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"I HAVE new carpet coming next week."
Shane laughed. "Not any more you don't." "It's cappuccino." "You bought coffee?" "No, the carpet colour."Finn nudged him hard in the ribs. "It's cappuccino. That's what it's called."
"I'm sure it'll be lovely on the lawn."
There wasn't anywhere else left to put it. "We might have stood a chance of catching it if you hadn't thrown vodka on it."
Finn grimaced. "I thought it was water." "Water would have been better. Though to be honest it would have taken more than a glass of the stuff."
"All right, wise ass. But if you didn't have all that expensive training that I, as a tax-payer, paid for then you might have thrown the first thing that came to hand at it too."
"I might have remembered what I was drinking before I went to bed."
"I wasn't drinking it."
Shane's dark eyebrows rose. "Oh, really? Do tell." There were times when Shane Dwyer's way of asking a question accompanied with a mischievous sparkle in his blue eyes just bugged the hell out of Finn. Standing freezing to death in her pyjamas on a wintry December evening while her house was on fire was one of them. The fact that to answer him would involve a foray into her disastrous love life didn't help any.
She smirked at him.
After a brief burst of deep laughter, he inclined his head. "C'mon, babe, move back a wee bit more."
She stood statue-still on the pavement for another second as she looked at her house, eyes wide and blinking.
After all, a moment like this one deserved a little reflection, didn't it? She should be thinking deep and meaningful thoughts, contemplating twists of fate and the flammable quality of racks ofunderwear set to dry in front of a fireplace. Even with a fireguard.
Though, in hindsight, throwing the burnt-out candle ends on the open fire before she went to bed probably hadn't been a Mensa moment.
If only she'd forked out for a tumble dryer. But it had been a choice between a tumble dryer and nice carpet. And carpet had won-
She found herself curious about the stupidest things. Had she put away her ironing? Had the DVD recorder taped the show she'd set it for before she'd left on her date? If she'd thought to have a selection of mixers available for her date would there even have been a glass of neat vodka for her to throw at the flames?
"Finn." The deep voice became more demanding of her attention. "C'mon, look at me a minute."
Turning her head, she had to tilt her chin up to look into his familiar blue eyes. She could see many things there when she searched. She could see concern, warmth, sincerity. Obviously her taxes hadn't been wasted on his training in the customer service department.
She scowled at him. "I'm having a moment here."
He grinned down at her, white teeth glinting in his dirtsmeared face. Then he reached a gloved hand out to touch her arm. "You go right on and take that moment. Don't let the chance of smoke inhalation ruin it for you." He winked. "Eddie is on his way; he'll be here any minute."
He'd called Eddie already? That was nice of him, considerate even. Not to mention above and beyond the call of duty. But then it wasn't everybody whose house was burning down that had connections to the local fire brigade as Fionoula McNeill did.
Her brother Eddie was third generation after all. Technically she'd now broken new ground by being the first generation to actually start a fire, so it would be sad if her brother missed it, right?
Shane continued to grin. "It's almost all done here anyway. Then we'll get you home to our place, babe."
Babe. He kept calling her babe, didn't he? Somewhere in her addled brain she allowed the endearment to slip through where it rattled around in her skull for a while and then seeped down into her chest. She'd have paid good money to hear him call her that in that tone before.
It was an awful shame it had taken her house to burn down for him to use it, on her. He never had trouble using the word on any other female on the island they called home. Finn knew.
It was a throwaway word for him, thrown mostly at skinny blondes with skirts so short they probably had permanent kidney infections, as it happened.
Knowing that meant it shouldn't have had any effect on Finn. But it did, it made her feel as if she had his full and undivided attention. Which didn't suck. Though the smoothing of his hand on her arm should have been more than enough to tell her she did even without the sexy sparks in his eyes.
If she'd just known all it would take was for her to burn her own house down-well, damn. Mentally she clicked her fingers at the missed opportunity.
Apparently sarcasm was her way of coping in a crisis. She sighed. Oh, well, it had always worked for everything else, why would this be any different?
Her eyes focused on his hand as she cleared her throat and managed an eloquent, "Thanks."
"No problem. I keep tellin" you I'm one hell of a guy, don't I?"
"That you do. But I'm wearing entirely too much for you to waste time flirting with me."
"Oh, I dunno." He lifted the hand from her arm and tilted his helmet back on his head. "It's kinda sexy."
Folding his arms across his wide chest, he let his eyes drop to stare openly at her breasts. Finn's chin dropped and then she looked upwards and rolled her eyes.
Shane lifted a hand and rubbed his chin. "The hedgehog knows that's a brush, it's-"
"That's the whole joke, so, yes." Well, if she'd known there would be a half-dozen guys to look at what she wore in bed most nights she'd maybe have planned better. Maybe. "If it was another hedgehog it was doing it to it wouldn't be as funny, would it?"
"Still, you gotta wonder if it's not-" he paused for a second and then smiled his beautiful lazy smile "-a little uncomfortable for hedgehogs." it never became a horizontal mambo she'd be just fine. With a lift of her chin and a quirk of her head she smiled "They manage. And thanks so much for helping put the fire and all. Another day at the office all wrapped up." Something flickered across his eyes when she looked at him. "Mmm." His voice dropped an octave as he closer, inclining his head towards her ear, "Just go tryin'to burn down any more houses, babe. I don't think someone that matters to me might be hurt." Huh? Her eyes widened.
Oh, well, this was just great. Her house, her first ever as a home-owner, the one she'd made less than seven mortgage repayments on, was burnt to a in front of her by her own hands. And now she was between lines.
If her brother didn't get here soon she'd no doubt be imagining Shane professing undying love, throwing her over one his broad shoulders and taking her back to his cave to distract her from her woes with hours of wanton"Finn!" Another voice sounded behind her. "Finn", and Shane stepped back as Eddie grabbed her and pulled her a bear hug that knocked her held breath from her lungs. "I'll be fine so long as you don't crush me to death." "What the hell happened? Shane said someone made the "Where were you?" He stepped back and placed his large hands on her shoulders, shaking her gently. "What the hell happened? Did you leave those damn straighteners plugged in again?"
"No! I didn't leave the damn straighteners plugged in again." She shrugged free from his hold, her chin rising indignantly that he felt the need to give out to her when her house had just been on fire!
Then she glanced at Shane and saw his shoulders shuddering in barely suppressed laughter. Damn him! If she didn't tell her brother then he would, wouldn't he?
She looked back at Eddie's face and fluttered her eyelashes at him, pouting. It was worth a try. "Anyone could have made the same mistake."
"You set fire to your own house?" Eddie glanced across at Shane as he hid his mouth behind a glove. But his eyes told the tale. "Bloody hell, Finn."
Her temper sparked. "It's not like I planned on it! It was an accident. Why would I want to see my own house on fire? I ordered carpet, for crying out loud!"
"Yeah, espresso." "Cappuccino!" She glared at Shane. "How many times have I told you about being careful?" Finn scowled at her brother and opened her mouth to speak.
But as Shane stepped forward and placed a friendly arm around Eddie's shoulders he beat her to it. "Hey, ease up. She did try to put it out."
Son-of-a"You tried to put it out?" Eddie's face was incredulous. "You stupid-"
He paused and took a breath. "What did you do-throw a pan of water on it?"
Shane lowered his voice and choked out the words, "Think smaller."
"Shut up, Shane."
He laughed out loud, "Oh, c'mon! You think the lads at the station aren't gonna pull his leg about this one for years? The least you can do is give him the heads up."
"What did you do?"
With a scowl at Shane and a purse of her lips she jumped on in. "It was the first thing that came to hand."
"What was?" "A glass of vodka."
Eddie's mouth gaped at Shane's words. But before he could gather up a head of steam Finn added, "It looked like water. Kevin must have left it on the side before we went out for dinner."
"Who's Kevin?" "My date." "What'd you do, send him out for a can of petrol?" Eddie pointed down the street.
"Don't be ridiculous!" She glared at them both one final time and started to march past them, her head held high.
They turned and fell into step on either side of her. "How was the date, then?" Shane's deep voice sounded to her left.
She stopped, gaped at him for a second and then decided he was making with the funnies, so she stormed onwards. "Ha, ha."
She cleared her throat. "Just tell the guys I appreciate what they did, will you, Shane?" "No problem." He glanced across at the rest of the crew as they began rolling up hoses and packing away equipment. "I better go anyway."
Eddie nodded across at him as they stopped by his Jeep. "I'll take her on back to the house."
"Probably best; she's too calm about this." "Probably shock."
Shane nodded. "Probably." "Could you two stop talking about me like I'm not here?" She glared at them in turn. "I hate it when you do that."
She glared harder when they answered in unison. "Well, knock it on the head, then."
"We're just concerned about you, is all." Eddie smiled. "Would you prefer it if we yanked out some marshmallows on sticks?"
"Yeah, we keep bags of them on the truck, you know that." Shane's face was deadpan but his eyes sparkled.
"You're both hilarious." "Babe, we're only trying to take your mind off it." He reached out a large gloved hand again and squeezed her upper arm, his eyes focused on hers. "This is a big thing that's happened here and you're gonna need a little time to deal with it. All joking aside, you've lost a lot."
They could be too protective when they wanted to be. She knew how big a deal what had happened was. She gave a little laugh, but a chill suddenly radiated through every inch of her body at the thought of what could have been. "There's not much to deal with that I can see. I have no home, no clothes, in fact everything I own bar what I have on and what's in the car is now a great smoking pile of ash. Seems pretty straightforward to me."
It was the wobble on the last few words that brought her sarcasm to a halt and she knew Shane had caught them too when a small scowl appeared on his forehead.
He released her arm and stepped back, his voice firm as he glanced at Eddie. "Take her home. I'll be back before you go on shift in the morning and I'll look out for her."
Oh, yeah, that would help no end. Stuck inside four walls with Shane "looking out for her". Her throat threatened to close over and she could feel tears prickling at the back of her eyes as hysteria rose in her chest.
This was a disaster. It really was.
When she spoke her voice was brittle. "I don't need looking after and I have work in the morning."
"The hell you do." "You're not going to work." She scowled when they spoke in unison again. "Yes, I am! I need to earn a wage to pay for wee things like clothes, seeing as I don't have any any more."
"We'll lend you some."
While Shane nodded in agreement with Eddie's statement Finn quietly fumed. It felt better to be angry with them than to focus on what had just happened and the repercussions of it on her calm and organized world. Typical macho men-it just wouldn't occur to them that she might see anything hurtful in the fact that they believed their clothes would fit her!
Add that to talking over her, joking about marshmallows and the fact that she now had to go stay in Shane's house-