Chapter Twelve

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Xavier Halsman kicked the sheets from his legs.

When had it gotten so damn hot? It felt like he'd been asleep for less than an hour, and the weather had been cool when he'd first nodded off. Now it was sweltering, the stifling air forcing its way through every crack and crevasse it could find, and there was no way he was going to get back to sleep with it pressing in on him. He rolled over, hoping to find some relief, and sighed.

The bed still felt undeniably empty beside him.

It had been nine years, and that feeling still hit him—that feeling of Satine being gone. Doctor Sheridan, with all her fancy diplomas and her PhD, had assured him that the feeling would pass with time. But if it hadn't passed by now, almost ten years after his wife had burned to death in that fire, he had little hope that it ever would.

But that was okay. He didn't need another woman in his life—not while he still had Zoe to take care of.

He wondered if she was sleeping okay through this heat.

He doubted it. The poor girl had been freaked to hell when she'd gotten home, so he wouldn't have been surprised if she had been unable to sleep in the first place. She was probably lying awake, staring at the ceiling, terrified that they wouldn't live to see the sun rise. He should have asked her to stay in his room for the night. She was too proud to have suggested it herself.

She would have to sleep in the car tomorrow on their way to...wherever the hell they were going to go.

Xavier was woefully unprepared for this.

He rolled onto his back. The heat was making it difficult to breathe.

They could head into Sydney, try to hide amongst the four million other people there. They wouldn't be able to afford it for long, though. Not unless he found decent work, and quickly. Then there was the matter of Zoe's schooling. If she stayed absent for too long, the government would come looking for them. It might be a good thing to look into homeschooling—if he ever found the time.

Maybe they should just go off the grid. Get new identities. Start fresh somewhere new, as John and Jane Smith.

He snorted to himself. Yeah, because that would be as easy as it sounds.

He coughed. Hell, he needed to open the window or something. The heat was growing unbearable.

He opened his eyes...

And bolted upright at the sight of the smoke seeping in around his door.


He was out of bed quicker than he had ever been in his life, running for the door without a second thought. Zoe. He had to get to Zoe. If she didn't know about the fire...

The doorknob scalded his hand as he gripped it, turned, and pulled...

But the door refused to budge.

Xavier tried again, harder this time. The door rattled on its hinges, which meant it wasn't stuck, but it still wouldn't open. He ran his thumb over the empty keyhole, wincing at the heat that poured through it. The door couldn't possibly be locked. He and Zoe never locked their doors. They didn't even keep the keys handy—they were hanging in a cupboard in the kitchen.

And yet there was no other explanation: the door was locked.

He moved to the window, which he didn't expect to have much luck with. The damn thing was temperamental on the best of days—with the heat from the fire, he would be lucky to raise it three inches.

It wouldn't even move one.

Behind him, his door went up in flames.

He moved to the wall that separated his room from his daughter's and started pounding with his fists. "Zoe! Get out of the house! There's a fire! Zoe!"

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