Some Like it Hot
The earpiece crackled inside Peter’s helmet and he heard Dave Martin’s voice, tinny through the radio, rattled by the fire and smoke. “Any sign, Pete?”
The chirpy tones he associated with the Londoner sounded as if they had been run through a mangle of stress. But as the leader of Blue Watch, Peter had to keep it together for all their sakes.
“None. Take it slow and steady. It’s thicker up here.”
Smoke blackened the world. If not for the mask Peter knew he’d be choking on the smoldering floor by now. The flashlight wasn’t much help. Nothing was in this sort of inferno but instinct and experience.
Flames danced all along the far wall, coating it like a curtain. As always when he looked at its heart, he could see the beauty, for all the danger it presented. There was no way through. The stairs were gone.
Dave appeared behind him, his torch darting through the smoke, an erratic firefly, pitiful against the wall of flame.
“Fuck me.” He took a step back. The crack of timbers overhead made both firefighters snap their heads up, away from the obvious flames to find the black and charred roof sagging.
“Out,” Peter snapped. “Back the way we came. Slow and steady, Martin.”
It was the worst kind of call. Three firefighters missing, the building close to collapse with a fire that had spread rapidly and unchecked. Even the hoses didn’t appear to be reaching the heart of the fire. So it was search and rescue, masks and cumbersome suits and constant danger. The continuing risk three might become five.
As the two firefighters skirted the ground floor, the sound of the fire grew deafening, the groans of the shifting beams, the roar within the walls. The cloying smoke hampered vision, and the debris underfoot made the path even more treacherous than on the way in. The foyer of the building opened to a wide space of blackened walls and twisted metal, all reflected in water from the hoses.
And then they heard it—voices shouting from above them.
“The stairs are still good on that side,” Dave called, and from the main door their reinforcements arrived. Fresh men, ready to tackle the flames. Peter waved at them to follow, but Dave’s hand on his shoulder stopped him. “We’re done, mate. Let them in at it. You have to know when to step back.”
Peter watched them charge up the stairway, and Dave stepped into the light, unfastening the mask and letting it hang to one side so he could wipe sweat and grime from his face.
EMTs hurried Dave away from danger. Peter sighed and started to follow.
Started, but stopped.
Behind him, he heard a voice, a woman’s voice. But they had all civilians out. He knew that for sure. It didn’t come from overhead, where he suspected the firefighters were trapped, but back the way he had come, back in the heart of the fire.
A woman’s voice sang out, sweetly melodic amid the crackle and roar, as distinct as if she stood right by his side.
“Dave?” Peter barked into his mic, praying that his friend still had the earpiece in. “Dave, there’s someone back in the room to the south. I’m going after her. Can you back me up?”
Only static answered him and he cursed. It was against protocol, but the voice came again, no words he could distinguish, more like a spoken melody. Almost as hypnotic as the flames had been.
He plunged into the darkness once more.
The smoke was heavier, hampering vision and movement. His feet snagged on fallen timbers and he went down, plunging into the fire-drenched room face-first.
He landed heavily, air forced from his lungs in a rush, a line disconnecting from the breathing apparatus on his back. He heard it pop and the fizz of air. Air that would feed the fire rather than him.
Survival kicked in and Peter struggled to shed the tank. He rolled onto his back and blinked through the broken face mask, coughing as the smoke crept around the shattered edges, burning the tender tissues of his lungs with each inhalation.
“Where are you, Martin?” he wheezed.
Then the flames moved, shimmering as they did, forming a body far too human to be real in such a place as this. She stood over him, a shapely column of fire, burning tresses curling around a dazzling face. The woman bent over him and took his gloved hand, pulling him up to meet her.
She had to be a dream, a nightmare. Or maybe he’d inhaled more smoke than he thought, because there was no way this was real.
The woman in flames tilted her head to one side, as if studying him with those golden eyes. So beautiful, her narrow face and high cheekbones, her full lips slightly parted. He swallowed hard as all thought left him.
Her hands on his arms were real enough, her touch solid. But it was impossible. The flames that wrapped around her fell back to reveal a naked figure, curved where a woman should curve, breasts that would fill his hands. And a mouth that needed kissing.
“You shouldn’t be here,” he tried to tell her as his wits returned. “We have to get out .”
Again, she tilted her head as if trying to understand his words. But she made no move, nor showed any sign of fear. Anyone else would be screaming and dashing for the door right now, or at least clinging to him, begging for help. To even be in there in the first place indicated insanity.
Peter pushed her back slightly and that was when his hands fell on her wrists. Or rather on the golden cuffs she wore. Thin chains of gold coiled up her arms to join a golden collar around her neck, so delicate it looked like jewelry. The chains ran down to her ankles as well, little trails of glittering light. Exotic, and faintly erotic in the firelight, it was all she wore. His eyes ran over her body again and his face heated more than was natural even with the fire surrounding them.
She smiled and lifted her face to his, but then a frown rippled across her smooth brow. She freed herself effortlessly from his grip and her hands closed on the mask. Peter stooped over her, powerless to resist as she pushed it aside to reveal his face. Then she rose on her toes and pressed her lips against his.
He instinctively met her kiss with his own, and her lips parted to take in his tongue. Deep in her throat she gave a moan and wriggled closer, placing herself in his arms. Her fingers framed his face, trailing fiery strokes down his cheeks.
Her touch was like a flame, one that did not burn but that set the blood pounding through his body, rushing like molten lava through his veins. Her hands moved down his chest, pulling at his kit and sliding beneath to find his shirt and skin. Sweat made her fingertips slide across the muscles of his chest and her tongue darted against his, whipping up the current of desire that was running away with him, obliterating reason. He deepened the kiss, nipping at her lower lip, thrusting his tongue deep inside her. Claiming her.
In her arms the smoke and noxious fumes didn’t affect him and the flames were like a cool breeze in comparison. She fuelled the need inside him.
A thud and crash overhead snapped his attention away from her for a second and the ceiling sagged again, lower than before, on the verge of buckling. Peter seized her, lifting her from the ground as if she weighed no more than a child. She gave a cry of surprise and alarm.
“Hold on,” he ordered, some sanity returning to him without her lips to addle his brain. Her arms latched around his neck and she jerked herself tightly against him as he lunged for the doorway.
The room behind exploded into flame and ruin as the ceiling collapsed in their wake.
Peter stumbled into the foyer, the girl clinging to him, but as he reached the wave of fresh air from the door, his feet slipped in the water pooling on the ground and his legs gave way.
“EMTs,” he yelled, but his voice emerged in a strangled croak just before his knees struck the floor and he pitched forward.
The girl tumbled beneath him and cried out in shock, recoiling from the wet and cold. Shivering, wide-eyed, she stared up at him and tears filled her eyes. She reached out to touch his face, her fingers icy cold where before they had burned.
The edges of his world dissolved to charred and smoking ruin and the last thing he saw were a pair of golden eyes, stretched wide in fear and concern.
Adara drew in a freezing breath and icy air stabbed into her lungs. It had been so long, so unbelievably long since the air had tasted so sweet, or so cold. It stirred memories of freedom. Of a time when she did not have to obey. She squirmed beneath the weight of her rescuer and carefully pushed at his shoulder.
“Wake up,” she whispered, too afraid to raise her voice. “Please…please wake up.”
But he didn’t. His chest struggled for breath and the fire came closer. If he stayed there he’d die, either from smoke or flames, and neither would be easy. She remembered both, the way her tears had scalded on her face, the way the heat had sucked the sweet breath from her body as she struggled and tried to escape.
Adara tried to wriggle free of him and managed to extract her upper body enough so she could roll him onto his back.
His features, strong and handsome, trustworthy…It imprinted on her mind like being slapped in the face and all around her the flames burned hotter, eager to consume him. He wore the symbol of the Knights, the enemy, but he had saved her. He had picked her up like a child and carried her from the fire.
Why would he do that?
Heat liquefied in the pit of her stomach. The feel of his hands on her body, his lips branding themselves against hers…Memory sent stabs of need through her abdomen. It was impossible. She had not felt such a desire since the flames first touched her. Her body wanted him. Her rescuer. She wanted him. Here and now. She wanted to step back into the flames and consume him, make him hers for evermore.
“No.” She clambered to her feet, standing firm over him. Despite the water on the floor, which hissed and crackled beneath her, she swallowed down fear. “No. You will not take him.” She stretched her hands out in front of her, warding against the fire, ordering it back with her mind.
The fire recoiled, bending back in on itself as if it had struck a wall of ice. Adara focused her will. Go back. Leave him. He is not for you.
The flames twisted like serpents, and then she heard it. A voice. The voice of the Magus.
You attempt to defy me? Step back into the fire, little djinn and finish what you started.
A band of invisible steel clamped around her chest. The collar and cuffs holding her to this plane flared white-hot and she gasped, jerking back from the Magus’ will, struggling like a fish on a hook.
But if she obeyed, her rescuer would die. She glanced down at him, at his strong face, the face of a warrior. He had lifted her bodily from the fire, carried her to safety, or as near to safety as he could before he was overwhelmed. As if she was human, as if she was worthy of rescue…
“No!” She fought back, closing the wall of power around herself and the man. The fire roared, screamed with rage and thwarted anger. It thundered toward her, threatening to sweep aside her defenses. Once she would have laughed. Once she would have embraced the fire and writhed in its embrace. Once she would have made the fire her own.
It slammed against her barricade, an infernal battering ram. The Magus threw everything at her, trying to force her back to obedience and somewhere, somewhere from deep inside all she had once been, Adara found the strength to stand firm. The collar and cuffs burned against her skin, white hot and agonizing. The chains tightened, dragging her arms down, searing along her legs and across her abdomen. She sobbed as she felt her magic fail and fade, as the Magus’ power rose like a void to finally snatch her will away.
“In here! He’s here!”
Water blasted into her back, tossing her off her rescuer like a child’s toy. The fire rose to take her for a moment, but then the torrent engulfed it as well. The torrent slammed her against the far wall and into oblivion.
When she woke, the fire, the Magus, and the man were all gone.