rushJessica Fury, Washington lobbyist, has money, connections, and her own firm. But five years ago she had something better: happiness. Her firefighter husband, Quaid, was handsome, courageous, and crazy about her. Then one day he walked into a chemical inferno—and never walked out. Jessica has been through hell to get back on her feet. And then a rumor surfaces that could bring a miracle or shatter her world – again.

Q has been a prisoner forever. He’s honed his mind and body into weapons. He’s developed abilities no one else understands. But he’s still at the mercy of a cabal of ruthless men, who blank his memory, test him like a lab rat, and tell him lies. Although his past has been erased and his future looks grim, instinct tells him he has a woman to live for. What his mind can’t remember, his body can’t forget…

The heat is on.


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Read an Excerpt


Truckee, California

Five years ago

That could not be Jessica Fury’s husband. Not the man hanging upside down, fifty feet off the ground over unforgiving asphalt, prepared to perform a midair flip, hoping—hoping—to grab that ladder and scale down to safety. Not all in the name of some spontaneous, reckless, madcap training drill. Sure as hell not after he’d just been trying to coax her into making a baby with him only hours ago.

Only it was. It so was. Goddamnit.

The catcalls and laughter from the other members of their hazmat team usually filled Jessica with joy. Tonight, the boisterous encouragement egging her husband on in his latest stunt made her teeth grind.

She stood at the base of a ladder, securing the structure for what should have been Quaid’s execution of a simple bailout maneuver during one of their standard team training sessions. But what kept flashing in her mind—over and over, like the repeat of a movie clip—was the love of her life, her brand-freaking-new husband, diving out that fifth-story window headfirst, wrapping his leg in the safety rope instead of avoiding it, and pushing off the rungs of the ladder he should be holding tight, then . . . letting go.

Just letting go fifty feet in the air.

Beads of sweat burst across her forehead. The building spun in her vision against the darkening sky. Jessica swayed and gripped the ladder to steady herself.

He looked amazing, she couldn’t deny that—his strong body evident even covered in heavy turnouts and silhouetted against the evening. That mischievous, full-of-himself grin lit his handsome face. Confidence, courage, andchallenge electrified the air around him.

No doubt about it—Quaid Legend was in his element.

“Hey, buddy,” Teague called from where he stood on the other side of the ladder. “Hope your life insurance is paid up. If you don’t die from this stupid stunt, you can bet your ass Jess is gonna kill you when you touch down.”

Another round of laughter erupted. Jessica gripped the ladder until her fingers stung.

Quaid’s red helmet gleamed in the early evening sunset. That joyous grin dimmed and his beautiful eyes darted to hers.

“Legend!” Kai Ryder, their team leader, barked at Quaid from so close beside Jessica, she jumped. “What the fuck do you think you’redoing?”

“Kai.” Jessica’s voice scraped out of her throat. One more crack to her heart and it was going to explode.“Scream at him after he’s on the ground. Please.”

Kai’s attention jerked from Quaid’s precarious sway to Jessica’s face and, damn it, pity crept into his eyes.

The sting of tears pressed across the bridge of her nose. She would not cry. She would not. Damn Quaid for scaring her so badly she hurt. Damn him for putting her in this position with her team.

Kai approached the building. “Get your ass down here, you sonofabitch. A simple bailout, Legend. What part of that didn’t you understand? You’ve only done it a million fucking times.”

“Well, yeah, cap,” Quaid said with typical ease. “That’s why I wanted to work on this one.”

This was classic Quaid—going rogue. Quaid the adventure seeker, the adrenaline junkie. Once upon a time, and not all that long ago, it had been sexy. Exciting. Only occasionally annoying. Now married, with him nudging her toward a family, it was terrifying.

“Goddammit, Quaid,” Jessica whispered.

“It’s what happened with Duke,” Teague said at Jessica’s side, using his smooth mediator tone. “He hasn’t been able to shake it.”

Her thoughts turned to their friend, another firefighter, who was still in a coma with severe brain damage. Duke had recently found himself right where Quaid hung now after being blown out a window at a structure fire. Only Duke had been trapped as the building collapsed around him.

“I know.” Her heart felt too big for her chest. “But if he wants to practice getting out of a bad situation, he has to plan for it. He needs an air pad out here. He needs to start lower and build up. He needs—”

“He’s been doing this for weeks, Jess. He’s gone higher—”

What?” Her gaze broke from Quaid and cut to Teague. His blue eyes shone bright beneath the brim of his helmet. Bright with guilt.

Teague shrugged.

Jessica followed Teague’s gaze as it shifted back to Quaid and wondered what other risks her husband had been taking without telling her. But she wasn’t going to ask and put Teague in the middle. She didn’t need to put any more pressure on their friends. As it was, she and Quaid were lucky to still be on the team together.

At the base of the tower, Kai had stopped yelling at Quaid and started coaching him through the steps of this new drill. Quaid’s grin was back. Mischief sparkled in his velvet brown eyes again as he prepared to defy gravity like the rebel he was. Rebel to the core. Which was one of the things she loved about him. One of the things that shot heat through her veins and pumped adrenaline straight to her heart. The very damn reason she loved him so much sometimes it hurt to breathe.

But she wasn’t breathing now—as Quaid pushed his body backwards for momentum, then swung toward the ladder. Every muscle in Jessica’s body tensed. She leaned into the metal and held tight. Quaid twisted, then flipped like a gymnast, and righted himself. His gloves slapped metal. His single free boot found traction on a rung. But momentum tugged at the other leg still wound in the rope andthat planted foot slipped.

Jessica sipped another frightened breath. Then Quaid regained his footing. Only when he unwound his other leg from the safety rope—the one he’d turned into a death trap—did Jessica start breathing again.

“I thought he’d grow out of this kind of shit when you two got married,” Teague muttered. “But it’s not lookin’ good, Jess.”

Quaid couldn’t even do something as simple as descend a ladder without flash. Instead of climbing down the rungs, he straddled the metal, settled his boots on either side of the vertical supports and started a stealthy slide toward the ground. He released one side of the ladder and turned to look for Jessica. As soon as his gaze found hers, he smiled. A big, warm, intimate smile just for her. A smile ofshared excitement. A smile that said everything from, “Hey, babe, I’m back,” to “Did you see that?” to “You’re not really mad, right?”

And dammit, she didn’t want to be mad when he looked at her like that. But she was. Which led to an onslaught of guilt. Followed by a burst of unrestrained anger.

By the time his boots came within a couple feet of the ground, his smile had vanished, and concern made that cute little V appear between his eyes. The one she loved to kiss away. Before he touched down, Jessica headed toward the station’s engine bay.

“Jess?” he called. “Hey, Jessie. Wait.”

He jogged up beside her, but didn’t touch her, didn’t try to slow her down or force her to look at him. He knew better.

“Come on, baby,” he crooned in a voice that should have been outlawed. Deep and smooth and so damn sexy. “I know, I shouldn’t have surprised you like that, but I did good, right?”

She clenched her teeth.

He bent forward, trying to look into her eyes. He’d taken off his helmet and in her peripheral vision she saw the dirt smudges on his face, his thick black hair mussed. She bit the inside of her cheek to keep a flood of tears from pushing over her lashes. He never, ever looked better than after he’d been working. The light in his eyes, the excitement on his face, the raw life buzzing over his skin, and that smile . . .  Never was he more pure Quaid Legend, the man she loved heart, body and soul, than after he’d been working.

“Jessie, stop for a second.” They passed through the huge bay doors and in one swift move, he darted in front of her, then blocked her every attempt to get by with a simple shift of his body.

“Quaid, knock it off.”

Whatever expression she wore shocked him. He jerked his head back as if dodging a punch, and the playfulfrustration drained, replaced with something dark and far more serious.  Something that made Jessica’s chest cinch down tighter.

He dropped his helmet. The thunk against concrete caught Jessica off guard, and she jumped, frantically searching for the gear as if he’d dropped a child. She’d never seen him drop anything, especially not a piece of equip—

He slipped his hands beneath her turnout jacket and around her waist, pulling her up against him.

“Hey.” He lifted a hand to her face. “What’s this? I’ve never seen you like this.”

“Quaid . . .” She glanced over her shoulder for the rest of the team. “Don’t—”

“Screw them. Look at me. You’re scaring me, Jess.”

Her hands fisted in his jacket. Her gaze shot back to his. “Scaring you? No, Quaid, scaring you would be more like me deciding to jump out a fifth-story window on the spur of the momentwhile you were watching.”

Guilt flooded his eyes. “I’m sorry, Jess. I . . . didn’t think—”

She pushed back, breaking his grip, her anger, terror, pain renewed. “You can’t just say you’re sorry and make it all go away. Do you have any idea, any idea, how it felt for me to stand there and watch you? Watch you roll out the window and let go of that ladder?”

“I know. I—”

“No, you don’t know.” Tears spilled over her lashes before she could stop them. “I thought I was going to stand there, helpless, and watch you fall to your death.”

“Oh, shit. Christ, don’t cry, Jess. That’s not what I was . . .  I was trying to . . . I wanted to . . . with what happened to—”

“Duke.” She pulled the hem of her shirt up and wiped her face. She hated how he caved when she cried, how he completely lost focus on the argument at hand. How he’d promise her anything just to get her to stop, which would not help in this situation. “I know, but that doesn’t—”

Their pagers went off at the same time and a stereo of beeps echoed in the bay.

“Ah, shit.” Quaid glanced at the display hooked to his belt and Jessica silenced her unit. “Just awarehouse.”

His turnout jacket fell back into place and he reached for her again.

She stepped back. “This is serious, Quaid. I need you. I depend on you. You’re—” Her throat closed. Tears renewed and she took a breath to keep them back. “You’re everything to me. Everything. If you really want a family you cannot be pulling shit like that. Do you understand?”

“Absolutely.” He nodded, his eyes serious and intent on hers, and so very clear. She knew he meant what he was saying. “Yes.”

The tension inside her shifted from heavy despair to blessed relief. She threw herself into him, knowing he’d catch her. He held tight, pressed his face to her neck and wiped his damp eyes on her skin.

“I’m sorry, baby. I love you so much. I worry all the time, you know? Shit like what happened with Duke . . .  I just want to know how to stay safe. How to keep you safe. I want us together . . . forever.”

Footfalls sounded on the concrete, and for the first time since she and Quaid had started dating, she didn’t care who saw them together at work.

“I told you she wouldn’t stay mad at him longer than ten minutes.” Keira’s voice cut into Jessica’s moment of relief, which was just as well. She was ready to melt into her husband and let him take over. Let him do whatever he damn well pleased just to see him smile, which was exactly how they’d gotten here.

“You’re one to talk, sweetness,” Luke, their teammate and Keira’s new boyfriend, teased with a tousle of her hair. “You can’t stay mad at me for two.”

“Knock that shit off,” Kai grumbled, passing them on the way toward their hazmat rig. Jessica pulled away from Quaid just before Kai slammed Quaid’s helmet against his chest with a glare of steel. “Watch your gear, Legend. And one more epic act of stupidity like that, and I’ll kick your ass to Iceland. Load up.”

Quaid’s ass could have already been in Iceland. Despite his close seat alongside Jess in the back of the truck with her fingers curled into his, the look he’d seen on her face earlier still chilled him. It was the same look he saw on Duke’s wife’s face whenever a doctor entered Duke’s room in the ICU. And Quaid didn’t want to see that look in Jess’s eyes again. Ever. His efforts to master that damn drill had been for exactly that purpose—to keep that look out of her eyes.


He pulled his hand from hers and sat forward in his seat, leaning elbows on knees. She might think he was everything to her, but she was his goddamned universe. And the road noise and others talking wasn’t helping him think. Wasn’t helping him figure out where his fucking defect was or how to repair—as Kai had so perfectly put it—his act of epic stupidity.

Jess’s fingers combed through his hair and she leaned into him. Love, rich and warm and sweet, pushed wetness into Quaid’s eyes. He closed them, pressed his fingers against the lids to ease the sting and let his mind wind around every possible way he could make this up to her.

They’d been riding twenty minutes, now well into the desolate mountains of the Sierra Nevada, when Kai called attention and started giving information.

“This is a government storage warehouse,” he said, reading from his iPhone, where he stored data on all area buildings. “It houses machinery and supplies.  We shouldn’t run into weapons or biohazard, but we’ll have petroleum-based products and cleaning supplies. May have high combustibles burning toxins and no doubt our beloved plastics.”

The vehicle slowed and bounced onto a rough road. Quaid grabbed a handlebar above Jessica’s head and braced her with his body.

“I’ll take the entry team with Teague and Luke,” Kai continued. “Keira, Jess, Quaid and Seth take second in. The hazmat team from Carson City will be there as backup.”

Quaid saw an opportunity for redemption. The first step toward taking that look out of Jess’s eyes forever. And after Luke and Teague popped the vehicle’s doors and the team dropped into the cool night, Quaid went in search of Kai.

The scent of pure mountain pine mixed with smoke. One deep breath and excitement rushed his system. Adrenaline fueled his muscles and pumped his energy. His thoughts sharpened, his reactions quickened. He was high and ready to take on the flames.

But he couldn’t do that tonight. He couldn’t play that reckless cowboy anymore.

Local firefighters already had their ladder truck positioned alongside the building, their hoses pouring water on fiery tongues popping through a hole in the metal ceiling. Three other engines were positioned near the main door. Firefighters pulled hose from the back of the trucks, the thick tan canvas unfolding like accordions and slithering along the asphalt like snakes. Floodlampscascaded overthe surrounding terrain, providing light. The aspens’ flat leaves sparkled gold among the dark towering pines.

Quaid followed Kai to the opposite side of the vehicle and stopped close. “Cap, I’d like to be on the entry team.”

Kai yanked open a compartment. “As if.”

“I know I fucked up. Give me a chance to fix it.”

“If you can’t act like a professional in training—”

“Give it a rest, Kai. We’ve worked together for eight goddamned years. Do you want me to remind you howmany times my unorthodox ways have saved your ass?”

Kai shot him a heavy-lidded look around the metal door, but his silence said he was considering. Quaid held his breath, waiting . . . hoping. After several seconds, Kai finally said, “Fine, you’re on the entry team. But Quaid? I want you to think about how ball-shriveling glacial it is in Iceland right now.”

“Yes, sir.”

“If you make even half a misstep, you’re off this team. You got me?”

Quaid released a breath of relief. “Yes, sir.”

With purpose and a plan, Quaid headed back toward the truck. He found Jess on the far side, unloading gearwhile studying the fire. He smiled to himself, a little surprised at the new sense of maturity and pride rising inside him.

“Lucky this didn’t spread,” she said, her gaze straying to the tree line. “If it had reached the forest, we could have lost thousands of acres. And look at those aspens. They’re so pretty. God I love this time of year.” She set her oxygen tank on the ground at her feet. “Where’d you go?”

“To talk to Kai. I’m on the entry team.”

“Quaid, you don’t have to do that.”

But her little smile and the way her eyes softened reinforced Quaid’s decision. She was proud of him for taking this step in leadership, too. Maybe this growing up and flying rightthing wouldn’t be as vanilla as he’d thought. There were definite perks to seeing that look in her eyes. Like the way his heart was somewhere up in the stars right now.

“I want to do it.” He reached for the shoulder strap of her breathing apparatus and hoisted the tank off the ground. “Turn around.”

She turned and slipped her arms through the straps. He settled the tank on her back, then spun her around and snapped her fittings closed, double-testing their security before pulling on his own tank.

He took his time getting the rest of his gear together, knowing Jess would wait. The team drifted toward the warehouse, where flames dimmed and smoke billows grew, signaling a dying fire. As soon as everyone was out of earshot and their backs were turned, Quaid grabbed the collar of Jess’s turnout jacket and gently backed her against the rig.

“What?” she asked, looking up at him, eyes worried. “What’s wrong?”

Lights from all around made her face glow. With her auburn hair pulled into a ponytail, those big, soft brown eyes looked doelike. He released her jacket and cupped her face with both hands.

“Do you know how much I love you?”

The worry in her eyes eased. “I love you more.”

He brushed his thumbs over the smooth skin of her cheeks and those delicate freckles, and stared at her perfect lips before he kissed her, slowly and tenderly. “I know what you need, Jess,” he whispered. “You can depend on me.”

“I believe you.” Her lips curved against his, and her arms locked around his neck. “I have an idea for your birthday next week.”


“You and me, a weekend away, somewhere isolated where we can spend the entire forty-eight hours doing nothing but”—her grin widened, her eyes sparkled—“making a baby.”

A bubble of joy slid up his chest and burst from his throat in laughter. Those words coming from her mouth were sheer heaven to his heart. Yes, he could do this. He could take that next step toward stability—for her, for him, for them. He leaned in and kissed her hard. She opened to him, all sweet and hot. Quaid groaned and lost himself, just for one blissful moment.

“Ready for your boys, Captain Ryder.” The shout to Kai came from a distance and signaled the beginning of a new chapter in Quaid’s career.

Time for their team to get to work. And the sooner they got started, the sooner they could finish and thesooner Quaid could get his bride home and into bed, where they could practice more baby making. If practice made perfect, their kid was going to be utterly flawless.

Quaid stepped up to the entrance of the warehouse with Teague and Luke at his side and waited for the last hose team to pull out. Few flames still snapped inside. Smoke grew thick and pumped out fast, signalinga mostly extinguished blaze. Quaid spotted Gary Hernandez from Truckee Fire dragging hose. His turnouts were soaked and themask of his breathing apparatus had been tugged aside and hung askew.

“Gary,” Quaid called to get his attention. The firefighter looked his way and Quaid lifted his chin in greeting. “What’ve we got in there?”

Gary grinned and walked over to the group. “Aw, a pallet of something plastic caught.” He pushed the brim of his helmet up with his thumb, leaving a soot ring on his forehead. “Probably a load of dildos from China.”

Keira stepped forward, making a show of peering into the wall of smoke. “Dildos, huh? You think anything’s salvageable?”

“You little . . .” Luke gave the strap of her oxygen tank a playful jerk, sending a ripple of laughter through the group.

“But that’s not why we pulled out.” Gary’s expression turned serious again as he addressed Quaid. “There’s real methel-ethel bad shit in there, dude.”

The all-inclusive slang firefighters used to refer to any potentially serious chemicals made Quaid’s stomach tighten with a mix of excitement and dread. “Methel-ethel” bad shit was not simple toxins produced by burning plastics, not regularly encountered mildly explosive petroleum products. Methel-ethel bad shit was the kind of chemical that ate through skin or blew a body clean apart.

Gary turned, crouched and pointed beneath the smoke roiling across the ceiling. “See that glow?”

Quaid squinted toward a faint yellow-orange radiance. “Yeah.”

“Metal canisters of something. They’re secured to a concrete wall by metal straps and bolts as big as fucking silver dollars, off all by themselves like they’re contagious or something. And whatever’s inside them is as hot as molten lava, ’cause look at them, brother, they’re fucking glowing.

“What do the hazard symbols show?”

“Couldn’t get close enough to see before those plastics went up. Fire’s almost out. It’s safe to go in, but—” Gary pulled off his gloves and slapped them against the arm of Quaid’s yellow hazmat suit. “Watch your ass in there, my friend. My gut tells me those fancy threads ain’tgonna save you.”

Hernandez returned to his company and started cleanup.

“Still want entry team?” Kai’s voice was quiet and right next to Quaid, startling him. “You’ve got someone else to think about now.”

He took a breath to ease the sting of fear in his gut. Quaid needed to demonstrate his commitment—for Jessica and Kai and the others. Hell, for himself. He had to prove, with actions, that when he took responsibility for something, he wouldn’t shirk it at the first sign of trouble. He was in this—firefighting and his marriage—for the long haul. He was in this’til death did they part.

Quaid met Kai’s eyes. “I am thinking about her. She is why I still want entry team.”

Kai held his gaze for a long moment, then stepped back. “Luke, Teague,” he called, “Quaid’s your lead. Go.”

When Kai huddled with the others, Teague grinned at Quaid. “All right, hotshot. Let’s mop up your earlier mess.”

The three secured their Plexiglas face shields. When Quaid turned to shoot Jess a wink, Kai tossed him a thermal-imaging camera. He caught it against his chest. Instead of throwing it back at Kai, as he had in the past, Quaid grit his teeth and powered on the unit.

He’d always bitched about TICs being pieces of shit, but the truth was Quaid wanted to seek out the source of a fire on his own, with eyes and ears and instinct. He had built killer instincts over the years, and he got a thrill out of using them. He didn’t want a piece of machinery stealing all his fun.

Only Quaid was in this for more than fun now.

He walked into the muck with his mag light in one hand and the TIC in the other, smiling. No drastic or dreaded changes had overtaken him when he’d turned on the TIC. Adrenaline still thrilled through his body. Excitement to nail those wicked chems still lightened his head. God, he loved that woman. Jess never failed to lead him in the right direction in life. He’d follow her to the ends of the earth.

Thick smoke immediately smothered his vision. Even though he knew exactly where the threat lay, he had to force himself to think by the book and follow the rules. The haphazard Quaid would head straight for those glowing tanks, do not pass go, do not collect twohundreddollars. But the responsible Quaid made the requisite methodical sweeps of the area for suspicious contents.

Teague and Luke flanked him ten feet back on either side. The thermal detector was used to identify hot spots and possible trouble within the smoke, but as Quaid suspected, the TIC was useless to him here. He already knew where the trouble lay. Today, the TIC only caused Quaid to waste valuable time.

When they reached the tanks, Quaid almost believed they were alive. Their glow had intensified from yellow-orange to vibrant vermillion. Looking directly at them threatened tosear his retinas. In what had to be an effect of the extreme heat, their metal encasings appeared liquid, rippling like the disturbed surface of a lake. Quaid swore the damn things were breathing, expanding and contracting in a slow, steady rhythm.

“What the fuck?” Luke’s voice was little more than a husky whisper in Quaid’s earpiece.

“This is way beyond us,” Teague said. “Let’s get the numbers off the hazard symbol and get out.”

“I’ll get them.”  Quaid gestured for them to stop. “Stay here.”

Excitement escalated to fear. He gave his TIC to Luke and used his hand to shield his face from the glare. Their suits were designed to protect them at extreme temperatures, but Quaid could swear his skin was roasting right through the material as he neared.

That fear escalated to alarm. A huge part of him wanted to call if off. To back out without the information. But he couldn’t take one more failure tonight. Not in Jess’s eyes. Not in the team’s eyes. Not in his own eyes.

He crouched to the level of the diamond symbol showing a number at each of the four corners, indicating thechemical’s characteristics. Once outside, he could compile those numbers with an index of chemicals and figure out what they were dealing with. Then if they needed to call in big guns, they could do it without looking like total fuckups.

Inching forward, he thrust the flashlight as close to the sign as he could, peering through the illuminated smoke and against the glare, but still, the numbers shimmered in and out ofsight. In his hand, the mag light’s black housing changed shape. At first he thought it was the rippling heat waves altering the atmosphere—until the casing slid over his gloved hand and the flashlight shorted out. Then he realized the damn thing had melted right off the metal frame beneath.

A sharp crackle brought Quaid’s gaze back to the diamond-shaped sign. To the tank beneath the sign. To a dark, linear crack sliding along the canister from the floor and continuing upward.

Oh, fuck!

Terror struck his spine like lightning. He pivoted and launched himself into a sprint. Opened his mouth to yell run, but didn’t have time. He wrapped an arm around each of his teammate’s throats and dragged them toward the ground.

Before they made it down, the blast hit.

Heat slammed Quaid’s back. Pain, ripping and raw, consumed him. They hit the cement. Bounced. Broke apart. Hit a pallet of boxes. Ricocheted in all directions.

Then it was over. The blast dead. The fire gone.

Quaid knew nothing but pain. Engulfing, snarling, ferocious pain.

His eyes were open. He didn’t know how. He should be dead. But he could see Teague and Luke lying nearby.Unmoving,hazmat suits burned and torn. Bodies black and twisted.

Voices bled through the deafening ring in Quaid’s ears. Not the words, but the terror, the anger, the shouted orders.

His fear flooded back. No. Don’t come in here.

His mind circled around that second tank. Fear turned to terror. He put all his concentration into moving his mouth.

“N . . . No.” Shit, pathetic. He focused his thoughts to Jess. To saving Jess. Gathered energy and tried again. “Don’ come in . . . ’nother tank . . .”

Shit, did his headset even work?

He fought to move some part of his body. Got a few fingers to wiggle. Then a few toes. The cement rumbled under his cheek—the clomp of boots.


He forced himself to lift his head, as heavy as an oxygen tank, as dizzy as a tornado. Just as he recognized Jess’s silhouette headed straight for him, the team fanning out toward Luke and Teague, a familiar crackle-fizz penetrated Quaid’s fuzzy brain.

“No. Get . . . out.”

He tried to push himself up, but his arms wouldn’t work. Another crackle-crackle-crackle sounded. An angrier, heavier fizzzzz. Panic rushed his chest. Jess. Protect Jess.

He pulled one knee under his body with strength born of sheer terror. The move knifed pain through his leg and hip. Jess crouched before him and time slowed. He watched her beautiful mouth form his name, her tortured expression peer at him through the Plexiglas facemask.

Love you, Jessie. Love you so much.

He pushed with every ounce of power in his damaged legs and thrust himself at her. He knocked her over and covered her body with his. Absorbed the feeling—the very last time he’d touch her, he knew.

She grabbed his arms. Called his name. The blast came a second later. Ripped him away and speared him across the warehouse with the speed of a rocket. But his mind kicked into a time warp, slowing the seconds, drawing everything around him into something from a slow-motion, action-movie sequence.

Including the sound of his voice screaming her name, until he slammed into a concrete wall and felt his body shatter like sheet glass.

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