I've been in the writing cave for the past two weeks, so I thought I'd share a peek at what I've been working on.
It felt strange to see civilization again after a month of sleeping rough and living in the outback. Thorne followed the gravel road down into the valley, the first place he’d seen in a month that didn’t show the ravages of the hot, dry summer. It wasn’t as lush as he imagined it would be after a wet spring, but it wasn’t the same sere brown or charred black as the parts of the outback he’d been living in. In the center of the valley, a collection of houses and outbuildings nestled together, looking for all the world like the center of its own little universe.
Thorne ignored the pinch in his heart at the sight. This wasn’t just a group of buildings. This was a home. Thorne hadn’t had a home since his had burned down when he was eighteen, taking the lives of his parents and younger brother, but he could still recognize one when he saw it. More than that, he’d spent twenty years in the Commandos defending home. Not his, never his, not since it had burned to the ground while he spent the night with a friend, but the homes of everyone who would have been the victim of the terrorists they stopped, the insurgents they put down, the guerillas they contained. The station below might not be his home, but it was a home, and Thorne would die before he let the grassfires take it from the men and women who could claim it as their own.
He coasted to a stop and put the truck in park. Climbing out, he took a moment to survey the valley, mentally calculating angles and wind direction and defensibility. The upcoming fight wouldn’t involve bullets and other ammunition, but it would be a fight nonetheless and the better they defended the valley, the easier it would be to win the fight. The valley walls were steeper at the far end than they were where the road entered. It would make choosing the location of the firebreak simpler and possibly easier to defend since the drop-off would make it harder for the sparks to catch on fresh tender. Closer to the road and the entrance to the valley, the slope was gentler, but even then, Thorne saw what he considered a clear line of valley versus tablelands. They would set their defenses there and concentrate the manpower along the gentler slopes where jumping the firebreak would be more of a concern.
Plans in place, he climbed back in the truck and drove the rest of the way onto the station. As he neared the populated area, two men stepped out to greet him, both wearing battered Akubras and well-worn boots. The resemblance ended there, though. Beneath the hats, one was blond, the other brunet, one as craggy as the hills that surrounded them, the other fresh-faced and clean-shaven. He pulled to a stop in front of them and rolled down the window.
“Can we help you?” the brunet asked, surprising Thorne with his American accent.
“I hope so, mate. I’m looking for the grazier. There’s a grassfire headed this way and I’m here to help get things ready.”
“We own Lang Downs,” the Yank replied. “Caine Neiheisel, and this is my partner, Macklin Armstrong. And you are?”
“Thorne Lachlan,” Thorne said. “I’m with the Firies who are at the front north of here. The captain sent me to warn you and to start setting up defenses around the population center of the station.”
“How long do we have?” Armstrong asked. Thorne relaxed a little. Armstrong was an Aussie, and one who had the look of a stockman.
“If conditions stay like they are now, maybe forty-eight hours,” Thorne replied. “If the wind dies down, we may get a break and stop it where it is, but we can’t count on that. By the time we know for sure, it will be too late to build new firebreaks here.”
“We already have our jackaroos bringing the mob down into the valley,” Neiheisel said. “As soon as they return, we have fifty men and all the station’s equipment we can put at your disposal. Uncle Michael built this place from the ground up. I’m not losing it now.”
Thorne let out the breath he hadn’t realized he’d been holding. His chances of successfully protecting the station increased with every pair of willing hands and every bit of cooperation from the station owner. He would have fought tooth and nail to stop the fire even if he’d had to do it alone, but this was far better.
“Good. Where can I pitch my tent? I’ll get my gear out of the way and we can start marking off the areas for the fire break.”
“You don’t need to pitch a tent,” Neiheisel said. “There’s a perfectly good bed in the guest room in the station house. You can sleep there.”
“That won’t be enough when the rest of the Firies get here,” Thorne warned.
Neiheisel shrugged. “So we’ll find couches or double bunk the kids. Nobody will be sleeping on the ground if I can help it.”
The thought of kids exposed to the fire froze Thorne’s blood in his veins. “Perhaps you should speak to the families with children about evacuating until the fire is under control again. Property damage can be repaired. Children can’t be replaced.”
“We already gave their parents that option,” Armstrong said. “If it comes to it, Carley and Molly will take the kids and head to town, but for now, everyone prefers to stay and help.”
It wasn’t Thorne’s place to argue, but as he parked his truck where Armstrong indicated and grabbed the gear he’d need to begin setting up the valley’s protection, his determination to see them through the upcoming inferno increased even more.
By the time he returned to the station owners, another man had joined them, his horse dancing restlessly beneath him.
“Neil, this is Thorne Lachlan from the RFS .” As Caine spoke, Neil swung off his horse and tossed the reins to a passing jackaroo. “He’s been fighting the fires north of here and has come to help us get ready. Thorne, this is Neil Emery, our foreman.”
“Cheers, mate” Neil said, offering his hand. Thorne shook it, appreciating the firm grip and the calluses that came from hard work. “You can see the smoke on the horizon already. I’ve been waiting for someone to come warn us.”
“You didn’t need the warning,” Thorne said, looking around as sheep spilled over the edge of the tablelands and down into the valley. “Your bosses were already getting ready, but I have some tricks up my sleeve to help keep you safe.”
Neil nodded and turned to Caine. “Tell Molly she has to leave now. Please?”
“She’s your wife,” Caine retorted. “If she won’t listen to you, what makes you think she’ll listen to me?”
“You’re her boss. I’m just her husband.”
Thorne shared an amused look with Armstrong. It had been years since Thorne had been around women much, but he still remembered his father trying fruitlessly to convince his mother of something she didn’t want to do. The thought brought the familiar pang, the grief no less now than it had been twenty years ago, no matter how people said time healed all wounds.
“If it gets that dangerous, we’ll all be leaving,” Caine said with a sharp look at Macklin. “Buildings can be rebuilt, livestock can be replaced. That’s what we have insurance for, if it comes to that.”
“It won’t come to that,” Thorne swore. “I won’t let it.”