She opened her eyes and realized that Jack was standing over her, where she’d fallen asleep at her grandma’s desk. He was fully dressed and breathing heavily, making her realize that her right hand was cupping the bulge behind his zipper. She snatched it away as if she’d been burned, and he stepped back, leaning against the file cabinet.
It took her a shockingly long moment to catch her breath, but even then, she could still feel the bulge of him in her palm. The big bulge of him… “What are you doing?” she demanded.
“You were moaning and flushed and sweaty. I came close to check on you, and you molested me.”
She groaned in embarrassment and covered her face while he laughed softly. In spite of the tension in every line of his body, he flashed a smile. “Busy, huh?”
There was a lull at the bakery every day around ten in the morning. Since Leah was usually up by 4:00 a.m. to bake and then serving customers by 6:00, that lull came with the urge to nap.
Usually she combated this with copious amounts of caffeine and something from her day’s wares that had lots of sugar, but today she’d been stuck in the teeny-tiny office facing a stack of her grandma’s bills. A little overwhelmed, she’d set her head down and clearly fallen asleep. “Yes,” she said. “I am very busy.” She bit her lip. “And sorry, about—” She gestured to his crotch. “Though it’s your fault for not knocking. Why are you here?”
“Donuts.” She huffed to her feet, pushed past him, and headed out front. “You interrupted the best sex I’ve had all year for donuts.”
“Exactly why I needed the end of that dream!”
In tune to his soft laugh, she loaded him up a box of donuts and shoved him out the door.
From the bakery, Jack headed to work. His amusement had shifted into a solid, churning need centered right at his groin, which hadn’t yet gotten the message that he wasn’t getting any, despite how Leah’s fingers had felt cupping him. Thinking about how she’d looked in the throes of her sex dream made him hard all over again. He’d told her she’d been moaning and hot and sweaty. What he hadn’t told her was that she’d whispered a name.
He blew out a breath and forced that from his mind—as well as the image of taking her on that desk, her long, gorgeous legs wrapped around him—so he didn’t walk into the station with a boner.
Station #24 sat at the end of commercial row, between the pier and downtown. Once upon a time, the two-story brick building had housed the town’s saloon and theater, but it’d long ago been converted to a firehouse.
There were three large garage doors out front, opened to reveal a fire engine, a ladder truck, an ambulance, and the county OES Hazardous Materials response vehicle. Beyond the garage, there was a utility-sized kitchen and a big open living room. Upstairs was a large sleeping area that looked like a frat dorm meets Three Little Bears, except it was the Six Little Bears with rows of twin beds.
Over the years, they’d added a pool table, an X-Box, a flat-screen TV, and some huge, comfy couches. Home away from home or, as they all spent more time here together than they did with their various loved ones, just home.
Half the staff were great cooks, and the other half knew how to order in with equally great skill. Eat Me, the local café, served the station on command, as did the Love Shack, the bar and grill down the street.
The station was staffed on a full-time basis with a rotating staff. They shared the site with Washington State Fire—where, by no coincidence, Jack had gotten his start in the first place as a rural firefighter, aka a Hotshot.
As head of shift, Jack usually arrived before anyone else, but today Tim was already there, head buried in a laptop. “Hey,” the rookie said, barely looking up. “The B rotation caught a fire yesterday at the auto-parts store. Lucky bastards.”
Jack had already heard from Ronald since the fire was of suspicious origin, but he looked over Tim’s shoulder at the pictures of the scene on the laptop.
“Burned hot,” Tim said. “Real hot. Bad luck for Lenny Shapiro.”
Shapiro owned the auto shop. “Maybe it wasn’t luck at all.”
“You think it was arson?” Tim asked, surprised. “Nah, man, those rags shoved in that bucket…stupid place for them. Real stupid. Lenny should have known better.” He shut his laptop. “You watch, on our rotation we’ll get all medical calls. Or a false alarm. We never get the fun ones.”
Jack went to his office and brought up the fire pictures on his computer. As Tim had noted, there’d been oily rags left in a bucket near a stack of boxes, and they’d ignited. But this was now the second fire in two weeks where oily rags were discovered in a bucket.
Jack went over everything he had on the fire and moved on to the paperwork required of him as the LT, while his unit worked their daily chores, pulling the equipment out onto the long driveway to be washed, stocked, and inventoried.
Jack had deposited the proceeds from the Firemen’s Breakfast the week before, but he still had to make the statements for the beneficiaries. The breakfast itself had been made possible through the generous donations from the local businesses such as the B&B, the café, the art gallery, and many more, and they each would get a statement and an individual thank you. The FD had set a new record this year for number of meals served, and the profit would guarantee that the seniors would be getting three square meals for the rest of the year without cutting into the town’s general budget.
He was just finishing up when they got their first call of the day from the library. As Tim had groused, it was a medical call, but then again, at least fifty percent of their calls were. A teenager—there with his entire class—had found the staff ladder irresistible. He’d climbed up twelve feet before his belt had gotten caught on the shelving unit, leaving him hanging upside down over the rest of his delighted class.
Jack was going to guess that it would be college before the kid lived it down.
After that, in quick succession they were called to a traffic collision and then a near drowning in the harbor. Later, they took the engine and truck to the elementary school for their annual Firefighters at School Day. By the end of that visit, every single kid between the ages of five and ten wanted to be a firefighter when they grew up.
Jack had once been one of those kids. He could still remember the day his dad had brought an engine to school. Jack had already known every inch of the truck and gear—hell, he’d been playing with it all since before he could walk—but he’d still been as enthralled as his friends. He’d remained enthralled until the day his dad died on the job. But by then, Jack’s fate had been sealed. Because how did the son of a devoted legend do anything other than follow in his father’s footsteps?
After the kids had gone back to class, Jack began reloading all the supplies and gear. He heard the click-click-clicking of a pair of heels, and his pulse jumped once as he thought Leah, but it wasn’t her. It was one of the teachers, coming around the back of his truck, seeking him out.
Rachel Moore was a pretty brunette he’d met at the gym. They’d been flirting back and forth for a few weeks now, and the last time they’d run into each other during a workout, she’d suggested maybe having a drink sometime.
“Heard about what happened at the Love Shack,” she said, carefully neutral.
Since this statement could cover a lot of ground, and he wasn’t sure if she was on a fishing expedition or simply making conversation, he made a noncommittal sound.
“People are saying you’re…engaged.”
Yep. Fishing expedition.
“Is it true?” she asked.
Jack looked into Rachel’s pretty green eyes and suppressed a sigh. A deal was a deal, and though Rachel wasn’t—as Leah had so delicately put it—a blond bimbo, Jack had agreed to the insanity. Sort of. “I’m not engaged,” he said. “But—”
“No, stop. I understand.” Her smile was a little forced now. “But you should have told me, Jack. When we were at the gym, we flirted. Or so I thought.” She shook her head. “I didn’t realize it was just flirting. My mistake.” With that, she turned on her heel and took her very hot self back inside the school.
Jack blew out a breath and headed around to the front of the truck, where Tim was waiting with a wide grin. “Hey, at least she didn’t toss her drink in your face.”
Jack narrowed his eyes, and Tim sighed. “Let me guess. The senior center again, right?”
Back at the station, they were in the middle of carrying hoses up and down the five flights of stairs on the training tower in the yard when the alarm went off.
They were sent to the senior center with reports of smoke pouring out of the kitchen. Knowing the seniors of Lucky Harbor, this could mean anything. Last year, Mrs. Burland had been making soup for herself when she’d had a heart attack. No one had known she was down until her soup had evaporated and the pan had caught fire. Mrs. Burland had lived. The kitchen, not so much.
Tim was in his seat, leaning forward, as excited as if he’d hit the lottery. “Please be a fire,” he said. “Please oh please be a fire.”
Ian slid him an annoyed look. “Remember, Rookie, follow our lead.”
“Let me take point this time,” Tim said. “Please?”
“No point,” Ian said. “LT’s point.”
But this time when they got there, the only person in the kitchen was Lucille, wearing a neon-green velour track suit and bright-white athletic shoes.
“Jesus,” Tim muttered, holding up a hand to block his eyes. “She’s brighter than the sun.”
Lucille gave him a Vanna White smile. “Hiya!” Then she snapped his picture.
“You reported a fire,” Jack said. “Where is it?”
Concentrating on her phone now, messing with the camera setting, Lucille was distracted. “I realize this is going to sound so wrong, but…” She looked at them. “Could you all take off your shirts?”