When Lindy charged, she’d dropped the pistol, but Mila still held the knife. Lindy grabbed it with her fingers, the blade slipping and slicing, cutting deep into her skin. Blood flowed down the hilt and onto Mila’s hand, drained farther onto her arm. The smell, so terrifyingly familiar, made her want to join Lindy in her mindless screaming rage, to drop the knife, but her fingers were locked around the handle. If she let go, she would die, so no matter the revulsion gathering inside her, she held tight, but she was losing her grip one slick, wet blood drop at a time.
Lindy jerked the knife from her hand, flipped it around and pressed the blade to Mila’s throat before, suddenly, thankfully, she was gone, lifted into the air by the strongest, angriest man Mila had ever seen: her protector. The man she loved. Sam.
He hefted Lindy three feet off the floor, one hand gripping her waistband, the other her neck, then threw her aside. Mila didn’t care where she landed or how hard or whether she was hurt. She didn’t care about a thing except they were alive.
As easily as he’d picked up Lindy, he lifted Mila, too, cradling her in his arms, staring intently at her face. “Oh, my God, Mila.” That was all he could say. That was all right. It was enough for her.
Her clothes and hair were soaked with gasoline, and giving in to the fumes, she rolled away and vomited. As she straightened, Lindy stirred near the fireplace, rolling to one side, digging her ungloved hand into her pocket. Light glinted dully off the item she pulled out, then a tall slender flame flared.
Mila stared in horror, unable to form even the slightest of sounds, but Sam turned, following her gaze. Tightening his grip on her, he lunged toward the door as Lindy dropped her hand and the cigarette lighter to the carpet and flames whooshed to life. Heat scorched their backs as he leaped down the steps and hit the sidewalk, then the street, at a hard run.
The last thing Mila saw before the world exploded was a figure standing in the doorway of Sam’s house, arms raised to the sky, as flames consumed it.
Dawn that morning was all delicate pinks and lavenders, breathtaking in their beauty, such a contrast to the ugliness where Sam’s house had stood. The blaze had been out for an hour or more, but firefighters still lingered, spraying the ashes, watching for hot spots.
I sat in a yard across the street, Sam at my side. Within minutes of escaping the house, we’d been hustled back to Gramma’s to shower off the gasoline and change into clean clothes. I scrubbed and scrubbed but was pretty sure the smell would linger in my imagination for a long time.
Ben Little Bear and the officer on duty in the lobby were both taken to the hospital, both in good condition. Gramma was taken, too, hysterical from her run-in with Lindy, from banging on her bedroom door screaming for help while she thought Sam and I were dying. Despite the hour, Lois Gideon went to the hospital to sit with her after they sedated her.
Without discussion, Sam and I went from the hospital back to his block. We watched the last of the flames, the curious people gathered around, the eerie flashes of red-and-blue lights. We didn’t talk. Sam held my hand, and I clung tightly to his. We just…were. Together. The way we were meant to be.
As the sky lightened, I gave the burned-out remains of his house one last look, then leaned my head against his shoulder. I’d always believed it would come to this: my life or my mother’s. Except for those lovely fifteen years when I’d believed her dead, I’d always thought she would kill me. I’d sometimes dreamed I would kill her instead.
There was no doubt of her death this time. We had watched her as she burned, doing a macabre little dance—Sam and I, the arriving firefighters, a neighbor who’d been roused from his bed.
And she had laughed. At least, I thought it was a laugh. With her damaged throat, it was hard to be sure, but it seemed she would find her kind of sick, twisted humor in the situation.
Daniel Harper approached us, using his shirtsleeve to scrub the sweat from his face. “It’s gonna be a while before we can recover…” Glancing at me, he shrugged.
Her body. What was left of it.
“Why don’t you go home? Get some rest. We’ve got everything here.”