What It's About
The Story Behind the Story
What It's About
Burning out of control...
When a deadly apartment blaze sparked memories of the prom night accident that took her fiancé and unborn baby, firefighter Erin DeLuca ran...and lost herself for just one night. Erin was left pregnant, and the stranger who'd offered solace was nowhere to be found.
Until he showed up in Troublesome Gulch. And irony of ironies, Nate Walker was a pyrotechnics engineer—and when he saw the mystery woman who got away, now very pregnant, his entire being lit up. For Erin, it was a déjà vu moment brighter than any fireworks display—not about reliving pain, but about the joy of being in the arms of a loving man....
RETURN TO TROUBLESOME GULCH... Leaving trouble behind for true love
Book Two, Return to Troublesome Gulch
Silhouette Special Edition/November 1, 2007
The Story Behind the Story
Continuing with the survivors of the prom night crash in Troublesome Gulch, Colorado, I wanted to explore Erin's story. Someone very close to me lost her soul mate in a tragic automobile crash at a young age, and it definitely shaped her life in ways it probably wouldn't have, and like Erin in the book, she went into "the field." In order to help other people who might go through the same trauma? I don't know. But, what if you truly felt like you could never love another person? What if you felt like one half of you had died along with the only person you thought you could ever love? Talk about a topic I could dig into.
"[Déjà You's] plot and conflict are strong, and the characters are developed nicely."
(4 STARS) Romantic Times Book Review
"I enjoyed this story on the basis of depth of their relationship building. The story feels comfortable and warm."
Shirley Lyons, The Romance Reader
"Once again, Lynda Sandoval has produced a work that is simultaneously heart warming and heart wrenching with the continuing story of the prom night accident survivors in Troublesome Gulch. Erin's story will capture you from page one, through her struggles of loss and her journey toward redemption."
LaRita Heet, on Amazon.com (5 stars)
The fire raged.
Hot, thick, black smoke billowed and rolled around them inside the four-unit, two up, two down apartment building that was quickly losing its battle with the whipping flames.
Damn unattended candles.
Damn balloon construction on these cheap-ass buildings.
Damn them all if they didn't get control of this thing, and fast.
The fire had ripped through both levels of the apartments almost before the first due units arrived on scene. Numerous engine companies had responded to the first alarm. Engineer Erin DeLuca, her immediate supervisor, Captain CJ Gooding, and Firefighter Ryan Drake—the crew on Engine Eight—had been assigned to investigate the bottom- floor, north side apartment. They'd rescued everyone they could find from the entire building; now all the companies concentrated on tackling the fire, determined to knock it down against all odds. The wall of heat stifled her, and she knew it would get worse before it got better. Once they hit the flames with water, the resulting steam would be a hundred times hotter than the fire itself.
Through her helmet's crappy headset, Erin could hear the sounds of breathing, her own and that of every other firefighter trying to extinguish the virulent blaze. Beyond the Darth Vader breathing chorus came the crash of breaking glass; firefighters bumping into walls and furniture in the zero-visibility; the clomp-clomp of crews moving about in the apartments above; garbled, back and forth radio communications as rooms were cleared; and of course, the snap and hiss of the monster itself. With the cacophony, radio communications were nearly unintelligible inside her mask and helmet. Thankfully, they were all well aware of and accustomed to the limitations.
Her muscles strained as she and her crew carried in the charged one-and-a-half inch hose line that would hopefully black down the fire in this apartment, at least.
"Hillside Command, from Control."
"Go ahead," Erin heard the battalion chief respond to dispatch, from his strategizing position as incident commander outside the fire.
"You're thirty minutes into the incident, Sir."
"Copy, thirty minutes. Thanks."
From her spot in the communications center, dispatch supervisor and Erin's friend, Lexy, gave the time. Erin couldn't help the niggling sense of alarm in her chest. Thirty minutes in, the fire hot enough to melt steel, and it didn't seem like they were any closer to controlling it than when they'd first arrived. She checked the LED readout for her air tank. Half full, which meant some of the bigger guys on the scene were likely near empty.
Erin squinted to see through the blackness, but it was no use. She closed her eyes and let her hearing and sense of touch take over instead. She moved to the left, toward the snapping bursts of fire. Without warning, an ominous splitting sound came from above them. Everyone ducked back as the ceiling above them collapsed, raining down furniture and flame, wood and water, and the two-firefighter crew that had been in that particular room upstairs. The ash and sparks settled, then everyone moved at once.
Erin immediately dropped to the ground and felt her way to the firefighter closest to her. When she reached him, she leaned down close to his helmet and mask, now jarred away from his face. Bad news.
Fumbling with her stiff gloves, she re-situated his safety gear, but not before she recognized him. Her gut clenched. "I've got you, Sully," she yelled, knowing he probably couldn't hear her any better than she could hear anyone else through all their gear. "Can you talk?"
She peered up into the gaping hole just as flames engulfed what was left of the entire apartment overhead.
Her stomach dropped.
"Portable eight-A to command, Sullivan's down!" she said into her radio. "Second floor is fully involved. I've got Sullivan and I'm coming out."
"Eight-B to command, we've got Arroyo," came the voice of Drake, amped to the max.
"He's unconscious. Unknown extent of injuries."
"Command, from engine eight," came Captain Gooding's calm but urgent voice, "we have a collapse and a fully engulfed second floor. Repeat, we have a ceiling collapse from the second floor to the bottom level with two firefighters down."
From outside, the battalion chief's tone came across with a heightened sense of alarm. "Engine eight's got a collapse. All units, abandon structure. Repeat, abandon structure."
Three sharp alert blasts rang out over the radio, then Lexy's calm, collected voice. "All units on the Hillside Fire, abandon, abandon, abandon. Repeat, abandon, abandon, abandon structure."
Erin heard the battalion chief calling for a PAR—personnel accountability report—from all the crews working the fire, to make sure no other firefighters were injured or unaccounted for. She hitched her elbows under Sullivan's arms and dragged him first to the wall, and then following the hose line, out toward the front door she couldn't see. Beneath the smoke, she could barely make out Drake and the Captain carrying Arroyo out the same way.
When she burst out into the late afternoon air, her bunker gear sooty and steaming from the temperature drop, her vision cleared. She glanced up at the apartments, sucking the last vestiges of air from her tank and feeling sick. They probably wouldn't be able to save much of the structure, if any. A total failure.
She hated that.
A Troublesome Gulch paramedic crew ran up to assist her with Sullivan. Erin glanced over, glad to see Brody Austin there, a damned excellent paramedic, not to mention one of her closest friends.
He laid his hand against the reflective letters that spelled out DeLuca on the back of her bunker coat and leaned closer, concern wrinkling his brow. "You okay?" he yelled.
She nodded. Her biceps shook and twitched from the exertion of dragging burly Jeff Sullivan out, and her breaths came in heaving succession, but she'd be fine.
Seemingly satisfied, Brody joined the other medics who had already started administering aid to Sullivan, while Erin ran back to the door to help the rest of her three-person crew deliver Arroyo to them as well.
She, Drake, and Captain Gooding watched until they were sure Sullivan and Arroyo would be okay, then backed off and headed to the designated rehab area. Fans blew cool air around them. Erin sat on the wide back bumper of the ambulance, unscrewed her air pressure regulator from her mask, pulled off her helmet, then yanked her Nomex hood down to dangle around her neck. Finally, she removed her mask.
Relieved to be free of it, she sucked in her first gulp of cool, fresh air. Sweat rolled down her skin beneath her bunkers, and if her face looked anything like the others', whipped dogs had nothing on the three of them. She stuck one glove under her arm, extracting her hand and inverting the inside liner, then repeated it with the other glove. After she'd removed her air tank and bunker coat, she held out her shaky arm for one of the rehab EMTs to take her blood pressure.
Drake and the Captain did the same.
The trio, breathing as though they'd just gone three rounds with the heavyweight champion of the world, watched from afar as fresh teams battled the fire from outside the unstable structure. Once an Abandon order had been given, their only option was to fight the fire defensively.
The head paramedic in the rehab area handed them each a cold bottle of water. Erin downed the entire thing in one extended swallow, and it didn't touch her thirst.
She glanced over at her captain. "We're going to lose this one, aren't we?" she asked, before wiping the back of her hand across her mouth.
Captain Gooding nodded, running fingers through her sweaty hair. "Dammit."
"Will they reassign us, Cap?"
"Probably not. BC called a second alarm. There are enough fresh crews here to take over. Take your time in rehab." She stared somberly at the fire for a moment, then stood and headed over to the other ambulance, where Sullivan and Arroyo were being loaded.
At least they'd gotten everyone out before the fire took the upper hand, Erin thought. Just then, someone yanked her arm from the side. Instinctively, she jerked away, whipping around to come face-to-face with a soot covered woman who looked to be at least eight months pregnant. Her maternity dress hung in blackened tatters against her body.
"Please," the woman sobbed, barely able to inhale, "help me."
Erin grabbed both of the woman's upper arms, bracing her. "Talk to me! Are you hurt?"
The woman, so hysterical she couldn't form sentences, gestured vaguely toward the building. "M-my husband..."
"What about him?" Erin demanded, giving the woman a small shake. She didn't want to be harsh, but time was of the essence. "Take a deep breath, then tell me."
"H-he went b-back in. F-for the cat." She shook her head and clutched at it as tears streamed down her face. "I haven't seen him s-since. Please!"
Alarm and dread rose inside Erin's throat, threatening to breach her panic dam. She hooked a hand around the woman's arm. "Come on," she said in a kind but firm voice, as she led her toward her immediate supervisor. "Hey, Cap!"
The older woman she respected so much spun to face them, then trotted over and met them half way. "What's going on?" she asked, her voice hoarse.
Erin glanced down at the frenzied pregnant woman, who looked to be no more than twenty or so. "Her husband went back into the building to look for their cat. He hasn't come out."
Erin's and Captain Gooding's gazes locked, as the Captain pressed her lips into a thin line. After a moment, she turned her back, immediately got on her radio and spoke with the Battalion Chief. They conferred, then Captain Gooding took the woman's other arm gently, supporting her. "Come on, honey. What's your name?"
"Suzette," the young soon-to-be-mother wailed. "We've only been married eight months! Please!"
"Okay, Suzette, okay," the Captain soothed.
Between them, Suzette hung her head and gave in to the wracking sobs.
"Where are we going?" Erin asked her superior, in a soft voice so as not to be overheard by Suzette.
"Victims assistance," Captain Gooding responded in kind.
Erin gulped. She knew the answer, but hope made her ask anyway. "Are we...going back in for him?"
The Cap met her gaze over Suzette's head, remorse and resignation in her expression. "No."
At the victim's assistance staging area, a counselor, and a police officer—Erin's friend, Cagney—sat Suzette down and tried to explain the gravity of the situation. Erin stood back and watched as the confusion and horror moved into Suzette's expression. She knew the exact moment when Suzette realized the truth: her husband was never coming out.
All of a sudden, dizziness assailed Erin. Flashes, images, horrors filled her brain. She couldn't handle this. She started to back away from the cops, counselors, and huddled victims, hating that word with a passion. She spun, eyes down, trying to block everything from her brain, but her ears buzzed and her hands shook. Part of her boiled with the insane urge to dash into the blazing apartments and search for Suzette's husband, although the chances of him still being alive were zero at this point. Not to mention, her disobedience of the Abandon order would get her ass fired, if not killed.
No warning—the sky blazed orange as the bottom apartments flashed over, blowing out all the remaining intact windows. Like a freakin' Hollywood movie set. The entire structure succumbed to flames, and thick black smoke blasted out at the fire crews like an angry demon declaring victory.
Erin heard Suzette's keening wail behind her.
Fixated on the fire, Erin struggled to breathe, her knees buckling slightly.
God. She knew.
She knew the pain Suzette was feeling right at that moment. Felt it, all the way down to her soul's core.
For so many years, so many fires, she'd been able to block out the memories of the accident that had destroyed her life, but the unexpected blow of young, pregnant, distraught Suzette had cracked her veneer, and inside lay a mirror. She saw herself in the young woman's eyes as the nightmare of her past rushed in through the cracks.
Prom night. Kevin, the love of her life. Alcohol for all of them except her, because of the secret inside her womb, the baby she and Kevin had accidentally created but had not yet revealed to the world. They were getting married two months later anyway, so what did it matter?
The evening started with laughter and loud music, the rustle of satin and taffeta, bottles passing, sexy Lexy, the prom queen, climbing over the stick shift to kiss and tease Randy.
Then, without warning, screeching tires, a crushing jolt, the disorientation of rolling, tumbling, smashing down the cliff, and then fire. So much twisted metal, broken glass, and fire.
Screaming, her dress in flames and melting to her skin, Erin saw Kevin crushed and silent. Her best girlfriend, Mick, broken and still. Lexy's boyfriend, Randy, crumpled and twisted inside the smashed cab of the Range Rover, with Lexy trapped and screaming beside him. Brody, holding one of Mick's shoes and walking dazedly around the scene, slipping, falling, getting back up, falling again.
Where were Cagney and her last minute fill-in date? What was his name again? Erin had thought, as she finally sank to the ground and rolled to extinguish the flames engulfing her dress.
This isn't my life, she remembered thinking. This is a newspaper article from somewhere else.
"Kevin!" she'd screamed, clutching her hands to her searing abdomen, as she slowly lost consciousness, remembering, in her last lucid moment, their baby. "Kevin...!"
Erin's knees buckled again, and Brody appeared from nowhere, propping her up by her elbows. "Kevin," she gasped at him.
The lines around his eyes deepened. "Erin, honey. It's Brody. Can you hear me?"
She looked up, disoriented, then remembered where she was and why. She saw an expression of agonized understanding on Brody's face, and sagged against him. "Yes," she wheezed.
"You need oxygen."
"Yes." She needed a hell of a lot more than that, but the oxygen would do for now.
He guided her back to the rehab area, settling her next to Drake and slipping the clear mask over her face.
"You okay, DeLuca?" Drake asked, his eyes wide.
"She's fine," Brody assured the young firefighter, with a confident smile, despite the anguish that showed in his eyes. "A little smoke inhalation. Nothing to worry about." He leaned in, putting his hands on Erin's shoulders. "You listen to me. It'll be okay," he said, in a low voice. "I promise."
He looked away, a muscle in his jaw pulsing. "I don't know. But, if I did it, you can find a way."
She shook her head. "We lost someone," she said, her words muffled, breath fogging the oxygen mask.
"I know," he said, his tone somber. "We're transporting the wife. She's gone into pre-term labor."
Erin squeezed her eyes shut, absolutely refusing to cry on a fire scene. She'd never cried at work. Never.
Brody shook her. "Look at me."
"We'll help you. Faith and I. It will be okay," he enunciated slowly.
She nodded, totally numb, agreeing with him when she didn't agree at all, feeling like nothing in her life would ever be okay again....