The Adelaide national park is ablaze and fireman Ben O’Reilly is running for his life. When he is saved by a dragon and flown to a sanctuary of shapeshifters, Ben’s world is changed forever. Darren is no ordinary dragon and when he reveals his human form to Ben, the two men are instantly attracted to one another. Fire and rescue is Ben’s life, but how can he accept a man who is also a fire-fighting dragon?
The fire truck rattled and bumped over the corrugated terrain. Six months before, the track had been washed away in a flood, now, Ben thought grimly, it was about to be incinerated. Shit. Shit. Shit. With heart hammering, he urged the truck faster. He and the crew would die if they couldn’t out run the fire. Too many had perished in the fires ravaging the national park, two hundred kilometres north of Adelaide. Hell, no way he wanted to be a statistic on the night’s news.
He clung to the rear of the vehicle. Acrid smoke burned his throat and lungs. He was combusting in the heavy protective gear. He dropped his helmet and poured a bottle of water over his head, the moisture barely registering as scorching wind whipped across his face and hair, stinging his eyes. His vision blurred and he blinked furiously, eyelids gritty.
Explosions, like thunder. Crash. Boom. The deafening roar of fire behind him as the forest was consumed. He glanced back. Oh, shit.
On either side of the track, thirty metre high eucalypts became giant torches, shooting flames another thirty metres into the sky as fire leapt from tree top to tree top. The wall of fire was closing in. He gripped the truck harder. Move it. C’mon.
Tom, the driver, was pushing safety to the limit—to go any faster would run the risk of overturning the truck, and then they’d be toast. On foot, they couldn’t outrun the wall of flames bearing down on them. They’d be lucky if the truck beat the fire to the creek, a half kilometre away. If they could make it there, they might survive. Might.
A pine tree exploded nearby, sending flaming branches and embers across the track. The truck slewed to a halt, backed up, revved hard and pushed through, dodging around the obstacles.
Beside the truck, rivulets of fire, like lava, raced over the paddock. From the corner of his eye, Ben saw a horse pressed against the barbed wire, unable to escape. Jesus. He thumped the hood of the truck. His CO, Gary, poked his head out the cabin window, his face sooty, his hair grey with ash.
“Gotta get off. Stop.” Ben tugged on his helmet, reached for his bolt cutters and leapt down even before the truck rolled to a halt. He’d seen too many burnt animals over the last three days, he sure as hell was not gonna let one more perish—not on his watch. “Get going. I’ll meet you at the creek.”
“Get in this truck, O’Reilly! Now!”
Ben ignored him, scrambling down the embankment. He reached the horse, set the cutters to the fence and furiously sliced through wire like it was butter. The split sharp ends reared up scraping his helmet vizor. With a scream, the horse bolted, running through the opening, disappearing down a narrow track.
Ben struggled up the hill, sliding on the loose shale. He flung the bolt cutters away and crawled on all fours, breathing hard, chest burning, but feeling as cold as ice, as adrenaline kicked in. Another explosion nearby flung him backwards. The ground he had gained was lost in a moment. The fire truck was enveloped by swirling, flaming debris.
Ben turned and ran, following the horse. Seconds later, blinded by smoke, he crashed into another fence line. Tugging free, he flung himself through the wire, running towards the farm shed. He skidded to a halt as he heard animals bleating, baying, yowling.
He ran into the shed, reached the first pen, tugging it open. All the while he heard the roar of the approaching fire, feeling it through his clothes, burning his skin. His gloved fingers fumbled with chains. He tore off his gloves and flung more pens open. Two pigs, a goat, and three kelpies all raced past him, disappearing into the surrounding bush.
The last animal—a tiny kitten—cowered in the back of a small cage. He grabbed the kitten, avoiding flailing claws, and stuffed it down the inside of his coat. Ben turned and ran, heading downhill towards the creek—a small opening in the fire wall was now his only hope in hell.
A shadow dipped across the ground. Ben kept running, hoping it was the fire bomber. Odd, that there was no engine noise, only a slow whoosh, whoosh. He glanced back, saw the fire and then... He was jolted off his feet, his helmet dropping to the ground. Holy fucking hell. His gut flipped, left behind as he was yanked upwards by the scruff of his neck, something slicing his flesh as it caught hold of his jacket collar. He was airborne ten metres above the yard, and climbing. He dangled like a fish on a hook and then something hard supported him under the stomach—something looking very much like forearms—green-gold scaled. What the...? He stared up and around and saw a reptilian body, more green-gold scales and massive green wings.
That’s it, I’m dead. An angel’s winging me to heaven. Hey, wait! Don’t angels have white wings and diaphanous gowns? Hysteria rose like a bubble. He bit down on his lip, the pain bringing him back to reality. Except reality was... Jesus what was happening?
The creature holding him wasn’t an angel. He was flying through the air, held tightly by a four metre long dragon, its talons piercing his protective gear.
As Ben stared up, the dragon’s emerald eyes returned his gaze, black slits reflecting the flames below.