Chapter 1: Saving the World
“Compared to running a fundraising fair, saving the world was pretty mundane."
“Saving the world?" Fire Chief Jesse Moran's eyes twinkled. “What are you talking about?"
Mallory Sage hadn't realized she'd spoken out loud. She shrugged off the thought and smiled. He couldn't know her thoughts. No matter what she had shared with him, that other life had stayed a secret. Had to stay a secret.
Mallory had hung up her superhero cape five years ago when she'd quit Homeland Security. Since then she'd settled into small town life, which included volunteering for her local fire company. Three years ago she'd been entrusted with the Coleville Volunteer Fire Company's annual fundraiser.
She took it as a sign that she belonged here. The whole situation felt right and she seemed to have a knack for firefighting. And fundraising.
In order for the fire company to stay afloat, once a year, the firefighters cooked food, served beer, and manned carnival games.
Life had been pretty peaceful, except for this time of year. This blasted fair had taken up every single moment of her time for the last two months.
Set to begin in two days, the last of the rides were due in the morning. The beer tent was up and several volunteers who had worked all day in the hot New Jersey humidity quenched their thirst with the amber brew.
Her gaze settled on Jesse. Her sometime lover.
“Hey, Mal, can I pour you a cold one?" His grin was devilish. It looked sinister in the glow of the lights under the tent, though she knew he had no sinister plans.
Except for her body. Later. Maybe.
He was one of the good guys. A thrill rushed through every nerve in her body. If this were the Wild West he'd wear a white cowboy hat. Instead, he wore a white chief's helmet.
Everyone around her was one of the good guys. She was safe here—centered—even during this chaotic week of fundraising.
She wouldn't want to be anywhere else. Couldn't think of anywhere that would be better.
Except something seemed off today. A sense of foreboding nipped at her good mood. She hadn't felt like this in a long time. Five years to be exact.
She'd felt lost of late and decided to search for her birth parents. She needed to know how much of her was them and how much was her upbringing. The search had produced nothing yet, but she'd signed on with an online registry that could help.
Her mind settled on her present uneasiness. The smell of honeysuckle wafted across the field now scattered with striped tents. The fact that none of those bushes grew near the firehouse added to her restlessness. She couldn't pinpoint the origin of the summer flower.
Maybe someone had used honeysuckle soap. If not, it would mean. . .
No, she wouldn't think that way. She shook her head and looked around to see if anyone noticed.
She'd thought that way in her old life. She'd left that behind.
Mallory sighed, her body tired from physical labor and not enough sleep. The sun had set two hours earlier and she should have gone home. Jesse had insisted they would finish, but she had to be sure. She had to see the finished product with her own eyes. She wasn't comfortable relying on anyone else.
An old, bad habit. Or was it part of her nature? She didn't know since she'd been orphaned at a young age. Lately, the idea that she had no idea where she'd come from or what her roots were bothered her.
But that was a topic for another day.
As her bones ached, she wished she'd just gone home and trusted the other firefighters.
She plopped down in a white plastic chair, took the proffered beer. Foam reached the top of the plastic cup. She licked some before she took a healthy swig. The bitter lager scraped down her throat but quenched her thirst.
The beer tent sat just feet from the firehouse, just out of the way enough to get the trucks out of the back bay.
Several guys sat around telling the same war stories they shared last year and the year before that. They'd been sitting here for years.
She shrugged away thoughts of her other life. She was here in Coleville and that was where she'd stay.
For a while at least.
She'd been itching for something, but it would have to wait until after the fair.
Jesse eased himself onto the seat next to her, stretched his short muscular legs in front of him. He brushed her hair off of her shoulder. Marked her as his even though she wasn't anyone's.
And might never be.
“I think you got the last beer," Jesse's chocolate brown eyes were filled with warmth and desire for her. He was safe.
“Then change the keg," she smirked.
“Hey, kid," Jesse called to the youngest in the tent.
Mallory shook her head at Jesse. “He has a name." She treated everyone with the same respect she expected for herself.
“Yeah?" Mark, the just-turned twenty-one-year-old answered.
Jesse shrugged at her, turning his gaze to the young man. “Change that keg."
She smacked Jesse's shoulder. “Jeez, Jesse. Ask the kid nicely." She never understood the stratification men had.
“He pissed me off today."
She grimaced. “So, I pissed you off yesterday. I'll help him."
Jesse's hand on her arm stopped her. “I'll help him."
He frowned at her, released her arm and went to lend a hand.
She took a sip of her beer, but almost spit it out when Jesse yelled, “Holy s**t!"
The dream had come out of the blue for firefighter Cal Stedman.
He didn't put much stock in the everyday dreams people had, but he knew this one meant something. He'd been tired. More tired than he should have been.
Maybe that was why he'd dreamed.
Having lost his wife five years ago, he now lay alone in bed. His bones ached from the physical labor of moving cinderblocks and putting up snow fencing around his beloved beer tent.
The dream rolled around in his mind. There had been a woman in it—one he had long forgotten in his consciousness, but not in his unconsciousness. He'd worshipped her. Too bad she'd left him when he went into the military.
He shifted onto his side, noting that darkness had fallen while he'd been asleep. The clock now read midnight.
“You have a child," the dream woman had said.
But he didn't. He and his wife had tried for years with no heirs being produced.
So why would he dream about a child at this late date in his life?
He groaned at his ailing muscles, feeling his own mortality in their hum. Maybe it was that very sense of his growing old and closer to death that led him to think about a child. One he hadn't had with his wife.
The whole time he'd been a cop, he hadn't felt this mortal or vulnerable.
His eyes drifted closed as his mind returned to dreamland.
What if I do have a child?