“Lia! Are you here?” More shouting, but it barely registers. So hot in here. If I could just wake for long enough to push the bedcovers from my body, I’d feel so much better. My eyes are heavy though. “Shit, Lia. Dear God.” Something cool touches my face and I try to turn toward it. A round of coughing shakes my body and I moan as pain shoots through me. “Honey, I’m going to pick you up. Just hold on.”
A loud scream fills the air and the comforting touch is gone. “Spence! No! You can’t be here!”
In a blinding moment of clarity, it all comes back to me. I remember falling. Cassie stood over me. Groggily, I blink my eyes, opening them to a slit. What I see makes me jolt in fear. I’m on the nursery floor and there is smoke. Everywhere. Cassie is struggling with someone and at first I think it’s Lucian. I croak out his name before the person turns. Aidan. Beyond them, flames lick at the crib and spread to the walls and ceiling above and behind it. Sheer terror grips me and I begin to struggle. At first, I think my feet are asleep before I realize with dawning horror they’re tied together.
The fire is rapidly spreading. I can barely see the outline of Aidan as Cassie strikes him with the hammer. “Fuck, Cassie! Stop! We’re all going to die here. Don’t you understand that?” he yells as he shoves her back. She leaps onto his back and begins lashing out once again with her fists.
“You’re not taking my baby,” she chants repeatedly as they struggle.
I stare into the fire, thinking it almost beautiful. My lungs burn and my eyes water, but I can’t look away. It’s coming for me now, and I cease struggling as the fight leaves my body. My thoughts scatter and a strange peace enters my body as I cede control to fate. I’m no longer in the room with Aidan and Cassie. I’m lying in Lucian’s arms as he smiles down at me. We’re so happy and in love. I cradle our daughter against my side and I marvel that life has given me everything I could have possibly ever wanted or needed. When something attempts to pull me away, I begin fighting. “No! Please don’t,” I plead as I battle to remain with Lucian.
“Lia!” I’m pulled from my dream as both Aidan and I wheeze from the smoke that covers every inch of the room. The fire is everywhere now and I can see no avenue for escape. He has me in one arm while pulling a limp Cassie with the other. I hear sirens in the distance, but we’re in the midst of an inferno. Suddenly, as if in slow motion, the floor beneath us creaks loudly before shuddering. Cassie comes around at that exact moment and lurches away, disappearing back into the recesses of the room. “Cassie! Goddammit, we have to go!” Aidan shouts. Then she has her hands buried in my hair as she attempts to wrest me away from his hold. What little hope I had is draining away. She’s willing to die as long as she takes me with her. Aidan, obviously having the same epiphany, gives a howl of what sounds like anguish before he shoves her backward, then bends over me and runs.
The next few moments are surreal as people converge upon us. I’m lying on the sidewalk watching helplessly as it takes at least ten firefighters to subdue Aidan while he screams her name. An oxygen mask is placed over my mouth and nose as I’m lifted onto a stretcher. They are loading me into an ambulance when I hear someone yelling my name. “Luc,” I rasp. My throat is dry and raw and tears of frustration roll down my cheeks. “Luc…” Then he’s here, frantically running toward me.
“Lia, dear God. Baby!” He pushes people aside until he’s reached me. My strong lover looks completely broken as he grabs my hand and then my face. “Lia! Fuck, Lia. Are you all right?” His hands attempt to touch every limb to make sure I’m okay. “Shit baby, what’d she do to you? Where the fucking hell is she?” He’s so hysterical that I’m afraid he’s going to have a heart attack. I can literally smell the fear and anger rolling off him in waves.
“I’m okay, Luc,” I manage to get out, stroking his hand to try to reassure him. I’m trying my best to appear calm to soothe him, but inside I’m falling apart as what happened really begins to sink in. I could have died today…and our baby along with me. I want to completely lose it right along with Lucian.
I’m almost relieved when an EMT says, “Sir, she needs to go to the hospital to be checked out. Please step aside so we can load her into the ambulance.” Lucian jumps, and then reluctantly moves to comply, while walking alongside me.
“I’m going with her,” he states, but frowns when I shake my head. I motion him closer, knowing my voice won’t carry far.
“Need to stay with Aidan,” I manage to get out. I point to where his friend is sitting a few feet away with his head in his hands.
“Baby, I can’t leave you,” he protests. “He looks okay to me.” Lucian probably has no idea yet what happened. He doesn’t know that Aidan’s world has fallen apart—but I do, and I can’t bear for him to be left alone.
My throat is on fire, and it takes me several attempts before I manage to say, “He saved me…but Cassie’s still in there.”
I see the moment he comprehends my words and all that they mean. Anger fills his face before he looks once again at Aidan. I think I see sad resignation there as he runs an unsteady hand through his hair. “I don’t think I can let you leave my sight right now, Lia,” he says shakily.
The words have no sooner left his mouth when I see someone running toward us. I wonder briefly why Max and Rose are together, but I’m so grateful to see them that I don’t question it for long. Rose is at my side in an instant as Luc fills Max in on what little he knows. I see them both shoot Aidan a worried look before Max nods and walks that way. “What happened?” Rose demands as she visually checks me for injuries. “We were having dinner at Leo’s when we heard the fire trucks. I’m sorry; we didn’t know they were coming here until we were leaving.” I’m grateful neither she nor Lucian can see my head injury. They look like they’re barely hanging on as it is. I’m not doing much better myself and know I’ve about reached my limit of maintaining control. Even the strong have to fall apart eventually and I’d rather that not be here for everyone to see.