When Rikki’s first love dies in the line of duty she vows to keep her heart guarded and never give it away again.
After moving to a new town for a fresh start, she is given the opportunity to show off her photography skills and shoot a sexy fireman calendar. Although taking the job might bring up painful memories, she knows this is her best chance at fulfilling her dreams of becoming a professional photographer.
While out with her new roommates, Rikki meets Simon and Carter and feels an instant spark of attraction… to both equally gorgeous and tempting men. This is the same intense feeling she had the first time she fell in love. But how can she feel that way about two men?
When she arrives at the firehouse to shoot the calendar, she is surprised to find that Simon and Carter are firefighters so she immediately pulls back on their growing flirtation. But Simon and Carter are men who know what they want, and they want Riki. As the chemistry between them ignites Rikki finds it hard to resist falling prey to her steamiest fantasies.
Now she has to choose between keeping her heart safe... or taking a chance on love… and possibly losing everything.
|Publisher:||St. Martin's Publishing Group|
|Product dimensions:||5.65(w) x 8.13(h) x 0.64(d)|
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By Opal Carew
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2017 Opal Carew
All rights reserved.
Rikki stared at her friend Cassie, her jaw open.
"Why not? You want to get more work as a photographer. And this'll be way more fun than just snapping pictures of schoolkids and doing grad photos."
"But shots for a calendar of naked firefighters?" Rikki's cheeks blazed with heat. She had never even seen a naked man, let alone casually taken a picture of one.
"Okay, they won't be totally naked. Just bare chests." Cassie grinned. "Enough to show off their big muscles."
"I don't know. They'll be taking off their clothes. I'll be alone with them taking pictures. They might think that ..." Rikki bit her lip. "I mean ... maybe they'll get ideas."
"Not with the big 'don't touch' sign you have hanging over your head. Honey, I've seen how you freeze out men."
"I don't mean to," Rikki practically stuttered. But she knew what Cassie meant.
Cassie leaned in close. "So think about it this time and don't put up those shields. Believe me, these are all really nice guys. Why not actually let yourself get involved with one of them?"
Rikki's stomach clenched. "Oh, Cassie. You know I can't do that. Not with a fireman."
"You could." Cassie squeezed her hand. "I know with what happened to you ... the way you lost Jesse ..." She pursed her lips, compassion in her eyes. "But you haven't been in a serious relationship ever since ... unless you've been holding out on me."
Rikki shook her head. It was true.
"So you need to move forward. And it will probably be really good for you to do it with a fireman. Just to get over that block you have. So why not let yourself be okay with having a fling with one of these guys? That would probably be the best thing for you. Just a meaningless sexual relationship to help you get your groove back."
Rikki shook her head. "I don't think so."
"Okay." Cassie patted Rikki's hand. "Maybe not with a fireman then. But I could introduce you to some other nice guys in town. Just think casual relationship and see where it goes from there. Maybe a nice guy to show you around."
Rikki had only just moved to town. She and Cassie had been friends since college, but this was the first time since then that they'd lived in the same city.
"I'm actually going out with my roommates on Thursday evening."
"Oh, that's great. How's it going with that?"
Rikki didn't know her roommates. She needed to keep costs down, so she'd answered an ad for a room in a townhouse with three other people.
"I've only met Tina so far." Rikki had moved in yesterday and Tina, who had the bedroom next to hers, was the one who'd let her in. "She's really friendly and seems like she'll be fun. She suggested we all go out for drinks together so I can get to know them."
"Where are you going?" Cassie asked.
"Somewhere called Rango's."
Cassie's eyebrow darted up. "That's kind of a pickup place."
"Oh. Well, maybe Tina doesn't know that. Or maybe I got the name wrong."
Cassie laughed. "Or maybe she sized you up right away and figures you need to get laid. Anyway," she continued before Rikki could protest, "about this calendar, I really hope you'll do it."
Rikki hesitated. She hated to say no to Cassie.
Cassie leaned closer. "How can you turn down an opportunity like this? It'll allow you to do something you love — taking fabulous photographs — and it'll help raise money for the firemen's fund. A very worthwhile cause. They do all kinds of great things for the neighborhood."
Rikki pursed her lips. Why did Cassie have to be so persuasive?
Cassie laughed. "You know you want to. Just say yes."
"I suppose I could meet with them and see what they're looking for."
"Actually, I'm the one managing the whole thing for them. My dad and the chief are old friends and ever since I was a kid, our whole family used to help out at the fundraisers. So now I'm volunteering my publicist talent to them."
"Oh, no. That means I'm volunteering, too, right?"
"Well, you're between jobs right now, so you have the time. And I had a great idea. You know I have a few author clients who would be thrilled to have original photos of sexy guys for their book covers rather than the same-old-same-old stock art. Sooo ... I suggested to the guys that in exchange for your time, they agree to let you take extra shots of them, and they'll give you the rights to use their images. That means you can start building up a portfolio of pictures of sexy, half-naked men."
At Rikki's dubious expression, Cassie added, "You can probably charge anywhere from four to six hundred dollars per image as long as you make them exclusive to the author."
"You think your author clients will actually spend that much?"
"I believe they will. And one of them is just starting a new series, so that could turn into five or more covers right off the bat. She totally trusts my judgment, and I have total confidence in your ability."
"Okay, I guess I can't really say no."
* * *
Rikki's fingers curled around the sheets as she lay in her dark bedroom, images of a big, muscular man carrying an axe, his naked chest dripping with perspiration, gliding through her brain. The ridges of his muscles gleamed in the light of the fire. His face was smudged with soot and the curved lines of his fireman's hat complemented the masculinity of his angular face.
Damn, ever since Cassie had suggested Rikki do this calendar project, Rikki had been swamped with sexy dreams of firemen. Stripping naked in front of her. Their cocks hanging free. And their cocks were always sooo big. Big enough to be downright daunting.
She shook her head. Of course they'd be daunting. Any size would be daunting to her, given her limited experience.
Extremely limited experience. She closed her eyes again, but all she could think about were big, sexy firefighters. Ripped and full of testosterone. Sleeping in a firehouse together. Showering together. Their big naked bodies glistening with water.
Oh, God, she could feel her body reacting. The melting heat between her legs. The aching need inside her.
She glided her fingers over her breast, then down between her legs. The flesh there was slick and needy and her stomach tightened. She stroked a couple of times, then allowed her fingertip to graze the little bud buried in the folds, and wild sensations burst through her.
She pulled her hand away and rolled onto her stomach, burying her face in the pillow. She wasn't going to do this again. It was pointless and frustrating. She suspected there was something physically wrong with her. It took forever to give herself an orgasm, and even then, she wasn't entirely sure that was what she was experiencing.
She dug her fingers into the pillow, frustration flooding through her veins. Why did she have to be so totally incompetent in her sexuality?
* * *
"Hey, roomie." Tina looked up from her bowl of cereal. "There's coffee in the pot."
"Thanks." Rikki shuffled to the pot, tired from her restless night, and poured herself a cup, then sat across from Tina.
Tina had bright blue eyes, always full of curiosity — and a dash of mischief — and short honey-blonde curls with a shock of hot pink, violet, and vivid peacock blue. Her nails were impeccably done to look like shiny black talons, coming to a sharp point at the end, with an intricate silver design etched on top. She even had a tiny silver skull charm, dangling from a ring pierced through one nail tip, the whole thing about a quarter inch long.
Tina worked at a trendy boutique along the lakeshore where a lot of tourists shopped. Muldone was a tourist town along a beautiful lake with a lovely view of the mountains.
One of their other roommates, Anna, worked in the same area, but in a store with fancy soaps. Some were beautiful, but not too practical, like the ones shaped like cupcakes, teacups, even wedding cakes — all life-size. The ones Rikki liked were the round ones marbled in different colors with a soft scent.
"Are you off to work soon?" Rikki asked.
Tina wore a tiny black leather skirt and a form-fitting shirt that accentuated her slim waist and dipped low enough in front to give an eyeful of cleavage. The necklace she wore nestled between her breasts, the sparkle of the stone drawing attention right to them. Rikki was sure a man wouldn't be able to take his eyes off the soft rounded curves. Rikki found it difficult herself.
"Can't help looking at the girls, eh?" Tina leaned forward, exposing even more breast. "I don't mind, but just to warn you, I'm not into women myself."
Rikki's eyes widened. "Oh, no ... I didn't mean ..." She tugged her gaze from Tina's breasts, feeling her cheeks heat.
Tina laughed. "Don't worry about it. I'm teasing. But I don't care who or what you're into. Whatever it is, though, I think you need to get yourself some soon. I heard you moaning in your sleep. I mean," she quirked her head, "unless you're hiding a guy in your room. If so, dump him, because he didn't seem to be taking you where you needed to go."
Oh, God! Tina had heard her during her steamy dreams? Her cheeks heated even more.
"Been a while, has it?" Tina asked.
Rikki sipped her coffee, more to block her face with the cup. "I really don't want to talk about this."
"Yeah, okay." Tina stood up. "But don't worry. I've got your back." She put her dishes in the dishwasher, then walked to the door. "See you at Rango's at eight."
* * *
Simon leaned back against the bar and checked out the crowd. His best friend Carter sat on the tall stool beside his. They didn't usually come to places like this, but both of them had been suffering from a dry spell lately and this was the best place in town to find a sexy, willing woman.
They both wore casual clothes — short-sleeved cotton shirts and presentable jeans — unlike most of the guys in the place who wore shirts and ties and even full suits. When hanging out during their time off, they liked to be comfortable, and any woman who didn't like that wasn't right for them.
His gaze flicked to the young woman walking into the bar. She gazed around hesitantly and nothing about her seemed to fit this scene. Instead of a fashionable short dress with plunging neckline and stiletto heels, she wore a floral sundress with soft, flowing lines that floated around her legs as she walked. He could just imagine a soft breeze lifting the hem and showing more of her long, shapely legs.
The sandals she wore were feminine and sexy, made up of thin leather straps hugging her pretty feet. The heels were high, but not six-inch spikes like what so many of the other women wore. And her toenails were painted a deep peachy-pink tone. The sunny color made him smile.
As his gaze glided back up her body, he couldn't help noticing the flare of her hips accentuating her narrow waist, and the scooped neckline of her dress giving the merest glimpse of the soft breasts beneath. Her hair — a long, straight curtain of glossy deep-auburn — cascaded past her shoulders halfway to her waist.
He loved long hair on a woman. Loved to coil his hand in it and tug her head back so he could nuzzle her throat. Maybe get a little rough if she was into that.
But this woman ... He couldn't see himself doing that to her. She seemed too vulnerable somehow. He could see running his fingers through those silky strands. Gliding them behind her ear, then drawing her face close and kissing those full, pouty lips.
Her face — so sweet and angelic — was heart-shaped with a pert little nose and eyes so big he could get lost in them.
"Goddamn!" Carter nudged him and Simon realized his friend was looking at the same woman. "Man, I know you saw her a split-second before I did, but maybe with this one we could go for a team effort."
Simon turned to Carter. "She doesn't look like the type who would be into that. In fact, I'm surprised she's in a place like this in the first place."
"But she is." Carter grinned. "And it's the quiet ones that'll surprise you most."
Simon turned back to look at her again. She'd sat down at a table with three other people: two women and a man.
"Maybe. Or maybe she's here with that guy."
Carter took a sip from his beer stein. "We'll see."
* * *
Rikki felt a little out of place. Tina was wearing the same short skirt and low-cut top she'd worn to work today and Anna was dressed similarly in a short royal blue dress that barely kept her breasts contained. Mel, their male roommate, wore black dress pants and a dark shirt. Very sleek looking.
Anna was a petite brunette, a little shorter than Tina. She was quieter than Tina and stayed in her room a lot but was friendly enough. Mel was a good-looking guy. Tall with short, sandy blond hair and a crooked smile. She'd only seen him a couple times at the house since she'd moved in. He worked odd hours and seemed to go out with his friends a lot.
"Hi, Rikki," Anna said. "I brought you this." She handed Rikki a gift bag with neon stripes and lime green tissue paper. "It's a welcome gift."
Rikki reached into the bag and pulled out something wrapped in the lime tissue and set it on the table, then carefully unwrapped it. It looked like a tall, fluffy slice of strawberry shortcake.
"It's soap," Anna said. "Smell it."
Rikki lifted it and breathed in the delicate aroma of strawberries and vanilla.
"Thanks, Anna. That's very nice."
"Here, I got you something, too." Tina handed her a small package that fit in her palm. It was wrapped in black tissue with a red heart-shaped holographic sticker holding the edges together.
Rikki opened it to find a silver mesh coin purse inside. "That's really cute. Thank you."
"Wait," Tina said with a grin. "Look inside."
Rikki flicked open the top and peered inside. She pulled out something black. Lace. She started to hold it up, but then clamped her hand around it when she realized it was a thong.
Tina tugged it from her hand and laid it on the table. There was barely anything to it. Just a triangle of lace at the front and a smaller one at the back with thin strings attaching them. Tina slid her hand under the larger triangle then pushed her finger through the middle and wiggled it.
Rikki's gaze darted around them, wondering if the other patrons were staring at this wicked gift, but luckily the gift bag from Anna's present blocked it from most people, and the few people around them who would have a clear view weren't paying any attention.
Mel laughed. "They're crotch less and back less. There couldn't be much less of them." He grinned. "I like."
Rikki crumpled them in her hand and stuffed them back in the coin purse, then slipped it into her bag.
"Uh ... thank you?"
Tina laughed and winked at Anna. "I told you I could make her cheeks turn bright red."
"Yeah, okay, so here's your ten bucks," Anna said, pulling a bill from her purse and handing it to Tina.
"Are you guys always like this?" Rikki asked.
Tina shrugged. "We like to have fun with each other."
"Yeah, it would have been fun if you'd let me know you were bringing gifts," Mel said.
"That's easily fixed," Anna said. "Why don't you just buy a round of shots, then order Rikki a special drink after that?"
"Great idea." Mel signaled to a waitress and ordered. A few minutes later, the waitress returned with four full shot glasses and set them on the table. Tina and Mel tipped theirs back.
Anna picked up hers and glanced at Rikki. "Ready?"
Rikki lifted hers, too, and nodded, then tipped it back at the same time as Anna.
She swallowed the whole thing, just as the others had. She tried not to react to the burn down her throat, but she wasn't used to this kind of thing so she winced a little.
Tina nudged her arm with a smile. "Want another?"
"Maybe later," Rikki said.
* * *
Simon signaled to the bartender and she came over.
"Rhonda, we'd like to send a drink over to that woman in the sundress. The one with the gift bag on the table. Do you know what they're celebrating?"
"Yeah, I know her friend Tina. It's some kind of welcome gift. I think she just moved to town."
"Great. And you probably know what kind of drink she'd like, too, right?"
"You know it." She leaned forward, giving an eyeful of her curvy breasts in her low-cut tank top. "And before you ask, the guy isn't her boyfriend, so no competition there. Not that any guy here could compete with either of you." She grinned and winked.
"Yeah, I bet you say that to all the guys," Carter said.
"Sure." Her eyes twinkled. "But with you two, it's true."
Simon laughed as Rhonda walked away, a seductive sway to her hips.
"So she's new in town, which probably means no guy in the picture," Carter said. "We've got a shot."
"Yeah, but you or me?"
Carter grinned. "I could just wander over there and ask her."
Excerpted from Heat by Opal Carew. Copyright © 2017 Opal Carew. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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