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Authors: Em Petrova

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Vital Signs

BOOK: Vital Signs
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Warning: The unauthorized reproduction or distribution of this copyrighted work is illegal. No part of this book may be scanned, uploaded or distributed via the Internet or any other means, electronic or print, without the publisher’s permission. Criminal copyright infringement, including infringement without monetary gain, is investigated by the FBI and is punishable by up to 5 years in federal prison and a fine of $250,000 (http://www.fbi.gov/ipr/).

 

Published by The Hartwood Publishing Group, LLC,

Hartwood Publishing, Phoenix, Arizona

www.hartwoodpublishing.com

 

Vital Signs

 

Copyright © 2016 by Em Petrova

Digital Release: May 2016

 

All Rights Reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews.

 

This book is a work of fiction. The names, characters, places, and incidents are products of the writer’s imagination, or have been used fictitiously and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to persons, living or dead, actual events, locales, or organizations is entirely coincidental.

 

Vital Signs by Em Petrova

Corey ran into a burning building and came out on a backboard with a beautiful dark-haired angel looking over him. She follows him all the way to the hospital, where he learns he’s out of commission for twelve weeks after surgery. Trouble is, there’s an arsonist on the loose and the building that the East Street Firefighters call home can’t raise enough money to keep the place from being condemned.

To make matters worse, Corey’s battling a bad case of cabin fever and some major blue balls, thanks to the medic who saved him. The exotic beauty, Sarita, knows her stuff and she refuses to let Corey take any chances with his health. Surely sexual intercourse is part of his healing plan?

Sarita has seen enough stubborn heroes in her lifetime, and the forty-something fireman is no exception. Too bad her body is pushing her into his big, strong arms and more than capable hands. While she battles her attraction and a promise made to her mother in her homeland to stand proudly on her own two feet before finding love, he’s determined to take the lead on this mission to entrap the arsonist, ending his pyrotechnic career once and for all. Can she stand by and watch him put himself at risk, or will she throw herself into the flames and hope they both come out unscathed?

 

Chapter One

Corey stared up at the ten-foot tall wall of flames. Damn, he’d chosen the wrong career. Not that he didn’t love the feeling of getting victims to safety. He could just do without the fire part.

With a heavy sigh, he took stock of his surroundings—what he could see anyway. His fellow East Street firefighters’ voices echoed in his ears. Throwing insults and banter as they searched the house for owners who luckily were not home.

But noises had been reported by the first responders on the scene, so Corey was going in
.

He stormed into the flames. Blasted by heat, a roar in his head. Fire licked up the walls and shot through the roof above. The floor seemed to be moving, crawling with orange serpents.

He stared at them for a full heartbeat, awed by their strange dance.
Only a firefighter would think this inferno is actually beautiful.

Shaking himself, he continued on. Damn, he was feeling a little off tonight for sure.

He took a few steps and noted movement on a twin bed. The edges of a comforter were on fire, and in the center of the bed was a quaking dog. Crap, it wasn’t a tiny dog he could fit inside his firefighter’s helmet either. It was a freaking German Shepherd, well over a hundred pounds.

He’d carried a lot bigger humans from peril, but dogs were trickier. They tended to squirm and not want to be carried except with his arms around all four legs.

“I’ve got a dog,” he said through his communication system. “C’mere, pup.” His voice sounded rough and tinny.

“I’ve got your back,” Gabriel said from behind him.

Corey reached for the dog carefully. Animals often cowered or bolted in situations like this. He extended his fist and allowed the dog to sniff him. When it accepted his offering and didn’t run, Corey flipped his gloved hand over and gently stroked its head right below its pointed ear.

The dog pushed into his touch, probably desperate for any human contact after being terrified and surrounded by fire.

“You got him, bro?” Gabriel asked, his voice tense. “We need water back here!”

As several men filled the room, a hose strung between them, the dog crouched. Before it made a break for it, Corey wrapped his arms around the animal and pulled it against his chest. It quivered, but he spoke soothing words as he hurried from the burning space.

He took four steps. Five. Air and heat rushed by him. The dog kicked.

The floor was gone.

He locked his arms tighter around the dog. Pain seared through him, blinding his mind to anything but the screams throbbing in his ears.

“Corey!”

He tried to raise his head but everything in his body was twitching, useless. Something long and hard projected near his face. Mind floating, some of the pain subsiding, he followed the lines downward.

It’s coming out of me.

Panic flooded him.

“Jesus, don’t move, man. Hold on. We’re coming for you.” Jagger’s voice in his head. He latched onto it, allowing his buddy’s voice to ground him. In his arms, the dog seemed limp, but its chest moved as if it was panting.
Alive. The dog’s alive.

I’m alive.

For now.

Minutes felt like hours. He hung there, impaled on a metal…what? Pipe? It had to be. His mind skittered over the logistics, such as where had it entered and where did it exit?

No way had it missed vital organs. He was in deep shit.

He couldn’t touch on the thought without his heart tripping, so he focused on the dog. “Wh-what’s your…name?”

The dog panted in his hold. He had no idea how he was still clinging to the animal. Or maybe there was no way to let it go—his arms were frozen.

“Fuck.” Jagger’s eyes loomed in front of him. Above them a whole house burned. When it collapsed, Corey, the dog, and Jagger would be crushed. “Hold on, man. We’ve got you.”

“Someone get the torch!”

In the back of his mind he revisited East Street’s training on the gasoline-oxygen cutting torch used to cut thick steel. Jesus, was he impaled on something steel?

“Give me the dog, Corey. It’s okay. Just relax your hold.” Jagger’s firm command gave him something else to hold onto. He stared into his friend’s eyes and the dog was removed from his arms. The minute he tried to lower his arms, pain in his torso ripped through him.

Hot fire. A pain like that… He was in deeper trouble than he’d first believed. He wasn’t going to make it.

He bellowed.

∙•∙

When he opened his eyes and saw the angel hovering over him, his eyes fluttered. Beautiful brown skin. Glossy dark hair waving back from a widow’s peak on a high forehead. Long, arching brows over very dark espresso eyes.

“He’s conscious. Corey, I’m Sarita. Can you hear me?”

He tried to nod but had no control over his body anymore.

“Blink if you hear me.”

Closing his eyes meant he might lose sight of her. His guardian angel.

“Blink if you hear me,” she insisted, her voice lightly accented but hard enough to make him obey.

He did as she asked, and her breath of relief washed over his face. Sweet and minty. She probably tasted that way too.

He wet his dry lips. Where was his gear? Someone had removed his helmet and mask. He was locked on his side to something rigid. If he concentrated hard, he detected a swaying motion. He was moving.

“Where am I?” he asked the angel. What was her name?
Sarita.

“You’re on your way to Mercy Hospital’s Trauma Unit. You’ve had an accident, but we’re taking good care of you. Just rest now, Corey.” She rolled her R when she said his name. Was that her hand he felt on the side of his face? He closed his eyes. The lids felt so heavy.

“Rest, brave firefighter. We’ll keep you safe.” She caressed along his jaw. When he opened his eyes again, her gaze burned with intensity. As if a small candle were lit inside her, reaching through the depths of her dark eyes to reach him.

He tried to move his hand to touch hers where it rested on his cheek but couldn’t. He was strapped down.

Or paralyzed.

He didn’t want to consider that thought for a minute. He wasn’t paralyzed—he’d been holding the dog.

“The dog…” he grated out, sounding as though he’d sucked in smoke.

“He’s all right. He’s with his family now.”

Relief was a warm trickle through his system. Or maybe that was painkiller. He felt the strange hollow feeling of being high. He didn’t react well to painkillers. Last time he’d had a tooth ache, he’d gone loopy for a day or two before he realized the meds were the culprit. Maybe he was hallucinating again. The woman above him was the most beautiful specimen he’d ever seen.

“Wha…What was the dog’s name?”

“Champ.” The angel—Sarita—smiled. A soft smile that reached out and gripped him around the heart. “Rest now, brave man. Save your energy.”

He couldn’t hold his eyes open no matter how much he wanted to. He drifted off with her warm, silky touch on his face. A good memory to hang on to.

When he awakened again, he was bandaged like a mummy and screaming in pain.

»»•««

Sarita gripped the cup of coffee, allowing the warmth to seep into her chilled fingers. As an EMT she saw a lot of terrible stuff. Blood didn’t bother her as much as it had six months ago when she’d arrived from the Dominican Republic and achieved her dream to help people.

And to stand on my own feet.
She could nearly hear her
mami
shouting for joy that her little girl had escaped poverty and found work she adored.

Visions of that god-like firefighter lying on his side, the thick steel pipe still protruding from his body, rose in her mind. Goosebumps coated her forearms. She quickly sank to the waiting room chair to let her hot coffee help with the permanent frozen feeling that had settled in her.

She took a sip of strong black coffee. Since she was a kid, she’d been the stalwart one in her group of friends—bandaging knees and removing splinters. Early on she’d told her
mami
she wanted to help people who were hurt. For the most part, she could stomach any horror she encountered, and do it with a calm efficiency.

But today when the East Street firefighters carried their buddy out of the burning building and she’d set eyes on the man’s white face and big, haunted eyes, something deep inside her flipped over.

As she’d worked fast to get his vital signs and stabilize him, she’d had to avert her gaze from the pipe projecting from his strong body. The sight of it turned her stomach, but not because of the blood and gore.

No, it was seeing a man as virile as Corey sliced in half. The foreign object seemingly part of him in a grotesque and unnatural way that only lived in horror movies.

She shuddered again, and a hand rested on her shoulder. Tipping her head back, she stared into her partner’s face. He didn’t seem to be suffering from the same shock she was.

“Peter. Have you heard anything about the patient we brought in?”

“They’re prepping him for surgery. You did a hell of a job immobilizing that pipe, Sarita. I heard that if it had moved an inch to the right, an artery would have ruptured.”

She swallowed hard, icy shards of unease skating down her spine. “I just did my job.”

“Of course you did, but you do a damn good job is what I’m saying.”

“Thank you.”

When he sank to the seat next to her, a ghost of a smile touched her lips. “What of the dog?”

“Fine. Claimed by his owners and in fine health.” Peter took up staring at the TV screen high on the wall. Some news channel spouted a constant stream of chatter she had no mind for ingesting.

Corey’s eyes seemed to loom in front of her. He was an extremely handsome man. Angular jaw, a fine, straight nose. His brown hair—shot with more silver than brown—clung to his head in waves any girl would itch to run her fingers through.

On the race to the hospital, she’d gathered all the info she could about Corey. Forty-two-year-old firefighter for East Street Firehouse. The house had been on the news a lot lately, and she couldn’t exactly recall why.

“What was going on with East Street Firehouse again?” she asked Peter.

“Building’s condemned. Too many code violations to fix up. They’ve been trying to raise the money and haven’t been very successful. People don’t like to open their pockets these days.”

Where she came from, the people didn’t have much, but they understood the role of the fire department in their lives. Without them, many would lose everything they had, including loved ones. If this were the Dominican Republic instead of Northern California, the people would rally. Of course, Peter was right. People struggled everywhere, and who was she to judge how they spent their hard-earned income?

BOOK: Vital Signs
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