When an arsonist sets a series of fires hotter than anything the local firefighters have ever seen, Finn McLain becomes the prime suspect. But all he’s trying to do is find out which of his fellow fire wizards is really guilty.
Niki Hansen is a firefighter who rushes into fires to save those trapped inside but always remains unscathed. She wants nothing more than to find out who’s setting these fires that burn everything down to ash, including the bodies of the victims.
When Finn sees Niki, he realizes she may be the first female fire wizard in a century. When she accuses him of setting the fires, he convinces her he’s innocent. But will he be able to convince her to embrace her unique abilities? While they try to find out who’s behind the fires, they end up starting a few fires of their own.
The heat was intense, but this was part of it, the rush she always got when she was fighting a fire. Niki followed her fellow firefighters through the house, mindful of her surroundings, knowing part of the house could collapse on top of them at any time. There was a little thrill of excitement that went along with the fear, and she tried not to question the reasons for that. Most of her co-workers were outside, saturating the burning house with the water hoses, but she and three others were working their way through the house, looking for family members whom they were told should be here. She always volunteered for this part.
Niki turned a superheated doorknob with her gloved hand, then stepped back in case fire rushed out of the closed room. There was no blast of fire, so she entered the bedroom, looking around quickly for anyone who might be taking refuge in here. She heard a faint whimper coming from the closet, so she cautiously made her way to the door, keeping her eye on the bedroom door for fire coming that way. She opened the closet door and saw, cringing in a corner, a small girl in a yellow flowered nightgown. She took off her glove and reached out her hand to the child.
“Sweetheart, I need to get you out of here. Come on, take my hand.” The child shook her head vigorously and turned her head toward the wall.
“Please, we have to get out of the house. The fire will get worse, and then we won’t be able to get out. Do you understand?”
The little girl looked at her with big brown eyes, and Niki felt her heart melt. She held her breath as she waited to see what the girl would do. She didn’t want to use force to bring her out, not wanting to scare her any more than she already was. But she would do what it took to save the child. Apparently, the girl saw the truth in Niki’s unwavering gaze because she finally took her hand and allowed Niki to pull her out of the closet.
“What’s your name, Sweetie?”
“Tabitha,” the girl said in a small voice.
“Okay, Tabitha, you have to trust me, okay?” The girl nodded. “I’m going to carry you out of here. You need to hide your face in my shoulder, and no matter how hot it is, you need to stay in that position. Don’t look around or try to pull out of my arms. Do you think you can do that?”
Tabitha nodded, and Niki took the little girl in her arms and lifted her up. Tabitha buried her face in Niki’s shoulder like she had been told, and Niki walked cautiously out of the room. She knew she was going to have to move through some hot spots, and she hoped the girl would stay still and make it as easy as possible. Niki carried her through the rooms she had come through to get to the bedroom, but she immediately saw the fire had spread to those areas. She turned around and moved back down the hall the other way, hoping there would be an alternative way out. She saw another firefighter, Drew, up ahead, and she moved toward him, trusting that he had found an exit that way.
“Where’s the rest of the crew?” she shouted over the roar of the encroaching fire.
“They’re out already. They found the mother and got her out, but I’m afraid….” He glanced at the child in Niki’s arms. He didn’t have to say anything else. She knew they had found the body of the father. “Come on, let’s go this way.”
Niki followed Drew down the hall where a series of small fires had cropped up. “See the way all these separate fires have started here? It looks like maybe there are small splashes of accelerant that have caused the fire to catch in these places.”
Niki nodded as they continued to move through the small flames. Suddenly, a huge burst of fire shot toward them, and they both hit the ground, Niki careful not to injure Tabitha as she fell. At that moment, a piece of the roof fell, nearly missing Niki and the girl, but Drew wasn’t so lucky. He was immediately engulfed in flames, his fire retardant suit not withstanding the heat. Niki had never felt such intense heat in a fire, but for some reason, she remained unscathed. She didn’t have time to stop and consider that. She had to save the child in her arms. Niki rose from the floor, ignoring the rush of hot tears she felt on her face behind her mask. Clutching Tabitha to her chest, she ran through the fire, past the disintegrating wall, and out into the fresh air. When the other firefighters saw her, they grabbed the little girl, and Niki collapsed onto the grass of the front lawn. Her boss, Steve Hall, yanked off her mask and looked into her eyes.
“Are you all right, Niki?”
“Drew…he’s still in there…dead….” she managed to gasp.
“Are you sure he’s….”
“Yes! There’s no way he could have survived. The heat…it was so intense, worse than I’ve ever felt.”
“Are you sure you’re okay?” he asked.
“Yes. Except for the fact I just lost one of my best friends!”
Steve reached out for her, but she shook her head. “No, I have to be strong. “
“You know, you don’t always have to be the tough one, Niki.”
“But I do.” She looked at him, the stubborn lift of her chin letting him know she didn’t want to discuss it any further.
It took them several hours to completely put out the fire. This one burned hotter than they had ever seen, completely disintegrating the wood of the home it had taken. When they were finally done, there was nothing but a pile of ash.
The paramedics checked out the little girl and her mother, then decided to take them on to the hospital just to be sure they were okay. They tried to get Niki to let them treat her, too, but she refused to even let them give her oxygen. She felt absolutely fine, and though she thought that was strange, considering the circumstances, she didn’t feel like questioning it. She was just thankful.
When they were sure the fire was completely out, Niki and the other firefighters peeled off their suits and chugged bottles of water. She took a second bottle and moved away from the others, toward the other side of the street. She saw movement in the trees and walked slowly toward the woods. Niki knew arsonists often stayed and watched their handiwork, and even though they had to wait for an investigation to be sure, she was convinced this fire was started deliberately.
When she got closer to the area where she had seen the motion, she caught a glimpse of long, blond hair before it moved quickly from her sight. She picked up her pace, almost running now, but whoever she had seen was much faster than she was, and she soon lost him. Niki sighed, knowing this had possibly been the best chance of finding out what had caused the fire. She continued looking for a few minutes, but it was a fruitless effort.
She walked quickly back to the others and sought out Steve. She found him talking to some of the neighbors who had gathered around, looking shocked and scared.
“Steve, can I talk to you for a minute?” she asked.
“Sure.” He turned back to the man he had been talking to and said, “Will you excuse me?”
When Niki and Steve had moved away from the other people, he asked, “What is it?”
“I saw something,” she said.
“What do you mean, you saw something?”
“Someone. There was someone in those trees over there. I thought it might be the arsonist, so I followed him, but he got away from me.”
“Niki, we don’t even know this was arson.”
“I know it was. The pattern of the fire…I just know.”
“Then it was crazy for you to follow him. Come on, let’s talk to the police officer over there.”
After she had given her statement to the police, she returned with the others to the station. It was time for the next shift to come on, so she walked to her Jeep and got in. She sat there for a moment, suddenly overtaken by fatigue. This often happened when she was coming down from the excitement and fear of fighting a fire. This one had been particularly exhausting. She finally started the Jeep and drove home, trying hard to stay awake.
When she got home, she made herself take a long, hot shower, even though she really wanted to just collapse on the bed and sleep. The soothing water actually made her feel a little better, so after the shower, she made herself a sandwich and ate that with a large glass of tea. After she ate, she turned on the TV in her bedroom and got into bed, her head propped up on the pillow. The news showed footage of the fire, and she finally let herself think about Drew. The fire had been so hot, there had been nothing left of him or Tabitha’s father. She clicked the TV off with the remote, buried herself in the covers, and cried herself to sleep.