Wearing jeans, boots, and a reckless, knowing grin, T. J. Delahaye is six feet and seven inches of pure danger. As a covert agent, T. J. saves people for a living. But when he tumbles down a mountain to rescue a wayward hiker, it’s T.J. who needs a helping hand. He falls—hard—for a gorgeous goddess named Jenna whose strength and fierce determination matches his own.
Tormented by the demons of her past, Jenna King once called herself an elite firefighter. She’s nobody’s damsel in distress, but now survival means joining forces with T.J.—and soon sparks are flying between them. Though Jenna has known as many wild men as wildfires, this maverick just may be the one to heal her heart and teach her the dark, secret thrill of surrender.
Includes a special message from the editor, as well as excerpts from these Loveswept titles: Deep Autumn Heat, Callie’s Cowboy, and About Last Night.
|Publisher:||Random House Publishing Group|
|Sold by:||Random House|
|File size:||2 MB|
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It was coming to get her.
She could feel the oppressive heat, hear the thundering roar. The ground vibrated. Life-snuffing smoke invaded the air, was sucked into her mouth, down her throat. She was gagging. She clawed at her neck. Choking. It was choking her.
Alive. How could anyone not see that? It moved, leaped, crawled. Lived, died. Killed. She’d learned to accept it was not her enemy. That acceptance had disappeared in the span of one lightning stroke.
She’d been a fool to think she had ever been in control. It would always be after her.
All she had to do was close her eyes.
Once again she was running through the forest, hot red-and-yellow flames licking at her boots, roaring in her ears. She heard the thunderous crack of another tree falling victim to the voracious predator. It rushed up the side of the mountain to meet them, consume them, growing as the wind lent a hand, encouraging the feeding frenzy. It crackled with a vicious snap, leaping easily over the fire line she and her crew had labored over for the past four hours, racing to gobble up more. Black smoke and tree soot sifted through the screen of her helmet, choking her. Her lungs burned. On she ran. Again she heard the bone-shaking crack as yet another tree lost the battle. She tensed, knowing what came next. What always came next.
The pain hit hard. Sharp and numbing. With a whooshing sound it rushed from its point of origin on her ankle to sweep over her entire body. She knew it was the tree, the burning tree. Her mind assembled all these things instantly, had her reaching for her fire cover even as it made first contact, even as she knew she was lost.
She heard Toby. Toby, her jump partner for four years, shouting at her, making her lift her head even as black shadows danced at the edges of her vision and heat began to crawl past the protective barrier of her flame-retardant suit. Pain and sound and smoke all swam together, making it hard to hear, impossible to focus. Then his face was in hers, shouting at her. She heard someone scream when the tree shifted. It was her. Screams ripped from her. Then a flash of silver billowed over her. Her fire cover. How had she gotten it out?
Toby’s voice yanked her back from the edge. She felt the crushing weight of him and his gear, watched as he pulled the fire cover over him. Over them.
The cover wouldn’t hold, she knew that. It had been made to protect only one person. Toby knew that too. They hadn’t cleared the ground of brush. She tried to yell past the knot of smoke in her throat, demand that he run, that he leave her, even as she knew they had both run out of time. Again she heard the rushing sound of the fire as it found them. As it ate them. The tree crushing her ankle succumbed first.
Toby succumbed second.
She heard him scream, felt him die as she waited in breathless terror for the first lick of searing heat, wondered in that split of eternal time what it would feel like. There was a nip, a taste. Heat; oh God the heat.
And then it was over.
In the capricious way of nature’s disasters, the fire had roared on. And she had been left to survive. Survival of the damned.
Now it got even worse.
Shaking her head, as if simple denial would do any good, Jenna King thrashed, fear taking her breath in its terrifying clutches. She despised the fear. Almost as much as the heat. Oh, but it was hot. She’d never be cool enough again. She twisted, kicking, shoving at anything that covered her, oblivious to the spikes of pain shooting up her leg. The heat was worse than the pain could ever be.
A scream locked permanently in her throat. No. No! You can’t do this to me again!
With a low, wrenching groan, Jenna grabbed at the anger, harnessed it, brandished it like a weapon, unleashing it full force on her enemy: fear. And the split second before she had to turn her head and look at what was left of Toby, she wrenched her eyes open and sat up.
Her room. She was in her room at Paradise Canyon. She blinked the sweat from her eyes, raked her hair back, and swung her gaze around, searching for reassurance, damning the semihysterical movement even as she fought to control it. Recognition of her surroundings came first. It always did. That base was what she needed most to center herself. Or so Dr. Porter had said. Breath came second. Once she drew in a lungful, she couldn’t seem to stop. In no time she was gulping, panting. Slow down, Jenna. In. Out. The room is full of oxygen. There is plenty for you. No smoke here. No smoke.
The need to move came last. Thank God she could. She almost wept with relief, purposely shutting out the memories of those early months when she hadn’t been able to. She shifted her legs over the side of the bed, barely flinching at the expected pain that went hand in hand with gravity.
She steadied herself before trying to stand. If she could focus on her recovery, she could put distance between herself and the recurrent nightmare. Then she could tuck it away, make herself believe she had dealt with it, that she controlled it, not the other way around. Eventually she might make herself believe she had won the battle with her mind.
She might succeed, if she could live without ever having to go to sleep again.
“Out of here,” she mumbled. The words were hoarse. She would always sound rough, but she’d accepted that. It had been one of the easier things to get over. Still, first thing in the morning, all alone in her room, she always said something out loud before anyone else intruded into her day. It was sort of a gauge of how she was dealing with her life. Her new life.
She swore. This was one chapter of her new life she was closing. She needed to find control, to heal her mind.
“Well, things are about to change.” She pulled off her damp sleep shirt and stood. Damning the shakes that rattled her body every morning, she moved gingerly, testing her ankle. It didn’t feel too bad. It would never be perfect.
She struggled into cotton underwear and jeans, then yanked on a long waffle-knit undershirt and a heavy, oversized green henley. She stepped into the bathroom and looked into the mirror over the sink. “Today, Jenna King,” she vowed, “today you take your life back.”
She brushed her teeth, rebraided her hair, and swore heatedly as she struggled to get her hiking boots on. Then she very methodically gathered her clothes and the few other meager possessions she’d collected during her four-month stay at Paradise Canyon Rehabilitation Ranch, and shoved them into a pilfered canvas laundry bag.
And she worked very hard at not thinking about the fact that she had no life to take back.