Her body shook from the inside out, an old panic shutting down her functions. She pulled her knees to her chest, lying where she'd landed on the cheap polyester carpet. Her heart beat so rapidly, it hurt. The darkness in the room was turning black.
She had to stay conscious. One thing at a time. Stay conscious; breathe.
It felt like an eternity, but could have been a minute, an hour. Her heart beat still thundered but the pain in her chest subsided. Oxygen was moving in and out of her lungs. The air smelt of cigarettes and layers of filth. The pieces in her mind started to reform...Gallen!
She needed to move. Gallen had no idea what he would be walking into. She was his only hope.
Taya crawled across the floor until she found the wall. Pulling herself upright, she waited for her eyes to adjust to the dark. A crack of light appeared on the floor. The door! She found the doorframe and ran her hands up and down until she flicked the light switch.
The room was smaller than the one she and Gallen had used to cement his claim over her. There was no bathroom attached. And no windows. A single bed with no sheets, only a blanket and a stained pillow. A small cupboard revealed one long-sleeved shirt draped over the hanging pole. The drawers below held some t-shirts and underwear; a pair of jeans. A pile of dirty clothes sat in the corner. Next to the bed was an overflowing ashtray, a lighter and a bottle of cheap vodka, three quarters full.
Beside the vodka was a small vent, about six inches by five, reminding her of holes poked into the top of a box for an animal; the bare minimum needed to get air inside.
There had to be something in this room that could help her. She fell to her knees and checked under the bed, finding only a crumpled cigarette packet and what looked to be a used condom amongst a thick layer of dust. Back on her feet, she shook the blanket out and checked the mattress and pillow. Nothing.
The drawers held nothing useful either. The top of the cupboard revealed a similar amount of dust to what was under the bed.
Footsteps sounded outside the door. She sprang to her feet, every muscle tensing for someone to burst through the door, or worse - Jesse. The footsteps pounded past then raised voices. Sounded like more than one person. She moved to the door and pushed her ear to the slit between the door and the frame. Muffled and angry. She couldn't make out what they were saying. Had they found Riley?
Was Gallen back? Urgency exploded inside. She didn't need to know what they had planned for him, it was sure to be barbaric. She had no way out, no means of communicating with the outside world, yet she couldn't do nothing. The thought of another cop's blood on her hands was too much to bear. Regardless of the circumstances.
Worse than that, she couldn't stand the thought of losing Gallen. He was the first cop who seemed to understand that what happened in Melbourne was not her fault; who didn't hold it against her as though she was some kind of cursed officer.
Their cover may be nothing more than acting the part for an assignment, but the way his lips had felt on hers, the way her body fit against his and his hands on her was seared into her memory. She needed this man alive.
There had to be a way to get a message to the outside world - to the taskforce.
She lent her head against the door and listened again. The voices were lower but still present. Maybe Gallen wasn't back yet? Maybe she still had time to warn him. She eyed the cigarette lighter and vodka.
The carpet was cheap and highly flammable; the same carpet used in the hallway. There was a kernel of an idea. She grabbed the vodka, placing it in the cupboard and slipped the lighter into her pocket. Pushing the bed into the middle of the room, she turned her attention to the floor. She dug her fingers down between the wall and the carpet. It hadn't been professionally laid and with some tugging along the length of the wall it started to lift. After a few minutes, enough of the carpet had loosened to allow her to start rolling it towards the door, revealing the concrete slab beneath.
She hefted the bed back against the far wall to make room for the carpet to roll to the other side. It stopped where it caught on the cupboard. The cheap chipboard wasn't very heavy and she managed to maneuver it so she could get the carpet past it. When everything was in place, she took the bottle of vodka and twisted the cap off.
It wasn't the best plan, but it was the only one she had. There was no doubt the carpet would light up, and the vodka would act as an accelerant. She began to tip the liquid out, letting it run under the door and out into the hallway. She needed the flames to go in the opposite direction to her. Of course, there wasn't much she could do about the smoke, except pray help arrived before it overwhelmed her.
More importantly, she needed the fire to gain enough momentum to alert the outside world, not just the bikies in the main room. There had to be a signal no one could miss.
Before she could second guess herself, she grabbed the long-sleeved shirt from the cupboard and set the lighter on it. When the flames swallowed most of the shirt, she dropped it in front of the door.
The flaming shirt sat, contained where it fell. For a moment, Taya thought she'd failed. Her plan had been pure guesswork, and it seemed she'd guessed wrong. Should she blow on it to help it along? As she took a step forward, the fire roared to life, chasing the vodka trail into the hallway. The strip of carpet was instantly alight.
Taya stumbled back, pulling the bed onto its side to act as a barrier. She lay down next to the air vent, hoping the tiny source of oxygen wouldn't attract the fire. Panic and destruction sounded outside the room. She'd read somewhere it could take as little as five minutes for fire to engulf an entire house. She hadn't noticed any sprinkler system in the club house, but imagined they must have some form of fire protection. Enough to contain the fire without putting it out altogether, was all she could hope for.
Smoke started to fill the small space. She pushed her face closer to the vent. Please let the smoke be visible outside. Let someone see it and call for help.
She prayed she'd done enough for Gallen to be safe.
Her eyes began to water and the smoke was making her cough. Was that sirens? Her head was pounding. Something was crashing. Maybe the roof was caving in? It was so dark. The smoke thick, engulfing her, blocking the air vent. She couldn't even see a slit of light through the vent.
Stay here. Don't leave.
Whose voice was that? Was it in her head?
She saw Gallen's face in front of her, but had no idea if it was real or just a fanciful illusion. Taya felt his hands on her face, on her hair. Was she dreaming? If this was how she was going to die, she could think of worse ways. His arms tightened around her as everything faded to black.
Author of author of gut-churning Viking romance and romantic suspense that always includes good sex and a happily ever after - eventually.