“Well, that’s just great.”
Scrunching up my nose, my angry glare flicked between my hand and kitchen bench. Or more specifically, the sticky white stuff covering both.
With a shake of my head, I muttered, “Who knew such a tiny hole could produce such a big mess. I mean, really.” Still shaking my head, I swiped my clean index finger through the gloop on the bench before sticking said finger into my mouth. “Mmm, at least it tastes good.”
Actually, it tasted better than good. It might have even been the best batch of elderflower frosting I’d made. And now no one was going to get to taste it.
Giving the mess one last longing look, I spun around to wash my hands.
I’d made it three steps when my dress’s hidden pocket started buzzing obnoxiously. My poor heart almost gave out. Because I was incapable of thinking through the wild thundering behind my ribs, I smacked my dirty palm against my chest.
Slowly removing my hand, I eyed the white stain on my right boob before throwing my head back and shooting daggers at the ceiling. “Are you freaking kidding me right now?”
In all honesty, I probably should have known better than to try to get in a little baking two hours before I had to meet my date. I’d just been so damn inspired to try out the new recipe I’d come up with.
Pear muffins with a generous amount of frosting squeezed into the center.
It would’ve been so perfect with an elderflower gin cocktail.
What wasn’t perfect was my little black dress with a palm-sized smudge on it.
The stupid buzzing finally died down long enough for me to start walking again. My relief was short-lived because I only made it a few steps before the thing started up yet again.
Muttering a few very unladylike curses under my breath, I fished out my phone to see my BFF’s name flashing in big, bold letters. With a quick flick of my thumb, I swiped the green button and held the device against my ear. “This better be good, Maddie-Cakes. I just made my boob sticky, and it’s all your fault.”
There were a few seconds of silence before she asked, “Where are you?” Her tone was serious, too serious. No, not serious, scared. My friend sounded scared.
“At the bakery, why?”
A shaky breath filtered through the line. “Oh, no. Frankie, please get out of there. Right now.”
“What? Why?” I could hear her pacing through the phone. “Maddie, what’s going on?”
“Adam just called. Mr. Hamilton’s shop caught fire and they’re struggling to put it out. He’s worried because the buildings are old and so close together that the fire will spread too fast.” Another shaky breath reached my ears. “Frankie, please get out of there. Sugar Booger is four shops away from the dry cleaners.”
Maddie sounded so scared, and that made me scared too. “I’m going.”
“Okay, good. Call me when you’re home, so I’ll know you’re safe.”
I shoved my phone back into my pocket with every intention of turning around and marching my butt out of the bakery. That is until I saw the muffins sitting pretty on the bench. The same bench still covered in frosting from when the piping bag’s seam gave out.
I couldn’t leave my kitchen like that.
Moving as fast as I could, I snatched a rag and cleaner from the sink and tidied up my workspace. The pungent smell of smoke hit my nostrils as I packed the muffins in an airtight container.
Shit, that was fast.
Panic clawed at my throat, and I walked as fast as my feet would allow. All I needed was to get the muffins to the storeroom and then get the hell out of there. I should’ve known better because all signs pointed to it not being my day.
In my hurried state, I kicked the stopper holding the door open. Realizing instantly what I did, I spun around, but the door had already clicked shut.
“No, no, no.”
My heart flatlined for a nanosecond before it slammed against my ribs like a wild beast trying to make an escape. The walls started shifting, steadily closing in on me. This couldn’t be happening.
One hand reached for the handle while the other furiously rubbed at my neck, desperately trying to get air to my lungs.
I needed to breathe. If only the damn door would open, and the walls would stop moving. My lips parted to call for help. Only no sound came. Nothing but the deafening thumps of my heart.
I tried the handle again, but whatever I did made my world spin. Around and around until up was down and right was left. My head connected with something hard, causing cold sensations to travel along my skin.
My lids felt heavy, and keeping them open was near impossible. Maybe I had time to close my eyes, just for a few minutes, until the world stopped going around and around.
I let out a breath, allowing my body to give in to the tiredness. It was so calm and peaceful until I was viciously pulled from my state of bliss.
My eyes flew open, my entire body shaking as I furiously coughed up fire from my lungs. There were people—an EMT and a firefighter—in front of me, desperately trying to get a mask to my face, but all I could see was the smoke billowing out of the building.
No. Oh, please no.
I needed to get inside, to save what was left of my bakery. In one quick move, I jumped up and shoved at the people before running to the entrance of Sugar Booger. I didn’t make it very far when a strong arm snaked around my waist and yanked my back against a wall of hard muscles.
“You can’t go in there.”
The moment he spoke, every muscle in my body tensed. Because it might’ve been ten years, but I’d never forgotten that voice. It was one I both longed to hear and loathed at the same time.
Gage freaking Calloway.
I had no idea how I managed it, but I spun around and poked him in the chest. “You can’t tell me what to do.” Well, he probably could.
He stood stock-still for a few long seconds, and because he was still wearing his gear, I had no idea what his face was doing behind that mask. That was until he whipped the thing off.
One look at his face and my lungs collapsed in one big whoosh, leaving me with another coughing fit that had nothing to do with the smoke I’d inhaled. Hair wet and disheveled. Face sweaty and covered in soot. And yet, he was still the most beautiful man in my world.
My fingers tingled, remembering the feel of his whiskers beneath my touch. The way he held me. The words he’d whispered in my ear that night.
There was no way in hell I was going there. Not going to happen. Because as far as I was concerned, that night I offered up my V-card didn’t exist anymore.
“You have to go to the hospital to get checked out,” he said. “We don’t know how much smoke got into your lungs while you were passed out in the storeroom.” He took a step forward and reached for me. “Come on.”
The chaos behind me reached new heights. Although I couldn’t make out what they were saying, I could hear the other firefighters yell out orders at each other. Swallowing hard, my gaze traveled over Gage’s shoulder to where more EMTs were seeing to the people who’d been pulled out of the buildings.
Gosh, what a mess this night had turned into.
I felt a little buzz zip over my skin again and I knew it had nothing to do with adrenaline and everything with the man before. I turned my attention back to him. Grinning like a damn idiot, he was still holding out his hand for me.
I smacked it away. “I can walk by myself, thank you.” To prove it, I lifted my chin and sauntered back to the open ambulance. I might’ve put an extra sway in my hips too. The EMT who tried to give me oxygen earlier helped me into the back and onto the waiting gurney.
I’d never admit it out loud while Gage was within earshot, but my chest did feel as if the gates of hell had opened and spilled out into my lungs. Getting it checked out was certainly the best course of action.
Lying back, I closed my eyes and waited for the ambulance to start moving. I could hear Gage and the EMT talk about something, but their voices were too muffled for me to make out.
A few seconds later, the vehicle shook as someone climbed in, followed by the doors slamming shut.
Eyes still closed, I asked, “Are we off?”
“We sure are.”
My eyes flew open as I jerked into a seated position to find Gage hovering over my gurney. I gave him my best piss-off glare. “What the hell are you doing?”
Slowly, he inched closer. One corner of his mouth hitched up, making his stupid dimple pop. Oh, how wonderful it would’ve been to smack that smirk off his annoyingly sexy face. I wanted to do it so badly. Almost as much as I wanted him to stop leaning forward.
But of course, he didn’t stop. Not until he was right up in my space, green eyes piercing into mine. “I just saved your life, Baker. You can say thank you now.”
I didn’t think it was possible, but I narrowed my eyes even more. Lifting my hand, I gave his cheek two taps before shoving my middle finger in the space between us. “There’s your thank you, asshole.”
Gage’s eyes flicked to my finger before locking onto mine again. He studied me long and hard, making my skin prickle with unwanted awareness. Awareness that dissolved the instant he threw his head back and laughed.
“Still as feisty as I remember.”
Not giving two shits that I was flipping him off, he patted the spot above my knee twice before parking his ass and leaning back against the inside of the ambulance.
As we steadily began to move, I knew two things for certain:
I was going to be so late for my date.
Gage Calloway needed to stay as far away from me as humanly possible.