Bestselling author Diane Kelly brings the heat to her popular Paw Enforcement series when sparks fly between a teacher and a firefighter in Love Unleashed.
Between wrangling her rambunctious kindergarten class and trying to catch an elusive Dalmatian pup who’s been hanging around the playground, teacher Jessica Bellingham can hardly seem to catch her breath. And when hot, hunky fireman Louie DeLuca arrives to teach the children about fire safety, she just might need mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. Who’d have thought a yellow slicker could be so sexy?
Things heat up quickly, igniting a passion the two would gladly allow to consume them. But will their romance become a four-alarm blaze, or will a dark secret from Jesse’s past threaten to cool things off for good? And what will become of the playful puppy who seems to stay just out of reach?
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About the Author
Diane Kelly is a former state assistant attorney general and tax advisor who spent much of her career fighting, or inadvertently working for, white-collar criminals. She is also a proud graduate of the Mansfield, Texas Citizens Police Academy. Diane combines her fascination with crime and her love of animals in her stories. Diane now lives in North Carolina, where she spends her days catering to her demanding cats or walking her dogs in the region’s beautiful woods.
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By Diane Kelly
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2017 Diane Kelly
All rights reserved.
Hot and Bothered
Without opening my eyes, I reached out and hit the snooze button on my alarm clock in order to steal a few more minutes of sleep. I was halfway back to dreamland when my Persian-mix cat jumped up onto the bed, strolled over, and poked me in the face with his paw, his way of telling me he wanted his breakfast and he wanted it now.
I opened my bleary eyes and glared at Shirazi. "Too bad you don't have a snooze button."
He twitched his tail in warning. You've got three more seconds to get out of bed or I'm bringing out the claws.
Rather than risk a scratch, I dragged myself out of bed, fed the cat, and took a shower. After tugging on a pair of stretchy leggings and tennis shoes, I slipped into the top I'd chosen for today, a T-shirt featuring Sesame Street's Oscar the Grouch. Okay, so it wasn't the most fashionable attire a twenty-seven-year-old woman could wear, but it was the perfect top for teaching the letter G. It was green and featured a grouch. Besides, given that elementary school teachers spend a lot of time chasing children around and sitting on the floor for story time, we dress for comfort rather than style.
"Be a good boy, Shirazi," I told my cat as I gave him a good-bye scratch under the chin. I lifted his chin and looked him in the eye. "No chewing on Mommy's plants. And don't just lie in the sunny spot all day. Get some exercise. Maybe chase a ball. Okay?"
The tuna-scented yawn he offered in reply told me he understood but had no intention of obeying me. That's a cat for you. If you entered into a relationship with one, you had to accept it would mostly be one-sided.
After grabbing my striped tote bag, I headed out to the parking lot of my apartment complex, the mid-September morning already warming up. I hopped into my blue Ford Fiesta. Just forty-seven more payments and the car would be mine. Yippee! Yeah, no one gets rich teaching kindergarten. But the job offered many other intangible rewards.
While many people hated going back to work on Mondays, I wasn't among them. I loved my job. The kiddos in my class meant everything to me, and I loved the opportunity to use my creativity and to influence impressionable little minds. Plus, Monday was the one day of the week I allowed myself to splurge on a gourmet coffee. A warm, yummy latte served as a great incentive and allowed me to start the week on a good note.
I pulled out of the complex and aimed for the coffee shop. Looked like I wasn't the only one who'd decided to start their workweek with a fancy coffee. The line for the drive-thru spilled out onto the main road, at least a dozen cars idling bumper to bumper. It would be faster to go inside, wouldn't it?
I zipped into the lot and took a spot next to a red Jeep Wrangler. The enticing aroma of roasted coffee beans greeted me as I climbed out of my car and headed inside. I stepped into line behind a mountain of a man with dark hair, olive skin, and strong, broad shoulders. He stood well over six feet tall, and his biceps strained the sleeves of his gray golf shirt.
Unlike the many people who ordered the exact same concoction on every visit to a coffeehouse, I liked to mix things up a bit, try a different drink each time. But with this beefcake in front of me, I couldn't see the menu board, despite rising up on tiptoe. But you wouldn't get a complaint from me. I was enjoying the view of those manly muscles, thank you very much.
We inched forward over the next minute or two. When he reached the counter and placed his order, I heard his voice for the first time. It was a deep, masculine rumble, the kind of voice a woman wants to hear whispering sweet nothings — or sensual somethings — in her ear.
He ordered seven drinks, probably picking them up for others at his job. When he received his change, his slid a ten-dollar bill into the tip jar. A hot bod, a sexy voice, and generous, too? Surely he must have the face of an ogre.
I couldn't have been more wrong.
When the barista handed him the drinks, the guy said, "Thanks," picked up the cardboard cup carriers, and turned around, fixing the most gorgeous set of brown eyes in existence on me.
Good lord almighty!
All the air seemed to have escaped my lungs. My body began to self-combust, starting in my nether regions and zooming both north and south, making my cheeks flame and my feet feel as if I were walking on hot coals. Someone hose me down! Quick!
Unlike me, who somehow felt both on fire and frozen in place at the same time, this guy maintained his cool. He cocked his head ever so slightly as his gaze roamed my face and took in my light brown curls. He offered me a soft smile. "'Scuse me."
Sheesh! I was standing right in his path and had made no effort to move aside. I must look like an idiot. My Oscar the Grouch top would do nothing to contradict that conclusion. Luckily for me, while my conscious brain was in duh mode, my subconscious mind processed the embroidered logo lying atop his firm left pec. FORT WORTH FIRE DEPARTMENT.
I hiked a thumb in the general direction of the fire station. "Are you from the station down the street?" I hoped he wouldn't notice how breathless I sounded.
He dipped his head in acknowledgment. "I am."
"A group from your station is coming to our school on Wednesday for an assembly on fire safety." I'd arranged the presentation myself. I didn't want any of the children to go through the same ordeal I'd endured at their age. The mere thought made my already pounding heart beat even faster. Be strong, Jessica. "The kids are really excited."
"Great. Fire safety's an important topic."
I couldn't agree more. "Will you be there?" I mentally crossed my fingers. I wouldn't mind the chance to get another look at those ridiculously broad shoulders and dark chocolate eyes.
"No," the guy replied. "I'm off Wednesday."
Before I could respond, the barista interrupted our exchange. "Are you ready to order, ma'am?" I couldn't blame the barista for wanting to keep the line moving, but can't a single woman take a few seconds to flirt?
The firefighter gave me a nod in good-bye and went on his way, leaving the aroma of espresso and my melted knees behind.
I turned to the party-pooper barista, fighting the urge to blow him a raspberry. Instead, I ordered an iced macchiato. That smoking-hot firefighter sure had heated me up. I needed something to cool me down.CHAPTER 2
Off and On
Lieutenant Louie DeLuca
That teacher with the light brown curls was cute as heck. I'd been sorely tempted to reach out and tug on one of those curls, watch it spring back into place. But that would be a surefire way to get pegged as a creep, so I'd fought the urge. How she could get my blood boiling in that goofy Muppet T-shirt was beyond me. There was just something about her....
I cut one last look at her through the coffee shop window before climbing into my Jeep. Too bad I'm not working on Wednesday.
I drove to the station and carried the drinks inside. "Coffee's here!" I called.
My coworkers streamed into the lounge from other parts of the building to retrieve their orders. Before they left the room, I asked, "Anybody working on Wednesday who'd be willing to trade shifts? Cover my shift on Thursday?"
One of the guys turned back at the door. "You got a doctor's appointment or something?"
I didn't have an appointment. What I had was a crush. But hell if I'd admit that to this bunch of lunks. They'd never let me hear the end of it. Instead, I said, "Yeah." Liar, liar pants on fire.
"I'll trade you," he said. "But I should warn you there's a school assembly that morning."
"There is?" I feigned ignorance, giving him a shrug. "No problem."
Yep. No problem at all....CHAPTER 3
Wednesday morning, I pulled to a stop in the staff parking lot behind the school and cut the engine. While I was looking forward to this morning's fire safety assembly, I couldn't help feeling disappointed that the hunky fireman I'd seen at the coffeehouse Monday wouldn't be among those speaking to the kids. Every time I'd passed the red fire alarm in the hallway since, I'd been tempted to pull the thing. But I didn't want to risk losing my job or facing criminal charges for a false alarm, so I'd restrained myself.
After bumping the car door closed with my hip, I turned to head into the back door of the school, my curls bouncing as I walked. As I stepped up onto the curb, a white and black blur streaked across the sidewalk in front of me. What the —? I turned my head to follow the blur. The creature disappeared under one of the portable buildings erected near the playground to ease overcrowding.
Coach Matthews strode up the walk dressed in his high-top sneakers, knee-length basketball shorts, and a Dallas Mavericks jersey. His gaze was glued to his cell-phone screen. It was a wonder he didn't trip.
"Was that a puppy?" I asked.
He looked up. "Was what a puppy?"
I pointed in the direction the spotted apparition had gone. "Something just ran by."
He shrugged. "I didn't see anything."
No surprise there. His attention had been on his phone. But it had to be a puppy, didn't it? While the black and white colors could indicate a skunk, it had seemed too round and floppy to be one of the striped stinkers. Besides, it had been mostly white. Of course my eyes had caught only a quick glimpse. Better go investigate.
I hurried over to the building and knelt down on the dewy grass. Good thing I was wearing leggings in a fun, colorful print that would hide any grass stains I might get. The skirting left only a few inches of clearance and cast the space in shadow. I looked under the building but saw nothing other than random trash, a math homework assignment on which a student had earned a B+, and darkness. "Puppy?" I called into the darkness. "Are you under here?" No sound came in reply. Either the little dog was silently hiding or had run out the other side and moved on.
I circled around the building, crouching down on each side and calling out again. "Puppy? You under there?" Nothing.
I had no idea what I'd do with the thing if it came out. While my apartment complex allowed pets, Shirazi would be none too happy to share his home with a dog. Besides, there was a weight limit. It was often difficult to tell just how big a puppy might grow to be. Still, I couldn't leave the poor thing out here wandering around on its own.
I reached into my tote bag and pulled out the peanut butter sandwich I'd packed for lunch. Maybe the promise of food would lure the dog out. I unwrapped the sandwich and waved it around. "Come and get it!" I called.
Nothing came and got it.
Stuffing my sandwich back in my bag, I stood and scanned the surroundings. No sign of a dog on the playground or in the parking lot. The puppy must have run into the adjacent neighborhood. There was nothing more I could do at the moment. Hopefully it had found its way home.
I strolled into the building and made my way down the hallway to the right, stopping at the door to my room at the far end. The room had been assigned to me my first year of teaching. Given its distance from the lunchroom, front office, and teachers' lounge, it was considered an undesirable location. But when I'd been offered another room closer to the cafeteria and administrative offices, I'd declined. Being at the end of the hall meant my room featured windows on two walls rather than only one. It also meant my class could get a little louder without disturbing other classes nearby. Not that I let them get out of control, but during free time they were allowed to sing and act and have fun with the bongos, tambourines, and xylophone I kept in the room, along with an extensive repertoire of puppets, building toys, and art supplies.
Creativity was key to stimulating these young minds. Like Einstein said, Imagination is more important than knowledge. Seeing the children blossom under my guidance had been both rewarding and an assurance that I'd chosen the right career.
I unlocked the door to my room, stepped in, and flipped the light switch. The room might not be big on space, but it was big on color. I'd spent an entire week painting the walls. Along with my education classes, I'd taken several art classes in college. I was no Georgia O'Keeffe or Berthe Morisot, and my artistic talents leaned much more toward cartoons and caricatures than to realism or impressionism. But I'd pulled off a relatively simple jungle mural complete with monkeys swinging on vines, colorful parrots perched among the leaves, and a river filled with bright orange goldfish and smiling green alligators.
After tucking my tote into my bottom desk drawer, I stepped to the whiteboard at the front of the room, snagged a blue marker, and wrote a capital letter G and a lowercase g. I placed a stack of worksheets on top of the adjacent bookcase where each of my students could grab one as they came in the door.
Brrrringggg! The 7:45 bell rang. I opened the door and used my foot to finagle a rubber doorstop into place to hold it open so I could greet the kids as they arrived.
One of the boys in my class scurried up the hall, the broad smile on his face revealing the gap where he'd lost his first tooth last week. "Hi, Mith Bellingham!" "Good morning!" I sang, holding up my palm to welcome him with a high five as he entered the room.
The kids continued to filter in, and I treated each of them to a "good morning," a smile, and a convivial high five. I knew the experience these kids had in my class would have a long-term affect on their attitude toward school and learning, and I wanted it to be a positive one.
A moment later, a little girl with straight black hair and fair skin rolled around the corner in her wheelchair. Bethany. Though I tried my best to hide my partiality, she was my favorite student, the teacher's pet. She wasn't the best behaved child by any means. She sometimes shouted out answers rather than waiting to be called on, and she was a bit of a cut up, making funny faces behind my back when I was writing on the board, much to the delight of her classmates. But she was enthusiastic and engaged and exceedingly bright. She especially liked science. Someday, when she won the Nobel Prize, I hoped she'd mention me in her acceptance speech, and tell the world that my lesson on how tadpoles become frogs inspired her to become a biologist.
"Watch out, Miss Bellingham! Here I come!" Bethany worked her wheels, zipping toward me, whipping around in a circle to do a donut as she reached me.
Chuckling, I raised my hand to exchange high fives with her.
When the 8:00 a.m. bell rang, I followed my last student into the classroom and closed the door behind us. Over the loudspeaker came the vice principal's voice, issuing the morning announcements. A Honda Civic is blocking the bus lane and needs to be moved immediately or it will be towed. School pictures will be taken this Friday. Students are reminded to wear clean clothes and a big smile. Sloppy Joes and tater tots will be today's lunchroom fare.
As was customary, a child who'd done something extraordinary — showed exceptional kindness to another student, won a spelling bee, improved their overall grade point average — was given the privilege of taking the mic and leading the school in the Pledge of Allegiance.
The children and I turned to face the American flag standing in the front corner of the room, putting our hands over our hearts. "I pledge allegiance ..."
As we finished reciting the pledge and the children took their seats, movement outside the window caught my eye. A red fire truck pulled to the curb just outside our room. It was followed by a long ladder truck and an ambulance. Looked like the team had arrived.
"Guess what, kids?" I pointed out the window. "The firefighters are here!"
Twenty-two heads turned to look out the window, ten sets of lungs gasped in excitement, and one mouth that should have known better shouted, "Cool!"
"Use your inside voice," I reminded the boy.
As the kids gathered at the glass for a closer look, the passenger door on the ladder truck opened and a firefighter slipped out, a woman with funky blue hair. I was glad the station had sent a female firefighter as part of the team. Not only would it be good for the girls to see that firefighting could be a viable career option for them, it would also be good for the boys to see that women had the physical capabilities to do dangerous and heroic work.
The fire engine door opened next. A yellow Labrador retriever hopped out, followed by blond guy with a military-style haircut and a T-shirt with BOMB SQUAD printed on it stretched across his firm pecs. The ambulance produced a mocha-skinned man who was also exceptionally fit. This assembly was a really good idea.
The driver's door on the ladder truck opened and out climbed another firefighter in a bright yellow slicker. It wasn't until he'd circled around the truck to our side that I got a good look at him, at his dark hair and broad shoulders.
A four-alarm blaze instantly ignited within me.
Excerpted from Love Unleashed by Diane Kelly. Copyright © 2017 Diane Kelly. 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.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Chapter One: Hot and Bothered,
Chapter Two: Off and On,
Chapter Three: Seeing Spots,
Chapter Four: Well Equipped,
Chapter Five: Stop, Drop, and Roll,
Chapter Six: Frozen with Fear,
Chapter Seven: Escape Artist,
Chapter Eight: Bad Timing,
Chapter Nine: Gone Dog,
Chapter Ten: Close Call,
Chapter Eleven: Forbidden Fruit,
Chapter Twelve: Let the Chips Fall Where They May,
Chapter Thirteen: Spoiled Rotten,
Chapter Fourteen: Forbidden Fruit,
Chapter Fifteen: Burning for You,
Chapter Sixteen: Ins and Outs,
Chapter Seventeen: Puppy Tales,
Chapter Eighteen: Round and Round,
Chapter Nineteen: Hot for You,
Chapter Twenty: WTF?,
Chapter Twenty-One: Flamed Out,
Chapter Twenty-Two: A Matter of Trust,
Chapter Twenty-Three: Taking Chances,
Chapter Twenty-Four: Happy Endings,
Chapter Twenty-Five: Perfect Imperfections,
About the Author,
Also by Diane Kelly,