The beam hit the garage floor with a crashing collapse right in the place where Josie had been standing.
She lifted her head to make sure the woman was all right and then saw the flames lapping at them like fire water.
There was no way out.
* * *
Connor shouted to the firemen, “She’s in there. Josie! She’s inside.”
“Get back and let us do our job,” one of the men shouted.
But Connor couldn’t stand there. Searching the building, he saw an open door, and before anyone could stop him, he ran with all his might into the fire. He had to find Josie.
Once inside, he held his head against his arm, lifting it away to call out, “Josie? Josie, where are you?”
He couldn’t give up. Why had she come in here?
And how was he going to get her and himself out alive?
* * *
“Hurry,” Josie called, holding the woman behind her as they stepped over fallen metal shelves and boxes of old auto parts. Bruised and cut, Josie coughed with each breath. The woman echoed that same cough. They needed fresh air.
She’d found a small corner where the fire hadn’t crossed the concrete floor yet. She thought she saw another side door back there, but she could be wrong.
The roof above them groaned with the weight of burned beams and now heavy rain. At least the rain was doing its best to subdue the roaring flames. She couldn’t be sure but she thought she’d heard the stairs crumbling.
“C’mon,” she said, urging the woman toward the door. “We have to hurry. If the wind shifts, the flames will leap over into this area and we’ll be trapped.”
“I can’t.” The older woman had dark hair and black eyes. She was dressed in what had been an expensive white pantsuit, which was now smeared with dirt and soot. “I can’t. Too tired.”
Josie turned to the hysterical woman and shouted over the rain and wind, “You need to get out of here or you’ll die. We’ll both die.” With that, she tightened her grip on the petite woman and practically lifted her up and over the final two feet toward the side door. She prayed it wasn’t locked. Or blocked.
“No, no!” The woman’s frantic shouts filled the air as she tried to twist away. “I have to go back inside.”
“Let’s go! Now!” Josie’s breath was caught in a web of hot, choking smoke and her head burned with a pulsating heat. Would she have to knock this little spitfire out to save her?
Before she resorted to that, two strong hands grabbed the fighting woman and lifted her up into the air.
“Are you all right?” he called to Josie.
She nodded and pointed toward the beckoning door, flames chasing her even though the rain was still pouring.
Connor followed, dragging the frantic woman with him.
Josie called to him, “When I open this door, it might suck the flames toward us. We have to run.”
He nodded, both hands on the scared woman.
With a grunt and a tug, Josie took her coat and grabbed at the door handle. It flew open with a whine and she ran through it, welcoming the cold, wet rain while the scalding heat burst in a trail, chasing behind her. She turned to make sure Connor had the woman and saw him emerging right behind her.
Within seconds, they went from hot and ash-covered to wet and shivering, but they’d saved the mysterious woman.
And once again, Connor had saved Josie.
* * *
A few minutes later, the little lady stared up at Connor, her scowl full of recognition. Between inhales of oxygen and coughing, she shouted, “You! This is all your fault.”
A fireman came up and took over, insisting the woman should be checked out at the nearby ambulance. But she was still kicking and pointing a finger at Connor.
“Who is she?” Josie asked, her shock followed by realization after she heard his intake of breath. Then she figured it out. “Vanessa Armond? Connor, is this Armond’s wife?”
Connor bobbed his head, his hands moving over Josie’s wet, smut-smeared face. “I’m not worried about her right now. Are you all right?”
“I’m fine.” Josie pushed away the oxygen mask a paramedic tried to keep on her. Still coughing, she kept talking while the medic checked her airway. “I heard her screaming. She wanted something and she obviously thought it was in that garage. She didn’t want to come with me.”