She could feel her palms beginning to sweat as the floor of the gym grew further and further away from her. Her legs trembled and her stomach began to roll unpleasantly. Her hands slid precariously against the textured surface of the wall, and the footholds she had wedged her toes into suddenly felt far too shallow. Her body was trying desperately to lock up in terror, heedless of the harness about her waist or the rope attached to it that could bear over 2,000 pounds before snapping. Logically, she knew she was perfectly safe. But since when did fear ever obey logic?

One shaking hand lifted toward the next handhold, forcing her to stretch, rising onto her toes in order to grasp it. She was well under five feet and she expected this course, even at the beginner level, had not been built for those of childlike heights. Slotting her fingertips into the narrow crevice, she eased her left foot from its hold, slamming her eyes shut as she sought the next; she dared not glance down to seek it.

Asrai knew this routine well; she had been undergoing it for close to two weeks now. Her fear of heights was a weakness she could not abide, not when she had so many others to contend with. She was determined to push herself past her terror, even if it meant getting onto the wall every day.

Every day she did.

And every day she froze.

Haidyn Ammerson was the trainer who knew exactly what his task would be about fifteen minutes after Rai got onto the wall. She knew she should be embarrassed when he donned a harness the moment he saw her, but she could only feel grateful for his stalwart belief that the day would come when she would no longer need him to carry her shaking form to the ground when her fear overcame her resolve.

Today was not going to be that day. She knew it as she felt the room around her begin to spin. Her chest felt tight and black spots danced before her eyes as if someone had filled the air around her with tiny specks of ink.

She did not see Haidyn's approach, never heard him on the wall below her, but in the space of one moment and the next, his strong arms had slid about her waist, applying a gentle pressure that had her falling from the wall back against the hard, sculpted planes of his chest. Nausea roiled in the back of her throat as one of his hands rose to the rope above her head; she could feel his muscles flexing and rolling as he repelled them both back down the wall at a steady clip that never ceased to summon her gorge to the fore.

"Breathe, Rai."

The murmur near her ear was quiet and concerned, and she obeyed the command without thinking. The invisible bands around her chest loosened as she drew in a gasping breath, her entire body shuddering against Haidyn in the aftermath of a primal terror. It was not quite as severe as her fear of all things canine, but it was a very close second.

She knew it could not have been more than thirty seconds before Haidyn was placing her feet on solid ground, but it felt like an eternity. Allowing her knees to buckle beneath her, she felt the trainer's hand guiding her gently to the floor, crouching before her and leaning in to divest her of her harness. Her mind felt sluggish and her ears were filled with a high-pitched ringing that rendered all spoken words muffled and distorted.

This had been the worst attack yet. She couldn't understand it. Why now, nearly two weeks into her self-imposed sentence?

Was that truly what it was? A sentence? A preemptive punishment for a wrong she subconsciously knew she would perform? Was this wall nothing more than a whip with tongs of terror rather than leather that she was using to lash herself with from nothing short of inner loathing?

She could feel the wail rising in her chest, applying physical pressure as she fought with all her strength to give it no voice. Not here, where Haidyn would see her crumble. Not here, where she could not even explain where this abstract loss was coming from. Not here, where she could not explain that her anguish had no anchor, that it just was, like the moon and the stars and the sky just were. She had failed in some fundamental way, and the fragile globe of something precious she had painstakingly built with His help was on the verge of shattering. It was only a matter of time before it would be obliterated, and her heart with it.

But she could give voice to none of that, and so she reached for the less empathetic aspects of her personality, cloaked her heart in calming blue, cold as ice and just as solid. She erected this wall between her mind and her emotions, breathing a small sigh of relief as the anguish was shocked into a state of numbness. If only for the moment.

"I'm all right," she breathed, more for Haidyn's benefit than her own.

"Mmm," the trainer replied, sliding the harness from about her waist with the metallic clink of buckles and carabiners. "Maybe one day, Rai, but not today."

She didn't have the energy to contradict Haidyn's accurate observation. She knew she was not all right. Her legs felt like pudding and she still felt as if she had stepped onto a merry-go-round that simply refused to stop.

"Thank you," was all she said.

"You're welcome," Haidyn replied, his smooth baritone washing over her like a Caribbean breeze filled with warmth.

If only she weren't so cold, it may have actually touched her.