Can’t Take the Heat

Heat_final
A Working It Novella

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Once burnt, twice shy.

Delaney Monroe could have married her college sweetheart, Wes Barrows, and lived the life of the idle rich thanks to his family’s casino money. Instead, she chose to become a firefighter. Unfortunately, that decision ended her relationship with Wes, who couldn’t bear the thought of her in such a dangerous profession. A little less than three years later, Del is one of the most respected members of her crew and loves her job, but she desperately misses Wes. Then, during a search and rescue operation, she’s knocked unconscious by falling debris.

Wesley Barrows finds himself with a major dilemma when his ex-girlfriend wakes from a serious head injury with no memory of the past few years or the circumstances that led to their breakup. On one hand, it’s the opportunity he’s longed for since he blew it and let her walk out the door. On the other, the fact that she’s got amnesia at all is the fault of the risky occupation she chose despite his objections. When her neurologist recommends that Delaney be allowed to recover her memory without being told what’s happened, Wes has no choice but take her home and act as if they’re still together, which isn’t a hardship when, in his heart, they always were. But as the bond between them becomes closer and more passionate than ever, Wes knows he risks losing her all over again when the truth comes out.


Excerpt

Prologue: Thursday

Smoke billows in the cavernous warehouse like thick gray curtains caught by a sudden draft from an open window. There’s so much smoke filling the enormous space, it’s hard to make out the flames, but they’re there—clawing their way along stacked rows of wooden and cardboard crates, curling up the wooden posts that support the wooden beams overhead. This is an old warehouse by Las Vegas standards, probably built in the ’20s, and thanks to its lumber-heavy construction, it’s burning hot and fast. The owner will be lucky if there’s any old-growth wood to salvage after the fire is put out. There’s probably no chance at all the structure can be saved. Everything crackles and creaks. Collapse is imminent.

Ryan tugs at my arm, shouts near my ear so I can hear him over the din of our respirators and the symphony of the fire. “It’s two a.m. and the security guard called in the alarm. There’s no one in here.” He points overhead to the rafters. “It’s coming down any minute.”

I shake my head. “Not until we’re sure.”

The thing is, he’s wrong. Someone is in here, and that someone is still alive, still needs our help. I know it the way I always know—the hair on the back of my neck bristles, goose bumps pepper my skin. Don’t ask me to explain how it happens. It just does. Whenever I enter a burning building, I know if there’s anyone inside, even when I can’t see them or hear them. It’s not a psychic thing, though. Not really. Afterward, I always realize that I saw some bit of evidence, something that didn’t quite make sense, that’s tipped me off. It was my first experience with this ability that made me realize I had to become a firefighter.

And I feel that now. No matter what the security guard says, no matter what he believes, he wasn’t alone when the fire broke out in this warehouse.

“Damn it, Del. You’re going to get us both killed.”

I grin, even though I know he can’t see it behind the respirator. “Next time, don’t draw the short stick.”

I’m always on the team that clears a building. Thurb, our lieutenant, knows if there’s anyone in a building who can be saved, I’ll find them. The other three guys on the crew, Ryan, Miguel, and Hoss—that’s not his real name, but it’s what everyone calls him because he’s as big as one—draw lots on the way to the scene to go in with me. Ryan drew short tonight.

He eyes the ceiling again. “Two minutes, Del. If you don’t find someone in two minutes, I’ll carry you out of here myself.”

I’d stick my tongue out if I wouldn’t just lick my respirator. “Like to see you try.”

Ryan’s bigger than me, but not by much. Small, delicate women don’t get to be firefighters, even if they have a weird gift for finding people in burning buildings.

But he’s right. I have to hurry.

Between the smoke and respirator mask, it’s hard to make out much of anything, even with our headlamps shining at full brightness. I have to assume, though, that my victim isn’t hiding between the stacks of crates that are going up in flames. He or she would be dead by now, and my skin wouldn’t be prickling like I’m being poked by a thousand sewing needles.

I scan the few parts of the huge space that aren’t completely engulfed in smoke and flame. To survive in here, a person would have to be where there’s still some air to be had, and there aren’t a lot of possibilities. My gaze fixes on the far corner of the building to my left, where the smoke is wispier than elsewhere, especially near the floor.

“There,” I say, pointing in the direction I’m already heading.

The crates in this last row aren’t ablaze yet, but they will be in a matter of minutes, if not seconds. Ryan’s hot on my heels, his lamp shining just over my head into the sharp gray blackness. The smoke gets denser and heavier with every step I take.

Where are you, damn it?

I don’t give up, but the further we get with no signs of life, the more I doubt myself. Maybe I’m imagining it this time. That’s never happened before, but this could be the first.

We’ve almost reached the end of the row, and I’m just about ready to call it, to admit I’m wrong.

Then I see them: a pair of shoes sticking out from between last crate and the wall. Filthy canvas sneakers. Small ones.

I break into a trot—a run is impossible in all this gear.

The shock hits me. It’s a kid, maybe eleven or twelve. Curled up, unmoving. I can’t make out boy or girl or if he or she is breathing, but it doesn’t matter. Ryan’s right behind me. He bends over and scoops the kid up off the ground.

“Let’s get the fuck out of here,” he shouts.

“Right behind you,” I agree, but I hang back just a second. Listening, feeling, looking. Anybody else here?

No.

I head toward the door we came in, maybe ten feet behind Ryan and the kid. The crackle and pop of the fire is deafening, and the rafters are fully engulfed in flame. Just as Ryan makes the door, there’s a sound like thunder overhead. I look up, which is stupid, because I know what I’ll see.

The roof is coming down.

Ryan’s heard it, too. He slows, turns.

I shake my head. “Go!”

He hesitates.

“Go!”

He bursts out into the night. Into fresh air. With the kid, who might make it.

The thunder roars again. I run.

I won’t make it.

Oh, Wes, I’m sorry. I never should have left. I love you.