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Julie bumped him with her shoulder. “Thanks.”

She looked at him, a coy smile on her lips. Her gaze darted to his mouth before she tucked into her breakfast. His arms were light as new snow as he finished the meal and packed up. They’d be finishing what she’d started. He’d make sure of that.

Julie staredacross the open lead of frigid sea water at Gunnar as he backstroked across the distance. When they’d reached the top of the pressure ridge and seen the expanse of water, they’d scanned up and down the sea ice shore with binoculars trying to locate where it connected again. With the ocean constantly moving, leads like this could open and shut, sometimes within hours. Yet, in the miles both ways they could view from that vantage, the ribbon of water stretched into the horizon. The only way forward would be to ferry everything and everyone across in the flat-bottomed canoe strapped to her sled, but first, someone had to stretch a rope to the other side of the water.

Gunnar had donned his water suit that fit over all his outerwear, leaving only his face exposed. The suit should keep him dry, theoretically. Yet, one catch on sharp ice, one tear through the fabric, and they’d be battling the clock against hypothermia. With her stuck on the opposite side of the lead with all their supplies, he might not make it.

Should they have waited for the others to catch up?


She paced along the edge of the temporary shore. Their job today was to find a site for camp and get set up. If they didn’t do their end of the work, then the others would suffer. She glanced behind her at the pressure ridge that practically shot straight out of the water they’d just spent the last hour crossing. Too bad the best place to set up camp was on the other side of the water.

Exhaustion pulled at her after the taxing climb over the ridge. But when hadn’t it since they took off for the Pole?

Well, she hadn’t been all that tired that morning when she’d almost kissed Gunnar. Nope. Energy had flowed through her like she’d hooked up to a generator, only to have the kill switch pushed when Sunny interrupted.

The ice groaned beneath her feet, almost like it shared Julie’s frustration. She shouldn’t be trying to kiss Gunnar anyway. The Arctic Ocean that spent every minute of every day trying to kill them wasn’t the place to rekindle the fire. They both needed to be on—one-thousand percent on. Yet, thinking about how close she’d come to kissing him had snuck into her thoughts throughout the day, dragging her attention from where it should be.

She gazed across the water. Gunnar just had a few more feet, and he’d be on solid ground again. Well, as solid as constantly shifting ice got.

“You’re almost there.” Julie cupped her hands around her mouth as she hollered.

He tipped his head back to look behind him, then rolled to his belly. He had to be freezing by now. While the suit kept him dry, it did nothing to fight the cold.

Julie held her breath as he reached his arms to the surface. He kicked, trying to hike himself up, but couldn’t make it. Adjusting, he tried again, only to slip and fall back into the water.

She wanted to smash her eyes closed so she couldn’t watch, but they were glued open. His arm swung to the ice again, but the motion looked sluggish. The cold would zap his energy if he didn’t get out and warm up.

“Use your ax.” She hoped he heard her over his struggling.

He brought the ax tied to his waist up and slammed it into the ice. When he tried to pull up, he couldn’t get his upper body high enough to leverage himself out of the water. He flopped back into the water, leaning his side against the unrelenting edge.

“I can’t get purchase with my feet.” How could his voice be so calm?

She was freaking out and wasn’t even the one in the water. Scanning the edge of the ice, she spotted a place that looked thicker than the other. Though, the terrain had a way of tricking one into thinking one thing, like that the ice stretched forever, only to pop open in a deep and wide crack. She hoped what she thought she saw was really there.

“Gunnar, try over that way.” She pointed to the space that looked like it had more depth. “I think it’s thicker there.”

He swam over, his motions getting slower and slower. What if he couldn’t get himself out? They’d tied a rope to him, but what if she couldn’t drag him back fast enough? What if she couldn’t lift him from the water?

“There! Right there,” she yelled when he got to the spot, her voice frantic compared to his calm.

He leaned against the ice, his entire body heaving as he sucked in breaths. She prayed—begged that he could get out. She shook out her heavy arms like it would help him.

The ax swung with a speed she hadn’t thought Gunnar had left. The thwack as it connected with the ice reached all the way across the lead to her. He pulled with both arms, but his hands slipped down the handle. Tears welled in her eyes, and she shook her head at the hopelessness welling in her.

His anguished roar let a tear free to slide down her cheek and fogged up her goggles. With the sound spurring him on, he lifted himself out of the water and flopped onto the ice. A sob broke from Julie as she fell to her knees. He’d made it.

He lifted his arm up in triumph, and Julie half laughed, half cried in relief. Didn’t this just prove that letting her attraction to Gunnar distract her right now wasn’t an option? If she’d been focused on terrain instead of daydreaming about what would’ve happened if Sunny hadn’t come into the tent that morning, she could’ve seen that the ledge was more suited for climbing out off to the side.

She whipped her goggles off and dried her eyes. Keeping her head on straight mattered more than her relationship with Gunnar. One slip and someone could die. She couldn’t let her distraction cause that. Besides, there would always be work to do or people around. She didn’t want everyone to witness her and Gunnar acting like a couple of love-struck teenagers.

“You okay?” She needed to get back to task, and that meant getting him moving again.

“Yeah.” He groaned as he rolled over to his side and pushed himself up.

“Get moving then.” Turning to the sled to follow her own advice, she double-checked ties connecting the sled to the raft.

When he got his wind back, he’d be pulling her over on the raft with the supplies. They had at least six trips across the lead and back to get the sleds and dogs to the other side. Her arms hurt just thinking about all the pulling ahead of her.

Then, they had camp to set up at the spot half a mile off of the lead Gunnar had scoped out through the binoculars and needed to be ready to help the others when they finally arrived. The day still had too much work to be done. Daydreaming about kissing and what ifs wasn’t an option.

Tags: Sara Blackard Alaskan Rebels Romance