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Authors: Rick Hautala

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BOOK: The_Demons_Wife_ARC
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After a while,
before dessert, Samael excused himself and went to the restroom, so Claire sat
there staring off across the harbor while trying to rein in her racing
thoughts.

This is all
going too fast…

She couldn’t
deny that Samael was special…unique, and she was determined to take this as far
as it would go, not to let him get away if she could help it, but she kept
warning herself not to go too far too fast.

Let whatever
is happening here evolve on its own time

Que sera,
sera…

If it’s meant
to be, it’s meant to be
, and dozens of other meaningless platitudes
rolled through her mind, but something inside her wanted to dismiss them and
say, “To Hell with all of it…I’m gonna jump!”

After a while—How
long?… It could only have been a few minutes—she realized Samael had been gone
longer than seemed necessary. The panicked thought that he had ditched her
again sent tingling chills through her.

She shifted in
her chair and kept glancing in the direction of the restrooms,
wishing…hoping…praying he would return soon. An almost childish desperation of
wanting never to let him out of her sight filled her with longing. At the same
time, the feeling struck her as amusing.

What the
hell’s the matter with me?
She kept asking herself as she stared out over
the water, tracking a lobster boat as it slid slowly toward one of the
commercial wharves. The wake cut a foam-ridged ‘V’ in the blue water. Seagulls
swooped and darted around the stern of the boat, looking to steal any bait from
the bait barrel or that might fall into the water.

You’re
infatuated…that’s what…with his kindness…his essence.

“Hey, there.”

Samael’s
voice, coming so suddenly from behind, startled her and made her jump, almost
spilling her coffee.

“Don’t ever
sneak up on me like that again,” she said, laughing.

“What? Jumpy?”

Claire
scowled.

“Sorry,” he
said as he pulled his chair away from the table and sat down. A mischievous
smile curled his mouth. “So.” He clapped his hands together. “You want
dessert?”

Ah, the
eternal question
,
Claire thought.
Eat dessert…be happy…and get fat?…Or stick with the ole’
diet?

“Maybe split
something?” she offered, trying to take the middle road.

“You like
blueberry pie? They bake an incredible blueberry pie here,” Samael said.

“Sure. I love
pie,” Claire replied, but before they could get the waitress’ attention, a
steady, loud beeping sound suddenly filled the restaurant. Fear swept through
the restaurant like a brush fire as everyone immediately recognized what it
was.

A fire alarm.

The problem
was…What to do about it?

For what
seemed like entirely too long, everyone sat where they were, looking around as
though they didn’t see the clearly marked fire exits and were expecting a
waiter or the host to make an announcement—probably that it was a false alarm,
and that nobody should panic.

But the fire
alarm continued its high, piercing beep-beep-beep. In the hubbub, Claire
couldn’t make out anything anyone around her was saying. She looked at Samael,
desperate to take a cue from him. He remained seated and appeared to be unfazed
by the sudden commotion around them. In fact, he seemed to be all but unaware
of it.

“What do we
do?” Claire asked, barely hearing herself above the din of the alarm. She
didn’t want to panic…not in front of Samael, but she was worried because no one
“official” seemed to be responding to the alarm. She leaned forward in her
chair, waiting for him to say or do something.

“I doubt it’s
anything to worry about,” Samael replied. She as much read his lips as heard
him. “It’s probably a false alarm…faulty wiring, I’d guess.”

Claire bit
down on her lower lip and nodded. It made sense not to panic even when several
patrons arose from their tables and started for the door. When the first ones
to get there opened it, a funnel of dense, black smoke was sucked into the
restaurant. People staggered back, coughing as they scrambled away from the
exit.

“Jesus!”
Claire shouted.

She wasn’t
positive she heard correctly, but she thought Samael mumbled, “He’s not going
to help you now.”

They made
intense eye contact as the uproar continued and intensified. Smoke was filling
the room fast, now, and people were knocking over tables and chairs, spilling
dishes and silverware onto the floor as they scrambled for another exit, away
from the smoke and—possibly—flames. A doorway at the far end of the room was
marked EXIT, but it was on the opposite side of the restaurant. Already it was
clogged with a long line of people, trying to flee.

“The problem
is,” Samael said calmly, “no one is sure yet where or how bad the fire is.”

Claire flashed
on scenes of the sinking of the Titanic and was concerned that people might be
running straight into danger, not away from it, but she and Samael remained
where they were, watching the mayhem swirl all around them as if they weren’t
the least bit involved. The expression on Samael’s face confused as much as
reassured her. He looked both upset and…pleased, for some reason.

Like he’s
enjoying the chaos
,
Claire thought.

“Well,” he
finally said, pushing his chair back and standing up. He brushed his hands
together, “I’d say lunch is on the house today, wouldn’t you?”

Forgetting her
panic for a moment, she looked into his eyes and couldn’t help but smile. His
eyes were an island of sanity in a sea of madness as smoke rapidly filled the
room with a wide, dark pall.

“What are we
going to—”

But that was
all she got out, because all she could do was watch as Samael grasped the chair
he’d been sitting in by the back and then approached the window that had
offered such a nice view of the harbor. Without any hesitation, he heaved his
body around to one side and then flung the chair toward the window.

The glass
exploded into hundreds of shards that glinted in the sunlight as they spilled
onto the carpeted floor and the restaurant’s boat deck outside.  The absolute
glee on Samael’s face made him look like a little boy setting off firecrackers
on the Fourth of July. His teeth gleamed wickedly in the sun when he turned to
her and, in a voice as steady and calm as if he were asking her to dance, said,
“Shall we?”

The chaos in
the restaurant faded away to nothing as he took Claire’s extended hand and led
her toward the broken window. Her injured foot ached with a dull throb. By this
point, someone had stopped the fire alarm, but Claire could hear the high,
warbling wail of approaching sirens.

So this fire
is really serious
,
she thought, but she was amazed that she wasn’t panicking like everyone
else—everyone, that was, except Samael. He stood calmly by the broken window,
holding her hand and smiling at her.

Heavy, black
smoke filled into the restaurant now, and a sudden surge of panic made Claire
hurriedly step through the broken window. The glass and pieces of the window
frame snapped and cracked underfoot. Her enthusiasm dimmed when she saw the
narrow walkway running the length of the floating restaurant. Between them and
the parking lot…on dry land…there was a heavy curtain of smoke and the flicker
of orange flames, like tongues. A crowd had gathered in the parking lot, and
the early responders in black firefighters’ coats were coming down the gangway
to the restaurant with firefighting equipment.

“Look!” Claire
said, indicating the flames, shooting out from the restaurant between them and
safety. “It’s blocked. We can’t go that way.”

Samael looked
from her to the burning boat and then back to her again. His expression
remained impassive, as if he were in complete control of the situation.

“Maybe coming
this way wasn’t such a good idea,” she said.

“We may have
to jump into the water and swim for it,” he said, smiling. “You don’t mind
getting wet again, do you?”

She didn’t
appreciate the dig about how she had looked last night walking a half mile or
so in a downpour, but the good-humored gleam in his eyes reassured her, and she
laughed along with him.

She couldn’t
stop wondering why she wasn’t freaking out and how Samael was so calm…happy,
even.

The fire was
serious business. More fire trucks, their sirens wailing and emergency lights
flashing, pulled into the parking lot. The crowd grew larger as more and more
rubberneckers showed up. Tourists and residents alike were using their cameras
and cell phones to snap pictures and film the event. 

The walkway
around the edge of the boat was narrow, and Claire was concerned that, with her
injured foot, she might lose her footing and fall into the harbor. She looked
down at the water, surprised to see—up close—how murky and dark and full of
pollution it was. An iridescent rainbow pattern of oil swirled along the
surface. When she noticed a partially submerged beer bottle bobbing up and down
on the swells, all she could think about was the other horrible, yucky
stuff—both natural and man-made—that had to be down there.

She’d need
shots if she ever fell into that water. 

A deep
trembling fear filled her gut. But when she looked at Samael, those
feelings—well, if they didn’t go away exactly, they certainly subsided.

Samael had
that way about him.

“What do you
think?” he asked, still smiling like this was just another normal part of his
day.

When Claire
took a step away from him, pain shot up her leg from the wound on her foot.
Tears filmed her eyes as she realized exactly how dangerous this situation
truly was. She wondered about the other people in the restaurant…had they all
gotten out safely? Or were they trapped inside as the smoke filled the room and
flames swept toward them? They’d die of asphyxiation before the flames got
them.

This wasn’t a
casual adventure…a harmless lark.

This was some
serious shit.

“Come on,
then,” Samael said. He lunged forward and grabbed her by the wrist. His grip
was surprisingly strong and actually burned her skin as he jerked her forward
so hard she almost lost balance.

Is he
purposely trying to make me to fall?
She wondered, but she felt remarkably
light, like a silk scarf, as he pulled her along with him. By this time, flames
were licking out of one of the portholes. As they approached it, Claire could
all too easily imagine that both she and Samael would be incinerated, but she
had to trust him.

Didn’t she?

She
realized—again—that she was putting an awful lot of faith into someone she
barely knew. 

 Her feet kept
slipping and sliding on the deck. The soles of her shoes made loud squeaking
noises, like sneakers on a basketball court. She felt as though she were
balancing on a tightrope.

Don’t look
down!

They were
about halfway to the front of the boat when the porthole in front of them
suddenly blew open with a flash. Flames and broken glass exploded like shrapnel
in front of them, sizzling as it splashed into the harbor. Claire screamed and
shied away, but Samael kept moving ahead, getting closer to the tongue of flame
that was now licking up the side of the boat. It was almost invisible against
the bright blue sky.

Do not look
down!

Claire tried
to shut out the commotion all around her. She had to focus on taking one step
at a time and holding on to Samael. Every other step was like stepping onto a
nail. But she had to trust him.

As he
approached the virtual wall of flame, Claire looked up, thinking they may have
to climb onto the roof of the boat in order to get away, but who was to say the
fire wasn’t worse up on the roof. Paint on the side of the boat began to bubble
up and peel away as the heat inside the restaurant rose higher and higher.

The whole
thing’s gonna blow up…We’re all gonna die
, Claire thought.

Tears now
filled her eyes when she wondered how all of her friends and family and
coworkers were going to react when they heard how she had died. The thought
passed through her head that it was at least better than dying a slow, painful
death with cancer…or Alzheimer’s.

But dying by
fire?

She had heard
or read somewhere that burning was one of, if not the most painful way to die
because you inhaled the flames, and they incinerated your lungs before you
died, so you couldn’t scream or cry for help. You couldn’t even breathe. Of
course Samael, being a demon, could have told her a lot about it, but she
didn’t know that yet.

She looked
down at the water again, thinking it might be better to take her chances by
jumping in, but Samael kept pulling her forward relentlessly, closer…and closer
to the flames that were blasting from the broken porthole and ripping up the
side of the restaurant.

BOOK: The_Demons_Wife_ARC
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