Authors: Kennedy Layne
Tags: #Romance, #Military
Surviving Ashes, Book Three
Copyright © 2016 by Kennedy Layne
E-Book ISBN: 978-1-943420-12-4
Print ISBN: 978-1-943420-13-1
Cover Design: Sweet ’N Spicy Designs
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED: The unauthorized reproduction or distribution of this copyrighted work is illegal. Criminal copyright infringement is investigated by the FBI and is punishable by up to 5 years in federal prison and a fine of $250,000.
All characters and events in this book are fictitious. Any resemblance to actual persons living or dead is strictly coincidental.
Jeffrey – I love sharing this journey with you. Thank you for making every day special…and for giving me peace of mind with the gasmasks
Mason Sykes had served many years in the Marine Corps for his country. His loyalty and sacrifice had left him disfigured—inside and out. He didn’t harbor regrets, especially since he’d finally found the peace and quiet he’d always desired on a Nebraska farm.
Brenna Helm was a country girl through and through, right down to her cowgirl boots. Her heart had always belonged to the acres of land that had been her family’s legacy through multiple generations. She’d only ever loved one thing more, and that was the military man who’d moved back to town a few years ago who’d come home a changed man—one who apparently wanted nothing to do with anyone.
The day the world filled with ash was the day Mason was forced to rise above his scars. Facing death off of the battlefield made him realize what he’d pushed away in the name of compassion, but that was about to change. The flames of desire he’d once felt were about to be reignited, but he first had to get Brenna to safety through the fiery, harsh new world that could claim their lives if they took one wrong step.
he violent explosion
had ripped apart the land with a devastation one could only equate to the end of the world. Revelations painted a picture that had to resemble their reality now. The reverberating crack had eerily echoed across the prairies first, having disturbed the Eastern Cottonwoods and live oaks that had been rooted in the tough northern Nebraska dirt for hundreds of years. Second came the pressure wave of the blast as it had swept over the land like the hand of God. It was a sensation that couldn’t have been more horrifying, and it threatened to collapse any and all flawed structures built by man. The profound effects of the Yellowstone supervolcano eruption had succeeded in announcing Mother Nature’s dominance—and she wasn’t a benevolent soul.
“Mason? Mason, are you all right?” Brenna Helm called out, her rattled tone saying more than her words. She was a cowgirl through and through, right down to her worn Ariat western boots. Nothing ever ruffled her, even when he’d told her an hour ago of the apocalyptic natural disaster coming their way. It sure had arrived with a hell of a bang. “Answer me!”
“I’m alive,” Mason replied with a cough, trying to cover his mouth with his arm to prevent the cloud of wooden dust particles from entering his lungs. He went into another fit just then when he was less than successful. “Not sure I’d say all right quite yet.”
The massive old wooden barn Mason had played and worked in when he was younger was now nothing more than a heap of splintered firewood. He happened to be buried beneath the northwest corner of it and he carefully looked around, not wanting to jar something by accident and have what was left of the loft fall on top of him. There was a lone ray of sun sneaking through a couple of fractured beams that had measured sixteen inches in width once upon a time. Since he’d managed to take cover near a few piles of baled hay on the north side, he’d avoided being hit too hard when the blast had leveled the structure. His quick thinking had also resulted in him being in a good position to gain his freedom once the stack of shattered planking was cleared away. He wondered how long his good fortune would hold out.
Mason could hear Brenna’s rapid footsteps coming around to his side of the barn, but he’d already managed to cautiously push his weight against the two cracked boards. They changed position without doing more damage and he sucked in some much-needed oxygen when the wood shifted, falling off of the hay bales above him. He couldn’t help but wonder how much longer there would be clean air to breathe. Brenna’s heart-shaped face was the first thing he saw when he lifted his head above the debris.
“You were right as rain,” Brenna announced with a frown, not bothering to waste time. She was still wearing her timeworn leather work-gloves, and she rubbed the back of one across her forehead before pitching in and carefully shoving the rest of the once solid wall to the side. She was constantly moving and now was no exception, as she appeared determined to help him dig his way out. “Yellowstone erupted and now we have to make a difficult choice.”
“I already told you what your only option is,” Mason responded with a grunt as he used his foot to wedge under another plank. He turned his head to avoid more dust when his actions jostled the remaining broken beams to the side and off the edge of the pile. He didn’t need to explain his reasoning on why he wouldn’t take responsibility for someone else’s life. He’d already been there and done that numerous times. He had the scars to prove it too. “You’re headed east.”
Mason had fortunately received a forewarning phone call a couple of hours ago regarding the Yellowstone supervolcano being on the verge of exploding. His friends, which he’d had since his bad old days in the Corps, had spread the unfortunate news to each other. They’d hoped to keep their combined miserable asses alive to fight the good fight once again.
He’d debated driving into town, but he wouldn’t have forgiven himself had he not at least tried to prepare the townsfolk of Harpersfield, Nebraska from what was coming their way. As usual, the largest gathering in their small town had been at Amy’s Café sitting in the shadow of the town’s three huge grain elevators. They all thought he was mentally off anyway because of his time in the war, so it wasn’t as if his reputation was at stake with the town’s oldest ranchers. He’d done what he set out to do, so why was Brenna even on his farm when she should have already been on the road?
“I had the radio on in the truck on my way over here. The President made an announcement and said the very same thing not two minutes before the eruption, but you know more than you’re saying, don’t you, Mason? You came into the diner, warned everyone, and then left without looking back.”
Brenna finally stepped back when there was enough room for Mason to untangle himself from the rest of the wreckage. She removed one of her gloves and tucked a loose strand of blonde hair behind her ear while she waited for him to pull himself clear. The long braid had somewhat come undone and left her looking slightly distressed. He could relate, but not to what she was saying. He was going north-northwest and he planned on going alone.
“You said it yourself,” Mason mentioned, finally standing to his full six feet, three inches of height. He assessed the damage to his body, only noting a dull headache forming. He’d live. “I did my part and now it’s time for everyone to evacuate. I suggest you do the same and soon.”
“Somehow, someway, you knew this was going to happen,” Brenna declared, shading her eyes as she looked up at him. “Where are you getting your information? And by the way, I’m not leaving without you. We can travel together. I figure everyone that’s able to meet up in town in the next half hour can follow one another.”
Mason didn’t reply to her demand right away, but instead dusted off his jeans and long-sleeved black T-shirt before making his way up to the house. They were wasting precious seconds they didn’t have. He didn’t even bother to look back at the damage to the old barn, already knowing he’d never set foot on this land again. He’d moved enough around during his military career to know not to get attached to material things, but this place had been his saving grace for the past few years. This land, this farm, this isolation had given him the peace he’d needed to sleep at night…and it was being taken away by forces beyond his control. He didn’t like the vulnerability or the uncertainty he was left with.
“Brenna, go back home. Gather the items you’ll need and haul your ass out of here.” Mason glanced at the two horses he’d loaded up in the double trailer attached to his 2003 Ford F150 XLT, noting they were calming down after the initial severe environmental affects had pretty much devastated the area. The wildlife had all but scattered, most likely instinctively headed east away from what was coming this way. Folks around here were fairly practical and he wondered why the hell he was listening to his friends’ advice about traveling northwest when even the government was telling its citizens to head the opposite direction. He stopped second-guessing himself immediately. They were his family. That’s why he heeded their counsel. “You have roughly ten or twelve hours before the ash starts to descend over this area. That’s not a lot of lead time, so meet up with some townsfolk like you said and stay in a well-armed group. There will be safety in numbers and there will also be trash looking to take advantage of the weaker folks.”
“Mason, stop.” Brenna had been keeping pace with him and had finally managed to quicken her steps, placing herself directly in front of him. Her stubborn upturned nose was covered in a slight dusting of freckles and her blue eyes zeroed in on his with mixed emotions. “You can give me five minutes out of twelve hours. You owe me that much. How did you know that the Yellowstone caldera was going to erupt?”