It wasn’t quite summer, but even in the mountains, where the dams never dried up and grass stayed tinged with green even through drought, the heat, together with the blanketing humidity, was almost unbearable. Watching haze shimmer over ryegrass paddocks, Jordan Windcroft sat sweltering in the passenger seat of Joel Tanner’s delivery truck as they headed towards town. It had been a hell of a day; this morning’s delivery run had been full and the afternoon had been flat out at the shop. Joel had disappeared at lunch time, collecting the rest of his daughter Madi’s stuff — so she could get away from her bastard fiancé Sean Carter once and for all. As happy as Jordan was with that development, it had made for a hard afternoon. She figured that even with help from Joel’s other employee, Matt, she’d lugged at least a hundred bags of feed in sauna conditions, in the hot tin shed that was Tanner’s Produce Store.
Matt had finally closed up the shop a half-hour ago and they’d shared a
few beers, counting the minutes until Joel got back, until Jordan could get a
ride home. Then Joel had got back, had unloaded one of the boxes from the truck, and all thoughts of a cold shower and
well-earned rest had flown straight out the window.
And here they were.
The truck’s windows were down in a vain attempt to battle the vicious
burn of forty-plus temperatures glaring through the large windshield, and
Jordan’s fingers were restlessly tapping the window ledge in time with what she
considered pretty bad seventies music. She swiped her forearm across her damp
brow. As her eyes slid down to the little sachet in her purse, to thoughts of
what was sitting in the back of the truck, irritation turned to nervous
Of course, they’d known Sean was taking drugs; guessed he was playing
around with a bit of dealing. But they hadn’t expected this: Joel’s mistake of
picking up one of Sean’s boxes while recovering Madi’s stuff had revealed a
shocking amount of little blue pills.
Thank God Madi was getting out.
Now they were taking the stash to the police. The fallout was not going
to be pretty, but to Jordan’s mind, justice was justice.
other side of town, Madi Tanner sped blindly along the main road. As she drove,
she played with her hands, peeling and unpeeling them from the steering wheel
as she struggled to keep it together. The swelling around her left eye blurred
her vision and the incredible pain coursing through her body made driving
She’d been unable to stem the bleeding from her lip where her fiancé had
lifted her off the ground in that first shattering attack, and other than the
odd wipe with the back of her hand, she let it drip at will. Blow after blow
she’d taken in the latest of Sean’s drug-induced irrational tempers. This had
been the worst she’d endured.
In the end it had been the bedside lamp that had saved her; she’d swung
it hard, heard the crack of iron against bone. Even before he collapsed she was
flying from the room, adrenaline blocking the pain and fuelling her body to
flee. Now, as she maneuvered her ’98 model Honda Civic at breakneck speed along
the winding country road, the moment played through her mind in a tireless
rerun. Had she knocked him out? Had she killed him? She could feel herself
shaking — felt hot swelling and crusting blood on her face. Just as the speedo
pushed one-thirty, a blaring horn alerted her that she was heading onto the
wrong side of the road. Swerving away from the oncoming van, she slammed on the
brakes too hard, sending the car skidding sideways into the gravelled roadside
to a jarring stop.
Frantically, her fingers dug around in a cluttered purse, violently
shaking off an old receipt that stuck to them, stuck to the blood, as she
located her phone.
mobile phone shrilled loudly over the chorus of Can’t Buy Me Love and he pulled the truck over to the side of the
road. As the last remnants of cool died with the breeze and the dust from the
roadside billowed up and threatened to choke them, Jordan bent for her water
bottle, tempted to tip the whole thing over her head right there in the truck.
‘Madi?’ Joel listened. ‘Madi,
Love, calm down. Where are you?’ Jordan frowned, her attention now on the
conversation. ‘Stay there, I’m on my way.’ Joel swore and shoved the phone at
Jordan, his face a tormented mask of fury. ‘Call Harry. Tell him Sean’s had
another go at Madi.’
Jordan took the phone, dialled, tried again, then shook her head. ‘It’s
cutting out. We won’t get a signal again until we’re clear of the pass. Where
‘She got away. She said she’s pulled over at the crossroads.’
‘We’re almost there ourselves...’ She grimaced as the man she knew to be
calm, rational, careful, threw the truck sharply back onto the road.
Joel risked a quick look in Jordan’s direction and noted the anxiety
marring her lovely features. Although Jordan’s hair was a lighter shade of
brown to Madi’s, and her eyes were blue to Madi’s brown, both were tall and
slim and as close as sisters could be. Both were also two of the most precious
people in his life. He ordered himself to take a breath and eased back on the
accelerator as much as he dared.
The two extra minutes it took to reach the crossroads seemed an
eternity, but as they approached, they saw Madi’s car on the side of the road. ‘There
she is.’ Joel breathed a sigh of obvious relief that she appeared to be in no
Madi looked up, shakily climbed out of the car.
‘Oh no, Joel...’ Jordan trailed off as they got a good look at her.
Joel slammed his hand against the steering wheel violently. Sean had
really gone to town on her this time. ‘I’ll kill him. This time I’ll kill him!’
‘Um...speaking of...’ She pointed
just ahead of them to the car heading at high speed from the road to their
‘He wouldn’t want to stop.’ Quite close now, Joel indicated to pull
Joel saw the direction Sean was headed and gasped in horror. ‘Hold on!’
He hit the accelerator again, desperate to reach his daughter before Sean’s
speeding car did.
Jordan caught a brief glimpse of Sean’s face as his car crossed onto the
wrong side of the road, as he pointed his Commodore straight at Madi; the
sneer, the concentration, the hate.
‘Get between them!’ Jordan leant over and reefed on the wheel, sending
the truck lurching violently sideways and off the road as it cut into Sean’s path,
The noise — screaming, tearing metal — merged with the painful blast of
impact as truck and car collided. Sean’s car reared up in front of them, a blur
of glass and metal. A terrified face flashed in front of the windscreen for a
moment, before the whole image simply disappeared under the truck as it moved
endlessly forwards, sideways, dragging, shuddering, before tipping on its side
and to an abrupt halt.
For an immeasurable amount of time everything was silent and still.
Then came the screaming.
Madi, Jordan recognised hazily. ‘Joel... Joel, are you alright?’ She was
leaning against him in the overturned cabin. The seatbelt was cutting into her
hip, and every small movement of her head radiated glancing pain through her
‘Yeah...’ There was a pause as he
mentally checked himself over, then, ‘I reckon. You?’
‘I’m — Oh God. Joel, what just happened?’ She was already shaking, shock
and reaction quickly setting in.
‘Is okay by the sound of her. We have to get out of here. Can you move?’
‘Maybe...if you get off.’ Somehow, Jordan found it possible to reply
with a shaky laugh as she continued to wrestle with the seatbelt clasp.
They climbed out through the shattered windscreen and, once free, stood
and stared at the picture they were confronted with.
Madi’s hysterical form was bent over in the gravel, staring at what was
left of her dead husband’s broken body. It was gruesomely wedged half in, half
out of the crushed remnants of his steamrolled blue Commodore, his lifeless
eyes staring at them with a horrifically blank expression. Jordan shuddered at
that, then shuddered again as she saw how close to Madi’s car the wrecked
vehicles had ended up — how close she’d come to being killed, even with the
collision. She guessed a similar thought was running through Joel’s mind as he
moved unsteadily to his daughter and gently pried her away.
A car came to a screaming halt not far behind and the driver jumped out,
approaching at a run.
‘You guys alright? Oh my...’ Mary Riley took in the remains of Sean
Carter and paled significantly.
‘Dad.’ Madi threw her arms around her father and wept a fresh tide of
Joel held on. ‘Come away now, love. Don’t look at that.’
The truck’s engine exploded, sending everyone into a tangled heap on the
roadside. Fire engulfed it and Jordan spun away, terrified Sean’s lifeless body
would burn: an even more horrific image to be ingrained into her mind forever.
Nausea washed over her, along with a lightheaded sensation that
threatened to take her under. On a long, slow breath she fought it back. Her
mind was working slowly, but as she sat there it occurred to her in some
distant and surreal part of her working brain that this was going to cause a
lot of trouble.
Joel had just killed Sean Carter.
Though technically she’d put
the truck in his path simply to protect Madi, no one was going to believe that;
because Joel was already on notice for threatening Sean only days before. Joel —
the gentlest man Jordan had ever met — had stood over Sean Carter in a room
full of witnesses and promised that if he ever laid another hand on his
daughter, he’d kill him.
And he’d done it in front of Sean’s stepfather, Hal Carter, a high-court
judge with a shady reputation and a long-standing grudge against Joel. Hal had
pulled some pretty heavy strings and had publicly issued Joel with an AVO. And
now this. God… They’d say he’d done it on purpose. Hal would have him charged
Through the shaking, through the pasty-white complexion of shock,
Jordan’s eyes hardened into a glassy but steady reflection of the decision
she’d just made. ‘Joel, take Madi and get out of here.’
Joel blinked, looked at her profile blankly for a moment and attempted
to comprehend what she was saying. ‘What? Jordy, don’t be stupid.’
‘No one needs to know you were involved.’ She took an unsteady breath,
then another, and turned to Joel who was now shaking his head. ‘You can’t have
been driving; it would just look like you came good on your threat.’
‘Harry will believe us.’
She shook her head. ‘You make this more than a simple accident and it
will be bigger than a local cop, you know that. Hal will make sure you’re
locked up forever. For God’s sake, go!’ Her nerve was wavering; she needed to
follow through quickly. ‘I was just taking the truck back to my place with some
feed... Sean was high, came out of nowhere, hit me. It was an accident.’
‘She’s right, Joel.’ Mary had watched on silently, pretty sure Jordan was
in no state to make a rational decision. But she knew the situation; had to
agree with her, even as Joel shook his head slowly in objection. ‘Jordan’s
right. I believe in the law but this is just one of those situations — it won’t
end up right. Sean’s gone. We can’t change that. Madi’s been through enough.
Take her home.’
‘Jordy…you’ve been drinking…in an accident. You don’t know what you’re
‘We don’t have time for this.’ Mary waved off a concerned passing
motorist. ‘Yeah, cops are on their way, thanks.’ She turned back to Joel. ‘Take
your daughter home and clean up. I’m calling Harry and staying with Jordy.’
When Joel just continued to shake his head, Mary grabbed his arms and
shook. ‘Joel, how are Carol and Madi going to cope if you’re locked up for the
next twenty or more years? You take yourself and Madi out of the equation and
this looks like a feasible accident. It needs to stay that way. Go home.’