Vampires, immortal and almost invincible, truly feared only two things. Decapitation always resulted in final death; no species could survive that. Fire could kill us too, but not before we writhed in prolonged agony. I did not want to die like that. Something close to panic gripped me -- a novel sensation for a badass vamp. I darted to my windows, the kind that barely opened but still gave renters a view of the city below. Pressing my face to the chilly glass, I tried to see out. The scene looked surreal and a little wild, with flashing red and blue lights and scurrying humanity. I heard sirens in the distance.
"Deep breath, Anca." If an inferno waited just outside the door, I wasn't the only person in trouble. Someone would find and save us. As calmly as possible, I dressed in jeans, a T-shirt, socks and Nikes. I'll admit I paced the room after that, wondering how long to wait before I smashed a kitchen chair through my bedroom window and desperately launched myself into the dark night.
Dense smoke now filled the place, and even my vamp eyes couldn't see through it. Realizing the bedroom was my last sanctuary, I went in there and shut the door behind me. The air smelled a little cleaner, but I had no window, so I quickly decided to give that up and face my fate in the living room. Just as I reached for the knob, I heard a mystifying boom! I hissed my surprise when the knob singed me as the other had done. I realized the inferno had now cornered me; final death surely loomed.
Did my life flash before my eyes? Yes, beginning with the moment my parents died in a house fire, and ending with a cozy campfire and a vampire thug who came out of the woods and changed my existence forever. I didn't dwell on the decades following, though Friday night's fiasco came to mind. Would Raffe Stefano miss me? I suddenly wondered, my eyes on the orange-gold flames licking around my door. A stray spark landed on my comforter, instantly igniting the so-called fire-resistant fabric. In seconds the whole bed became an inferno that quickly spread to the carpet and curtains. I cowered in a corner, waiting to be agonizingly devoured by them.
My door fell inward. A fireman wearing bulky gear and a helmet with a face shield burst into the bedroom. It took him a couple of seconds, but he finally spotted me. He strode bravely through the flames and strapped an oxygen mask like his on my face. Caught in my personal hell, I could do nothing until he tried to guide me toward the door. I resisted, screaming and fighting him in my terror. He immediately hoisted my body in rescuer's fashion so that I lay across his shoulders, my arms and legs dangling. I shut my eyes as he hurried out of the apartment and through an obstacle course of firemen with hoses, dense smoke and flames, certain we were both going to die.
But we didn't, and sooner than I'd ever have dreamed, cold night air blasted my wet skin. I tossed off the oxygen mask and breathed deeply, savoring the heavenly aroma of garbage, gasoline and vehicle exhaust, scents of the city I loved. My fireman set me on my feet near an ambulance and out of harm's way without saying a word to me.
"How's it looking?" asked the medic closest to me, immediately wrapping a blanket around my shoulders and handing over a bottle of water.
"Better," said the fireman. "We've got it contained to the top two floors."
I knew that voice! As my savior in a smoke-smudged yellow mac with glow tape on it turned to head back into the building, I grabbed his arm. "Raffe? Raffe Stefano?"
He froze and turned on his heel. His helmet flew off his head; his blue eyes widened with shock. "Bianca?"
I nodded, unsure of what to do or say since he'd never have saved me if he'd known my identity, right? Maybe. Maybe not. Raffe suddenly yanked me into his arms in a hug I'd never forget. I'll admit I hugged the guy right back, but only because he caught me off-guard and I was so grateful for what he'd just done. "Thanks for the rescue."
"Just doing my job."
"Of course." I nodded and eased out of his crushing embrace. "Don't let me keep you." I looked pointedly toward the blazing building. He nodded and put his helmet back on, turning to leave. Reaching out, I stopped him again. "Be careful, okay?"
"Always," he said with that cocky grin I knew and loved.
Loved? Shit! No self-respecting vamp could love anything about a werewolf... could she?