Burn For You (Outback Skies Book 3), page 1
Burn For You
Outback Skies, Book Three
More Romance From Lexxie Couper…
First Chapter Preview: Bare For You
About Lexxie Couper
His past has destroyed him. But can it also heal him?
Up in the air, fighting fires from the cockpit of his helicopter, no one sees the scars that ribbon Evan Alexanders body…and run clear down to his soul. When a massive fire threatens Wallaby Ridge the country’s media swoop in, all eyes are on him. Dodging every reporter is easy—except for one. A woman from his past who knows the reason he’s hiding in the small town.
Jenna McGrath can’t believe the quiet, withdrawn man fighting to save Wallaby Ridge is the same arrogant, cocky pilot she fell in love with six years ago. A cruel betrayal caused Jenna to remove herself from Evan’s world, but she’s never been able to erase him from her memories.
Their long-suppressed attraction reignites, but the walls Evan has built around himself are high. And while Jenna easily overlooks the scars on his body, she begins to wonder if molten desire is enough to melt the emotional scars binding his heart.
BURN FOR YOU
Copyright © 2015 by Lexxie Couper
Published October 2019
Editing by Heidi Shoham
All rights reserved. This book or any portion thereof may not be reproduced nor used in any manner whatsoever without the express written permission of the publisher except for use of brief quotations in a book review.
This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be resold or given away to other people. If you are reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please return it and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are products of the author’s imagination or are used facetiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events or locales is entirely coincidental.
The best way to stay in touch is to join Lexxie’s New Release List. Visit LexxieCouper.com to subscribe.
While writing this book, my dad, a retired firefighter, was rushed to hospital and underwent emergency surgery. We didn’t know if he was going to make it. I would like to dedicate this book to the nurses of Ward 1 at the Tamworth Base Hospital for the amazing care they gave him during his time with them, and the kindness and compassion they showed my mum every minute, hour and day she sat by his bed.
“Here ya go, mate, get that inta ya.”
Evan Alexander raised his head—heavier than it was five hours ago, surely—and took the beer offered to him by the owner of the Outback Skies pub. “Thanks, Lacky.”
His voice sounded scratched and dry, even to his own ears. It didn’t surprise him. His throat felt lined with hot sandpaper. He shifted his butt on the pub’s wooden step, unable to stop his gaze moving to the dense black smoke devouring the western sky. Smoke he’d just spent the last five hours flying around in. Smoke he’d just spent the last five hours inhaling.
Smoke he was, in roughly two minutes—give or take a mouthful—heading back into.
All around him, the small town of Wallaby Ridge writhed, rallying together in the face of a fire larger than any the area had experienced before. The Salvation Army had arrived from nearby Dubbo already, setting up outside the Ridge’s only green grocer, ready to offer support, sandwiches and water to anyone exhausted from fighting the blaze. Beside them, the first of the media trucks were unloading. Reporters sent from Sydney, no doubt to capture the drama of the history-making inferno.
Evan could only shake his head at the women in high heels and thigh-hugging skirts tottering around their equipment vans, their immaculate make-up at odds with the dusty street. And then there were their cameramen, dressed in baggy jeans and T-shirts and gaping at the billowing smoke rising into the sky hundreds of kilometres away as if it was a cancerous monster.
“Charlie’s just got word the National Aerial Firefighting Centre has sent two choppers from Sydney.” Matt Corvin lowered himself onto the step beside Evan and handed him a bag of salted peanuts. “Here. Eat some of these. Doctor’s orders.”
Evan snorted. Trust the town’s doc to make sure he was keeping his sodium levels up. Of course, with how much he’d sweated over the last five hours fighting the fire from the skies, his body would definitely be deprived of salt at the moment.
Snaring a handful of nuts from the bag, he tossed them into his mouth and chewed, returning his attention to the smoke well on its way to blocking out the setting sun. If the fire currently on its way to destroying half of the Mutawintji National Park wasn’t extinguished soon, Wallaby Ridge was going to be plunged into an unnatural night. And with both aerial and ground backup not arriving from Sydney for at least another three hours, the air assault on the blaze was pretty much left up to Evan.
Like the Blue Mountains fire? Are you going to fuck up this one as well? Is someone going to die before this fire’s out?
A suffocating pressure wrapped his chest. The nuts in his mouth tasted like dust. A heavy ball of dark contempt churned in his gut.
Dragging his stare from the smoke, eyes stinging with sweat and dust, he drained the glass in his hand and pushed himself to his feet.
He had to get back to it.
No rest for the wicked, eh, Evan?
He flicked Matt a quick glance, noting the worry on the doc’s face. “Is the chopper refueled?”
His friend nodded, rising to his own feet. “Ryan called through a minute ago. I figured you needed a few minutes rest before I told you. You sure you’re ready to go back up?”
Scrubbing his palms on the tops of his thighs, Evan nodded. “Yeah. I’m good. I’ve done this before, remember?”
Matt’s gaze moved to the twisted web of scarred flesh that covered most of the left side of Evan’s face. Evan didn’t need to ask what he was thinking. Everyone in Wallaby Ridge knew how those scars had come about. Was everyone in the Ridge now thinking about that? Wondering if Evan was up to the task of saving the national park, as well as keeping all those out there fighting the massive inferno on the ground safe.
Would someone die today, because Evan couldn’t handle the—
A red-dust-covered 4WD skidded to a halt directly in front of the pub, spewing dirt up from its back wheels. The driver’s door was flung open and a woman covered in ash and soot tumbled from behind the wheel, her stare fixed on Evan and Matt. “Captain Montgomery just radioed through from the north front,” she said, hurrying towards them. “The wind’s shifted.”
Evan’s blood ran cold. He stiffened.
Behind the 4WD, the big-city reporters stirred, as if sensing blood. One of the women grabbed her cameraman’s shirt sleeve and tugged at it as she fixed her stare on Evan. Dawning recognition flooded her face.
“Hey!” she shouted across the street. “Hey, you’re that helicopter pilot who almost died in the Blue Mountains fire five years ago, aren’t you?”
Adjusting his baseball cap low over his face, Evan jerked his stare back to Matt and their new arrival, ignoring the woman’s question.
“Shifted?” Matt—ever the doctor—pressed his hands either side of her face and gently tugged at the skin beneath her eyes, no doubt checking them for whatever doctors looked for when they did such a thing. “What’s that mean?
“It means the fire’s on the verge of jumping the containment—”
Evan didn’t listen to the rest. Throwing himself into Tash’s Land Cruiser, he yanked the door shut, slammed the 4WD into gear and took off, showering the female reporter currently hurrying across the street in a spray of red dust.
Pushing the vehicle to its limits, he headed for the Wallaby Ridge Rural Fire Brigade’s helipad. He had to get to the north front of the blaze. Now.
If the fire did jump the containment line, it meant the captain of the Wallaby Ridge’s fire brigade and the small team of locals working with her was surrounded.
If he didn’t get there before that happened, Jess Montgomery and her team would not survive.
An image of a blackened body flashed through his head. The haunting stench of burnt flesh filled his sinuses. The soul-tearing screams of a dying man filled his ears… A ghost from a lifetime ago he could never escape.
Gut knotted, chest tight, Evan shut out the tormented memory and pushed his foot harder to the accelerator.
Ryan Taylor was waiting for him at the chopper when he arrived. His best friend met him halfway across the helipad, holding his cowboy hat firmly to his head. Evan noticed the heli-musterer had already started up the Bell 205 and the blades slowly rotated in the smoke-hazy air. “She’s ready to go, mate,” Ryan shouted, grabbing Evan’s shoulder to halt his sprint for the chopper. “Watch it up there, okay. The wind’s being a fucking messy bitch and the fire is heading east. It’s jumped the containment line and Jess and the north front team are in the middle of it.”
Evan nodded, heart wild, voice steady. “It’s all good. I’ll make sure they’re safe and get out alive.”
Like Matt, Ryan’s gaze flicked to the scars on Evan’s face. “I know you will, mate. But it’s you I’m worried about. I know you’re brilliant at what you do, but there’s no way anyone can get to you if you go down in that fire. Not where it’s currently burning. Not even me. Got it?”
Evan slapped his hand on Ryan’s forearm and gave his friend a wide grin. His body thrummed, charged with adrenaline and fear. “Is this your subtle way of finally telling me I’m a better pilot than you?”
Ryan barked out a laugh. “Get the fuck out of here, Ev. Put the fire out and then get your arse back here pronto. You owe me a beer for a comment like that.”
With his own dry laugh, Evan ran to the chopper, climbed into the pilot seat and took off.
There was work to be done. Dangerous work.
The best work in the world, in Evan’s opinion, even as he dreaded every fucking minute.
It was work that had cost him his marriage, cost him his life in Sydney. Work that had cost his partner of ten years his life, period.
Work that had scarred Evan as surely on the inside as it had the outside.
Heart racing, he navigated the Bell 205 towards the thick columns of smoke turning the western sky black.
He refused to let his mind replay the reason for the reporter’s recognition. Refused to think about a dying man’s screams echoing in his head now. Refused to acknowledge words uttered five years ago by the woman he’d thought loved him unconditionally, words of repulsion and scorn.
Instead, he focused on the wall of smoke and fire roaring towards the perimeter of the Mutawintji National Park where members of the Ridge’s fire brigade, consisting mostly of volunteers, fought the blaze. Instead, he flew straight through the smoke to the deep water hole in the middle of the national park, sucked over 10,000 litres of water up into his chopper’s tank and then sought out the densest pillar of smoke closest to the team’s last known position.
He swooped low through the smoke, blinded by it, relying on gut instinct.
The wind slammed into the chopper, buffeting it with powerful force. The flames leapt high, dancing on the erratic gust.
Heat blasted at the cockpit, turning it to an instant oven.
Fresh sweat popped out on Evan’s forehead. He gripped the collective pitch lever, fighting against the wild lashes of wind as he searched for any sight of Wallaby Ridge’s fire brigade captain and her team below.
Five men and one woman faced a wall of fire, their water-filled backpacks almost farcical in the face of such fierce flames.
Evan fixed their position in his mind, soared higher above the flames and, judging the direction and speed of the wind by the smoke whipping past the windscreen, dropped his chopper’s entire load in a torrent of water on the fire below.
He watched the majority of the water vaporize as it encountered the intense heat of the flames.
Cursed the fire with every breath in his lungs like he always did and, committing the ground team’s location to memory—navigated back to the water hole over twenty kilometres away.
He repeated the maneuver four times. With each return dump, the wind pummeled his chopper harder. It wasn’t just a wind anymore. It had grown into a gale, a malevolent squall hell-bent on preventing him from returning to the line.
A living creature determined to devour any chance of keeping those below Evan free of the flames’ hunger.
On the fifth trip, Evan lost sight of the team.
“Fuck!” he screamed, searching for the firefighters in the fleeting glimpses he got of the ground through the fire and smoke.
Risking the dangerous gusts, he dropped lower, the smoke swirling away from the chopper’s blades like a whirlpool.
Nothing but fire and smoke and burning trees and scrub.
A kangaroo bounded across the ground, its fur ablaze.
“Fuck!” he screamed again, gripping the collective pitch lever tighter.
Another squall slammed into the chopper, knocking it sideways.
Evan fought back control, desperate to find the ground team. Alarms buzzed in the cockpit, warning signals he was too close to the ground. Too close.
A flash of neon yellow caught his eye amongst the black and red. He reefed on the lever, tilting the chopper into the wind.
The smoke swirled away, revealing the Ridge’s fire brigade captain, Jess Montgomery, screaming at someone or something still hidden by the smoke.
Yanking back the collective lever, Evan sent the chopper high. Scanned the area. Studied the smoke and the flames. Calculated what little time those on the ground had left before the fire ringed them completely.
And did the only thing he could.
Hoping to hell the captain realised what he was doing, he activated the retraction winch for the water collection hose and directed the chopper back down into the inferno.
He cut through the thick smoke and flames devouring the scrub behind Jess and her team and headed for the only patch of ground to their rear untouched by the fire.
Christ, he hoped to fuck it was large enough to land on without being engulfed by flames.
The chopper’s cabin turned to an oven again. Sweat beaded on his forehead, his top lip. Stung his eyes.
He navigated purely on instinct. Fought the buffeting gale as it tried to drive him into the blaze. Fought the pummeling memories of a similar fight between nature and aircraft five years ago…
Through the chopper’s windshield, he caught sight of Jess screaming at that same unseen something or someone in the smoke. This time, however, he spied four of her team running towards him.
Ash had turned their faces black. Their eyes were wide with fear. Two of the men dragged a third between them, his body limp, his head lolling.
Heart fast, Evan gripped the collective lever tighter, made sure the collection hose was completely retracted and prepared himself for what came next.
A juddering jolt rocked the chopper as it thudded against the ground. He bit back a curse, fixing his stare instead on the men hurrying towards him. Men fleeing a cruel, hideous death.
They reached the side of the chopper just as he slid open the door.
A wall of heat hotter than a furnace slammed into him. Searing-hot air poured into his lungs. The screams of a ghost assaulted him again, dying screams of agony. He shut them out, focusing on the men looking up at him with raw terror and relief.
“We’ve lost Harry,” one of them shouted, helping his fellow fighters shove their unconscious crew mate into the chopper. “The Captain is trying to find—”
A deafening roar erupted behind them, followed a split second later by a wave of scalding heat.
Snapping his stare over the men’s shoulders, Evan witnessed a massive eucalyptus tree detonate on the rim of the fire front. Beneath it was Jess Montgomery, the petite captain of the Wallaby Ridge Fire Brigade hunching over what was obviously a prone body on the ground.
“There!” Evan yelled, pointing in her direction.
Every fibre in his body urged him to jump from the chopper and run to them. To drag them from beneath the burning tree.
But if he did, they’d all be dead within the minute. The fire was devouring the small area he’d touched down in. They all needed to be in the air ASAP, and given he was the only one capable of piloting the chopper…
“Hurry,” he shouted at the backs of the two men now running for Jess and Harry.
The urge to join them flooded him again. Overwhelming and powerful. Gritting his teeth, he dropped his attention to the unconscious man on the floor of his chopper. Checked his pulse.
Alive. But only just.
Pulling him farther in, he shot a quick glance outside. Just in time to see another gum tree detonate beside the first.
Just in time to see half the blazing foliage fall to the ground.
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