The Return: Chapter Fifteen
Paramedics and firefighters were racing around, hauling hoses, oxygen, and more as they tended to the wounded in the buildings that abutted the coffeeshop, at the same time as the firemen worked to put out the fire. I stood there, watching as everything Corey had built burned to the ground. I scanned the area, and my gaze landed on Corey. He sat in an ambulance, talking with DD. She reached up and put a hand on his, and he broke down, sobbing.
This was all such crap. I wanted to go to him, pull him in my arms, and make it better, but I needed to be here, dealing with the situation as leader of the pack.
I turned to find Sawyer Henderson, the fire chief, his face a grave mask. “How bad is it?” I asked.
He blew out a sharp breath. “The shop is probably a total loss. We won’t know for sure until we get the fire contained completely. The buildings adjacent to it are scorched, but they shouldn’t be hard to fix up. Eighteen people were treated for smoke inhalation and minor burns. Deirdre got the worst of it, but they assured me she’ll be okay.”
“How’d she find it?”
“She said she came in to open, and saw flames through the windows. She called 911, then went inside to see what she could do. The smoke overwhelmed her, and she was overcome. She was lucky that Jeb and Arlene saw her go in, because they pulled her furry ass out.”
So DD could have died in the fire. “Any ideas?”
He gave a quick nod. “I did an initial look, knowing you’d want to have an update. The sprinkler system appears to have been ripped out, so there was no way to mitigate the damage. Also, we found six cans of paint thinner that hadn’t gone up yet. If they had….”
“Everything would have been way worse,” I finished for him. “So this was deliberate.”
“It seems that way.” Someone called his name, and Sawyer gestured, then turned to me. “I’m sorry, Alpha, I need to get back to work.”
He turned and stalked toward to his men, barking orders at them. Meanwhile, I tried to digest what he’d said to me. Someone had deliberately done this to Corey. Were they hoping that he’d be caught in the fire? Was someone trying to kill my mate? I scanned the crowd, and found Kinsey standing guard beside Corey, and Matt was helping the paramedics move people to safer locations. I pulled out my phone and dialed Kinsey.
“We need to talk, but I don’t want you to move from Corey’s side. I don’t care who it is, no one other than me, you, or Matt gets near him. Am I understood?”
“Of course.” He hesitated. “Should I move him to a safe location?”
Corey would hate me, but I needed him protected. “Get Matt and take them both to the pack house. I’ll join you after this is all dealt with.”
“Understood.” Another pause. “You know he isn’t going to be happy.”
“I wish there was another way. This fire was deliberate, and until I find out why, Corey needs to stay out of harm’s way.”
A low rumble came over the line. “I’ll take care of it now, Alpha.”
I pressed End and put the phone back in my pocket. Moments later, Corey’s shouts made their way to me. He was pissed. I wanted to go to him, but an explosion blew debris everywhere. Sawyer ran into the building, calling out to his men to direct the hoses there to soak everything. From the corner of my eye, I saw Kinsey put a protesting Matt in the car, then they drove off. I went to help Sawyer.
“You can’t go in there, Alpha! The fire is too hot.”
I ignored the man, and dashed toward what had once been the front of the building. The fire had burned so hot, the glass had melted in places. Even though I tried to focus, thoughts of Corey having been here kept playing in my head.
“Move!” came Sawyer’s voice. “Don’t stop for anything.”
Through the dense smoke, shadows appeared. I made my way toward them and grabbed the two men by their arms, then dragged them out of the building and to the paramedics. One of the guys kept trying to get up, and they were having problems stopping him. I put a hand on his shoulder.
He sagged back. “No, you have to get Cap. He’s still in there. This is his breathing gear.”
Fuck! I thought Sawyer was following us. I turned and raced back to the building, growing angrier with each step. Who the hell had done this? I had always trusted the pack, but now? I wasn’t sure. I retraced the path I saw the two firemen come from, and heard groaning. Stepping into what had been the kitchen, I found Sawyer on the ground, coughing. I could understand that. Though Alphas were stronger and faster, even I was having problems dealing with the smoke. As I got closer, I could see where fire had burned Sawyer’s hands and face.
“When we get out, I’m kicking your stupid ass,” I growled as I hefted him up and over my shoulder. Each step was agony. My lungs ached and I felt as though we were slogging through mud. Still, I wouldn’t leave Sawyer, no matter what. This was what my father had taught me. Pack was what you’d sacrifice anything for, even your own life.
When we made it through the smoke and haze, we were greeted by other firemen and two paramedics, who took Sawyer from me. One of the medics looked at me, then pointed to the ambulance.
“Get over there.”
I raised an eyebrow at him, then dissolved into a coughing fit. The bastard stood and smirked.
“If this wasn’t work related, I’d probably wet myself, but your title doesn’t hold any weight here, especially when you’re hacking up a lung. Get over there, or I’ll have them drag you. And so you know, they’ll listen to me before you.”
I knew they would. Lance Merrick wasn’t a big man, but in this instance, size didn’t mean anything. If I tried to muscle in and give orders about medical care, and Lance overrode me, they would listen to him, as it should be. He was the expert, I was not. Another lesson my dad drilled into my head. You can’t ever know all things. Defer to those with the experience and trust in their judgment.
“Okay,” I grumbled, then had another coughing fit.
They seated me beside Sawyer, who couldn’t seem to draw a decent breath with all the smoke he’d inhaled. Once seated, they strapped an oxygen mask to my face. Every time I tried to ask something, Lance glared at me, and I opted to stay quiet.
“We’re going to be taking you both to the hospital,” Lance said.
I pulled the mask off. “I have things to do.”
“Yes, like going to the hospital. Don’t test me on this, Alpha. We can’t lose you.”
My lungs didn’t hurt as much, but Corey wouldn’t want me to not be checked out. “Fine,” I said, looking over at Sawyer who lay there unmoving. Only the slow rise and fall of his chest told me he was breathing. “Is he going to be okay?” I asked.
Lance looked from Sawyer to me. “If he isn’t, I’ll kick his ass.”
“You have a thing about kicking asses, don’t you?”
“The stupid son of a bitch knows better than to do what he did. You don’t go in alone, and you never give up your oxygen. They should have shared it on the way out, but no, he had to be a fucking hero.”
Lance’s scowl showed me everything I needed to know. “Have you told him?”
He shook his head. “He thinks I’m too young to deal with a grumpy wolf like him.”
“So you’re giving up?”
His eyes widened. “What? Hell no. I’m going to prove to him he needs me. Someone has to take care of his ass.”
“Again with the ass.”
Lance grinned and gave a one shoulder shrug. “What can I say? It’s my favorite plaything.”
The look on Lance’s face as he peered at Sawyer spoke volumes. The young man was beyond smitten. “Don’t let him push you away.”
“Oh, trust me, Alpha, that’s not happening. This salty bastard is going to need me, especially now.” His eyes drifted to Sawyer again. “Wolves can heal a lot, but smoke inhalation is a bitch, especially when you are older. Sawyer is going to be in the hospital for a while, and then home convalescing. He’ll need me, guaranteed.”
I wished them both luck. My pack was filled with amazing people, and every one of them deserved to find the happiness I had with Corey, who was probably going to smother me in my sleep. Assuming he waited that long.
When we got to the hospital, they rushed me in, but I waved them off. “Take care of Sawyer and everyone else first. I’m fine, and they need to be looked at.”
The staff scurried away, leaving me sitting in the room. When my phone rang, I answered without looking. That was a mistake.
“What the hell is this crap about you running into a burning building without protective gear?”
Corey, and from the way his voice rose, he was frantic.
“One of our wolves was in danger.”
“You stupid son of a bitch! You going in there like that put two lives at risk.”
He wasn’t wrong, and I had gone in without thinking.
“It was instinct. I admit, I should have thought it through better.”
“Yes, you should have.” Silence. “Is he okay?”
“He pulled a lot of smoke into his lungs. The paramedic says he’ll be okay, but he’s older, and it’s harder for them to bounce back from something like this. He’ll heal, but it could take months, if not longer.”
“And what about you?”
“I’m hospital bound.” I hurried to finish my sentence before he freaked. “They have me on oxygen, and the trip is simply a precaution. I’m feeling much better now. We wolves are usually strong enough to handle things, but I sucked in a lot of smoke when getting Sawyer out.”
He was far too quiet.
“I’m okay, Core.” He sniffled, and I regretted what I’d done. “I know you’re mad at me for having Kinsey take you away.”
“You’re goddamn right,” he whispered. “My place is with you. Always.”
“No,” I corrected him. “Your place is where you’re safe.”
“I’d rather be with you, even if I end up dying, you stupid bastard! I lived without you for six years, and I can’t do that again. Not when we haven’t had the chance to actually have a life together.”
It made sense, and I couldn’t argue his point. “I’ll do my best to be careful,” I promised. “But I’m the Alpha, and sometimes that’s not going to be an easy job.”
“Which is why you need me,” he said, a bitter tone in his voice. “Everyone says I keep you on an even keel.”
He did that. I hadn’t had a single episode of blind anger since I’d come back. Sleeping in his arms at night, waking up with him sprawled across me. That all calmed me and my wolf. When I was living at the pack house, I woke up every morning, and Corey was the first thing on my mind. When I remembered I couldn’t see him, I was beyond angry. Dad always took me out for a run in the deep forests to work off the energy. It didn’t always work, and I ended up chopping wood until I fell from exhaustion. Even then, the rage still simmered. It took me a long time to get it in my head that I was a danger, and this was for the good of the pack as well as me.
“I do need you,” I said. “You are my mate, and you’re the best part of me. That’s why I can’t have you running into danger. You’re not gifted with our healing, and it’s possible you might not survive. What would I do then? You say you can’t live without me, don’t you think I feel the same?”
The silence stretched out so long, I had to check to be sure he was still on the line. “Kinsey said this was deliberate.”
“Yeah. That’s the other reason I wanted you gone. I don’t know why anyone would want to hurt you, but—”
“What if it was DD they wanted to hurt?” he threw out.
“A possibility,” I admitted. “But it’s not likely. You’re the Alpha Mate of our pack, so it seems more probable it was you they were after.”
“But who? Why? I haven’t pissed anyone off recently that I’m aware of. And no one made a complaint about the choux buns.”
I knew he was using humor to deflect his panic. I had no words, because I didn’t know anything. I’d always trusted my pack, but after this, I wasn’t sure anymore.
“After they check me over, I’m coming there, okay? For now, stay with Matt and Kinsey. Don’t leave the house. We need to keep you safe, and it’s going to piss you off, but it can’t be helped.”
“If you’re here, I’ll be fine. I…. I need a hug. Matt keeps offering, but he isn’t the one I need to hold me.”
Corey’s words broke my heart. “I love you. I’ll get there as soon as I humanly can.”
“I love you too.”
“Stay in the house. Take a hot bath, then get some rest. I’ll see you soon.”
We disconnected, and I stood. My lungs still ached, but that was irrelevant at the moment.
“Where do you think you’re going?” Lance snapped at me as he entered the room.
“I have to go. I promise to take it easy, and if I feel ill, I’ll go to the hospital.” He narrowed his eyes. “Someone tried to kill my mate. I can’t stay away from him when he could be in danger.”
“Corey? No. No one in the pack would do that. They love him.”
“Someone doesn’t. They set the fire deliberately.”
Lance paled. “No, it can’t be. Alpha, we adore Corey. No one would hurt him.”
“I hope not, but I’m going to find out. First, though, he needs to be sure I’m healthy and whole, and I can’t do that sitting here.” I drew in a deep breath, and didn’t cough this time. “See? All better.”
“That doesn’t mean anything. Symptoms can still come back.” He sighed. “I know I can’t stop you. I wouldn’t stop either, especially if it was Sawyer. Just remember your promise, okay?”
“I will. And take care of Sawyer for me, will you? Anyone who risked his life, however foolishly, is a hero in my book. He needs someone equally amazing to make sure he stops and smells the roses once in a while.”
“Yeah. Yeah, I want to do that. I want to drag him kicking and screaming off to picnics, I want us to go to Mallet Bluff and watch the sunrise. Hell, I’d be happy holding his hand and letting people know he’s mine.”
“Don’t give up on that. If you ever need to talk—”
“I’ll go to Corey.”
That was what I’d been hoping to hear. The pack knew who they needed to talk to about relationships and stuff. Or maybe they thought I wasn’t in tune with my softer side.
“Good man.” I headed for the door, then stopped and glanced over my shoulder. “Tell Sawyer I said he’s off for four weeks to recuperate. I’ll call the station and have Jones fill in until he’s back on his feet.”
“He’s not going to like that.”
“Yeah, well. I’m trusting you to make that time off more…interesting.”
Lance’s cheeks pinked. “Thank you, Alpha.”
And then I was out the door and down the hall. I called a cab to come get me. I promised to make it worth it to whomever took me to the pack house. They said it would be no problem, but my dad always told me not to take advantage of my privilege. It wasn’t even ten minutes later that a car pulled up. I opened the door and got in.
“Good afternoon, Alpha,” Vincent Aramelli said as he pulled away from the curb.
“You okay?” His nose wrinkled. “You smell a little…charbroiled.”
“Yeah, I’m fine. Better than Corey’s shop.”
“I heard the sirens. Is he okay?”
“Yeah. He will be.” I’d make sure of it.