You’ll have to forgive me. I’m a little brain dead. I sent off my completed manuscript this afternoon. I finished the first draft of this book several weeks ago, but the second read seemed to take forever. It required some spit and polish and toning down some noisy secondary characters.
This happens sometimes. Do you know anyone who thinks their story is utterly fascinating and hogs the spotlight? This happened in my second published book. I knew the story I wanted to tell. I had the characters all lined up, a plot and everything. Then the hero’s best friend showed up and suddenly, it was all about him. And, darn it, he was pretty fascinating.
Luckily, I learned from my first experience. This time I cut every flashy scene with Hero #2 in it and and pasted it in a file called: MONTANA ROGUE. That title fits him to a tee.
Since I’m so tired, I’m going make this blog short and sweet. The sweet part is the Sneak Peek scene I shared with my newsletter followers. Here you go:
Mid-January, the San Bernardino Mountains wildfire
Flynn Bensen recognized the dream the minute it started in his sleeping mind.
His old frenemy was back. The homestead looked exactly as he remembered it. An authentic log cabin in the high Sierra, aged to a rummy golden brown from dozens of summers. Its metal roof was rusted so poetically you’d have thought God used a fine-tipped paintbrush to add just the right touch of umber. The word bucolic came to mind. A word Flynn never used until that day last September.
He tried to resist the pull. He knew how this story ended. Why subject myself to it again?
I won’t fall into the trap. I’ll turn left instead of right. I’ll ignore the whinny.
But the eerie sound filled his ears, sending a shiver through his body. The horse’s abject fear seized hold and wouldn’t let go.
Suddenly, he was deep in the fire zone. Heat from the hundred-plus temperature made every breath pure agony. His pack felt as if he’d loaded it with lead weights. His legs seemed disconnected from his body as he pushed onward toward the horse pen. Two frightened animals, the whites of their eyes visible at every turn, paced, reared, and tossed their heads. Every whiff of smoke drove them closer to the brink of frenzy.
This time will be different, he told himself. This time I’ll do it right.
This time I’ll save her.
The position of the old woman’s body never changed. Her head rested inches from the watering trough, face turned away, as if she couldn’t bear to watch what happened to her beloved animals. She seemed smaller in hindsight, fragile and delicate. Spikes of silver hair stuck out like a bad wig. But she was breathing…always breathing. Just enough to give him hope.
“Stay with me, now. We can do this,” he said, picking her up in his arms like a small child. Why hadn’t he thought of that before? Nobody deserved to be tossed over a shoulder like a bag of rocks as he had that day. If he’d cradled her to his chest like a child, maybe she would have felt loved, respected, care for. Maybe she’d have stayed connected to him, to life.
“You’re gonna be okay. Just breathe. You can do that. Breathe. Breathe.”
Someone shook him. Hard. The woman fell from his arms. He watched her drop into the flames of the fire that had been chasing them. He lost her. Again.
He cursed and swung wildly, hoping to hurt whomever it was that made him drop her.
“Flynn. Wake up, Buddy. You’re dreaming.”
“Again,” another voice muttered. “What’s it going to take to make these nightmares stop? Drugs? I’ll find them. Just tell me what kind.”
Flynn blinked, coming back to the real world.
“I think he needs to see a shrink. Classic case of PTSD.”
Awareness washed over him like a splash of rainwater from a bucket. He sat up, shaking his head like a wet dog, and looked around. He was on his cot in the tent cabin he shared with Tucker and Justin. His best friends. Brothers- in-arm.
Tucker “Mountie” Montgomery stood, arms akimbo, in baggie sweats and an army-green T-shirt. His scowl barely put a dent in his heart-throb handsome face. Even half- awake and pissed off he probably would have had his choice of groupies if any knew he was a wilderness firefighter in his day job.
Justin squatted a foot or so away. His standard issue undershirt and thigh-length gray shorts emphasized his compact muscles–finely honed from his off-season occupation: free climbing.
Flynn swiped at a bead of sweat that rolled into his eyes, stinging. “Another nightmare?” he asked.
“Same one, different night,” Tucker muttered. “Next time I’m making a Youtube video, I swear.”
He threatened that every time. But Flynn couldn’t blame him for being upset.
In the off-season, Tucker belonged to an elite, extremely well-paid troupe of dancers/entertainers that performed for audiences–mostly women–around the world. He told everybody he couldn’t afford to lose valuable beauty sleep. His fans deserved for him to look his very best.
“Sorry, man,” Flynn mumbled. His throat ached, as usual. After every nightmare, he’d awaken to a body that somehow actually believed he’d just survived a close brush with death on the fire line.
Justin handed him the metal water bottle sitting on the floor beside the cot.
Justin Oberman–or “Goat,” as the other members of the crew called him–was the deep one. Ascetic, vegetarian, poet, and death-defying free climber who could scramble up sides of mountains like his surefooted namesake. “Flynn, this isn’t your fault, man. It sucks that your brain can’t let it go, but it’s been six months. Something needs to give, dude.”
They told him that every time this happened. This was their first group deployment of the New Year, but he’d been wrestling with this dream ever since the horrific fire near Yosemite National Park.
“We all know–your conscious mind knows–you did everything in your power to save that lady,” Tucker added. “You’re the hero among us. Ask anyone.”
Flynn smiled at that. False modesty wasn’t Tucker’s style. I must be in worse shape than I thought.
“Flynn, it was her time,” Justin said, repeating an argument Flynn had heard from others. Even the coroner confirmed the victim’s chances had been small to none. The subdural hematoma caused by the impact from hitting the water trough would have been tough for even a healthy young person to survive.
Tucker threw up his hands impatiently. “She probably wouldn’t have lived even if you could have predicted the fire would veer away from her place at the last minute. But for all our sakes, we have to find a way to get the message to your subconscious.”
Flynn shifted sideways, his feet landing on the dirty canvas floor with a muffled thud. His friends were right. Flynn thought getting back on an active fire line would purge his guilt. The physicality and exhaustion that came from walking four miles from a drop zone to the leading edge of a fast-burning forest fire then beating Mother Nature into submission sounded like the answer. Surely after a ten-hour day he’d be too exhausted to dream.
But, so far, that hadn’t been the case. He only felt drained–physically and emotionally. The answer to this problem seemed glaringly obvious in the pre-dawn gloom. “I need a different job.”
Tucker’s epithet echoed in the stillness, and may have been heard three tents over.
Justin’s sigh seemed to start at the center of his soul and vibrate outward.
Flynn had been wrestling with the idea ever since his brother emailed him a link to a job opening for Head of Operations, Crawford County Search and Rescue, Marietta, Montana. He looked at his friends, soberly. “I’m moving to Montana, guys. I just filled out the application online and won’t know for a while, but there’s a good chance I’ll be manning a desk in the very near future. You two will have to keep the WildFire Hot Shots going without me.”
Tucker and Justin exchanged a look.
“They have mountains in Montana, right?”
“And fires in the summer, too, I’ve heard.”
Flynn got their meaning. They’d saved one another’s lives too many times not to be able to read what went unsaid. “But Kentucky is home base for both of you.”
Justin shrugged his broad, powerful shoulders. “It’s only a place if your friends aren’t here.”
Tucker nodded. “Truth.”
Flynn looked from one to the other. “Ryker sent you the job link, didn’t he?”
“He thought you might need a kick in the pants,” Tucker said, plopping down on the cot, crowding Flynn’s space like he always did. “I’ve been looking at property online for awhile and I think I’ve found the perfect spot for Mountie’s Most Awesome Montana Zipline and Enduro Course.” He flashed the grin that drove women in his audiences wild.
Justin rolled his eyes. “That’s the dumbest name I’ve ever heard.”
“I like it. So do my investors. They’re lining up as we speak.”
Older women with more cash than sense, Flynn thought. But who was he to criticize? Tucker lived boldly, followed his dreams, and always came out smelling like a rose. The guy had more than enough money to risk on a short-lived investment.
“Our independently wealthy friend can dabble in a new commercial enterprise, but I put in for a transfer ten minutes after reading the email. It got approved yesterday. This summer, I’ll be in Yellowstone, which on my map appears to be in your neck of the woods. If that Search and Rescue gig doesn’t work out, I’ll put in a good word for you. Maybe you can get your old job back with the Park Service.” His serious smile told Flynn he meant every word. “But, for the record, I think this change of venue will be good for you. Hopefully, no more wildfires means no more nightmares.”
Flynn agreed. He stood and the two exchanged a quick, manly hug that Tucker immediately crashed. “Oh, you guys,” Tucker said, wrapping them both in his long and very strong arms. “It’s a moment, isn’t it? A fresh new beginning for the MHS.”
Flynn gave him a look. “The what?”
“The Montana Hot Shots. We were the Wildfire Hot Shots. I just changed it. We have a Facebook page. Didn’t I tell you?”
Justin stiff-armed his way free and headed for the tent flap. “Screw social media. I wouldn’t even carry a stinking cell phone if not for you two.”
Flynn let out a long sigh. He’d been worried about breaking the news to his buddies. Maybe that tension is what triggered tonight’s episode. His nightmares had been coming less frequently–or so he told himself–since his visit to Marietta last November. Seeing his brother so happy, in love and looking toward the future, made the stark emptiness of Flynn’s life all the more disappointing by comparison.
Would a change of venue rid Flynn of his nightmares? He didn’t know, but Ryker had made a fresh start in Marietta and found the woman of his dreams–the living, breathing, sexier than heck kind of woman. Maybe, Flynn would get lucky, too.
But, honestly? He’d settle for a good night’s sleep.
PS: I took the pretty shot of the bamboo this morning after yoga. It spoke to me.