Zech Larsson would sooner run headlong into a raging bushfire than into another relationship. Catching sight of their latest recruit, a young, Anglo-Indian guy with a head of long black curls and kissable lips, instant attraction warns Zech that he is in trouble, more so as he happens to be straight.
Exiled to Kolar Creek by his father when he was caught attempting to lose his virginity with another boy, Nathan Harris finds the idea of life in this small country town uninviting—that is until he gets an eyeful of Zech in his uniform. Sudden Nathan knows that the Rural Fire Brigade needs his services.
In Kolar Creek, the temperature is heating up, and when Nathan’s training is left in Zech’s hands, a clash is inevitable. Faced with the temptation that this younger man presents, soon other factors come into play and neither of their lives will ever be the same again.
“I have no intention of changing my mind so you’d better just suck it up, chief.” I knew I could be stubborn, but tonight I had definitely excelled myself—Zech Larsson at his best.
“Why in God’s name are you behaving like a total arsehole, Zech?”
“Maybe because I don’t want to disappoint you, mate?” We’d been at it for over half an hour, and hell had a better chance of freezing over than we had of reaching an agreement. Scott and I were a couple of bulls, locked horn to horn in combat, neither of us willing to budge an inch. Both too pigheaded for our own good. The thing is, we’re best mates, though you’d never guess it from the way we act sometimes. I stood there, my arms folded across my chest, leaning against the wall of our cupboard-sized office. I’d cemented my unyielding expression in place for no other reason than to piss Scott off until he caved in, and I had my way.
“What have you got against the guy, Zech?”
A bloody good question, I thought as I glanced through the window between the office and the main shed in the hope of getting another look at the guy. The problem happened to be less about the Brigade’s newest recruit and more about my own reaction to him, not that I could tell Scott. “You want a reason, mate? Maybe you ought to take a real hard look at him. The guy would have trouble lifting a tissue to his nose, let alone anything heavier.”
“Jesus wept!” Scott muttered under his breath.
I pretended not to hear him and went on. “The bloke wouldn’t have the strength to drag a hose around the fire ground, let alone dig firebreaks or handle a chainsaw and all the other shit we expect of a crew. You want to ask the rest of the guys to carry him?” I saw how Scott had stiffened up as he heard me out.
“Would you care to tell me something Zech, for argument’s sake, the last time you took a real hard look at the rest of the Brigade’s membership?”
Sure, I knew what he meant, but did my best not to show it. I played for time. “You’re trying to say, Chief?” I routinely called him chief whenever I wanted to be sarcastic, it had the effect of pissing him off big time.
“We’d be lucky if a quarter of the members fitted these mysterious criteria you’ve plucked out of your arse, Zech. Why don’t you give me a better reason? Or is that the best you can manage?”
Against the ropes, and unable to wriggle my way out, I decided to stall for time. “Look, mate, I have a training session to run, so we’ll have to finish this later.”
“Like hell, we will, Zech. We finish it now!”
Scott, following my example, crossed his arms as if to show me that backing down was not an option. Arsehole. “Okay then, Chief. You want another reason? I’ll give you one. Training wise, he’ll be three months behind the rest of the newbies.”
“So?” Scott raised his eyebrows.
I’d lost it. “Don’t say so in that tone, it’s bloody annoying.” I drew a quick breath. “I’m the one who does the training, so it’s me... muggins here.” I dramatically stabbed a finger at my chest and emphasised the me factor. “I’ll be the one expected to get him up to speed.”
“I’ve warned him, and he knows he’ll be behind the others.”
“Looks like you’ve sorted it, mate. The only thing left is for you to tell me how I’ll have the time to do this catch up with the guy.” I laughed, but not a nice laugh.
“He’ll fit in with you, Zech. Just tell him a time, and he’ll be here.”
“Nice!” Me holding back had to be counted as something of an achievement. Finally, I became incapable of restraint and lost it completely. “Like maybe I have so much spare time for it?” A casual shrug of the shoulders emphasised the question—not that I expected an answer. “Like everyone in Kolar Creek knows first-hand how totally pathetic Zech Larsson is. And I am talking everyone here, Scott. I’m the poor sod who doesn’t have a life of his own outside of the Brigade and his work. I guess, in fact, I’d put money on it that every bugger in town gets a good laugh at my expense. Poor old Zech Larsson, sitting on his arse every night with only the television for company. Such a tragic bastard.” I’d meant to sound ironic, but my declaration had gone way beyond emotional blackmail as a means of winning an argument. Now, with the floodgates open, I had trouble closing them. “I guess I’m just a miserable, lonely sod who has bugger all else in his life.” There, as soon as the words were out of my mouth, I instinctively waited for Scott to remember we were best mates and reassure me that I wasn’t being fair to myself. But the reassurances never came, and his silence stretched tighter than a rubber band.
“Well, Zech?” he said finally.
“What do you bloody mean... well?” Now the argument had less to do with a new recruit to the Brigade and everything to do with the state, or rather the non-existence of my private life.
“It’s true, isn’t it?”