Julie eased over the pressure ridge as a bead of sweat raced down her spine, chilling her already clammy skin. Her calls of encouragement to her dogs bolstered her bravery as much as theirs. Not that they needed it.
She definitely did.
Why had she complained about the boringness of the other days the night before? She’d jinxed them if she believed in such a thing. She’d gladly mush through a ping-pong ball of white any day over this mess.
While the ridge wasn’t as high as most they’d traversed, its constant shifting and groaning beneath her feet unnerved her like a monster waiting to eat her alive. Gunnar glanced back at her from where he guided her lead dog, Tolstoy, through the jumbled ice.
“Okay?” The concern in his eyes warmed her chilled body.
“Yeah.” She was more than okay.
After their talk and kissing last night, she could probably fly the rest of the way to the Pole. Her cheeks warmed at the memories of his touch. The way he’d whispered her name as he kissed down her neck and along her collarbone—oh man, if she didn’t stop thinking about it, she’d melt the ice beneath her.
The ground shifted under her feet like her thoughts really had compromised its already sketchy structure. The hair on the back of her neck rose, and she shivered.
She wanted off this ridge.
“Good dogs. Let’s g—” Her words cut off as the ice collapsed from under her.
Her scream mixed with the dogs’ yips as the sled fell into a crevice. The runners slammed against the ice wall, her hands slipping from the handlebar with the jolt. She adjusted her grip, her hanging body swaying with the sled.
“Julie!” Gunnar’s yell focused her.
“I’m here.” She hollered back, squeaking when her fingers slipped.
If she didn’t get a better grip on the sled, she’d fall. She glanced over her shoulder, her eyes widening and head swimming at the sight. The bottom of the crevice yawned dark, with giant ice spears for teeth jutting up from a black ocean.
She’d never survive a drop there.
The sled lurched farther down, loosening her hold even more. Move, Jules. She flexed her arms, tightened her core, and pulled inch by inch until she could get her armpit nestled on the handlebar.
“Jules?” Gunnar called over the ledge, but she couldn’t catch her breath.
She sucked in the frozen air, causing her to cough.
“Jules, honey, talk to me.”
His calm, steady voice eased her fear. He’d help her out of this. She just had to stay strong and focused.
“I’m fine.” She took another shaky breath. “Just taking a break. You know, enjoying the scenery.”
“Well, why don’t you get up here so we can enjoy it together?”
She glanced up, needing to see him, but the supplies on the sled blocked her view. “Use those PJ muscles and pull me up, and I’ll watch clouds form all day with you.”
The sled jiggled, making her stomach swoop. She slammed her eyes closed and tucked her head against her arms.
“You need to climb up.” Gunnar’s words shattered what composure she had left, leaving her shaking from head to toe. “The edge is too slick. There’s nowhere for me to get footing.”
She swallowed and peered down into the monster’s mouth. Could she let go of what little stability she had? She’d be climbing with nothing to catch her if she lost her hold.
“Honey? You need to go… now.” The strain in Gunnar’s voice made his words hard to hear.
There was no way he’d let go if the sled slipped. He would go down with her. All her dogs too. They’d all drown in the freezing ocean, more than likely buried under the shifting ice. No one would know what happened.