Grady attempted to get out of bed and his progress was halted by a firm grip around his waist.
“Stay here.” Jack snuggled up against Grady's back and pressed kisses across his broad shoulders. “It's nice and warm in here. You don't wanna go out on that cold, windy mountain when you can be in bed with me.”
Grady grinned and wriggled back into Jack's embrace, sparing a glance at the clock and deciding he could remain in bed a little while longer. “Cold and windy mountain? It's 65 degrees in the shade, dumbass.” He groaned softly in his throat at the tickle of Jack's hair as his lover moved down his body, pressing wet open mouthed kisses down his spine. “I'm only gonna be gone three days, and then there's no more trips scheduled for two weeks, so we can have some real quality time. Drive up the coast, do a little hiking—” he bit at his lower lip when Jack's tongue trailed over the curve of his ass.
“Make love under the stars?” Jack murmured against Grady's skin, before kissing his boyfriend deeply.
Grady mumbled his agreement and slid his tongue inside the moist heat of Jack’s mouth. He groaned loudly in complaint as searching fingers traveled slowly down his torso and curled around his length. Reluctantly dragging his lips from Jack’s, he shook his head. “Baby, come on. How can I give the group safety tips about camping in the wild if they're all gonna be staring at my boner?” Grady pressed his lips to Jack's once more and threw back the covers, slapping at the grabby hands trying to pull him back into bed.
Grumbling under his breath, Jack threw his hands over his face. “I hate that fucking mountain.”
Grady slipped out of his underwear and tossed it onto Jack's face as he poked his head around the bathroom door. “Probably shouldn't have fallen in love with a mountain guide then, huh?”
“No more stupid than you falling in love with a Ranger.” Jack shook his head and chuckled at the sound of Grady's laughter from the bathroom before rolling back onto his side.
By the time Grady had showered and dressed, Jack was already back in dreamland, his arms curled around Grady’s pillow, snoring softly. Standing beside the bed, Grady studied him for a few moments, noting the way the long dark hair curled around Jack’s shoulders and how the brow that was usually creased in concentration, was smooth and relaxed in sleep. He bent down and pressed his lips to Jack’s hair, inhaling the strawberry shampoo he used before grabbing his rucksack and heading out the door.
Two days later they got the weather warning at the base of the mountain in the Ranger's Station. A big storm was coming in from the west and it would hit the mountain hard. Jack went immediately to the phone and put a call out to Grady.
“Hey, baby,” Grady's voice crackled over the satellite phone.
“Grady, there's a storm coming in. A big one. You need to get down—now.” Jack's voice was firm and brooked no argument. There were four people in Grady's group, but they were not his main concern. The beautiful man with the chocolate colored hair and laughing eyes was all he cared about. He knew Grady had picked up the tone of his voice, because he agreed immediately, which in their relationship, was rare. But Grady knew when he wasn’t playing.
“Okay. How long do we have? These guys have no hiking experience. The route I take depends on how long I have to get them down.”
Checking the notes in front of him and glancing at Grady's friend and fellow mountain guide, Jack frowned. “You've got about four hours. How long do you need?” Frustrating silence was all Jack could hear for the next few moments before Grady answered him.
“Even the quickest way down is gonna take a little longer than that. Guess we'll just have to hot foot it, huh?”
“Don't get all pansy-assed on me Mitchell, order the pizza and I'll be home in time for dinner.”
Grady’s reply was conversational, but the underlying tremor in his voice told Jack that he realized the urgency of the situation. “I love you,” Jack whispered into the phone and rolled his eyes at Grady's deep chuckle from the other end.
“I love you, too. See you later.”
Jack ended the call and moved to the window, looking out and up at the mountain. He worried at his lower lip with his teeth. Grady and his crew had been dressed for an easy spring hike. He looked at the darker clouds in the distance and ran a restless hand through his hair. Move faster, baby. Move faster.
“Jack, you can't go up there in this storm. You'll just end up getting stuck up there too.” Pete was trying to be reasonable, but the look that Jack threw him made him quickly realize that the tough Ranger was not going to listen. “Oh for fuck's sake. Wait for me to pack my stuff. I'm not letting you go up there alone.”
Jack continued to pack a rucksack with provisions, a first aid kit, torches everything he would need to trek up the mountain and bring Grady and the assholes who'd wanted a few days camping in the wild, back down. Once he was finished with the bag, making sure he had his satellite phone and that it was fully charged, he looked out the window at the raging storm. The winds had picked up from 30 miles an hour to 80 miles an hour in a matter of half an hour. As soon as their four hour window had passed and Grady and the three men hadn't returned, Jack had started making arrangements to go up there for them.
The Sheriff and the local doctor had other ideas, and wanted to call outside help in. Jack had informed them that they could do whatever the hell they wanted, but he wasn't waiting another minute. He was going up that mountain and he was bringing Grady home. Everyone knew better than to argue with the mountain of muscle that was Jack Mitchell. Especially where Grady Collins was concerned.
Spreading out the map on the table, Jack poured over it. “Pete, he said that he was gonna take the quickest route down. Grady's good, real good and he knows this mountain like the back of his hand, but the visibility they must have up there, a foot to the right or left and they're fucked.”
Pete joined him at the table and ran his finger down the trail. “He would have wanted to get down real quick. But these city guys have absolutely no experience of hiking at all. You should have seen them when they arrived. Everything was brand new, hiking boots straight out of the box, everything. I bet none of them have had experience of weather this severe either. Which means they could have freaked. But Grady's real calm, so he would've been able to keep them under control. Which probably means he would have gone down through Blue Ridge and over Widow's Peak. Then he would have just followed the trail down through Wichita Pass and then out at the bottom.”
“Okay, let's go.” Jack threw on his waterproofs and pulled his long hair into a ponytail, securing it with a beanie on his head to stop it whipping around his face in the gale. He waited while Pete zipped up his own clothing and then the two men headed out into the storm and up the mountain, using the trail they hoped Grady would have been coming down on.
The gale ripped through their clothes, driving the rain at them so they were soaked in minutes. It took them half an hour to reach Wichita Pass and there was no sign of Grady or any of the other men on the way. Gesturing to Jack, Pete pointed up and to the left and the two men continued on. Twenty minutes on, Jack found the torn remains of a rucksack that Pete recognized as belonging to one of the men in Grady's group.
“It could have blown down from anywhere, Jack!” He shouted close to Jack's ear so that he could be heard above the whining of the wind. “Doesn't mean anything!”
Jack turned determined, but frightened, eyes to Pete and nodded, pushing on further up the mountain. An hour and a half later they made their way into Wichita Pass. It was eerie to see how the rain had suddenly stopped and the wind was almost silent in the ridge that had been carved out through the mountain. Jack and Pete took a few moments to unfold the map again and get their bearings when Pete grabbed Jack' arm.
“Do you hear that?” he hissed.
“It's just the wind,” Jack said, looking back down at the map.
“No, I thought I heard someone calling for help.” Pete was insistent and he hushed Jack when he opened his mouth to respond. “There, listen.”
Jack frowned at Pete, cocked his head and was just about to shake his head when he heard it. Faint, but there. A single word. Help! They ran the rest of the way through Wichita Pass and out the other side, the wind hitting them full force again, but they could see, about thirty feet from the edge of the ravine, a single tent against a wall of trees.
They slid and slipped as they ran towards it over the muddy and rain-lashed ground. Jack skidded up to the entrance of the tent on his knees, the water soaking through to his very bones. He grabbed the zip and ripped it down, crawling inside the already filled to capacity tent and feeling his stomach hit his shoes as he saw a pale and unconscious Grady lying in the arms of a very frightened businessman.
“What happened?” His throat was raw as he ground out the words, throwing his rucksack to the floor and grabbing the medical kit. He took out the pencil torch and lifted Grady's eyelids, shining the light into them; silently thanking God when they reacted normally.
The man whose arms Grady was wrapped in had tears running down his face. “We were trying to get down the mountain and then the storm hit. Grady slipped, hit his head on a rock. He seemed okay for a little while but then he just collapsed and has been in and out of it ever since. He told us to pitch one of the tents and what to do.” He smiled at Jack gratefully. “You must be Jack. He said you'd come for us.”
Jack nodded, smoothing Grady's hair back from his forehead and noting the nasty egg sized lump on his temple. “That's me. You did good guys. You didn't panic and you waited, just like he told you. It was the right thing to do.” He could hear Pete behind him on the satellite phone, giving their co-ordinates, knowing the helicopter crew would have to wait for the wind to die down before they could come in and get them, but he had Grady in front of him and he was alive. That was all that mattered.
“Hey.” Grady's voice was rough and cracked, but not slurred, which was a good sign. “Knew you'd come.”
“Had to,” Jack said, keeping his tone light, trying not to let Grady hear the tears he was trying to hold back. “I ordered the eighteen inch, with extra pepperoni. You know I can't manage that all by myself.”
“Ha, ha,” Grady smiled softly and closed his eyes again. “That's 'cos you're a lightweight.”
Jack grinned at Pete, who was passing out food and water to the men. Pete nodded and grinned back. Grady had a nasty concussion and he and the men were suffering from very mild hypothermia, but they were okay. They were alive and everyone was getting off the mountain in one piece.
“What?” The businessman holding Grady asked as Jack mumbled something.
Grady's lips curved upwards, even though his eyes didn’t open, as he muttered: “He said he hates this fucking mountain.”