D.J. starts nervously cracking his knuckles and the smile dies from my face.
“Spit it out. What the hell did you hear?”
He runs his hand through his short, spiky hair and I can see that he’s trying to carefully choose his words.
“So, you know my Aunt Connie works as a clerk at the court house, right?”
I nod my head, making a circling motion with my hand to get him to talk faster.
“Anyway, I stopped by her house yesterday after my shift and she asked me if I remembered Castillo from high school. I guess there was a restraining order filed against him about a week ago. She didn’t go into all the details but it has to do with stalking. Dude, Finnley filed for it.”
My heart immediately starts trying to beat its way out of my chest. I know we’ve spent most of our time f**king like animals the last seventeen days, but we’ve also spent a lot of time talking and she never said one word about any of this. Has he been bothering her this entire time? Why the f**k wouldn’t she have said anything to me?
“It’s been taken care of so don’t get any stupid ideas in your head. Aunt Connie said they served him with the order and the guy apologized and said it was all a big misunderstanding. If Finnley hasn’t mentioned it to you I’m sure it’s because there’s nothing to tell,” D.J. reassures me.
I don’t like this at all. I don’t care if there’s been a restraining order filed, a piece of paper isn’t going to keep someone from doing something if they’re pissed off enough. I experienced Jordan’s anger first hand that day he first caught us together at her house. He’s not the type of man to let something like this go. His actions in high school proved that he wasn’t too happy about the idea that I’d been with Finnley before him and, after seventeen years with her, I’m pretty sure he’s like a powder keg waiting to explode, just like her artwork, knowing that I’ve been with her after him.
It hurts that Finnley didn’t tell me what’s been going on but I have to remember that she had an entire life with the guy before I showed back up. She knows him better than anyone and she wouldn’t purposefully take a chance with her life. If she didn’t tell me, she must have had good reasons.
The familiar tone of an incoming call sounds through the house and I groan in irritation. I was almost home free. I was seconds away from getting the hell out of here and finally going to see Finnley. All I can think about is making sure she’s okay after this recent revelation, burying myself inside of her and finally telling her that I love her. Now I’m going to have to put it off even longer to go on another call.
I’m going to kill Schaffer and Bradley for calling in sick this week.
As I drag my feet back out to the bay with D.J. right on my heels, the voice from dispatch blaring through the speakers makes me stop in my tracks. The hair on the back of my neck stands up as my head whips around and I stare at the speaker hanging up by the ceiling, hoping that when dispatch repeats the information I will have heard it wrong the first time.
“Franklin 10, assistance requested in the next county. All available trucks at Carlisle 3 are out on another call. Severe structure fire, possible casualties. 116 Maple Drive.”
My blood runs cold and I can’t make my feet move even though I need to. Every single bit of training flies out of my head and I have no idea what I should be doing or where I need to go. My hands are shaking at my sides as I watch my men race around me, getting their gear back on and shouting orders. D.J. suddenly smacks his hand against my cheek a few times and I blink my eyes into focus and stare at him in shock.
He lets the question hang in the air and I grab handfuls of hair on top of my head. “It’s her house. It’s her f**king house, D.J.!”
I know I’m shouting like a lunatic but I can’t help it. One of a fireman’s worst nightmares is hearing the address of one of your loved ones come in as a call. I’ve never had to deal with this before. I’ve never had someone I cared about this much in danger and I don’t know what the f**k to do.
D.J. grabs onto my shoulders and shakes me once, getting into my face and speaking to me more professionally and calmly than I’ve ever heard him speak before.
“Here’s what’s going to happen. You are going to snap out of it, grab your f**king gear and get your ass into the truck. We are going to break every single f**king speed limit to get to her house and it’s going to be fine, you hear me?”
I nod my head numbly, doing everything I can to hold it together. I’ve been in plenty of burning buildings and, even after all these years, the heat from the fire, the darkness from the smoke and the crackle of everything burning and falling down around you can fill your body with so much fear that it’s hard to breathe. I think about Finnley in that same situation, stuck in her house while flames eat up the walls and trap her inside of her own personal hell and bile makes its way up from my stomach, getting trapped in my throat.
I move without conscious thought of what I’m doing, on automatic pilot as I grab my gear and slide into the jump seat of the rig. The sirens are screaming as we quickly make our way to the other side of town, running red lights and taking turns so fast I think we might tip over.
D.J. takes over my job as we go, getting on the radio to call for additional help from other stations and then barking orders and a plan of attack to the six other men in the rig with us.
The fifteen-minute drive to Maple Drive is like an eternity. I try to remember what I’m supposed to do in a situation like this. I know I need to assess the situation before charging inside. I know I have to make sure everyone’s protective gear is buttoned up properly and the SCBA tanks are at full capacity before strapping them to the men’s backs. I go through the checklist in my mind, but I forget everything I’m supposed to do as soon as we come to a stop and I jump down from the vehicle, not even caring that I never put my own gear on in the truck. Even from the street, the heat from the fire that has engulfed the two-story house is enough to make me shield my face.