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Turbulence, p.22

Turbulence, page 22

 

Turbulence
 


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  In case. Those two words rarely entered into his decision making. But somehow it felt like tempting fate if he assumed that he wouldn’t develop his dad’s disease.

  No matter what happened in that regard, the question remained. Would he prefer to live his life with or without Dana? With Sam and his hundred-and-one questions, or without?

  Maybe Dana was right. Flying and the demands of his business gave him a sense of control over his life. They would be there for him even when the people in his life came and went. Some left by choice, others through fate, but whatever the reason, he’d learned not to grow too close.

  Somehow Dana—and Sam—had managed to slip through his defenses. But did he need to protect himself from them? Dana didn’t plan to mold him into someone else; she simply wanted to be part of his life—a big enough part that she could call him her own. Considering how her life had recently turned upside down, he couldn’t blame her.

  The question reverberated through his head. Did he want his predictable, safe routine for the next twenty or thirty years, or did he want to try something new, something daring?

  The adventuresome part of his soul gave him his answer….

  CHAPTER FOURTEEN

  DANA RUMMAGED THROUGH her duffel bag and pulled out a clean uniform. She’d never thought she’d say this, but she was tired of wearing the same thing day in and day out. As she tugged on a fresh white T-shirt and repinned her name tag on today’s blue shirt, she wondered if she could talk Dan Egan and the rest of her crew into changing the color of their uniform. Something bright, like pink or yellow, she decided with a chuckle. Anything but blue, because it matched her mood far too closely.

  For the rest of the day—Friday, if she’d counted her days correctly—she stayed busy in the first-aid station, hoping that Micky would drop in and afraid that he wouldn’t. Seeing him would be as painful as pouring saltwater on her still-healing leg, but it didn’t stop her from watching for him whenever someone came to the door, or listening for his deep voice among the crowd in the corridor.

  Ever since he’d dropped her off here at the fire station last night, she’d wondered where he’d gone. His hangar, most likely. No doubt he’d find more comfort in his bucket of bolts than with a flesh-and-blood person.

  As the flow of injured slowed to a trickle, then dried up completely by the end of the morning, the hours ticked by on her private tally. Fourteen hours since she’d last seen him. Sixteen. Seventeen.

  At eighteen, her anger started to rise. How could he stay away? After everything they’d gone through, including a fantastic night of passion, how could he avoid her? By Mitch’s decree, they were also partners. Did that mean so little to him?

  Of course it did, she chided herself. He was a loner, a free spirit, a man who put his own interests ahead of everyone else’s. She was better off without him.

  But somehow her mind couldn’t quite convince her heart of that.

  Determined not to give herself more opportunities to stew over this infuriating man, she hunted down Mitch.

  “Ah, Dana, you’re just the person I was thinking about,” he said as she strolled into his office.

  “What’s up?”

  “Things are slowly getting back to normal around here and I wanted to talk to you about your return trip, now that Cheryl and Dr. Sherwood have left. We can get you on a flight tomorrow, but I was hoping that you could wait until Sunday. Nate isn’t back and I’m a little leery of not having an EMT in town right now, although I doubt if you’ll be too busy. Egan’s offer to keep you was open-ended, so you don’t mind the extra day, do you?”

  “Of course not,” she lied. “Sunday will be fine.” Two more agonizing days to live through and feel Micky’s rejection. One and a half, she corrected.

  “Good. I’ll ask Ruth to make the arrangements.” He leaned back in his chair. “Is there any chance I could steal you away from Courage Bay?”

  She smiled at his hopeful expression. “No.”

  “Not even the slightest possibility?”

  His piercing gaze made her uncomfortable but she refused to fidget. “My family and friends are there.”

  For a few seconds, he didn’t answer, and she felt his scrutiny. Finally he nodded. “I understand. If you change your mind, I’d be honored to include you on our list of volunteers. I’d also give you a good recommendation for one of the fire departments nearby.”

  “I appreciate the offer.”

  Ruth’s voice drifted over Mitch’s radio. Dana paused to listen shamelessly to the report of an electrical fire involving a damaged transformer and a row of trees on the edge of town.

  “I’ll go,” she said, heading for their fire truck.

  Mitch followed her. “Where’s Micky?”

  “I haven’t seen him all day.”

  “He must be at the airport,” he mused aloud. “It’s okay, though. He’ll hear the call on his radio. If he doesn’t, we’ll still have plenty of help.”

  “Perfect,” she said as she tugged on the waterproof overalls and jacket she’d brought from Courage Bay while Mitch did the same. Somehow, wearing her turnout gear was oddly reassuring, even if it marked her as different from the rest of the Turning Point fire crew.

  She climbed into the cab while Mitch took the wheel. Dana could have found the fire by herself by simply following the smoke rising above rooftops, but it was nice having a partner.

  Mitch steered the truck past Main Street and the downtown business district, then took a right on Broadway to head south. At one of the last intersections before leaving the city limits, he turned left onto a residential street that boasted more potholes than flat surface. He hit one that sprayed water in every direction. “This end of town is slated for major road repairs this fall.”

  Privately Dana wondered how the homeowners felt about waiting, but the scene ahead commanded her attention.

  The lush foliage she’d expected to see didn’t exist. Trees, more dead than alive, covered the entire property. Branches littered the ground as if the owner either had forgotten or didn’t care to clean up the hazards.

  However, the rickety storage building nestled in the middle of the lot gave her the greatest concern. How it had managed to stay standing after the hurricane was truly a mystery, but if she didn’t kill the flames on the roof and the trees surrounding it, fire would do what the wind had not. In fact, she was surprised that the wood burned at all with the amount of rain it had received, but the two warm and breezy days since the storm had obviously dried things out.

  A police car had parked beside a power company truck, and two electricians stood nearby watching helplessly while the uniformed officer waved Mitch and Dana forward.

  “I’ll take care of the pumps,” Mitch said as he rolled to a full stop, “if you can man the hose by yourself.”

  “Okay.” Energized by adrenalin as her training took over, Dana unwound enough hose to drape over her shoulder and dragged the rest as she headed closer to the fire. The middle-aged policeman approached her from the opposite direction.

  “Are the utilities turned off?” she asked.

  “First thing,” he assured her.

  “What’s inside the building?”

  “Could be anything.” He raised his voice above the crackle and hiss of the flames. “We’re trying to locate the owner now. I’ll pass along whatever I hear.”

  He backed away as the hose jerked in her hands, signaling that water was barreling through. She braced herself to handle the massive pressure she was about to release, but out of the corner of her eye, she caught a glimpse of another volunteer running toward her.

  It was always good to have someone behind her to help secure and drag the waterline. She waited a few seconds.

  “Are you ready?” the young man shouted as he got near.

  “Whenever you are,” she called out.

  But before he could slip behind her and before she could point the nozzle toward the structure, the roof caved in. A flurry of sparks rose in the air l
ike a fountain seconds before the building exploded.

  The force of the blast and the massive heat drove Dana to her knees. She tried to protect herself, but a piece of flying debris sailed through the air and hit her helmet.

  Her ears rang and her eyesight grew fuzzy seconds before she swayed, then sagged against the fellow beside her.

  Well, hell, she thought with some irritation as she struggled to regain her feet, as well as her wits. The chief would pull her to the sidelines and she hated the idea.

  “I’m okay,” she told her partner, but for some reason, her feet wouldn’t work. Before she could tell him to pick up the hose, another strong arm steadied her.

  “I got her.”

  Micky’s voice was strong and sure and she didn’t know if she wanted to sag against him in relief, or kick him for avoiding her.

  “Where did you come from?” she demanded.

  “Around,” he said. “I heard the call on the radio and raced here as fast as I could. Somehow, I knew you’d be in the thick of things. Getting into trouble, too, I see.”

  “I did not get into trouble. Things happen.”

  “I just wish I’d gotten here a few minutes earlier. Come on. You need to sit down.”

  Was that worry in his voice? “I’m fine,” she protested. Then to prove it, she stood on her feet, pleased that they supported her and that she hadn’t dropped the hose.

  “Give me that,” Micky said, reaching for the water line.

  She jerked away. “Not a chance. We have a fire to fight.”

  “I’ll take over,” he told the man beside her.

  Before she could tell Micky she was doing just fine with her new partner, Micky had taken the guy’s place.

  Immediately she released the lever and trained the stream on the fire.

  Sweat trickled down her forehead and heat built inside her coat. She knew she’d be soaking wet by the time they were finished, but she didn’t care.

  To her surprise, having Micky behind her turned out better than she’d expected. It was as if they’d worked together for years.

  She also had to admit that it was comforting knowing he was covering her back.

  The fire died after it had reduced the shed to a pile of smoldering embers. When the concrete slab it stood on had turned into a wet, drippy mess, Mitch gave a signal and the water pressure dropped until only a trickle came out of the end of the hose.

  Dana turned to Micky. “Wasn’t that great?”

  “Yeah. Jim-dandy. What in the world did you think you were doing?”

  His anger surprised her. “Fighting a fire. What else?”

  “My God, woman!” he exploded. “You were hit on the head. You should have gone to the truck and sat down.”

  Their success at keeping the fire from spreading to the dead branches and trees in the area gave her a high that his surly attitude couldn’t dampen.

  “Why? I was fine.”

  “I wasn’t,” he snapped.

  MICKY TOLD HIMSELF to calm down. Everything had ended well. They’d fought the fire and Dana didn’t look any worse for the wear from her bump on the head, but he still wanted to check her out from top to bottom. He’d heard the thud as the chunk of wood had struck her helmet and felt worse than if it had hit him full force. He’d suffer nightmares for months.

  The only thing that made the whole situation bearable was that he’d stayed right behind her, waiting and watching for any signs that might indicate she wasn’t as unaffected as she’d claimed. He’d apologize to Trevor McKay later for taking his position, but he didn’t regret his actions at all.

  Dana’s eyes widened. “The debris didn’t hit you, too, did it?” she asked.

  Her worry for him was obvious, which made him feel marginally better. “It didn’t touch me,” he said gruffly. “But you have a dent in your helmet.”

  “My ears rang for a bit,” she admitted.

  “You were darn lucky!” His frustrations burst out of him now that the worst was over. “You could be lying here with a board sticking out of your skull!”

  She shrugged. “I could, but I’m not.” She unhooked her chin strap and removed her helmet. “See?”

  Her hair was plastered to her head with sweat and dirty rivulets ran down her face, but to him, she was beautiful.

  “No blood. That’s a good sign.”

  “Of course not.”

  “You should have sat down and collected your bearings. I saw how unsteady you were.”

  “If your bell got rung, you’d be a little unsteady, too. But the feeling passed right away.”

  Micky ran his hands over her scalp. “I don’t see or feel any knots.”

  “I have a good helmet.”

  “And a hard head to boot. Any dizziness, or headache? Double vision?” He held up one finger. “How many fingers do you see?”

  “One. And one irritating guy behind it,” she said wryly.

  He grinned for the first time, finally convinced that she’d come through the accident unscathed. “You must not be hurt too badly if you can give me a hard time.”

  “I’m not. I wasn’t hurt at all.” She peered at his face. “You were worried, weren’t you?”

  “Well, of course.” The fact she looked surprised and puzzled by the notion irked him. “What did you think? That I didn’t care?”

  Her smile faded. “Honestly? No, I didn’t think you did.”

  He deserved that, he supposed. “You thought wrong.”

  DANA COULDN’T REMEMBER the last time she’d been at a loss for words, but Micky’s comment had shaken her.

  He did care about her. The question was, how much?

  Before she could say anything, Mitch approached them. “That was easy enough,” he said with a smile. “Although we did have a few tense moments.”

  “All in a day’s work,” she said lightly. Somehow, reminding Micky of her close call didn’t seem like such a good idea. Thinking back, she was almost surprised that he hadn’t yanked her off the line and dragged her back to the engine to sit on the sidelines, but he hadn’t. From the grim set to his mouth, she’d known he’d wanted to, but she thought it was just his Texas attitude toward the weaker sex surfacing. Now she knew he’d wanted to do so because he’d cared.

  A heady thought. And if he felt that way, she had to give him a few extra points for showing such restraint.

  “Any idea on what caused the explosion?” Micky asked.

  “Paint thinner, propane bottles, and several gallons of gasoline. The people who live around here are darn lucky that most of Jack Tiller’s containers were empty. That explosion could have been really nasty.”

  Dana nodded soberly. Although she’d minimized the danger, she knew she’d been lucky. The chunk of wood could have struck her chest or her neck, causing irreparable damage. Micky’s squared jaw suggested that his thoughts ran along the same track.

  “From what I see,” Mitch continued as he gazed at the two men who’d finished raking the ashes and checking for hot spots, “everything is soaked well enough that we can leave. Stow the gear and drive back to base.”

  Dana started toward the engine, but before she took two steps, Mitch stopped her. “I didn’t know quite what to expect from you,” he admitted, “but after watching you today, you can run circles around the rest of us without breaking a sweat.”

  “I agree,” Micky echoed.

  Their praise was music to her ears. She smiled broadly. “Thanks.”

  “If you change your mind about leaving—”

  Dana avoided Micky’s gaze. “I haven’t.”

  “But if you do, I’m sure Ruth can cancel your 10:00 a.m. flight on Sunday without any problem.”

  Dana felt rather than saw Micky’s surprise. “Thanks, but I don’t imagine she’ll need to.”

  Dana wished that Mitch hadn’t said anything about her leaving Turning Point. She’d hoped that Micky would find out after she’d left. She hated goodbyes.

  Without warning, Micky fell into step beside h
er as she headed toward the engine. “Looks like the rest of the guys have taken care of the hose.”

  The trio near the truck had just finished their task, which meant the fire engine was ready to roll. Now, at least, she could climb in the cab with Mitch and put Micky out of her mind.

  “Then I’ll see you around,” she said, dismissing him.

  “Wait.”

  She paused. “I came with Mitch in the truck and he’s ready to go.”

  “He asked me if I’d take you back.”

  Before she could sputter a protest, Mitch revved the engine and slowly drove the red fire truck away. “Why?” she asked, incredulous that he’d left her behind.

  “Because I told him I would.”

  She glanced around wildly, hoping to find someone else to give her a ride, but the rest of the fire crew had already gone to their trucks.

  She and Micky were alone.

  “I wish you hadn’t done that.” She spoke sharply. Being alone with him without the buffer of other people was pure agony.

  “I had to. We have to talk.”

  “Didn’t we say everything last night?”

  “No.” He hesitated, and for an instant the supremely confident Micky Flynn appeared uncertain.

  “I visited Sam and Crystal this morning,” he began.

  Dana dropped her heavy coat and reveled in the breeze against her soaked T-shirt. After wiping her forehead with her forearm, she tucked her fingers in the trouser suspenders. “That’s nice. I thought you’d been hiding out in your hangar all this time.”

  “I was. At least, I was last night. I had a lot of thinking to do.”

  If she thought that would excuse him, he could think again. “Yeah, well, so did I.”

  “I’d like you to consider staying. Or, if you have to go home, to come back.”

  “Oh, Micky.” She felt as miserable as she sounded. “I can’t. What’s the point?”

  “The point is, we care about each other. I don’t know about you, but I feel something for you that I haven’t felt for anyone else. Ever. I don’t want or intend to lose that.”

  Neither did she, but what choice did she have? “Clean breaks are the best.”

 
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