Angel Falls: Sand and Shadows Book 1
Sent away because she let someone die, her burgeoning powers leave her with more questions than answers. Now her only chance for redemption comes at a price; one she may not survive.
As a trauma nurse in a New York City hospital, Ella St. John had no idea that refusing to help a known killer would have such dire consequences. Being sent to the middle of nowhere is bad enough, but when she crosses paths with a handsome stranger, everything changes. She can't deny the attraction blossoming between them, but that is nothing compared to the trouble he brings to her door. Helping him could be the biggest mistake of her life... if she manages to live long enough to regret it.
From the author of the Shelby Nichols Adventures, comes a new series that will plunge a woman with growing powers into the dark world of mystery, murder, and death.
Perfect for fans of John Irving, Amy Harmon, Sarah Penner, Glendy Vanderah, V.E. Schwab, and Amanda Lee.
PRAISE FOR THE AUTHOR
"Colleen Helme is one of the greatest authors working independently today, and, if the end of this novel is any indication, the best is still yet to come."~Matthew LeDrew, Bestselling author of Infinity
"I cannot get enough from this incredible author! Colleen is an incredibly talented person and her stories tell us why." ~Christina Brett - Author
Release date: March 19, 2021
Publisher: Manetto Books
Print pages: 332
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Angel Falls: Sand and Shadows Book 1
I leaned against a large boulder and glanced up at the endless blue sky, framed by red sandstone rocks and white fluffy clouds. It was a perfect day for a hike.
Even though I wouldn’t have chosen this place, getting sent away could have been worse. Instead of this desert wilderness, I could have ended up somewhere cold, where the sun didn’t shine for months. At least here, the sand and shadows, coupled with the vibrant hues of red and blue, brought me more peace than I had a right to.
The heat could be brutal though, but it wasn’t enough to stop me from venturing out at the end of my workday. I’d discovered this little gulch a couple of days ago, but this was the first time I’d ventured further than I could drive my Jeep.
From the map I’d learned that this narrow slot canyon trail took an impressive climb through huge boulders and red sand, winding a short mile up the mountain to end at a spectacular waterfall. I thought it ironic that the slot canyon was called Devil’s Gulch, and someone with a sense of humor had named the waterfall Angel Falls.
It reminded me of my predicament and the reason I’d been sent here in the first place. Upper management hadn’t liked my attitude when it came to doing my job. Maybe they had a point, but I’d balked when it came to helping a killer. I’d let him die instead of doing all I could to save him. The Hippocratic Oath just didn’t seem to apply after all the people he’d killed.
But… apparently, that wasn’t my call to make. For my disobedience, I’d been sent to the small town of Sandy Creek, in the middle of nowhere, to “meditate” about the sacredness of life and my duty. Go figure.
I came to a narrow gap of loose sandstone between two sheer rock walls. Deep within the gap, I felt dwarfed by the red stone walls. Glancing up, I saw only a crack of blue sky directly above my head.
I continued the climb, each boulder a steep vertical step, and slowed to catch my breath. Climbing onto the last remaining boulder, I left the rock walls behind and stepped into a beautiful, open grotto. My heart swelled at the magnificence of this cozy space nestled at the top of the gulch.
A waterfall cascaded several feet from a ledge high above me, catching the light just right so that a rainbow reflected through the mist. The remaining water fell into a small pool surrounded by bright green vegetation which grew from the sandy earth.
The contrast between the red rock, falling water, and blue pool, surrounded by lush, green plants, filled me with wonder. This spot was like a piece of heaven, and the tension drained out of me.
I stepped to the edge of the pool and noticed that the shallow water trickled into the rocks and disappeared into the soil. I shivered slightly, the sweat on my back turning cold from the lower temperature inside the grotto.
Closing my eyes, I breathed in the fresh scent of earth and water. My heart expanded with pleasure to be in this amazing place, away from my troubles. I found a large rock where I could sit and enjoy the solitude and hear the trickling sound of falling water.
Several minutes later, another chill ran down my spine, and I became aware of a subtle change in the temperature. Shivering, I glanced above the waterfall’s edge to the sky. Dark storm clouds were gathering, blocking the sun’s heat. Where had they come from?
Sudden dread washed over me, punctuated by the low rumble of distant thunder. I glanced at my surroundings with new eyes, realizing that a downpour would turn that small waterfall into a raging beast.
This serene grotto was about to become a death trap. Seth had warned me about flash floods in these canyons, but, without a cloud in the sky, I hadn’t even thought about it happening today. I had to get out of here—now.
I rushed past the pool to the trail and traversed the small gap between the steep rock walls. It took longer than I liked, but the boulders were too big to go any faster. At least it was all downhill, which should give me enough time to outrun the storm. At the end of the gap, the trail widened, giving me a better view of the sky.
I glanced up and my stomach tightened. Dark clouds surrounded the highest peaks of the mountain, and I knew I would soon be in the path of a rushing river.
With my heart pounding, I traversed the steep, sandy trail as quickly as I could, knowing I couldn’t afford to twist an ankle. The wash dipped and descended down a narrow gully of large boulders and rocks. Jutting stones and loose gravel caused me to slip and skid, but I managed to stay upright.
The sky darkened, and rain clouds completely covered the sun’s light. A flash of lightning and the crack of thunder roared overhead. A moment later, thick drops of rain pelted me. With panic tightening my chest, I picked up the pace.
My Jeep wasn’t too far now, but even if I reached it, I wouldn’t be out of danger. I’d driven the Jeep up the wash as far as I could. But I still had to drive it out of the wash before I’d make it to safety.
I hurried down the last bend and skidded on loose rocks, lurching to find my balance. The pitch of the trail changed. It wasn’t as steep, so I picked up the pace, running as fast as I dared. After a few more twists and turns, accompanied by near falls on the loose rocks, I came to a break in the trail and caught sight of my Jeep below. Luckily, I’d parked it facing downhill, which increased my odds of survival.
Another flash of lightning ripped through the sky, and the answering thunder shook the ground. With a burst of speed, I ran down the steep path and reached the Jeep. Wrenching the door open, I fumbled to get the keys out of my pocket and jumped into my seat.
As I slammed the door, the rain began to fall in big, fat drops. I slipped the key in the ignition, and the Jeep came to life. I’d only learned how to drive a clutch from Seth after I’d arrived here. I didn’t even have a car in New York, and the clutch in the Jeep hadn’t been easy to learn.
After popping into first gear, I stepped on the gas. Letting out the clutch too fast, the Jeep stalled. With my hands shaking, I tried it again. This time I got it right, and the Jeep lurched forward down the steep creek bed.
Taking it slow, I glanced in the rearview mirror and found the first stream of water flowing down the wash. Panic swamped me, and I sped up, shifting into second gear and driving more recklessly than I should, only slowing enough to take the corners without spinning out.
The wash narrowed to a long, tapered descent, and I picked up speed, shifting into third gear. Letting the Jeep go faster right before the next turn, I hit the brakes and shifted into first to take the corner. The engine whined, and the tires skidded on the loose, wet rocks, but I managed to straighten the Jeep out without stalling the engine.
As I continued my flight down the wash, I approached a large boulder, and my grip tightened on the wheel. The rushing water hit the rock before taking the path of least resistance around it, right where I needed to go.
I slowed, barely managing to maneuver around it in the deepening flow of water before turning the wheel sharply to round the next bend. I swerved and nearly lost control on the wet sand before clearing the curve.
The wash ahead widened, and I shifted from second to third gear and pushed on the gas. The rushing water had overtaken me, and my back tires spun out, spewing wet gravel before catching enough traction to propel me forward. Just ahead, the wash continued downward, and I caught sight of the small fork in the road.
As water churned around my tires, I cranked the wheel to take the fork on the right and fishtailed out of the wash up onto a dirt road. The road too steep to make it up in third gear, I had to shift into second to continue, but the Jeep lost traction and began to slide back down into the wash.
Shifting into first gear, I took my foot off the brake to stomp on the gas. Sliding back into the wash, I managed to let out the clutch at the right time, but water rushed around my back tires, and the wheels began to spin. “Come on. Come on!”
The tires finally took hold, shooting me back up the small incline and out of harm’s way. Breathing heavily, I continued my flight up the steep path to reach the dirt road above the wash. Finally making it to the highest point, it leveled out, and I slowed the Jeep to a stop. I swallowed, glancing over the edge of the road to watch the water roar into a deep ravine.
Unclenching my jaw, I peeled my sweaty hands off the wheel. I’d outrun the flood, but the rain was catching up. After shaking out my cramped fingers, I slid the Jeep into first gear and started off down the narrow, dirt road beside the ravine.
Glancing into the rear view mirror, I took in the heavy, dark clouds over the gap. The sudden sound of crashing water caught my breath, and I slowed to glance over the edge again. The brown, churning water filled the ravine and collided through the gulch with amazing speed and power.
The loud sounds of crashing rocks, propelled by the sheer force of the water, turned my blood cold. I’d barely made it out of there alive. Taking a shaky breath, I pushed on the gas, going a little faster than was probably necessary. Leaving the slot canyon, and the roaring water behind, I could finally breathe normally again.
With the storm gaining on me, I followed the small, dirt lane in a straight line to the main road. In the distance, the highway that crisscrossed the valley came into view, and I let out a sigh of relief. A few minutes later, I reached the lone stop sign.
My hands trembled and my legs shook, so I turned off the Jeep and sat to recuperate from my near-death experience. After several seconds, I reached into the backseat for a bottle of water and took a long pull. The water helped revive me, and I finally felt calm enough to drive home.
I started the Jeep and glanced both ways, not expecting to see another car, but, after nearly dying, I wasn’t taking any chances. I even managed to shift into first gear without a problem. The smooth pavement beneath the tires felt wonderful after the bumps and rocks of the dirt wash, and I relaxed into my seat.
It was fifteen miles back to town, and this was about the loneliest stretch of highway in the valley. A gust of wind rocked the Jeep, signaling that the storm had caught up to me, and the clouds came pouring over the mountains. Within minutes, they veiled the valley in darkness as far as I could see. Occasional gusts of wind and rain buffeted the Jeep, and I slowed to keep control.
Low growing grasses and sagebrush dotted the flat landscape around me, leaving plenty of dry ground and sand in the spaces between. The wind picked up and began to play with the dry, sandy earth. In the waning light, the dust lifted from the ground and began to spin like small-sized tornados.
I watched as one touched down beside the road. It spun out into nothing, only to re-form again. I loved watching these dust devils, and my eyes widened to find several more of them twirling beside me on both sides of the road. I’d never seen this many at once.
A sudden gust of wind slammed against my Jeep, causing me to swerve into the oncoming lane. Fighting to control the wheel, I brought the Jeep back into the right lane and slowed. Grains of sand shot into my windshield in little bursts, sounding like pellets. Then the rain hit in a sheet of water, making it even harder to see where I was going.
I slowed down even more and turned on my headlights. A dark shape came up on my right, turning into a car parked halfway in the road. I swerved around it, grateful I hadn’t hit it. Who would leave a car parked in the road like that?
I glanced back at the car, but couldn’t see anyone inside. Shaking my head, I turned my attention to the road, and a dark form materialized right in front of me. I slammed on the brakes, but couldn’t stop before a sickening thud against the front of the Jeep turned my blood cold.
“No, no, no!” I swerved to the side of the road and slammed to a stop. With barely controlled panic, I wrenched the door open and ran to the body on the side of the road. The man let out a low groan, and my heart quivered with relief that he wasn’t dead. His head and shoulders rested on a duffel bag, which I hoped had saved his head from any serious damage.
I knelt beside him, immediately checking his pulse and looking him over. The rain plastered his wet, dark hair to his forehead, and I leaned over him to shelter his face from the deluge. His eyes fluttered open, dark and deep blue, then narrowed with pain. His strong jaw clenched, while his lips pulled into a tight grimace.
“Where does it hurt?” I had to shout over the storm. Without waiting for an answer, I checked his prone form. He wore a dark t-shirt that was now soaked and plastered to his well-muscled chest.
“What… what happened?” Confusion clouded his eyes, and I noticed his pupils were dilated. He moved onto his side and pushed into a sitting position.
“Whoa… you should lie back down,” I told him. “You were hit by a car. We need to make sure nothing’s broken.”
Not listening to me, he stayed upright, but his breath came fast, and he hung his head in pain.
“Does your head hurt? I think you might have a concussion.”
He closed his eyes and let out a breath, taking stock of his injuries by slowly moving his body. As he shifted his right leg, he let out a hiss of pain and reached toward his calf, just below his knee. He leaned forward to look at it, and I pushed against his chest. It was like pushing against a wall. With a grimace, he sank back to the ground, his head resting on the bag.
“Stay put. I’m a trauma nurse; let me take a look.” I ran my hands over his huge thigh to below his knee. Along his shinbone, something felt off, and I pushed his pant leg up to expose the bruised and swelling flesh. I couldn’t tell if the bone was broken, but it was bad enough that I knew he wouldn’t be walking on it anytime soon.
“Does it hurt anywhere else?” I asked, still shouting to be heard over the storm. “Any neck or back pain? How about your ribs or your chest? Does it hurt to breathe?” I wished I had a neck brace in the Jeep, but I’d come empty-handed.
“No. It’s mostly my leg that hurts.” He pushed himself back into a sitting position.
Not wanting him to move, I placed my hand on his chest again. “Wait. I’d better call an ambulance. You might have internal injuries.”
“No,” he said, sharply. “I’m not hurt that badly. I just need to get out of this rain and get my leg looked at.” His determined gaze caught mine, and I knew arguing was pointless.
“Okay. Let’s get you into my Jeep. I’ll take you to the clinic in town.”
His shoulders relaxed with relief. While gritting his teeth, he pushed onto his good knee and managed to get his foot under him. I knelt beside him and pulled his arm around my neck. “Okay. Lean on me and try to stand, but don’t put any weight on your injured leg.”
He leaned heavily against me, and I staggered under his weight. I had no idea how much he weighed, but, from the look of him, none of it was fat. Shifting into a better position, I pushed up with my legs, pulling him with me. His good leg took the rest of his weight, and I managed to help him hop to the Jeep.
I got the door opened, and he slid onto the edge of the seat, letting out a groan. Using his upper body strength, he pulled himself fully inside. I helped him lift his injured leg into the Jeep. Heaving out a breath, he closed his eyes and leaned against the back of the seat. I pulled the seat belt across him and buckled it up. Before I moved away, his hand caught my arm. “My duffel bag—”
“Right. I’ll get it.” I shut the door and hurried back to the bag. For such a big bag, I expected it to be heavy, and I wasn’t disappointed. I heaved it over my shoulder and stepped to the back of my Jeep, grateful I could swing it open, and shoved it inside.
Back to the driver’s side, I jumped in and wiped the water from my eyes. My soaking hair dripped down my face, and I pushed it back so I could see before starting the engine.
As I pulled away, guilt swept over me. I’d hit this poor guy—in the middle of a rainstorm—and now he was suffering. At least he wasn’t dead. It could have been so much worse. I should probably apologize, but telling him I was sorry right now didn’t seem like a good idea. Instead, I concentrated on driving through the heavy storm to the clinic.
Since I was the only medical specialist in town, I ran the clinic in this little community. The hospital was an hour away, so, unless it was serious, I took care of the small town’s health needs. Knowing I could treat his injuries eased some of my guilt.
I glanced over at him. He cradled his leg, trying to hold it up so there wasn’t any pressure on his ankle. I grimaced, knowing I should have splinted it, or, at the least, made him sit in the back so he could put it up on the seat. What kind of a trauma nurse was I? “How are you doing?”
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