The only fire he can’t put out is the one inside my heart.
-Adeline’s future self
“What is that smell?” I sniffed.
Getting up, I followed the smell with my nose until I wound up in my bathroom.
“What the hell is that?” I gasped as I saw smoke seeping through the floor of my bathroom.
“Oh, my God!” I wheezed.
Running to my room, I made a mad dash for my cell phone and started dialing 911 immediately.
“911, what’s your emergency?” The thick Cajun sounding woman’s voice asked.
“Um, yes. This is Adeline Sheffield. I live in the apartment complex of Hunter Hollows, apartment 1B. I can smell smoke, and something weird coming through the floor of my bathroom. I’m not really sure if anything is on fire, per say, but there is so much coming through my floor that it’s leaving a hazy film in the air.”
“Alright, we’ll have the fire department and an officer alerted right now. Can you give me your physical address?” The woman asked.
I rattled off the address and hung up despite the woman’s concern for me to stay connected.
I didn’t have time for that.
If I had to evacuate, I needed to start collecting my pets. Pronto.
Running through my apartment, I started looking in Monty’s usual haunts, but couldn’t find him.
“Monty, you big bastard. Where are you?” I hissed when I didn’t find him under the couch, above the mantle, or in the kitchen sink.
I knew he couldn’t be in with the rest of my newly acquired friends, because I’d kept the door closed, and he was just too darn big to get in without me opening the door for him first.
After five minutes of no results, I started getting nervous.
Had he gotten out? Oh, shit. Please be inside here somewhere, Monty. I pleaded while going inside my spare bedroom and doing a quick inventory.
“BFD! Mrs. Sheffield?” A man’s deep baritone voice echoed from the living room.
“Damn. Piss. Monty, you asshole.” I growled before running back to the front door.
Disengaging the locks, I yanked the door open with barely concealed frustration and about fell on my ass when a fist the size of a phone book came inches away from slamming into my head.
“Jesus, I’m sorry. Are you okay?” Phone book hand asked.
I waved a dismissive hand. “I’m fine. You didn’t touch me. Is the apartment downstairs on fire?”
The firefighter, who was taller than my door jam, shook his head as if he was confused. “I’m sorry. We don’t know yet. You were the lady that called it in?”
At my nod, he continued. “Can I see the source of the smoke? We’re trying to get management to let us in, but since there’s no visible smoke from the outside, we’re not allowed to enter without permission.”
I turned and said, “Sure. Just close the door. I don’t want Monty getting out.”
That was if the slippery bastard wasn’t already out. He was prone to do that from time to time. Not that anyone in my complex knew that. He always came back. He’d get hungry, and he was a really lazy boy.
“It’s coming through the floor in my bathroom. There’s a really weird smell to it.” I said as I lead the large, intimidating man into my sanctuary.
“Nice bed.” The man rumbled.
The man’s voice was to die for, and somehow familiar.
I shivered as the low, deep tone of his voice slithered down my spine.
Smiling, I looked over my shoulder at him and my breath caught in my throat. The man was even more attractive inside where I could see his face. And I knew him. I’d seen him around town more than once. It’s a small town, and really hard not to start recognizing people when you see them on your way to work every day.
The man ran. Daily. With his shirt off.
I sat on my porch every morning and watched as he ran from one side of the road I lived on, to the other.
Then I move to the front and watch him make a full circuit through the complex’s parking lot before I have to leave for work.
Then I might possibly pass him on the way to work, depending on how far he ran that morning.
He was tan, and had the most piercing pale blue eyes I’d ever seen.
That wasn’t even mentioning the rock hard abs, and the sexy grooves that ran down his stomach to form a V at the base of his abdomen.
Unfortunately, the helmet on his head kept me from seeing his hair color, and the jacket and pants kept me from seeing the rest of him, which was truly saddening, but I knew he was gorgeous.
What I came up with one morning, however, was that he was either taken or gay. ‘Cause nobody that polished and good looking could be anything but. Life didn’t work like that.
“Thanks,” I said, trying to distract myself from asking if he wanted to join me on my nice bed.
Then his nose wrinkled as he took a sniff and grimaced. “Weed.”
My stomach rumbled, and I closed my eyes in embarrassment.
“Huh?” I asked, taking a step further to the side to let him see my bathroom floor, or lack thereof, since there was now so much smoke in there that a blanket of it was making the floor nearly impossible to see.
Which was why when a large slithering body started to curl around my foot and then further up my leg I let out a startled shriek.
The shriek made the big man beside me react instantly, looking around as he tried to spy the threat that was looming over me. “What is it?” He asked urgently.
I placed my hand over my heart, willing it to slow.
“Nothing. It’s just Monty.” I said, leaning down and picking up my six foot long Burmese Python off the floor and settling him firmly around my neck and shoulders.
The man looked at me as if he couldn’t believe I’d just picked up a snake the size of a pool noodle. “What?” I asked in confusion.
The man shook himself again. “Nothing. Can you come downstairs? I don’t want to keep you up here just in case. Will your, ah… snake, run away…I mean slither away if you take him without his cage?”
I nearly laughed at the large man as his eyes kept dodging around the room looking for means of escape.
So he wasn’t a snake person, was he? Maybe I shouldn’t show him my other room. He might get a little freaked out.
“Of course,” I replied. “I don’t really know my neighbors all that well. I’ve only lived here for a month. My name’s Adeline Sheffield.”
I followed him out of the apartment and came to a stop on the landing. “Do I need to lock it?” I asked thoughtfully.
He stopped four steps down, and it put me right at eye level with him. Geez, how tall was this guy? Eight feet?
“Nah,” he said. “We’re just going to be right down there. It’s probably nothing, anyway.”
I nodded, and then followed him down until he came to a stop before another big man. Only this one wasn’t as tall as him. And he was in just the bottom part of the bunker gear. His jacket was laying on the passenger seat of the big, red fire truck that was parked right outside my front door.
Wow. They sure did know how to grow ‘em in the South, didn’t they?
Holy shit. The woman was hot.
And I’d nearly hit her over the head with my fist when I went to knock on her door.
That would’ve been fun to explain to my superiors. ‘I accidentally whacked her in the face when I was knocking on the door. I didn’t mean to knock her out. Promise.’
On the bright side, I knew her name.
It didn’t fit her. Not with all those tattoos. She looked more like a Cat, or a Roxie.
The woman was hotter than fuck.
She had black hair that was slicked back into a funky ponytail at the tiptop of her head, and she was wearing a killer pair of jeans that made her ass look like a dream.
The shirt she was wearing was skimpy, and most likely was an undershirt of some sort. It showed off her small breasts perfectly, and I could make out every single bump of her hard nipples and areola.
It also showed off the multiple tattoos on her back, forearm, shoulder, and wrist.
“What’s the situation?” Sebastian, my best friend, brother, and boss, interrupted my degenerating thoughts.
Sebastian and I had been best friends for over ten years now. We’d met while we were fighting fires overseas in the military.
Although that’s where the similarities ended.
Sebastian had been a firefighter in the marines while I’d been a firefighter in the Army.
We’d been in different military branches, yet come together to fight a common enemy.
“Goliath thinks they’re smoking weed in the apartment below me and it’s coming up through my floor.” Adeline said, smoothing her dainty hands over the snake’s lithe body.
Sebastian, who’d been watching the happenings going on at the bottom apartment, snapped his eyes to the woman. They promptly widened when he saw her.
Or maybe it was the six foot fucking snake wrapped around her neck and shoulders.
“Uhh, yeah. We’ve gotten calls to this place before. The man underneath you is dying of liver cancer and imbibes from time to time to control the pain. He lives with his teenage grandson, and the grandson isn’t known for his restraint. They’re probably lighting up together like they’ve done countless times before.” Sebastian said, tilting his head slightly, trying to figure the woman out.
“Mr. Bonner? I thought he was just kind of crazy. I guess it makes sense though. How sad.” Adeline replied morosely.
A commotion coming from the end of the parking lot had us all turning to see a frazzled woman in stilettos and the shortest skirt I’d ever seen running towards us.
Her tits were bouncing like the little bobble head dolls you see on dashboards, and looked perilously close to popping out of her skimpy little tube top all together if she didn’t slow down.
“I’m so sorry,” Bouncy Boobs apologized. “I was on a date. Which apartment do you need into?”
Adeline snorted. “Must have been some date.”
I barely contained my laugh in time before BB was bouncing her way to us.
“1A, ma’am.” Sebastian replied soberly.
He wasn’t in a laughing mood, apparently.
“Yes, yes,” she said hustling to the door.
The back looked even worse than the front. I could make out the red outline of her thong just above her slip of a skirt, and if I had to guess, a cell phone tucked into the back so-called pocket.
“There you go; is there anything else I can help you with?” BB asked.
We waited patiently as the woman backed up and walked back to her car, not even giving the men entering into one of her properties another thought.
“Umm, is that your cat?” Sebastian asked worriedly, looking up at the window ledge of her apartment.
Adeline cursed soundly when she saw her cat leaning out the open window to her apartment. She disentangled herself from the snake, and thrust the beast into my hands before taking off at a sprint.
Now that was the type of ass you should be looking at and appreciating, I thought.
“The last time someone asked you to hold their snake it was that transvestite at the bar in Minneapolis.” Sebastian observed lightly.
“Fuck off,” I said as I held the large snake in my hands at arm’s length.
“Give it to me and go check out the apartment. Be careful.” He ordered.
Handing the thing off gladly, I walked slowly into the apartment.
It was cluttered.
Furniture lined the walls from one side of the doorjamb to the other, and in some places pieces stood two deep. In fact, there was a couch in front of a couch that had a coffee table in front of it.
This could almost qualify as hoarders, furniture style.
“Benton Fire Department!” I yelled once I cleared the first room.
After not hearing a reply, I cleared the kitchen, and then went to the back bedroom.
The smoke was thicker in the hallway, meaning whatever was done, was done in the bedroom area. Which explained why it was coming up through Adeline’s floor.
“BFD!” I yelled again.
Then had to control a snicker. It got to me every single time.
BFD-Big Fucking Deal! Just kidding.
After getting my inner giggles under control, ‘cause apparently it wasn’t manly to giggle, I walked into the first bedroom and sighed.
We had a stiffy.
Reaching for my radio, I called over the airwaves. “Stiffy.”
“Copy.” Sebastian confirmed.
How did I know it was a stiffy? The man, who’d obviously been enjoying his weed based on the fifteen joints just in the first ashtray, was doing the thousand yard stare, and not from the high he’d gotten.
The thousand yard stare, in the medical field, was roughly based on a dead person having that ‘look;’ the one where there wasn’t any life left there to give their eyes ‘depth.’
This man was sporting that look, not to mention that his chest wasn’t moving.
“What the fuck man, you said he was dead, not that he was murdered.” Dallas whined.
“Stiffy means dead. And he’s dead.” I replied dryly.
“Well, shit.” Dallas sighed. “Now we’re going to be sitting here until the parish coroner gets here. Who knows when the fuck that’s gonna be. It’s Friday night, you know my poker nights are always on Fridays.”
Dallas was a good kid. He was twenty-two and had passed the firefighter certification just a few months ago.
He was also the Mayor of Benton’s son. The mayor had also been a firefighter, himself, before he’d had a heart attack and his wife put her foot down, insisting that he leave the service before he died and left their young family alone.
Dallas was a quick learner, and didn’t get pissed when you told him to do something he thought was below him like I’d seen some do.
He was also interested in prospecting for the Dixie Wardens.
The Dixie Wardens was my club.
I’d joined with Sebastian over ten years ago now, and I thought of them as family.
I’d been on the fence about them when Sebastian had mentioned the club to me the first time. Benton was a small town, and I knew that the town would know everything that went on with the club. I wasn’t quite sure I wanted to be in the middle of town gossip for the rest of my life.
At the time, I was young and loved riding my Shovelhead wherever the hell I felt like it. I wasn’t so sure belonging to a club was a way to stay free, to be what I wanted to be. There was no one and nothing stopping me from riding for two days straight like I’d been known to do now and then. Then Sebastian suggested patching in, having someone to share the road with if I ever wanted it, and my life had changed.
Suddenly, I had an enormous family.
A family that gave a shit about me and, by default, my sister when previously we’d had nobody.
“Alright, I’ll be right outside. Make sure the body doesn’t go anywhere.” I tried to say as seriously as I could; which happened to be not that much.
Dallas rolled his eyes and backed out of the room until he was standing in the doorway between the hallway and the bedroom, taking up position.
I found Sebastian outside, snake still curling around his arms, and a worried Adeline standing beside him. “Do you think my other pets will be okay in that?”
I walked up on the latest comment, and Sebastian’s expression clearly said, ‘Fix this.’
“It’s not the harmful smoke from a fire. It’s just from the guy chain smoking his pot.” I tried.
“So you don’t consider pot smoke harmful at all, or is it only to animals you don’t consider it harmful to?” She asked curiously.
Uh-oh. I knew a loaded question when I heard one. The question was, what exactly was she wanting me to say? That I didn’t think weed was that bad, or that weed was the devil. Or was she only worried about her animals, and not herself?
Jesus. I hated women’s minds. Why couldn’t they just be straight forward?
“I think your pets will be fine. The smoke will clear out once we open a few windows, and you can do the same in your place.” I sidestepped.
She smiled widely at me. “Nice save you just made there.”
“How many animals do you have up there anyway?” I asked curiously.
She blushed. “Well, quite a few actually. But they’re all in cages. And it’s only temporary. I saved them.”
Sebastian, who’d been doing his best to ignore the woman until she said she’d saved them, looked at me with widened eyes.
“From a facility that wasn’t taking care of them.” She hedged.
Then little facts started sinking in, mainly in the form of a huge news story that was sweeping over the South.
A week ago, a facility in Southern Louisiana that supposedly ‘didn’t test on animals’ had some lab equipment go missing and they suspected an ex-employee. That ex-employee being about 5’5 with black hair and gray eyes, uncannily similar to the woman standing in front of me.
“Well, I think it’s time for you to get Monty back into his cage. The police will be here any minute.” Sebastian informed her, holding out his arms for Adeline to take the snake.
Adeline didn’t waste any time hustling back up the stairs without a goodbye, and I couldn’t help but be intrigued. A woman that looked like her didn’t strike me as working in a testing facility at all.
“Cops are here.” Sebastian noted a few minutes later.
My eyes turned in that direction and groaned.
Sebastian turned as well and barely stifled his laughter.
“Aw, shit.” I sighed.
“Boys,” the bane of my existence, and ex-girlfriend, Detective Annalise Hernandez, drawled.
Annalise wasn’t a bad woman. I just liked my women a little less…brash and ballsy.
Annalise was a seasoned detective on the Benton Police Department, and she’s beautiful. But beauty wasn’t the only thing I was looking for. I liked my women soft and warm, not cold and hard.
I’d gone out with Annalise for nearly five months before I finally realized that no matter how much work I put into the relationship, I would never be able to make it work. Not to mention the fact that she didn’t approve of the Dixie Wardens and went out of her way to make that known.
“Annalise,” I nodded. “How are you?”
“What have we got?” She said briskly, ignoring the niceties that I tried to engage her in.
Annalise didn’t know why our relationship didn’t work, and I never had the desire to explain to her that she was too much like one of the guys, rather than a girlfriend. I didn’t think she’d appreciate that too much. Instead, I’d just told her I wasn’t interested in her anymore and left it at that.
Harsh, yes, but in the end it saved some hurt feelings on her part.
Sebastian answered her question when she raised her eyebrows at me in question. “Older male, late seventies. Dead. Sword through the chest.”
“Witnesses?” She asked.
They both shrugged.
“Alright, back off and let me do my job.” She ordered and left to speak with the officer that was first on the scene.
“You heard the man,” Sebastian said.
At my glare, Sebastian laughed.
“Funny.” I growled.