Then again, the guy was always taking side jobs, like a lot of firefighters did. He’d probably been working on roofs and decks every second he had off and was going to have to continue to do that for a while to pay off the debt. Deandra didn’t earn much yet. She’d recently finished cosmetology school, but was still only a receptionist at a hair salon, not a stylist—
“Can I catch a ride with you?”
Anne looked over her shoulder as she opened her car door. Danny had followed her as the others dispersed, and his hooded eyes were nothing she could read in the gloaming.
His body, however, was throwing off so much heat, she nearly unbuttoned that coat of hers.
What did you do to yourself when you were alone in your bed, she asked in her head. Where did your hands go—
“What?” he said.
“Ah, nothing. Sorry.”
“Can I get a ride? I came with Jack and Mick, but they just got called to their HQ.”
“Do they need backups with firefighter experience?” she muttered as she saw Moose and Deandra arguing by the guy’s truck.
“I could ask.” Danny glanced at the couple. “You know, I’m fifty-fifty on whether they follow through on the rings tomorrow.”
“After she locked herself in the bathroom? I’m forty-sixty.” She nodded to her car. “Yeah, you can ride with me.”
Ordinarily, that would have been a casual statement, but she wanted to be alone with him—so it felt manipulative. Then again, he could have asked Emilio and Duff, or any of his fraternity brothers . . . so maybe he was feeling the same way?
As they got in, she tried not to smell his spicy cologne. Attempted not to notice the way his dress slacks pulled across his heavy thighs. Definitely didn’t picture him without his coat, his shirt . . . his pants.
Okay, fine, she failed at all that. Especially the last part.
At the fire station, during the summer months, he sometimes went shirtless when he lifted in the bays, and the remembrance tattoos on his torso were burned into her memory.
Yeah, but how many other women had seen them? Kissed him? Been a one-and-done that the other guys joked about? Even if she got past the professional issues, she was not going to be added to that very long list.
Starting her car, she muttered, “I can’t wait until this weekend is over.”
* * *
Danny had been up all night. Alllllllll fucking night. And not because Deandra had called him every hour on the hour and then Moose had stumbled in drunk at five a.m. and started throwing up in the bathroom. He had ignored the impending bride and groom.
No, the problem was that he’d been consumed by thoughts of Anne.
If he didn’t get his hands on her, his mouth on her, his body on her, he was going to lose his frickin’ mind.
It was so bad, he’d jerked off three times over the course of those dark, tortured hours—and now, as he sat beside her in her car, he was getting hard again. Fantasies of them together were so vivid, it was as if she were under him already, naked and straining and—
“You want to get out now?” she asked. “Or are you going to sit here all night?”
Refocusing, he found they were in the parking lot of D’Angelo’s, plugged into a spot between Duff’s Mustang and Ty’s Dodge Ram. He’d spaced the entire trip across town.
“Sorry, just tired.” He rubbed his face. “Moose came home from the rager a mess and Deandra called all night looking for him.”
That last one wasn’t totally accurate. The one and only time he’d answered his phone, she’d wanted to come to see him—and not because she was in search of her groom.
She’d been after a hookup with Danny. Just like before, she’d told him. When they’d been together.
That was never going to happen. Even if he’d been attracted to her, which he wasn’t, and she hadn’t been looking to use him as a way to get back for the whole strip club thing, which she was, there was no way he’d do that to his boy. Moose was his best friend, and no one, woman or man, was going to come between them.
God, he wished Moose wasn’t doing this—
“God, I wish Moose wasn’t doing this,” Anne muttered.
Danny had to smile. Just like on a charged line, the two of them were in sync. And he was willing to bet Anne would rather be doing anything other than waste time sitting around a table, eating food she wasn’t tasting, as he made a speech as best man about a couple no one thought should be getting married.
“What?” she asked. “Why are you smiling.”
He turned and looked across the seats at her. She was dressed in dark slacks and a nice blouse, the wool coat over the outfit nothing he’d seen before—which reminded him that she had a life outside of work. Friends. Places to go. Movies to see and vacations to take.
He wanted to be a part of all that.
As usual, she wasn’t wearing much makeup and her hair was back. From time to time, at work, she let the stuff out of its perennial tieback, and he loved when she did.
It made him want to see it on his pillow, fanned out in a tangle because he’d been running his fingers through it.
Her eyes dropped down and she opened her car door. “Come on, you’ve got a speech to make, and I have to push food around a plate. It’s a busy agenda.”
Inside the restaurant, they were shown over to a long lineup of tables that ran down the center of the open seating area. The place had been closed for the party, and as he and Anne were the first ones there, he knew what his immediate goal was.
“Let’s sit here.” Thank God Deandra hadn’t done place cards. “It’s close to the exit.”
As others arrived, his old fraternity brothers got rowdier and rowdier until their voices rang in his ears and his temper got short. The other firefighters and SWAT guys seemed to agree with him, the crew becoming quieter and quieter.
And then Deandra and Moose came in.
The bride’s eyes went directly to Danny, and then narrowed on Anne.
Don’t you dare, Deandra, he thought.
Turning to Anne, he said, “So . . .”
She took a sip from her glass of wine. “So?”
When their eyes met, the other people disappeared. The waiters filling water glasses dematerialized. The restaurant became as fog, something vague and indistinct.
Her stare was all that he saw.
As she shook her head, he told himself it didn’t mean anything. He knew better, though. She was closing the door on what had been started the night before in her living room—but he didn’t think it was going to be so easy to set that electricity aside.
Genies out of bottles, and all that.
Except then he thought about his reputation. Anne was not the kind of woman who’d let herself get used—not that that was his intent with her.
Far from it.
Food came in waves, great platters of pastas and meats set in the center of the table. From time to time, Danny looked down the way at the bride and groom. First they were arguing, then Deandra gave the guy the silent treatment.
But just before dessert came out, Moose started to talk at the woman urgently.
Next thing anyone knew, she was stroking his face and kissing him like she was checking the structural integrity of his molars with her tongue. After that? The bride held the groom’s hand and sparkled like she was a disco ball. All apparently was well . . . for the next foreseeable ten minutes.
“Dannyboy?” Moose called out from across the table. “You ready for your speech?”
Danny stood up and clanked his dessert spoon on the side of his water glass. As people kept talking, he shouted, “Shut up.”
As all eyes swung in his direction, he cleared his throat. But then his mind went utterly blank—which made sense, he guessed, given that Anne was in his peripheral vision, and the only person he truly saw.
Picturing her eyes as they stared up at him the night before, he started to speak, the words not coming from his brain, but somewhere behind his sternum.
“Many of you know that I lost my twin brother, John Thomas, in a fire three years ago.” All of the firefighters around the table twitched in their seats—and Anne jerked to attention. “I don’t talk a lot about it. But he’s with me every day and night—or the fact that he’s not here with me is more like it. For those of us in this dangerous profession, we live with the possibility of loss every time we go out on an alarm. We know we can walk into a building or a home and not come out. It gives you a lot of perspective on how short life is, and that means good times and good people—and a good woman . . . is a rare thing that should not be wasted. I never believed in love. For the longest time, I thought it was just a word, a title folks gave to daydreams and misconceptions about destiny, a lie folks told to themselves to make them feel solid in this imperfect, unreliable, and mean-ass world.”