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Fighting The Flames [MultiFormat]
eBook by Michelle Cary

eBook Category: Erotica/Erotic Romance/Romance
eBook Description: Born from the ashes of tragedy... like the phoenix... love will rise again. Genevieve Conti loves her job as a fireman/paramedic and has only one rule...no dating co-workers. She's too busy trying to make her father proud to have time to date. Still, her sexy co-worker Aiden Delaney is a constant temptation she has trouble ignoring. The very first moment Genevieve walked through the station doors Aiden knew he was in love. Over the years they've become close friends, but he hasn't managed to break down the walls she erected to protect her heart. When tragedy strikes not once but twice Aiden and Genevieve will quickly learn that love can conquer everything.

eBook Publisher: MLR Press, LLC/Passion in Print Press
Fictionwise Release Date: October 2012

* * * *

Chapter One

Genevieve Conti made the right turn into the driveway leading to the back parking lot of Peyton City Fire Station Two-Twenty-One. This station was her home away from home and she couldn't think of another place she'd rather be. She steered into the empty slot in the corner of the lot, put the car in park, shut off the engine, and took a deep breath.

She could still remember her first day when nerves wracked her body with tremors large enough to cause her to shake. When she'd finally worked up the nerve to exit her car she'd then chickened out and taken the long way around to the front of the building. It had been a way for her to buy a few extra minutes while she worked to steel her courage. Now here she was celebrating her two year anniversary.

She climbed from the car, grabbed her bag from the back seat and headed into the single level fire station. Would the guys acknowledge the significance of the day? Aiden definitely would say something. Just the thought of her partner brought a smile to her face as she opened the back door and walked inside.

Aiden Delaney was an enigma wrapped inside a lean six-foot two inch frame. Almost from the moment Captain Breuer had introduced her to the 'B' shift's crew that first day, he'd done his best to flirt with her whenever the opportunity would arise. Yet when emergencies happened he was nothing but professional. Even now he amazed her with his ability to turn that charm of his on and off at will.

She'd swiftly rebuffed his advances that first day, but neither of them had ever gotten over the initial attraction they shared. A covetous look here, the brushing of fingers over skin there. The occasional hug lasting just a tad longer than proper for co-workers. Every time she considered taking that next step, conflicting emotions would stall her progress. While she desperately wanted Aiden, the fact that she worked with him only served to create a complicated set of self-imposed rules that left her feeling needy and unsatisfied.

Doing her best to put her thoughts of Aiden aside, she walked through the open bay door and immediately noted how the apparatus bay was empty. I wonder where Aiden is right now. She made her way to the locker room only to discover it too was void of life. Jeez...where is everyone? For a moment she wondered if maybe the guys were avoiding her. You're being paranoid again, Conti. They have no reason to avoid you. Her crewmates here had proven over and again that they weren't anything like the team she'd trained with at station one-ninety eight. Yet despite her best efforts to keep the paranoia at bay there were times when her self-esteem waned. With it being her two year anniversary, apparently now was going to be one of those times.

She'd barely finished changing into her work clothing when the alarm tones sounded. In an instant, adrenaline rushed through her system. She slammed her locker and raced for the apparatus room where she nearly bumped into lineman Dante Morales.

"Morning, Conti," he called as he climbed into the engine.

"Morning, Morales." She replied as she wormed her way between the other guys now gearing up in front of the equipment closet.

"Hey, Conti, how's it going?" Micah asked as he pulled his coat and turned toward the engine.

"Going good. How about you?" She snagged her turn out from the closet, punched her arms through the sleeves as she raced toward the engine, and then climbed up next to him.

"Having a great morning so far. Let's hope it stays that way," he replied just as the engine roared to life.

With sirens blaring the engine and rig pulled out of the station onto the main road. They flew past a strip mall and made a hard left into one of several sub-divisions in their territory. Engineer Casey Vaugh made another left and a few minutes later, they pulled up on a two story home fully involved. Captain Breuer was already out of the engine and assessing the situation as Gen slid from the cab and rushed toward the back of the engine.

"Conti, you and Hirsch take a line and cover the southern exposure. Malinov and Morales, take a line through the front door."

Gen stepped up on the back of the engine, grabbed the end of the hose, and secured a loop through her other arm. She was about to step off with the hose when Captain Breuer's voice caused her to stop.

"Change of plans. We have two children trapped somewhere in the house, a seven year old boy and a four year old girl. Delaney, Hirsh, Conti, tank up and head in."

With a new sense of dread, Gen snagged her self-contained breathing apparatus from the engine, turned and raced toward the house as she masked up and reset her helmet. Aiden quickly appeared by her side with Kyler following close behind. She stepped up on the porch and paused to await instruction from Aiden who was senior member of their group.

"I'll take the first floor," Aiden yelled through his mask. "You and Kyler take the second floor."

Gen nodded and with Kyler on her heels she steeled herself for entrance into the house. The moment they opened the door an intense blast of heat washed over her. Taking only a moment to adjust she stepped inside and assessed the area. Flames dance along the living room's outside walls and licked across the ceiling above her head. From the quick progression of the fire it wouldn't take long for the house to succumb. If they had any hopes of finding the children they needed to move fast.

Quickly she made her way to the staircase and doing her best to ignore the extra weight from her gear she took the steps two at a time. Once on the second floor she split from Kyler and raced down the hallway to the farthest door where a picture of a pink butterfly hung on the outside. She shoved open the door and dropped to the floor on hands and knees and began her search. Thick rolls of smoke filled the room making it nearly impossible for her to see. All too familiar memories tapped her subconscious as she looked for the little girl.

Her room was black when she'd awakened coughing. A soft hiss permeated the silence sending fear crawling up her spine. She grabbed her teddy bear Bosco and slipped from her bed. "Mommy?" She opened the door and screamed as her vision quickly filled with bright orange and red flames. The intense heat forced her to close the door

"Mommy! Mommy!" she cried. Terror clutched her tiny heart and caused her throat to close. 'I'm scared. Where is mommy?' The evil smoke rolled into her room from beneath her closed door. She ran to her bed and grabbed a blanket and shoved it against the bottom of the door. 'Go away smoke. Go away.'

With tears in her eyes she snatched up Bosco and her favorite blanket and ran for her closet. Maybe she'd be safe in there. Maybe the nasty fire wouldn't find her there

Gen shuddered at the memory then headed directly for the little girl's closet. She opened the door and found the tearful four-year old clutching tight to a stuffed pink bunny with floppy ears. "I want my mommy."

Gen pulled off her hat and mask. "I know you do, sweetheart. Let's get you out of here." Gen reached for the girl and was surprised when the child climbed from the closet into her arms. "What's your name, sweetheart?"

"Tabitha," the little girl sniffled.

"Okay Tabitha, I'm Gen, and I'm going to take you to your mommy. Now I want you to hold my mask to your face so you're not breathing in this nasty smoke. Can you do that for me?"

Tabitha nodded then pointed to her bed "My blanket. My blanket."

Genevieve turned and grabbed the crocheted pink and white blanket off the bed and tossed it over Tabitha's head. "Okay, kiddo. Let's get out of here." She rushed out of the room and sprinted down the hallway in time to meet up with an empty handed Kyler. "Where's Aiden?"

"He found the boy and headed out. I was on my way to help you."

"Thanks, but I'm good."

"All right. Let's go."

Gen nodded and started down the steps with Kyler behind her. With one foot on the ground floor an all too familiar groan rent the air. It was a sound that brought fear to her heart as the realization that the house was slowly collapsing took hold.

"Go," Kyler urged, but it was too late as the ceiling began to disintegrate. Gen managed three quick steps before a falling beam had her ducking for cover. Turning to her side to protect Tabitha, Gen landed hard on her shoulder, knocking the smoke filled air from her lungs.

Pain seared through her shoulder, but she did her best to focus her attention on the terrified and crying little girl. "You're okay." Gen soothed. "You're okay."

"Gen!" At the sound of Dante's voice she turned to see him running toward her. "Are you hurt?"

"I don't think so. Take the girl. I'll be right behind you."

Dante pulled the mask from Tabitha's hands, then snatched up the girl, bunny, and blanket, and rushed out the door.

Gen grabbed her mask and relished in several quick breaths of fresh oxygen, then she tried to move only to realize something kept her rooted in place. She was stuck, but by what? She did a quick assessment of her limbs. Nothing but her shoulder hurt, so what was the deal? It took several seconds before she realized the beam had pinned her by her SCBA. If she lost her air tank she could slip free. Without wasting another second, she made quick work of unhooking her tank. Her shoulder hurt like hell, but otherwise she didn't feel injured.

Coughing hard she took a quick glance back, and to her horror, found the same beam had pinned Kyler's right leg. With no fresh air to protect her from the deluge of smoke she wouldn't have more than a few minutes before she succumbed to the poison, but no way was she going to leave without her partner.

Genevieve stumbled through the debris to where the beam lay across Kyler's legs, trapping him. Willing every ounce of strength in her body she pulled on the beam, but it didn't move. She looked at Kyler and noted the panic in his eyes even as he motioned for her to get out and leave him behind.

With a defiant shake of her head she began looking for something to use as leverage. No way would she be responsible for leaving a partner behind. Not now. Not ever. She spotted a large chunk of two-by-four a few feet away and climbed over the beam after it. Within seconds she returned to Kyler, wedged the wood beneath the beam and began the arduous task of moving the obstruction. The extra leverage helped and the beam began to move. Just a little more.

Rolling black smoke filled her lungs with each intake of breath, stealing what little oxygen was left until a series of violent coughs wracked her body. We're not going to die in here, damn it! Determined to save her partner, she gave one last effort. The beam moved just enough for Kyler to free his leg. Quickly he scrambled to his feet and made a grab for Genevieve.

She let go of the wood and wrapped an arm around his waist. "Lean on me," she yelled, hoping that he would trust her enough to do just that. Too injured to argue Kyler did in fact lean on her as together they trekked through the burning house. Each step, each intake of breath seemed to bring her closer to freedom and closer to the ominous darkness, as her vision began to tunnel. Her lungs rejected the thick smoke and pushed it back out in a fitful cough that caused her stop.

"Just a little more," Kyler's mumbled encouragement came from behind his oxygen mask.

She looked up through smoke filled eyes and nodded, understanding that he'd no more leave her now than she would have him a few minutes earlier. They'd just reached the entrance when the telltale groaning grew louder from inside the structure.

"Go," Kyler urged and they scrambled down the steps.

Gen's feet hit the ground and she dropped to her knees, coughing and gasping for breath as she looked over her shoulder in time to see the house collapse inward. Thank God! She dropped forward to her elbows and retched.

Within seconds, a pair of hands traveled across her back, stopping at her shoulders.

"Where in the hell is your air?" Captain Breuer's voice came from behind her.

She sat back on her heels and looked up to see both concern and a hint of anger in his features. Knowing she needed to explain, she opened her mouth only to start coughing again.

Cap let out a sigh and pulled her to her feet. "Explain later. Right now you need oxygen."

"Where. Are. The. Children?" she managed to ask between wracking coughs.

"With their parents." He motioned to the far corner of the yard where a man and woman clutched Tabitha and an older boy, Gen assumed was the brother.

Relief washed through her and she would have dropped to her knees a second time if it hadn't been for Cap holding her upright. He guided her to where Aiden now worked on Kyler.

"Aiden, got another one for ya, pal. Pretty sure she ate more smoke than was healthy."

"I-I'm...I'm fine, Cap," Gen said between coughs only to have her words meet a dark stare.

"Humor me," he replied and she noted the terseness in his tone as he guided her toward the spot where Aiden motioned for her to sit. "Now sit and let Aiden check you out."

Before she could reply with a 'Yes, Sir," Aiden had an oxygen mask over her face and her wrist in his hand taking her pulse.

"Just keep the mask on and breathe deep."

"I know the drill," she managed to mumble from behind the mask. God, she hated being a patient.

Apparently she'd amused him with her response as he gave her a cockeyed smile. "I know you do. Now lay back and relax before I get Cap back over here."

Knowing he'd make good on his threat she gave him a nod and eased back. "Cap's pretty mad at me, huh?" she mumbled through the mask.

Aiden glanced over his shoulder then back to her. "Maybe, but he's only concerned. You know how he gets when someone in his crew gets injured. Where in the hell is your air anyway?"

"Pinned beneath a giant beam," Kyler said from somewhere behind her.

Well at least Kyler understood her situation. She tried to take in a deep breath only to end up coughing yet again. If she were being truthful, her chest hurt like hell and God she was tired. Definitely suffering from smoke inhalation she decided to indulge in a little rest and closed her eyes. The sooner she could rid the smoke and soot from her lungs the sooner she could return to work and explain what happened to Captain Breuer.

She lay there listening to the sounds. Sirens grew closer then abruptly stopped as the tell-tale drone of diesel engines told her more units were still arriving. Men yelled, both giving and taking instructions. The sound of glass shattering and the snapping and crackling of burning wood filled her ears. All of it seemed strangely familiar, almost comforting in a way.

"Gen." A hand landed on her shoulder and gave her a gentle shake. "Genevieve, you still with me?"

Gen opened her eyes to find Aiden leaning over her, his lean, six foot frame imposing. Yet, she noted how his sable colored hair was just a tad longer than rules allowed and she relaxed a little. Then she noticed the fear in his blue eyes and his lips were drawn into a thin line as he stared down at her. She did her best to relieve his concern with a smile. "Yep. Just resting like you said."

His pinched features slowly relaxed as he began to grin and her stomach fluttered. It was a good thing she was lying down since his smile had the ability to make her weak in the knees. "Well, I'll say it again. It's nice to have a partner who listens to orders."

"This coming from the most obstinate patient on the face of the earth," Kyler chided. His face came into her line of vision as he leaned over her. "How ya doing?"

"Good." She pushed up to her elbows and looked from one to the other. "The pressure in my chest is gone. My throat is a little sore and I'm not quite as sleepy as I was a few minutes ago."

"All good signs," Kyler agreed. "You know, as the junior member in there, you had an obligation to follow my orders when I waved you off."

Gen arched a brow. "And if I had, it's possible you'd be dead right now."

"You could have gone for help," he countered.

"There wasn't time and you know it," she shot back as her anger began to rise. "Sorry, but I tend to be a bit selfish when it comes to my co-workers. No way was I going to have your death on my conscience when I could have done something about it."

"All right, you two," Aiden snapped. "Now knock it off. Kyler you know as well as I that any of us would have ignored your instruction and stayed too."

Kyler shut his mouth and appeared to consider Aiden's statement before finally nodding. "Yeah, I suppose you're right."

"I know I'm right." He helped Kyler to his feet and guided him to the back of the ambulance then he returned to where Gen sat watching him. "So, beautiful, you feel like taking a ride?"

Feeling anything but beautiful at the moment, Gen shook her head. "Not really, but then that was a rhetorical question, wasn't it." Considering how upset Cap was with her already she doubted he'd be willing to forgo medical clearance so she could return to work.

Aiden chuckled. "I'll give you a choice. You can either go on a stretcher or you can walk to the rig."

"If you don't mind, I think I'll walk."

"Thought you might." He extended a hand which she gladly took and allowed him to pull her up. Slightly unsteady on her feet she stumbled forward and landed against the hard wall of his chest. "Whoa, there." He wrapped a protective arm around her waist causing a different type of heat to flare through her system. "Maybe you're not as good as you thought?"

Trying desperately to ignore her intense attraction to him, she raked a shaky hand through the loose strands of hair escaping her ponytail and looked up. In his gaze she found concern staring back. "Maybe, but I'm no weakling, Aiden. I'll walk."

"I figured you'd say something like that. Let's get you to the rig. You can lie down inside."

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