Blurb:When fire fighter Grady Ashcroft adopts his deceased sister’s son, he knows his life is going to change. Although he never expected to be a dad, he resolves to give young Jamie his best, even if it means a celibate life in a new home, far from all he’s known before. He does not expect to find the man of his dreams in the
Sullivan Parker wanted to be chief of the Valle Vista fire department when the worthless former chief was forced to leave. Instead, the town council hires a stranger from a distant city. In spite of his resentment, Sully finds himself drawn to the new comer. Then he discovers a need to take little Jamie and the speckled pup the former chief left behind under his wing.
The brotherhood born of battling dangerous blazes slowly turns to stronger feelings for both men. Then a scare involving the boy and the dog creates a final catalyst to break Grady and Sully out of their tense and conflicting interface. Can resentment and distrust turn to love?
Excerpt: (This scene gives you a good flavor of the reality of fighting a fire and of the conflict between Grady and Sully. It is about a quarter of the way into the story.)
All at once, Grady realized Sully had been in the barn way too long. The structure could collapse at any moment, and he had no way to know what things were like inside. It seemed the upper story was the most involved in the fire, but burning hay could fall down from the loft and the fire might even have started in the lower level. Panic clenched a cold fist inside him. The idea of losing a man scared him spitless. He'd only gone through that once in his prior career, but once was more than enough.
The owner lurked at the doorway, clearly hesitant to enter the dim and smoky space, but also desperate about his wife's safety.
"Stand back. I'll go get them," Grady told him. "Don't try to go in. It's way too dangerous for you, but I know how to do this. I'll do my damnedest to get her out and my fireman as well."
Just then, a darker shadow appeared against the dim glow of flame through smoke. Sully emerged, the woman slung over his right shoulder and an odd-shaped glittering object clutched in his other hand. He stumbled as he hit the doorsill. The man reached for his wife as Grady grabbed Sully's arm.
"Are you crazy, man? What took you so long? Let me get you over to the brush truck and get some oxygen going for you. How's the lady?"
Sully coughed before he could croak a reply. "One by one, Chief. Hard to see in there, even though I knew the tack room was at the southeast corner. She's got some spot burns I expect from stuff falling from the loft, but mostly the smoke got to her. Almost got to me, too." He coughed again. "Give her the oxygen first and call for an evac."
Grady didn't bridle at the orders, whether they were appropriate or not. He could see the woman was unconscious. Her husband wept and swore, cradling her in his arms. "Damn fool woman! A stupid trophy isn't worth risking your life for, baby. Oh fuck, don't go and die on me."
Once Grady saw Sully stagger off in the direction of the small grass and brush fire truck, which also carried their medical and rescue gear, Grady caught the owner's arm. "Let me take her. We've got oxygen for situations like this." He eased the woman's limp body from the man's grip. "We've called in the chopper out of Boca Cañon to evac her and we'll keep her going until they arrive. Oxygen will help unless she's got internal burns from the smoke."
The man scrubbed at his eyes, smearing soot across his face. "I tried to stop her. I told her it was dumb. I-I didn't do enough. Oh God, please don't let her die."
When Grady reached the truck, he saw Sully sitting on the bumper, an oxygen mask over his face. A second mask waited, both attached to the same tank. There should be enough to supply two at a medium setting for at least half an hour. Grady turned to one of the other firefighters standing by, watching Sully. "Did someone call for a med evac? Not sure how bad the lady is, but it's clear she needs medical care."
"Done," the woman said, dwarfed by her turnouts, although they were the smallest available. From experience at a couple of drills, Grady knew Judy Diaz could hold her own, despite her size. She was one tough little gal, as well as steady and sensible.
In the brighter lights from the arc of department vehicles, he could see charred spots on Mrs. Hollister's jacket and holes in her sweat pants where coals had burned through the fabric. It was damn lucky her clothes had not actually caught fire. He slapped the mask in place over her nose and mouth and fiddled with the tank's controls to start the life-sustaining flow. By God, he'd rave at the town council until they coughed up enough for a bigger and better concentrating machine. Any member of his crew could suffer from smoke inhalation, and he wasn't going to see anyone die from lack of this essential gear.
With steadier movements, Sully jerked the mask of his face. "I'm good," he rasped. "Save it for her. She don't look good at all."
He stood steadily enough and reached to turn off the connection for the hose to the mask he'd removed. Then he wheeled around to start toward the main truck, which still pumped out water. At the same instant, a sudden crash shook them.
"Sit down and give yourself a break." Grady roared out the order. "Things are under control and you fucking well aren't going to risk more strain right now. That's an order, in case I didn't make it clear."
Sully stopped, looking back with a poisonous glare. "I know my limits. I'm not going to endanger anyone. Leave me be."
Although most of Grady's attention focused on the unconscious woman, he glanced up at Sully. "I said sit. Do it, or I'll write you up for insubordination."
Sully managed a raspy laugh. "Do I look like I care? You can't fire volunteers, big shot. If you keep hassling me, I might just quit."
Grady was saved from a reply that might have made matters worse by the distinctive whaps of the approaching helicopter. He left the woman in the care of another firefighter as he grabbed a flashlight and went to direct the chopper to a clear landing.
The EMTs lost no time bundling up the victim and getting her aboard. Grady thought about sending Sully with them, but when he looked around, the other man had disappeared. The chopper had lifted clear and headed away before Grady found his second-in-command in the cab of the truck they'd brought to the scene. Sully leaned on the steering wheel, resting his elbows in its lower curve and holding his bowed head in both hands. His helmet lay in the passenger seat. By all appearances, he was totally done in. Breathing smoke could do that to a person.
Grady gulped. The surge of sympathy and concern sweeping over him took him by surprise. It felt like more than the normal worry he should have for a member of his team. He'd always treated the firefighters under him like brothers and sisters, but he'd also maintained an insulating distance and never let any of them inside his protective shell. That was way too risky. He damn sure wasn't going to do it here!
Sully made him mad as hell, although some sixth sense insisted the often-belligerent mechanic was a good man, someone he could trust and count on. Did he dare accept that intuitive assessment? Maybe now was a time to test it. Under the moment's pressure, he forgot the other side of his feelings about Sully, the risky, incendiary tingle of attraction. Without giving himself time to analyze his motives, he reached through the open window and put his hand on Sully's shoulder.