By: Shirley Penick

She still had on Jeremy’s T-shirt and the pajama pants she’d worn to bed. The ones with the gorillas on them. She’d always loved gorillas, but hoped no one had noticed her gorilla PJs last night. They smelled like smoke, but she didn’t have anything else right now. And, truth be told, Jeremy’s T-shirt made her feel safe. So, they would have to do until the world woke up and she could find out what her other options were.

Was everything roped off or just her banquet room? She was pretty sure she wouldn’t be able to open until she cleaned things up a bit and aired it out. That is, if the fire department allowed her in at all. She wondered what had caused the fire in the first place—she hadn’t used the room in a couple days. The more she thought about it the more questions she had.

She needed to talk to someone. Chris might know. He was a firefighter. Or Greg, since he was one of the assistant chiefs. She decided to look at email while she waited for the rest of the world to wake up—they’d all been up fighting the fire until about six and then they had all probably gone home for a few more hours’ sleep. So, she didn’t want to call or text anyone until at least eight or nine.

She grabbed her phone, thankful it was still charged, and was excited to find an email from Jeremy.

Hi Amber,

I rescued a few clothes for you after we got the fire out last night. I hope you don’t mind me rummaging through your things, but I decided you would rather sacrifice privacy for clean clothes that don’t smell too much like smoke. I put them on Chris’s deck on one of the chairs under the round table. I hope they are safe. Text or email me if you need anything else, I probably won’t sleep until tonight, so I’m up.


She was so excited to have clean clothes, she didn’t give a crap if he did see her panties and bras. It’s not like he’s never seen them before—well maybe not hers, but still. She quietly crept out of the guest room, went out the back door, and found a rather large duffle bag of her clothes. It wasn’t her bag, so she had to assume it was Jeremy’s. She got back to her room without waking Chris or Barbara.

She opened the duffle bag and dumped it all out on the bed. He was a thorough rummager—there were underclothes, jeans, sweats, and even a couple sets of work clothes. Plus pajamas, a jacket and two pairs of shoes. There were also toiletries, tooth brush, tooth paste, lotion, antiperspirant, and her brush with some of the clips she wore sometimes to keep her hair out of her face. Her purse was also in the mix along with her cell phone charger and even her laptop. The man had some serious skills.

She texted him:

Amber: That’s 3 times you’ve come to my rescue. This bag has everything!

Jeremy: I tried to think of anything you might need. 3 times?

Amber: 1.Crazy woman with 3 kids, and smoke, 3.clothes.

Jeremy: Oh well just trying to help.

Amber: You rock. Now my hero x 3. Any idea what’s next?

Jeremy: Let me call you and we can talk about it.

Amber: OK, call away.

Her phone rang seconds later. “Hi, Jeremy.”

“So, what do you want to know, Amber?” His deep voice rumbled over the phone and straight to the pit of her stomach, sending tingles everywhere.

“First, how bad was the fire damage?”

“Just your banquet room. It caught some linens on fire so that’s why there was so much smoke. It didn’t spread to the other parts of the restaurant. The banquet room is pretty much a loss, though.”

“Darn. Well, better than the whole restaurant or my apartment. How long before I can get in my apartment or open the restaurant?”

“The sequence of events is: first, we have to find out the cause. We’ll be working on that later today. We did a preliminary look last night, but want to take another look in daylight. If it doesn’t look like foul play, then we’ll test the structure to make sure the other areas are safe. In the meantime, you’ll need to call your insurance adjuster and have him do an assessment. Once he’s been in you can go in. Based on his assessment you’ll probably need someone to help with the cleanup. Smoke gets everywhere—like in the walls—and it might need a professional to get the smell out.”

She didn’t want to ask how it got started because she was afraid it would reveal too much. She couldn’t think of any way it would catch on fire other than because of her secret boarder. What would she do when she was found out and more importantly how would it affect him? Poor guy. But, if she didn’t ask it might look even more suspicious. “So, what did it look like started it? Bad wiring or something like that?” She knew it wasn’t bad wiring, but maybe she could deflect his attention.