Home > The Fourth Time Charm (Fulton U #4)

The Fourth Time Charm (Fulton U #4)
Author: Maya Hughes

1

 

 

LJ

 

 

When I found the buzzing thing buried in my blankets, I’d launch it out my window.

Marisa always told me to put my phone into night mode after ten o’clock, but I hadn’t listened. And I’d make sure to never let her know she’d been right.

Usually, my phone sat on the shelf by my bed, but I’d fallen asleep studying for finals while icing the growing bruise on my thigh. At least there were only three spring football practices left before summer break—I’d finally be off Coach Saunders’s shit list for a while.

Why wouldn’t the buzzing stop? My arms and legs were lead logs weighing my blankets down. Off-season weight training and practices sucked so much more than any hell week during the season.

Following my charging cable, I found my phone and saw notifications of five missed calls on the screen.

My heart rate spiked. The calls were from an unknown number. Was it the hospital? Had something happened to my dad?

Before I could tap the number, the phone jumped in my hand. I answered before the first ring.

“Hello?”

Sirens blared and truck engines rumbled and roared nearly drowning out the voice. I slammed my hand over my ear like it would help to block out all the background noise on the other end of the line.

A cleat spike slammed into my heart.

“LJ?”

“Marisa?” I shot out of bed and struggled to shove my jeans on. “What happened? Where are you?”

“Fire…my apartment…ambulance.”

I strained to hear her over the power washer on steroids—no, it must be the fire hoses.

“I’m on my way. I’m coming!” I shouted into the receiver, not even sure if she could hear me. I buttoned my jeans, grabbed a t-shirt from my hamper and snagged some sneakers off the floor.

Rushing out of my room, I tucked my sneakers under my arm and wrestled with my t-shirt.

“Dude, where’s the fire?” Reece rubbed his eyes, stepping out of his bedroom.

“At Marisa’s.”

“Are you serious?”

“I told her that apartment was a piece of crap. I should’ve found her somewhere better to live.” My sneakers dropped. I tugged my shirt all the way on.

“Your shoes don’t match.” He said it like that was the most shocking thing we were dealing with right now. “Is she okay?”

“I don’t know. I’m going there now.” I pulled on one sneaker, grabbing onto the railing so I didn’t fall and break my damn neck. Fear for Marisa clogged my throat and made it hard to focus.

I needed to get to her. I needed to see her. I needed her to be okay.

Sitting on the bottom step, I shoved my foot into the mismatched shoe and grabbed my key from my pocket.

Sweat beaded on my skin. I jumped from the top of the porch steps and scrambled onto the sidewalk, taking off for my car half a block away. If anything happened to her, I’d lose it.

I flicked on the headlights, rocketing down the empty street.

I got stuck at a deserted red light and banged my hands against the wheel, willing the damn thing to change. What the hell? It was three in the morning.

After two hour-long minutes, I vibrated in my seat, checked each way at least twice, and said screw it. I peeled out through the empty intersection, tires screeching.

In the distance, the smoke wafted into the air and flames glowed against the dark sky. The top floor of her five-story apartment complex peeked from behind the trees. A grenade of fear detonated in my chest and panic rose, blocking out everything but one thought: get to Marisa.

I gunned it the rest of the way. I reached the end of a long line of firetrucks and ambulances and nearly forgot to put the car into park. People stood on the sidewalks watching the apartment complex smolder and burn.

Out of breath like I’d been running wind sprints for an entire practice, I rushed up to someone talking into a radio.

“Marisa Saunders.” I gasped, gulped for air. “Marisa Saunders. She called me and asked me to come get her.”

The guy looked me up and down, talked into the radio on his shoulder and interpreted whatever came through as a squawk. “Ambulance #304. It’ll be on the side and back doors of the ambulance.”

“Is she okay?”

Sprays of water from the hoses blasted the air with mist and steam. The oranges and yellows danced in the air, embers and ash falling to the ground closer to the building. Had everyone made it out of there? The flames were mesmerizing, the heat warming the air and beating back the early spring chill.

“I don’t know. They’re checking all the residents for smoke inhalation. There have only been a few who’ve had to go to the hospital so far.”

Panic gripped my chest, making it even harder to breathe than the smoke burning my eyes and lungs had managed.

I ducked under the yellow tape and rushed into the melee and confusion. Dodging people and shuffling and stumbling over cables and gear, I spotted the ambulance.

The back doors were open and there was someone on the gurney. Bare feet poked out from under a blanket. EMTs were on either side of the figure, but I couldn’t tell what they were doing. Did she need oxygen? A burn bandaged?

Was it even Marisa?

The EMTs leaned back and she sat up.

She was wild haired and sooty faced, and she’d never been more beautiful. My heart triple jumped and I had to lock my knees so I didn’t collapse.

Her gaze swept over the crowd and stopped on me. With a watery smile, she flung off the blanket and jumped out of the ambulance, ignoring the EMTs yelling after her.

I opened my arms.

She slammed into my chest, nearly knocking me over. I steadied us both and wrapped my arms around her.

“Are you okay? Are you okay?”

She squeezed me tight, resting her chin on my shoulder. A shiver rolled through her body and she held me even tighter. “Scared shitless for a while there. There’s no way we could’ve jumped from the fifth floor.”

I shuddered not even wanting to think about the danger getting any closer than it already had. “You’re coming home with me, Risa. Are you okay?”

She nodded, her chin knocking into my shoulder.

I rubbed her back and squeezed my eyes shut. She smelled like the homecoming bonfire without the s’mores to soften the harsh edges of the scent. She’d been close to the fire—so close she was covered in soot.

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