Reese was a dark silhouette against the fire, searching through the debris. He stopped suddenly, and I saw him lift Mel’s still form, carrying her toward me. Then he was laying her in the grass and noises started filling my ears again. I fell to my knees next to her body.
Oh God. Mellie …
She looked dead.
“I’m calling nine one one!” someone yelled behind us, startling me. I was still stunned—I couldn’t seem to think. I needed to check her pulse, make sure she was breathing. Old training kicked in, and I could have cried in gratitude for the CPR classes I’d taken over the years. I found her pulse. Weak, but definitely present. Then I leaned my face into her mouth and nose, praying I’d feel her breathe against my skin.
Air tickled my cheek.
“She’s alive,” I whispered. Tears rolled down my face.
“Thank fuck for that,” Reese muttered, pulling me into his arms as one of my neighbors knelt next to Melanie, covering her with a blanket. The wall of safety came crashing down around me and I started to shake.
My house was gone. I’d almost lost Melanie … What the hell could possibly explain this?
The wailing howls of emergency vehicles filled the air. I heard a car screech to a stop, and out of the corner of my eye I vaguely noticed that a man in a sheriff’s uniform had stepped out, speaking into his shoulder radio urgently.
Then a fire engine rumbled down the street. Firefighters ran past me, dragging their hoses with them, and EMTs swarmed Mellie’s still form.
To my relief they weren’t doing anything that looked serious and scary like you see on TV—no chest compressions or IVs or shocking her with shiny paddles. Instead they monitored her vitals, voices calm as they methodically got a neck brace on her before rolling her onto a backboard. Seconds later they lifted the entire apparatus—backboard and all—onto the rolling gurney and started back toward their vehicle.
“That board won’t do much good if you already paralyzed her. Should’ve left her where you found her,” I heard a familiar voice say. I looked up to find Nate standing over me, his voice full of venom. I pulled away from Reese and stood slowly. Nate reached a hand down to help me, but Reese caught my arm.
“Stay the fuck away from my woman,” he growled. Nate’s eyes went wide.
“Guess that cunt’s not made of gold after all?” he commented. Reese lunged toward him and without thinking I jumped between the two men.
“I don’t have time for this,” I shouted, staring them down like two little boys who needed a time-out. “I need to check on Mel. Reese had to get her away from the fire, Nate. If you’d been here, you’d have done the same thing. She was practically on top of it. And Reese? What happened between me and Nate is between me and Nate. I’m a big girl and I can fight my own battles. I’m going to follow Mel to the hospital, and you better fucking behave yourselves because I’m not in the mood.”
Both men gaped at me. I didn’t care—these weren’t normal times and I could give a fuck about their little pissing match. I decided to ignore them and follow Melanie.
“Is she all right?” I asked the EMT, who was busy securing the gurney in the ambulance. She glanced over at me but didn’t miss a beat.
“Dunno,” she said. “They’ll check her head at the hospital. Looks like she hit something hard. You have any idea what happened here?”
“None,” I said, my voice grim. “But we’re really damned lucky to be alive. She was just coming out of the house when it exploded.”
“Definitely lucky,” she said. None of this added up.
“Houses don’t just explode. Do they?” I didn’t realize I’d asked the question out loud until the woman answered me.
“I’ve seen stranger things,” the EMT said. “Are you a family member? We’re headed toward Kootenai. There’s another bus coming, they’ll be able to check you out—she’s higher priority and we need to get her in. I’m going to close the doors now. Step back, please.”
“I’ll meet you there,” I said anxiously. I turned to find Nate and Reese still in their standoff, staring each other down in the flickering light of the flames. My neighbor, Danica, walked up to me and wordlessly wrapped a blanket around my shoulders.
“You okay?” she asked. “Can I do anything?”
“Can you give me a ride to the hospital?” I asked, the words broken by a sudden, harsh cough. “I need to make sure Melanie is okay.”
“Of course,” she said. “Do you want to check in with the police first? I’m sure they’ll want to talk to you, probably have a ton of questions they need to ask.”
“The answers will still be the same after I make sure Mellie is okay,” I said tightly. “Just get me out of here.”
“You got it,” she said. “Car’s parked behind the house, back in the alley. Good thing, too, because everyone on the street is blocked in. Um … I couldn’t help but notice that big guy over there was with you. And that the other one used to be with you. You want to touch base with them before you leave?”
“I don’t think so,” I said, shaking my head, frustrated. “They can play caveman without me. All I care about right now is getting to the hospital.”
“Here’s what you need to know,” I said to Evans, clenching my fist because I’ve never wanted to hit a man more in my life. I wasn’t exactly used to holding back. “London is with me now. You don’t talk to her, you don’t touch her, you don’t think about her. Otherwise we’ll have another discussion, and that one won’t happen where you have a thousand cop buddies to save your ass. Got me?”
Evans studied me and shook his head slowly, the flickering light of the fire throwing his face into shadow.
“I don’t want her. I could give a shit about London Armstrong.”
Yeah, and my next bike was gonna be a Honda.
“Then you won’t mind staying the hell away from her,” I said. “Things won’t get ugly and I won’t find myself diggin’ a hole down in the Bitterroots.”
His eyes went big.
Yeah, fucker. You heard that right.
“Just to be clear—you just threatened a cop with murder? Not smart, Hayes.”
“You got a great imagination,” I told him. “I think we’re finished here.”