She moved first, turning for shore. Chase was right behind
her; she could hear him. She gingerly picked her way back to where
their horses waited and reached for her dress, surprised at the shakiness
of her legs. As she struggled into the clinging sheath, she
dimly heard Chase zip up his pants and turned to see him doing up
the buckle. His shirt was on but unbuttoned. Then her gaze moved
past him in the direction of the ranch.
He whipped around to see what she was looking at. A towering
inferno of flames licked at the blackened sky. “Let’s go!”
He grabbed Lacey and practically threw her on top of Misty,
then mounted his own stallion. Together they raced blindly in the
direction of the house. The fire was large and out of control. Lacey
feared the whole place was going up. It was a small relief when
they were close enough to see that the blaze was contained to the
Chaos greeted them when they finally reined in their horses.
Chase jumped off his mount before the animal came to a complete
stop. He turned and put Lacey on the ground. “Head back to the
house!” He left her then, joining in the commotion around them.
She stood in mindless shock, her eyes on the fire, trying to comprehend
what she was seeing. Where was her father?
“Lacey, go back to the house!” someone yelled out.
Frightened horses were running everywhere as they charged
out of the stable in fear. Loud sirens could be heard from approaching
fire trucks. The area was filled with men who worked for her
father and some from nearby ranches. They had water hoses in
their hands and worked diligently to keep the fire from spreading
to the other barns.
Lacey dodged several screaming horses as she searched frantically
for her father. Knowing him, he would be in the thick of
things. She wasn’t consciously aware of placing herself in danger
just by being there. Her heart was racing with fear as she tried to
recognize the faces covered with soot and grime. She made her way
toward the burning building.
“Dad!” She thought she recognized him.
An unbearable heat enveloped the area around her. Amid the
sounds of terrified horses and hollering men, the night was filled
with the sound of crackling wood as the stable succumbed to the
raging fire. Soon the structure was falling to the ground, collapsing
in several sections.
“Lacey, get the hell out of here!”
This time she registered the command, and her eyes searched
out the voice, finding Brian at the other end of it. His clothes were
dirty and covered with soot. His face was smudged with the stuff.
Sweat from the intense heat ran rivers down his face and Lacey saw
him wipe at his eyes.
“Where’s my dad?” she screamed above the noise, beginning
to make her way toward him. The loud splintering sound that followed
indicated another section of the barn was about to come
down. She ran toward Brian.
“Lacey! Get back!”
It was at that moment that Lacey realized the wall was falling
on top of her. She let out a terrified scream and switched directions.
Only it was too late. Pieces of smoldering wood were already
floating down about her. Brian reached her just as the wall
collapsed. Lacey felt herself shoved out of the way with a force that
promised broken bones were she to collide with anything solid.
Chase caught her in his arms and whipped her out of the way. She
grunted in pain, and the force of his actions sent them stumbling
and rolling into the dirt. At the same time Lacey was helplessly
aware that the wall had crashed to the ground, pinning Brian beneath