“We don’t need a damn chaperone to keep us from going off somewhere to get kinky. You do realize I live with him now, right? We’re already—”
Oren slapped his hand over my mouth. “Come on, kid,” he called to Colton. “Want to see a waterfall?”
“Yeah!” Colton jumped up, excited.
“Be careful,” Noel cautioned immediately.
Oren sent him a withering glance. “Don’t worry, big brother. You’ll get both your siblings back, safe and sound.”
Leaving, him, and Aspen, and Brandt behind, the three of us strolled up the abandoned trail toward the waterfall. As Colton skipped ahead, I grasped Oren’s hand. “I am so sorry.”
He glanced over, his eyebrows lifted in surprise. “For what? You didn’t do anything wrong.”
I sighed and rested my cheek on his shoulder. “I should’ve known better than to expect you two to just…get along.”
Oren swept my hair out of my eyes. “If we’re ever going to get along again, we’re going to have to suffer through a couple of encounters like these first.” Then he kissed my temple. “Might as well get them out of the way now.”
I still hated watching them not get along because of me, though. “But—”
“Hey, don’t get too close to the edge!” Oren yelled above me.
I turned to find Colton ahead of us. He’d already reached the banks of the waterfall, and just as he glanced back at us, the ground under him gave way.
One second, he was there, grinning and waving, the next he was being sucked down into the earth. It happened so fast I could barely draw in a breath between what my eyes saw and what my brain realized had just happened.
Then I screamed. “Colton!” I sprang forward, but Oren was faster.
He reached the edge first and held up a hand, warding me away. “Stay back. This bastard is unsteady as fuck.”
I skidded to a halt, not wanting to add any more problems. But feeling helpless, I covered my mouth with both hands as tears filled my eyes. The roar of the waterfall was so loud Oren had to yell when he glanced back at me. “It’s okay. He’s right here. He didn’t fall in. He’s caught hold of some old tree root and is hanging on.”
“Oh thank God.” I pressed my hands to my heart, beyond relieved.
A light mist from the nearby water coated my arms and legs. I shivered and hugged myself, wishing I could do something as Oren inched closer to the edge, trying to keep one foot back on more solid ground.
He got down on his knees and stretched one arm over the side, where I hoped he was reaching for my little brother. The ground about five feet away crumbled and plummeted into the water. I gasped when I saw big clumps tumble downstream only a second later. The way it was battered around like a pinball made me pray even more fervently that Colton didn’t soon join it.
“Caroline,” Oren called, glancing back at me.
I could tell immediately from his gaze that something was seriously wrong.
“What?” I demanded. “Is he okay?”
Oren nodded, but he still looked…sick? Scared? Resigned? “I need…I need you to be prepared to catch him as soon I pull him up. Okay?”
“Okay.” I nodded, not understanding what that meant until Oren moved. With a strained grunt, he gritted his teeth and jerked his arm up. As Colton simultaneously came flying up over the ledge at me, the ground under Oren gave way.
Colton banged into me, the force of his impact propelling me backward and onto my butt. I grabbed hold of him and held on tight, crab crawling backward away from the bank. Colton burrowed into me until we were a safe distance away. That’s when I pushed him aside and searched frantically for Oren…to find him nowhere.
“Oh my God. Oh my God. Go!” I grabbed Colton, jerked him to his feet, and then shoved him in the direction of our picnic. “Get Noel. Quick. Oren’s in trouble.”
As soon as he nodded and took off, I bit my knuckles and crept toward the ledge.
“Oren?” I screamed.
He’d known this was going to happen when he’d pulled Colton up. He’d known he’d get sucked down. Fearing I wouldn’t find him at all, I sobbed when I saw him, only to realized he’d been left in the same predicament Colton had been in, hanging from a root sticking out the side of the steep embankment with the rushing water of the rocky river a good thirty feet below him.
When he looked up and saw me, his eyes flared with panic. “No. Get back.”
But the root he was clinging to couldn’t support his weight as well it had been able to hold Colton’s. It started to slide down the embankment, and as he scrambled to hold on, I lurched forward on my stomach so most of my body was still on solid ground—and then I grabbed for him.