“God, I hope so.”
I approached the two firemen shouting over the roar of the flames engulfing a four-story apartment building across the street. The five hoses aimed at the building were doing nothing to stop the fire that was blazing out of control. All the men could do now was try to keep it from spreading to nearby buildings.
I’d been on my way to meet up with Nikolas when I heard the alarms and saw the fire, and I came to see if there was anything I could do to help. But it looked like there was little I could do here.
Glass broke on the top floor of the building, followed by a child’s scream.
“Jesus Christ! Someone’s up there,” one of the firemen yelled. “Get that ladder over here.”
One look at the flames licking at the curtains of the broken window told me the firemen wouldn’t get there in time. Engaging my demon speed, I sped across the street and entered the lobby of the old building. The place was an inferno, and smoke burned my throat and eyes as the intense heat surrounded me.
I raced up the burning stairs that would have collapsed under the weight of a normal man. Only my speed kept me from falling through them and protected me from the worst of the flames. I’d have a few burns, but nothing that wouldn’t heal in a few hours.
The top floor was just starting to burn, but thick smoke made it difficult to see, even with my enhanced sight. I had to find the child and get out of here before this whole place went up.
“Where are you?” I shouted as I ran from one apartment to the next.
A shrill cry answered me, and I followed it. Inside the apartment, I spotted a middle-aged woman lying on the living room floor, and a quick check told me she was dead. Was I too late?
My Mori stirred, telling me there was another of my kind nearby. I whirled around, my gaze scanning the room until it landed on a small form huddled in a corner. I ran over and swept the child up in my arms, relieved when she cried out, letting me know she was okay.
I turned to see flames licking at the doorframe. I could withstand the fire, but the child’s Mori was too young to protect her. Running to the closest bedroom, I grabbed a quilt from the bed and threw it into the bathtub to soak it with water. The child didn’t move or speak as I wrapped her in the wet quilt and hugged her to my chest. She was in shock, but there was no time to comfort her. We needed to get out of here, now.
I ignored the sting of the flames as I hurried out of the apartment, carrying my precious burden. At the landing, I stared down at the gaping hole where the stairs used to be. If I were alone, I’d jump to the first floor and sustain minor injuries. I couldn’t do that with a child unless it was our only option.
At the end of the hall was a door I hadn’t tried, and I yanked it open to find the stairs to the roof. Seconds later, I burst out onto the roof and took a few gulps of fresh air.
Smoke billowed out of the doorway, reminding me we weren’t out of danger yet. I ran to the edge of the roof and looked down. Between the flames and the thick smoke, it was difficult to see the people on the ground, so I knew they couldn’t see us either.
My gaze moved to the next building, and I judged the distance to be around fifteen feet. Backing up, I tightened my hold on the child.
“Almost there,” I said to her before I sped forward again and jumped.
I landed easily on the other roof. The child whimpered when I set her down and pulled out my phone. A few seconds later, Nikolas answered, and I wasted no time in explaining the situation to him. I hung up to see to the little girl.
I pulled back the edges of the quilt to reveal a tear-stained face framed by messy blonde curls that glowed like a halo in the late afternoon sun. She couldn’t be more than five or six, too young to lose all she’d ever known.
“It’s okay,” I crooned. “I won’t let anything hurt you.”
Her eyelids fluttered open, and frightened gray eyes met mine. She stared at me without speaking, most likely in shock after what she’d been through.
I smiled and withdrew my hand to show her she was safe with me. I had rescued a few orphans in the past, and I was good with children.
“I’m going to carry you down now,” I told her softly. “If you get scared, you just hold on tight to me.”
She didn’t say anything as I pushed the quilt off her shoulders and picked her up. Cradling her in my arms, I ran lightly down the stairs and stepped out into the crowd milling around. Without a backward glance, I hurried down the street toward the gas station on the corner where I’d told Nikolas to meet me.
Five minutes after I got there, Nikolas pulled up on his bike, followed by a white van. The side door of the van slid open, and Paulette jumped out.
“Is she injured?” the blonde warrior asked.
“Not that I could see, but I think she’s in shock.”
Paulette’s face softened. “I’d be surprised if she wasn’t. She’ll be okay once we get her home. You can give her to me.”
I moved to hand the girl off to her, but small arms wrapped around my neck, clinging to me. Not wanting to frighten the girl more, I tried to persuade her with gentle words to go to Paulette. But every attempt only made her whimper and hold on tighter. When Paulette tried to take her from me, the girl started to wail, quieting only after Paulette stepped back.
I smiled at Paulette over the girl’s head. “I’m due for a visit home anyway.”
Climbing into the van, I settled in the back with the girl hugging my neck. Her clothes were damp from the quilt, and she shivered against me even after Paulette laid a thick blanket over us. My Mori warmed her, and I whispered reassuring words until she relaxed against me.
I couldn’t help but think of how close we’d come to never knowing of her existence. If I hadn’t decided to take that route to the restaurant, if she hadn’t screamed at that moment, I would not have found her and she’d be dead now.
She moved, and I looked down at her round, angelic face, streaked with dirt and tears. Her gray eyes watched me with so much trust it made my chest ache, and all I wanted to do was take away her sadness and fear.
“Can you tell me your name?”
She blinked but said nothing.
“I guess I’ll have to make up one for you,” I said playfully. “How about Goldilocks? You like that?”
She shook her head.
“Hmmm. You’re a quiet one, aren’t you? Maybe I’ll call you Mouse. How does that sound?”
Her golden eyebrows drew together.
“No?” I pursed my lips, pretending to think about it. “I know. I’ll call you Dove because of those beautiful gray eyes.”
A wisp of a smile touched her lips before she lowered her head and curled into me again.
I smiled down at the mop of blonde curls peeking above the blanket.
“Dove it is.”