Here is an excerpt from An Uncommon Prince and Other Short Stories, from the story, A Test of Fire.
Back in the farmhouse, Tessa busied herself feeding Shadow and Pandora. She'd adopted the black and white shepherd from the shelter when Phillip left on his first tour of duty, the calico cat at his second. They were her family now. The cat rubbed at her ankles before crouching at her dish. Too nervous to eat, Shadow watched from her den beneath the table, offering an occasional whine of concern about their precarious situation.
“Aren't we a sight?” Tessa's hand shook a little as she picked up the coffee pot. “A houseful of nervous females. What would Phillip have said?” He'd often teased Tessa about her penchant for adopting only female animals, grumbling good-naturedly that except for the rooster, he was outnumbered.
If only things had been different, his dream of building a small herd of cattle and farming full-time might have come true, but war in some godforsaken land had taken him away....and left Tessa with the unfulfilled dream.
She dumped the untouched coffee in the sink and went upstairs to make her bed. From her window she could see the side of the mountain was shrouded in dense smoke. The fire must be moving across the plain to the west. Soon it would reach White Cloud, and after that where would it go?
She had just smoothed the ivory crocheted coverlet over the bed when she heard Shadow's sharp staccato bark, followed by a pounding on the kitchen door. For a minute, fear like an icy finger trickled down Tessa's spine. She was alone except for her menagerie. Anyone could come in here and...
Before he'd left the first time, Phillip had taught her to shoot his shotgun. Unloaded, it sat in her closet, because she hated guns. She glanced toward that closet door now but didn't go there before heading downstairs.
At the door she gripped her rolling pin in one hand. Holding firmly to the doorknob she called out, “Who are you?”
A tall figure moved on the porch. “Forest service, ma'am. We're advising everyone to evacuate. The fire's gotten out of control and is heading this way.” The man's voice sounded raspy and tired. Tessa's fear drained away. Pushing Shadow aside with her knee, she opened the door.
The man on her porch posed no threat, although he looked terrible. Streaks of soot ran down his face from beneath a battered yellow hard hat. Beard stubbled his square jaw and his eyes were rimmed in red. No doubt he'd been fighting the fire all night. His heavy jeans and denim shirt were stained with sweat and caked with black grime. She hoped he wouldn't just keel over.
Tessa stared up at him, not wanting to believe what he said was true. “Who sent you?” she demanded.
He closed his bloodshot eyes and sighed deeply. When he opened them again, Tessa could see their normal color was a light teal blue.
“The sheriff, if it makes any difference. A new crew of firefighters came on this morning. I'm on break for a while but I told the sheriff I'd check out this area and make sure everyone had left.”
“And have they?” Tessa peered past him toward the now empty highway, praying that at any moment someone would waken her from this bad dream. But the weary man on her porch was all too real.
He nodded his head.
“Yours is the only place where I found anyone at home. And I'm not fooling about leaving, ma'am. I've been on the fire line since yesterday. I know what I'm talking about. The fire is coming this way and you'd best get out now.”
Tessa stepped back from the door and looked around her kitchen, at the perky green and white gingham curtains she'd made, the solid oak table Phillip had refinished. How could she just leave it all? It seemed an act of cowardice to her.
Her hand went to her throat and pressed the wildly beating pulse there. “I...can't. I can't leave it. My husband...”
“Your husband?” An angry frown cracked the grime on the man's face. “Where is he? Away?”
“Well, it's for damn sure he wouldn't expect you to risk your life by staying. It's not worth it.”
That's what everyone had said when she and Phillip bought the dilapidated homestead five years ago. No one understood their dreams. Maybe the place didn't look like much to this man, but it was all she had. And she wasn't about to leave it to the fire's hungry whim.
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