No one is a stranger in Caribou Crossing, a small Western town made for healing and second chances…
She's raising her son on her own, but that's just fine with Lark Cantrell. Caribou Crossing's fire chief comes from a long line of strong, independent women--who have lousy luck with men. Lark's ex-husband walked out when Jayden was born with cerebral palsy. No matter--Jayden, now ten, is a bright, terrific kid, and the love of her life. When it comes to men, Lark is content with the occasional casual hookup; there's no room in her heart for more disappointment.
Major Eric Weaver is in Caribou Crossing for one reason: to complete his rehabilitation so he can return to active service. Haunted by what went down in Afghanistan, his wounded soul isn't healing as quickly as his body. But it's almost impossible to resist the appeal of the sexy, feisty fire chief and her plucky son--not to mention the friendly, caring small town way of life. In Lark's loving arms, the scarred soldier begins to believe he may finally have found his true home…
Praise for Susan Fox's Caribou Crossing series
"Heartwarming and humorous, Fox's storytelling will draw readers in." --RT Book Reviews, 4 Stars on Love Me Tender
"The perfect sweep-you-away story--smart, sexy, funny and touching. Susan Fox delivers an unforgettable read." -- Susan Wiggs on Home on the Range
About the Author
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Ring of Fire
By SUSAN FOX
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 2016 Susan Lyons
All rights reserved.
Lark Cantrell snapped awake at the familiar bleep of her pager and grabbed the device from the bedside table. A residential structure fire on Tannen Road; occupancy undetermined.
In a flash she responded and jumped out of bed. She ran down the hall, clad in her checked cotton sleep pants and blue tank top. Tannen was out in the country, ten or more minutes' drive from the town of Caribou Crossing.
She shoved her feet into a pair of sandals that sat by the front door. No need to leave a note for her family. Lark's ten-year-old son and mom were used to the unpredictable schedule of a firefighter. As for a man, there hadn't been a significant guy in Lark's life since Jayden's dad walked out on them when he was a baby, and she intended to keep it that way.
She sprinted next door to the fire hall, the mid-July air warm on her skin. As chief, she worked regular weekday hours and didn't have to respond to after-hours callouts. Although no one staffed the fire hall at night, she trusted her volunteers to show up when paged. But she lived beside the station, and with the fire so far outside town, every second counted.
Besides, firefighting was way more exhilarating than sleeping.
She raced into the apparatus bay, kicked off her sandals, and jumped into her boots and turnout pants. By that time, Javi Sanchez had joined her, and moments later Daniels and Mason ran in. As the volunteers dressed, Lark contacted dispatch to report their status, and learned that Captain Tom Weston, tonight's on-call duty officer, was on his way to the scene in the duty vehicle. He'd likely arrive five minutes before Lark's team, but he wouldn't have a mask and breathing apparatus so he couldn't enter the structure. Still, he'd provide valuable information while the other firefighters were en route, so they could plan their strategy.
Usually, Lark took the command role, but tonight she wanted the adrenaline buzz of active firefighting. Besides, it was good to give learning opportunities to some of the others. As she gathered her balaclava, mask, and breathing apparatus, she called out, "Engine 4. Daniels, you're driving."
"Yes, Chief." Sharon Daniels raced for the pumper truck. As driver, the volunteer would also be responsible for operating the pump once they were on-scene.
"Sanchez, you're Command," Lark continued. He was a great firefighter and he'd relish the chance to be in charge. "Mason, you and I are the attack team." She and Mason would be the first team into the structure, assuming it was safe to enter when they arrived. Cal Mason was only a couple of months out of training and Lark wanted to work with him, help him out.
More firefighters were arriving, including Manny Singh. Captain Singh was one of the paid personnel; like her, he worked regular weekday hours but also often responded to after-hours callouts. "Engine 3," she told him. His team would follow Engine 4, bringing the additional water supply that could be needed out in the country where there were no hydrants.
Lark jumped into the back of Engine 4, joining Mason. Daniels drove the truck out the open doors with flashing lights and a whoop of the siren. Sanchez, beside Daniels up front, was on the radio. He relayed information to the firefighters. "Dispatch says a guy was driving home after a late shift at work. Saw flickering lights in a back window of a two-story residence. Said it looked to him like fire, maybe in the kitchen. The house is owned by the Hopping-tons, an elderly couple. The guy thinks they moved into an assisted living facility two or three months back, but he's not positive."
The engine raced through the residential outskirts of the small town, and onto a country road leading northeast. One good thing about night callouts: the roads were virtually empty.
"Even if the couple did move," Lark said, "there might be family staying there, or they could've rented it out."
She checked her watch. They'd made excellent time. It had been only five minutes since she'd received the page. "Wonder how old the house is?" Older houses burned more slowly and cleanly. With a new home, once it had been burning for twenty minutes, it often wasn't safe to enter.
They were five, maybe six minutes from their destination, driving through ranch land where there was only an occasional building. She and Mason pulled on their balaclavas, and then donned their masks and breathing apparatuses.
Weston's voice crackled over the radio. "I'm just arriving. Jeep parked in front. No one outside. Smoke and flames pouring out the back of the house."
Damn. It seemed the house was occupied, and the residents hadn't managed to get out. Lark leaned forward, readying herself to leap out of the truck the moment it stopped.
* * *
Major Eric Weaver eased through the doorway and stepped over a broken piece of wood, careful to walk in the boot prints of Sergeant Danny Peller. Their unit was on a training mission with the Afghan local police, searching an abandoned compound after receiving a tip that insurgents had a weapons cache there.
The vacated room was a mess of broken furniture and equipment. Peller stopped to assess the situation, and Eric glanced over his shoulder to make sure Sharif, the Afghan police officer who was following Eric, held back. Sharif was young and eager, and could be too impetuous.
Peller moved forward. Eric started to follow and —
The world exploded. He was flung into the air, crashing against the wooden wall. For a moment, he was too stunned to move, even to think.
Then ... fuck. Where's my weapon? In the explosion, it had flown out of his hand. What the fuck happened? Was it an IED? A grenade? A truck bomb? Were they under attack? When he sucked in a breath, it carried the scent of smoke. Was the building on fire?
Where were Peller and Sharif?
He managed to sit up, blinking against grit in his eyes. His gaze landed first on the Afghan, who'd been blown back out the doorway and lay on the ground, either unconscious or dead. Fuck. Through a haze of dust and smoke, Eric searched for Peller and found him sprawled on the floor a few yards away with — oh, shit — his fucking right leg blown away from above the knee. Peller's gaze, wide-eyed with shock, was fixed on Eric.
A tourniquet. Gotta get a tourniquet on him or he'll bleed out before the medics get here.
Automatically, Eric made to rise, but his legs didn't work. For the first time, he looked down at his body. His legs were there, but from his knees down, both of them were a mess of torn flesh, blood, and — oh, fuck — even shattered bone.
And then the pain came. Agonizing pain.
But he couldn't surrender to it. Eric pulled himself onto his side and, using the strength of his arms, torso, and hip, dragged himself toward Peller.
Where were the other men? Were they taking fire, unable to reach him, Peller, and Sharif? Or were they dead, or injured? What the hell was going on out there? His ears rang, making it hard to distinguish sounds. One thing he knew: the building was on fire. Smoke scratched his throat and flames licked the closest wall, spreading quickly. At least the Afghan officer — alive or dead — was outside and should be safe from the fire.
Peller's gaze was fixed on Eric like he was his salvation. This morning, the kid had been joking about how he'd have to quit smoking before he went home, or his pregnant wife wouldn't let him back in the house. And that homecoming was only a couple of weeks away. Canada had almost finished pulling out of Afghanistan. Back on home soil, Peller would finish out the few months left on his Terms of Service contract, and then he planned to leave the army and find a job where he could be home with his wife and baby. As for Eric, he was a career soldier with no obligations other than to the army. After Afghanistan, he'd have a new posting.
As Eric dragged himself toward Peller, the sergeant's lips moved. Eric shook his head, trying to clear the ringing. With the aid of a little lip-reading, he made out Peller's next words. "It's bad, Major." There was blood on the kid's face; he'd been cut by debris. Peller twisted in pain. He coughed and choked out, "Real bad."
Yeah, it was bad, but agreeing with the kid wasn't going to help. "Hang on, Peller." Fighting against his own pain, Eric reached the sergeant, pulled out the tourniquet that all soldiers carried, and wrapped it around what remained of Peller's right leg. The left leg was in bad shape, too, and he got Peller's tourniquet on it.
As for his own legs, they'd have to wait. The fire was a hungry crackle, a rush of flames relentlessly consuming the derelict building. Smoke clogged his throat and lungs. His brain, on overload from shock, pain, smoke, and urgency, struggled to form a plan of action.
No one's gonna get here in time. Have to get Peller out before this place burns down with us in it.
The kid shouldn't be moved, not without a stretcher, but what choice did Eric have? He needed to drag him, and hope the fire didn't cut off their path to the exit. "Gonna get you out now, Danny-Boy. Get you to a medic."
"Wish I could see Ellie," Peller mumbled, his face white and sweaty, streaked with dirt and blood.
"You'll be home before you know it." It was hard to concentrate on anything but the excruciating pain in his own legs.
"Not g-going home, Nails." He forced the words out.
"Sure you are." And if Eric had anything to say about it, it wouldn't be in a body bag. His nickname was Nails because, when he was green, he'd been so dumb that he'd said he was tough enough to eat nails. Well, he was a hell of a lot older now, and damned tough, but the task ahead of him was formidable.
Damn it, where were the others? He could sure use a little help in here. Even though his hearing had improved, he still couldn't make out any sounds from outside — not above the noise of the fire. He maneuvered his body into a position where he could try to drag Danny by the back collar of his uniform.
Soldier up, boy, and get your man out of there! This time the harsh command ringing inside his skull was in his father's voice. The Brigadier-General had no patience with wimps.
Eric grabbed on to Danny's uniform and braced himself to tug, but then the sergeant's mouth opened again. Eric leaned closer as words came out slowly and clumsily.
"Tell El-lie ..." The life faded from Danny's voice before he could finish the sentence. It was fading from his blue eyes, too, yet Eric saw the plea in them and knew exactly what Danny had wanted to say.
Shit. The cocky young sergeant was SOL. He was one of Eric's men, and Eric had sent him into danger. He'd failed to protect him, and now he couldn't save him. Couldn't send him home to his wife and unborn kid. All he could do was respect this dying wish.
"I'll tell her you love her and the baby," he said gruffly, resting his hand on Danny's shoulder. I'll tell her — if I don't burn to death or die of blood loss myself. "She loves you, too, Danny-Boy. You know that." But as he spoke the last words, he realized he was talking to a dead man.
Eric lifted his hand from his sergeant's lifeless body and raised clenched fists as he let out a howl of fury. And then —
He fell, landing hard, fierce pain in his right leg jolting him to awareness.
What the hell? What now? Another explosion?
Smoke burned his eyes and clogged his throat, making him cough. Everything was dark, but doing a quick assessment of the situation, he felt a rough texture under his hand. Not concrete, wood, or dirt, but ... carpet?
Gradually, he came to his senses. He'd had another nightmare. A flashback to the IED explosion that had taken Danny Peller's life.
Eric used the tricks he'd been taught for coping with PTSD flashbacks. Ground himself; orient himself in the present.
"I'm Eric Weaver and I'm not in Afghanistan. This is not the f'ing sandbox. I'm in British Columbia, in Caribou Crossing."
Repeating those words didn't make the smoke go away. He coughed as he rubbed the floor again and felt the well-worn carpet. "I'm in the master bedroom of the farmhouse I rented." And, damn it, he'd fallen out of bed again.
His right leg hurt fiercely. "It's phantom limb pain," he muttered, coughing. "That leg's long gone." Was there some kind of justice or divine irony in the fact that he, the major who hadn't been able to save Danny after the sergeant's right leg was blown off, had lost his own right leg? Eric curled his body so he could massage the stump where his leg ended midthigh. Sometimes that helped ease the pain. His left leg, which had undergone multiple surgeries, didn't feel a hell of a lot better than his phantom limb.
Smoke still choked his nose and filled his lungs, and he coughed again, struggling to expel it. "There's no smoke. I'm not in Afghanistan. It was a nightmare." Except ...
Oh, fuck, that smoke was no dream; it was real. So was the roar and crackle of flames. The house was on fire.
And had been for some time, he realized, while his fucked-up brain had been back in Afghanistan.
Damn it, he'd left his phone downstairs in the kitchen. Besides, from the noise and smell, he wasn't sure the Caribou Crossing fire department would be able to reach the remote farmhouse in time. Might any distant neighbors be awake in the middle of the night and have seen the glow of flames in the sky? He sure as hell wasn't going to wait around and see if rescue came.
Disoriented by the darkness, smoke, and the lingering effects of the flashback, he tried to get his bearings. Reaching out, he found the side of the bed. He'd thrashed around so much in his sleep that he'd fallen out on the side farthest from the door.
His T-shirt was at the foot of the bed, where he'd tossed it when he racked out. He grabbed it and held it to his face, trying to block the smoke. He'd already inhaled so much while caught up in his flashback that his burning lungs and throat kept him coughing, and his eyes watered.
He did a quick situation analysis. The bedroom was on the second floor. If he shut the door — that sturdy wooden door — it'd hold the fire back. But there was no fire escape outside the window. Though the bedroom was on the second floor, the way the house was situated atop a hill meant that it was a three-story drop from the window to a concrete patio. He was strong enough to pull himself up onto the roof, but the fire could trap him there if rescue didn't arrive soon. If he donned his prosthesis, maybe he could find a way to climb down, or he could take his chances on jumping. No, wait. Shit. The batteries that operated his high-tech leg were in the charger.
He was running out of time.
The only other exit was down the hall and stairs to the front door — if the fire didn't block his path. Deciding on that course of action, Eric crawled lopsidedly around the bed, using his good knee, his stump, and one hand. Clad only in cotton boxer briefs, he kept his head low, using his other hand to hold his tee to his nose, but smoke filtered through the cotton. Deep, wrenching coughs racked his body. There was crap in this house, toxic crap. Smoke inhalation messed with your body and your brain. He didn't have a moment to spare.
He made it to the door into the hall. The smoke was even thicker, and orangey yellow flames engulfed the end of the hall directly above the kitchen. How the hell had the fire started? Faulty wiring in the kitchen, maybe? It was an old house; when he rented it, he hadn't cared that it was run-down.
The fire ate its way toward him, but didn't cut off his escape route to the top of the staircase. Coughing into his T-shirt, he crawled as fast as he could. His coordination was getting worse, a side effect of smoke inhalation.
Stairs were good exercise. He'd been drilling himself running up and down them, getting used to his fancy prosthesis, building his strength, striving for a balanced gait. Improving every day. Now, without that leg, he'd have to "bum it down" as patients referred to it in rehab — plopping on his ass and bumping down step by step the way a toddler would. It'd only take a few seconds, and then the door would be right in front of him.
He forced himself onward. Both his legs — the one that had been seriously injured and the missing one — hurt fiercely. What with the smoke and his coughing, he could barely catch his breath. His head ached so badly he had trouble thinking, and he was dizzy, disoriented, and nauseous. Did he hear a siren, or was he hallucinating?
At the top of the stairs, a coughing fit brought him to a stop. It was so severe he couldn't catch his breath.
Excerpted from Ring of Fire by SUSAN FOX. Copyright © 2016 Susan Lyons. 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.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Ring of Fire by Susan Fox Have read other works by the author and have enjoyed the books. This one is about Lark Cantrell and she's the fire chief at Caribou Crossings. Her mother and 10 year old son are used to her leaving in the middle of the night to guide the other firefighters and help put fires out. I do enjoy firefighter stories as I learn so much from them, interesting topic and I'm not sure why. Within the first 50 pages I've already learned a few new things: what horn on saddle is for, how CP patients and those with articial legs can do things... Major Eric Weaver is doing rehab there in British Columbia, on leave from the army when Lark pulls him out of the burning house he was renting. Her son Jayden who has CP and he are paired with horses, it's therapy and I love hearing all about it. Lark has sworn off men since her husband had walked out after learning their baby had CP but she starts to get hot and bothered about Eric. She likes how Jayden has another male he can talk to-things she can't relate to...They become lovers over time and then some unexpected things occur that might help or not.. hot steamy sex scenes. Excerpt from a Holiday in Your Heart is also included at the end. Would enjoy reading more of this town in BC. I received this book from The Kensington Books in exchange for my honest review
I am a sucker for wounded warriors that recover and find love and Ring of Fire is an excellent example of this genre of romance. Eric is a soldier, that lost a leg in war and has taken a year leave to deal with PTSD. He travels to Caribou Crossing in attempt to heal and meets Jayden, a ten your old with cerebral palsey and his mom, Lark during an equine therapy session. Lark is intrigued by the handsome soldier, but she has avoided romance since she divorced Jayden's father. They become friends and soon start to hook up. Will Eric stay with Lark or return to his life as a soldier? I was surprised by how much I liked this novel! It was well paced, realistic, and was the perfect balance between sweet and heat. This is my favorite book from Susan Fox. I look forward to the next book in the series. I was given a free copy for an honest review.