Jamie hadn't been in bed more than fifteen minutes, and Sarah in a bath not more than five when there was a clatter loud enough to shake her from her tired review of the day.

It resounded through the house quite alarmingly, and she thought, Not again, before hauling herself out of the steaming water, wrapping her hair in a towel and her body in a robe.

She quietly made her way to the other end of the house, past sleeping Jamie's room and to the threshold of Brandon's, where as usual, the door was frozen shut and required some force to get open.

But open it she did, and sure enough, a stack of board games had been knocked fairly nastily off of a shelf inside the room. Game pieces were now strewn around the floor, mixed with lids and cards, and Sarah was cautious as she stepped over them, avoiding the marbles from a game of Don't Break the Ice.

The inside of the room was frosted, and the fish tank already had frantic writing on it, and as she approached, it grew faster, more frenzied.

HE IS CLOSE

It appeared all over the glass, on every side, sending the angelfish frantic trying to chase all of the letters forming at the same time.

Clear blue letters appearing in white frosted glass.

It was eerie, and the words shot spikes of icy fear down Sarah's spine.

"Mommy," came a thin wail from the next room. "Oooh, Mommy nnh. Is… coming."

The words paralyzed her into a trance, and she watched the letters written by some unseen spector appear one by one, now slow, now fast, and she felt something ominous, something terrifying, looming over them. Not physically, and not there, and not anywhere close, but something—something coming.

Sarah dashed out of the room, slipping on a few marbles that sent her skidding into the wall on the other side of the hall.

She was a little bruised as she got up from the hall, following Jamie's cry to find her daughter thrashing about on the twin bed, crying out as she grasped at nothing that Sarah could see.

Only when Sarah staggered back from her daughter's bedside to avoid a particularly vicious swing and banged into the mirror did she realize that, if possible, Jamie's room was even colder than her brother's.

Sarah looked around frantically for writing on the mirrors, on the windows, on the frosted ceiling fan, and was almost shocked to find none.

God yes, there was frost, but no writing. Not anywhere.

Thank God.

She scooped Jamie up and ran out of the room with her heavy, thrashing daughter in her arms.

They had to get out of there, had to hide.

A hotel.

Sarah grabbed her purse from the kitchen counter as she struggled out of the house, away from the freezing cold thing that haunted her children's rooms, and away from the memories therein.


She called Kim from Room 307 of the Marriot on the other side of town.

Jamie was safely ensconced under the covers beside her, warm and filling the room with deep, soft breaths.

The security guard's voice, heavy with sleep, was the most wonderful sound that Sarah thought she'd ever heard.

"H'lo?"

"Kim?" she asked. Her voice was barely quavering. Lucky her.

Kim caught it, and though she still sounded tired, her voice had an overtone of concern. "Sarah, are you okay?"

As much as she wanted to say yes, to apologize for waking Kim up and make some excuse so Kim could go back to sleep, as much as she just didn't want to screw up Kim's hopefully good opinion of her…

"No," she whispered.

"H-what's wrong?" Kim asked.

Had she been about to start that sentence off with a nickname? Sarah thought incredulously.
The thought buoyed her into confessing.

"It's the frost," she said. "It's back, and it was in Jamie's room and Brandon's room, telling me that someone is near. It-" the words halted as her tongue seemed to thicken and fill her mouth, and she felt like fear was all she had until something touched her on the leg.

She looked down, feeling like her neck had been stuck in a straight position by glue and that it was in the last stages of drying, all sticky and slow, only to find Jamie's hand on her leg.

"Mommy," she said quietly, looking up at Sarah with deep eyes, calm and mysterious as the middle of the Atlantic. "It's okay."

The cloying fear left all at once, and Sarah found herself entirely calm and collected for the first time in days—no, weeks!

"Sarah? Sarah are you there?" the voice coming from the phone had a definite note of panic to it, and Sarah picked it back up from the bed. She didn't even remember dropping it.

"I'm here," she said.

Kim's voice as she spoke grew more and more hurried until Sarah could barely make out the words. "Listen, instead of staying at the hotel, why don't you come over here? It's got to be safer than staying in the hotel, and I—I have a gun."

"I'm sorry?" she said, sure she hadn't heard the other woman correctly.

"I have a gun. Whoever it is—whatever it is, it won't get past me. Come over here, please."

Sarah considered, briefly. "I can't," she said. "You have a job that actually requires sleep. And I don't want to impose. We've already got the hotel and we'll be fine."

"No" Kim said with surprising force. "You shouldn't be alone." A pleading tone entered her voice, and Sarah listened. "Please, just come here. I know that the other night was probably a bad idea, and I won't try anything inappropriate, I swear."

There was a choked-off swear word. "I swear it. Just come over here. You'll be safe. Nothing will get past me."

So if only to assuage Kim's fears that she'd mortally offended Sarah, she took her daughter to Kim's apartment.


It was a plain door, off-white set into a white wall, and it opened inward.

Sarah wondered if there was a lock on the other side. Maybe multiple locks.

And she was afraid to knock, even though here she stood, daughter in one hand and bags in the other, at midnight on a Thursday.

God, such a plain door, but behind it stood such—things.

Safety.

Protection.

Someone who really was maybe a little attracted to her.

And this was Kim's home, her own place of safety. What right did they have to trample on it, to impose?

Because Kim had asked, and Kim had said that she had a gun.

So why was she so afraid to knock, to let Kim know that they were there after fifteen minutes of paranoid driving? Why was she afraid to walk through?

Jamie shuffled forward and rapped on the door, three hard knocks that echoed in Sarah's mind. "Mommy, she won't know we're here if we don't make noise," she said softly, almost reproachfully when Sarah looked down at her.

There was a scuffling on the other side of the door, multiple scrapes of metal against metal at different points on the door near and above the handle. Then it opened, pulling back to reveal Kim, dressed securely in loose, worn jeans and a button-down t-shirt.

The mere sight of her warmed Sarah to the bone, but seeing the gun at Kim's waist, tightly secured and so deadly, chilled some of that warmth but left her feeling cool and calmer.

Nothing could hurt them now. Nothing could get to them, because they had Kim on their side, and the woman was armed and dangerous and oh so ready to protect them.

"Come on in," Kim said, opening the door wider in a clear gesture of invitation.

Jamie walked right in and though Sarah was quick to follow, she did cast not a quick look at Kim.

The woman wasn't quite stoic, but her face was as closed as Sarah had ever seen it.

What was wrong?

Jamie was examining the living room with not a little interest, so Sarah put the bags down and pulled the other woman into the kitchen, placing her own body in the way of the door.

Kim just looked her up and down, raking a gaze over Sarah's body that left her flushed.

"What's up?" Sarah asked, refusing to let that look affect her more than it had already. She looked Kim directly in the eyes, and felt that familiar jolt.

Connection.

Kim took a step across the kitchen. Instead of putting her only a little closer, the size of the kitchen meant that she was within leaning distance of Sarah, and now she used it to her advantage, using a scant height advantage of a few inches to loom over Sarah.

Sarah knew her face was slowly suffusing with color, and she thought that at this rate she could swim through the sexual tension thickening the air in the kitchen.

She leaned in a little, practically pressing up against Kim. As it was, the other woman had to sidle back a little, though her eyes remained locked with Sarah's.

Sarah moved forward just a little more, trying to push the advantage she'd gained, when Kim's eyes darkened, and before Sarah knew it she was pressed up between the kitchen wall and Kim's body.

The other woman was leaning in, not crushing her, but pressing enough to let Sarah know that she wasn't playing around.

Their faces were inches apart, and Sarah knew that Kim was going to kiss her.

She wasn't sure who moved first, but her mouth barely brushed the corner of Kim's when the other woman pulled away quickly, almost roughly. "We can't do this," Kim gasped. Her voice was hoarse and rough, and Sarah knew that Kim was pretty much as into it as she was. Still was.

"Why?" she asked, trying not to whine. Kim pulled away from her, leaving her to stand up against the wall alone. The security guard pulled a chair out from the table in the corner and dropped into it heavily, skidding a little on the linoleum floor.

The high-pitched scraping sound shocked Sarah a little from her daze, and she stayed upright, holding onto the counter a little for support.

"What the hell was that?" she asked, and Kim cradled her head in her hands.

"I don't know," she said. Her voice was low, and not a little frustrated. .

"But we can't—we can't do thatwith your daughter in the next room."

Sarah felt almost ashamed, both at the thought of having forgotten that her daughter was even there, and that she might have pressured the other woman.

She stepped forward, to stand behind Kim as the other woman tried to press her face into a flat mess on the table.

"So you didn't want it?" she couldn't help it; her voice sounded a little angry, a little hurt.

"Believe me, I wanted it," Kim said. "But not like this. It has to—" her voice took on an almost plaintive, sheepish tone. "It should be special. Someplace that's not—"

"Not so ordinary," Sarah finished for her. She reached out and took Kim's hand, being careful not to put too much pressure on it lest she scare the other woman. "I understand."

Kim nodded. Even from behind, she looked miserable.

Sarah reached out, slowly, almost carefully, and wrapped her arms around Kim's shoulders from behind. "It's okay," she said, muffling it in the nape of Kim's neck.

The other woman shivered a little, and Sarah pulled her closer, tighter. Righter.

She held her for a little while longer, and then they got up, separated for the time being, and went to see what Jamie was doing.

A tinny crash heralded their entrance, and beside her, Kim let out an oath. "Did you see that?" she asked, and Sarah was a little confused. Jamie had just been sitting on the floor next to the wall between the kitchen and the living room, holding a set of car keys, hadn't she?

Sarah shook her head. "No." She wanted to ask what it was, but Kim was already shaking her head and walking on ahead into the bedroom to the left.

The sheets had already been turned down. They were obviously fresh, unwrinkled and tightly stretched over the mattress.

"You'll sleep here," Kim said, gesturing to the bed. "You and Jamie can share the bed."

Sarah started. "But where will you sleep?"

Kim shrugged. "On the couch. Besides, how can I guard the door if I'm in here?" she jerked her head toward the bed, and her meaning was clear. If we were in here together.

Kim patted the gun at her hip almost fondly, then smiled thinly. "Ain't nothin' getting past me," she drawled.

She was right.

Sarah watched her stroll back into the living room, collect Jamie and the bags, and deposit them all three in the bedroom, then closed the door behind her.

"Goodnight," Kim called through the door, and then there was no more noise other than a dull fuff that was obviously her falling into a chair or the couch.

Now that the physical connection with Kim was gone, Sarah had only the psychical.

But that was more than enough, she knew, flushing hard and fast at the memory of Kim pressed up against her, wanting her.

Needing her.

The thought of the look in Kim's eyes was intoxicating, and she floated through dressing both herself and Jamie for bed, crawling into the bed easily.

Kim's bed. Now that was something she could get used to.

She fell asleep with her daughter snuggled up against her side, breathing lightly and regularly into her arm.


Predawn light filled the room, filtering in through the tightly drawn curtains in the living room to illuminate the slumped form in the armchair.

Sarah approached quietly, half-afraid that if she startled Kim the woman wouldn't recognize her and accidentally shoot her.

She'd woken quickly, all at once and trying not to scream from the nightmare that chased her out of the last dregs of sleep, and immediately taken a long shower, leaving her daughter asleep in the large bed and dressing quickly and quietly, fully intending to get breakfast to thank Kim for harboring them for the night.

But Kim held the gun.

So instead of using a half-baked idea of waking Kim up with a kiss, she opted to gently shake her awake, only smiling a little at the firm muscle she could feel underneath the cloth of Kim's shirt.

The woman came awake easily, slipping from sleep to consciousness with an ease that Sarah envied. "How'd you sleep?" she asked. Her voice was only a little blurry, and not even a little hoarse with desire.

"Good," Sarah said. "It's not that late. You can go back to sleep if you want. I just wanted to let you know I was up so you didn't shoot me."

"What time is it?"

Sarah sighed. "Quarter of six. I'm sorry, I just couldn't sleep."

Kim yawned. "It's alright. You want I should watch the kid while you go do your thing?"

"Thanks. I shouldn't be long."

With one last, lingering look at the other woman, still slumped on the couch and good-looking as hell, Sarah let herself out and went about finding breakfast.

A half hour later she came back with a good dozen assorted bagels, doughnuts, and coffee.

By that time, Kim was showered, dressed, and armed again, and they took a mostly silent breakfast while Jamie slept on, oblivious in Kim's bed.

Sarah didn't want to broach the subject of the night before, and since Kim clearly wanted nothing to do with the subject, she figured that it was best to let sleeping dogs lie.

After her third bagel, Kim stood up and drained the last of her coffee. "You think you can handle it for a few hours?" she asked. "I'm gonna go see what I can do about getting another gun."

"Can you do that?" Sarah asked doubtfully. She didn't know much about guns, but how would Sarah get another gun in such a short amount of time?

"I already have a license to carry at work," Sarah explained patiently. "Even though I rarely use it, I keep it updated in case something comes along. That's called a G license, and I've had it since I was twenty one. I also have a license to carry outside of work, and to carry concealed. I've had my CCW—that's concealed weapons—since I was twenty five."

"And you're how old now?" Sarah asked.

"Uhh, twenty six." Kim said. "So only a year, and the permit is good for five. So I'm covered there. We're covered there," she amended hastily.

"I'll be back soon, and when I do I'll explain about getting a license for you."


Author's Note: (22 July 2011) This will be the last chapter of Cold Fire published online. The rest was lost when my hard drive crashed, and the backup drive has been lost as well. If anyone has the chapters I sent you, please let me know ASAP. For the time being I am attempting to re-create it, but since I haven't worked on this story in almost four years, it's kind of slow going. Again, if I sent you any material pertaining to this or hinted in any oblique way how this story was going to go, please contact me.

Thanks for reading.

Jessica Pryce