Romantic Suspense, 197 pages
Cover art by Richard Stroud
'Andrea Madison,' she told Kent. The Andrea part was right, but her married name was Andrea Madison Silverton, widow of the Under Secretary of the Interior. No one couldn't blame her for wanting to shed two years of hearings and malicious speculation about his tragic death, by leaving Washington D.C. But why Grass Springs, Montana? Did she know someone here?
Andrea was halfway to Grass Springs when Amy shouted.
"There's a plane up there, Mom. I think it is Mr. Sawyer's."
Braking sharply, Andrea watched as Kent circled, then swooped the plane low. "He's trying to tell us something. Evidently can't reach us on the radio." She picked up the receiver and extended the antenna. A static sound came through when she punched a key. "Hello, Andrea below you. Can you hear me?"
"Barely," Jeff shouted. "Turn around fast and drive directly to the airstrip. Fire's cut off the road to town!"
Andrea took a deep breath to stay calm. Narrow squeeze for turning. No shoulders, the one place with deep ditches. Backing up to a wider place took her complete concentration. After several tries, she eased the van around to face north. "Tight parking place, kids."
As she neared the old house, David shouted. "Watch it, Mom. There's a whole bunch of deer turning into our yard."
"We're not stopping there, Davy. We've got to get up to the airstrip." But she slowed to take a last glance at the house. Smoke billowed behind the windbreak, probably Kent's cottonwood grove. She covered the two miles at reckless speed, squealing into the Skyline Ranch drive, and around the perimeter of the house to the airstrip.
Kent and Jeff were pulling things from the plane to lighten the load when Andrea stopped the van. She and the children leapt out of the car. Kent hurried over and crushed her to his chest.
"Thank God, Andy, you made it. When we saw the flames leap across the road, I nearly had a coronary."
"Next move is yours, Kent. Do we try to drive around the fire?"
"No. That north section road is too dangerous. The road crews were fixing some winter washouts when they had to go fight the fire. We'll fly out."
"Three adults and two children? You'll have to make a couple of trips."
"Jeff's going to the canyon to help Bates. I've almost got the Cessna stripped down enough for the four of us. Afraid you'll have to leave the baggage."
While Kent finished fueling the plane, Andrea grabbed a bag of sandwiches and the thermos of coffee. She recalled Doug's warning never to take off without something to eat and drink in case you had to land in a pasture somewhere. Tears fogged her vision. She'd packed his lunch that day. Peanut butter and honey sandwiches.
David and Amy were unusually quiet. She hugged them both tightly. "You okay, kids?"
"Yeah, Mom." David said, tears oozing from the corner of his eyes. "Will the fire hurt the deer?"
"You mean the ones we saw in our yard?"
"Uh huh. Did they think we'd take care of them and we just went right on by the house?"
"Maybe. Or maybe it was because I left two tubs of water and a dozen apples in the back yard. Animals can sense water and deer love apples."
Kent, his face red with the hurried effort to get the plane ready, squeezed David's shoulder. "Got a neat little nest in the back for you, David. And Amy will fit just in front of him. Come on, I'll help you in."
Andrea turned to Jeff, who stood mopping his sweating forehead. "Do you think the van would make it to the canyon? It's full of our stuff, but doesn't have all wheel drive. I know Bates took the Subaru."
Jeff nodded. "That's a good thought. I don't relish the notion of driving Kent's Lincoln or this little Ford over that old section road. Your van's got more clearance. Truck's already at the canyon. Steve and Althea hauled in hay and oats for the horses this morning. They're staying in the canyon with Bates."
"Kent, look!" Andrea could not stifle a cry when she saw high flames in the grove directly south of Kent's house. He moved beside her.
"I know. That's the reason we have to fly out or hide in that stifling canyon. We'd better get this operation over."
Andrea tossed the van keys to Jeff. "Good luck to you and Bates."
"And Bangle and her pups," David yelled from the plane.
Andrea tried to relax her deep tension as Kent taxied to the far end of the tarmac strip. She glanced toward the wind indicator and saw that it blew straight from the west. That would help the loaded plane take off, but predicted dire results for the ranch house. Her hands clenched tightly as Kent took most of the runway to lift off.
Andrea noticed Kent's clothing was dotted with burned holes. She ran a hand over her hair, brushed off several cinders, and grinned at him. "Whew! Where to now, Prince Charming?"
Kent reached over to squeeze her knee. "To a better place than hell, Cinderella."