Home > Only Ever Us (Light My Fire #3)

Only Ever Us (Light My Fire #3)
Author: J.H. Croix

 


Chapter One

 

 

Mae

 

 

I glanced around the small room, where the smoothly polite pastor’s assistant had deposited me. The only window offered a misty view. The drizzle falling outside earlier had ended, leaving an almost otherworldly glittering landscape with the sun breaking through the clouds. My throat was tight, and my chest ached. She was gone. And, somehow, I had to get through this.

I took a breath, trying to ease the tightness in my chest, and blinked against the sting of tears in my eyes. My eyes dipped down to the notebook my grandmother had left behind. I finally lifted it and flipped it open, a laugh bubbling up only seconds later as I read the first sentence.

Stop crying. I've lived a very good life, and you know it. Now, get your act together. Wipe those tears and do this right. I don't want a big funeral, for God's sake. My chest loosened. I'm not going to say anything ridiculous, and I promise I won’t haunt anyone. Who has time for that? I always loved you, and maybe you’re fed up with my opinions. Lord knows I have plenty. I’m still somewhere. Take care of yourself and go kick life’s butt.

I lowered the notebook, letting it fall closed as another chuckle slipped out. I finally took the deepest breath I'd been able to take in months. Gram had lived a good life, and she'd lived it on her terms. I'd been meaning to come home anyway, so I supposed I was grateful she’d brought me here. Although I was hurting that it was her illness and then death that kicked my ass in gear.

I still remembered our last conversation from a month and a half ago. She'd given me “man advice,” her words. The last thing I’d wanted.

There was a soft knock on the door, and I quickly swiped at the tears that had already started to dry on my cheeks. “Yes?” I called.

Margie—I thought that was her name—peered in. “He'll be with you in just a few minutes. You can have a seat if you’d like. We're finishing up another service.”

I didn't know what to think about them having a service at the church while I waited to meet with the pastor to plan Gram’s funeral. You couldn't schedule death. It might be the only thing you couldn't schedule in life these days. Speaking of scheduling, my parents were running late and had texted to apologize after my father got a flat tire.

After Margie disappeared, I circled the small room, restlessness making me jittery. A table by the door contained a brochure for coffins, along with another one for urns. Death was no barrier to brochures.

Crossing the room, I idly counted the row of candles by the window. A loud humming sound seemed to be coming from the nearby closet. Antsy and bored, I traced my fingertips along the edges of the candleholders.

Turning away, I started flipping through the brochure on urns. I felt like I was walking a tightrope. To one side lay heavy grief and tears. To the other side lay hysteria. At this moment, hysteria bubbled up, and I started laughing. Even urns were marketed with glossy ads.

“Yay for capitalism,” I muttered to myself.

I swiped at the next round of tears that slipped down my cheeks just as I heard a whooshing sound. I turned to discover flames flickering along the edges of the closet—the closet right between the door and the only window, the only two exits out of this room.

Like an idiot, I raced directly toward the door in the tiny room. I reached for the doorknob but then snatched my hand away swiftly. It was burning hot to the touch. Flames flickered out of the closet, catching on the curtains by the window. I reached for the doorknob again and leaped back when there was a whooshing sound. The curtains and a sash hanging on a hook by the door had caught fire.

Dear God. This room was filled with fabric things, all of them flammable. I looked around frantically as smoke filled the space. I heard voices in the hallway and dashed toward the window, only to leap back at the blast of heat from the flames.

Fuck. I was supposed to be meeting the pastor for my grandmother's funeral, and now I was in my own pyre. Long moments later—I really had no idea how much time passed—I heard loud footsteps. When the door opened, I saw broad shoulders looming through the thick smoke before strong arms reached for me. I’d pinned myself in the corner, the only spot in this room that seemed safe from the flames as they overtook the entire wall.

“I've got you,” a low voice murmured.

Even though the room was on fire, I knew—knew—that voice.

I coughed. What were the freaking chances that Rowan Cole would walk in here to rescue me? I wanted to tell him to put me down. But, well, fire.

Of course, Rowan lifted me easily. Even though he was wearing heavy gear, I could feel his muscled arms and chest as he cradled me against him and carried me down the hallway.

The hallway was filled with smoke, and I struggled to get a breath every step of the way. We burst out the back door, and I gulped in the fresh air, coughing again.

“I've got you, Mae,” Rowan murmured again.

I was annoyed that he even knew it was me.

“Put me down,” I demanded between hacking coughs.

“Nope.”

If I didn't know better, I would’ve thought he might be amused by my predicament. He carried me straight over to an emergency vehicle parked near my car. I heard voices exclaiming around me.

“I don't even know what happened!”

“How did the room catch on fire?”

I couldn't even differentiate the voices. Rowan ignored everyone and lowered me carefully onto a stretcher beside the emergency vehicle. “She probably needs some oxygen,” he said to the woman waiting there.

“I'm fine,” I insisted, coughing again to disprove my own point.

I looked up into Rowan's face. Despite the fact I’d just been carried out of a burning room, my belly managed to do a little shimmy and a twist at the sight of him up close. Ugh. I was annoyed that he was my rescuer, yet apparently, my hormones thought he was all that.

“I’m fine,” I repeated. I managed not to cough this time, though my throat hurt and my voice was raspy.

“Surrender to the process, Mae. You need oxygen.” Rowan’s green eyes looked concerned as they coasted over me. He reached for the hand I’d used to open the door and turned it over. “She needs something on that palm, Dana.”

I looked toward the woman, opening my mouth to protest. I finally got a look at her and recognized Dana Halloran from high school. I hadn't seen her since I'd moved back to town.

Before I could get a word out, she held up an oxygen mask and placed it over my mouth. “You need oxygen. I'll look at your hand next.” Dana glanced at Rowan. “You need to help fight that fire,” she offered pointedly.

I started to laugh and coughed instead. Rowan muttered something I couldn't hear and turned, striding away quickly. I took several deep breaths, actually relieved to breathe. Pure oxygen was pretty cool stuff, especially when you needed it. After a few moments, the tight, prickly feeling in my lungs eased, and I began to relax. Dana was still waiting beside me.

She lowered the mask from my face. “Better?”

I took a deep breath, savoring the cool air. “I think so.”

Dana was pretty in a practical sort of way. Her curly hair was pulled back in a ponytail, and she had big brown eyes. “Now, let me look at that hand.” After she set down the oxygen mask, she turned my palm over. “That’s a minor burn. Let me put some cream on it.”

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