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Authors: Ashley Suzanne,Tiffany Fox,Melissa Gill

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BOOK: Rekindle
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CHAPTER FOUR
N
ICK

The minute the next shift arrives, I’m out the door, in my truck and heading home.  Most of the other guys will stop off at a bar, have a round or two before getting back to their wives and families, and any other time, I’d be right there with them.  However, tonight is one of those nights—and recently they’re few and far between—that I need to drink alone.  Nobody needs to witness the state I’m going to be in for the next twenty-four hours.

Whipping into the driveway, I believe I throw the truck in park before jumping out, but I can’t be certain.  Scratch that, when it doesn’t roll down the driveway or through the garage door, I think it’s safe to say we’re good.

“Hey, pal.”  Scratching behind Hemingway’s ear, I make my way to the kitchen, opening the back door to let him relieve himself, and check the fridge.  My neighbor, Mrs. Crandall, is the widow of a fireman and helps me much more than I deserve.  Using her spare key, she comes in while I’m on shift, lets Hemingway out, refreshes his food and water and even makes sure I have a six pack waiting for me when I return. 

Snatching one of those beers from the shelf, I shut the fridge and open the back door to call Hemingway back inside.  Sauntering, like he has not a care in the world, he makes his way inside, generously rubbing against my leg as he passes me. 

As I walk down the hall, I glance at pictures on the wall that have been there since Tina hung them up. I redirect my vision and guzzle more than half the can as I enter the bathroom.  Starting a shower, I strip out of my clothes. No matter how many times I wash them, they still smell like smoke. I slam the rest of the beer before jumping under the water. 

I try to push Tina out of my mind, and for so long I’d been doing well, but now with her right under my nose, I don’t even know how to handle it.  She walked out on me, I shouldn’t feel anything for her anymore, but the second my eyes locked with hers, I was done for and I knew it.  I’m pretty sure she knew it, too.

Running a washcloth down my chest, I stop right at my pubic bone.  I can’t think of her right now.  I need to think of anything else.

Hockey.  Baseball.  Mrs. Crandall.  Hemingway licking his balls in the other room.  Tina licking my balls.

Fuck.

As soon as the thought enters my mind, I desperately try to push it out, but my other head is all too keen on the idea, hardening before I even touch myself.  I try, I mean, I
really
try to not encourage these types of thoughts, but it seems the harder I try, the quicker they enter.

The way Tina would lick the seam of my balls and peer up at me through her lashes, smiling at my approval.  The way her plump lips would glide up and down my shaft.  The way her tongue would snake out and lick the tiny droplet of moisture from the tip.  The way she’d wipe the tears from her eyes after she’d taken me as far as she could.

Fuck.

Before I know it, my hand wraps around my cock and slowly begins pumping.  Closing my eyes, I can all but see Tina on her knees in front of me—wet and soapy, hair matted to the side of her face as she seeks her own pleasure by giving me mine.

“God, Christina,” I whisper, leaning my head against the cool tile, waiting for more memories to surface.

Tina slowly standing up, letting my cock run the length of her torso, squeezing her tits around my dick until she’s upright.  Slightly dipping my head and running my tongue between her lips until she opens for me, her moan echoing through the room.  Spinning her around to where her back faces me and gently bending her at the waist, grabbing onto her lush hips and positioning myself. 

“Fuck, Tina,” I mutter, imagining my hand is the slick, tight wall I’m pushing into, relishing the feel of her around me, squeezing the life out of my cock.

Behind my closed lids, I can almost see myself wrapping my hand through her drenched hair and pulling hard, but not too hard, to arch her back even further.  My stroke quickens as I thrust in and out of my imaginary Christina, my other hand massaging my balls as she would have done in this exact scene.

An intense growl leaves my throat as I begin to come, and I tighten my grip even more, mimicking the way Tina’s warm pussy would grab on to me as she found her own release.  Opening my eyes, the cold realization hits me hard.  In my head, I knew it was nothing more than a fantasy, but to see myself alone in a shower, still slowly pumping my own dick, anger slams down on me quickly.  Fuck her for still making me feel this way.

Rinsing my body, I step out of the shower, wrap a towel around my waist and head directly to the fridge for another beer.  Maybe a shot while I’m in there.  Reaching inside, I grab the remaining five beers and from the cabinet above the stove a fresh bottle of Jack that’s suddenly calling my name.

Taking my beverages to the living room, I sit on the couch and turn on
SportsCenter
so I can catch up on the games I missed on shift.  Cracking the top of a beer, I raise my can to the Wings who finished the series against Colorado on top.  As the Budweiser settles in my stomach, it’s clear it’s not doing what I need it to do.  Straight from the bottle, I take an extra large swig of whiskey, letting it burn its way down my throat, happy for the relief I almost instantly get on an empty stomach, unless you count the beer.

After an hour of this same rinse and repeat action—four empty beer cans and a half full bottle—I think I’ll be able to fall asleep tonight.  Stumbling up the stairs and up the narrow staircase, I nearly trip to my death, but recover enough to flop onto the sheets.  Crawling my way up the mattress until my head hits the pillow, I stare at the ceiling for a bit.  Not because I want to, but more so because every time I close my eyes, the room starts spinning.

In my drunken state, the white plaster ceiling reminds me of the intricate lace patterns on Tina’s wedding dress, then I get this bright idea to watch the video of our wedding, just to be sure I’m not imagining things.  Digging through the chest at the end of the bed, I find the DVD, pop it in and start watching, clutching the bottle of Jack that magically found its way to bed with me.  That, or I forgot I carried it upstairs.  I’m betting on the latter, but as I take a long pull, how it got here doesn’t matter. 

And that’s how I finally pass out—watching Tina and I share our vows, her promising to stick it out in good times and in bad.  Somewhere after that and before she says “I do” I chuck the remote in the direction of the TV, fall back on the bed and pass out.

*****

“Conrad?  Conrad!” a yelling voice drags me from my booze-induced coma.

“What?” I grunt, pulling a pillow over my head to block out the sunlight.  Wait?  Sunlight?  It was nearly dusk when I got home. 
Fuck, I must have knocked myself out good.

“You wanna explain what the fuck happened to you?  Chief’s gonna chew your ass when he sees you!” Jones’s footsteps pound their way across the room and something lands on the bed next to me. 
Fuck me, the pancake breakfast.
  It’s not a required event, per se, but I had promised to show up after being cornered by the chief on my way out last night. 

“I’m sorry, man.  I must have been really tired,” I apologize, pushing off the pillow, sitting up and praying my eyes become used to the sunlight pouring through the small window above the bed.  Glancing to my side, I see the remote missing the back, lying next to me. 

“Yeah, I’m sure.  What’s this about?” Jones asks glaring between me and the TV. 

Apparently, when I got angry and threw the remote, I didn’t break anything, but I
did
manage to pause the video at the moment where my lips touched Tina’s for the first time since becoming my wife.

“It’s nothing.  Just a little wallowing.”  I stare at the screen, hoping Tina’s face is concealed enough that he can’t recognize her.  Not that I care if they know who my ex-wife is, but she specifically doesn’t want anyone in the house to know.  She deserves a lot of my anger but none of their speculation.

“I can tell.  Wanna talk?”  He sits in the chair across the room and looks at me like he’s expecting me to open up to him like he’s Dr. Phil or something.

“Nope.”  Pulling a shirt over my head, I reach down to the floor and slip on a pair of sweatpants before getting out of bed.  Scratching my head, I walk down the stairs, not willing to entertain his line of questioning any longer.

“You need to talk to someone,” he says, following me down the stairs where a pot of freshly brewed coffee wafts in my direction, luring me into the kitchen.

“What are you, my mother?  How about I deal with my shit the way I want, and you deal with yours.  We’re done talking about this.”  I’m already ready for him to leave.  I’m not on shift until tomorrow night and I’d really like to spend some time alone.  Is that so much to ask?  It was nice for him to start the coffee for me, though.  I’ll buy him lunch tomorrow or something.  Maybe.

The moment my feet hit the cool tile of the kitchen, the one brunette who’s not stepped into this house since the minute she left stares back at me, holding a mug in her hand. 

“Here.  Drink up,” she says, her eyes pleading to keep her little secret.  I grin, wanting to direct Jones to the frames lining the hallway that showcase our relationship from start to bitter end.

“Give him a break, Mitchell.  His ex did a number on him.  Found the poor guy upstairs, passed out, watching a video of his wedding.”  I swallow hard, casting my eyes to the mug in my hand and sit at the table, glaring at the caramel-colored coffee inside.

“Oh,” Tina whispers.  I glance up to her hands gripping the countertop so tightly her knuckles are turning white. 
Good, feel as uncomfortable as I am angry

You deserve it.

Jones’s phone starts ringing and he glances over his shoulder.  “I’ll be in the car.  Don’t take forever to get dressed.”  Turning around, he walks out the door and I assume he’s speaking to his girlfriend by the sudden change of his tone.  Whipped.  I get it, but still, he’s fucking whipped.

“Are you going to be okay with this?” Tina asks, regaining my attention.  The answer is no, I’m not going to be okay.  The breakfast might be over, and the chief may have given a speech I didn’t attend and will pay for it later, but I know why they’re here.  It’s been three years since Yaris died and a bunch of my brothers are going to the cemetery.  I don’t want to go, nor do I want to talk about why I don’t want to go, but how am I supposed to tell that to someone who didn’t give a fuck that I was drowning when she left me?

“Don’t have much of a choice,” I say, brushing her off and slamming my coffee, an entirely different burn making its way down my throat, yet still I welcome it.

“You always have a choice, Nick.  If you don’t want to go, tell me and I’ll make something up.  Don’t put yourself through something you’re not ready for.”  I know she’s trying to be nice, but I need her to stop.  It’s hard to remember how much I hate her right now when she’s acting like the Tina I married, instead of the Tina who walked out on me when I needed her most.

“That’s not really your job anymore, is it, Christina?” I say through gritted teeth.  “Why are you even here?”

“I rode over with Jones.  The chief was tripping balls when you didn’t show up and Tony said he was coming here to check on you.  I don’t know, I figured you’d need a familiar face.”

“And you thought you’d be that face?” I scoff.  “I’ll be out in a second if you want to wait outside with Jones.”  She knows I basically just kicked her out, and the look in her eyes almost has me taking it back, but I don’t.  Instead, I turn on my heel and walk out of room.  It’s bad enough I have to watch her strut around the house in those tight-ass pants that aren’t supposed to be sexy, but on her they are. I sure as shit don’t need her in my home wearing a short-ass dress and sexy fucking heels.

I don’t look back at her when I make my way back upstairs to change clothes and my only indication she’s left is the slamming of the door on her way out.  Exchanging the sweats for a pair of jeans, and downstairs I pull my DFD jacket over my tee shirt, I slip into some boots and meet the pair at Jones’s car, Tony in the driver’s seat and Tina already in the backseat, her back turned toward me. 

Fuck, this is going to be a long ass day.
  I should have had a drink before I came out and now that Jones has seen me, it’s too late to run back inside. 

CHAPTER
FIVE
TINA

As expected, we arrive at the cemetery and there’s already a large group of people standing around Yaris’s grave.  I’m not sure if Nick’s been here since the funeral, but I’d be willing to bet he hasn’t.  Getting out of the car, the three of us slowly approach the crowd.  I make my way toward the front, right where I assume Lacy’s standing with Dakota.  Glancing to my side, I’m surprised to find Nick next to me, his face white as a ghost and small beads of sweat forming on his brow.

I never thought how difficult this would be for him, but knowing the man I used to love, there’s nothing he wouldn’t do for Dakota, and even if being here makes him feel sick, he’ll put on a brave face for Yaris’s little girl. 

Finding our group, and yes, no matter what happened with our relationship, these are our people—our family—I stand next to Lacy, taking her hand and linking our fingers together.  Even though she and Yaris broke up soon after Dakota was born, he was a constant part of her life, not willing to sacrifice any time with his daughter.  I think Lacy loved that most about him, even if the pair just weren’t meant to be.  Also, with Yaris and Nick being best friends and me and Lacy being as close as we’ve always been, it just kind of made sense, in a weird, awkward kind of way.

Nick finds his way behind me, giving Lacy a small rub to her shoulders and taking Dakota’s hand much like I have Lacy’s, and smiles down on the little girl who’s a spitting image of her father. 

“Hi, Uncle Nick.  Mommy says we’re going to say a prayer for Daddy.  Do you want to pray with us?” Dakota asks in a hushed tone, grinning with adoration for her pseudo uncle.  Well, he is her Godfather, as I’m her Godmother, but still, not blood related, not that it really matters.

“Absolutely, Buttercup,” he responds and I notice him subtly grit his teeth, like he’s holding back emotions he doesn’t want to show.

Nick glances toward me and I give him a tight-lipped smile, wishing he’d open up, just like I had before we divorced.  Just for a moment, I want to see his wall come down enough for me to try to help him, and just like before, the wall is fortified before I even have the chance. 

His eyes dart forward as the chaplain begins to speak.

“Losing a brother is never easy.  Bonds that are so tightly woven in this profession are hard to break, if ever really broken.  Three years ago, an unfortunate accident happened and one of our own paid the ultimate price.  Timothy Yaris wasn’t just our brother, he was a father and a friend.  A well loved member of our community.  And a true hero.”

Tears well in my eyes as memories of that day come back to me.  I stopped suppressing them after I began therapy, but it’s been a while since the past—all my past—was so up close and personal.

“Get him on the gurney,” I screamed to Nick as he carried Yaris out of the house, both of them covered in soot and dirt.  Nick did exactly as I asked, wasting no time stripping Yaris of his coat.  I grabbed the scissors and frantically cut at his shirt, needing all the access I could get.

“Save him, Tina.  You have to save him,” Nick begged, holding tight to his brother and best friend’s hand.  “You got this, man.  You fucking hang on.  Don’t you dare let go,” he whispered in his ear.

“Nick, baby, I need you to back up.  Give me room to work, okay?”

He looked up at me with sad, worst case scenario eyes, silently pleading with me to perform a miracle.  Because that’s what it was … a miracle.  Letting go of Yaris’s hand, he backed away until he reached the curb, where he sat with his hands in his disheveled hair, waiting for his act of God.

With everything in me, I tried.  I spared no measure.  I hooked leads to his chest, pulled out the portable defibrillator and gave the shock that should have pulled Yaris from wherever he was.  Nothing happened.

I ran drugs through the IV and stopped to say a prayer or five, begging for a heartbeat to show on the monitor.  It never happened.

“Tina?” Nick called from the curb, unshed tears filled his eyes.

I couldn’t speak.  It wasn’t the end.  I couldn’t call a time of death, therefore he wasn’t dead.  With my partner at my side, we loaded Yaris in the ambulance and sped off toward the hospital, Nick in the back of the rig next to me, gripping my hand so tight I thought I’d lose circulation.  But I didn’t pull away.  I didn’t flinch.  He needed my strength, so I willingly gave it.

Lights and sirens blared the entire drive that took less than five minutes.  Hospital staff were waiting the moment we pulled into the bay, opening the doors and taking Yaris into the emergency room.  Nick and I waited together with bated breath for a doctor to give us good news.

But that never came, either.

I was beyond impatient and Nick’s patience was wearing quickly.  I left him in the waiting room with the rest of the guys at 75 and walked through the ER like I owned the place.  They all knew me and didn’t think twice about me going in areas a family member or a friend shouldn’t be.  I paused outside Yaris’s room and watched the nurses and doctor move around the bed and do everything I couldn’t do in the field.

But it wasn’t enough.

“Time of death: 14:38,” the attending said, bowing his head, removing his gloves and scrubbing at his defeated face.

My knees hit the floor first, followed by my hands.  With my head hung low and my shoulders violently shaking, I remembered being picked up and carried back to the waiting room.  I remained in Nick’s lap until everyone else had cleared out and Lacy arrived with a sleeping Dakota across her chest.

I lost it again.  That wonderful little girl had just lost her father and she’d never remember him.  Being just a year old, she’d have no memories of what an amazing person Timothy Yaris actually was.  There’d be pictures, sure, but nothing she could hold on to in her heart.

Together, Nick, Lacy and I sat in the waiting room, with Dakota curled up and sleeping in the chair next to us, and cried for the loss of an amazing man whose life was cut short … way too short.

Wiping away the tears falling down my face, I suck in a deep breath of air, trying to fill my nearly empty lungs.  It shouldn’t have happened that way.  I should have been able to save him.  If I did, none of us would be here right now. 

Bowing my head as the chaplain requests, I let the tears fall freely now that I’m alone in my own private moment.  I try hard not to sniffle, but it’s a futile effort.  I can’t control my emotions.  I’ve never been able to, but I wanted so badly to be strong for Dakota and Lacy … and Nick. 

At the small of my back, I feel fingers rubbing a small circle and I know who it is without even having to look.  I’d know that touch anywhere.  Reaching my hand behind my back, I take Nick’s hand and he doesn’t pull away, but grips me as tight as he did on that day.

Risking a look behind me, Nick is still holding Dakota’s hand ever so gently with his head lowered the same as everyone else.  I get it.  For the first time, I get it.

Nick doesn’t have much strength where this whole situation is concerned, and he’s giving all of that to Dakota, being the good uncle Yaris would expect him to be.  And in return, he’s seeking strength from me.  Understanding what he needs for the first time since Tim died, I tighten my hold on his hand and his head raises, his eyes capturing mine.  I nod my head and mouth, “I’ve got you.”  A few tears fall on his part and my own as I continue to squeeze his hand, giving him every ounce of strength I have to get through this day.

Nick never needed to talk about his problems; he just needed someone to hold onto him while he felt … everything. 

*****

Stepping through the doors at the firehouse, I get the extreme pleasure of meeting an entirely new shift of firemen.  I’m sure it would have gone over much better, especially if I hadn’t just left the cemetery.  Luckily, the chief had made an exception for me to do the thing for Yaris and report an hour late for shift. 

“What’s up, Princess?  You lost?” some big, burly, bearded man asks, stepping in front of me, blocking my path to the locker room so I can change.

“Nope,” I respond, trying to move around him, but his body’s far too large to maneuver around.

“Only staff’s allowed past this point.  I’m sure I could make an exception if you were to give me something in return.”  His stale breath hits my nostrils and I nearly gag—here’s the obnoxious behavior I was used to from guys who didn’t know my skills.  In his defense, not that he deserves it, but I’m sure he’s just a little confused about my attire.  Most paramedics don’t show up for work in a dress and heels.  If he’d just get his head out of the gutter, he’d realize where I was coming from and cut me some slack.

“Hey, man,” a familiar voice rings in my ears and soon after fills my line of sight. 

“What’s up, Conrad?”  Nick and the bearded man’s hands slap together in some sort of handshake. 

“I see you’ve met Mason’s new partner.”  He motions toward me with his head.  “Worked a shift with her the other night.  Seems pretty good.  Legit even.”  Letting out the breath I didn’t know I was holding, I glance up at Nick and my lips split into a grin, thanking him for saving me.

“Ah, so
you’re
Mitchell.  Chief said we’d be expecting you.  Nice to meet ya.  I’m Flynn.”  The bearded wonder sticks out his hand and with a disgusted look on my face, I accept the gesture.  His face seems remorseful, but it’ll be a while before I let him live down the fact he tried to bag me just a few moments before.

“Christina,” I say through gritted teeth and a fake smile in his direction.  Finally able to step around him, I make my way back to the locker room and pull my uniform from my bag.  Stepping into the private bathroom, I quickly change into my gear and the moment I open the door, Nick’s standing on the other side, on the opposite wall, with his arms crossed across his chest and eyes burning holes through me.

“Hey,” I whisper.  “Thanks for that back there.”

“No problem.”  Nick’s eyes shift to his feet and he almost appears conflicted with what he wants to say next.  When he raises his head, my own eyes sympathetic, knowing today must be one of the hardest days he’s had in a long time, I place my hand on his shoulder and squeeze.

“I know,” I mutter.  “I know.”

“Thanks, Tina.”  His genuine smile melts my heart.  It’s been so long since I’ve seen him, let alone seen him happy.  “Well, I just wanted to make sure these assholes didn’t give you any shit.  They’re not as evolved as the rest of us.”  With a quick pat on the back, Nick walks out of the locker room and I assume back home until his shift tomorrow. 

Back in the mess hall, I find a spot at the long, wooden table and grab the newspaper from the middle.  Reading through all the disaster the city I love has turned into, I mentally prepare myself for a busy shift.  It’s common knowledge the nights are far worse than the days, but I can’t help but feel on edge.  It probably has something to do with the cemetery this morning.  Mortality and all that. 

And where the hell is my partner?  Now that I think about it, I didn’t see him on his bunk when I was upstairs, nor did I hear his snoring.  I glance around the living area and he’s not here, either.

“Hey, any of you know where Mason’s at?” I ask to nobody in particular.  Flynn, the bearded pig from earlier, points toward the chief’s office.  Setting down the depressing article in my hand, I peek around the corner and don’t see Gary in the office, either.  I do, however, see a young—maybe not so young, but younger than —woman with dark, sleek hair pulled back in a long ponytail standing in front of the chief’s desk.

As if he knew I was looking, Max makes eye contact with me and waves me back. 
Great.  Fantastic.
  Being summoned back there is never a good thing.  Unless you’re up for a promotion, that is, which I’m not.  I haven’t even completed two shifts, so I couldn’t be in trouble.  Unless … Nick. 

Knocking on the door jamb, Chief nods his head and I walk through the threshold.  “Morning, Chief,” I say, gently closing the door behind me.

“Mitchell, I’d like you to meet Francesca Martinez.  She’ll be riding with you today.” 

“Mason sick or something?” I ask.

“Nope.  He’s been up for retirement for sometime now.  When we got the word 75 was closing shop, he wanted one shift with you to see if you could cut it here.  Last shift was his final at 22.  You’re running the show over there now, and Martinez, here, is your first trainee.”  Looking pleased with himself, Max leans back in his chair, crossing his arms over his chest with a smile. 

“I’m sorry, Francesca, do you mind if I chat with the chief for a moment?  You can head up and get changed if you like.  There’s a private bathroom in the bunks.”  Trying to remain pleasant—I don’t want to scare the poor girl off—but getting a closer look, she’s a lot younger than me, maybe twenty, meaning she literally
just
completed her required courses. 

“Frankie,” the girl blurts out.  My eyes, as well as the chief’s, whip in her direction.

“Excuse me?” I ask before Max has a chance to say anything.

“You can call me Frankie.  Everyone else does.”

“Okay, well then,
Frankie
, can you give us a minute, please?”

“Sure, no problem.  Thanks again, Chief.  I swear I’m going to do a great job.”  With too much pep in her step,
Frankie
turns on her heels and bounces out of the office and into the mess hall.  Shutting the door behind her, I take a seat in the chair in front of the desk. 

BOOK: Rekindle
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