Southern Secrets (Southern #7) - Natasha Madison Page 0,1

always new faces. I put my head down and walk over to the food table. "Hey." I look up when I hear Ethan walking toward me. "You look like someone stole your dog."

I shake my head as we walk to the table of food. "Just thinking about the things I have to do tonight."

"You know you can take Sunday off," he says. "There is nothing you do on Sunday that can’t wait until Monday morning."

"I know," I say. "But I have nothing else to do." I stop talking when we get in line for the food. Ethan’s wife, Emily, is talking to Chelsea, Ethan and Reed’s sister, and her boyfriend, Mayson. Ethan and Mayson were in the military together, and a couple of months ago, he showed up with a gunshot wound and fighting for his life. This family’s close bond is what everyone wishes for.

“One of these days," Ethan says, "we are going to get here before everyone and be the first in line." We all laugh, and Emily just shakes her head, knowing full well we’ll never be first in line. There are just too many people in line, and usually, we let the older generation eat first.

"One can hope," Emily says. I listen half-heartedly as I feel Amelia get in line next to me.

She pushes my shoulder, and I look at her sideways. I’m about to tell her she’s a pain in my ass when all of our phones go off. I take my phone out and see the code for fire from the alarm company.

I look up into the sky and see the black smoke off in the distance. "One of the barns is on fire!" I don’t know who says it, but I’m running to my truck when I hear it.

Ethan is right beside me as we jump into my truck. I never park in the driveway, opting to park in the road so I can just leave. "Fuck, fuck, fuck," he says as I pull out, the sound of the tires screeching behind me. My heart beats so fast in my chest all I can do is hear the echo. My stomach sinks as I get closer and closer, yet the smoke that fills the sky makes me feel farther and farther away.

"Which barn?" I ask and then look over when he doesn’t answer.

"Your house," he says, and I swallow the lump in my throat. I look at the road as I try to remember if I turned off the coffee maker this morning. I unplugged it as soon as I was done. My head spins as I try to retrace my every step that I took today.

"I double-check everything when I leave," I say. When I came to town six months ago, I bumped into Ethan at the diner. He said his family farm was always hiring and told me to swing by the day after. I was staying at the town motel and was about to head back out of town when I got the job. At first, it was just as a ranch hand, doing odd jobs here and there. Nothing big at the time. But they liked how I worked, so they gave me a company truck and asked me to take over as ranch supervisor, putting me in charge of making sure the ranch had everything they needed to operate. Ethan and Casey both trained me, and it didn’t hurt that it came with an apartment in one of the barns.

"Firemen are four minutes out," Ethan says, and my eyes follow the black smoke in the sky. Instead of getting closer and closer to me, they are getting thicker and thicker in the sky.

"We just had the hay delivered," I say. "It’s stocked up full." I try to calm my heart as I make my way to the barn. Every single second feels like an hour.

When I turn off the road onto the gravel driveway, I hear the rocks hitting the truck with how fast I’m going. I look behind me and see the dust coming up, but I also see five trucks following us and hear the sound of the sirens off in the distance.

"Maybe we can contain it," I say. Only when we get closer, the sight of the thick smoke makes my stomach sink. My eyes find the barn, and I don’t need anyone to tell me that there is no way anything can be salvaged. I stop the truck on the side and get out,