'Nina, let me do that - you're going to fall.'
'I'll be okay. Keep your foot on the ladder and stop staring at my backside.'
'It's hard not to. It's right in my face.'
'Hold onto the ladder and keep your eyes lowered, Ross.'
She ignored the laugh below her, the rich tones filling the air. Instead, she slid the tarpaulin over the last of the loose tin panels, adjusted her balance on the ladder, and fired the nail-gun, sealing the plastic sheeting into place.
'Okay, we're all done on this side.'
She glanced behind. Already, the wind was picking up, shaking the corn stalks in the fenced-off field on the opposite side of the road.
She changed her grip on the nail-gun and then descended the length of the ladder. As she reached the bottom, Ross stood aside, one hand gripping the frame. She smiled up at him. 'See, I'm quite capable.'
'Oh, I know that.' He pushed his hat back on his head, his green eyes sparkling. 'But I'll bet this side comes unstuck the moment that storm hits, whereas the other side will be fine.' He grinned. 'That'll be the side I sorted out, of course.'
He laughed and took a step back as Nina aimed a playful punch at his arm. 'Too slow, Nina O'Brien. Way too slow.'
Nina ran a hand through her hair and raised her gaze to the roof. 'Seriously, Ross - do you think it'll be okay?'
'Time will tell. You're doing all you can.' He bent and gathered up the pile of folded plastic sheets. 'Come on, one more to do.' He snatched the nail-gun from her hand and passed her the last tarpaulin. 'And I'll go up the ladder this time.' He lowered the ladder and swung it over his shoulder.
The sound of a hammer against wood echoed off the nearby accommodation block.
Nina and Ross had been joined half an hour ago by Phil Allison. A long-distance truck driver, Phil had dropped off a delivery in town and had decided to call it quits for the day after hearing about a landslide that had blocked the highway leading out of the valley and through the hills towards the city. A regular customer of Nina's father's, Phil had been only too happy to stop and help in return for free overnight accommodation.
Now, he was helping them prepare the property for the worst, boarding up windows on the other side of the truck stop and removing anything that could be whipped up by the wind and cause damage.
As the storm had progressed southwards towards Mistake Creek, it had swelled rivers and streams, water-logging the topsoil until it weakened and collapsed, pulling trees and scrubby undergrowth with it.
As Nina walked, she took in the state of the building, the paint peeling, and the accommodation block that would need tidying up - if the property didn't get ravaged by the incoming storm. A groan escaped her lips.
'Are you okay?' asked Ross, concern creasing his brow.
'I keep seeing more stuff that needs sorting out before I can sell this place. It's never-ending.'
'On the plus side, that means you stay longer.'
'Maybe,' said Nina. 'I need to concentrate on finding a new job and getting Dad's treatment sorted out first.'
Ross started walking again. 'Well, you're better off out of the city anyway. You could do with a bit of country air to put some colour in your face. You look as pale as a vampire.'
'Some would say pale and interesting, you know.'
'Is that right? What - just after they order a chai latte or whatever?'
Nina shook her head as she followed him. He still insisted on wearing the battered brown felt hat her father had given him the last year he and Nina were in school together, although its edges were frayed, the shape only just held together by the contours of his head.
She'd told him three days ago when she'd first arrived that her trip here had to be brief. Her job loss had been a blow, and she had to find a new employer f