Blood rushed to Franny's head when Aaron slung her across his shoulders in typical fireman’s carry fashion. He pulled the bedspread over her bare backside. “Gotta admit, all those times in high school when I dreamed of sweeping you off your feet, this isn’t what I had in mind. Hold the edge of this over your fanny, Franny.”
He was so getting slugged once he carried her out of this building.
Striding through her small apartment, he snatched her purse from her coat closet doorknob and passed it to her. He stepped into the hallway, every inch the fireman. The next few minutes were a blur of heat, smoke and falling debris. Aaron slowed once to seemingly assess their escape strategy. “The front exit is compromised. Steps are gone. We’ll crawl out a window.”
She nearly cried with relief when he finally handed her off to two firemen outside.
“Get her medical help. I’m going back for more tenants.” That quickly he was gone.
Faces and emergency equipment whizzed by in a blur as a fireman rushed her to an ambulance, setting her in the back beside Mr. Dunlap, his silver hair standing on end and his face covered with an oxygen mask.
He lifted one edge of his facemask. “Bet it was old Mrs. Kawolski and her blasted candles that started this fire.” Mrs. Kawolski had rebuffed his romantic advances last year, and the two had been at odds since.
A female EMT slipped an oxygen mask over Franny’s face, then introduced herself as Liz as she checked her pulse. Meanwhile a male EMT, Cliff she thought he said, sawed away the spigot. Once freed, her toe quickly swelled. Liz proclaimed it broken with a slight sprain to her ankle. Using quick movements, she wrapped Franny’s foot in an Ace bandage from toenail to calf, then slipped stretchy slippers over her bare feet.
“Here.” Cliff returned and thrust a cup of hot coffee into her trembling hands. He draped another blanket over her shoulders.
“Thanks.” Franny’s focus shifted to the burning building. Where was Aaron? He’d gotten her to safety and didn’t hesitate to go back for anyone else who might still be inside. Typically heroic for a fireman. A description she’d never thought to use on edgy Aaron Brenner. And he had been edgy in high school, edgy and a shade dangerous. When he’d asked her to the prom, she’d been thrilled. Her father’s refusal to allow her to associate with a “lowlife kid with a ponytail and piercings” had nearly broken her heart. All her tears and tantrums had done nothing to sway him. Instead he’d arranged for his partner’s son—the six-handed sex-fiend—to escort her. Now, she couldn’t recall his name, but she had no trouble recalling how she’d felt that night when Aaron came to her rescue, kissed her on the forehead and put her in a taxi to assure her safe delivery home after the prom.
She sipped the coffee, relishing its warmth spreading through her stomach while her focus remained on the building. Where was Aaron? Was he okay?
New York City temperatures were freezing, and water from the fire hoses soon formed humongous ice cycles. Thick layers of ice covered the wide steps and sidewalk. A shiver skittered through Franny and she huddled deeper into the blankets wrapped around her. Where is he? Please let him be safe.
Finally, his form emerged from the dark smoke rolling out of the window they’d exited. He held a wild-eyed cat wrapped in a blanket as he slung a long leg over the windowsill.
Olivia, a little girl from an apartment on the second floor, bolted toward him. “Whiskers! You found Whiskers!”
Aaron swept Olivia into his embrace so she could look at her cat. She kissed Whiskers and then Aaron before resting her head against his broad shoulder. Olivia’s sobbing mother rushed to take her child and the orange feline from his protective arms.
Head up, Aaron’s gaze zeroed in on Franny as if he had an internal homing device as to her whereabouts. She trembled at his intense stare as he strode toward her. He’d grown taller since high school and moved with the assurance of a confident man. Military life had matured him. I wonder if that’s where he got that sexy swagger. Then her rescuer stopped in front of her and her tummy did a strange twitchy thing.
Keeping his gaze locked on her, Aaron removed his protective helmet and then his earphones attached to the wireless communication device. He tugged off his gloves and trailed fingers down her bandaged calf. “How’s the toe?”
“What?” She was still acknowledging her very feminine reaction to his very male presence, trying her best to catalog it into some comfortable compartment of her soul. This had to be a result of some kind of saving syndrome. Certainly psychologists had a name for the way he made her feel—feminine, needy, aroused.
Memories from high school rushed back. He’d evoked the same feelings in her back then, too. Everyone called him dangerous, but he’d been gentle and caring with her. Full of praise. She’d been so spellbound she could barely talk around him. Here she was, eight years later, just as mesmerized. What’s up with that?
The lines at the corners of his eyes crinkled and he smiled as if he could glimpse into her confused mind. “I see they got the spigot off it.”
Franny cleared her throat. “Oh, yes. My toe might be broken.”
“Nothing they can do for that, really. Ice. Time. The EMT’s checked your vitals? Oxygen levels okay?”
She nodded, uncomfortable with his close scrutiny, as if he truly cared about her on a more personal level. Which was absurd. “Sure, I’m fine. I mean, what’s a broken toe and a slight ankle sprain? I could have died in there. Thank you for saving me.”
He dropped to his hunkers in front of her. “Is there anyone you want me to call, Franny? Where will you go?”
“Ah…” Now that her parents lived in Florida and her sister and family were visiting them, where would she go? Tears pricked the backs of her eyes as the scope of her situation slammed into her. She was homeless and naked. With her hours cut at work, her funds would soon decrease. Thank God she had renter’s insurance, but how soon would she receive the money from her policy? Where would she sleep tonight? She couldn’t call Wesley. Lori Ann and her partner had gone skiing. “No, there’s no one. I’m alone.”
He unzipped his fireman’s jacket and retrieved his cell, punching a number. His hand engulfed hers in a proprietary gesture even as he glanced at the firemen still hosing down the building and the structures on either side. “Jenna? I know this is bad timing, but when is having a fire ever convenient.” He exhaled a weary sigh. “I’m fine. Listen, sis, I have a friend who lost everything. She’s in dire need of warm clothes, like right now. Do you have a suit of sweat clothes you could loan her? Some heavy socks.”
Standing, he leaned back against the opened ambulance, Franny’s hand engulfed in his and pressed to his thigh while he listened to his sister. “Frances Benson from high school. Yeah, that’s her. Gorgeous red hair and eyes so blue you could—” His gaze swept to Franny and his cheeks reddened. He coughed as if he were embarrassed by his description of her. “I think she’s about your size. I know this is Christmas and all, but could you bring them to my house? I’m giving her the key so she has someplace warm to stay for a few days until she gets her bearings.”
Was he kidding? Stay with him? She jerked on his hand to get his attention before the runaway freight train known as Aaron Brenner planned out her entire life. “No. No, I can’t.”
The man ignored her remarks. “Hey, that would be great. My shift ends at six and we could come by afterward. Awesome. You’re the best. Tell Drew I got something special for him. Merry Christmas, brat.” He laughed and disconnected only to scroll through his numbers.
“Are you deaf? I’m not going to your place.”
He aimed dark eyes at her. “You’re undoubtedly in shock. That’s why you’ve forgotten cops tend to frown on women traipsing around without clothes. You need a shower, clean clothes and something to eat. You’ll have all three at my house. I’ve got a spare bedroom with its own bath. Plenty of privacy. I can’t take you, so I’ll call a taxi.”
His kindness ate away at her control. Her hands swiped scalding tears. What choice did she have, really? She could get a hotel room, although walking into a lobby, filled with people, while she was naked beneath her bedspread would be beyond awkward. Since it was Christmas, there’d be no stores open to buy needed items. Okay, she’d accept his charity for one or two days.
After tucking his phone back into a pocket, he removed his key ring and slipped off a key. “Do you have pen and paper?” He jotted information on the pad she’d retrieved from her purse. “Here’s my address, security code and cell number. You’ll be bunking in the blue bedroom. Eat whatever you can find. Oh, don’t let Tiny scare you. He’s more bark than bite.” He looked over his shoulder. “Look, I gotta get back to work. Keep the home fires burning.” He winced. “Bad pun, huh? Sorry, sweetheart.”
“Your sense of humor always was warped.”
“True that.” He pivoted, barked instructions to another fireman and then turned back to her. “That looks like your cab at the corner. Grab your purse.”
A squeak escaped her lips when he picked her up and carried her to her ride. “There’s Epson salts under the vanity in the Master bathroom. You’ll find a basin in there, too. Soak your foot in it for ten, fifteen minutes and then rewrap it.”
“Yes, daddy.” Her voice held a tinge of sarcasm.
His dark eyes pinned hers. “Now there’s words I’ve dreamed of hearing.”
The cab driver opened the back door for her. “Bad fire, huh?”
Aaron nodded. “Yeah. Building’s a total loss.”
“How can folks go on after losing everything? Especially at Christmas.” The driver shook his head. “It’s a damn shame is what it is.”
Aaron placed her gently on the back seat. “There’s an old saying, ‘Adversities introduce a man to himself. Wise people learn their true strength when they suffer a loss.’” He made sure the blankets were tucked securely around her, belted her in and then, just as he’d done eight years earlier on prom night, he kissed her forehead. “I’ll be home around six-thirty unless there’s another fire somewhere. If there is, I’ll call the house phone.” He shoved a bill into the driver’s hand. “Drive safely.” He tipped his head toward her. “The lady’s pretty special.”
Visit Vonnie at www.vonniedavis.com
Come back tomorrow for episode three of "The Fireman's Flame."
Visit Vonnie at www.vonniedavis.com
Come back tomorrow for episode three of "The Fireman's Flame."