Authors: Ashley Suzanne,Tiffany Fox,Melissa Gill
By Ashley Suzanne
© 2015, Ashley Suzanne
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. This book contains material protected under International and Federal Copyright Laws and Treaties. Any unauthorized reprint or use of this material is prohibited. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system without express written permission from the author / publisher.
This is a work of fiction. All of the characters, organizations and events portrayed in this novel are either products of the author’s imagination or are used fictionally.
Table of Contents
About the Author
To the men and women who have lost their lives to save someone else. While everyone else is battling to get out of an inferno, the bravery shown as you rush through those doors is something only a true hero could do. Thank you for every selfless action you perform to help make your community a safer one.
To the 87 firefighters who lost their lives in 2014 alone.
To the families who kiss their loved ones goodbye when they leave for their shift, never knowing if they’re going to come home again. Your sacrifice is not unnoticed.
And a very special dedication to Keion Boone. The ArchAngel. A man who has provided me with stories, details, and support of this project since the moment it entered my mind. A brave man who not only fights fires, but does it in the most dangerous city in America. A man who risks his life daily for the city he loves and calls home. Detroit Engine 51 is in my prayers nightly.
And to the badass, fun-sized chick on A&E’s The Night Watch, Holly M. This rock star paramedic brought me so much insight I couldn’t have received anywhere else. You’re my hero, you tattooed and pierced lifesaver.
And to Kim, my mother in law. Happy 55
birthday!! Love you and I’m so proud to have married your son! Thank you for raising a man who loves me unconditionally. You’re the best MIL I could ever ask for.
It’s been almost a year—a few weeks shy—and nothing’s changed. He’s not changing. Rolling over, I place my hand on his back, rubbing gently.
“Nick. Wake up, baby. You’re on shift soon.”
Grunting, shrugging me off him, he rolls to face me, his eyes expressing nothing. Not hurt. Not pain. Not even love. Just nothing.
“Thanks,” he mutters. Rubbing his eyes, he sits up quickly and walks into the bathroom. The shower starts, and trying to be the good wife I am, I make my way into the kitchen wrapped only in a robe, naked underneath, to start the coffee.
When the water turns off, I pour him a mug. Setting it at his place at the table, I take my own across from him, purposefully letting my robe ride high and expose my thigh. Nick strides out of the bedroom a few minutes later wearing his uniform pants and his DFD blue tee shirt slung over his shoulder.
Wordlessly, he sits in his chair and sips at his fresh coffee. This is the rut we’ve fallen into. We barely speak and when we do, it’s short and clipped, no matter how hard I try to pull something more out of him.
“I bet the chief would take you back at 75 if you wanted to come back. Things are better now,” I offer.
He doesn’t verbally respond, instead gives me a disgusted look and goes back to his drink. I casually bounce my foot, trying to draw his attention to my naked body, but it doesn’t work. He’s in his own world.
in his own world.
“I gotta go. I’ll see you Wednesday.” Rising from his chair, he pulls the shirt over his head, stops at the front door to shove his feet into his work boots and without a kiss, he’s out the door.
Tears start falling down my cheeks when his truck fires to life and the power steering pump whines as he pulls out of the driveway. And this is how it’s been since Yaris died. It’s like Nick forgot he’s not in this alone. He has a support system, and a damn good one. He has a wife. He has people who love him.
It’s got to be hard for him to see that when he’s trapped inside his own head. And no matter how hard I try for him—for
—it’s never enough.
And I can’t take it anymore.
Walking to the bedroom, I slip into a pair of yoga pants, pull on a sports bra and a fitted tee follows. Grabbing a sweatshirt from the back of the door, I take my suitcase from the closet and start filling it with the rest of my clothes.
I’ll never stop loving him, but until he loves himself again, he can’t love me or give me what I need. What I deserve. And until the Nick I married comes back, I can’t keep fighting alone.
Sniffling as I walk down the hallway, past the pictures of our life together, I debate taking them. We haven’t been married for a long time, but looking at an image captured of us exchanging our vows, it seems like a lifetime ago. Glancing to the last frame, a simple picture of us holding Hemingway as a puppy, I decide against taking them. I don’t have room in my arms and I’ll be able to keep the memories in my heart forever. Maybe seeing the images of our happiness will bring him back. Maybe it won’t, but it’s worth a shot.
Snatching my phone off the counter, I call my best friend.
“Lacy,” I say, a hiccup in my voice.
“What’s wrong?” she asks defensively. She knows what I’m going through, more than anyone else.
“I’m done. Can you come get me? And let me sleep on your couch?”
“Give me fifteen. My home’s your home. You know that. No need to ask.”
Stifling a cry, I hang up, shove the phone in my purse and step into a pair of ballet flats. Walking out the front door, I give Hemingway a kiss on his snout before locking and closing the door, my key on the coffee table.
And for fifteen minutes, maybe closer to twenty, I sit on the porch hashing through all the memories Nick and I made in this house. All the great times we spent together. None of it in vain.
I’ll be fine. I’ll move on. I’ll get over it. It’ll be hard as hell and it’s not something I pictured doing the day we got married, but I was pushed to this point.
Lacy’s car pulls in the driveway and she steps out, standing just out of the driver’s side door, watching me with sympathetic eyes. “Come on. I’ve got you.”
Bowing my head and taking a deep breath, I step off my porch for the last time. Placing my suitcase in the backseat, I get in the front and place my purse on the floorboard between my feet and rest my head back.
“Wanna talk?” Lacy asks, backing out of the driveway.
“Nope. I just wanna feel for a minute.” And that’s exactly what I do. I feel. Everything. The end of my marriage. The loss of my other half. The realization that I have nothing.
Staring at my wedding ring, I debate taking it off, but it’s too soon. I’ll wait.
For six months.
In the parking lot of the courthouse, I watch Nick lifelessly walk to his truck. Glancing once in my direction, he nods his head. Nods his damn head like we just completed a business transaction.
Shoving aside my sadness and refusing to let another tear fall, I glide my wedding band from my finger and drop it into the coin slot of my wallet until I can get home.
Taking a deep breath, I pull out of the parking lot, refusing to think of Nick anymore.
Budget cuts. Always with the budget cuts. Detroit can never catch a break. If it’s not the ex-mayor embezzling funds and getting sent to prison, it’s the budget committees rearranging the funds and usually it’s the public servants who get the short end of that stick. Today’s no different. There’s nothing better than showing up to work and getting called into the chief’s office.
“You’re reassigned. Report to Engine 22 for your next regularly scheduled shift.”
And that’s all she wrote. No parting gift. No ‘thanks for your service.’ No going away party. Not even an apology. Six years I’ve put into this house, rebuilding one of the most arson stricken areas of the entire city. Granted, I’m no firefighter, but without a paramedic, what would you do with all of those people they drag out of fires? That’s right … not a damn thing.
I’ve busted my ass to get where I am now—relationships I’ve built with the men in this house. Now, I have to start all over. It shouldn’t be this big of a deal. I could be PMSing, or I could just genuinely be worried about having to start all over. This boys’ club is hard enough to crack. Being a woman stationed at a firehouse isn’t all cupcakes and rainbows, I assure you, but it’s damn rewarding.
Hell, for the first month or two at Engine 75, every man in the place called me Rescue Rosie. But I earned my spot. It took a lot to prove my worth and even more to prove I shouldn’t be discounted for the sole reason of having a vagina. Even still, it remained a boys’ club and no matter how many times I’d helped them save someone—a few times actually saving
—I was still a girl … an outsider. And now I get to start all over again at a new house.
The one house I never wanted to step foot in, let alone be assigned there. My only hope going forward is that we’ll be on different shifts. The less we have to communicate, the better … for everyone. It’s kind of hard to win a dick slinging contest when you don’t have a dick to sling. And if the rest of the firefighters only knew the shit storm they were being forced into by me being assigned here, they’d run for the hills. This has to stay quiet for the sake of my career. It’ll be hard enough to fit in and I don’t need any other reasons for them to give me shit.
We can be adults. We can make it work. We can prove just because you’re divorced, you can still work amicably with your ex.
The first moment I knew I wanted to be a paramedic I must have been around sixteen or so. My father had had a heart attack and I remember the doctors at the hospital telling us had it not been for the first responders, my father might not have survived. Each day since then, I’ve said a silent prayer for those men who saved my father’s life. So, when the job fair came to my high school senior year, I already knew what booth I was going for. It would have been amazing to be a doctor, and I probably would have done well, but I wanted to get to saving as soon as I could.
I wasn’t like most teenagers during their first year of college; I busted my ass, took sixteen credit hours a semester, including the summer, and completed EMT certification in only eighteen months. I wasted no time applying to the paramedic program, and my grades were good enough to bump me to the top of the list. I scored my first job working for a private ambulance company at barely twenty-one.
The following year I applied for an in-house position with the Detroit Fire Department and within days I was putting in notice to my current employer and starting at DFD Engine 75. I’d barely submitted all of my paperwork to the chief and the alarms were sounding and pumping adrenaline was around me. Firemen throwing on their gear, jumping on their respective trucks with their lights and sirens blaring, tearing out of the firehouse like bats out of hell. I damn near tripped over my own feet to get on the ambulance with my new supervisor. It was organized chaos of the best kind and I felt right at home.
So switching houses isn’t something I’m looking forward to. I love 75. I love my family. I love my job, but at least I get to keep that, right? Other than the obvious, the only issue I have leaving 75 and going to 22 is Nick Conrad.
And his truck is the first thing I see when Lacy, my roommate, pulls into the lot to drop me off. My stress level immediately rises and the bile in my throat isn’t far behind. I’m an adult, far more mature than the last time Nick and I interacted. All the hoping and wishing we were on different shifts is gone right out the window, unless he’s picked up an extra shift, but that’s more unlikely than the street lights outside the house working when it gets dark.
“You can always go back to a private service and quit the fire department,” Lacy chimes in as I’m grabbing my bag from the backseat.
“I love my job,” I respond.
“I’m just pointing out the obvious, Tina. You can either pull up your sexy thong and handle business like a real woman, or you can exchange it for some granny panties and hide away until you die.”
“You know you make absolutely no sense, right?” I used to love my roommate until she became stupid. But I guess that’s what love does to you, huh? Now that her boyfriend, excuse me,
, popped the question, she’s all about making sense out of things that have no rhyme or reason. Half the time she’s spot on. The other half, she spouts off nonsense like she’s some new-aged philosopher.
“But you know what I mean, so stop staring at his truck like you’re going to burst into flames when you see him. And if you do, I mean start burning, at least you’re with some sexy firemen to put you out.”
“Goodbye, Lacy. I’ll see you in the morning.” Of all days for my car to break down, this is the one. Tomorrow, when my shift is over, I’ll be taking the bus home just to avoid the grand inquisition from Lacy. Hell, I’d walk if that means she won’t be able to question me.
“Love you. Be safe out there. I worry.”
“Yes, mother,” I say with sarcasm dripping off my words. Getting out and shutting the door, I give Lacy a salute followed by a finger wave as she pulls out of the lot. Sucking in a deep breath, I pull back my shoulders and confidently walk through the main door. Okay, maybe I just
confident, because on the inside I’m freaking out. I have absolutely no idea what I’ll say, or what he’ll say when I see him again. Two years is a long time to go without talking to someone who knows you inside and out, then to be forced to work with them on long shifts, basically living in the same house … it’s going to be awkward to say the least.
Rushing to the locker room, I change into my uniform and quickly make a beeline straight for the chief’s office. It takes no longer than twenty minutes for him to run down the ins and outs of the house, take my paperwork and give me a little info about my partner. He then excuses himself to head to a meeting and directs me to the mess hall to meet the rest of the guys on shift while I work.
My only reprieve is knowing since I only work twelve-hour shifts, and firemen work two on and one off, I’ll be able to have a break from him once in a while. Some days I’ll actually be able to come to work and not dread it.
But, of course, as soon as I step into the mess hall, the first pair of eyes to connect with mine are none other than the ones I wish I didn’t have to see. The one person who almost makes me wish I worked anywhere but here. The one I loved so deeply it nearly killed me to walk away.
He grins his crooked grin, turns back to the other guys and I can only imagine what he’s telling them. If I had it my way, none of them, other than the chief of course, would know about our past. It’s private and doesn’t need to be house gossip—and guys gossip worse than high school girls. It’s a fact, I swear. Swallowing my pride and gaining a little courage, I march to where Nick and the other guys are standing and clear my throat.
“Excuse me, but I had a few questions. The chief said I could ask you for anything I needed. Do you have a moment?” I ask, squaring my shoulders and refusing to let his penetrating gaze affect me.
“Sure?” he says, but forms it as a question, no doubt taken aback by my request.
The fact is, I’m not the same girl I was all those years ago. Back when we were together, I was timid, shy even. I had started to become comfortable being a wife and nearly lost my way in my career. But one thing was drastically different.
Bottom line is I couldn’t be the normal, run of the mill firefighter’s wife. I wasn’t built to stay at home with kids, keeping a home while he was on shift. I had this burning desire to be on the same front line as Nick. Even though I wasn’t running into the burning building, I knew everything that was going on.
Instead of being greeted at the front door by the chaplain and chief in case of an emergency or death, I’d be the one responsible to save him. If I were a doctor or nurse, I wouldn’t be allowed on the case, but as a paramedic, the moment my uniform went on and I got behind the wheel of my rig, I was only a first responder. Not a wife. Not a daughter. Not even a friend. I was a paramedic.
At the beginning of our relationship, we worked at 75 together. During that brief time, there were some close calls and we even lost one of our own. Tim Yaris was everyone’s friend. When he died, it wasn’t more than a few days after the funeral that I broke down. But I handled my business, got into therapy and conquered my own demons and fears.
I grew out of that shy, timid stage. Yaris’s death made me put into focus everything I wanted to accomplish and pushed me. I didn’t want to forego my career to be that normal wife, not that there’s anything wrong with it, but it wasn’t for me and deep down I knew it.
Nick didn’t recover. I’m not sure, even now, if he’s the man he was when I married him. Some shuffling of departments happened, he was transferred to 22 and I stayed behind.
And that was the beginning of the end. He put up a wall. We stopped being intimate. Hell, we stopped talking all together. I tried to fight for him, for us, but he didn’t. I was the only one on the battlefield and it was fucking lonely. One day, I woke up and packed. I couldn’t be in a one-sided marriage anymore.
It killed me. I knew how he felt and what he was going through. I’d gone through it, too. But he couldn’t, or wouldn’t, let me or anyone else in.
Nick was on his own.
“What are you telling them?” I whisper, looking around for spectators. Noting we’re alone, I jab him once in the chest with my index finger. “Our business is just that, Nicholas. I don’t want everyone in this damn house giving me shit because of our history.”
“What the hell are you talking about, Christina? You think I want them knowing I was married to a crazy paramedic? Get over yourself.” I’d like to say his words don’t hurt, but they do. Through everything, I never stopped caring for him, and it would appear I’m the last concern on his mind.
“I just wanted to make sure. I had a hell of a time at 75 after and I’m not trying to go through that again.”
“Listen. I’m not telling anyone anything. If you want to, I don’t care, but I’m here to do a job, nothing more, nothing less.” And it’s confirmed. Nick’s the same guy I walked out on two years ago. I wish he would have been able to get close to these guys without the memory of Yaris plaguing him every time he turned around, but it’s not looking that way.
“As long as we’re clear.” Pulling the hair tie from my wrist, I pull my hair back and secure it in a messy bun. “Do you know where I can find my partner?” The chief gave me his name, but I’ve yet to see him, not that I’ve been here long.
“Try the bunks. Mason’s usually napping if we’re not on a run.” If I get paired with a lazy EMT, I might freak out.
“Thanks,” I mutter, turning on my heel and walking back inside. Going upstairs to the bunks, I immediately find Gary Mason, my new partner, by the snoring coming from the back cot. Rolling my eyes, I head back downstairs. Now’s as good a time as any to introduce myself to the firefighters in the house.
The moment I enter the kitchen it feels like all eyes are on me, and not in a good way. I recognize a lot of the guys, having seen them at benefits and department functions, but for the life of me I can’t remember any of their names. Thinking back to when I joined 75, I search for memories of how I finally broke the ice, and then it comes to me.
“I’m going to Shenanigans tomorrow if anyone wants to come. First round’s on me,” I shout, then casually take a seat at the end of the table, refusing to make eye contact just in case they reject my invitation.
A tall, dark-skinned man appears in my line of sight, sits in the chair across from me and takes a bite of his sandwich. “Tony Jones,” he grunts between bites in true caveman style.
“Christina Mitchell,” I respond, already feeling better that I’m not a social pariah in the house.
“You been on ambo long?”
“A few years. I love it.” I really do enjoy my job. It’s rewarding in every aspect of the word. Glancing up at Tony, he’s watching me with inquisitive eyes. “What?” I ask, praying to God I don’t have food on my face or in my teeth.
“It’s been a while since we had a woman in the house. Wondering if you’re going to start bitching about how dirty it is here, or how it smells.”
“Nope. It’s a firehouse. It’s supposed to smell like this.” Tony must have no idea how disgusting 75 was, because if he did, he’d realize that 22 is pristine compared to that house.