Inferno of Love:Firefighters of Long Valley Book 2(11)

By: Erin Wright


She sighed. Someday, bureaucracy would be the death of her, she was just sure of it.

She spotted a movement out of the corner of her eye and she froze, her head whipping up. She was in bear country, and although she had bear spray on her, it was inside of her CamelBak. Not exactly convenient if a bear was about to charge at her.

But thank God, it wasn’t a bear – only a dog. A Dalmatian, actually, with a beautiful white coat and faded black spots all over. It had fluffy ears, not smooth ones like the other Dalmatians she’d seen, but damn, it was gorgeous anyway. It was skittering along the tree line, looking over its shoulder at her as it slunk from bush to bush.

“Hi, handsome,” she called out softly, holding out her hand and snapping her fingers. “What’s a good-lookin’ boy like you doing all the way up here? Where’s your owner?”

The dog disappeared behind a thick tree trunk and then stuck his nose out the other side, staring mournfully back at her.

“You’re a shy thing, aren’t you,” she said just above a whisper, trying to get closer to the dog without doing something stupid like stepping on a branch and sending him running off into the trees. “It’s okay, I won’t hurt you, I promise.” She made some kissy noises, feeling a little ridiculous as she did it, but she figured most animals liked that sound. At least, she assumed they did.

This dog seemed to be the exception, though. He had moved again and was now trying to hide behind a larger boulder, apparently going with the “If I can’t see you, you can’t see me” line of reasoning. Unfortunately for the dog, his hindquarters were sticking out for all to see.

Not exactly stealthy.

As she got closer, she could see that they were hindquarters that seemed to be shaking, with the tail tucked up tight between his legs. Her heart broke a little at the sight. What had happened to the poor thing?

She stopped and rummaged around in her bag to find her stash of beef jerky. It was supposed to be her afternoon snack on the way back down the hill, but nothing spoke to a dog’s heart like jerky, right? It had to work better than the kissy noises, anyway.

“Come here, boy,” she whispered as she crept closer, holding the jerky out. “Come here – you’ll like it, I promise!”

She could see his nose sticking out, wiggling in the strong breeze as he tried to weigh the promise of beef jerky against agreeing to get that close to Georgia to eat it.

“Who did this to you?” she whispered, moving ever so slowly towards the cowering dog. “And where is your owner? You have to have one – Dalmatians are too damn expensive to just be abandoned on the side of the road.” She didn’t know much about dogs, but even she knew that purebreds were costly. Not to mention that the dog had a collar on, although unfortunately there were no tags dangling from it. But a collar meant human ownership. So where was that human owner?

Just as she was almost to the boulder, she smelled it. Something…weird.

Well, not weird per se, not if it had been June, anyway. But she was smelling the distinct odor of a campfire, which…out here in the wilderness at the beginning of May?

Just…why?

It was still way too cold to camp at night out here, and most roads were closed until Memorial Day. She hadn’t expected to run into another soul on a weekday – not this far up, and certainly not at this time of the day.

But…her nose was quivering as much as the dog’s. That totally smelled like a campfire. Was someone out here roasting marshmallows?

She straightened up and left the dog behind for a moment to work her way further up the trail to another outlook over the valley. First I find a random-ass Dalmatian wandering around, scared to death of people, and now I’m smelling campfire smoke. This day is just getting weirder by the—

And that’s when she saw it.

A thick column of black smoke was rising into the sky from the pine forest below. Faintly, she could hear the pop and crackle of pine sap being boiled off by the heat, and through the trees, she spotted the occasional orange flame, dancing in the wind.

There was a wildfire raging through the forest.

Directly downhill from her.

More specifically, in between her and her car.

“Oh shit!” she gasped, unable to yell, her heart taking off as she tried to take it all in. A wildfire? In the beginning of May? Who’d ever heard of such a thing? Fire season shouldn’t be starting until this summer, at the absolute earliest. There were no wildfires in May. It was against the law…or…or something!

“Oh shit!” she got out again, this time as a strangled cry. That damn dog…she couldn’t leave it behind.