SUNDOWN by Susan May Warren
SERIES: Sky King Ranch #3
GENRE: Inspirational Romantic Suspense
RELEASE DATE: November 1, 2022
Former Delta Operative Colt Kingston knows when someone is lying. He may not know the truth, but he sure doesn’t trust Tae, the woman who is caring for his ailing father at Sky King Ranch. Behind those beautiful blue eyes, he can tell there is a troubled–and smart–woman.
A few of her stories prove true–he’s found the crashed plane and the dead body inside. Still, her story of survival seems too incredible to believe . . . until the thugs she claims to be hunting her show up and threaten Sky King Ranch. Now Tae must disappear, along with her secrets.
But Colt’s not about to let her go it alone. And when they discover that her secrets include the antidote to a plague that threatens the world, it’ll take all three Kingston brothers to save the country they’ve vowed to protect.
Susan May Warren brings her Sky King Ranch series to a climactic close with this high-stakes race against the clock.
Tae should have gone right on pretending she couldn’t speak, couldn’t remember who she was, and quietly slipped away in the night.
Because then no one else would die.
She screamed as the plane dropped out around her.
“Hang on!” Colt held onto her rope, tucking her against him as they fell with the momentum of the plane.
Her rope caught them, jerking them to a stop just below the lip of the cliff. Below them, the plane dropped, the crunch of metal echoing as it bounced. It hit the lake, some thousand plus feet below, and Tae just barely stopped herself from screaming again.
Above them, a shout lifted. Probably Dodge, trying to keep the axe from jerking free.
Then, silence. Just Colt’s heavy breathing as she lay in his embrace. His arm tightened around her as he gripped the rope, his feet scrabbling for purchase against the icy wall.
“I got you,” he said. “You’re okay.”
They hung maybe five feet below the lip of the glacier, the rope pressed into the ice, their feet dangling in air.
Her grip burned, her hands just above his. But really, her harness held her.
Colt, however, had twenty feet of slack between them.
He was a strong man. She knew that from watching him recover over the past three weeks from the kind of beating that should probably permanently disable a man. When he’d arrived home to his family’s lodge in Alaska, she hadn’t known the story of how he’d been captured, beaten, threatened with execution. All she’d seen was a man who refused to give up, despite the demons that he wrestled.
And he’d been funny. Sweet. Charming. Self-deprecating.
Once, she’d even found herself in his arms, holding onto him. Needing him more than she wanted to admit. Somehow, deep inside, she knew that if anyone could handle her secret . . . well, Colt Kingston might be that guy.
Probably he was, even though he didn’t quite believe her. But at the moment, hanging off the cliff, his body holding hers up, he was struggling, his breaths coming fast, his arms shaking, despite his words.
“Don’t let go,” she said. “If you fall, they won’t be able to stop the impact of you hitting the end of the rope from yanking out the axes.”
“Tell me something I don’t know,” he grunted.
“Fine, how about this? I left my ice axe on top.”
“Beautiful. Listen, truth is, I can’t hold on much longer, Tae. You gotta climb up. Use my axe. It’s dangling from my wrist.”
But to take it off he’d have to let go with one of his hands. “No. You’ll fall.”
“I won’t fall.” But he let out a sound, deep in his chest, a struggle to hold on to both of them.
No. She wasn’t going to be the cause of his death. She scrabbled her feet onto the overhang of ice, slamming the crampons in.
“Atta girl,” Colt said in her ear. He brought his legs up too, his body cradling her as his feet bit into the ice around them.
“We’re losing you!” Dodge shouted from above. “We can’t help you climb up!”
“Hang on!” Tae shouted. Then, to Colt, “What if I hook your carabiner to my harness? That way you won’t fall farther.”
She took a breath and let go of her hold. Oops. She must have been holding more of herself than she thought because her weight settled onto Colt. He was breathing long, hard, controlled breaths.
“I can’t reach your carabiner.”
“Take my rope and tie a figure eight into it, near the top. Then, clip that in.”
Her hands shook as she took the rope and tied the figure eight into it. She reached around behind her, trying to find the loop that held his carabiner. But she was pressed too tightly to him, gravity pulling her down.
“Take the axe, Tae. Climb up.”
Tears welled in her eyes. There. She found the carabiner. “I can do this.”
His arms had really started to shake.
She couldn’t move the knot in without removing the other.
Which meant that, for a moment, he’d be unbelayed, and . . .
“I can’t! It’s too dangerous.”
“I know.” And then in a move that nearly made her scream again, he let go with one hand, grabbed the axe, and swung it up into the ice.
The axe bit into glacier wall, held.
“I’m getting my weight off the line. You’ll be fine. You’re hooked in.”
Her entire body froze as he let go and swung himself onto the axe, hanging there like Spider-Man.
Except, not quite because he needed two axes to climb. Still, the heaviness on the line eased.
And then Colt unhooked his rope from his harness.
“Are you crazy?”
“What’s going on?” Dodge shouted, an edge of fear to his voice.
“Nothing! We’re fine!” Colt shouted back, clearly ignoring her.
“We’re not fine! You’re not tied in.”
“If I fall, you don’t go with me.” He raised his voice. “Pull her up!”
“I’m not leaving you here!”
He grabbed the end of his rope. “When you’re up and anchored, I’ll hook back in.”
She stared at him even as her line began to move. “Seriously. You’re calling me nuts? What is wrong with you?”
And then, well, she could just kill him because he smiled, a little gleam in those brown eyes, and she saw something in them that she’d seen weeks ago, at his bedside.
Fight. Determination. And the reason, probably, that he just kept surviving. The man didn’t have quit or helpless or even fear in him.
His voice turned quiet. Solid. “Listen, tune out everything else—me, the drop, your fear. Just focus on the next step. Climb, Tae.”
Focus on the next step.
“Don’t fall,” she snapped, before tears could cripple her.
“I’m not going anywhere.”
Stupid, arrogant man—but she started to move, walking her feet up the ice. His rope spooled out, but as promised, he kept hold of it with one hand.
She came over the lip, dug her toes in and scrambled for her ice axe, still lying in the ice. Dodge lay on top of his axe and Echo on hers, both of them dug in with their crampons, fighting the pull of the axe from the ice.
“Come here,” Dodge said, and she scrabbled to him. “Lay on this axe.”
He got up, and since Colt still hadn’t clipped in, no weight hung on the anchor. But she took Dodge’s position while he dug in her axe next to them, then transferred some of the weight with a sling through the figure eight knots to the new anchor. He dug himself back in.
“Colt! Climb up!” Dodge shouted.
“He’s not clipped in,” she said.
Dodge looked at her, something of horror in his gaze. “Are you telling me he unclipped?”
“Climbing!” Colt yelled, and the line went taut, probably Colt testing it. Then she felt the tug as he used the rope to balance his weight, climbing up with the axe and his crampons.
She wanted to weep when his head, then body, lipped the edge. He crawled toward them, digging his axe in, as if he didn’t quite want to let go of that safety.
Maybe she didn’t either. Oh, she was so very tired of being brave. Of surviving. Sorry. Like she said, she wasn’t in the military like her father.
Wasn’t a hero. Not even close.
She put her head down in the crook of her arm, just breathing.
Echo had gotten up and now came over to her. “You okay?”
Tae lifted her head, looked at Echo, nodded. But behind her she spotted Colt, still on the ice, Dodge over him, his fingers at his brother’s neck.
Tae pushed herself up. “What’s going on?”
Echo turned. “I don’t know.”
Tae hit her knees beside Colt. Dodge rolled him over. Colt was gasping for breath.
“You okay, bro?” Dodge asked.
Tae picked up his wrist. Counted the beats. “His pulse is racing.”
“I . . . just need . . . a . . . minute . . .” Colt stared up at the sky.
“Sit him up,” she said. “Colt, are you having any chest pains?”
Dodge pushed him up.
He looked at her, his jaw tight.
“I’m taking that as a yes.” Maybe a by-product of his still-healing organs. “Okay, breathe with me.” She put her hand on his chest. “In . . . out . . .” She met his eyes. So brown. They fixed on her.
In . . . out . . . In . . . out.
He slowed his breathing, then finally leaned back and blew out a final, long breath. “Wow. That’s never happened before.”
“You’ve never scared people to death?” Tae snapped. “What was that? You could have fallen.”
He lay back on the ice, his eyes closed. “At least I wouldn’t have taken you with me.”
She just stared at him, then at Dodge. “Seriously?”
He lifted a shoulder. “Now you know why the terrorists beat him within an inch of his life.” He held out a hand to Colt. “You can stop being a show-off anytime.”
Colt managed a small grin as Dodge helped him up. Then, Colt turned to her. “You all right?”
Wow, just . . . wow. “Me? You’re the one who can’t breathe!”
“Yeah, well, I blame my near heart attack on watching you nearly take us all down with the plane.” His smile vanished and just like that, he was back—the guy in the cabin two weeks ago, who’d put his face in hers and practically ordered the truth out of her.
“I needed my backpack.”
“Why? What was so important?”
“My journal. All my notes.”
“Notes for what?”
She closed her mouth, looked away.
“Perfect.” He took a step toward her. “I’m done with the games. I was nice before. Now, playtime is over. Stop lying to me and tell me what is going on.” He’d lowered his voice to almost a growl, and it sent a razor under her skin.
Sure, he was a handsome man, with that dark hair, a scruff of black whiskers, those brown eyes the color of deep, rich coffee. But under all that simmered a warrior with hidden skills and the secrets to go with them.
Whoever she’d met a month ago, broken, sweet, and a little charming, had vanished.
This was the interrogator.
She took a deep breath. “You don’t want to know.”
His voice cut low. “I very much want to know. Just like I very much want to believe you.”
“Really? You still don’t believe me?”
“There was only one body in that plane.”
“Because Sergei must have been thrown from it, like I was!” She stopped, stared at them. “He could still be alive.”
“Tae. You saw that plane,” Colt said. “The fact you survived is . . . well, a miracle.”
It was a miracle. But she knew exactly what he meant, thank you, and that was just . . . enough. She walked over to her axe and pulled it from the ice. Turned. “I’m telling you the truth. I was kidnapped, shoved onto a plane, and survived the crash. Either you believe me or you don’t.”
Colt’s mouth tightened. He looked at Dodge. Then back at her.
And here it came. The same response she got back in Seattle when she went to her lab partner, Zoey, the same day that Faheem had died.
Hesitation. Maybe even disbelief.
Fine. She didn’t care if he believed her or not. She stalked away.
“Where are you going?”
“I don’t know!”
“I believe you.”
She stopped. Turned to Colt. Met his eyes, hard in hers. “You do?”
The words swept through her, hot, bold, like a rush of summer sun, and she gasped. Stupidly, tears burned her eyes. “Really?”
He nodded. “But I would really like to know why I nearly fell to my death. What was in that backpack of yours that you so desperately needed?”
She took a breath. “You’re going to wish I hadn’t told you.”
Overhead, thick, dark clouds rolled in from the west. A breeze kicked up.
She took a breath. And then said it, the one really out-of-the-box, almost apocalyptic truth that out loud sounded all-the-way crazy.
“Because I think someone is trying to poison the world, and . . .Only I can stop them.”
Susan May Warren, Sundown
Revell Books, a division of Baker Publishing Group, © 2022. Used by permission.
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Susan May Warren is the USA Today bestselling author of more than 90 novels with more than 1.5 million books sold, including the Global Search and Rescue and the Montana Rescue series, as well as Sunrise and Sunburst. Winner of a RITA Award and multiple Christy and Carol Awards, as well as the HOLT Medallion and numerous Readers’ Choice Awards, Susan makes her home in Minnesota. Find her online at www.susanmaywarren.com, on Facebook @SusanMayWarrenFiction, and on Twitter @SusanMayWarren.
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