Under fire southern heat.., p.1
Under Fire (Southern Heat Book 7), page 1
Southern Heat Book 7
Wild Owl Press
Copyright and Disclaimer
Also by Jamie Garrett
About the Author
Copyright and Disclaimer
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.
Copyright © 2017 by Jamie Garrett
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 non-commercial uses permitted by copyright law. All requests should be forwarded to [email protected]
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Cover design by The Final Wrap.
Editing by Jennifer Harshman, Harshman Services.
“Engine 81, Ambulance 32, house fire on Amber Hills Drive.”
The high pitch from the alarm drove Connor from a sound sleep, seconds before the instructions from dispatch droned through the entire firehouse. Shit. It was the middle of the night. He stood, cursing under his breath as he pulled on his boots. He didn’t bother with the laces. He just had to make it down to the engine bay before switching out to his turnout gear. Amber Hills Drive was Monroe suburbia, filled with family homes. The kid with tricycles in the front yard, the family dog, and a swing set in the back—the complete package. God, he hoped the house that had caught fire didn’t have any kids living in it. The dead of night was the worst fucking time to get stuck inside a blazing home.
As they drove, Jeremy wound down one of the front windows of the rig, the cool night air filtering back to Connor. They were still far enough away from the fire that he couldn’t yet smell smoke, and so he took advantage and gulped in a couple of lungfuls of the fresh, clean air while he still could. It shook away the last of the 3 a.m. cobwebs and primed his body and mind for what was coming next.
The last breath hitched in his lungs as the truck rounded the last corner and the fire came into view. The house was typical for the area: single story clapboard, complete with a porch, sitting in a large yard with plenty of overhanging trees. They were probably even pretty when they weren’t threatening to go up with the home.
He squinted through the brightness of the flames and wafting smoke. The house had likely been smoldering for some time before the fire eventually got big enough for a neighbor to notice. Despite the middle-of-the night callout, they’d cleared the house just as fast as usual, but the entire house was engulfed in flames by the time Matt parked the engine.
As they stepped out of the rig, Connor headed straight for the side to grab his tools. The gang worked like a well-oiled machine, Mason barely having to direct them. Working in a tight squad was part of what made 81 one of the best houses Connor had been a part of. When they got to a scene, each man knew his role, and they got busy. He was sure their fast teamwork had saved more than one life over the years which might have otherwise been lost.
He held back a grimace as he walked swiftly up to the main entrance of the home. Even from that distance, the heat was rolling over him—intense, dry heat that rolled up and over his body. Even after all the calls he’d attended, the heat still ate at him, any relief from the cool night being sucked away as he stepped closer.
He passed through the gate in the wire fence, but before he could make his way up to the house, a man snagged his jacket at the wrist. “Hey, man, I think there might be someone in the basement.”
Connor stopped, turning to the man and taking in a breath at the temporary relief from the blast-furnace as he turned his back to the fire. “Someone’s inside? Who lives here?” His gaze roamed over the yard. Even through the crackling yellow glare, he could tell it was empty. No tricycles or kids’ toys littered the yard. A small hitch of relief sunk into him even as his mind reminded him it didn’t mean shit. Maybe the parents were neat. Maybe the kids were older, or only adults lived there. Childhood victims were tough as hell on everyone, but that didn’t mean that anyone on the squad felt the loss of an older fire victim any less harshly. A fire, vehicle accident, even a jumper. Anyone dying where they maybe could have prevented it affected them all. His hand tightened around the halligan. With a little luck, maybe everyone would escape with their lives tonight, including his crew.
He turned back to the neighbor. The guy was standing on the sidewalk dressed in little else than a robe thrown over boxers and white T-shirt. Connor looked down and spotted the man’s bare feet. Spring time in Monroe meant the days were warming up, but the middle of the night wasn’t exactly toasty. He’d better get the info from this guy fast and then make sure someone got him off the street, at least until he could find some damn shoes.
“No one lives there,” the man said. “Least, I think so. But I saw a guy rushing in just before the flames took out the front room.”
Connor nodded. He looked over his shoulder and spotted a squad car pulling up at the scene. He caught the officer’s eye and gestured at the man, then turned back to him. “Go with the police. They’ll help you to a safe place.” He turned back to the fire, the heat of the flames beating at him again as he clicked on his radio. “Chief, got a witness who thinks there might be a victim inside the building.”
Chief Stone’s reply came back quickly through the radio. “Copy that.” Stone repeated Connor’s warning with further instructions, and Connor heard the rest of the squad’s replies as he stepped forward, making his way to the basement door.
If he’d thought the heat outside was intense, the environment inside the basement must have been one of the circles of hell itself. The room was blessedly free of flames for now, but Connor didn’t expect it to stay that way for long. The positioning of the room made it harder to vent any smoke, and toxic fumes filled the air. The air coming through his mask didn’t stop the smell of melting plastics reaching his nose. It was something else that Connor thought he’d get used to, but never had. Despite the hundreds of calls he’d attended in his career, the pure strength of the heat of every fire was the same as the first. Brutal.
Connor pushed the thought to the back of his mind. His mask was in place, and the rest of his gear was in good shape. He was in no danger, well, nothing more than what they all walked into willingly with every shift. It was his life, and one that he loved, despite the danger.
He walked through the basement, dodgin
He swept his eyes over the space in front of him, cataloging the environment with a wrinkle to his forehead. It was as if half the room had been cordoned off. It sat in stark difference to the hoarder-like properties of the rest of the basement. Here everything sat open, most of the floor still visible. The walls of that part of the room were another story; covered floor to ceiling with metal shelving. Desks were dotted around the space, some still holding tools, and in the corner sat a cluster of large metal barrels. The difference between the two areas was night and day, almost as if he’d stepped into a completely different house. What the hell had the homeowners been doing down there?
His instincts caught, Connor’s eyes cataloged the space. There was no way he was stopping to examine anything, but whoever had designed the basement workshop had done them a small favor. As long as the most intense part of the fire stayed upstairs, the mostly-metal environment should stay intact enough for arson investigators and the police to deal with in the aftermath. He picked up his radio and clicked it on, about to suggest to Chief that he wake Liam, when he saw it.
Connor dropped his hold on the radio and moved. It didn’t matter. Whoever the hell the poor bugger had been, smoke and fire had caught up with him long before Connor had spotted him lying on the basement floor. Connor risked the fire just long enough to remove a glove and hold his fingers to the man’s neck to check for a pulse. It was weak, but it was there. His exposed arms were reddened, the skin cracked in places, and Connor’s gaze flew to the stairs. The man had been in direct contact with flames before he’d made it back into the basement. Had he left a door open in his haste to seek refuge? That could spell very bad news for Connor. The sound of a beam cracking overhead reached his ears, along with the chief’s voice calling down the radio for everyone to get out.
He was out of time.
If they were going to get this guy out, then it was on him. He moved fast, wrapping his webbing around the guy’s arms, pausing just to radio back to the chief. “Coming out with a victim. Have Shane and Charlie on standby.” Then Connor grabbed onto the webbing and heaved.
Connor sat on the back of the fire truck, gulping down a bottle of water, watching the ambulance race off into the night. He’d refused Shane’s offer to ride with them, including his offer of the rig’s oxygen. The squad’s paramedic had frowned at him, but in the end left him at the scene. Connor grinned. He’d still received Shane’s lecture about the symptoms of smoke inhalation, and he hadn’t missed the hand-off to Mason—or his captain’s sharp eye—ever since. He was fine. The gear had done its job, as it always did. He was sooty, sweaty, and dirty; but so was everyone else. He’d be fine.
“Got a minute?”
Connor looked up at the voice. It was higher, feminine. Definitely not one of the guys goaded into checking up on him. When he looked up, Connor’s gaze locked with a pair of the warmest brown eyes he’d ever seen. Like pools of molten chocolate. It was a cliché, he knew, but he couldn’t think of anything better to describe it. Drowning in rich, deep chocolate seemed like one of the best ways to go.
The eyes crinkled at the corners as their owner grinned, and Connor forced himself to blink, breaking the hold as he finally got ahold of himself enough to pay attention. It didn’t help. The rest of the woman’s face was just as captivating as her eyes, from the smile that graced her face to the way her hair was swept up into a high ponytail. The waves still fell to her shoulders, and Connor couldn’t help but wonder how long it would be was it not restrained for work. Long enough to wrap around his fist as he held her to him and kissed the living daylights out of her?
Work. The word filtered into his consciousness, and he mentally slapped himself. He was sitting on the rig at the scene of the one of the worst fires they’d had that week, probably that month. The woman standing in front of him wasn’t looking for a date. His gaze moved quickly over the rest of her body, Connor resisting any further efforts by his mind to start spouting poetry. She was dressed sensibly, a pair of dark jeans ending at well-worn boots, and a white work shirt covered with a dark-blue windbreaker. He knew that color just as much as he knew that POLICE would be written on the other side across her back.
The woman held out her hand. “Sergeant Scarlett Christensen. Got a minute?”
The repetition of the phrase made Connor realize just how long he’d been staring at her without answering. He fought the heat that threatened to color his cheeks. Had she known he was checking her out? He glanced around. Worse yet, had any of the rest of Engine 81 seen his bumbling? If they had, then he’d be the talk of the house for at least the next two shifts. Maybe he should have taken Shane up on his offer. He nodded his head. Fortunately, the immediate area was blessedly empty, the rest of the squad making sure the last of the fires were out while he took Shane’s “suggestion” to sit and rest for a little.
He reached up and took her hand, shaking it, and then immediately grimacing when he saw the dark marks left on her hand when he withdrew. “Shit! My apologies, Sergeant. I’m a mess.”
She grinned and sat down next to him on the back of the rig, wiping her hand on the back of her pants. Connor grinned back. A woman who would wipe soot marks off on her pants without skipping a beat? That was his kind of woman. “No apologies necessary, and please, call me Scarlett.”
Connor nodded, then took a final sip of the water, lubricating his throat enough so that he wouldn’t cough on reply. “Connor McClellan. What can I do for you, Scarlett?”
Scarlett pulled out a notepad and pen, using the pen to gesture toward Mason, who was standing off to the side talking to the chief. “Your captain pointed me your way. Said you found something down in the basement that raised your suspicions?”
He nodded. “Most of it was normal stuff, crap that people cram into their basements. But a corner of the room had been cleared entirely. It didn’t fit.”
Scarlett made notes on the paper. “Anything down there in particular that caught your eye?”
He took another sip of the water, his throat complaining as the liquid slipped down. Damn it. Maybe Shane had been onto something. But then he would have missed sitting there and talking with Scarlett. Despite the conversation’s subject, he’d take any opportunity to talk to her. “There were tools, and not the kind you’d expect to find in someone’s basement. There wasn’t a hammer or lawn mower in sight. Instead, half of it looked like a chemistry set, along with welding gear. That probably went with the barrels sitting in the corner.”
Scarlett frowned. “When do you think PD can get access to the scene?”
All thoughts that maybe he’d let his imagination run a little overtime while down in the basement left Connor with her remark. Motherfuckers. What had been going on down there? The last thing Monroe needed was another arsonist. Their own EMT, Charlie, and also Meg, Liam’s fiancée and a woman every member of 81 adored, had both been victims of assholes who liked setting fires. Connor would happily shoot another one on sight if it would save anyone else he cared about from that sort of pain and danger.
Connor looked back at Scarlett, who was still waiting for an answer. He scrubbed a hand across his face. He had to get his act together before she decided he was a complete idiot. “Usually the chief will make that call, or Captain Rawlings.”
Scarlett nodded, standing. “Well, thank you for your help.” She held out her hand again and when Connor shook it, he couldn’t help holding on for just a little longer than necessary.
“I can call you, if y
She smiled but dropped his hand. “Thank you, but I’m sure I’ll figure it out.” She turned, and Connor berated himself. What kind of moron asked someone out on a date over a potential crime scene? Yep, he was definitely going to hear about it from the guys later. Despite their seeming lack of attention, he knew better. There was no way they’d missed any of his spectacular failure.
A few paces away from him, Scarlett turned back to Connor. “I will need a full statement, though. Come down to the station after shift?” Her eyes roamed over his body before locking with his again, and she smiled.
Huh. Maybe he hadn’t fucked it up entirely, after all. He stood and picked up his gear. Now he just had to make it through the rest of shift without losing himself in thoughts of those big brown eyes.
Scarlett pushed the thoughts of the sweaty and sexy-as-hell firefighter she’d left behind out of her mind. She had a job to do, and if she didn’t watch her step, she’d end up following the poor bastard they’d dragged out of the basement in another ambulance. She shook her head, stepping across the damp sidewalk over to Chief Alex Stone, the memory of the guy being loaded in the ambulance fresh in her mind. The man’s face had been gray, contrasting oddly with the bright red of the burns covering his forearms. The paramedics had rushed around him, fitting oxygen masks and all sorts of monitoring equipment, but even she could tell the prognosis wasn’t good. People who turned that color were already circling the drain.
by Jamie Garrett have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes