Home > Consumed (Firefighters #1)(12)

Consumed (Firefighters #1)(12)
Author: J.R. Ward

And then there were his legs. Both in casts, one elevated like the third side of a trigonometry problem. Also, his arm and shoulder were wrapped . . . and he’d been intubated at some point, a bandage at the soft juncture in the front of his throat between his collar bones.

She went over and sat on the edge of the bed because the floor was suddenly going whitecap storm surge on her. She tried to breathe. Failed.

Now she cried again, and fuck it. Danny wasn’t going to know.

Taking his battered hand, she dropped her head and let the tears fall from her eyes to wherever they landed.

She had done this to him.

The loss of her hand she could live with as payment for her impulsive decision and rash behavior on scene. But this? This . . . catastrophic . . . injury to him? Even if he came through, she was never going to forgive herself and he was never going to be the same.

She thought of him saying that they were going to be back at the stationhouse, playing pong, before ten.

How wrong. How terribly . . . terribly wrong.

“Why didn’t you just leave me?”

As soon as she said it, she regretted the words as they seemed to put the burden on him, and this really was all her fault—

There was a clicking sound.

Looking up, she recoiled. His eyes were open, the white around the left one blood red, the pupils unmatched and glowing as he stared at her and tried to speak.

“Shh,” she said as he struggled. “No, please . . . don’t talk . . .”

Things started to beep faster, and then alarms went off, and she shook her head. “Don’t . . . it’s okay—”

He could barely speak, but she heard the haunting words loud and clear: “Couldn’t. Leave. You.”

Medical personnel flooded into the room, and they didn’t hesitate to get her out of there, passing her shuffling, trembling body off to Moose, who held her up off the floor in the hall.

On the far side of the glass door they shut, she rose up on her tiptoes to see around the crowd to Danny. His face was turned toward her, and through the chaos of the staff, he still stared at her, his puffy eyelids and all the bruises making it a miracle he could focus even a little.

And then the doctors and nurses blocked her view of him.

Deep in her soul, she knew that was the last time she would see him. That it was the last memory she was going to have . . .

. . . of the only man she had ever loved.

Ten Months Later

Chapter 9

Harbor Street and Twenty-Second Avenue

Old Downtown, New Brunswick

As Anne turned onto Harbor Street, the tires of her municipal sedan crackled over the broken pavement and she winced at the blinding September morning sun. Putting the visor down didn’t help, but there wasn’t much to worry about hitting. There was no traffic, no pedestrians, and the commercial buildings in the neighborhood had been abandoned years ago.

Two hundred yards later, she hit the brakes and stopped across from the singed ruins of what had been a warehouse.

At least up until the two-alarm fire the night before.

There wasn’t much left of the structure, the mostly collapsed shell of the place painted black and gray from the blaze’s soot and smoke. Wafting over on the autumn breeze, the complex, crappy bouquet of extinguished fire was so familiar, she actually took a deep breath and felt the sting of nostalgia—

The sneeze came out of nowhere, kicking her head forward—and as she righted things and sniffed, it was like her nose was out of shape. Waiting to see if there was another coming, she wondered exactly when her nasal passages had degraded into special snowflakes. Had it been in those brutal first couple of weeks of recovery . . . or later, during PT? Had it been as she’d raced to get into class to get certified as a fire inspector? Or how about when she’d been interviewing around for her new job?

Was it two weeks ago, when she’d been hired by the City of New Brunswick to fill a low-man-on-the-ladder vacancy in its Arson Investigation and Fire Inspection Division?

How about now, on her first official day?

She looked down at the lapels of her cheap office suit. The laminated ID card hanging off a silver clip had her picture on it, and she tilted the thing up so she could see her own face.

Her hair was the same. Sort of. Longer now and loose on her shoulders—and those blond highlights from summer a year before were at the very ends. One more trim, and they were another thing gone forever from her life. Her face? Well, that was the same—actually, no, not at all. Her eyes were grim, and if she didn’t know better, she’d say that they were all black pupil, no blue around any rim. Skin was as white and flat as wall paint. Hollows under the cheekbones were testament to the weight she had yet to put back on.

That pink lip gloss she’d thrown on out of some kind of duty looked ridiculous on the thin, straight line of her mouth.

Dropping the image, she wiped away the slick layer she’d put on before she’d left her house. She hated the way the stuff tasted, and come on, like it was fooling anyone? She wasn’t a lipstick-and-perfume kind of girl, even if she was now a desk jockey.

Reaching for the door handle, her prosthesis thunked against the panel and she closed her eyes. Deep breath.

From out of nowhere, she remembered the morning after the fire, when she’d woken up in that hospital bed and tried to convince herself that she could go back to the stationhouse and resume her life as it was, a triumphant para-firefighter, just like those Paralympic athletes.

Yeah . . . no. Tom had been right. Her career was over.

But she had triumphed over lots of things in the last ten months, including a staph infection that had nearly killed her. Physically, that had been the worst, especially when they’d had to put her in a medically induced coma because her organs had been shutting down. The rest of the road forward had been mostly mental, with blocking and tackling solutions for her lost hand being sought at every turn.

As much as she could do now with her various prostheses, though, that did not include dragging a charged line into a fire and spraying down flames.

You can do this, Anne, she told herself.

When she was out on the pavement, she faced off at the building that was her first assigned case and tried to ignore the fact that she was in a suit, not turnouts. That she was after-the-fact, not during. That there was nothing here to do, really.

“Origin and cause,” she said as she started to walk across the road.

She was halfway to her goal when she realized she’d left her clipboard, her pen, and her voice recorder in the car.

Anne stopped. And could no farther.

This whole length of Harbor Street was your typical used-to-be-necessary, nothing but a strip of asphalt accessorized on both sides by ragged scarves of abandoned, block-sized buildings that had, in their earlier, more optimistic and purposeful incarnations, housed manufacturing plants, warehouses, and shipbuilders. The facilities had been built of brick in the twenties, joist’d, rafter’d, and floored by wood planks and beams, and capped by tin.

Used until another pattern of profit motive had rendered them anachronistic.

As she blinked in that bright, blade-sharp sunlight, she found that memories took over and Back to the Future’d her to a different, but the same, structure—only this time it was night, and she was pulling up in the pumper with Danny, about to head into that one-alarm that had changed her life.

“You must do this, Anne,” she declared.

Digging down deep for more of the will that had kept her going, she was exhausted with propelling herself forward. Tired of punching through wall after wall of I-can’t, I-don’t-want-to, I’m-about-to-break. Life had become one trial after another, only the degree of difficulty and amount of failure what spiced things up.

“Origin and cause,” she repeated.

Movement caught her eye and drew her attention to the right. A gray dog with a partially pit bull face, an ear blown up to twice its size, and a scar on its shoulder regarded her from around the burned building like it was sizing her up as a threat.

The two of them stared at each other—and for some reason, she thought of Danny Maguire. Probably because of the injuries the dog had.

She hadn’t seen Maguire since that ICU visit. There had been a couple of times when she’d been in the rehab hospital that she’d been tempted to reach out to him, but between her recovery and his, they’d both had plenty going on. And then she’d heard that he’d gone back to work at the 499.

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