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Chapter 4

An explosion ripped through the air, pushing Luke backward against the fire truck. He raised his hand over his head, shielding his eyes from the angry orange glow lighting up the sky as a wave of heat blasted across his skin. Dark black smoke billowed across the sapphire sky, spiraling across the full moon that shone brightly overhead. 

Slipping his visor down over his eyes, Luke’s eyes stung from the smoke as he stared across the downtrodden lawn of the Elm Street Brewery, one of the oldest independent beer producers in the state of Texas and producer of the popular Elm Beer and ESB cider beer. 

A full block radius was cordoned off by fire trucks from neighboring towns, flashing red and white lights illuminating the dark street as the sirens blared in the air. 

The six white tanks towering over the multi-level structure on the east side of the property were completely engulfed in flames. The blaze bounced and danced in the darkness, spreading quickly across the roof to the corporate offices. The white brick facade of the mission-style structure marred with the soot of the flames slowly destroying it. Firefighters from Spring and The Woodlands were battling the blaze on the east side. Ladders hoisted in the air, the attack was coordinated at several angles to try to bring the fire under control. So far, they were losing the battle. The brewery was filled with flammables and combustible chemicals that kept erupting just when they thought they were making ground. 

Toward the west side of the building, Luke focused on a side window that would allow entry into the facility. Frantic 9-1-1 calls had come in from employees trapped by the blaze, unable to find their way out of the maze of hallways to safety. Time was not on their side. They had to get in the building and help the workers get out to safety. 

Sullivan had briefed them on the plan of entry, dividing them into teams of two and then sending them out right before the last explosion halted them in their tracks. Luke knew they had to move quickly before something else inside the building erupted. 

Motioning for Nate to follow him, Luke ran in a wide arc toward the furthest building on the west side of the property. His eyes trained on the window. A brisk breeze blew in the opposite direction, slowing the spread of the fire to the west side.  

A cacophonous pop and a rush of shattered glass peppered over Luke’s body as several windows of the building shattered from the heat and fire. He dropped to the grass, shielding his face with his arms until the shower of sharp pieces waned. 

“You alright?” Nate screamed toward him, trying to be heard over the sirens and shouts of the other firefighters. 

“Yeah, I’m good. You?” Luke said, pushing himself to his feet. 

Nate nodded his head, then stood. “We’re running out of time. If we don’t get in there soon, this fire is going to turn tragic by morning.” 

Luke agreed. “Good thing is that there are only three trapped workers. Two males and a female. Finding them shouldn’t be too hard, but navigating our way out of the building with the fire spreading so fast could be the biggest challenge.” 

“Well, let’s not stand around here jaw jabbing about it. The quicker we get in there, the quicker we can get those people out to safety,” Nate said, then sprinted off toward the window on the west wall of the facility. 

Luke followed his lead and rounded the corner just as Nate took an ax to break the window. Climbing inside, the smoke was thick and acrid. Seized by a fit of coughs, Luke dropped to the floor and crawled along the warped hundred-year-old wooden floor down the hallway with Nate by his side. Turning down one hall, then another, the temperature rising in the building as they grew closer and closer to the fire. 

There were no signs of the employees. 

Nate called out to see if they would get a response from the trapped employees, but no one was screamed back to be rescued. 

“Not a good sign,” Nate said in between coughs. “Situation is getting too dangerous. If we don’t find them soon, we’ll have to evacuate to not put our own lives in danger.” 

Luke knew what Nate was saying was right, but he couldn’t fathom exiting the building without finding the trapped workers. Where could they be? They’d made several calls to 9-1-1 and were clearly in a place where they could talk clearly and safe from the fire. Luke crawled ahead, turning down another hallway, and that’s when he saw the light shining from underneath a door near a wall that was completely covered in flames. 

A bathroom. 

Pressing up from the ground, Luke sprinted toward the door, banging on it, hoping that the workers were inside. 

“Luke! Watch out!” Nate yelled. 

Turning, Luke watched as a portion of the burning wall collapsed and landed with a crash mere inches from him. At the same moment, he heard screams behind the bathroom door. Desperate cries for help. The employees were inside. 

Nate rushed over. If they opened the door too quickly, the burst of oxygen from inside the bathroom could fuel the blaze and burn them all before they could get to safety. 

Luke spoke to the employees slowly as he and Nate crouched low. 

“Turn on all the faucets and completely wet your clothes and hair from head to toe,” Luke said, the waited to get the confirmation from the workers that they were following his instructions. “Don’t turn the water off. Leave it running and let it overflow onto the floor. Get down on the ground. You’re going to have to crawl out of the bathroom. Cover your face with your wet shirts.” 

“WE need to get out now!” Nate screamed from behind him. 

Luke twisted the knob of the bathroom door, opening it slowly, then watched as the two males crawled along the floor behind Nate down the hallway. Reaching inside, he grasped the hand of the woman, who has to be in her late sixties or early seventies. She was struggling to move through the door. 

“My leg,” she said, shaking her head. “It’s my arthritis. I can barely move. I’m not going to make it.” 

Luke looked in her tear-stained face and said, “I’m getting you out of here, ma’am. One way or another.” 

The heat of the fire intensified behind him, and he knew crawling out to safety would be too slow. Rising onto his knees, he hooked an arm around the elderly woman and lifted her easily from the ground. Luke tucked his head and ran down the hallway as the remainder of the wall collapsed in a burning heap behind him. There was no time to look back. The flames lapped against the wooden floor, igniting fresh blazes as Luke struggled to remember the way out. 

Turning one corner then another, he finally saw Nate and the two male employees exiting the window. Rushing forward, he eased through the opening, maintaining his grip on the woman and ran as fast as his legs would go. Another explosion rocked the west side of the building, catapulting him forward. Stumbling, he managed to maintain his balance until he’d reached the sidewalk where the local EMTs were attending to the other employees. 

“God bless you! You saved my life! There’s no way I would have made it out of there alive if it wasn’t for you,” the woman said, clasping his hand. “Thank you, thank you, thank you.” 

“I made you a promise back there, and I was going to keep it. Now you follow the instructions of these medical professionals so they can get you checked out,” Luke said, giving her a gentle squeeze before walking away. Further ahead, he saw Nate hunched over gasping for breath as he coughed repeatedly. An EMT was nearby with an oxygen mask ready to help him.

Luke’s lungs burned from inhaling the dense smoke, but he managed to keep the coughing at bay by taking slow deep breaths. He leaned against the ambulance and closed his eyes for a moment. 

A bright light shined in his face, jolting him back to the present. 

Shielding his eyes, he stared into an oversized television camera. 

He should have known the media would be prowling to get a statement. 

Shaking his head, his eyes focused on the microphone pointed at him, then trailed down the arm, holding it to the woman standing off to the side. 

His pulse quickened as he stared at her. 

No doubt, her attractiveness came through when he watched her every night on the news, but here standing in front of him with her dark hair swaying in the breeze, her dark eyes brimming with excitement and concern, Luke could honestly say she had taken his breath away. He had to force himself to exhale as he allowed himself a moment to be in awe of her stunning features. The long, curled eyelashes over sensual eyes. The perfectly proportioned heart-shaped face. The smooth, flawless dark brown skin, soft and supple. The lips ripe for kissing.

So, this is what it felt like to be in the presence of the fire station’s crush. 

Wylie was going to kick himself for not being here. 

Ciara Thompson live and in person, wanting an interview with him. 

“Can I just get a quick statement? We got footage of you carrying that woman from the burning building. What you did was amazing,” Ciara said.

Luke forced himself not to blush as he nodded, unable to speak for a moment. A tingling sensation crept across his skin as he looked down on the petite beauty. She was barefoot in the grass, holding her stilettos in one hand behind her back.

Ciara flashed him the most amazing smile, then nodded at her cameraman as she stepped across the sidewalk and stood next to him. 

“I’m here with Luke Diamond of the Tomball Fire Station 384 who you just watched singlehandedly save one of the employees from the fire by carrying her out of the burning building. Luke, what was the fire like in there? How hard was it to risk your life to ensure the trapped employees were rescued?” Ciara asked. 

Luke fumbled and stammered through a response to her question, not fully aware of what he was saying. His mind swirled with confusion as he responded to the next question and the next on auto-pilot.

Had Ciara Thompson really called him by name? She actually introduced him as Luke Diamond. The rest of his team was still fighting the fire, and Nate was being tended to by the EMTs. There wasn’t enough time between him running out of the brewery with the elderly woman and her request to interview him to find out his name. There wasn’t anyone around that she could have asked. 

How did the Ciara Thompson know who he was?

Read Along with the Sweet Small Town Holiday Romance!

Disclaimer: This is a rough draft manuscript as I’m participating in NaNoWriMo. It will contain typos, missing words, brackets for things I may want to research later, and other messiness common in a first draft of a work. Please keep this in mind as you read. It is truly a Work in Progress. Thanks for reading! 

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