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RAIN ON A TIN ROOF



Suzanne Cass







Copyright © 2017 Suzanne Cass

All rights reserved.

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form, or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without permission in writing from the publisher.

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are products of the authors imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, organisations, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental. All events in this book are a figment of Suzanne’s imagination.

Find out more about this author and upcoming events

At: wwwsuzannecass.com



Cover Photo by: Luizclas from Pexels






TABLE OF CONTENTS


Title Page

Copyright

Dusty

Lana

Dusty

Lana

Dusty

Lana

Other Books














DUSTY


‘I found her,’ Dusty said into his two-way radio. ‘She’s alive. Suffering from Hypothermia. No other major injuries I can see. Over.’ As he waited for a response from the SES handler he glanced up at the woman hunched over in the saddle on top of his horse and pushed his shoulder hard against her thigh. Hell, she was going to fall off Scout if she didn’t stop swaying like a sapling in a breeze. Scout shifted uneasily, apprehensive of the strange woman on his back. Dusty had already wrapped his oilskin around the woman’s slim shoulders, but he needed to get her somewhere warm and dry. Soon.

She was awake when he found her, but glassy-eyed and barely talking, huddled next to an old fallen log like a desperate, wild animal. If Scout hadn’t shied away from her dark shape, half-hidden by the long grass and low scrub, Dusty probably wouldn’t have seen her. She’d been able to mumble her name as he’d lifted her off the ground, but then her head had lolled against his chest, semi-conscious.

‘Easy,’ Dusty growled and laid his palm flat against the appaloosa’s neck. Scout snorted, but stood still.

His two-way crackled to life. ‘Message received. Did you say you found her? The missing woman, Ehlana Bingly? Over.’

‘Yep, I’ve got her,’ Dusty repeated. ‘But I’m nearly out of daylight up here. And I think it’s going to snow. I’m taking her to Kidman’s Hut, on the eastern side of Mount Jagungal. Try and get her out of this freezing weather. Can you organise a team to meet us there? Over.’

‘Message received. Is that you, Dusty? Dusty Hillman? Over’

‘Yes, John, it’s Dusty here. Over.’ John Reedman was well-known around town. A big man, friendly and determined, he helped out whenever he was needed. John did a good job of manning the Alpine SES desk, keeping the volunteers up to date and on track in times of need, like now. He’d rallied the community together to organise this search and rescue for the missing woman.

‘Didn’t know you were part of this rescue, Dusty. She’s one lucky lady. Thanks for joining us. Over.’

‘Let me know how long it’s going to take that team to get to us. Over,’ he replied in clipped tones, cutting off any further conversation. It was too damn cold and he was too damn pissed off to be swapping banter with John right now. Dusty led Scout over to a fallen log and hauled himself up behind the sagging woman. He gathered the reins in one hand and reached his other arm around her waist. Which wasn’t hard to do. It was a tiny waist. Actually, she was a tiny woman, her head sat neatly beneath his chin as they rode.

‘Don’t you bloody well fall off, woman. I’m likely to leave you there if you do,’ Dusty growled in a low voice. She made no sign of having heard him. What the hell was he doing here? He should be back on his farm bringing that last bunch of sheep down to the shelter of the home paddock before this bloody storm hit. Hell, he could lose the whole flock. And what for? Just so he could rescue some bloody woman who should’ve stayed in the city; who had no right being out here in the mountains in the first place.

Originally, he’d ignored the call for volunteers to join the search. The first call for help had gone out yesterday afternoon. He’d heard it when he’d gone back to the house to make himself a coffee and get out of the biting cold for a few moments. The radio on top of his refrigerator was alive with chatter and calls from the SES to all able-bodied persons to help look for some woman who hadn’t returned from a short horse ride into the foothills of the Snowy Mountains. Dusty stared out the grimy window pane into the brown paddocks and blew on his cup of coffee while he listened to the conversations of the community rallying behind the call. The mountains rose, blue and foreboding just behind the last line of trees on his property. Dusty was sure they’d find her before nightfall, she couldn’t have gotten far. Besides, he had too much to do today. The fence over in Hanging Paddock needed to be fixed, before more of his sheep disappeared onto Sampson’s property. So he stumped his Blundstone boots back onto his feet, shrugged on his well-worn oilskin jacket and went back into the icy wind.

But next morning they still hadn’t found her. As he listened over the radio the voices became more sombre and serious. The horse the woman had been riding reappeared at her uncle’s farm, over on Bogong Flat. Not too far from Dusty’s farm. The horse was completely exhausted, muddy and scratched, with saddle askew and reins broken and trailing on the ground. Which left the woman, Ehlana, on her own, out all night in freezing conditions. It seemed she wasn’t even wearing a proper jacket. Not a good scenario.

His spine had prickled with guilt then. He should join the search. His neighbours, the Sampsons, Neil and his two teenage sons, were all out there on their horses, looking. But surely there were enough people out hunting for her. He didn’t need to join their ranks. He’d hopped back on his motorbike and set off to round up more sheep.

He’d got most of his sheep safely into the holding paddock before that prickling sensation had become so hot he could no longer stand it. Something was telling him to go and saddle Scout. For some reason, some stupid unknown, bloody sissy reason he couldn’t explain, and would never admit to another living soul, he felt a pull towards the mountain. Almost as if he knew she was up there. His eyes roamed over the imposing figure of Mount Jagungle, rising up from his back fence. The SES had concentrated the search on the western side of the mountain, because that’s where she told her uncle she was going. So why did his gaze keep returning to a ridge half-way up on the eastern side, nearest him? It was bloody stupid. But the more he tried to ignore the feeling, the hotter the back of his neck burned, until he’d no choice but to whistle up Scout from the horse yard and saddle the young gelding.

‘Are you still there, Dusty? Over.’ The radio crackled to life again, as Dusty steered Scout around a large stand of snow gums.

Pulling the hand-held radio out of his shirt pocket, he said, ‘Yes, John. Go ahead. Over.’

‘How far out are you from Kidman’s hut? Over.’

‘Probably another twenty minutes. Over.’ Dusty cast his gaze to the darkening sky and crossed his fingers. Hopefully the quickly fading light would last that long. It was just after 4 pm, but the smudged grey clouds, heavy with their load of snow had sucked the last of the afternoon sunlight from the day, turning everything dark and gloomy.

‘We’re not sure if a team can get up to you tonight. This weather is coming in fast. They’re predicting a blizzard. Over’ Great. The absolute last thing he needed. His thoughts went back to the small group of sheep he hadn’t managed to bring down to the safety of the farmhouse. If he lost his precious sheep because of this woman, he’d … He left the thought unfinished. Of course, if came to a choice between a human life and that of his sheep, he’d choose her. But it was a close thing.

With a heavy sigh he replied, ‘Thanks for the heads up. We should be okay once we reach the hut. I’ll treat her for hypothermia and get some fluids into her. Let me know as soon as someone can get to us. Over.’

‘Will do, Dusty. Good luck. Over and Out.’

‘Yeah, thanks,’ Dusty muttered to himself. Ehlana stirred in front of him, shifting slightly in the saddle, as if the radio conversation had gotten through some of the fog of hypothermia and dehydration. He clasped her tighter around the middle and hunched his shoulders against the cold wind that cut through his thick jumper.

‘Come on, Scout,’ he clucked encouragingly. ‘Let’s go.’ The plucky appaloosa quickened his pace up the steep, sloping ground, picking his way through the thick scrub towards the ridge above them and the safety of the little wooden hut, while thunder boomed around them and the temperature dropped even further.














LANA


Why couldn’t she open her eyes? Her eyelids had been glued shut. It was the only explanation. Or else someone had placed a heavy weight on her face.

Lana tried again. At first each lid refused to budge. But then slowly, ever so slowly, her left one parted just a crack. Then her right also opened. She blinked and blinked, but everything was fuzzy and dim. Someone was lifting her, her body cradled inside strong arms, her head resting against a solid chest. It was a man. He smelled like fresh cut grass and earth and warmth. The strong arms laid her gently onto a wooden surface, her head cradled softly in his palm. Then he was gone and she was left alone. Panic set in.

She tried to speak. ‘Hello? Where am I?’ The words sounded muttered and blurry inside her head and she wasn’t even sure she’d said them out loud.

She tried again. ‘Where am I? Who are you?’ This time she’d definitely said the words, but it was as if she were speaking through a cotton shroud. She tried to move, to roll onto her side, but her muscles were slow to respond, like she was moving through molasses.

‘What happened?’ she asked. Why couldn’t she remember where she was? The last thing she recollected clearly was arriving at her aunt and uncle’s house in her sleek white sedan, gliding up the steep drive and watching the familiar tall trees close in around her. Tom, her uncle, had stood on the verandah, arms open in welcome. She’d returned his hug, enjoying the smell of his damp, slightly smoky jumper as he wrapped her up. But that was days ago. Wasn’t it?

A dark form loomed over her and she wanted to scream, but the fuzziness in her head made her reaction slow and it came out as a croak.

‘You’re okay,’ said a deep voice. ‘We’re in Kidman’s hut. I’m going to get you dry and warm. You’ve got hypothermia.’ A face appeared in front of hers suddenly, as the man knelt down beside her.

‘Wh … what? How … how did I get here?’ So many questions crowded her brain, but not many of them made any sense.

‘You went for a horse ride and got lost.’ His voice was deep, but she could sense an undercurrent of impatience. ‘I’ll tell you all about it soon, but my first priority is to get you warm. To get us both warm. Okay?’ The weight of his hand landed on her shoulder, and he stared at her with kind brown eyes. Brown, like rich, dark chocolate. Deep and swirling. She just nodded.

He handed her a bottle of water, breaking the seal on the top as he did so. ‘Take small sips of this. Sorry, I don’t have anything warmer at the moment, but you need to re-hydrate as well as get warm. Okay?’ Again, she just nodded, but accepted the bottle of water.

That’s when she noticed she was wearing an overlarge, bulky jacket. His jacket? Probably. And there was something warm and soft on her head. A beanie. He must’ve put that there too, because she was pretty sure she wasn’t wearing a beanie beforehand. She pulled the jacket tighter around herself. It was hard even to do that simple task. Her bones felt limp and spongey, her muscles like water. She tried to wiggle her toes inside her boots. They responded, but slowly, sluggishly. Some part of Lana understood she was cold, deathly cold, but for now she didn’t feel cold, she just felt sleepy. Lethargic. Like swimming through wet cement. Wouldn’t it just be easier to close her eyes and ….

‘Hey, stay with me, Ehlana.’ His deep voice was back again, and something heavy and soft landed on top of her. Blankets. He started to wrap them around her, tucking the edges in like she was a child.

‘Lana,’ she croaked.

‘What?’ His big hands stopped moving.

‘Call me Lana. I hate Ehlana.’

He gave a grunt. Whether it was in humour or acknowledgement, she wasn’t sure. ‘I’m, Dusty,’ he said and then he was gone again and she could hear noises somewhere close by. Where had he said they were? In some kind of hut? She tried to lift her head. Her neck wouldn’t obey, but she managed to swivel her shoulders just enough so the man, Dusty, came into view.

It took a few moments for her eyes to adjust to the dim light inside the hut. Over in the corner, Dusty was crouched in front of a large, stone fireplace. The sound of snapping branches filled the small space and then his hand reached out and placed a pile of kindling in the centre of the fireplace. She watched the muscles of his broad shoulders flex and bulge beneath his thick woollen jumper as he moved.

Her eyes roved over the interior of the hut. It was basic. A roughly hewn wooden floor, with walls to match. A simple wooden table was anchored to the floor in one corner next to the fireplace, and two large metal storage trunks leaned up against the far wall, one with the lid thrown open. A bench, a couple of feet off the floor, also made of bare wood, lined the last wall and extended around the corner to blend with the bench she was lying on. A very simple form of a bed, she assumed.

A match flared in the gloom and suddenly welcoming flames danced in the fireplace. A fire would be nice, Lana thought absentmindedly. Perhaps it might warm her up a bit. She stared at the flickering flames, hypnotised.

Dusty came back to her side after a few minutes.

‘I’m just going to check on my horse. I won’t be long, I promise. Don’t go anywhere.’ She would’ve laughed out loud if her numb lips allowed. Instead she just grunted.

But true to his word, within a few minutes she heard the wooden door clang shut as a blast of freezing air swirled in on the man’s heels.

Her gaze traced his pathway across the small hut to the fireplace, where he dropped an armload of wood on the floor, then added some larger logs to the flames.

‘Right, let’s get you more comfortable,’ he said, looming over her again. What did he mean by that? ‘Can you sit up for a moment?’ She very much doubted it, but he got a hand under her shoulders and levered her up without really waiting for her answer. She had to lean her shoulders up against the wall, but she actually made a pretty good job of staying upright.

‘I know this might sound odd, but I need to get some of those clothes off you.’

‘You’re going to do what?’ she asked, hoping her voice sounded as scornful as she felt. Instead it came out croaky and wretched.

‘Your clothes are wet. In order to get you warm, I need to get your wet clothes off and wrap you in some dry blankets.’ Oh, okay then. That sounded a little more logical. ‘And then I’m going to get under the blankets with you. Body heat is the quickest way to warm someone up.’ Did she just hear him right? Was he going to hop in bed with her?

‘Its basic first aid. You should know that.’

She just stared at him as if he were mad. Finally he shrugged and bent down to remove his boots, tugging hers off as well. She wasn’t sure what to think or what to do. When her bare toes hit the wooden floor, she hardly felt it. They were like chunks of ice, unresponsive and leaden. Perhaps he was right, perhaps she did need a little warming up.


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