“There’s a hole in my heart. I can’t fill it. Can you fill it?”
Mark Redfeather threw his head back and opened his palms to the sky, beseeching the Great Spirit for wisdom and hope. He seemed to have misplaced both after the death of his paternal grandmother. She’d been the sun and the moon to him, the one who had faith in him despite his unusual skill set and talents. Now she flew in Father Sky, always dancing across Mother Earth.
His whole family belonged to the Sky Dancers, the Thunderbirds sacred to the Arapahoe of northern Wyoming. He’d been born a twin with his brother Thomas, but instead of a Thunderbird, he’d come out a Firebird, the one in every two million Thunderbirds, and an apparent harbinger of a cataclysm that would change the world forever.
He’d never liked that prediction.
His grandmother had taken him in when his parents couldn’t handle his propensity to set things alight – the blankets, the house, hell, even the dog – and she’d taught him how to control the tickling flames. He’d learned his true nature and honed his control so he could become the best at his chosen profession.
But with her death, he felt adrift and lost. He’d thrown himself into work, but even he had to take downtime, and not just because of the regulations. But the downtime allowed him to think and to hurt, and the urge to shift into his true form nipped at his control like a yappy terrier.
The good news was he’d joined a crew of firefighters on the Warbler Peninsula of northern Michigan. The air was always damp and the trees almost always wet. The bad news was he often burned hot enough to torch even green wood. And someone was bound to notice a large flaming bird soaring across the night sky.
So he’d thrown on base layer pants and shirt, grabbed his water pack, hat, and gloves, and went for a run. The fire station was based in Newberry, Michigan, but he had enough energy to run half way to Three Lakes, a little town on the shore of Lake Superior. The fire crew had set up a table at their Memorial Day, Independence Day, and Labor Day events in hopes to get donations. After the fire at an apartment building in May, the residents had been very generous.
Mark liked the little town, drawn there by the energies he could feel in town. He’d learned there was a local Morukai Shaman, a speaker for the Goddess, living there, but he’d never met her. All the local Elder Races living around Three Lakes said she was kind.
Thinking about Three Lakes eased some of the pain from his grandmother’s loss and he turned his feet back toward Newberry just as it started to snow hard and thick. Pretty soon he couldn’t see more than a few feet in front of him, and he slowed to a jog to conserve his energy. Fantastic. It’s going to be a long run home.
He tried to stay well off the road as he continued on his way. Nothing like having to call the paramedics to rescue his ass if a motorist slid off the road and hit him. Talk about embarrassing.
As if conjured by the thought, a bright turquoise blue four-door Jeep Wrangler came out of nowhere and skidded to a stop beside him. He jumped aside, hoping he wouldn’t get hit if the driver lost more control. But the person inside rolled down the passenger window and called out to him.
“Hey, are you lost?”
The woman’s voice held warmth, concern, and a sultry quality that caught his attention in ways he didn’t need to be thinking.
“No, ma’am. I’m headed home.”
“In a blizzard? Where are you headed?” She shot him a look like he was crazier than a shithouse rat.
“That’s where I’m going. Can I give you a ride? No one should be out in weather like this, at least not without a car.” She leaned over and opened the Jeep’s door. “Come on. Get in. It’s warm and dry in here.”
He debated getting into a strange woman’s car, but he’d grown tired of the cold snow dripping down the back of his neck and climbed into her passenger seat.
“Thanks. It’s getting nasty out there.” He shut the door and turned to offer his hand. “Name’s Mark Redfeather.” He stopped at his name, struck dumb by her beauty.
Unusually light blue eyes looked out over a slightly beaked nose, arching dark browns, and elegant lips with the corners turned up. From what he could see of her hair it rested long, straight, and thick over the chest of her down jacket.
“Pleased to meet you, Mark. My name’s Estelle Three-Hearts.” She checked her mirrors and head back onto the road. “Where can I take you in Newberry?”
“I’m headed to the fire station. I’m a firefighter.”
Her eyes opened wide and a smile curled her lips, damn near curling his toes. “That’s where I’m going. I wanted to talk to the captain about doing the annual holiday calendar photo shoot again this year. Not much time to get the last of the shots before we sell it for next year.”
He raised his eyebrows. “Couldn’t you have made a call instead of the drive?”
She grimaced. “I wish. The land lines were down from snow and the local cell tower hasn’t been repaired. I had to make the drive because I do better with voice interactions rather than email.” She laughed. “I could insult you fifty different ways on email. But in person, I know exactly what to say.”
“You’re a photographer? Where is your studio?”
“Up in Three Lakes, on the shore of Lake Superior. You folks saved an apartment building there in May.”
He nodded. “I remember. Some crazy guy ran into the burning building to rescue a child. I’m just glad the fool got out alive.”
“Yeah, I got some great shots of him coming out of the building with her.” Estelle gave him a wink. “I sometimes freelance for the local paper.” She squinted as they passed the sign to Newberry. “So you’re a firefighter. Are you one of the ones who volunteered for the shoot?”
He hadn’t, but after having met the photographer, he’d sign up as soon as they walked in the door.
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