“Hey,” she said.

He surprised her with a quick grin that short-circuited a few brain cells. Then he gathered the gear and carried it back to the hut and into the equipment room, dumping it into the sink to be cleaned. She watched from the doorway while he returned everything to its place and then moved aside for him to pass.

Instead, he stopped with her in the small space. “You okay?”

“Yes.” Even with him near, she was okay. Actually, she was more okay than usual—and she had no idea what to make of that.

His mouth smiled, but his eyes remained serious. And possibly a little bit sympathetic, which she didn’t want to see, so she moved into the front room. And because her knees were a little weak, she sank to the couch.

“Is it tight spaces?” he asked quietly, “or being in tight spaces with a man?”

She stilled, hating that she’d been so transparent. She studied her feet, and then picked at a nonexistent piece of lint on her sweatshirt.

“I see,” he said.

But he didn’t see. He couldn’t possibly see . . .

He pulled on his shirt again, and then his hat, and crouched in front of her, balancing with ease on the balls of his feet. “Customers aren’t allowed back there, period,” he said. “Now that you’re on board, none of the three of us needs to get into it, either. It’s all your domain during the hours you’re here. Got me?”

He was saying that she had no reason to feel anxious here. A warm feeling filled her stomach and started to spread. She smiled, and this time it was real again. “Got you.”

He studied her for a moment, and his mouth quirked. “You’re going to be good for us,” he said. “You smile like that at any of our customers, and they’ll be lining up for our services. Ready for more training?”


Once again he moved behind the counter with her. They stood close and remained that way while he showed her how to check the equipment in and out. In doing so, they kept brushing against each other, and she began to heat up again. She pulled off yet another of her layers, leaving her in just the tank top that was now sticking to her like a second skin.

Sam closed his eyes, took off his baseball cap, shoved his fingers through his hair, and then replaced the cap. Everything about him said big, bad, frustrated testosterone overload. She met his gaze.

“You’re right,” he said. “We need a bigger hut.”

Chapter 12

That day Becca went to the rec center after work. Lucille had called and said they’d be waiting for her. Assuming she was going in for an interview, she changed into a cute sundress from Olivia’s store, added a denim jacket and wedge sandals, and made her way over there.

She was met by a really great-looking guy in navy-blue cargoes and a polo shirt with a firehouse insignia on the pec.

“Jack Harper,” he said, offering her a hand. “Fire marshal. How you doing?”

“Great.” She pulled her résumé from her bag. She’d doctored it up some. Okay, a lot. “I know I don’t have teaching experience, Mr. Harper, but I do have a four-year degree in music and—”

“Jack,” he said, and took her résumé, which he promptly scanned and then rolled up and shoved in his back pocket. “And you’re hired.” He gently nudged her down the hall and to a classroom, filled with at least twenty kids, all in the neighborhood of . . . young. “You’ve got an hour and a half with them. Good luck.”

“Wait.” She grabbed his arm. “Are you telling me I start now?”

“Actually,” he said, looking at his watch. “Five minutes ago. And between you and me, I wouldn’t dally. They’re good kids—until they get bored.”

Indeed, the natives were restless. She could see two girls, twins by the look of their matching wild red hair and toothless grins, climbing up on their desks to do God knew what. A couple of boys were throwing balled-up paper at each other. Two more were crawling beneath the desks on some mysterious errand.

Jack swore beneath his breath, leaned into the classroom, and gave a sharp whistle.

Everyone froze.

“Good,” Jack told them. “More of that. Pink and Kendra, get down. Alex, Tray, Jose, and Carlos, don’t make me come in there.” He paused while everyone got into their seats like little angels. “Now stay just like that,” he commanded, “until Ms. Thorpe says otherwise. She’s the boss, and what the boss says goes.”

“Impressive,” Becca muttered to him.

“Trust me, that’ll only work for a minute tops,” Jack said. “If all else fails, there’s a bag of candy in the teacher’s desk. Use sparingly. Sugar’s their crack.”

“But. . .” She stared at the kids. “I didn’t realize I’d be starting today. I don’t have a curriculum. Or instruments. Or—”

“We have some stuff that was donated.” He fished a key out of his pocket and set it in her palm. “In the storage closet.” He gave her a quick heart-fluttering smile. “Good luck.”

He’d handled the kids with a few quiet, authoritative words, no problem, and she hoped to do the same. Heart pounding, she walked into the room. “Hey, kids. So who likes music?”

Everyone’s hands shot straight up into the air like rockets.

Becca smiled in relief, walked over to the storage closet, and unlocked it. There was a pile of flutes and a string bass that had seen better days. There was also some percussion—and by that she meant two beat-up snare drums, a set of crash cymbals, and a xylophone. It all gave her a bad flashback to middle school band practice.