Slow Burnby Anne Marsh
He's Feeling The Heat
Evan Donovan is a big muscled giant of a man, whose size and strength make him uniquely qualified to be a smoke jumper. No matter how great or how treacherous the challenge, he gets the/b>
It's not every man who will risk his life, leaping into the flames of a wildland inferno. And it's not every woman who will love him. . .
He's Feeling The Heat
Evan Donovan is a big muscled giant of a man, whose size and strength make him uniquely qualified to be a smoke jumper. No matter how great or how treacherous the challenge, he gets the job done. But when he agrees to look in on a friend's ex-wife after a suspicious brushfire, Evan learns that some jobs are too hot to handle. Especially when it involves a scorchingly sexy woman. . .
She's Playing With Fire
Faye Duncan is a photographer on a mission, shooting fires for a magazine. But her first encounter with a wildfire isn't nearly as wild as her first night with Evan Donovan. The moment she meets the bigger-than-life hero, the sparks begin to fly. But things really catch fire when Evan learns she may have taken a photo of the arsonist setting the fires. Evan is determined to keep Faye safe. But if he expects her to trust him with her life, he'll have to open up his heart--even if someone gets burned. . .
"The Smoke Jumpers series delivers white hot suspense and a drop dead sexy hero!" --New York Times bestselling author Roxanne St. Claire
Anne Marsh's novels are:
"Smoking hot." --Fiction Vixen
"Sexually charged." --Bookaholics
"Superb." --Midwest Book Review
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By ANNE MARSH
Kensington Publishing Corp.Copyright © 2013 Anne Marsh
All right reserved.
Chapter OneThe vintage Corvette Faye Duncan had mortgaged her life to buy took the curve sweet as apple pie—and landed her straight in hell. The mountain slope plunged away from the car's left, a two-thousand-foot drop just beyond the battered steel guardrail. The drop was bad, but the brush fire licking over the road and up the side of the mountain on her right worried her more. There shouldn't be flames on the road.
She hit the accelerator, because it was too damned late to stop. If she came to a screeching halt now, she'd be barbecue. The Corvette shot through the flames and smoke, and she braked hard, loose gravel pinging against the car's undercarriage.
Her ex-husband would have laughed at her nerves, but, then, Mike Thomas didn't think twice about plunging into a burning L.A. high-rise. He lived for the next fire call, the ride out on the truck, and the chance to pit himself against the flames in the company of his boys.
She didn't. Carefully, she pulled off onto the narrow shoulder. She'd left L.A. five hundred miles behind her, but this wasn't the adventure she'd been looking for.
The road was still on fire.
She grabbed the cell from her purse on the front seat, but dialing 911 didn't seem particularly helpful. After all, she didn't know precisely where she was. A quick glance at the dashboard warned her that the brush fire wasn't her only problem. The Corvette was almost out of gas, and the engine—or some other, unidentified part of her very new car—had been making strange noises for the last forty miles. The 425-horsepower, big-block engine that had practically melted the Daytona Speedway when it was first introduced and that the ad copy had promised her would deliver speed, speed, speed.
She'd traded in her 401K and all of her spare cash for this car.
Of course, she knew better than to believe everything she read in a glossy catalog. She made a living taking photographs for similar catalogs, and she knew that pretty perfection was staged. The tableware and picture frames she shot appeared on pages that were the empty sets for someone else's imagined life. Pretty, but impersonal, the catalogs promised stories waiting to happen when people bought the stuff and shed the boxes. She and Mike had been given an entire set of silver wedding frames.
Those frames were empty now, packed in a box in storage.
The fire contracted, then leapt forward, a little whirling hop of a dance that had her inching the Corvette ahead to put another handful of yards between her and the flames. From her new vantage point, right around the hairpin turn, she spotted a pickup with a dust-covered firehouse logo on its side. The local fire department was already on the scene. Thank God.
Rolling down the window, she hollered over at her savior. "You got this? Need me to call it in?"
The firefighter gave her a quick thumbs-up and started shoveling dirt onto the flames dancing along the edges of the asphalt and whipping up the mountainside. Thank God. He'd take care of the problem. Maybe he was a volunteer with the fire department she'd been hired to photograph for a local color piece.
She watched him for a minute, catching her breath before she grabbed her camera from the front seat. Why not? Bracing her arms on the window edge, she snapped a few shots. The firefighter had his back to her, thin flames whipping around his boots as he worked the shovel. The powerful muscles of his tanned forearms flexed as he did his thing, rescuing her and the mountain from imminent immolation. He'd pulled a bandana over most of his face and jammed a baseball cap down low on his forehead, making it impossible to see him clearly through the smoke, but he certainly filled out a pair of jeans nicely. Jesus. Maybe she had something here, something she could use. They didn't make men like that back in L.A.
Or if they had, she'd been blind.
Which was always possible. This firefighter was whipcord lean and wiry, pure strength taking on the fire single-handed. He could easily star front and center in her magazine piece. Re-covering the lens, she dropped the camera onto the seat. Putting the car back into gear, she lifted a hand in farewell, pulled out, and headed down the road.
When her cell buzzed a few minutes later, she flicked on the hands-free. The number on the screen was all too familiar, unlike the small town coming up fast in her windshield. That had to be Strong. There wasn't an over-abundance of small towns up here in the Californian mountains.
"Six plus one," her sister, M.J., said when Faye answered. "You're a single woman again."
Six months and a day. That was how long it took to officially end a marriage that had, emotionally, been over almost before it started. "That's no newsflash."
She'd counted down the days with her sister, finding a new reason each day for what had happened. The problem had been him. Her. The lack of a them. The ultimate betrayal had been his—and that had hurt, impossibly so, finding him in the arms of another woman—but she'd lost Mike long before that last afternoon. Or he'd lost her. They'd slowly drifted apart.
Now she was done. Mike was five hundred miles and 181 days in her past, and she wanted to live.
She slowed, the Corvette flashing past a signpost: welcome to strong. Ponderosas shaded well-kept buildings lining a main street that a bronze plaque proudly proclaimed historic. There were certainly plenty of pastel-paint jobs and storefronts, not that Faye had ever been the shopping type. Still, there was something about the wooden sidewalks and pots of red flowers soaking up the sun that had her smiling.
"Tell me you're out celebrating, doing something memorable," her sister demanded.
"I just hit Strong." Almost literally. The car stalled, and she coaxed the engine back to life, her gaze flicking to the dashboard. She needed a gas station and a mechanic. Stat.
"That sounds like fun. Fingers crossed you meet some hunky new firefighters on the job." The other woman's voice sounded hopeful. M.J. wanted her baby sister to get right back on the marital horse, find herself another man— one who wouldn't turn up in bed with a woman he'd initially sworn was "just a good friend."
No more men.
"Where, exactly, is this Strong?" her sister asked, not done with her questions.
And it was a good question. The Corvette shuddered once more and then died silently. The needle on the gas gauge hovered on empty. Like her life.
Guiding the car into an empty parking spot in front of what appeared to be a pretty little general store, Faye considered her options. Which weren't many. Out of gas. In the middle of nowhere. Looking on the bright side, she didn't have anywhere else to be, which had been the whole point of this road trip to take pics for a freelance job. She'd packed up the car and decided to do a Thelmaand-Louise—just drive off into the sunset—but without a Louise, the guns, or the crime spree. Maybe, if luck was on her side, Brad Pitt would put in an appearance for a summer fling. Although, the last time she'd stood in line at an L.A. supermarket, gazing at the tabloids, it had looked as if he was firmly off the market and busy collecting kids.
Instead of getting it on with Brad, she would be spending the night in Strong. The general store's wide plank porch and potted red geraniums made the place postcard pretty. The country shop could have been a set for one of the catalog shoots she'd done.
"Up in the mountains. Maybe fifty miles past Sacramento?" she admitted when the silence on the cell stretched too long. She hadn't been interested in plotting the place on a map—she'd wanted to leave L.A. behind her, and Strong had fit that bill.
There was more silence on the other end, while her sister tried to figure out a tactful way to ask why, before she gave up and asked her question point-blank. "And you chose this spot because?"
"The name is good," Faye hedged. "And I've got a freelance job here, photographing a historic firehouse renovation." Plus, if she was being honest with herself, she'd been running when she left L.A., looking for another chance. A second chance.
Strong was going to be her do-over.
When she got out of the car, the air hit her first, all pine and lavender. One side of the street sported a display of antiques and a flower shop that was apparently the source of the lavender smell—two women were carrying in bundles of the stuff. When she peeked around the corner, however, there was no missing the town's honky-tonk bar. It was a visual assault, all tacky neon signs and promises of a good time. Ma's. Perfect.
"I saw Mike the other day." Her sister tossed her ex's name out casually. Faye didn't want to go there again. Six months wasn't enough time to make her willing to talk about what had and hadn't happened in her marriage. The pause on the other end was expectant, then exasperated. "Faye? Did you hear me?"
Yeah, and her sister wasn't going to walk away from the topic. Faye considered ending the call, but M.J. would hit redial. Again and again. So, instead, she went for the platitudes. "How'd he look?"
"Good." Her sister said the word carefully. "He said he hadn't seen you in a couple of months."
That's because we were getting a divorce.
"Are you okay?" The concern in her sister's voice warmed her even as it angered her. M.J. loved her, but she sounded as if she was afraid Faye would break, or break down, when Faye had been the one who'd asked for the divorce in the first place.
"I'm fine," she said again. "Really. Mike's part of the past now. I'm moving on." Mike had been all bona fide hero when she'd first met him, newly returned from a tour of duty in the Middle East and an L.A. fire-department recruit. He'd headed out on fire calls, and she'd watched him go, heart in her throat. He'd put himself into danger for others, and he'd been her very own hero. He'd whispered promises to her, vowed to keep her safe.
The firefighter by the side of the road was a hero. Mike was simply her past.
As she headed for the bar, dust covered her shoes. The hot, dry California summer was in full swing up here, but that was July for you. It seemed like only yesterday it had been winter, full of rain and wet.
Six plus one. 181 days. Her divorce was final.
"I'm going to lose you," she warned M.J. "I doubt they get much of a signal inside the bar." Maybe they did, maybe they didn't, but she needed to end this conversation.
"Faye—" Her sister didn't sound ready to hang up, but finally she said, "You be careful now. Don't drink and drive."
"No, ma'am." She eyed the Vette ruefully. "No worries there."
A handful of sentences later, she was a free woman. Shoving open the door to Ma's, she stepped inside. Friday-night noise assaulted her. The locals were getting an early start, and it was clearly happy hour. Now she knew she was in the right place.
She'd gas up and find a mechanic in the morning—she'd spotted a gas station down the street—take her pictures, and hit the road again as soon as she could. Find those adventures and that life that had to be out there waiting for her to drive up and say, Here I am.
"I need you to look after my wife."
His last jump, Evan Donovan decided, must have been too high, too fast. Maybe his ears weren't working right, because no way he'd heard correctly. Hell, he hadn't even realized Mike Thomas had gone and gotten himself married.
Evan and his crew had just come off a jump. He was tired, and he definitely stank of smoke. The wheels of the DC-3 had barely hit the runway before his cell phone had vibrated with Mike's incoming. The jump team's pilot, Spotted Dick, had set the DC-3 down like she was a newborn, and now the older man was fussing over the gas tanks while the rest of the team lined up to shower in the jump camp's two solar showers. His brothers, Jack and Rio, slapped palms with the others, trading laughing insults. Someone had already dragged out the plastic cooler, brimful of ice and longnecks. A chorus of caps popped as his team celebrated its victory over the day's wildland fire in a familiar, happy refrain. None of them would have dreamed of drinking on the job, but afterward, a cold one waited for every man.
Live for the moment, and live it up. Take in every second of this hot, glorious, goddamn summer because, while there was always another fire, sometimes a man ran out of tomorrows. Evan had walked away when others hadn't. Good people had died fighting fires before, but he'd be back on the DC-3 tomorrow, ready to go up again.
That was how Donovan Brothers, the private fire management company he ran with his brothers, Jack and Rio, operated. Government or private—they worked the fires, traveling whenever and wherever the flames were. Business had been good enough to run multiple teams these last few years, although they'd all come home to Strong this summer because this job was personal.
Mike's business also sounded personal.
He toed his pack aside and waited for Mike to give him deets, cradling his cell between his cheek and shoulder. Daylight was burning. He needed to check his chute, then repack it. And food. He definitely needed food. A shower, too, because he smelled too much of smoke and sweat. After that, he had an appointment with his bed.
He did not want to listen to any tale of marital woes.
"Your wife," he repeated carefully into the phone when the silence stretched on for too long. He and Mike had fought together on the other side of the world, done a tour of duty together. The man was a good Marine, and he'd always had Evan's back. They'd stood side by side through firefights and sandstorms and other shit Evan didn't really want to remember right now. Still, they hadn't talked in a year or three. The social hi-how-are-ya wasn't how Evan spent his time.
The silence on the other end now spoke volumes. "My ex," Mike said finally. "The divorce was finalized today." Mike sounded rueful. And regretful? Evan was no psychologist, and he'd never done emotions. Whatever Mike felt or didn't feel was Mike's business. Not Evan's.
"I thought you were down L.A. way, fighting fires."
"I am. Doesn't mean I can't get married. I did, but ..." Mike paused, clearly unsure how to condense months of backstory into a few sentences. "It didn't work out. I fucked up."
Hell. Putting words together to console a buddy wasn't Evan's thing.
"I'm real sorry," he said finally, because good manners demanded a reply.
"Yeah." The other man sighed. "So am I. So I need you to check up on her, okay? She was headed your way— that's what her sister said. She hit Strong this afternoon. All you have to do is look her up, make sure she's fine."
Evan didn't know why Mike's wife—ex-wife—was visiting Strong, but maybe it didn't matter much.
"You sure this can't wait?" he growled.
"Please," Mike said.
Evan cursed silently. That military unit had been family for Evan, so if Mike really wanted this, Evan would do it.
"Where d'you think she is?"
"Her sister mentioned a bar. Place called Ma's."
That worked for him. After Mike's little bombshell, Evan needed a beer.
* * *
There was a pixie sitting on top of Ma's jukebox. A sensual, goddamn, sexy pixie of a woman. Evan let the bar door slam shut behind him. The pixie was tone deaf, too, if the country tune she was belting out was any indication. Still, the woman perched on the jukebox was a wake-up call he didn't need or want. She was all legs. Long, long bare legs. One leg crossed on top of the other, she sat up there as if the jukebox were some kind of throne and tapped a foot to the beat of the song. The sun-kissed color of those legs made a man think about bikinis and beaches and warm, sleepy afternoons. "Legs" wasn't wearing a bikini, though. She had on some impossibly floaty skirt. The scalloped lace hem stopped at the top of her thighs, and a particularly vigorous beat in the song had the fragile fabric billowing around her.
Christ. This wasn't like him. He didn't stare at strange women—or, worse, parts of strange women—and imagine lustful possibilities.
What he did or didn't do didn't seem to matter to his unruly libido, however. He still wanted to smooth his hands up those bare thighs and beneath the gauzy fabric of her skirt. Backlit by the glowing neon bar signs, she looked like an angel. A naughty angel with honey-colored hair and sun-kissed, golden skin.
And she was more than a little the worse for wear.
He counted three empty glasses parked on the jukebox next to her, ice cubes melting into little puddles of wet. Someone or some ones had been buying this angel drinks. He hoped like hell that someone had warned her exactly how lethal Mimi's rum punches were. The bartender's concoctions could knock a grown man onto his ass, and his angel was a little bit of a thing.
Excerpted from Slow Burn by ANNE MARSH Copyright © 2013 by Anne Marsh. Excerpted by permission of Kensington Publishing Corp.. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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