I roll over in bed trying to get back to the dream, to the memory. Squeezing my eyes closed tighter, I can almost feel her skin against my fingertips. Hear her husky voice in my ear as she moans my name. My cock jumps in my pants and I can just about feel her heat against it. Her little nails scraping my back, marking me as hers.
"Marco, my love." She pants against my ear. "I want to come." Her moan almost makes me come.
Beep. Beep. Beep.
She fades away, and my eyes pop open. I stare at the dark ceiling of the station bunk room. I hear the callout and jump up from my bed as the other guys head for the bay. My hand brushes through my long dark hair and I pull the ends trying to break the memory. It’s been six years of this. Six years of dreams. No. Nightmares. Six years of hell over and over, reliving every moment we had together. Every brief moment, because that’s all it was, a blip in the timeline of my life. A moment. A sigh. But it was everything. And I can't go on without her. I won't.
I leave the room and enter the bay where my team is gearing up.
"Lieutenant, what's the plan?" Tyler asks as I jump into my coveralls.
"Load up." I bark the order and jump into the passenger seat of the rescue truck. I let dispatch know we are responding as we pull out of the bay with the lights and sirens going.
Turning around, I look into the back at the rest of my team. I lead a team of five top-notch elite firefighters, each highly trained for all possible rescue scenarios, and the best at what they do. We’re called out when the regular fire crews here in Brooklyn can't get the job done or need help. I'm on my way to making captain as soon as one of the other captains retires or transfers.
"Okay, team, this is a rescue. Three guys are trapped in a warehouse fire. I want all of you packed up and ready to enter. Four-man team entry with TNT on the nozzle. M & M, you guys go in with him in the middle and Kid taking up the rear. Bigfoot, you're engineer. Any questions?" In the privacy of our own rig, I'll use their nicknames or call signs, but on the ground we use last names, as per protocol.
They all respond with a “got it” as we pull up to the organized chaos of the scene. Everyone is racing around but they know exactly what their job is, no one is lazing around. And if they are, they're kicked off the scene.
My team piles out of the back except for Lucas, or Bigfoot as the team nicknamed him, and myself coming out of the front. I slip my jacket and helmet on. As a lieutenant, I don't go in very often, but if I need to I will, so I'm ready just in case. I walk over and check in with the incident commander and let him know what our plan is. He agrees and gives me the go-ahead for my team to enter.
Tyler, or TNT as we call him, is our primary nozzle man because of his bulk, but he's also trained for other rescue types such as vehicle and trench. The man is the same height as my six foot three but is wider and more muscular than I am. He's built like a brick shithouse. I'm not small by any means, but he makes me look anorexic. He and I have been friends since the academy six years ago. We’ve had many talks and nights of drinking, but he doesn't share his pain like I do. He just sits there and listens to me, saying he understands. Something tells me he has a good idea what I've gone through, maybe not the same but close. I know he has a darkness to him too, something he struggles to hide from the others. When I made lieutenant, there was no question I would make him my right-hand man and have him on my team.
"Okay, M & M, get them out." I look at Marshall and Michaelson, who both nod at me.
Marshall is my only female on the team, and standing at five foot six, she challenges all the guys. She is solid muscle and more physically trained than I am. If she could just get the chip off her shoulder of being the only female, she’d move up in the ranks fast. She and Michaelson are also my dive rescue specialists. Michaelson is not as tall as Tyler and me, but he's built as big as me. He and Marshall have been friends for a long time. That and their last names is what gave them the M & M nickname; she's Greenie and he's Red if you're referring to them individually.
I look at my newest team member, Appleton, or Kid as we’ve dubbed him, as he pulls up the rear. I can almost hear the grumbling through his mask. He hates that Marshall gets to do more than him, but he's the newbie and I'm still feeling him out. He's only been with me for a month now and I'm still not sure he's a good fit. Everyone else has been with me since the beginning; we are truly a team.
"All in. All out," Tyler says through his mask, and I watch them nod before they enter the burning warehouse.
I say a silent prayer for them as I do every time they go into something dangerous, then I watch and wait. It’s still hard for me to be out here and not in there with them.
When Tyler radios they have found the area where the other firefighters are trapped, I breathe a bit easier. A couple minutes later we get the next update. They’ve gained access to the firefighters and request medical to be waiting. I walk closer to the entrance as they emerge. Other firefighters and paramedics rush to get the two that were injured. Michaelson and Tyler each carrying one across their backs. I turn back to check and make sure Lucas has cut the pressure to the hose until we are directed to do something else. Appleton takes the hose from Marshall who was on lead. I don't doubt she was willing to carry one of the injured, but knowing Tyler, he decided to do it. My guys like and trust Marshall, they say she has their backs, but they still tend to baby her, and she doesn't like that. Case in point, as soon as she has her mask off, she turns to Tyler.
"Listen, TNT, I get you are big and strong, but I could have gotten him." Not one to cause a scene, she doesn't say it loud enough for the other guys to hear.
"Hey, Greenie, he was taller than you. I didn't want him dragging behind you scuffing his boots. Besides, you broke that flame wall down like a pro."
"Enough." I stop it before she can really rail into him. She reminds me of my wife with her spunk and not wanting to give in and ask for help. She doesn't let these guys, or any guy for that matter, get away with shit.
A hand slaps down on my shoulder and I turn to see Jack Caine standing next to me.
"Thank you for making me and my boys useless." He jokes.
I chuckle and take him in. He's shorter than me at about six foot one, and not as bulky, but he definitely is related to my brother-in-law, Noah. He's in his NYPD uniform with the sleeves rolled up because of the heat coming off the building. Unlike most of the clean-cut Caines, Jack has lots of tattoos lining his arms and across the back of his hands and crawling out of the collar of his shirt.
"Yeah, my guys got this. You can go relax and have a cappuccino now."
He barks out a laugh until his eyes flick over my shoulder to my team. I know the instant he figures out Marshall is a woman. I turn to see her pulling her Nomex hood off exposing her long brown hair. Normally it’s a dark blond but she recently dyed it. We teased that she had wanted to look like Michaelson. She leans over and dumps a bottle of water over her head, cooling herself off. When she flips back up, she looks right at us. I watch as she shakes herself and turns back to the guys.
"Who's this guy?" I ask, looking down at the large Rottweiler.
Jack turns back to me and pats the dog’s head. "This beauty is Flo. She’s a tracker. I won't tell her you called her a guy, that would hurt this lady’s feelings." He cocks his head toward his SUV. "I've also got Bang in the rig to help look for devices. If I needed to, I was going to have a friend bring in a cadaver dog, but I'm glad I don't need either of them." He looks past me again and I'm curious as to what's going on. Jack is Noah's cousin, and at every family function I've seen him at he's never been with anyone. I've seen him out and about at times but never with women, he's always got his dogs. I've even heard him say his dogs are more faithful than women, but right now he's showing some serious interest in my teammate.
I lean toward him and as quietly as I can without drawing attention say, "Her name is Morgan Marshall."
He rears back, his eyes flaring wide as he takes her name in, and I nod in silent confirmation. Her father was one of the many heroes of 9/11, and her sister a war hero that the city recently honored. His eyes cut back to her when Michaelson addresses her.
"Hey, Greenie, you ever going to tell us how the date went?"
"Nope, Red. Let's just say he couldn't handle the heat, and a girl needs to have some secrets." She jokes, her voice carrying as all the guys laugh.
Jack clears his throat. "So, I hear your sister is running Noah ragged with her cravings."
I chuckle and think of Kenzie pregnant. "Yeah, that's what I heard too. I'm going over there Friday for dinner. You going?" I've been avoiding being around Kenzie because the memories are too much sometimes, but I can't punish my sister for that. I'm going to take the bull by the horns and spend the evening with her and Noah. I know she hurts for me. That she knows why I avoid her, and I can't let her carry that burden anymore.
"Hell no. I don't do that domestic shit unless I have to." He guffaws loudly. "Besides, I'm sure I can find something more fun to do on a Friday."
"Okay, Graco, you can head back to quarters, we've moved into clean up now." The incident commander comes over to let me know.
"Thank you, sir. I'm glad we could help."
"Thank you for getting them out alive." He addresses my team.
"See you around, Caine." I thump Jack on the back as my team starts to load back up into the rescue rig. "Caine, if you want an in, I'll find out if she's interested." I joke with him.
"Nope, I can get my own girl." He laughs and turns back toward his rig, where he loads up his dog and waits until he's released from the scene too.
I watch him and think about my own love. When I saw her, I knew she was going to be mine, that no other woman would be mine except her. Noah and his brother Zeke were the same way with their girls. Shit, Zeke even tricked his into marrying him, while Noah just ordered my sister around and she did whatever he said. She was just as lost in him as he was in her. They still are. I’d be screwed if Jack did that with Morgan. I’m already related to the Caines, but to have a team member be with one… Hell, talk about fire and oil. I smile at the predicament I'm sure Jack is in now, serves the fucker right. Morgan is going to give him a run for his money.
As the rig pulls in front of the bay so we can clean and restock it, my cell phone goes off and I look at the screen.
"What up, Enzo?"
"Saw you pulling away from the scene as I was pulling up. I'm here waiting for them to clear for the investigation. I'll come by and interview your team later today. You all on a twenty-four?"
"Good. I need to talk to you." His tone changes from business to a quiet, personal tone and my gut clenches.
"Fuck no," I growl into the phone. Enzo is my brother and a fire investigator, but he's also a pain in my ass trying to get me to start dating again. I'm not ready for that. My wedding anniversary is coming up in a few weeks and I don't want to deal with it. I always make sure I have that time of year off so I can bury myself in a bottle of whiskey and forget what I had for a moment.
"Marco, it's time."
"No, it the fuck isn't. Look, you can't even find a good one. Mine was perfect for me and I won't ever be able to replace that, so no." I disconnect the call and try to cool my anger.
I'm never going to be able to get over the loss of my wife and baby in one fell swoop. I wasn't even here to save her. I was in Afghanistan on maneuvers, oblivious to the fact my wife and baby were struggling against an intruder at the coffee shop where she worked. They both died when he shot her. I don't know if I had a son or daughter because the police released the body to her family and not me. I don't know where they are buried, or if they even are. I grip the phone tighter in my hand and bow my head.
"Marco, man, calm down, your phone isn't that tough." Tyler pats my arm and I look up at him. I know when he sees the pain in my eyes that he knows what I'm thinking about.
"Enzo pushing you again?"
"Fucker won't give up. He even brought it up in front of our parents."
"What did they say?"
"Nothing, but my mom walked out of the room sniffling. She cries every time it gets close to when the baby should have been born."
"Calm down. Get out of your gear and go for a run."
I nod at him and do exactly as he says, and take everything out on the treadmill.