Flashback

As they accessed their equipment and laid out lines, three police squad cars tore into the lot, followed by the command squad, all of whom leapt to work on evacuating the surrounding docks. Aidan and company needed to contain the flames, but the explosion burned outrageously hot. He could feel that mind-numbing heat from a hundred feet back. With the Chief now on scene barking orders into their radios, Aidan and the others moved with their gear, their objective to keep the flames from spreading to any of the other boats. They were halfway there with their hoses when it came.

A sharp, terrified scream.

The sound raised the hair on the back of Aidan’s neck, and he dropped everything to run towards the burning boat, Ty right behind him.

The scream came again, clearly female, and Aidan sped up. No one knew better than a firefighter what it was like to be surrounded by flames, to have them lick at you, toy with you. It was sheer, horrifying terror.

They had to get to her first.

Behind them came Sam, Eddie, Cristina and Aaron, directing water on the flames while Aidan and Ty went into rescue mode, pounding down the dock toward the boat. Twenty feet, then ten, and that’s when he saw her. A woman standing on the deck of the burning boat, wobbling, the flames at her back.

“Jump!” he yelled, wondering why she didn’t just make the short leap to the dock, where she could have made a run for safety from there. “Jump‹”

Another exposition rocked them all. Aidan skidded to a halt, spinning away, crouching down as debris flew up into the air to match the new and determined flames. The chief was shouting into the radio, demanding a head count. Aidan lifted his head and checked in as he took in the sights. The boat was still there, and with his heart in his throat, he searched for a visual on the woman–

There. In the same spot she’d been before, still on the boat, on the floor of the deck now, holding her head. Goddamnit. He got to his feet, took a running few steps, and jumped onto the boat with her.

She nearly leapt out of her skin when he landed next to her. “It’s okay.” He dropped to his knees at her side to try to get a good look and see how badly she was injured, but the smoke had choked out any light from the docks and she was nothing but a slight shadow. A slight shadow who was hunched over and coughing uncontrollably.

“The boat…” she managed. “It k-keeps b-blowing up…”

“Can you stand?”

“Yes. I…” She let out a sound that tugged at his memory, but he pushed that aside when she nodded. She got up with his help, twisting away from him to stare up at the flames shooting up the mast and sails. “Ohmigod…”

He pulled her closer to his side, where he intended to turn them both toward the dock and get the hell off this inferno, but several things hit him at once.

The name of the boat painted across the outside of the cabin, flickering in and out of view between the flames.

Blake’s Girl.

No. It couldn’t be. But then came something far more immediate — the rumbling and shuddering of the deck beneath their feet. “We have to move.”

“No. No, please,” she gasped. “You have to save the boat.”

“Us first.” He couldn’t have put together a more coherent sentence because of all that was going through his head. Blake’s Girl . . .

Blake’s boat. God, he’d all but forgotten that Blake had owned a boat.

Then there was the woman in his arms, still facing away from him, still invoking that niggling sense of familiarity. There was something about her wild blonde curls, about the sound of her voice, as the warning signals in his brain peaked at once.

So did the fire. In just the past thirty seconds, the flames had doubled in strength and heat. The deck beneath their feet trembled and quivered with latest and simmering violence.

They were going to blow sky high. Whipping toward the dock with the intent to jump with her, he got another nasty surprise ­ the flames had covered their safe exit.

On the other side of those monstrous flames stood Ty, Eddie and Sam, hoses in hand, battling the fire from their angle, which wasn’t going to help Aidan and his victim in time. Cristina was there too, with Aaron, and even in the dark he sensed their urgency, their utter determination to keep him safe.

They’d so recently lost one of their own, there was no way they were going to let it happen again.

“Ohmigod,” the woman at his side gasped, staring at the sight of the flames closing in on them as if mesmerized.

She wasn’t the only one suddenly mesmerized, and for one startlingly heartbeat in time, Aidan went utterly still, as for the first time he caught full glimpse of her.

He knew that profile.

He knew her. “Kenzie?”

At the sound of her name on his lips, uttered in his low, hoarse, surprised voice, her head whipped to his, eyes wide. Her wavy blonde hair framed a pale face streaked with dirt and some blood, but was still beautiful, hauntingly so.

She was Mackenzie Stafford, Blake’s sister. Kenzie to those who knew and loved her, including all the millions of viewers who knew her as Sissy Hope on the soap opera Hope’s Passion.

She was no a stranger to Aidan, but not because of her television stardom. Aidan knew her personally.

Very personally. “Kenzie.”

“I can’t– I can’t hear you.”

People never expected fire to be so noisy, but it was. The flames crackled and roared at near ear-splitting decibels as it devoured its way through everything in its path.

Including them if they didn’t move, a knowledge that was enough to pull his head out of his ass and get with the program. Old lover or not, he still had to get her out of here alive. But she was looking at him through Blake’s eyes, and his heart and gut wrenched hard. There was maybe twenty feet of water between the Blake’s Girl and the next boat, which was starting to smoke as well, and would undoubtedly catch on fire any second. It didn’t matter. They had no choice. “Kenzie, when I say so, I want you to hold your breath.”

“D–do I know you?”

He wore a helmet and all the gear, and in the dark, not to mention the complete and utter chaos around them, there was no way she could see him clearly. Still, he had to admit it stung. “It’s me, Aidan. Hold your breath now, on my count.”

“Aidan, my God.”

“Ready?”

“The boat’s going to go, every inch of it, isn’t it?”

Yep, including the few square inches they were standing on. In fact, it was going to go much more quickly than he’d have liked. Since they couldn’t get to the dock, it was into the ocean for them, where they’d wait for rescue.

“No,” she said, shaking her head. “There’s got to be another way.”

Unfortunately there wasn’t, and he quickly stripped out of his protective jacket and gear because the seventy-five pounds of extra weight wouldn’t be a day in the park while treading water and holding up a victim
to boot. At least she was conscious. She didn’t appear to have on any shoes, or anything particularly heavy on her person, all of which were points in her favor. “On three, okay? Remember to hold your breath.”

“I don’t think–”

“Perfect. Go with that. One–” He nudged her in front of him, pushing
her to the railing.

“Aidan–”

“Two–”

“Are you crazy?”

“Three.”

“Hell, no. I’m not going into the‹”

He dropped her into the water, and she screamed all the way down.