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    Synopsis



    Forever Fall is the final installment of the Grace Restored Series. In order to escape Lucca and Joey Rossi, Nick came up with a plan to fake their deaths. With Nick and Katie's identity changed, it allows them to start over with a new life in Australia, but have all loose ends been tied? With everything around them still in question, will Nick and Katie ever be able to get their happily ever after?

    Chapter 1


    Into Each Life A Little “Fall” Must Rain

    “Breathe, Kit! Don’t push!” Nico encouraged. “The ambulance will be here shortly.”

    “Nooo!” Kit growled.

    “No, what?”

    “No! I can’t wait! I neeeeeee –!” she screamed as another contraction immediately spiked, making it difficult to talk.

    “Need what?” Nico asked.

    Glaring at Nico, Kit breathed as quickly as she could until the contraction would slow down enough to talk again.

    “What does she need?” Nico asked Pete.

    “She’s not talking when the baby comes, because it’s too painful, mate,” Pete explained, as he and a neighbor, Andi O’Leary from Koala Pass Station, worked to get ready for the delivery if the ambulance didn’t make it in time.

    Nico furrowed his brow. “What do ya mean?”

    “He means that when you have a baby, it’s like your lower parts are ripping in two,” Andi explained. “Give her a few.”

    “But...she’s in so much pain. Isn’t there something you can do?”

    “SHUT UP!” Kit growled when the contraction finally slowed enough for her to talk.

    Looking at her, upset by her reaction, Nico apologized, “I’m sorry.”

    “You don’t understand,” Kit groaned. “Pete, is it supposed to hurt this...Ahhheeee!” she screeched.

    Pete spun around in alarm. “Kit?”

    Tears poured down her cheeks. No longer in labor pain, it was a sharp, searing pain.

    Pete and Andi were immediately to her side. “Kit?” Pete asked. “What is it? This is more.”

    Feeling warm liquid pouring out of her, out of breath, Kit whispered, “Blood.”

    “What? Where?”

    Nodding toward her legs, Kit did her best to control the pulsating pain that pounded through her body.

    When Andi and Pete looked under the blanket, Andi’s face went pale. “Go get Nana,” she ordered.

    “Is she going to be okay?” Nico asked.

    “Go get Nana,” Andi ordered again.

    Nico ran down the stairs and out the door. “Nana, Pete and Andi need you.”

    “Me?” she asked, dread written all over her body. “Pete and Andi asked for me?”

    “Yes. Please hurry.”

    “What is it?”

    “Kit’s hurt, and there’s a lot of blood.”

    “Oh, dear Lord!” Nana jumped up. With Nico on her heels, they took the stairs two-by-two. By the time they reached the top of the stairs, the room was deathly silent.

    Nico ran to her side. “Kit?”

    “I’m sorry, mate.” Pete put his hand on Nico’s shoulder. “There was nothing I could do. It was too much.”

    “What are you...what?” Dropping to his hands and knees, shaking, he looked at Kit’s lifeless body. Then he turned to Pete and weakly asked, “Both of them?”

    “All three of them.”

    * * *

    Kit sat upright in bed with tears streaming down her face. “Kit? What’s wrong?” Nico asked. Glancing at the clock, he groaned. “It’s three o’clock in the mornin’, love. We don’t have t’ get up for another two hours. You’ve had us up through the night every day this week.”

    “I’m....” She sniffed, wiping her eyes. “I’m sorry. I’ll go sleep in another area, so you can get some rest.”

    “If anythin’, I’d sleep in the other bed in Flynn’s room, but I enjoy sleepin’ with my wife. What’s going on? These dreams are gettin’ stronger.”

    “I don’t know what to do about them.” “What was this one?”

    “I go into labor. The babies were twins. We were up in this room, but I didn’t make it. Neither did the babies.”

    “The other one had you kidnapped, right?”

    Dropping her head into her hands, she sighed. “Yeah. Then there was the one where I found a dead child face down near the north field. Ya know, I’m fixin’ to turn into an insomniac here if this doesn’t stop.”

    “No.” He sat up and hugged her. “You need sleep. I would miss cuddlin’ with you if you didn’t sleep with me.”

    Kit growled. “I’m just tired of these dreams. They’re strong. With Shawn not coming back after the couple of days that Danny promised, I’m really concerned for all of their safety. There’s no one to ask.”

    “We’re going t’ have t’ wait on God for any news on them. In the meantime, I’m prayin’ over the field in the mornin’ after breakfast an’ at night. I’ve banned the use of it, too. They’ve been ordered t’ use the other three fields an’ t’ stay away from that one. Nana’s not too happy, but she’s been a nervous wreck since Shawn didn’t come back as well.”

    “How do we get a hold of them?”

    “We don’t. We trust God an’ let Him have control of the situation.”

    “Another lesson in trust, huh?”

    “Yep. Can ya handle it?”

    “I don’t think I have a choice. I’ll just have to take each day as it comes.”

    “Good, because we have a funeral t’ go to t’day.”

    “Whose?”

    “Mine. You slept all last night. Seth brought my, um, doppelganger here yesterday.”

    “Oh yeah? How’d that go over when he saw you?” “It was rough at the start, but he’s better now.”

    “Did he forgive you?”

    “After a while. I told him everythin’.”

    “Good. That’s one less person who I feel we’ve lied to.”

    “Just relax. We did this for safety. I would be willin’ t’ bet that anyone who finds out about it would just be happy we’re safe.”

    “You don’t think they’ll be angry with us for not trusting them?”

    “Kit, just relax,” Nico said, pulling her down to him. As she cuddled in, he sighed. “I know this is where we’re supposed t’ be.”

    “I do too. It’s just a little frustrating that I won’t be able to talk to anyone anymore. Are you sure I can’t even log onto my computer to see what’s going on via social media?”

    “Nope. I’m pretty sure yer profile’s been tagged. If so, they’ll know as soon as you log in. If it’s any consolation, I can’t do it either.”

    “Not really. I am glad we still get to be in contact with part of your family, though. I miss everyone.”

    “I miss them too, but you’ll get sucked into life on the station soon enough. Then you won’t have time t’ check social media.”

    “That busy?”

    “Yep. Now, we need t’ eat breakkie with the rest of the group this mornin’. Seth wasn’t happy when he didn’t see ya for himself last night.”

    “Okay.”

    “I have a skeleton crew workin’ t’day durin’ the funeral. When we get back, we’ll have a lot t’ catch up on around the station.”

    “Well, you’ve jumped right on into this boss roll, haven’t ya?” Kit smiled as she nudged him. “It fits you well.”

    “Thanks. I’ve been doing the orders through Nana for the moment, so the blokes on the station don’t think I’m comin’ in here actin’ like his nibs.”

    “Meaning?”

    “Meaning, comin’ here actin’ like a know it all – bossy.” “Got it.”

    “I think she has me in the sheep area this week, lettin’ the blokes out there teach me what they know, even though I could do it with my eyes closed. Next week I move t’ cattle. Then the week after, I go t’ the barn with Pete. While those who knew me growin’ up know it’s a pretense, others are takin’ t’ the idea a little better knowin’ they have input. It’s tedious, but it will help in the long run.”

    “Um, Nico?”

    “Yes, my love?” he asked, looking down at her.

    “Ya know we still have over an hour and a half until we have to get up, right?”

    “Right.”

    “Um, we could fill that up with some bonding time?” she suggested.

    “Really? You wanna bond, huh?”

    “Well, if you’re fixin’ t’ be buried later, I’d better enjoy you while you still have life in ya, Nicholas Scott Locke,” she said with a smile, tracing the lines on his chest with her finger.

    “Well, unfortunately, Katie Marie MacKenna is already dead an’ buried.”

    “Yeah, but you have her new and improved clone, Kit.”

    “This is true. She’s full of life an’ looks a lot more healthy.”

    “Really? You little bugger,” she said, and started tickling him.

    “Not fair!” he objected. Grabbing her wrists, he flipped her over before he leaned down, kissing her neck.

    “Now that’s not fair,” she breathed out as tingles flooded her body. “Not fair at all.”

    * * *

    When they walked into the dining room for breakfast that morning, Seth looked up, stunned. “Kit? You look great! A little sleepy, but much better than I have seen you in a long time.” When he hugged her, he said near her ear, “And, I forgive you for this ruse as well. As long as you guys are safe, I feel much better.”

    Hugging him one more time before letting him go, she said, “Thank you.”

    “So, you’re Kit?” one of the ranch hands, Liam, asked, looking her up and down.

    “Mind yerself,” Nana cautioned. “She’s his,” she said, nodding toward Nico.

    “I get that. Just a little admiration.”

    “If he doesn’t rip yer arm off an’ beat ya with the messy end, she will,” Nana warned.

    “She doesn’t look like she could pull skin off a custard.”

    “Oh, she can beat you within an inch of your life,” Seth spoke up. “I know who trained her.”

    “What are you goin’ on about, ya bloody seppo?”

    “That’s enough!” Nico snapped. “You’ve offended my wife, me, an’ my cousin’s best friend, an’ we haven’t even sat down t’ eat breakkie. I know y’er new here, so I’m cuttin’ you a break...this time. I want everyone t’ hear this: I do not want t’ hear the term ‘seppo’ on this station again, ever! Have I made myself clear?”

    “Crystal,” Liam mumbled before picking up the plate of bread to pass around.

    “Not so fast.” Nico stopped him. “You owe both of them an apology.”

    “Technically he owes all three of ya an apology,” Nana pointed out. “Unless ya wanna work with Pete in the barn all day shovelin’ horse –?”

    “Nana!” Nico cut her off.

    “Pucky,” Nana finished.

    Nico took a deep breath before he explained, “We need t’ clean some a’ the language around here too. In the long term, if we have any ankle biters runnin’ around here, I don’t want ‘em havin’ mouths worse than dock workers.”

    “Seriously?” Liam shook his head. “We can’t even talk normal? What kind of station is this?”

    “One that takes care of their people like family,” Barwon explained. “I don’t mind watchin’ my tongue t’ get treated equal t’ family. That don’t happen on many stations.”

    “I know, but havin’ rules on what we can say an’ what we can’t?”

    Nico gestured. “You know where the door is.” “Y’er bloody serious?”

    “Watch it, Liam,” Nana warned. When he looked at her stunned, she said, “He’s the boss.”

    “No, he’s not. You are.”

    “Nope. He’s been givin’ the orders for quite some time. I’ve only been handin’ ‘em out. Y’er lookin’ at his nibs over there. An’ personally? I wouldn’t wanna go against ‘im. He’s kinda big.”

    “I see that, but can he hold ‘is own?”

    Nico burst out in laughter. When Liam raised an eyebrow, Nico suggested, “We could go a couple a’ rounds if ya think you can handle it?”

    “No,” Nana said sternly. “No fightin’.”

    Liam sighed. “Fine. I’ll go along with yer rules.”

    “Right-oh,” Nico said, sitting down at the table, as Kit sat down between him and Seth. “So, where am I t’day?” he asked Nana, changing the subject.

    “Sheep,” Nana said. “Cattle starts next week.”

    “Why is he doin’ that? Has he never been on a station?” Liam asked.

    “Wow, y’er really pushin’ it, aren’t ya?” Nana snapped.

    “Well, if he’s the boss, why is he doin’ the circuit?”

    “Because he wants input from all y’all,” Kit explained.

    “You don’t have a say in any a’ this,” Liam scoffed. Then under his breath, he added, “Bloody seppo.”

    “That’s it!” Nico growled as he stood, slamming his hands on the table. “You got one more shot an’ y’er outta here!”

    “Nico?” Nana questioned.

    “He just slammed my wife! No one will slam her on this station...ever! This is hers just as much as it is mine.”

    “From what I hear, she can’t even ride a horse. How is she supposed t’ run a station?” Liam challenged.

    Barwon leaned over and turned Liam by his chin so he was looking at him. “If ya got a problem with Kit, then ya can take it up with me. She is part a’ the station. Whether she can ride or not, does not make or break whether it’s hers. Now, ya got somethin’ else t’ add, mate?”

    Liam looked at him wide-eyed. Barwon’s size was intimidating at best. “Uh, no. I’m done.”

    “Good. If I hear one more objection from that big mouth a’ yers, we’re gonna take a walk t’ the road and sort this out. At that point we’ll be off the station, so Nana can’t object,” he said glancing at Nana. When Nana nodded, he said, “See?”

    “I get it,” Liam growled.

    “Good. Now that that’s settled, how about –” Nico was cut off by a flash of blinding light that lit up the entire house as the barn roof blew out. “Get t’ the horses!” Nico shouted while a sudden rush of rain poured from the sky like a waterfall, and debris blew all over the ground from the strike.

    “Good heavens!” Nana exclaimed, as everyone ran outside. “The barn’s gonna burn t’ the ground!”

    Kit ran into the kitchen and called Tommy and Andi O’Leary, from Koala Pass Station, the station adjacent to theirs.

    “Hello?” Andi answered.

    “Andi!”

    “Kit? What’s wrong?” she asked, hearing the panic in her voice.

    “Barn’s on fire!”

    “We’re comin’,” Andi said and hung up.

    Seeing portions of the barn in flames despite the rain, the flashes sent Kit back to the warehouse and car explosions. Rocking on her feet as she crouched on the ground, she covered her ears from all of the shouts of the men and sounds of the animals, as the flashes of the last year flew through her mind at an alarming rate.

    “Kit?” Pete ran up to her, while Nico was in the barn doing his best to release the horses from their stalls. “Are you okay?” When she didn’t answer, Pete shook her. “Kit! I need ya t’ focus!”

    “Flashbacks,” she squeaked out, as the thunder rolled and lightening continued to flash around them.

    “Take deep breaths an’ get them under control,” Pete ordered, holding her arms. When they locked eyes, he explained, “You need t’ help get the horses out of the barn. They won’t come out if they’re scared. They need you. Do your best t’ get t’ Star an’ Jumbunna.”

    Taking a deep breath, she slowly let it out. “I-I think I can.”

    “I know you can. C’mon. You need t’ focus for me.”

    “I-I’m okay,” she said, getting her emotions under control.

    Pulling her up, he dragged her to the barn. “Good. Let’s go.”

    The smoke from the burning wood and hay instantly stung her eyes as they neared the barn. Inside of the barn suffocated her, but she did her best to keep up with Pete. Coughing, she struggled to get air while grasping the reigns Pete shoved into her hands from Star.

    She wanted to get out of the barn, but Pete pulled her to Jumbunna’s stall. As she stumbled behind him dragging Star with her, Pete left her at the stall door to retrieve Jumbunna. Quickly returning, he thrust the reigns into Kit’s other hand. Covering the horse’s eyes with a cloth so they didn’t see the fire and refuse to leave, Pete shouted, “Get them out a’ here!”

    Squinting to protect her burning eyes from the fumes, Kit barely made the outline of the door of the barn twenty feet away. The horses pulled and tugged as she walked backward toward the doorway, fighting the horses every step of the way. “For crying out loud!” Kit said before she coughed. “Just come with me! I’m trying to save your behinds!”

    Struggling to yank the horses out of the barn, Kit continued to look over her shoulder toward the door, praying with everything in her to keep everyone safe.

    “Get out of here!” Liam shouted, grabbing Jumbunna’s reigns. “I have this one. You get Star!”

    The only thing Kit could do was nod as she used her arm to cover her mouth. The air was saturated with the stench of burning wood and hay making the air heavy. Would she be able to do this? Could she really help run this station with Nico?

    As she and Liam finally made it outside, she heard Pete yell to Nico, “What do we do with the barn itself?”

    “Let it burn.”

    “What?” Nana asked, stunned, as she carried a saddle over the pile of equipment already rescued that was near the main house.

    “Nana, at this point the integrity of the structure is in trouble,” he explained, tossing a handful of equipment onto the pile. “It’s better t’ rebuild it from the ground.”

    Nana dropped her head and sighed. “Y’er right.”

    Kit’s heart broke. Understanding the amount of work that would have to go into rebuilding a barn, she shook her head while tying Star to the rail.

    “Probably a wise idea,” Liam remarked, tying Jumbunna to the railing next to Star. “We’ll be lucky t’ keep the shell. The bigger concern at this point is the hay. We lose that, we could be in trouble for the winter.”

    The group from Koala Pass pulled in as Kit finished tying Star. While the two truckloads of men got out and ran to help the others, Tommy and Andi went over to Nana and Nico, who were still standing by the main house. “Are ya lettin’ it go?” Tommy asked.

    “Yeah. We need a new one anyway. There’s no savin’ it,” Nana pointed out. “It was too far gone by the time we got everythin’ out of the horse barn.”

    “Thanks for yer help,” Nico added. “We’re doin’ our best t’ save the sheep barn an’ keeping the hay clear. That’s where our concentration is focused at the moment.”

    As she stood in the pouring rain that had since slowed to a steady flow from the initial burst, Andi and Tommy’s fifteen- year-old daughter, Anna, walked over to Kit. “Y’er lookin’ a little pale. Are ya okay?” she asked.

    “I’m fine. That was just scary. It shook the house.”

    “I’ll bet. We’ve seen some big ones out here,” Anna commented. “One even took out the main house before. Now that was scary.”

    “I would imagine. How old were you?”

    “Seven.”

    “Were y’all able to save any of it?”

    “Thanks t’ Serenity Wells we were. Nana brought her crew an’ they helped. It took hours t’ make sure it was all the way out, but they did it. They also helped rebuild the portion that got burnt. Mum an’ Dad were grateful. Our two stations work t’gether very well. Not too sure about that Akoonah Station, though.” Anna shuddered. “That place gives me the creeps.”

    “G’day, Anna.” One of Serenity Wells Station’s ranch hands named Alec smiled at her. “Thank you for yer help.”

    Grinning ear-to-ear, Anna said, “Our pleasure.”

    As Alec walked away to continue clearing the sheep barn, Kit observed, “So, you like Alec?”

    Anna looked at her, panic in her eyes. “What?”

    “How long?”

    “How long, what?”

    “How long have you two been together?”

    “We haven’t...yet. My brothers would kill him,” she said, upset, referring to her five older brothers.

    “I’ll bet! He’s three years older than you.”

    “Technically he’s only two an’ a half. It’s just how our birthdays fall. He just turned eighteen.”

    “Is that justification? Or are you trying to convince yourself that it’s okay?”

    “I don’t know. Is it even possible t’ have a successful relationship with an older guy? How many years are between you an’ Nico?”

    “There are seven, but we met when we were older. Right now you both are in very different phases of life. Keep in mind that after college, age isn’t so much an issue. Until you turn eighteen, though, age will be a very big issue,” Kit said sternly. “Your parents would have a conniption if they even had a clue the two of you were seeing each other.”

    Watching him work, Anna dreamily sighed. “He’s very handsome. Sweet too.”

    “Is he a Christian? I know y’all go to church.”

    “Not sure,” she admitted. Then she turned to Kit and asked, “Are you guys comin’ t’ church on Sunday?”

    “I believe we are. Unfortunately, we have to bury Nico’s cousin here in a couple of hours. Although, if this weather keeps up, we may have to switch that to tomorrow.”

    “That’s a shame. I heard he was a great guy.”

    Adam, one of Anna’s brothers, took a bottle of water from the cooler Kit had set out, and asked, “Who?”

    “Nick.”

    “Nick Locke?”

    “Yeah.”

    “Nick’s blood was worth bottlin’! It was a real shame the way he went. Wish I could a’ known ‘im better. My brother Alex had nothin’ but nice things t’ say about him,” Adam said. “He knew Nick before he moved to The States. They were about the same age.”

    “Better get the lead out. Looks like the fire’s hit the hay bales,” Anna pointed out.

    “Crikey!” Adam exclaimed before he ran back toward the barn.

    “If the hay’s on fire, we’re not having a funeral today,” Kit decided. “I need to go see what Nico and Nana want to do.”

    “Okay. I’ll keep the water bottles stocked.”

    “Actually, if you want to help your mum with making sandwiches, that would be great. Then you can come back out and admire Alec,” Kit said with a knowing smile.

    “Got it,” Anna said, and disappeared into the house.

    As she made her way over to Nico, Kit couldn’t help but enjoy the camaraderie she felt between the two stations. She hoped with every bone in her body that the peace would continue, and that things with Akoonah would continue to stay calm.