Scott pulled up to the Canine Therapy Centre, the windscreen wipers on his new truck ably keeping up with the rain. The one plus side to what he’d been through was the payout from the insurance company. Faulty equipment for firefighters had a way of making pretty bad headlines. Especially when there were casualties. The eye-wateringly large cheque hadn’t bought his silence, but along with his own savings it’d bought him a ticket home, a new truck and, if he wanted, a deposit on a pretty nice house. The house he’d set out to earn money for all those years ago. The house he’d risked his life for.
What a fool he’d been. On so many levels.
The one thing a cheque couldn’t buy him was a future with a certain green-eyed, flame-haired beauty he’d treated like dirt. He’d thought his plan was clever at the time. Double up a life goal to become a smokejumper with a juicy savings account so they could put a deposit on a house.
He’d been a magpie. Reading the bits of the contract that spoke to his hopes and dreams, ignoring the bits that didn’t. Turned out cocksure newbies didn’t get the big bucks. Like experience, you had to earn it. He’d learnt the hard way.
He scanned the area. A few warm lights glowed through the murk up at the castle. Tough to picture it through the gloom. Back in the day, it had been a ‘plain old’ family home. It was a full-fledged medical rehab centre now. Took in all sorts of folk from every corner of the globe. People who’d suffered devastating injuries and were trying to rebuild their lives. Exactly the type of ‘covers all the bases’ rehab centre his mum had begged him to transfer to. The kind that dealt with every aspect of a man. Body. Brain. Heart.
The first two, he’d sorted. Lord willing, he wasn’t too late to put the third part right. Four years wasn’t most girl’s version of ‘I’ll be back soon.’
If there was one thing he knew about ‘his girl,’ it was that she was proud. Proud enough to tell him where to stuff it when she laid eyes on him, whether or not she felt whole again.
He’d had pride in abundance when he’d set off to Canada. About his work, his career ambitions, the secret plan to buy Margaret that little stone cottage by the loch they both loved. Then he’d changed the goalposts. Long story short, he’d stacked his priorities in the wrong order and worn his professional pride like a badge straight up until the moment the flames hit his back. That pride and his priorities had melted along with his faulty uniform. It’d been the hardest battle he’d ever fought to rebuild things the right way round.
He stared out at the rain, unconcerned about making a dash for the large covered entryway sheltering the front of the Canine Therapy Centre. Wet was safe. This kind of wet, anyway.
Again, the filters fell into place. The ones that blurred the images of the men he’d worked alongside, pulled farm animals out of flooded rivers with, trudged through acres of pristine mountainside covered in thousands of pounds of avalanche snow with. The men who’d lost their lives in a fire that had scorched thousands of acres of pristine woodland.
He squinted against the gloom. A few months ago he would’ve said the weather suited his mood to a T. A few months ago he didn’t know if he was coming or going. Didn’t know how to see the bright side as he worked his way through rehab. His colleagues told him he was lucky. It was the first time he’d laughed in months, but there’d been no mirth in it. Until one day, he’d finally reached a crossroads. Choose life…or give in to the misery. If anyone out there should know life was precious, it was him. So here he was…on a mission to live it to the full.
His hands tightened round the steering wheel until his knuckles turned white.
The love of his life was in there.
What had happened between the time he’d sent that email and now was anyone’s guess.
Single? Married? Upped and moved on with her life the way he’d said he’d moved on with his?
Not many women took to being put on the backshelf for two years, then told to forget their promises of a shared life, a family…
Right. Enough dithering. It was now-or-never time.