Keeping Kenzie - Pepper North

Chapter 1

An acrid smell weaved its way into her dreams. The nightmares of the building collapse had haunted Kenzie each time she closed her eyes. This time, it seemed more vivid as her imagination recreated the tragic details of the real-life disaster shared online this week. She could feel the heat of the air sandwiched under the layers of shattered concrete and steel as she became one of the office workers trapped in the rubble.

With a jerk, she woke up. Shaking from the aftermath of the nightmare, Kenzie looked frantically around as her bad dream seemed to come to life. A cacophony of sounds besieged her. Shouts, sirens, and crackling sounds scared her, and Kenzie felt her heart racing inside her chest. She couldn’t breathe. Smoke filled her bedroom. Trying desperately to think, she rolled off the bed and found a bit of clearer air low to the ground. She had to get out of there.

Braving the thicker smoke, Kenzie rose to reach over the rumpled covers to retrieve her best friend in the world. Where was he? Finally, her fingers closed over the chameleon’s plush fur, and she dragged Cupcake off the soft surface. “Don’t be scared. I’m going to get you out of here.”

Kenzie thought desperately to create a plan. She was on the third floor, so she’d hurt Cupcake if she jumped. Her brain ordered, Try the door. Crawling as fast as she could, Kenzie got a few feet from the door, and it burst open.

An enormous figure loomed in the entrance. Instinctively, she scooted backward. The breathing apparatus covering his face muffled his voice. He leaned down toward her so she could see him more clearly and pointed to the fire emblem on his protective gear.

“I need to get out of here,” Kenzie tried to shout over the noise.

The firefighter opened his arms, and without a thought, she crawled forward. His arms wrapped around her and lifted Kenzie. He pressed her face against his shoulder and immediately took off. Racing through the flickering light from the encroaching flames, the powerful man carried her to safety.

As they emerged into the fresh air, his hand on her back patted her reassuringly. Carrying her to the medics, he set her down softly on a stretcher. The gigantic figure stopped to look at her.

Kenzie couldn’t see him well through the breathing apparatus. She leaned forward, hoping to see his face. “Thank you!” she called.

His radio squawked, and he immediately turned and took off. Before entering the building, he turned to look at her. Then, he disappeared into the apartment building.

“Hey, sweetie. What’s your name?” one of the EMTs asked her as he took her arm to look for burns.

“Kenzie. I’m okay,” she rushed to reassure them.

“Let us make sure.”

“The fire was outside my apartment.”

“That’s good. I’m going to listen to your lungs,” he warned before fitting the stethoscope into his ears. “You sound pretty good. Try to breathe deeply to get any remnants of nasty stuff out of there.”

Nodding, Kenzie accepted a bottle of water. Bravely, she dared to ask, “Who was that firefighter?”

“The one who brought you out?”

“Yes,” she answered, nodding.

“That was Osiris Jones. He’s a legend around here. Today’s his last day. We’re going to miss him.”

“Osiris?” she repeated, sure that she had misunderstood.

“His mom always wanted to visit Egypt. She named him for one of their ancient gods.”

“Wow.” Kenzie stared back at the entrance, where smoke now billowed out. He has to be okay. A flicker of light in her apartment made her pull Cupcake closer to her body. If he hadn’t gotten her out of there…

“I think you’re okay,” the medic reassured her. “Be sure to check with your doctor if you have any breathing trouble.”

“Thank you,” she mumbled as she slid off the stretcher. She moved to stand close to the other tenants who watched everything they owned burn to the ground.

Nothing was important inside to Kenzie except whether Osiris Jones was okay. Keeping her gaze fixed on that door, she jumped as a section of the roof collapsed. “Osiris!” she gasped.

“Hey, Little girl! Are you alright?” a deep, raspy voice asked from her right.

She whirled to face him. Her gaze ran over his sweat-drenched face. Exhaustion was carved into his features. “Osiris?” she asked, hopefully.

“That’s me, Little girl.”

Without hesitating, Kenzie bolted forward to wrap her arms around the large man’s waist. “You’re okay,” she whispered against his protective gear.

One large hand brushed up and down her spine, rumpling her chameleon pajamas. “Hey! It’s alright! I