Authors: Rachael Herron
The Firefighters of Darling Bay 1
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed or transmitted in any form or by any means, including photocopying, recording, or other electronic or mechanical methods, without the prior written permission of the publisher, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical reviews and certain other noncommercial uses permitted by copyright law.
Publisher’s Note: This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are a product of the author’s imagination. Locales and public names are sometimes used for atmospheric purposes. Any resemblance to actual people, living or dead, or to businesses, companies, events, institutions, or locales is completely coincidental.
Blaze / Rachael Herron. -- 2nd ed.
Copyright © 2014, Rachael Herron writing as Lila Ashe
All rights reserved.
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To my main squeeze, for always putting the whoop in my siren.
Everything was fine until the air conditioner caught on fire.
“It’s not a big deal.” Grace blew at the tendril of smoke that rose from the plastic cover. Did smoke always mean fire? Maybe it meant something was overheating? Acupuncture was supposed to be relaxing for her patients. Evacuating them wouldn’t be very calming. “Don’t get up.”
Steve Swanson, who had been reclining with his acupuncture needles in, popped his chair forward. His eyes bulged behind his thick glasses. “Kind of looks like a big deal to me.”
Mrs. Little—who was anything but—also sat forward, adjusting her bosom as she went. “It smells like my toaster when the bread gets stuck. You sure it’s not on fire in there?”
Eliza Cross, ninety years old if a day, didn’t even open her eyes. “Just let me know if we need to run out screaming. Till then, I’m napping.” The
was implied in the retired librarian’s tone.
Grace waved her hands at the smoke and pasted on a hopeful smile. “I think it’s dissipating.” No, this wouldn’t do, not at all. A fire in her group treatment room wouldn’t be the best thing for business. Darling Bay was as progressive as small towns got, but residents were still figuring out what community acupuncture
. Word of patients being treated for smoke inhalation would be downright embarrassing.
The innards of the air-conditioner gave a startling crack followed by pops, as if something were being cooked inside. A larger cloud of noxious-smelling black smoke curled into the room.
“Oh, dear,” said Mrs. Little. “Should I take my needles out?”
“No, no, let me…” said Grace. “Just one sec. I think I can…” She tugged on the front of the unit, pulling hard until the cover came off in her hands. When she peered into it, she saw a bright red flame leap. “Oh, sweet crapitty-crap!” What were you supposed to do for an electrical fire? Baking soda? This was an office, not a kitchen.
“Get a jug of water!” said Steve.
“Not water.” Grace remembered that, at least. She clapped her hands. “I’ve changed my mind. I think the three of you should wait on the lawn. Eliza, let me help you. You can leave your points in—it won’t hurt them to move around a bit.” She kept her voice as even as she could, but inside, she was terrified. Mrs. Cross wouldn’t move quickly. It was on Grace to keep them safe. What if her whole office burned down because she waited too long to call the fire department? Her fingers shook as she dialed 911. Fire insurance was good from the day she purchased it, right?
“It’s me, Grace.”
“You usually text me. Why are you calling me at work?”
“Um, I might, I don’t want to freak anyone out.” She lowered her voice. “But maybe I have a fire?”
“What’s on fire?”
Grace heard the clicking of a keyboard on the other side of the phone. She gave Lexie the information as fast as she could. The fire was getting bigger, flames licking out the top of the unit now. The metal Venetian blinds were charring, and the cord started smoking.
“We’re on the way,” said Lexie. “Can you get everyone out?”
“I’m trying.” Grace ushered her three patients out, shooing them like chickens. Their acupuncture points bobbed, swaying lightly in their arms, legs and ears.
Steve moved to the door, his pants still rolled up to the knee. “Aren’t you supposed to have a fire extinguisher?”
Of course she did! How could she have forgotten? Demonstrating she knew how to use it was one of the check-offs she’d done for the city before getting her business license.
Grace made sure Eliza was comfortable on the lawn (the old woman was remarkably unperturbed and appeared as if she might go back to sleep) and then rushed back inside. The air was acrid, smelling of melted plastic and something harsher, more chemical. Grace felt dizzy and wondered if it was possible to pass out from smoke inhalation when it wasn’t a
fire. It wasn’t, after all, like a wall was on fire. Yet. She was pretty sure it was still contained to the unit. Mostly. Except for those creeping flames.
She got the fire extinguisher off the wall, finding it heavier than she remembered. Would she have to read the instructions? The list of words on the fire extinguisher was discouragingly long. In the distance, she could hear a fire engine’s siren. Although now that she had the extinguisher, she bet she could have it out by the time they got there. Grace knew one thing about herself—she was good at handling a crisis.
hadn’t she thought to unplug the danged air conditioner? Reaching forward, she yanked out the plug and threw open the window next to it. Fresh air, at least.
Or would that make the fire happier? Fire wanted oxygen, right? What if the fire sped up the wall into the attic? Her office was ing a small cottage, more than a hundred years old. She’d barely glanced at the attic when she bought it, just noting it was dusty and had housed mice at some point over the years.
Grace stood straight, willing herself to breathe slowly. She pulled the pin on the fire extinguisher and pressed the handle, directing the nozzle at the air conditioner. The fire inspector, when testing her business, had instructed, “Sweep the spray side to side, hitting the base of the fire.”
The difference was instant. The fire that had been creeping up the wall disappeared in a blanket of white spray. Grace took a deep breath of relief and immediately convulsed in a fit of choking.
From behind her, she heard a man yell, “Got a victim here, roll medics code three!” She turned to see a huge man in some kind of a yellow jumpsuit coming at her. He had shaggy blond hair and a jaw like a cliff. His eyes snapped green fire at her.
She tried to tell him she wasn’t hurt, that she had it all under control, but she just said, “Thhbt.”
Then everything went dark.
The woman was coming to, and that was a good thing because Tox needed to make it clear to her how stupid she’d been.
What he wasn’t ready for, though, was the moment she opened her eyes. Eyes the color of coffee with a splash of cream, lids heavy, as if she’d just woken up in her own bed after a restful night. She gave the impression she woke up happy with half a smile on her face. What must
“Glad you’re awake, Princess.”
Behind him, Tox’s engineer Coin laughed. “Or what? You were going to kiss her awake?”
Sudden color flooded the woman’s cheeks. Her entire body tensed, and Tox could almost see her remember what had happened.
“Is the fire out? Is everyone okay?” She looked around, and relief lit her face as she saw her three patients studying her with interest. “Is the building okay?”
“You’re gonna need a new air conditioner,” said Coin. “And part of a wall where we pulled it out.”
Tox interrupted him. “That’s really not what you need.”
“What?” she asked. “More? Did it get into the roof? The attic?”
Tox shook his head. “There was no extension of the flames. You were lucky. But you
need to get a clue the next time. You should
have gone back in there, not after you got everyone out.”
She frowned. “But I put out the fire, right?”
Well, he had to give her that. “You didn’t know how it would go. Fire doubles in size every thirty seconds, and if it had caught inside the wall, in the time it took us to drive from the station, you wouldn’t have been safe using the extinguisher. That’s our job.”
“Oh, it’s your job, huh?” She blinked sleepily at him. Summer sunlight lit her long maple-colored hair and for a moment he was tempted to lean down and pick her up to move her into the shade. Skin as porcelain as hers would burn in a second.
“Darn shootin’, it is.”
She coughed again. “So I did it wrong? The fire’s still raging inside?”
He heard Coin snort behind him. But Tox was right about this. “Next time you have a fire—”
“There won’t be a next time.”
He ignored her. “Next time you have a fire, you let us handle it. You seriously could have killed yourself. We see it all the time.”
She looked concerned. “Really?”
Not for years, actually. They had a good track record in Darling Bay. “Yep. How’s your breathing?”
The woman waved her hand at him and pushed herself up to sitting. “Pfft. I’m fine. We Rowes don’t break that easily.”
Tox frowned. “Rowe. Related to Samantha?”
She nodded. “She’s my younger sister. I’m Grace. You know her?”
Grace narrowed her eyes, and Tox could understand why. Back in the day, Samantha had been a wild one. “Hank, my firefighter in there, I think he used to date her.”
She groaned. “In advance, I’m sorry for whatever he’s about to say. She had a rough few years.”
“Whoa, slow it down. I remember her. She was cool.”
“For the record, she still is.”
Tox nodded, but the rapid defense after the apology for her sister’s behavior puzzled him. Maybe Grace was still a little groggy after her faint. He checked the pulse-ox. “Your O2 sat’s good. Just need a couple questions answered from you, then the medics will take you to the hospital to make sure you’re all right.”
After coughing again, Grace pushed herself to her feet. “No hospital.”
Coin gave him the high sign and went back into the business. Tox sighed. He was a sucker. He always fell for it, and winded up being the one to argue with the patients who wanted to AMA out of the transport.