Authors: Helen Grey
By Helen Grey
Copyright © 2015 Helen Grey
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This is Part 2 of "Flaming Desire" – a five part Hot Alpha Billionaire Romance Series by Helen Grey.
After dashing inside a burning house to save a baby, Jesse is confronted by her past and the pain that has haunted her for so many years. Her emotions are in turmoil. Her well planned life a confused mess. And then there’s Matt… beautiful, sexy, intelligent Matt. The attraction she feels for him complicates things further.
When disaster strikes, the two co-workers head to Montana to fight a fire that’s raging out of control. In a matter of hours, they transition from ER nurses to Hotshot wildfire fighters, preparing to face the flames. But how many times can they play with fire and win?
This book is intended for a mature audience, 18+ only.
I gasped for air, but there wasn’t any available, only life taking smoke filled my lungs. I couldn’t breathe! My body screamed for relief. I was blind. I couldn’t see through the haze of the smoke. The chemical stench of treated furniture fabric, foam fillers and sealants released from the furniture and the carpeting to the curtains made my eyes tear. They streamed down my face.
I felt dazed and confused, uncertain which way to turn to get out. My ears rang with the pop and snap of the flames as they licked at and then consumed every piece of the home I’d so foolishly entered.
Then I heard it. From far away I heard the sound of sirens reverberating in the distance, then shouting. Over all of it, I recognized Matt's voice. It seemed to echo through my buzzing ears, fading, then coming louder, then fading again. I forced my eyes open only to find myself staring at the ground and a pair of feet.
I reached for them and they faded away.
As I slowly returned to consciousness, I realized that I was slung over someone's shoulder. Matt’s? The sound of a shrieking baby added to the cacophony of sound that surrounded me—but it was a beautiful sound.
As I became more alert and realized what was happening, I understood. Matt had come into the house after me and had slung me over his shoulder. He’d grabbed the baby, tucked it under his arm like a football, and was running back out of the house. By the time I finally put two and two together… by the time I knew we were safe… a cluster of figures surrounded us.
I felt myself being lowered to the ground. Arms reached behind my shoulders, while another set of arms grabbed the back of my thighs. Lowered carefully, I lay flat on my back, my fingers clutching at the grass beneath me. The position brought horrible memories of my past and I tried to sit up.
I inhaled, sucked in the longest sip of air I could and coughed it back out almost immediately. I tried to stay calm. I tried to force my body to work and slowly, so very slowly, I was able to take longer, more even breaths.
Above me all hell was breaking loose. Matt was there, still clutching the baby whose mother cried and shook with relief. Patrick was there too, placing an oxygen mask over the infant, then plucking him from Matt’s grasp and rushing him to the ambulance for a more thorough inspection.
I stared up in stunned amazement as Matt crouched down beside me, his gaze sweeping over me from head to toe. The realization that he had saved my life left me feeling stunned and humbled. I was about to thank him when his face changed. He was scowling down at me.
“What the hell were you thinking?”
His voice was raised in anger, his face a hard mask. I frowned. I knew why he was upset. I had broken the first rule of a first responder, but the sound of that baby crying had overridden everything, even the rule book.
I tried to respond, but nothing came out of my throat but a croak. He looked at someone behind me and in the next instant an oxygen mask was placed over my nose and mouth. Sean. The glorious rush of fresh, pure air revived me, and I took several deep breaths, and then nodded that I was okay. He removed the mask, but kept it close. I smiled my thanks at him. Then I looked again at Matt, still scowling down at me. I tried to explain. Unfortunately, my voice came out thick, raspy, and hoarse.
“I heard the baby… heard the baby crying,” I gasped out.
“Still… nothing,” I said, shaking my head. I coughed once, twice, and then tried to sit up. Matt planted his hand in the center of my chest, in between my breasts, holding me down. “Let Sean check you out real quick.”
Was that worry I saw in his eyes? I decided that now was not the time for an argument, so I acquiesced, nodding as Sean placed the oxygen mask back on my face, took my pulse, my respiration rate, and quickly made sure that I had not been burned. Other than my scorched eyebrows, the smell of a few tendrils of burnt hair and some very minor first-degree burns on my hands, I had managed to escape more serious injuries.
I realized that charging into the house so suddenly had been ill-advised—okay, stupid—and I should've waited at least long enough to drag Matt inside with me. We should have gone in together. My instinct had overridden common sense. Even the idea of taking the time to explain to him that I’d heard the baby crying would have caused a delay. The fire truck hadn't arrived yet, and the paramedics were focusing on the other children, and hadn’t donned their fire gear. I couldn’t wait for all that. To wait, even a minute, might've been too late for the infant.
“Is the baby okay?” I asked. I stared at the baby. One of the other paramedics was trying to examine the infant, now held in the mother’s arms. She refused to relinquish her grasp on the child. Patrick spoke to her in calm, soothing tones. By the sound of the cries, the baby’s lung function certainly sounded okay, but I knew that the infant would be taken to the hospital for a complete check. The infant had to have inhaled some smoke, probably lots of it.
I knew that if the paramedics took the baby to Santa Fe General, they were likely to report what happened, and of course the incident with Matt and I would also soon make its rounds throughout the hospital. I hoped that my reckless yet understandable reaction wouldn't get me into too much trouble.
“Look, I understand why you did what you did,” Matt said. “But next time—if there is a next time—we go together, you got that?”
I looked up at him, realized that he had been concerned, and felt a strange warmth flow through me that had nothing to do with the heat of the fire. I nodded, and once again struggled to sit up. This time he let me, one of his arms wrapped firmly around my upper arm.
“You scared the shit out of me,” he grumbled.
“I'm sorry, Matt. I really am.” I glanced down. Now was not the time to explain. I gestured for him to help me to my feet. I swayed for a moment, but he kept his grip on my arm, steadying me. Standing side by side, we watched as the firemen maneuvered their hoses and poured high-pressure streams of water onto the house, dousing the flames. Unfortunately, it looked like the house would be a total loss.
At least the woman and the children were okay. That was the most important thing. As I watched her and her infant being loaded into an ambulance that had arrived just moments ago, I wondered where the other children would go. My concern was addressed a moment later as a neighbor guided the children into her home two houses away.
The mother and children were soon whisked off and the fire under control. While bystanders continued to stare at the activity, the paramedics loaded their gear back into the truck and gestured for us to join them.
“You sure you're okay, Jessica?” Sean asked.
I nodded. My racing heart rate had slowed, I could breathe again, although my throat was pretty sore. Other than a feeling of heat in my face—like a sunburn—I felt perfectly fine. I sat in silence in the jump seat opposite Matt as we made our way back to the firehouse. He said nothing, but sent me several appraising glances. I wasn't sure how to take those.
By the time we returned to the firehouse, I wondered what other adventures we would experience today. It had certainly started off with a bang. That was for sure.
We followed Sean and Patrick into the firehouse, where Sean calmly began cleaning up the kitchen area, where remains of breakfast still sat on the table.
Actually, the kitchen area wrapped around parts of the corner of the north and east wall, a stainless steel refrigerator and a six-burner stove-oven combination capped the ends. A large oak kitchen table sat in the middle of the floor, each side lined with a bench. Still, the kitchen table only took up one part of the main living space of the firehouse. The other half of the room looked like an ordinary den or entertainment room, with a comfortable sofa, two recliners situated at each end, a coffee table, and, on the south wall stood an entertainment center, complete with flat screen television, a DVD player, and off to one side, a bookcase crammed with books and magazines.
Beside the doorway that led to the garage area where the engine and paramedic unit parked stood another doorway that led to a short flight of stairs to the sleeping quarters, bunk style, of the firemen on overnight duty. The firefighters at this station rotated on 24-hours on and 24-hours off, then three days off schedules.
I offered to help Sean clean up in the kitchen, but he declined my offer, telling me to go sit down on the couch and relax. My scrubs and my hair and my skin smelled like wood smoke, but nothing to be done about that now. I sat down with a sigh, sinking gratefully onto its cool, padded surface. Matt was out in the garage portion of the firehouse where Sean had pulled the vehicle with Patrick, but the other side of the garage was still empty, missing its engine.
“Any word on the guys from the engine?” I asked Sean, glancing back at him over my shoulder.
He nodded. “They're all okay, thank God,” he said, shaking his head. “The rig has to have the back rear panel replaced, but it shouldn't take too long. In the meantime, we’ll be getting a replacement pumper from the city. They keep a replacement pumper like ours and a ladder engine in storage for situations like this. In fact, it should be here any time now.”
I had just begun to wonder whether Matt was coming when I heard the rumble of the replacement fire engine pulling into the garage space. In a matter of moments, the sound of male voices filled the space and then they spilled into the main room. Matt walked in, smiling, apparently not at all intimidated by the five firemen who followed him. They were in the process of shaking hands and introducing themselves. The smile I saw on Matt's face made me stare.
I don't believe that I had ever seen him looking so comfortable, so relaxed, almost as if he felt at home here. Of course, the place was now filled with an overabundance of testosterone, so that probably wasn't any wonder. I passed my gaze over all of the men now gathered in the main room. Many of them waved hello, murmured pleasantries to me, and then carried on with their business. The guys carried on in good old-fashioned male camaraderie, and in moments had gathered around the table with a deck of cards. Matt joined them is if he had known them all his life. As an afterthought, blond-haired and blue-eyed and boyish looking Jeremy, the youngest of the group, glanced over at me.
“You up for a game of poker, Jessica?”
I shook my head. For some reason, I suddenly felt like an intruder. An outsider. I knew these guys, not extremely well, but well enough to feel comfortable in their presence. I'm not sure whether it was due to Matt's presence or not, but suddenly I felt different. Maybe it was because Matt was so experienced, a take-charge kind of guy. Perhaps I was still reacting from my scare at the house fire. I wasn't sure, but nevertheless, and for the time being at least, I felt like the newcomer.
Turning sideways on the couch and pulling my legs up to my chest, arms wrapped around my legs, I watched the guys play. They teased, laughed, and boasted about various exploits, Matt joining in. As I passed my gaze over the lot of them, I realized that they were all good-looking, although some were, of course, more handsome than others. Even Sean, married and with a bunch of kids and pushing his mid-forties and with a receding hairline no less, was handsome in his own way. I guess it didn't really matter what they looked like. They were all consummate professionals.
Still, as I compared them one after another to Matt, I didn't think any of them came close to Matt in regard to looks. But, I don't think it was looks alone that kept drawing my eyes to him. He exuded a charisma that was incredibly attractive and had nothing to do with his body. Okay, that wasn’t necessarily true, but my attraction to Matt involved more than his looks. That was the problem. Once again, I shook my head. I was
bout an hour later, I stood behind Matt and watched as he gathered yet another a small pile of matchsticks toward him. The matchsticks substituted for poker chips. I started to say something just as the alarm bell went off. I must've jumped nearly six inches off the floor. The sound had my heart pounding and adrenaline surging through my veins in a matter of seconds.
“Unit 15…” the rest of the message, at least to my ears, was drowned out by the noise of chairs being shoved back from the table. The paramedics rose, gesturing for Matt and me to follow them. Patrick and Sean hurried to their vehicle, Matt and I close behind. We quickly scrambled once again into the jump seats as the dispatcher relayed the address of a traffic accident on the nearby freeway.
While I couldn't say I cared for any type of accident, I really hated traffic accidents. Metal against flesh never produced anything pleasant. I spoke quietly to Matt in the back while Patrick accessed the communication system and Sean started the vehicle and we quickly headed out, Sean hitting the siren as soon as we emerged from the garage. Behind us, I heard the wail of the fire engine also pulling into the street after our vehicle.
“Traffic accidents can be bad, Matt,” I warned. He glanced at me and nodded. I'm sure he already knew that, but I felt compelled to say it. The last traffic accident scene that I had been on with Jack had been quite grisly, and my stomach had been topsy-turvy for days afterward. It was the final straw for Jack, and I couldn't really blame him. Some people just couldn't deal with the carnage.
The freeway wasn't far from the firehouse, so it didn't take long to reach the accident. As soon as the paramedic vehicle and the fire engine merged onto the street, cars began to pull over to the side. In a matter of less than a minute, or at least it seemed short to me, Sean took the vehicle up onto the onramp of the 25 Interstate headed southwest toward Albuquerque.