Authors: Linda Goodnight
“Sometimes I wonder if I’m cheating Alex out of a real family.”
Easily pushing Alex’s stroller with one hand, Nic took Cassidy’s elbow in the other and guided them across the busy street. “Don’t do that. Don’t sell yourself short.”
“I want what’s best for him.”
“That would be you.
are a real family. Small but mighty.”
She was starting to believe him.
After they stepped up on the curb, Nic dropped his hold. She realized how protected and safe she’d felt for those few seconds. Nic was working his amazing charm on her and she couldn’t seem to stop reacting to him.
He was in her thoughts constantly. And on the days he didn’t bounce up to her apartment with some silly quip or tale of wild adventure or jokingly asking to borrow a cup of sugar, she missed him.
At times like this, she could forget he was a firefighter and how much that scared her.
Books by Linda Goodnight
In the Spirit of…Christmas
A Very Special Delivery
A Season for Grace
A Touch of Grace
The Heart of Grace
A Time to Heal
Home to Crossroads Ranch
The Baby Bond
Winner of a RITA
Award for excellence in inspirational fiction, Linda Goodnight has also won the Booksellers’ Best, ACFW Book of the Year, and a Reviewers’ Choice Award from
Romantic Times BOOKreviews
magazine. Linda has appeared on the Christian bestseller list and her romance novels have been translated into more than a dozen languages. Active in orphan ministry, this former nurse and teacher enjoys writing fiction that carries a message of hope and light in a sometimes dark world. She and her husband, Gene, live in Oklahoma. Readers can write to her at [email protected], or c/o Steeple Hill Books, 233 Broadway, Suite 1001, New York, NY 10279.
The Baby Bond
Published by Steeple Hill Books
When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze. For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.
During the writing of this book, I was blessed
to have the help of an awesome group of real-life
heroes—the men of B Crew, Fire Station One in
Norman, Oklahoma. Captain Lenny Mulder,
Driver Keith Scott, and firefighters Matt Hart and
Cody Goodnight answered any and all questions,
discussed scenarios and even let me ride along
on a call in the new fire engine. Thanks, guys.
You’re the best!
ic Carano leaped from the fire engine as soon as the truck came to a rolling stop, heedless of the sixty pounds of turnout gear weighing him down. Along with the captain, the driver and two other firefighters from Station One, he’d been the first to arrive on a very bad scene. Flames shot out of the front windows of an old two-story Victorian. Fully involved. Being devoured by the beast. Smoke plumed upward like gray, evil genies. With a sinking heart, Nic realized fire crews had only arrived and they were already behind.
Almost simultaneously, Engine Company Two wailed onto the scene and “pulled a spaghetti” as a pair of firefighters, moving in opposite directions, circled the structure with the two smaller lines.
Someone said, “We’ve got people inside.”
Nic’s adrenaline jacked to Mach speed. He glanced at his captain, and noticed the fire reflecting gold and red in the other man’s pupils. Without a word, Nic tapped a finger to his chest. Ten minutes ago he’d been asleep in his bunk. Now he was wide awake and revved for takeoff.
“You and Ridge do the primary.” Captain Jack Sum
mers’s graying mustache barely moved as he spoke. “No heroics.”
His captain knew him well. Nic wanted in. He wanted to face the beast and win. Maybe he broke a rule now and then, but Captain knew he’d never endanger the crew. He and Sam Ridge, a quietly intense Kiowa Indian had gone to the academy together and practically read each other’s minds.
If there were people inside, they would find them.
He and Ridge charged the house, pulling hose. Engine Company Two axed through the front door. The beast roared in anger. Nic and Sam hit their knees, crawling low into the dark gray blindness. As nozzle man, Nic went first, spraying hot spots while Sam rotated the thermal imaging camera left to right around the rooms.
The whoosh-hush of his own breathing filled his ears.
he thought with humor. Otherwise he heard nothing, saw nothing.
“Front room clear,” he said, feeling his way through a doorway to the left and into the next room.
“We got casualties.” His partner’s terse words jacked another stream of adrenaline into Nic’s already thundering bloodstream. He aimed the hose in the direction Sam indicated and crawled through the smoke to a bed. Two people lay far too still.
In moments, he and Ridge had shouldered the victims and were back outside. A man and a woman. Young. Maybe his age. He discerned no movement, no rise and fall of rib cage. Smoke, he figured, because they looked asleep. The woman was blond. In Scooby Doo pajamas.
Paramedics took over, working frantically. But Nic’s gut hurt with the knowledge: they’d arrived too late.
Nic clenched his jaw against the emotion. Fury at the fire. Fury at himself for being too late.
Though he’d been on the force for five years and he’d been taught to stay detached, firefighters were human. This could be one of his sisters.
“I’m going back in,” Nic said grimly. “There may be kids upstairs.”
More victims was always a possibility. He could only hope the smoke hadn’t gotten that far yet.
The captain gripped his shoulder. “Parrish and Chambers can go.”
Nic shook his head, already changing to fresh air tanks. “Me and Ridge. We started it. Let us finish it.”
The captain’s radio crackled. Lifting the black rectangle to his lips, Summers motioned toward the inferno. “Go. Don’t do anything stupid.”
This wasn’t the first time Nic had heard the warning. And it wouldn’t be the last.
He and Sam made the stairs in double time. Fire danced below them, taunting and teasing. The firefighters outside were doing their job, knocking down the worst. Smoke rolled as wild and dark as Oklahoma thunderheads.
The thin wail of a smoke detector pierced the crackle and roar of the blaze. Downstairs had been ominously silent. No detector. Or one that had been disconnected. Nic’s teeth tightened in sad frustration.
Again, moving clockwise, they searched two rooms before Nic heard another sound. He stopped so fast, his buddy slammed into him.
“Did you hear that?” Nic asked.
“Can’t hear anything over that detector but you, puffing like a freight train.”
Nic pointed with his chin. “Scan over there.”
Sam raised the camera. “Bingo.”
The noise came again, a mewling cry. “A kid?”
“Baby.” Sam shifted the viewfinder into Nic’s line of sight. “And he’s kicking like mad.”
Nic wasted no breath on the exultant shout that formed inside him. Handing off the nozzle to his partner, Nic approached the crib and had the crying child in his arms in seconds. His blood pumped harder than the engine outside, consuming way too much air. “Let’s get out of here.”
Sam scanned the rest of the room as they exited, hosing hot spots along the way. A crumpling roar shook the floor beneath them. They both froze. Nic tucked the baby closer, waiting to see if the flooring would give way and send them plummeting down into the inferno.
Sometimes Nic wondered if his afterlife would be like that: A trapdoor sprung open and a long fall down into the flames.
, he thought, knowing Rosalie Carano prayed for him all the time. He was her stray son, the one who danced on the borderline between faith and failure. Often she told of waking in the night to pray when he was on duty. He hoped she’d awakened tonight.
With the fire below them, eating its way up, it was only a matter of time until the second floor would be fully involved or structurally unsound. If it wasn’t already.
“Move it, Sam. This little dude is struggling.” Everything in him wanted to break protocol and give the baby his air mask. He’d do it, too, if he had to and worry about the consequences later. Nic reached toward his regulator.
A gloved hand stopped him.
“Don’t even think about it, hotshot,” Ridge growled, reading his intention. “You’re no good to him dead.”
Ridge was right. As always. Neither of them knew what might transpire before they could escape. Firefighters had been trapped in far less volatile situations.
Nic gave a short nod and started down the stairs, the infant
tight against his chest. Almost as quickly, he jerked to a stop and slung his opposite arm outward to block Sam. “Trouble.”
Heart jackhammering, Nic spoke into his radio. “Firefighter Carano to Captain of Engine One. Stairs have collapsed. We have an infant, approximately three months old, conscious and breathing, but we have no means of egress. I repeat, Captain, we have no means of egress.”
A moment of silence seemed to stretch on forever. The baby had stopped struggling. Gone quiet.
Pray, Mama. Pray for this kid.
Nic was reaching for his air mask again when the radio crackled. “Firefighter Carano, you have a window on D side, second story. We’ll send up an aerial.”
He dropped his hand.
“10-4.” Now to find the window. Fast. Though the upstairs smoke remained moderate, the darkness was complete. Without the imaging camera, he was as good as blind.
Keeping the baby as low to the ghostly haze as possible, Nic felt his way around the walls through the upper rooms, working toward what he hoped was D side. His partner found the exit first and opened it with a forcible exit tool. Glass shattered, the sound loud and welcome. The baby jerked. Cool night air rushed in.
Nic yearned to reassure the frightened infant. Through the plastic of his visor, he looked down into the wide, tearing eyes. Poor little dude would probably grow up with a terror of
The ladder clattered against the outside. Nic handed the child to Sam and climbed out, grateful for the flood of light as he reached back for the baby. He always appreciated life and light and fresh air a lot more after an entry such as this.
In seconds, he was down the ladder and on the ground.
Paramedics whisked the baby out of his arms and started toward the ambulance. Nic followed, ripping away his helmet and mask as he walked.
His legs felt like deadweights inside his turnout boots.
“He gonna be all right?”
The red-haired paramedic, Shannon Phipps, nodded, her busy hands assessing, applying oxygen and otherwise doing her job with rapid-fire efficiency.