She heard someone calling her name but couldn't identify the voice. Was it even real? She couldn't be sure. It was only when someone grabbed her arms and dragged her away from the heat and smoke that she knew she was not dreaming. She tried to look at her rescuer, but the thick, acrid smoke burned and stung her eyes.
“Climb down,” the man instructed, pushing her toward the railing of the balcony. “It’s only a short drop. You won’t hurt yourself.” He left her standing there alone.
She forced her eyes open and looked toward the doorway, ringed in flame. The man who’d saved her now slithered through the entrance, crawling below the billowing smoke. Ellie coughed. Her nose itched and her lungs burned.
Her face burned, too -- from sheer embarrassment. How could she have been so foolish? So careless? As so often happened, her thoughts of David had taken possession and she’d lost all good sense.
She still stood near the railing, staring at the doorway. She saw a pair of blanket-covered hands reach out and press against the doorframe, quickly smothering the flames. Moments later, the fire was extinguished and Stefan Blackwell stepped through the sooty, blackened opening.
“What are you doing here?” she asked.
“I told you to climb down. Are you all right?”
“Yes, but why are you here?”
“Fate, I suppose.” He grinned. “A psychic connection, maybe? I must have known you were in trouble.”
Ellie gasped. “But -- how?”
Stefan laughed. “Actually, I was returning your handbag. You left it at the shop earlier.” He came to the railing and pointed to the grass below. “I dropped it there when I saw the fire and realized what was happening.”
This man must think her a complete idiot! Losing her handbag, setting her apartment on fire...and performing nightly rituals to win back an unfaithful lover. What foolishness!
Staring down at the wooden slats of the deck, she stammered her thanks.
Stefan shrugged off her words. “Glad I was able to help. Like I said, it must have been fate that brought me here at just the right time.” He took a step toward her. “Are you sure you’re all right?”
“Shaken up, but otherwise fine, I think.” Ellie looked at his smoke-smudged cheeks. “What about you?” Funny, but she’d never noticed before how attractive Stefan was. Seeing him now in the pale moonlight, she trembled slightly. He seemed to almost glow.
“I’ll survive. I always do.” He touched a hand to his forehead in a salute, then swung his long legs over the railing. He dropped to the ground, picked up Ellie’s bag, and tossed it up. “Got it?”