Haunted by a life he couldn't save, Omar Ewing walked away from his successful family business to become a firefighterrisking his own life every day. Now he's sworn to track down an arsonist who's already struck twice. Working with beautiful local journalist Gabrielle Leonard definitely has its perks until the man who finds it safer to play the field is in danger of losing his heart.
Gabrielle has her own reasons for teaming up with Omar to investigate the suspicious blazes. But the seductive San Francisco firefighter is bringing her dangerously close to a flame that has burned her before. With each scorching kiss, Omar is branding her his woman. But when Gabrielle becomes a target, will she be able to trust her future to the man who has vowed to protect her at all costs?
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The somber rendition of "Going Home" filled the air, played as it always was, by the bagpipe and drum band. The rhythmic sound of dress boots hitting the asphalt in unison accompanied the sound of the music. Firefighters from all of Ocean City's fire departments marched in formation, following the ladder truck that carried Dean Dunbar's flag-draped coffin.
Omar Ewing hated the sound of the pipe and drum band. Hated it with a passion. Besides the rare happy occasionslike Saint Patrick's Day celebrationsthis type of music always signified a funeral.
Firefighters from well beyond Ocean City's borders in Californiaeven from outside the countrylined the streets for the procession. Police officers and paramedics were among the crowd, too. The case of the Ocean City arsonist had garnered international attention and the turnout to pay final respects to Lt. Dean Dunbar was impressive.
It was exactly as Lt. Omar Ewing knew it would be. Firefighters and other first responders always supported each other when someone was killed in the line of duty. If it was feasible, they traveled as far as they could to attend the funeral of a fallen brother or sister.
This was no exception.
The procession approached the spot where two fire trucks were on opposite sides of the street, their ladders extended on an angle toward each other. Held up by the ladders was a giant American flag. This was a day to remember Dean's sacrifice. People were proud of his sacrifice. But all Omar could think about was that it shouldn't have happened.
He and the rest of his brothers knew the risks of the job they did, of course. But that didn't make it any easier.
Cameras flashed, video cameras rolled. This story would be on every news station and in newspapers across the country.
A huge number of civilians had come out. They stood on both sides of the road, many waving American flags. A good firefighter had fallen. Dean Dunbar had just been doing his job, protecting the citizens of Ocean City by battling a blaze that had threatened an entire neighborhood. The fire at a meat packaging company had been a monster. Several other firefighters had sustained injuries. All because some sicko was out there taking pleasure in wreaking havoc on the city.
Omar glanced up at the sky. It was bright and sunny, without even a cloud. It seemed illogical that it was such a beautiful day when he and his colleagues were mourning the loss of a fallen brother.
Dean Dunbar had been a firefighter for twenty-two years. His wife and two teenage boys were absolutely devastated. It was hard to see them so grief stricken. His wife in particular was barely able to contain herself. Her two sons were helping hold her upright.
He should have been able to retire and enjoy his family after putting in so many years with the fire department.
But nothing was guaranteed. Not in life, and especially when your job involved putting your life on the line.
Omar knew the risks, but he would have it no other way. For him, saving a life was the ultimate reward. There was no better feeling than knowing he could save someone. It was the reason that he and his fellow firefighters did this dangerous job.
The procession arrived at the church. Dunbar's widow began to sob as the pallbearers took the coffin from the top of the fire truck. The bagpipe and drums continued to play.
Omar scanned the faces in the crowd. Was the arsonist there? Was he watching with a sense of smug satisfaction?
Omar could only look around briefly before continuing into the church, where he and all the mourners would pay their final respects to Lt. Dean Dunbar.
Hours later, many of the Ocean City firefighters were packed into a bar. They had come to raise a glass for Dean Dunbar, something they did after every funeral. Omar knew that Dean would want it no other way.
Omar, Mason and a few more of the men from Fire Station Two were sitting at the far end of the bar. There was faint laughter as people remembered Dean fondly. But there was also a lot of sadness and anger.
"We have to catch this guy," Omar said.
"Absolutely," Mason agreed. "This has gone on long enough. Now we've lost one of our own."
Omar took a pull of his beer. "Somebody, somewhere knows who this guy is. A girlfriend, a sibling."
"We'll get him," Mason said. "We have to."
"I have a bad feeling that the arsonist is going to ramp up his game," Omar commented. "I'll bet he was in the crowd, watching the procession. Probably got a kick out of seeing the family grieving."
"There are a lot of deranged people out there," Paul, another firefighter from their station, said. "Now that someone has died, hopefully everyone will be vigilant. Anything suspicious, people need to report. Whether that's on the street, or at home. I don't want to lose another firefighter. And definitely not a civilian."
Omar raised his beer. "For Dean Dunbar."
Mason, Paul and the firefighters within earshot raised their glasses. "For Dean Dunbar," they said in unison.
As Omar drank, he knew there was one other thing they could do to honor Dean's memory. And that was to find the arsonist.
Hopefully before he struck again.
Surprisinglyand thankfullythere were no fires over the Christmas holiday. People had gone from being fearful and waiting for the other shoe to drop, to feeling hopeful again. Maybe the arsonist had suddenly gotten a conscience. Maybe he'd gotten bored with setting fires. Or maybe he had moved away.
Whatever the reason, the air seemed clearer in Ocean City, and the sun brighter. People were living their lives again. Until the first week of January when the arsonist struck again. A Chinese restaurant was set ablaze just after midnight.
Tom Sully, the fire chief at Station Two, was on the scene, giving orders. "Ewing, Williams. Get that ladder to the roof so we attack the fire from there. Roman, DeNiroget a hose to the back of the building. Duff, Rileyyou two attack it from the front. The restaurant closed at ten, thank God, so there's no one inside. Let's kill this thingfast!"
A small crowd had gathered on the sidewalk. People stared from the high-rise across the street, looking down undoubtedly with horror at the chaos. But had anyone seen the arsonist?
"When are you going to catch the jerk?" someone yelled.
"How long do we have to live in fear?"
Omar and his fellow firefighters set about fighting the fire. Even if they had time to answer the questions being asked, they would be unable to do so because they didn't have the answers.
Omar was as determined to see this arsonist caught as anyone else. The fires needed to stopand the sooner, the better.
As Omar climbed the ladder to go onto the top of the building, fire exploded through a window. Instinctively, he lurched backward. People below him screamed.
His heart pounding, Omar regained his footing and continued up the ladder. This would be yet another building lost. By the time they had arrived, the entire structure was on fire. Whoever was behind this knew just how to operate under the cover of darkness so that the response of any fire station would be too late to stop the most damage.
Omar glanced over his shoulder as he neared the top of the building. Despite the late hour, the crowd had grown.
Was the arsonist among them, watching them at this very minute?
It took a good hour to put out the fire. In that time, the crowd had continued to grow instead of wane. Omar could hear the angry rants among the spectators. People were tired of their city being under attack. People wanted the arsonist apprehended immediately.
Omar went over to Tyler McKenzie, the engineer on the pump truck. He was spraying water from the nozzle of a hose, allowing firefighters to drink and cool down. Naturally, fires were hot. But add to that, the protective gear they had to wear, and they all were sweating profusely underneath.
"Omar, drink," Tyler said.
Omar put his face beneath the spray of water, sighing as the cold water splashed his hot face. Then he angled his head to drink several gulps.
As he stepped away from the hose, his eyes were on the crowd. Suddenly, he spotted a face that gave him pause. It was a woman wearing a baseball cap pulled low over the top of her head.
A black baseball cap.
He had seen her before at the last fire. He was sure of it.
He watched her. Unlike the other spectators, she wasn't checking out the scene before her. She seemed fidgety, her head turned to the right. Had she seen Omar looking at her, and was now avoiding making eye contact?
Suddenly, she started to move. She weaved her way through the crowd, walking briskly.
Omar started after her.
"Ewing," Chief Sully called.
"Chief, I think I saw something."
"What?" the chief asked.
But Omar didn't have time to answer. He only had time to give chase. He made his way along the street in front of the crowd of onlookers, vaguely aware that they were observing him with curiosity.
Someone gasped as he pushed his way into the crowd. "Excuse me," he said. "Sorry." And kept going.
He saw the womandressed in dark colorsround the corner into an alley. Omar started to jog. As he got to the opening of the alley, he saw her running.
She was clearly trying to get away.
"You've got to be kidding me," Omar muttered. A woman? A woman was the one setting the fires in Ocean City?
That was the only thing that explained why she would be running after he had picked her out of the crowd.
He started to run faster. With his long legs, he caught up to her in no time. "Stop right there!" he yelled.
The woman didn't stop, just glanced over her shoulder at him before turning sharply to the right.
Omar picked up speed, darting around the corner she had just taken. He saw her heading toward Clark Street. Within seconds, he was upon her again. He reached out and grabbed her by the arm, and whipped her around. As he pulled her toward him, she landed against his body.
She looked up at him, her eyes flaming.
"What are you doing?" she demanded.
"What are you doing?" he countered.
"I was chasing the arsonist!"
"Funny," Omar said wryly. "That's exactly what I was going to say."
She looked at him, aghast. "What?"
"I saw you. And you saw that I saw you in the crowd. Then you took off."
Her eyes widened with indignation as she forced her body away from his. "Didn't you see that guy?"
"Right, lady. The only person I saw was you. Looking suspicious in the crowd, then taking off." Omar tightened his hand on her upper arm. He wasn't about to let her go.
"The whole city's been waiting for this day. I've got to admit, I didn't expect the person terrorizing Ocean City to be a woman."
"You must be out of your mind."
"I'm the one out of my mind?" Omar retorted.
"I'm not the arsonist!"
"You can tell your story to the police." Omar started walking with her toward Clark Street, but she dug her heels into the ground and tried to yank her arm free.
"Let me go!" she demanded.
"I don't think so."
"You're making a mistake."
"Sure I am."
When Omar continued to drag her toward Clark Street, she groaned, and then said, "Why am I not surprised? No one in this town is doing their job to catch the arsonist."
With her free hand, she whipped off her baseball cap. Her dark shoulder-length hair spilled free. Omar's immediate thought was how beautiful she was. He could see her face fully now beneath the streetlights. What would drive a woman like her to commit such heinous crimes?
"You don't recognize me?"
Omar shrugged. Wait He hadn't dated her in the past, had he?
No. He would remember her.
He saw a look flash on her face. It was subtle. Disappointment? Perhaps a little surprise? He wasn't sure.
"I'm not who you think I am," she said. She craned her neck to look around the corner onto Clark Street, and then threw up a hand in frustration. "And my God, you just let the arsonist get away."
The sound of exasperation in her tone caused Omar to halt. Was she actually telling the truth?
"Why are you out here dressed in dark colors?" Omar asked. "And why did you run when you saw me?"
"I didn't run when I saw you," she quipped. "I ran because I was certain I saw the arsonist."
Frowning, Omar released her. "You were serious about that?"
"Who are you? And why are you out here alone trying to take down the arsonist?"
"Because someone has to." She let out a frustrated breath, then reached into the pocket of her jacket. "I'm Gabrielle Leonard. I thought you might recognize me when I took my hat off, but you probably don't watch community television."
Omar said nothing.
"Anyway," she continued. "I'm a producer and host at Cable Four. I have a very successful show. Your Hour"
"Ahh," Omar interjected, finally understanding. "So you're a reporter, out here trying to get a scoop."
"This isn't about a scoop," she said. "This is about catching the person whoas you saidhas been terrorizing our city. But thanks to you, he just got away."
Her eyes shot fire as she studied him, yet all Omar could think was how attractive she looked. Was she always this heated?
He kept a level head as he said, "You're a reporter. Not a cop. If you had pertinent information, you should have given it to the authorities." Now Omar was beginning to get irritated. All too often reporters got in the waybe-cause they wanted to get the almighty story. "You were in the crowd. You looked suspicious. And that's why I came after you. I hope to God the person you saw wasn't actually the arsonist." His eyes roamed over her body. She was all of five foot five, maybe a hundred and ten pounds.
"How exactly were you planning to take him down? By batting your eyelashes?"
"Oh, that's priceless. Now you're going to throw out sexist insults?"
"You're a reporter, not a cop."
"I'm a TV host and producer."
"Whatever. The last thing we need is a civilian inserting herself into the investigation."
"Someone's got to catch this guy," Gabrielle muttered.
"Fine. He's long gone, anyway." She glared at him, as if to emphasize that it was his fault. "Now that I've been duly lectured by you, I'll take it into consideration for when the next fire happens."
Oh, she had a mouth on her. Both literally and figuratively. Her full lips looked sweet. Yet she spewed such sarcasm and sourness. Why was she treating him like the enemy?
"Goodbye." She turned in the direction of Clark Street. But Omar put a hand on her shoulder, stopping her. She turned, looking up at him in surprise. Omar said, "Not so fast."
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
It was an okay read. Their attraction was great!