Their mission is to search out and bring down those who trade in terrorism, fear, and human suffering by whatever means necessary. To do this, they must be willing to give up their freedom, and even their lives. They are a mercenary unit with a mission, and a motivation that has nothing to do with what they get paid, and everything to do with the innocent lives they save. Meet the men and women of…
Antonia “Toni” Ardines always claimed her love of nature was the product of being half Native American. As a Forest Ranger, she’s taken her desire to protect all nature’s creatures to another level. When a poacher takes down an endangered Golden Eagle, Toni will do whatever it takes to rescue the eagle’s starving baby and bring the poacher to justice. Only problem is, Toni has no idea the dangerous game she’s wandered into the middle of, where the ultimate prey walks on two legs. Toni’s only hope to escape with her own skin intact might just require her to do the one thing she’s never learned how to do — let someone else help her.
“By a Breath” – Excerpt from TIGER LILY (Project Prometheus, Book 34)
Great job, Ardines. You’re a real hero, now. Toni cursed herself roundly as she stared at the ground, wavering some seven hundred feet below her. She felt a tug, and a slip, and her heart slid into her throat, where it pounded frantically. Sweat stood out on her brow, and she prayed to anyone listening that the already-torn harness wouldn’t decide to let go under her weight. She loved the Earth. Just not enough to meet it in a high-velocity embrace from the side of a mountain, thanks a lot.
A weak squawk from the ledge ten feet above her drew Toni’s gaze for a moment, and she remembered why she’d insisted on this climb. There was an eagle’s nest up there, and the fledgling was in trouble. She swallowed hard, and drew a careful breath. She had more important things to worry about than the ground. Somehow, she had to right herself and get to that baby bird, before it died of starvation and exposure.
Normally, she wasn’t stupid enough to tangle with a golden eagle. But that was before she watched a poacher shoot the mother bird out of the sky just above the nest, four days ago. The injustice of it all brought her rage and determination seething to the surface, and she’d ignored Brandt’s entreaty for her to keep her feet firmly on the ground and leave rescuing the baby bird to the authorities.
Like hell. She wasn’t about to sit around on her ass and do nothing for a week, until some paper-pusher in some government building decided it was a worthwhile investment of manpower to rescue one tiny, helpless bird. She’d told Brandt as much, even as she harnessed herself into her mountaineering rig this morning and kissed him good-bye. She was her mother’s daughter, after all, and Stacy Red Eagle wouldn’t have sat around, waiting, either.
A sharp upper-mountain gust of wind caught Toni, and slammed her against the rock face of the mountain, just then, nearly knocking the wind from her as it set her careening wildly on the climbing harness that had suffered an unexpected malfunction. Damn it. She really should have let Cody check the rig over when he was here, last week. Her brother was a professional mountaineer. He would have caught the flaw in the harness straps she’d clearly overlooked.
Shaking her head carefully, to clear it from the fog caused by her impact with the mountain, she used her new facing to assess her options. Falling wasn’t one of them, as far as she was concerned, and neither was leaving that little eagle up there, to die. Her gaze skimmed the face of the mountain, and she picked out teh large seam, or crack, running parallel to her position. She’d never done a crack climb free of protective belays, before, and she wasn’t sure she was up to the task, but there really wasn’t any other choice. At least, if she fell from there, she’d die doing something more than hanging in the air like a fleshy pinata.
An indrawn breath for courage later, Toni narrowed her gaze on the crack, and swung her body slowly that way, careful to not impact the rock too hard, lest her weight break off rock she’d need for grip. Her hand grasped the lip of the crack and held, even as she felt the sickening tug and drop of the harness leaving the one outcrop that had, until just now, held her suspended in the air. Balancing her weight carefully into the edges of the crack, she heaved herself upward, toward the outcrop where the nest was. If she could reach the bird, she could mark the spot, and ascend to the top of the mountain a short distance above that. From there, Brandt could bring the helicopter in, and they could finally get the baby golden eagle to safety at the sanctuary.
Her hand slipped, and her heart bounced rapidly around in her chest as she barely caught herself from falling. Pay attention, Ardines, or the only thing they’ll be doing is sweeping your carcass off the forest floor!
With that stern admonition, she pressed on, her entire focus narrowed to the mountain beneath her hands, and the tiny cries coming from her destination. She refused to feel the burning of her muscles, the pain that shot through her hands when she grabbed wrong and the jagged rock tore them open and bleeding. She could rest, and treat her wounds, later. Then, with a final heave, she was within reach. Carefully loosening one hand from the crack, she levered her arm onto the outcrop ledge, hooking it around a craggy jut of rock. Then she let herself dead hang for just a moment while she shifted her weight and center of balance. She let go of the crack completely, and inched her way up onto the solid outcrop in a belly crawl.
The fledgling flapped its still-useless wings in the nest, screeching in a protest for its mother to come and deal with this unwelcome intruder. Toni, panting from exertion, wiped one bloody arm across her sweaty forehead, and sat back against the mountain’s face to catch her breath. She glanced wryly at the indignantly screaming bird.
“Hey, kid, I’d rather not be up here, myself. We’re in this, together, so you better get used to the idea.”
Tilting her head back, Toni closed her eyes and let the sunlight bathe her face. She’d done what she set out to do, and she wouldn’t apologize for that. After all, her mother had taught her that life was all about the adventures, not the risks.
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