sticks & stones (cut & run 2) - Page 70

Ty sighed and looked up at his father, who was standing aside and watching with a frown. He met his dad’s eyes and gave a weak smile. They both knew how bad this could turn.

Zane picked up the mold he’d made and held it out. “All right, into the splint,” he said.

Ty placed his hand into it, wincing as his palm settled. Deuce waited until Ty gave him a nod; then he began anchoring the splint to Ty’s arm with an Ace bandage from the first aid kit.

“I gotcha a sling, here,” Earl announced as he held up what had once been Deuce’s spare pack. “Might be better off without it,” he advised.

Ty shook his head. He needed to keep it up more than he needed that hand to walk. “Let me have the damn thing,” he muttered as he pulled his hand away from Zane and stood slowly. He’d found if he rose too quickly, his head would swim and his vision would blur. He pulled the straps of the mangled backpack close to his body, essentially tying his arm to his chest. It would f**k with his balance and probably end up making him fall on his face, but it was better than the alternative. When he’d adjusted it, he flopped his good hand to his side and looked around at the others. “Let’s divvy up the shit and get going,” he suggested.

As Earl and Deuce picked through the rest of the supplies spilled on the ground, Zane stood slowly, only a couple feet from Ty, keeping his eyes on him the whole time. He took a step closer and reached out to untwist one of the straps and tie it more securely. “There you go,” he murmured.

Ty found it difficult to meet his eyes as he thought about a similar action Zane had taken in a New York hotel room almost a year ago. Now, just as then, his heart beat a little faster because of it. But he nodded in thanks and smiled as he tried to fight back the hint of warmth it caused. I love you. The thought had haunted him all night, almost as much as the sound of the cougar’s scream.

Zane’s fingers lingered where Ty’s T-shirt met his neck, pressing against the warm skin for just a few moments longer than necessary. “Come on. There’s beer and apple pie waiting,” he said.

“Can’t wait,” Ty muttered. He reached out and socked Zane in the stomach as soon as the other two men had turned away and started off down the trail.

“Ow!” Zane huffed, rubbing the spot as he hefted the remaining backpack. “Asshole.”

Ty grinned crookedly and began laughing softly. “You’re carrying my shit over mountain trails. You’re officially a jackass.”

Zane skipped a step to catch up as they started walking. “I vaguely remember you carrying me around. What does that make you?”

“A hero,” Ty countered with a smirk.

Zane snorted as they sped their steps, hiking after the other two men. “So now you’re going to admit it, huh? None of that ‘I was just helping my partner’ shit you gave in the reports?”

“Shut up,” Ty grunted, suddenly uncomfortable with the discussion.

“Humility doesn’t suit you, Grady. Now step it up,” Zane said as he stepped over a log fallen across the narrow trail.

Ty muttered to himself as he walked ahead of Zane. His hand throbbed angrily with every beat of his heart, and the punctures burned under the makeshift bandages. He didn’t say anything to the others, though; he just tried to keep pace with them. The closer they got to civilization, the better off they were. And they had a long way to go.

“MRS. Grady, I understand that you’re worried,” the ranger was saying patiently as Mara and Chester stood together in front of him. Mara’s jaw was set firm, and her green eyes flashed as Chester stood beside her, leaning on his shovel. “But they’re not even a day late,” the ranger continued, looking askance at the shovel. “Earl’s missed his schedule by a lot more than this before.”

“This time’s different, Dale,” Mara insisted stubbornly. She had awakened that morning with an odd feeling in the pit of her stomach, and she couldn’t seem to shake it. She tried to tell herself it was just the change to her routine that was causing it, or the fact that Chester had been awake and dressed, ready to ride with her to the ranger station. But deep down, she knew she’d never convince herself. Something was wrong on the mountain today.

“They’re not technically missing yet,” Dale tried to reason with her, putting his hands out almost defensively.

“Twenty-four hours could kill a man in those mountains, and you know it!” Mara told him angrily.

“Been awful cold up there,” Chester informed him calmly.

“Your boys are more than capable of handling themselves on the mountain,” Dale reminded with a hint of admiration. Dale had gone to school with Ty and Deuce; he knew them and what they were capable of. “There’s nothing I can do until we get some kind of word that there’s trouble,” Dale told them in a voice that was almost pleading with her to understand. “We’re short-handed as it is in the offseason.”

Mara lifted her chin and glared at him silently, looking around at the other two rangers who stood in the office, trying desperately not to get in the line of fire. “You’re not gonna go search for my boys ’til morning?” Mara questioned in a calm voice.

“Mrs. Grady, please—”

“Well then, we’re gonna need to borrow two guns, some britches, and a daypack,” she interrupted as she looked back at Dale.

He stared at her with his mouth hanging slightly open. “What?” he asked dumbly.

“You heard the woman, sonny!” Chester shouted as he brought the shovel up and slammed it onto the desk beside Dale, narrowly missing his fingers. Dale jumped and flinched away from the sharp tip.

“Yes, sir, but—”

“Well, I certainly can’t go up there in nothing but my dress,” Mara reasoned with him, “and I don’t have time to go driving all the way back home to get Earl’s rifle.”

He continued to stare at them, shaking his head helplessly.

Chester hefted the shovel and rested it on his shoulder, narrowing his clear blue eyes. Mara crossed her arms stubbornly. “And some extra ammunition,” she requested of Dale.

Dale sighed and slumped his shoulders, sitting back against his desk and rubbing at a spot of tension on his forehead. He looked back up at her as she stood there waiting, his eyes flickering to Chester and his shovel warily as he cleared his throat.

“Jerry, call down and have them start up the search-and-rescue team,” Dale requested of one of the other rangers in the office. The man hopped up gratefully and went to go get the local volunteer search and rescue squad on the horn.