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Authors: Karly Lane

Burnt

BOOK: Burnt
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Burnt

Karly Lane

www.harlequinbooks.com.au

About the Author

Karly Lane lives in Macksville on the Mid North Coast of New South Wales.

Karly loves to hear from her readers so find her on Facebook, and say hi.

For more information and to find other Karly Lane books, please visit
karlylane.com
.

To those we have lost too soon, but never forgotten.

Contents

About the Author

Prologue

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

Chapter 19

Chapter 20

Chapter 21

Chapter 22

Chapter 23

Chapter 24

Chapter 25

Chapter 26

Chapter 27

Chapter 28

Chapter 29

Chapter 30

Chapter 31

Chapter 32

Acknowledgements

Prologue

Screams, lights, blood and the smell of the entire world burning were the last things Seb Taylor remembered as the darkness swam before his eyes and he fell into an endless pit of despair.

He walked from the church, numb, never lifting his eyes from the ground. He'd sat at the back on purpose, trying to keep a low profile. His parents sat either side of him. His arm throbbed and ached, but not as badly as his heart. The car trip out to the cemetery was a blur of dry grass and an endless row of people lining the streets. They stared at him accusingly and he felt their hate burning his flesh like a blow torch.

At the graveside, he tried to listen to the minister's voice, hear the words that would comfort him, but all he heard was the veiled message that these two young, vibrant lives had been stolen away too soon – by him.

He knew she was standing at the edge of the graves, but he couldn't look at her. Her face was battered and bruised, the white sling holding her broken arm stark against her black dress. She leaned heavily on her father. This was the second funeral in two days. He refused to look across at the freshly dug earth in the far corner of the cemetery where Marty lay. Seb forced his gaze to remain on the hole between them. It was deep, dark and cold, but nowhere as deep as the hole he carried inside him.

Finally, the droning voice finished and he was free to leave.

And never come back.

Chapter 1

The sound of gravel under Rebecca Whiteman's shoes was loud in the quiet night. The hospital was silent behind her. It'd been a long shift – one nurse down, and too many beds. She couldn't wait to crawl into her own.

A small frown touched her brow as she got that strange feeling again, like someone was watching her. She'd been ignoring it for the last two weeks now, but it was getting worse. A shiver ran through her and goose bumps covered her arms.

Pressing the button on her key ring, she heard the comforting
thunk
as the car unlocked, a light glowing like a little beacon of safety inside. Quickening her steps, she slid in, locking the doors automatically after her. When she turned the ignition, the CD started where it had stopped when she'd arrived at work earlier that afternoon, the deep, sexy tones of Lee Kernaghan filling the car, crooning about his Goondiwindi moon. With Lee helping to push away the uneasiness, she reversed out of the car park, more than ready to go home.

Home.
The thought sparked a collage of emotions: relief, sadness, guilt …

The
tick-tock
of the blinker interrupted her thoughts as she searched the empty street for traffic before pulling out of the hospital entrance and heading for the highway. While the streets might be quiet at this hour, the highway wasn't – it never slept. Huge semi-trailers rumbled their way through town – a dot on their road map, just another sleepy rural community – as they continued up the east coast of New South Wales between Sydney and Brisbane.

After waiting at the traffic lights – a new set, put in to cope with the brand spanking new Woolworths on the corner – Rebecca drove past the landmarks that held so many precious memories. The duck pond, once a stinking, green eyesore, was now a well-maintained park, happily churning up large water spouts that helped agitate the water and deter the build-up of weeds and algae. How many times had she brought the girls down here for a picnic and to feed bread to the ducks? As little kids, it had been the highlight of their lives whenever they'd been visiting their grandparents. Regret touched her as she realised she'd only brought the girls down here once since they'd moved back, and that experience had been less than memorable. All they did was fight and complain about how boring it was.
Bored
with feeding ducks at eight and ten years of age? What was the world coming to?

She slowed to a stop at the next set of traffic lights – yes, two sets, with a third barely a hundred metres further up at the corner of the main street. Macksville had hit the big time. Not every town this size on the Mid North Coast could boast
three
sets of traffic lights in a row.

Rebecca glanced over at the car dealership that had once been owned by her grandfather and his brothers. She could still remember spending the day there when she'd been about five. She'd been on one of her many visits and her nanna had had to go to an appointment, so the receptionists and mechanics had entertained her. It seemed mind-boggling that she was now a grown woman with children of her own.

The front light came on as she pulled up outside her home, and all feelings of unease vanished as she opened the front door and crept inside. She bit back a sigh. She'd built up years of distrust while living in the city, and still couldn't get used to the idea of her parents leaving the front door unlocked for her at night. No matter how many times she reassured them that she had a key, they still left the front door unlocked for her when she did night shift.

Rebecca poked her head around the corner of the spare room her children shared and smiled as she saw the two small heads sound asleep against the brightly coloured floral pillow cases that had been hers as a child. The girls looked so young and precious. Lately they'd lost that sad-eyed look that had stabbed at her heart and made her itch to gather them close and beg for forgiveness. Turning away, Rebecca let out a long sigh and made her way to the kitchen to put on the jug.

She tried to be as quiet as she could, although she knew she'd never wake the girls – they'd always slept like a log through the night. It was her parents she hated to disturb. Lately that's all she'd felt she was doing: disturbing, disrupting – imposing.

She and the girls had been living back at her parents' house a while now and it was time to go. Although she was grateful that her parents had opened their arms and home to her and her children, there was a limit to the amount of time a grown woman could live under the same roof with her parents. More to the point, there was a limit to how long they could tolerate two lively children and having their peaceful life upended.

She shook her head and smiled as she recalled the excitement in her mother's face when they'd pulled up three months ago, the car loaded up with their possessions and ready to start a new life. It was so good to be home and have her parents take care of them all for a little while, as she licked her wounds and found her feet again – and she could easily get used to it if it weren't for the kids. They needed a routine and a house of their own. Rebecca could feel some of her control slowly beginning to slip away. What started out as grandparents spoiling kids on holidays didn't transfer too well on a daily basis. The ‘no boundaries' life they'd fallen into recently wasn't good for the long term.

Taking her cup of herbal tea, which promised to give her a good night's sleep, Rebecca sat down at the kitchen bench and reached for the newspaper to search the ‘to let' section. As she picked it up, her eyes went to the large photo on the front and she gasped, dropping it onto the bench as she stared in shock. With shaking hands, she picked the paper up again cautiously, as though it were dangerous, and lifted it closer to get a better look at the photo there. It was grainy, but the hard, cold eyes staring back at her were the same ones she sometimes still saw when she closed her own at night.

The headline shouted at her and she forced herself to the story.

L
OCAL MAN INJURED IN
A
FGHANISTAN WAR

Seb swore softly beneath his breath as a pain stabbed at his side again. He'd spent too long cramped behind a steering wheel. He'd just made it into town on the last of his tank of petrol and would have preferred not to stop – he wasn't in the mood to make polite conversation with anyone who might recognise him from his youth around here – but he'd misjudged his fuel consumption and had no choice but to fill up at the first servo in town. It was a bit flasher than he remembered, but was basically the same as it had always been.

He didn't recognise the bloke behind the counter and he didn't stop to ask questions. As he'd reached for the handle of the door, he'd felt the tight pull of skin and muscle as they protested the movement. The pain was a dull ache now, but he welcomed it. If he felt pain he knew he was still alive. He should be grateful that he was back on his feet. After three months recuperating in a hospital, he was just happy to be out of bed.

Easing back into the driver's seat, he took a minute to catch his breath before turning the ignition key and pulling onto the road. Not much had changed in town. It was a little eerie to think time had stood still.

Once he was on the road leading out to Bowraville, he felt light-headed. Things seemed to slow down and he could hear his heartbeat, loud in his ears over the sound of his engine. His hands gripped the steering wheel tighter and a cold sweat broke out on his brow and back. He knew what it was, but he was powerless to do anything about it. The closer he got to the accident scene, the heavier his heart felt.

Then, in the space of a heartbeat, it was gone. As soon as he passed the spot, the universe shifted back into alignment. Seb refused to lift his gaze from the road ahead to his rear-view mirror. There was no sense in looking back – it never changed anything.

He passed through Bowraville, its wide, sleepy main street lined with a scattering of parked cars. He didn't make eye contact with the few people he saw chatting in groups of twos and threes outside the butchers, newsagent and grocery store. It was a relief when he finally turned left over the small bridge at the bottom of the hill, leaving the town behind him.

Green paddocks lined the roadside as he pointed his four-wheel drive in the direction of his father's farm. The road was now bitumen and a big improvement on the dirt of his childhood days. As he drove, he took note of the names on the odd assortment of letterboxes, ranging from cut-down plastic oil drums to old microwave ovens and tin boxes. He didn't recognise many of the surnames. Here, it seemed, time
had
moved on. City people had come and bought the farms that had become too large for the older farmers to manage without the younger generation to take them over. There was little interest in staying on the farm these days, when work opportunities were limited and going to the city or mining in remote parts of Australia offered better earning prospects.

Seb slowed down to turn into the driveway ahead and let his car roll to a stop as he took in the view before him. He'd forgotten how breathtakingly beautiful this place was.

Hills sloped down towards rich pastures. A thick line of trees in the distance hid the clear water of the creek that flowed through the property and eventually wound its way down to the river and, from there, to the ocean, kilometres away at Nambucca.

BOOK: Burnt
13.23Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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