She touched his shoulder. “Sean doesn’t think he’s a hero, either. But you’re all heroes. What you guys do, who you are, is the very definition of the word.”
“Damn straight. That’s why we always get the girls.” Paulson winked. “You’re going to be my wingman tonight, Gray. We’re going to get so many numbers we’ll need more memory for our cell phones.”
Paulson, a firefighter with Hood Hamlet Fire and Rescue, had a reputation of being a player. No one would accuse Cullen of being one. He had never expected to be living like a monk, but he had a good reason. One that would end soon enough. Until then...
He stared into his coffee, black and strong, fighting memories and resentment.
Going out and doing anything other than drinking a beer and eating a burger didn’t appeal to Cullen in the slightest. The one woman he wanted didn’t want him. Time to move on. He understood that. He’d come to terms with it. But he saw no reason to frustrate or tempt himself with something he couldn’t have right now. He lifted his cup. “You’ll get those phone numbers whether I’m there or not.”
“True that,” Paulson agreed. “But think of the fun we’ll have together. Just so you know, I’m partial to blondes. Though I don’t mind brunettes or redheads.”
Zoe shook her head, her long hair swaying back and forth. “One of these days you’re going to have to grow up and realize women weren’t put on this planet solely for your enjoyment.”
Paulson flashed her a charming grin. “Not going to happen.”
Zoe grimaced. “Too bad, because love
does conquer all.”
“Love sucks,” Paulson countered before Cullen could echo the sentiment.
“Sometimes.” A sigh seemed poised to float away from her lips at any moment. “But other times it’s pure magic.”
Yeah, right. Cullen sipped his coffee. Love caused nothing but heartache and pain. He’d stick with Christmas magic.
Zoe went to refill someone else’s cup. The din of conversation increased, and so did the number of people in the cafeteria. More rescue-team members arrived. A photographer snapped pictures. Someone placed a plate of cookies on the table. It had to be getting closer to briefing time.
He checked his watch. “What’s taking so long?”
Paulson grabbed a chocolate chip cookie from the plate. “Hughes must still be outside talking to reporters.”
Cullen wasn’t a big fan of the media when it came to the way they covered and dramatized rescue missions on Mount Hood. Whenever anything went down on the mountain, reporters and news trucks raced to the rescue operation’s base at Timberline Lodge, eager to capitalize on some poor soul’s misfortune to increase ratings, web-page hits or circulation.
His stomach growled. He reached for an oatmeal raisin cookie. “Better Hughes than me. I want no part of that feeding frenzy.”
Paulson snickered. “Once the press finds out who was lowered into the Bergschrund...”
“How about we say it was you?” Cullen bit into his cookie.
“I’m game,” Paulson said. “Especially if the hot blond reporter from Channel Nine wants to talk to me again.”
Cullen took another bite. Tasted like one of Carly
Porter’s cookies. Her husband had been on the mission, too. Jake owned the local brewing company and brewpub. A pint of Porter’s Wy’East Lager, with Paulson buying, would hit the spot tonight.
Sheriff’s Deputy Will Townsend approached the table with Sean Hughes at his side. Concern clouded their gazes. Worry was etched in their features.
Cullen wrapped his hands around his coffee cup. He hoped the climber hadn’t taken a turn for the worse on the helicopter ride or at the hospital. The guy was married with two young kids.
“Hey, Doc.” Will tipped his deputy’s hat. “Cell phone turned off?”
“Battery died.” Cullen wondered what his cell phone had to do with anything. He placed his cup on the table. “Not a lot of places to recharge up there.”
Will’s eyes darkened. “We’ve been trying to reach you.”
The deputy’s words tightened Cullen’s throat. He recognized the serious tone and steady cadence. He’d used both when delivering bad news at the hospital. “What’s going on?”
“You’re listed as Sarah Purcell’s emergency contact.”
Hearing the name startled Cullen. His coffee spilled, spreading across the table. “Damn.”
Paulson grabbed napkins. “No worries, Doc. I’ve got it.”
Cullen stood and faced the deputy. “What about Sarah?”
The deputy’s prominent Adam’s apple bobbed up and down. “There was an accident on Mount Baker.”