Hellfire, Texas (Hellfire #1)

By: Elle James

Hellfire Series Book #1

Chapter One

The hot July sun beat down on the asphalt road. Shimmering heat waves rose like mirages as Becket Grayson drove the twenty miles home to Coyote Creek Ranch outside of Hellfire, Texas. Wearing only a sweat-damp T-shirt and the fire retardant pants and boots of a firefighter, he couldn’t wait to get home, strip, and dive into the pool. Although he’d have to hose down before he clouded the water with the thick layer of soot covering his body from head to toe.

The Hellfire Volunteer Firefighter Association met the first Saturday of every month for training in firefighting, rescues, and first responder care. Today had been particularly grueling in the late summer swelter. Old Lady Mersen graciously donated her dilapidated barn for structural fire training and rescue.

All thirty volunteers had been on hand to participate. Though hot, the training couldn’t have gone better. Each volunteer got a real taste of how fast an old barn would go up in flames, and just how much time they had to rescue any humans or animals inside. Some had the opportunity to exercise the use of SCBA, self-contained breathing apparatus, the masks and oxygen tanks that allowed them to enter smoke-filled buildings, limiting exposure and damage to their lungs. Other volunteers manned the fire engine and tanker truck, shuttling water from a nearby pond to the portable tank deployed on the ground. They unloaded a total of five tanks onto the barn fire before it was completely extinguished. With only one tanker truck, the shuttle operation slowed their ability to put out the fire, as the blaze rebuilt each time they ran out of water in the holding pool. They needed at least two tanker trucks in operation to keep the water flowing. As small as the Hellfire community was, the first engine and tanker truck would never have happened without generous donations from everyone in the district and a government grant. But, they had an engine that could carry a thousand, and a tanker capable of thirty-five hundred gallons. Forty-five hundred gallons was better than nothing.

Hot, tired, and satisfied with what he’d learned about combating fire without the advantages of a city fire hydrant and unlimited water supply, Becket had learned one thing that day. Firefighting involved a lot more than he’d ever imagined. As the Fire Chief said, all fires were different, just like people were different. Experience taught you the similarities, but you had to expect the unexpected.

Two miles from his turnoff, Becket could almost taste the ice-cold beer waiting in the fridge and feel the cool water of the ranch swimming pool on his skin.

A puff of dark smoke drifted up from a stalled vehicle on the shoulder of the road ahead. The puff grew into a billowing cloud, rising into the air.

Becket slowed as he neared the disabled vehicle.

A black-haired woman stood in the V of the open driver’s door, attempting to push the vehicle off the road. She didn’t need to worry about getting it off the road so much as getting herself away from the smoke and fire before the gas tank ignited and blew the car to pieces.

A hundred yards away from the potential disaster, Becket slammed on his brakes, shifted into park, and jumped out of his truck. “Get away from the car!” he yelled, running toward the idiot woman. “Get away before it explodes!”

The woman shot a brief glance back at him before continuing on her mission to get the car completely off the road and into the bone-dry grass.

Becket ran up behind her, grabbed her around the middle, and hauled her away from the now-burning vehicle.

“Let go of me!” she screamed, tearing at his hands. “I have to get it off the road.”

“Damn it, lady, it’s not safe.” Not knowing when the tank would ignite, he didn’t have time to argue. Becket spun her around, threw her over his shoulder in a fireman’s carry, and jogged away from the burning vehicle.

“I have to get it off the road,” she said, her voice breaking with each jolt to her gut.

“Leave it where it is. I’ll call in the fire department, they’ll have the fire out before you know it. In the meantime, that vehicle is dangerous.” He didn’t stop or put her down until he was back behind his truck.

He set her on her feet, but she darted away from him, running back toward the vehicle, her long, jet-black hair flying out behind her.

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