Aidan Wild, our broken firefighting hero hits Kindles on 24 November 2020.
ABOUT THE BOOK:
Fighting fires is Aidan’s life, whether he’s putting out the embers his past left behind, or surviving the blazes he faces everyday. Relationships are something he avoids, because a man who has lost everything won’t walk that path again.
Ocea has worked hard to put her life back together, so the last thing she wants is to feel attracted to the man with sad eyes and a broken spirit. But they are drawn together like a moth to a flame. Their connection, all consuming and out of control. Will they survive the wildfire raging between them?
Eight Years Old
When I die, let it be doing something honorable. Not old in my bed with regrets, but alive with purpose. ~ Aidan
“I see the moon, the moon sees me,
the moon sees somebody I want to see.
God bless the moon, and God bless me,
And God bless the somebody I want to see.”
Mama’s voice is like an angel. Her singing always makes me feel warm and light inside, like a feather floating down to the ground. She tucks my favorite green blanket around me, making sure my feet are uncovered, just the way I like. I snuggle into my soft pillow and grin up at her. Her pretty brown hair hangs in front of her face, and she smiles at me widely. I am such a lucky boy to have the best mama in the world. She makes me feel like I’m the most important person in the world. She listens to me and doesn’t think anything I say is silly. She tells me that I have a vivid imagination, whatever that means. She says I could write someday or make movies from some of the things I tell her. I doubt anybody wants to hear about the adventures of me and Mr. Snuffles. I hold him closer to me, making sure he’s covered. I’ve had this giraffe for as long as I can remember. He’s my best friend, beside Mama.
She runs her hand over my hair. Her fingers tangling in the strands is tickly, then she leans down to kiss my forehead. Mama smells of baked scones with jam and cream. We had that after dinner. She spent the afternoon baking, and I giggled at the flour in her hair and on her nose.
“Go to sleep, my little prince,” she whispers, switching on my night lamp, which sits next to my small bed.
I yawn, my eyes drooping. “Good night, Mama.”
“Good night, Sunshine.”
I take one last look at her swollen belly and reach out to touch my little brother or sister inside. Her tummy is firm to the touch, and warm. I want a brother. We’ll share a room, run around the back yard, swing on the tire, and watch Toy Story together.
Mama wants a girl. She says it’s so she can braid her hair, mess her face with makeup, and other things I overheard the girls in school talk about. Yuck!
I guess I wouldn’t mind either. It would be fun not to play on my own. Mama tries to keep me company, but she isn’t very good at video games or hide and seek.
I tug my blanket up to my neck, letting out another yawn. Mama stands, strolling across the room. She looks over her shoulder at me, then switches the light off, closing the door behind her on her way out. The stars from my nightlight start to float around the room, casting a soft white glow against my baby blue walls and white ceiling.
The wind howls outside my window, but it doesn’t scare me. I’m safe here with Mama. I wish my daddy would hurry up and get home. He missed the scones. He’s been coming home later and later. We never spend any time together like we used to, playing catch and pirates. I can’t remember the last time we had dinner together. I never want to grow up if I have to work as much as he does. I know Mama doesn’t like it too. I hear them argue about it sometimes. They try to make sure I don’t hear, but I do, and it makes me sad for them.
Turning toward the window, I feel myself drifting, my eyelids becoming heavier by the second.
My nostrils burn, and I scrunch my nose to ease the weird sensation. I pull my blanket over my head and turn in my bed. A small crackling sound has me throwing off my blanket and sitting up. My eyes are heavy, and when I manage to pry them open, they burn too. Like when Mama cuts an onion, and I sniff it to see if I’ll cry the way she does.
I switch my night light on and gasp. Soft grey smoke fills my room, dancing in from the spaces between the door and the frame. My vision clouds, my chest heaves as I cough frantically. I place a hand over my nose and mouth. There is a heavy pressure in my chest, and my heart beats wildly in my chest. At that moment, I remember what my teacher, Ms. Macgregor, said — “Where there is smoke, there is fire.” I drop to the ground the way she taught us.
“Mama! Daddy!” I shout, crawling to the door quickly, but the yellowish-orange light under it has me backing away. No, I must be brave. I must get to Mama. “Mama!”
I place my hand against the door and draw it back immediately. It’s warm to the touch. I shuffle back toward the window and wait under the sill. I’m shaking all over, small sobs escaping my lips. “Mama,” I whisper. I should pray. I clasp my hands together, but I don’t have the words. I don’t know what I’m supposed to say as more smoke seeps into my room. I place my palms against my eyes. This feels like a nightmare. I’m going to wake up soon. I cough hard. It feels like the smoke is filling up inside me.
The door bursts open, and Mama rushes in with a blanket. It’s suddenly so hot in here—sweat beads on my forehead.
“Aidan, baby.” There’s amber light behind her. I’m afraid to stand in case this is a mind trick. “Come to me, baby.” She hurries to me, bends down, and bundles me in the blanket.
“What’s happening?” My voice shakes.
“A fire. We have to get out. You do as I say, okay?” I nod.
Mama grabs hold of my hand, rushing us out of my bedroom. A fire. And then I see it — the angry flames that lick over the walls near the stairs.
We head for her bedroom, away from the flames. “The first floor is on fire, baby, and it’s already spreading up here. We have to get inside my room and wait till someone comes to get us, okay?” Mama babbles the way she tells me not to. I only catch bits of what she says. I know we’re in a whole lot of trouble.
She stumbles on something, my fire truck, and we fall to the ground. We shuffle up, and she groans in pain. She’s limping. “Mama, are you hurt?”
“No, baby. I’m fine. We have to hurry.” She looks scared. I’ve never seen her like this. She tugs me along with her as we make it back to her room.
“Where is Daddy?” He should be here.
She looks down at me, fear in her eyes. “I don’t know,” she tells me.
“Maybe he’s downstairs.” I pull my hand from hers and turn to where we came from.
“Aidan, no, he isn’t!” she shouts. She shuts her door when we enter her room. Soft smoke dances in the air. Mama’s bedroom is the closest to the street, so I hear the sound of sirens.
“They’re here, Mama.”
She coughs. She reaches into a drawer and covers my nose and mouth with a scarf of hers. She doesn’t do the same for herself. She’s coughing hysterically. “We have to wait here till they come get us, okay? The big red fire truck is here, baby.”
“Come sit here with me.” I do as she says. She starts to move the curtains, waving hysterically at whoever is out there. She leans against the wall, her back sliding down until she’s seated. I can hear the commotion outside. They will get to us. I shuffle closer next to her, placing my head in her lap. She wraps an arm around me, and I snuggle into her. My eyes are suddenly heavy. I’m finding it hard to stay awake and even harder to breathe.
“I love you, sunshine. You are my sunshine,” she starts to sing. I hear the crack of glass and muffled sound of voices, and then everything fades until I’m certain I’m floating in a starry sky.
Present Day — Twenty Years Later
The station is noisy, which is nothing new. Freddy is giving a new guy shit, and Dan is brewing coffee in the small kitchen.
“Want a cup?” he offers as I pass by.
“Sure do. Barely got any sleep last night.” I prop myself against the counter. Dan pours a large mug, handing it to me. The spicy aroma instantly perks me up.
“Thanks, man.” I hold my cup up in salute. Leave the kitchen, I wave and greet the other guys as I make my way outside.
Settling on a bench outside with a smoke, I watch the orange glow of the cigarette brighten when I take a drag from it. This shit is bad for me, but I do it anyway, occasionally, when I feel like pissing myself off. I take a large sip of my drink. Lightning flashes across the sky and thunder rumbles somewhere in the distance. I sigh. It’s going to be a long night. This weather is a fireman’s nightmare, especially in a town as close as we are to a rainforest. A small spark can result in an inferno, leaving hell in its wake.
“Wild, you need to give that up.” I look up just as Kyle Wills approaches.
“Yeah, and you need to give up fucking everything on two legs,” I throw back. “Since that ain’t gonna happen, you should shut up about my guilty pleasures.”
“Ah. Touché.” He laughs, slapping me on the shoulder as he settles next to me.
“You’re late. Chief is going to have you fired one of these days.” I cast him a sidelong glance. “I already did the truck and equipment inspection.”
He throws his hands up in surrender. “Overslept, bro,” he tells me honestly. “Had Meghan over today.” He grins at me smugly.
I shake my head. “I thought you two broke it off.”
“Unlike you, I’m not destined for a life of celibacy and loneliness. I prefer to keep my bed warm. Thank you very much.”
“Don’t come knocking on my door when she goes psycho on you again.” I frown. And she will. A few months ago, Meghan smashed the windows out of Kyle’s car when he clarified that he had not, in fact, proposed to her. He’s had his tires slashed twice and sent a hundred pizzas — I didn’t complain that time — and more recently, she nearly flooded his apartment after a fight. Left the faucet running while he was at work. Thankfully, the landlord chose that exact day to do some repairs in the kitchen.
And Kyle still crawls back between the sheets, like the sucker he is. He claims he’s just fooling around, but he likes her kind of chaos. People need that, a connection with other human beings to make their lives less pathetic, even if that someone is Meghan. Kyle here is a friend, my only friend, but his decisions in life are questionable.
Kyle and I met in training. Ten years, two stations, and we’re now heading up search and rescue at Station 3, the largest firehouse in town. He’s the only person who dares to call me on my shit. I like that about him. He’s a single dad. His daughter, Gabriella, is six and lives with Kyle’s mama. His ex-girlfriend dumped the kid on him and hightailed it out of town. Another reason why love is nothing but a useless vice.
I ash my smoke. “Let’s get this party started, shall we?”
We walk into the station. Freddy and a rookie are under the hood of a truck, and Dan is checking his equipment.
Firefighters spend a lot of time waiting for that one call. And when it comes, we answer. We’re trained to be prepared for anything. Because every second counts and one lapse in judgment could cost a life — another person’s or our own. I’ve been working here for the last three years. I eat, sleep, and drink this life. I have nothing outside this. I don’t know how Kyle or anyone else does it, have families, and work a job like ours. I’d rather not. Why put someone else through hell? It’s selfish and unnecessary. I settle at the front desk and look over the reports from the day. Kyle disappears into the kitchen.
The windy weather we’ve had lately caused multiple wildfires. Thankfully, the fatality rate has been low.
House fires are on the increase, faulty wiring, gas leaks, that kind of thing. I’m wrapping up around ten p.m. when Chief Brenner sounds the alarm. He’s a tall, burly guy with a bit of cushioning around the midriff. Brenner retires in a few years. The plan is that I step up and apply for Chief. “Suit up, boys. We got a frantic call from a woman whose house is on fire. The entire first floor is up in flames, and they’re trapped upstairs.”
Within a few minutes, we’re suited up, and I take my place behind the wheel of the truck. Kyle climbs in the passenger seat shouting out instructions to the guys in the back.
“Karen Brown told the operator that she and her husband, two kids, and her mom are in the house,” Kyle informs us. “Dan and I will run point, assess the situation. You ladies offer us cover. In and out, provided nobody is injured.”
I focus on the road before me, nodding now and then. These are the moments I live for, the rush this uniform provides.
“You ready?” He grins, clearly also on an adrenaline high.
“As I’ll ever be. Buckle up, princess, it’s Showtime.”
Speeding through the darkened streets, all kinds of scenarios flash through my mind. How much damage are we talking about? How close are the other houses? Are they all upstairs in one area? I hit the gas, and my heart rate picks up the closer I get to it. In the distance, a large orange glow perpetrates the obsidian sky. We’re close. There are neighbors already gathered when we pull up. I hop out of the truck, leaving it running. The men get to work, dragging hoses toward the two-story house. It’s far enough away from the other properties. Flames lick through windows, and I hear shouting.
“Ma’am,” I ask a woman when we make it to the front of the small crowd. “Any idea how long this has been going on?”
She looks at me with frightened eyes, her blonde hair in disarray. “About half an hour . . . we live across the street.” She motions to her house. A tall, gangly man wraps an arm around her shaking shoulders, eyeing me in that protective way most husbands do who meet me.
“Thank you, ma’am, that helps.”
I jog over to Dan and Kyle, who are getting ready to enter the building. At least half of the first floor is ablaze; the windows glow a bright orange. I have no idea how much time they have before the fire spreads to the kitchen. I know it hasn’t because the house wouldn’t be standing if it had. “This inferno’s been going for half an hour now. You guys are pressed for time.”
“Got it,” Kyle shouts over the ruckus of the truck and the sirens from the police cars and ambulances. The two men check the door and kick it down when they think it’s safe to do so. Smoke tumbles out, engulfing them as they make their way inside. I know the anxiety they feel, and I am ready to move in if need be. There are days when all we do is sit around eating take out and watching sport all night, but it is these days, these moments that truly define who we are. The station is our home away from home. We have no idea when we will see the light of day in those seconds we’re in the fire.
Dan emerges ten minutes later, two kids covered in blankets in his arms. I take them from him, and he disappears inside once again. There is no time to give me status, no time to pause. I look down at their small tear-streaked faces. They’re trembling. The boy calls for his father and my heart aches.
“We’re going to get them out,” I try to assure him. When they’re in the capable hands of paramedics, I make my way back to the house.
“Come on, guys,” I mumble.
We could use some of that rain right about now. Thunder and lightning continue overhead, but the droplets are holding out on us. Freddy and one of the other guys strap on tanks and move in with a hose, spraying as they go. I hate being the one waiting, but it is the plan. I radio Dan and Kyle, just as Kyle bursts out of the front door with a coughing woman.
“My husband and mom. He went downstairs to get her . . . They’re trapped in there,” she wheezes.
“I’m going back in,” Kyle tells me. One of the guys wraps a blanket around the woman’s shaking form and helps her to the ambulance where her kids are.
After what seems like an eternity, Dan stumbles out. He and a man in soot-covered night clothes have their arms wrapped around the waist of an older woman. She looks frail and disoriented, and a paramedic hurries over with a stretcher. The man falls to the ground, and I move over to him. He’s blacked out, but he’s breathing. Smoke inhalation is the one thing more deadly than the flames themselves.
A medic straps an oxygen mask over his nose and mouth. I look up and realize it’s been five minutes and Kyle is still not out of the house. Loud noises have me pulling down my helmet and bolting inside. I can barely see anything other than the angry flames covering the walls. The wooden staircase has collapsed and lies across the floor. “Kyle,” I yell, but there’s no answer. I move through the house carefully; at any minute, a beam could collapse and bury me with it.
“Help,” Kyle yells. “Over here.” Following the sound of his voice, I make my way deeper into the house. I nearly trip on something — someone, I realize.
“Kyle.” I drop to my knees beside him. “I’m here, buddy.”
“The beam, man,” he tells me, his voice hoarse.
His helmet mists and I know he’s trying to suck in air. I strain to shift the beam off his leg, and he cries out in agony.
“It just caved under me, man,” he trails off, and I know I have to get him out of here. Wrapping his arm around me, I lift his bulky form to his feet. His hurt leg gives, but I prop him against me, my arm around his waist as we make our way to the door. We stumble out with seconds to spare as an explosion sounds behind us. I’m pushed forward, with my friend in my arm, by the force of it. Hands are gripping me, but it’s a daze. Somehow, they manage to get us to a clearing. Medics surround us. I push them off. “I’m fine. I’m fine.” I scurry over to where Kyle lies on a stretcher. A man is working to free him of his helmet. He’s gasping for air, scratching at his throat.
“He’s suffocating. Do something, for fuck’s sake,” I yell. “You’re good, buddy, you’re good.” He stops breathing, and my eyes widen. “No.” I shove the paramedics away and start CPR on him. One of them joins in with the chest compressions, and my heart sinks with every pump. I can’t lose you, too.
“Let me take over,” a woman says. I back away because I’m spent letting her resume. I feel my insides lurch as I watch them work on my friend, and just when I think all is lost, he starts to cough and splutter, greedily sucking in air until his breathing is even. My ears are ringing from the noise, and I feel lightheaded.
“You crying, Wild?” he croaks, and I let out a breath, laughing loud and hard.
“Fuck off, asshole,” I cough. He forces a smile as he’s carried away. I run my hands through my hair, closing my eyes and pushing away all the reminders of the night my world came crashing down around me. Twenty years later, and I can still see it all so vividly, feel the heat on my skin, smell the smoke, and the feel of my mother’s cold skin the last time I saw her.
I choose to relive the nightmare every single day, hoping nobody else has to. The rain comes down hard, and I sit with my arms on my knees, my head up to the sky, droplets of water soaking me through. The fire is contained, but it almost destroyed the house in front of me. This family has lived to see another day. They’ll rebuild the damaged parts, replace the furniture, maybe move away from here. All that matters is they’re together. They needed us, I remind myself. We risk it all for that reason.
“We’re driving back to the station.” Dan places a hand on my shoulder. I nod and walk to the ambulance. Looking at my friend on that stretcher, I can’t help but wonder, what about those that need him?
I duck into the bar to avoid the downpour outside. My heart thuds against my chest after the brisk walk from the hospital a block away. I should have taken my car, but walking clears my head. I’ll go back for my wreck when I’m positively buzzing.
The bell above the door chimes and the warm, smoky atmosphere is a welcome reprieve from the chill outside. Shrugging out of my damp jacket, I hang it up on an empty hook, shake my wet curls, and make my way over to the counter. The smell of meat on the grill makes my stomach rumble.
Darren chats to a customer at the end of the bar but looks up when I take my seat. His smile is infectious. “Starfish!” he shouts a greeting and walks over, grabbing a bottle of my favorite beer. “It’s raining the devil and pitchforks out there.” He leans over the bar, kissing my cheek. That nickname is by far the worst I have ever had, but it’s Darren, so I tolerate it.
“Tell me about it. I powerwalked the entire way here and still ended up soaked.” My hair hangs in streaks around my face, a few droplets of cold water dripping onto my shirt. The heating causes goosebumps to spread across my skin. I take a swig from my beer and close my eyes for a second. “Thanks, Dee.” I offer him a friendly grin.
“You could have driven here and parked out back.”
“But then I wouldn’t have this lost, forlorn look that gets me special treatment.” I wink.
DK’s is a hole-in-the-wall bar I’ve frequented since I started working at Portland General Hospital a year ago when I moved here. I was lucky to land a job so quickly, but emergency nurses were in short supply here. The bar is a warm escape from the dull and dreary weather outside and the eerie quiet of my house. After a twelve-hour shift, it is just what I need. No more bedpans and blood, just buy-one, get-one-free beer hour.
The chatter and laughter of the other customers and the banter between Dee and I add to this place’s cozy appeal. I eat here every day. They have the best grub, from steaks to wings, garden burgers, and warm pot pies. Then there’s the beer, imported and on tap. I’ll have one tonight, two if I’m feeling adventurous. Perks, I suppose, of the single life. I can get flat-out drunk on the night before my three days off where I’ll do nothing but mope around. I feel that unsettling ache in the pit of my stomach whenever I think about it, so I push those feelings aside, concentrating on the television. The news is on; it’s either that or football.
“The usual?’ Dee asks.
“The same.” I hate being so predictable, but it’s a trait I cannot shake.
I know almost every patron here, the furniture, as I like to think of them. People who, like me, have nothing better to do. The couple who drinks two bottles of wine every night and laughs their way out of the bar with rosy cheeks and high spirits. The guys from the hospital finance department, taking shots and catching up on football.
A man sitting in a booth in the far corner of the bar catches my eye. I’ve never seen him before, but a sexy thing like that is hard to miss. As if he senses my eyes on him, his gaze meets mine across the room. The way he stares at me makes me feel slightly flushed. He doesn’t avert his eyes the way most people do. Confidence is such a turn on. He smirks, and goosebumps spread across my skin. When was the last time a guy smiled at me or tried to pick me up? When last did I try? I feel like a mother hen these days. I turn away and then sneak a look back at him. He takes a sip from the glass in his hands. Broad shoulders, a rugged beard, dark hair cropped short—quite a combination. My eyes roam over his features, and I turn to avoid gawking any further.
“Gorgeous, isn’t he?”
“What?” I swivel in my seat, nearly slipping off. Darren just laughs and shakes his head.
“You know him?” I ask. “And don’t let Kiran hear you say that.”
“I may be taken, but I have eyes.” He laughs. “And to answer your question, I don’t. You should know his other half is in the restroom, though.”
“Just my luck.” I roll my eyes, turning back just as a woman equally gorgeous as the guy I was checking out takes a seat next to him in the booth. His attention immediately shifts.
“Why am I not that lucky?” I complain.
“Because you, darling, have not been out for months.” He states the obvious.
My phone vibrates in my pocket. “Excuse me,” I tell Darren. I pick up the device and sigh loudly. “Work,” I groan.
Darren shrugs a sympathetic expression on his face and goes off to help another customer.
“Hello,” I answer.
“Ocea, thank god. Are you still at the bar?”
I roll my eyes. How on earth does everyone know my whereabouts all the time?
“What is it now?” I grumble.
“Kelly just called in sick.” There’s a pause on the other end of the line. “Wouldn’t ask if it wasn’t a crisis.” Yeah, you would.
“I drank a beer, a whole pint,” I tell Tamara, the nurse in charge, who also happens to be a good friend of mine.
“Come on. You’re more sober than half the nurses here after a bottle of tequila.” I squeeze my eyes shut. The problem with being unattached is that people just assume you have no life. That you’re always going to drop whatever unimportant thing you’re doing and run to the rescue. “I’ll owe you one.” She coerces.
“I’ll be there in ten minutes.” I cut the call and look at my untouched burger, downing the rest of my beer.
“I’ll put it on your tab, Starfish,” Darren shouts as I exit the bar. He’ll send my burger to the hospital, wrapped up with a note the way he always does. It’s the small acts of kindness and generosity like that which makes what I do worth it—being seen for the little ray of sunshine I bring, as Darren tells me.
I met Darren in the emergency room a month after I started at the hospital. It was a few minutes after my shift ended when his boyfriend, Kiran, rushed him in. An attempted hijacking went wrong. I remember the wild look in Kiran’s eyes, the tear stains on his cheeks, and the blood that soaked his blue shirt and covered his hands. I knew I had to stay, help any way I could.
Kiran had been locking up the bar out back when it happened. The guy shot Darren three times, missing his vital organs by mere inches. The piece of shit left him for dead. He didn’t even take the car. If that isn’t messed up, I don’t know what is.
I sat with Kiran that night, not bothering to go home. I gave him a set of scrubs to change into and made us both coffee. He never left Darren’s bedside.
The three of us have been friends since. Besides Tam, they’re the only other friends I have.
I walk into the emergency room, and it’s chaos all around. So much for a quiet night. I’ve been working double shifts almost every week thanks to Kelly and her pregnancy woes.
“You’re a lifesaver.” Tam comes up behind me in the cloakroom, hugging me around the waist. “I need you in bay 2. Firemen just got brought in.”
“You owe me,” I mumble. She kisses my cheek and disappears. I would do just about anything for Tamara. She was there for me during my darkest hours, and she never gave me crap about the number of sick days I took. She was a shoulder to lean on then and still is. We don’t talk about that time, the dark days, but when she looks at me, there’s a sadness in her eyes. I guess broken souls recognize each other.
I shrug out of my jacket, hanging it in my locker. A locker void of pictures or children’s drawings like some of the other lockers here have. Tam and I are alike in that way. After grabbing my stethoscope, chewing gum, I make my way over to Bay 2.
I draw back the floral patterned curtain, a friendly grin plastered on my face, and I meet the cold grey stare and stoic expression of a gorgeous specimen of a man. I am about to begin daydreaming about all the things I’d like him to do to me when he snaps, “About bloody time.”
“Excuse me?” I cock a brow, his attitude annoying the shit out of me, my good mood plummeting, making his good looks irrelevant.
“We’ve been waiting here at least an hour.” He glares at me in a way that could make another nurse nervous. Not me. He’s just another pushy asshole. I have dealt with his kind my whole life. Entitled shits who think they own the damn world.
“Come on, man, it hasn’t been that long.” The guy on the bed coughs, offering me a weak smirk, then flinching. His dark-skinned face looks like it was chiseled by the gods. Kind dark eyes that glisten when he looks at me. “Forgive my friend here. Patience ain’t one of his virtues.”
“I’m sorry you had to wait, sir.” I direct my comment to my patient instead of the rude jerk, biting back the comment I want to make. I cannot help but sneak a glance. He’s all mysterious and broody. Dark, messy hair that falls over his eyes, lightly tanned skin, and built like a gladiator.
I clear my throat. “So, Mister…?”
“Wills,” my patient offers before I can turn the page in his file. “Kyle Wills.” I notice the pants of his uniform are pretty bloodied up.
“Well, Mister Wills, I’ve called the doctor, and she should be here shortly, but in the meantime, can you move your leg at all?” I smile at him, all the while feeling his friend’s eyes on my back.
“I can. It just hurts like hell when I do.”
“That’s ’cause you’re a pussy.” His friend stands and walks over to the bed. He folds his arms over his broad chest, towering over me.
“I think he’s broken it. Paramedics said the same thing.” He looks down at me. Mr. Know-it-all.
“You can wait out there.” I look up at the guy who is crowding me. I motion to the waiting area outside the bays.
“I’ll stay. Thank you.” Suit yourself, I think. His jaw ticks and I wonder what his deal is. He seems pissed at the world. I get that his friend is hurt, but does he have to be such a dickhead? Aren’t Firemen supposed to be polite?
“Well, you need to get out of my way if you are.”
He reluctantly takes a seat in the chair he vacated.
“Wanna tell me what happened then?” I say as I wash my hands.
Kyle proceeds to tell me about the fire, the staircase caving in, and how his friend saved him. I look over at the asshole, and he glares right back at me.
I pause to make notes on the file. He’ll need an X-ray and some blood work. The doctor will tell him that when she comes in. I use scissors to cut open the leg of his pants so I can see the damage. He flinches even at the slightest touch. Definitely a break. I use gauze and some water to clean up the scrapes on his leg and the small cut on his face and put up an IV drip.
“Ah, Ocea, back already? You and I shouldn’t bother leaving for the night,” Dr. Kent says in a cheery voice as she steps into the bay.
I smirk. “They should get us cots so we can move right in.” She’s right. We’re always working double shifts and extended hours. She’s recently divorced, and throwing herself into work has been her coping strategy. It seems to be working. Moira is less angry and more herself. It sucks to have your husband cheat on you, then blame it on the fact that you can’t have kids. As if Dr. Kent asked to have her womb removed at twenty-six after an accident said husband caused driving intoxicated.
“So, how are we doing over here?” she asks Kyle.
“Just fine and dandy, ma’am. Sweet like chocolate,” Kyle drawls, and I have to hold back a snicker. Dr. Kent has that effect on men. She’s a sexy, redheaded bombshell, with eyes as green as emeralds. I’ve always thought she’d make a perfect Poison Ivy. The man is obviously smitten.
“This is Mister Kyle Wills, Doc, seems to have a broken leg, and I’ve written him down for a blood test and a chest X-ray. He was injured in a house fire,” I summarize. “His vitals are satisfactory, blood pressure slightly elevated, but it’s understandable.”
“You good with that, Mr. Wills—”
“Oh, it’s just Kyle to you, Doc.” He licks his lips, and I have to stifle a laugh.
“Down boy,” she warns. “I’d also like an ABG on him for the smoke inhalation. Just to be sure. He sounds a bit phlegmy,” Dr. Kent says, and I scribble that down.
“Bloods and ABG on them both. Mr…? I suggest, motioning to where Bossy frowns from his seat in the corner.
“Wild,” he answers, his head cocked to the side, observing me. If only his looks could make up for his stinking attitude.
“Mr. Wild also had some smoke exposure,” I add.
“It’s unlikely I was affected. Yeah, I was exposed for a few minutes, but I feel fine. So no. I don’t need treatment,” he bites, his jaw set, eyes hard and unrelenting.
“As you wish,” I shrug, turning back to the chart. “I was just trying to be helpful. Doing my job.”
“Yeah, well, I’m not your patient, Ms. Nightingale,” he sneers.
“Is that supposed to be a dig?” I snort. Pretty lame.
“Take it any way you like, sweetheart.” He smirks. The man is riling me up. I’m about to retort when Doctor Kent interrupts, “All right, shall we get Mr. Wills to radiology?”
I nod before taking my leave. The things I want to say to that cocky bastard.
I call the lab and a porter to take my patient to radiology.
“What was that about?’ Dr. Kent asks when she joins me at the nurses’ station.
“Argh. I don’t know. I’m probably just tired. Letting that guy get to me.”
“He is pretty frustrating.” She scrunches her nose. “That smug attitude.”
“We should head to Bay 5,” I tell her. “A teenager brought in by his parents with ‘food poisoning’,” I say with air quotes. “Boy is reeking of alcohol and other things I won’t admit to knowing about.”
“This ought to be fun. Let’s run toxicology and let it speak for us.” She laughs as we make our way toward the triage.
It’s still raining outside when I finally make it out a few hours later. I rush over to my old Mazda and climb in, wanting nothing more than to get home. This has been an extra-long day. The car’s interior is stuffy, and I rub my hands together to warm them, inwardly cursing that my heating is bust. Rain pelts down on the roof and against the windows. I turn the key, and old faithful doesn’t start. “Come on,” I hiss, trying again. “Shit, shit, shit.” I slam my fist against the steering wheel. “Not on a night like this.”
I pop the hood and get out. I hook it up and look down at the engine. God, I wish I knew more about cars. I didn’t think I had to. Tate used to take care of those things for a while. Then I remind myself that I’m better off without him. I was just a gullible girl who fell for a man twice my age, a man who wanted an escape from reality, and I was dumb enough to give him that. It was all in my head, what I thought he felt for me. I used to believe in fairy tales, and what I got was quite the opposite.
I start to kick the car’s bumper until my feet hurt. Until all the things I want to say to the ghosts of my past are drowned out by the rain, until I stand spent, tears of hurt and anger washing away like the dreams I used to have.
“Don’t know what she did, but it’s gonna hurt you more than it hurts her.” Wild’s husky voice brings me back to the present. I must look like a psychopath, kicking my car, standing out here in the rain, shouting. “Need me to take a look?”
“Thanks, but no thanks,” I respond without turning to face him.
“Look, I picked up a thing or two about cars over the years, probably not as much as you, but you should get out of the rain,” he snickers.
I close my eyes. I should be stubborn and stand my ground. He’s been nothing but an asshole to me, and he doesn’t even know me. That, and his attempt at humor sucks. But fuck am I tired.
“Come on. It’s the least I can do for being a jerk back there. I’m just not good with people.” So he noticed.
“Fine,” I huff, making my way to the driver’s side of my car. My clothes are soaked, and I’m freezing. I can’t calm my rapid breathing. He knocks on my window a few minutes later. I roll it down, rain beating on my face. His dark hair hangs on his forehead.
“It’s the alternator. Looks like she isn’t going anywhere, at least not tonight.” I rub my hands over my face, letting out a breath. When it rains, it fucking pours.
“Thanks for what it’s worth.” I let out a breath.
“No worries. You need me to drop you off someplace? A friend of mine brought my truck over. I could give you a ride.”
“Oh, that won’t be necessary. I’ll just call a towing company. They’ll drop me off.”
“Suit yourself,” he says as he pushes away from the door. I watch him stroll away from the car. I roll up my window and grit my teeth. That man is infuriating. I pull out my cell phone, and surprise, my battery is dead. I’m going to have to go back inside and use Tamara’s.
I look over to where he is standing at his truck. I don’t want to go back inside. My head is pounding, and an Advil is calling my name. I chew on my lip and glance at him. “Argh, what the heck.”
I gather my bag and stomp over, irritated at how this night turned out. He opens the passenger door, a cocky grin on his face. I climb in, and he walks around the hood, then hops in on the other side. He passes me a small blanket that rests between us.
He fumbles with a few dials and turns on the heater. I shudder at the warmth as it seeps into my bones. I wrap my arms around my chest. “So, where to, Nightingale?”
I snap my head to face him, mumble out the directions, and decide it is too much effort to say anything. I look the other way instead.
“I’m Aidan, by the way,” he tells me.
“I didn’t ask,” I murmur. I can feel his eyes on me, and it makes the skin at the back of my neck stand on end. He puts on some music and hums along to it. He turns it down after a few minutes.
“You don’t talk much, do you?”
I frown at him. “I talk when I want to.”
He smirks at me, then focuses back on the road. This is going to be a long drive. He smells good, though, like fire and wood, and something else, something I can’t quite place. It should put me off. It doesn’t. It makes this badass seem almost human. Almost, I think, as he catches my gaze. There is something in those stormy eyes I recognize. A hint of sadness and fear I know well.
“Ocea,” I tell him.
“Yeah, I got that back in the hospital,” he tells me. “Fire and water.”
“Our names, mine means fire, and yours means water.” I let that sit for a bit.
“Explains why I can’t stand you.”
He laughs. It bubbles up from deep inside him, and I can’t help but smile. “A lethal combination.”
Thank you for reading. I hope you enjoyed it! Wildfire releases on 24 November.