"Vivid and charming."CHARLAINE HARRIS, #1 New York Times bestselling author of the Sookie Stackhouse series
He's a firefighter. He's a Motorcycle Club member.
And if a killer has his way...he'll take the fall for a murder he didn't commit.
Ian Walsh is used to riding the line between the good guys and the bad. He may owe the club his life, but his heart rests with his fire station brothers...and with the girl he's loved since they were kids. Ian would do anything for Rory. He'd die for her. Kill for her. Defend her to his last breath-and he may just have to.
Every con in the Rockies knows Rory is the go-to girl for less-than-legal firearms. When she defends herself against a brutal attack, Rory finds herself catapulted into the center of a gang war, with only Ian standing between her and a threat greater than either of them could have imagined.
In the remote Rocky Mountains, lives depend on the Search & Rescue brotherhood. But in a place this far off the map, trust is hard to come by and secrets can be murder..
"Gripping suspense, unique heroines, sexy heroes." CHRISTINE FEEHAN, #1 New York Times Bestselling Author
Search and Rescue Series:
On His Watch (FREE novella)
Hold Your Breath (Book 1)
Fan the Flames (Book 2)
Gone too Deep (Book 3)
In Safe Hands (Book 4)
After the End (FREE novella)
What People Are Saying About Katie Ruggle's Romantic Suspense:
"I love Ruggle's characters. They're sharply drawn, and vividly alive. I'm happy when they find each other. These are wonderful escapist books."CHARLAINE HARRIS, #1 New York Times Bestselling author of the Sookie Stackhouse series
"Sexy and suspenseful, I couldn't turn the pages fast enough."JULIE ANN WALKER, New York Times and USA Today Bestselling Author for Hold Your Breath
"Chills and thrills and a sexy slow-burning romance from a terrific new voice."D.D. AYRES, author of the K-9 Rescue Series for Hold Your Breath
About the Author
Rachel Dulude is an actor and book narrator based in Providence, Rhode Island. She has been recording audiobooks since 2012 in genres ranging from young adult to adult thrillers. As an actor, she has performed with the Wilbury Theatre Group in Providence and the Gamm Theatre in Pawtucket, Rhode Island.
Read an Excerpt
It had started out as such a promising day.
"What?" Ian bellowed when the roar of the fire and the rumble of the pump-truck engine drowned out the chief's words.
"The homeowner said he stores a propane tank in the northeast corner of the barn!" Fire Chief Winston Early yelled.
Closing his eyes for a moment, Ian sighed. Of course he does. "This barn? The one that's on fire?"
"That would be the barn."
A torrent of profanity rose in his throat, but he clamped his jaw. A few weeks ago, he'd promised Steve's youngest, Maya, he'd stop swearing. Once he gave his word, Ian stuck to it, even if he and his firefighting brethren were all going to be blown to bits thanks to a flame-happy serial arsonist Ian couldn't even call a fucking asshole.
Swallowing the curses that desperately wanted to escape, Ian yanked on the hem of his borrowed, too-small bunker coat. "I'm on it."
Soup fell in next to him and spoke over the radio incorporated into their SCBA-self-contained breathing apparatus-gear. "Got your back, Beauty."
The hated nickname deepened his scowl. With a wordless growl, Ian stalked toward the flaming barn. The heat was incredible, and sweat beaded beneath his mask. A backward glance showed Steve and Junior at the trucks, hurrying to hook up the hoses.
"What's the plan?"
Studying the barn, Ian noted that, although the south side of the old storage building was fully engulfed, the northeast corner looked relatively untouched by the fire-it wouldn't stay that way for long, though. The house where the homeowner and his two grandkids lived was only ten feet north of the burning barn. If the propane tank blew, they'd be screwed.
"Hey? Ian?" It was like Soup was incapable of silence for more than a few seconds at a time. "Plan?"
"We go through that door"-Ian pointed to the entrance on the north side-"get the propane tank, and get out."
"Short and sweet." Soup's good-natured chuckle echoed through the speaker in Ian's mask. "I like it. Let's go save the day...again. Because we're awesome like that."
This time, Ian was unable to hold back a snort of laughter. That was Soup-cracking jokes right before walking into a burning building. Despite Soup's tendency to run away at the mouth, Ian couldn't ask for a better, braver partner.
Heat scorched his skin, even through his bunker gear. The door was locked, so Ian kicked it, cracking the ancient wood and sending the door slamming into the interior wall. He blocked it with his body before the door could rebound and slam shut again.
"Aww," Soup complained. "You get to do all the fun stuff."
"The next door is yours," Ian promised before stepping into a burning building for the second time that month. After six years with the Simpson Fire Department, it still surprised him how dark it was inside a structure fire. The smoke in this one was especially thick and black, probably due to what appeared to be a pile of smoldering tires covering most of the east wall.
Once inside, he moved as quickly as possible across the debris-strewn floor. Stacks of boxes and other junk obscured the northeast corner, and Ian clenched his jaw as he started shoving them aside.
"Fucking packrats," Soup grumbled, breathing hard as he shifted boxes, helping to clear a path.
Tossing an armful of lumber, Ian snapped, "Watch your mouth!" He moved another stack of boxes and uncovered the propane tank...the hundred-pound propane tank.
"Why? You were the one who told Steve's girl you'd stop swearing. I made no such promise." Soup groaned, obviously spotting the container. "Hell. It couldn't have been a twenty-pounder?"
Ian was already bending, preparing to hoist the cylindrical tank onto his shoulder.
"Heads up!" Soup shouted as Ian started to rise, looking up just in time to see a large chunk of burning plywood falling right on top of him. With the weight of the tank, his shift to the left was turtle-slow, and he braced himself for impact. Soup lunged forward, knocking the flaming wood aside, so it only grazed Ian's free shoulder before falling to the floor. Pieces of what had been the roof crashed down around them, smoldering chunks of wood and asphalt shingles blocking the path they'd just created.
"Thanks, Soup," he said, breathing hard. Adrenaline was ripping through him.
"No problem." Despite his words, Soup's voice was tight, and he was holding his right arm against his side. "Let's get out of here before the rest of the roof crashes down on us."
Knowing that he couldn't do anything about Soup's injury until they were clear of the fire, Ian adjusted the propane tank on his shoulder, feeling his muscles bulge under the strain. This was why he worked out religiously, even on days he would've killed for an extra hour of sleep instead. In his job, that little bit of extra strength could mean the difference between life and death-his own or someone else's.
Soup moved as fast as he could, using his good arm to clear a new path around the burning debris. Following, Ian tried not to obsess about how the tank of explosive gas he was carrying was just a spark away from turning into a bomb. Smoke thickened around them as the flames leapt closer.
The barn was burning quickly, red and orange light smothered by the rolling black smoke. His boot caught on something, making him lurch forward and almost crash into Soup's back. The tank slid, threatening to overbalance him. As he heaved it back into position with a grunt, he squinted through the darkness. The barn had looked so small from the outside that he hadn't bothered to bring a hose with him to help them find their way back out. Ian was regretting that decision now.
"What's the problem, Soup?" Even to Ian's own ears, the strain in his voice was obvious.
"Just trying to find the shortest route to the door." He paused. "Or any route to the door."
"Need me to lead?"
"Nope. It's straight ahead." There was a pause before Soup spoke again, this time with a lot less confidence. "I think?"
"I'll lead." As Ian passed Soup, peering through the gloom, his heart pounded in his ears. Being in this barn-being in any structure fire like this-always made him understand why images of hell included fire. The blackness, cut only by eerie flickers of orange, the constant roaring, and, worst of all, the intense heat...everything combined easily brought to mind eternal torture.
A crash in front of them made Ian lurch to a halt, the tank sliding forward again. He caught it and shifted it back into place as his muscles groaned. The sound of splintering wood came again, loud enough to be heard over the fire's roar, and Ian craned his neck to look at the roof, expecting to see it falling on them. If something hit and damaged the tank... He quickly cut off that train of thought. There was nothing to be gained by allowing deadly scenarios to run through his brain. The only thing he could see above them was a heavy layer of smoke.
He refocused on the darkness in front of them and saw a glimmer of light fighting through the gloom.
"There!" Ian readjusted the tank on his shoulder before charging forward. After each smashing sound, the light got bigger, until it was almost the size of a doorway. A hulking figure, silhouetted by the light, filled the hole.
"Get your dawdling asses out of here now!" Steve's voice echoed through the radio speaker in his mask.
Relieved, Ian couldn't hold back a gasp of a laugh as he carried the tank toward the backlit, ax-swinging rescuer. "Hey," he complained. "You're her dad. If I can't swear, then you definitely can't."
"I'm a single father of four kids." Steve helped them through the improvised opening and away from the barn, giving Soup's cradled arm a concerned look before turning back to Ian. "If anyone deserves to swear, it's me. You need a hand with that?"
"I'm good," Ian said, although "good" might have been overstating it. Now that they were out of the burning barn, the pressure of the tank made him realize that his shoulder and back were screaming protests. Ignoring the discomfort, he carried the tank a safe distance and then went another twenty feet, just for good measure. As he lowered the tank to the ground, he couldn't hold back a grunt of effort.
Another gloved hand reached out and steadied the wobbling tank. "Nice job, Walsh," the chief said, clapping his free hand onto Ian's shoulder. Unfortunately, it was the shoulder that had carried the brunt of the weight. Ian swallowed a pained sound.
"Thanks." His voice was only slightly choppy. "Where do you need me?"
After a sharp look-as if checking his physical status-the chief gestured toward the tender truck. "Can you and Steve dump the water into the portable tank and then refill the tender? We might not need it, but I want to make sure not to leave any hot spots."
"That's a go, Chief." Ian jogged toward where Steve had already started setting up the portable tank. He scanned the scene until he saw Soup, standing next to the ambulance. Even from thirty feet away, it was pretty obvious that Soup was flirting with the EMT. With a huff of amusement, Ian refocused on the tank. Soup would be fine.
Hours later, after mopping up was done and they were absolutely positive no embers were left to flare to life after they'd gone, Ian straddled his motorcycle. All the strength seemed to have oozed out of his body, and he was trying to force his arm to lift and start his bike.
"Beauty!" Soup yelled from the passenger seat of the engine. "Leave that beast and hop aboard this lovely vehicle. It has an enclosed cab, a heater, me-everything your little heart could desire."
"It's supposed to snow. I don't want to leave it out all night."
Soup frowned in exaggerated confusion. "Why not? It's an old piece of junk."
Forcing himself not to react to Soup's goading, Ian kept his face expressionless. "It's not old. It's a classic. And it's not junk." Despite his best efforts, Ian heard his voice dropping to a growl on the last word.
"Why'd you ride it here anyway? Spring's still months away."
"It was nice earlier." It had been one of those rare, balmy days that hinted of warmer weather to come...right before winter slammed back into place. He'd been unable to resist a ride, just a short one to tide him over until spring arrived for real. Unfortunately, he'd been far away from the station when the fire call had come in, resulting in borrowed bunker gear and the prospect of a chilly ride home in the wee hours of the morning.
Obviously hearing Ian's irritation, Soup grinned. "Fine. Freeze your ass off, Beauty. Just know I won't be bringing you any chicken soup when you get sick from riding that piece of crap in the snow."
"Don't call me that." Ian didn't know why he bothered protesting. The more he complained, the more the guys teased. "And no. I'll take my vintage BMW work of art home."
As soon as the engine rumbled down the drive, Ian started to regret his decision. No good wasting time mulling over it, though-he had miles of freezing highway to go before he was safe in bed. He pulled off his fire helmet and ran his hand through his hair, grimacing when he found it still damp with sweat.
"That bunker gear covering up your gang colors?" a snide voice interrupted, making Ian stiffen. Now he really wished he'd taken Soup up on his offer of a ride.
"Lawrence," Ian greeted the deputy, wanting, as usual, to wipe the smirk from the man's face with his fist. Suppressing the urge took a heroic level of restraint. "Run into any bison lately?"
Deputy Lawrence turned an unhealthy shade of purple that clashed with his reddish mustache. "I was responding to a call. A short response time is critical. People's lives depend on it. That crash wasn't my fault."
Although Ian tried to behave, he was tired, and his shoulder hurt from carrying the tank. Baiting the deputy was just too tempting. "It was a bison-in-the-road call. Didn't that give you a hint that there might be, I don't know, a large animal standing in the middle of the highway you were speeding down?"
Lawrence narrowed his eyes. "At least I'm not killing people and tossing their headless bodies into a reservoir."
Exhaustion forgotten, Ian stood abruptly, sending the deputy scurrying back a couple of steps. "Yeah," he said, straightening and crowding closer. "I heard there was some ‘evidence' linking me to Willard Gray's murder. Tell me about that."
All color disappeared from Lawrence's face. "What? How did you... Who told you that? It was that bitch at the coffee shop, wasn't it? She twisted my words. I never-"
"Watch your mouth." He shifted forward, forcing Lawrence back another step. It had indeed been Lou who'd shared the information, but Ian wasn't about to let Lawrence know-or allow him to insult her. "The source doesn't matter. What matters are the details. Exactly what did you find in that reservoir?"
"I'm not telling you anything." Lawrence turned to leave but Ian shot out a hand and grabbed him. A quick glance around showed that the sheriff, fire chief, and the few deputies still milling around the scene weren't paying any attention to them.
"Yeah," Ian snarled, tightening his grip until he felt Lawrence flinch beneath the pressure. "You are. Let's start again. What did you find that made you think I was involved?"
"You're a member of a motorcycle gang," the deputy blustered, although his darting eyes gave away his nerves. "Killing is what you people do."
"No." Ian let his voice go silky smooth and felt Lawrence begin to shake. "There was something else. Some physical piece of so-called evidence. What was it?"
"You'll find out at your murder trial."
A small smile touched Ian's mouth, and Lawrence cringed. Sometimes, fear was stronger than a very real threat. Shifting his body, Ian let a fist swing toward the deputy's midsection, trusting fear to do his work for him.
Sure enough, before he could connect, Lawrence yelped, "Okay! Okay! I'll tell you."
Ian pulled the punch, barely touching the deputy's doughy belly. By the way Lawrence whimpered, it was as if Ian had pulled off his arm.
"It was your necklace," he wheezed.
"My necklace?" Ian repeated the unexpected words. Ever since Lou had informed him that the sheriff's office had found something linking his MC to the murder, he'd racked his brain, trying to figure out what it could be. He'd never considered that his lost pendant would come back to haunt him.
"Yes, your necklace, the one with your gang's symbol on it," Lawrence spat, regaining a little of his bravado when Ian let his fist drop to his side. "The chain was caught on the weight holding down the body. Everyone in town has seen you wearing that thing until you...lost it." The deputy's accusing gaze lowered to Ian's chain-free neck. "Maybe next time you kill an innocent man, don't drop any identifying jewelry at the crime scene."
Yanking free of Ian's grip, the deputy hurried away, heading toward the sheriff. Ian watched him, a small part of his brain wondering if Lawrence was getting reinforcements to return and arrest him for assault. The rest of his mind was running over this new information.
"Damn it," he growled under his breath. And damn him, for not trying harder to get that pendant back.
Lawrence was talking to Sheriff Rob Coughlin, and both men were looking at him. Although Ian was ninety percent sure that Rob, a stand-up guy, would take his side over Deputy Lawrence's, he figured they could chase him if they really wanted to drag him to jail. Besides, he needed to talk to Lou and Callum. Not only were they unofficially looking into Willard Gray's-the headless dead guy's-murder, but they were two people he knew for sure were on his side in this whole mess.
After donning his helmet, Ian started his bike. Despite everything-the murder investigation, his inconveniently missing pendant, his exhaustion and aching shoulder, the threatening snow-Ian felt a thrill at the familiar sound of the engine firing. He'd done that. He'd taken a broken-down bike and rebuilt it, giving it new life.
Too bad not everything was that simple to save.
With a final glance at the blackened ruin that had been a barn earlier that day, Ian roared off into the icy mountain night.