bang face-first into the rock wall. Her shoulder and hip banged against stone with bruising force. Wincing, she filled her lungs as she swung outward and then she released the knot.
The water was so cold it made her skin burn. Although she’d bent her knees to absorb the shock, the impact when she struck bottom forced a burst of air from her lungs. Fighting the urge to inhale, she pushed off the rocky riverbed and shot to the surface.
Sucking in a welcome breath, she fought to keep her head above water while the force of the current spun her in circles like a leaf in a storm drain. After a few dizzying seconds, her upper body slammed into a large obstacle that didn’t give. Her hands scrabbled across a smooth, musty-smelling surface she identified as a wet, weathered log. She grabbed onto a short woody stub to keep the current from pulling her underneath to a watery grave.
Freddy barked once from the direction of the near bank. Hope briefly chased away the cold. Touching bottom, she found purchase on the rocky riverbed. Then she slogged sideways through the current toward her guide. In shin-deep water, she banged into a knee-high rock ledge. She rubbed the bruised spot on her leg with rapidly-freezing fingers and let out a whispered string of curses. Freddy’s tags tinkled and then a warm tongue licked her cheek.
Meli threw her arms around her guide’s soggy neck. “I’m so sorry, baby. Are you okay?”
Worry propelled her out of the icy water onto the warm stone shelf. She sat up and shucked her water-logged backpack. Freddy stood patiently and they both shivered while she checked him over for injuries. Other than being cold and wet, he seemed unscathed. Thank God it was sunny so they’d eventually dry out.
She heard a faint hailstorm of pebbles splash into the water upstream. “It would serve him right if he fell, wouldn’t it, Freddy?”
Her guide’s worried whine reminded her that Hector was afraid of heights. This escape route had to be his worst nightmare. He might have a big ego, but he was courageous and he kept his word. He’d promised to get Freddy down the cliff, and he had. He’d promised to find Freddy, and he had. They owed him.
Like it or not, the three of them were in this together. They were a team.
A man-sized splash told her Hector had dropped into the river. She smiled. Points for not screaming like a little girl, Hector Protector.