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Rescue After Dark

Mason & Jordan

(Gansett Island Series, Book 22)

Rescue After Dark is the next heart-stopping novel in Marie’s Gansett Island Series, featuring Gansett Island Fire Chief Mason Johns and Jordan Stokes.

Chapter 1

Summertime, and the living was… not easy for Gansett Island Fire Chief Mason Johns. During the seemingly endless winter, year-round residents on the remote island counted down to the summer season. For Mason, Memorial Day weekend signified the end of peace and quiet and the start insanity.

His department went from three to five calls a week to five to ten calls per day, and it continued like that for months. Summer on Gansett was an endless cycle of moped crashes, alcohol-related incidents, sun poisoning, falls from the bluffs, near-drownings, bicycle pileups, surfing accidents, unauthorized bonfires and the occasional house fire. At least once a week, they evacuated someone for trauma treatment on the mainland via helicopter. On the island, the saying went, if you saw the chopper coming, someone was in big trouble.

The drama didn’t end until Labor Day Weekend, and while Mason enjoyed helping people and being part of the Gansett Island community, he found himself craving time away from the madness.

He rarely took a day off during the season, which meant he had to make the most of the free time he did have to get in a workout. Exercise was critical to keeping seasonal stress under control and maintaining his sobriety. As he rode his mountain bike over rugged trails on the island’s north end while fighting the brisk northerly wind that had been howling all day, he tried not to think about the piles of work he’d left behind at the station, the quarterly reports that were due to the mayor’s office or the long night he still had ahead of him as he tried to stay caught up.

Two weeks into another season, and it was living up to its reputation thus far. In fact, this year was looking to be even busier than usual. He’d stolen a rare hour to ride his bike and get away from it all before he returned to the office with a takeout dinner to finish the endless paperwork that came with the uptick in calls.

The sun inched closer toward the western horizon, giving him another hour of daylight before it became unsafe to ride on the trails, even with the headlight he’d installed on his bike. After dark, he stayed on paved roads, but he preferred the trails that wound through some of the most scenic real estate on the planet.

Or at least he thought so. Despite the madness that descended this time of year, he loved this island and all its wild beauty. He wouldn’t want to live anywhere else. When he first moved to Gansett, he’d feared that island life would be too confining, but he’d discovered the opposite was true. Island residents were masterful at keeping themselves entertained, even in the dead of winter, and he’d come to love everything about living there.

He’d reached his favorite part of the trail, the top of a hill that always sent him airborne down an embankment that veered off to the left. More than once he’d nearly ended up in the seagrass that grew along the trail, but he always managed to right the bike at the last second. He laughed out loud at the thrill of flying through the air on the bike and landed hard, still on the bike and on the trail. But just barely.

He got his thrills from exercise these days, thirteen years after giving up alcohol. A binge drinking habit from his college days hadn’t aged well, and he’d had the choice of quitting drinking or finding another line of work. Since he’d couldn’t imagine doing anything other than working in the fire service, giving up his new job as a probationary firefighter in Worcester, Massachusetts hadn’t been an option. The department had sent him to thirty days of rehab with the edict to quit drinking or find another job. So he’d kicked it, but it had been the hardest thing he’d ever done, hands down.

Staying sober had been his primary goal ever since, and fitness had played a huge role in making that happen by giving him a more productive way to spend his time away from work. He pushed himself until he was so exhausted he fell into dreamless sleep when he finally went to bed at the end of every long day.

Sobriety was a daily challenge. He’d never lost the desire drink, but he’d learned to control it, to channel it into more productive pursuits. Daily AA meetings helped, and he tried to never miss a day, although that became more difficult this time of year.

Mason completed one lap around the land conversancy Mrs. Chesterfield had deeded to the island upon her death, and after gauging the sun-to-horizon ratio, decided to take a second loop around the four mile path. Approaching the jump, he sped up, looking for even more height this time. As he cleared the incline, he noticed flames and smoke in the distance, which took his attention off the landing—only for a second. But that’s all it took. He landed wrong and flipped over the handlebars, landing hard on his left side several feet from the path.

The impact knocked the wind out of him for a full minute. He lay on the ground staring up at the sky, watching as daylight faded to twilight and wondering if he was badly injured or only momentarily stunned.

And then he remembered the flames and forced himself to move, to breathe, to shake off the crash. Standing, he glanced in the direction of the smoke and found the plume had doubled in size in the time he’d been flat on his back. Wincing at a sharp pain from his left elbow, he found his phone in the pocket of his jacket and called dispatch.

“It’s Mason. There’s a fire on the west side. Might be Eastward Look. Dispatch all units. I’m on my bike but heading there now.”

“Right away, Chief.”

He ended the call, stashed the phone in his pocket and fished his bike out of the tall grass, groaning when his left elbow refused to bend. “Crap.” The last freaking thing he needed right now was an injury, so he gritted his teeth and pretended his elbow wasn’t messed up as he pedaled hard toward the flames and smoke.

 

Something was wrong. Jordan didn’t know what or where or how she knew something was wrong, just that it was. The sleeping pill she’d taken hours ago had made it so she couldn’t move to do anything about the feeling of danger. Her chest hurt, like it had during the first major asthma attack she’d suffered as a child.

That’d been the first time she’d thought she was going to die, but it hadn’t been the last.

Don’t think about him

She was so tired—mentally, physically, emotionally. She’d taken the pill out of sheer desperation for some much-needed rest. While the pill had made it so she couldn’t move a muscle, her mind was wide awake and spinning, as usual. With her identical twin sister, Nikki, and Nikki’s fiancée, Riley, off-island for a few days, Jordan was home alone in the house that Nikki and Riley had restored over the winter. Technically, the house belonged to their grandmother, but Evelyn had all but given the house to the happy couple, which was fine with Jordan.

She wanted nothing more than Nikki’s happiness.

Jordon had come to Gansett for the grand opening of The Wayfarer, where her sister was the general manager. After all the years of support Nikki had given to Jordan and her career, such as it was, the least Jordan could do was fly across the country to be there for Nik during her big weekend. Two weeks after the grand opening, Jordan hadn’t worked up the inertia to return to her so-called life in Los Angeles.

Things were a mess, and the last place in the world she wanted to be was alone in that massive, empty house in Bel Air. So she’d stayed on Gansett, even if she suddenly felt out of place in the house that’d always been home to her and Nik.

Nikki and Riley were so ridiculously happy that being around them was almost painful for Jordan to watch after the disastrous end to her horrible marriage to Brendan. Known as Zane, the eponymous—and yes, he’d referred to himself as such—rapper had beaten the crap out of her in a hotel room last winter, putting her in the hospital.

Even after she’d blocked his number, he’d popped up again and again using other people’s phones to plead with her to talk to him, to beg for another chance. She’d read online that he was taking “time away” from the tour to deal with “personal issues” and had checked himself into a facility to contend with substance abuse and mental health concerns. But that hadn’t stopped him from finding numerous ways to call her.

Jordan was glad he was getting the help he needed, but wished he’d leave her alone. Each message she received from him only further lacerated her already shredded heart. She’d put everything she’d had into their marriage, even long after he hadn’t deserved anything from her. After living through a custody battle as a child, stuck between warring parents, the failure of her marriage weighed heavily on her heart. She’d tried so hard to make it work because she didn’t want to be divorced.

Distressing thoughts spiraled through her mind, reminding her of the mess her life had become. The sleeping pill had made her anxiety worse, which was the last thing she’d needed.

Her chest hurt all the time but worse than usual now.

She wanted to rub her aching breast bone but couldn’t seem to make her arms cooperate with the directive from her brain.

Something is wrong.

Alarm flooded her system, reminding her of the panic that came with asthma attacks.

A piercing noise sounded, adding to her anxiety. Was that the smoke alarm?

Jordan struggled to find the surface, to open her eyes, but her eyelids felt like cement weights.

Pounding footsteps came toward her, a shout that sounded like concern. Then she was flying through the air, more loud noises, a rush of cool air over her face, the press of warm lips to hers, a flood of air to starving lungs. The lips were soft against hers. She tried to get closer, to keep them there, to open her eyes so she could see the face that belonged to the lips, but her eyelids wouldn’t cooperate.

Her chest hurt so badly, it was almost all she could feel, except for those lips against hers.

A panicked shout, more loud noises, the lips were gone, something covered her face, a sharp pain in her arm and then, blissfully, nothing.

 

“Is she breathing?” Mason asked Mallory Vaughn, a nurse practitioner who filled in periodically on the rig, and Libby, one of his best volunteer paramedics.

Mallory held a stethoscope to the stunning young woman’s chest and nodded in response to his question. Their patient had long, silky dark hair, lovely olive-toned skin, eyelashes that other women would kill for and an arresting mouth. “Her respiration is labored, and her heart rate is through the roof. Let’s get her to the clinic. I’ll call David on the way.”

Dr. David Lawrence, the island’s only doctor, was always on call.

“Do we know her?” Mason asked.

“She’s Nikki Stokes’s sister, Jordan,” Libby said. “They’re identical twins.”

That was why she seemed familiar. She looked like Nikki, but he noted subtle differences between the sisters. He’d read about Jordan and her troubles online, curious about Nikki’s famous sister after he got to know her while inspecting the Wayfarer—and after catching Jordan’s show a few times.

“Where are Nikki and Riley?” Mason asked Mallory, who was Riley’s cousin.

“Off island.”

“Good,” he said, relieved to know that all occupants were out of the house.

Mallory and Libby moved with precision to stabilize Jordan while Mason’s team extinguished the blaze that appeared to have started on the roof and then somehow engaged the chimney—or vice versa.

If he had to guess, the flames on the roof had jumped to the chimney. A creosote build-up had probably caused the chimney to ignite, which had sent smoke into the house. They would have to fully investigate, but that was his hunch.

“Good thing you saw the flames,” Libby said. “She may have had an asthma attack.”

Adrenaline coursed through Mason’s system, making him feel amped up the way he always did after a rescue. “She’s breathing, though, right?” He always cared about the people they saved, but for reasons that made no sense to him, he was extra concerned about this woman.

“She is, and we’re giving her a breathing treatment.” Mallory glanced up at him and did a double take. “What’d you do to your face?”

“Huh?”

She pointed to his left temple.

He reached up, felt wetness and winced at the flash of pain. “Fell off my bike.”

“You need to get that looked at.”

“I’ll come by the clinic after we finish here.” He didn’t mention that his elbow was either broken or dislocated. He’d see to his injuries as soon as he got the chance.

They loaded Jordan onto a gurney and rolled her into the back of the ambulance.

“Let’s roll,” Mallory called to the firefighter driving the rescue.

The rig took off with lights flashing and sirens screaming.

Jordan was in good hands with Mallory, Libby and Dr. David at the clinic, so Mason turned his attention to the smoking hulk of stone that was Mrs. Hopper’s chimney and the singed roof on the north side of the chimney, wondering what could’ve sparked a fire on the roof. Nikki and Riley had done a ton of work to the house over the winter. Hopefully, there wouldn’t be too much damage inside from the fire that’d been contained mostly to the roof and chimney. They’d need some repairs to both.

He tried to shake off the jitters that followed the rush of running into a burning building and bringing someone out alive. The amped feeling stayed with him as he supervised his firefighters, inspected the damage and tried to pinpoint the source of the fire as his mind raced while he tried to process a strange occurrence.

When he’d put his mouth on Jordan’s to blow air into her lungs, something he’d done hundreds of times in the past, the craziest thing had happened. She’d moaned and moved her lips as if to kiss him. That’d certainly never happened before, and it was for damned sure he’d never felt a current of electricity zip through his body while administering mouth-to-mouth resuscitation to anyone else.

What the hell was that about?

Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. 

~ Calvin Coolidge

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