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Authors: Stef Ann Holm

Tags: #Fiction, #General, #Romance, #Contemporary

On Fire

BOOK: On Fire
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On Fire
By
Stef Ann Holm
 
Chapter One

Kate Larsen pulled back on the grocery cart’s handle after almost crashing
into three Boise firefighters doing their shopping.

“I’m sorry!” she gasped. Her nose had been deep in her grocery list for the
baby shower. “I didn’t see you.”

The fact that she hadn’t noticed the good-looking trio was a sad reminder
that it had been far too long since she’d gone out on a date.

“Not a problem,” one remarked, his voice deep and causing her to take notice.
He had a slight resemblance to a movie actor, but she couldn’t place which one.
He seemed to have a good-natured air about him, something that put a sparkle in
his brown eyes.

He was taller than the other two, held his wide shoulders in a soft posture,
but his chest was quite broad as it filled out the blue Boise Fire Department
T-shirt.

“I…” Sobering, Kate’s mouth clamped shut. The white lettering on that blue
fabric was another startling reminder. She was talking with the enemy. She
should have run them down with her cart when she had the chance.

Kate wrote a weekly column for
The Idaho Statesman,
and her latest
restaurant review had caused an uproar among firefighters. So shoot her — she’d
hated their beloved rib restaurant! The food had been hideous, the barbecued
ribs greasy and too spicy. As a food critic, her job was to give her honest
opinion. And it had been a big thumbs-down for the Rib Shack. How was she
supposed to know that every firefighter in Boise loved to ride his motorcycle
there on a Sunday afternoon for the ambiance? For the guys, it wasn’t about the
food, but rather the river view from the outside patio where they could smoke
cigars, eat plates of ribs and talk shop.

Station 9 had written a rebuttal piece and it had been printed a few days
ago, and each day since, another station chipped away at the findings in her
review. This morning’s lambast from Station 6 was about as bad as it got. And as
fate would have it, the men before her wore the lion’s den emblems on their
T-shirts. Not only were they the enemy, but the enemy of the day.

The men gave her an appreciative gaze, not realizing who had almost run them
into the Fruit Loops display. If they only knew she was “Katherine Largo,” she’d
be
wearing
the cereal boxes on her head.

“Hey, we forgot the chip dip,” one of them said, drawing Kate out of her
thoughts.

She glanced at their cart. It was filled with deli platters, pop, chips and
snack cakes. How could these guys keep their weight down eating all that junk?

With an easy grin that evoked a shiver of awareness through her, the tallest
firefighter remarked, “We’re having a Superbowl party at the station.”

Kate didn’t follow football, but no one could have missed all the commercials
advertising the big game on television today.

She shouldn’t have said another thing, should have gone on her way without a
backward glance. But because the fire department had declared her taste buds
must have been refined at Taco Bell and that she didn’t know a good rib from a
bad burrito, Kate smiled and gave a soft laugh as she pushed forward to the
baking aisle. “Wouldn’t you just kill me if I had a fire at kick off?”

“Lady,” one of the big men said, “Don’t even think about it.”

 

 

Chapter Two

The smoke detector wouldn’t stop going off.

Kate had smacked it with a broom handle, but that sucker was still chirping
on red alert while a mini-campfire was ablaze inside her oven.

Why had she even tried to bake cupcakes for the baby shower? Had the stress
of hosting this shower caused temporary insanity? She wasn’t a cook. She was an
eater. She reveled in the various textures, tastes, varieties of foods. She
adored flavors and all the wonderful things about fine, and not so fine, dining.
Which is why she almost always left the cooking up to someone else.

She couldn’t figure out what went wrong with her cupcakes, but as they had
baked, the little cups overflowed and left a huge mess in her oven. The dropped
batter had smoldered and smoked, setting off the alarm. Thankfully, once she
opened the sliding door of her town house, the detector had stopped sounding.

Throwing in the towel on the cupcakes, she’d dashed to the car for another
trip to the grocery store — only this time rather than trying to be ambitious,
she decided instead to visit the bakery. She bought all the cupcakes she needed.

Once back home, the town house still smelled like a forest fire, so she
decided to self-clean the oven. And that’s what started the disaster. The
remnants of batter had somehow caught fire, but now the oven door was locked
tight and she couldn’t do a darn thing about it.

A knock on her front door caused her to groan as she opened it to face her
upstairs neighbor.

“Hello, Mrs. Banks.”

Mrs. Banks was eighty-four, and for someone who wore hearing aids and
complained of poor hearing, she never missed a sound.

“I’m trying to watch
Jeopardy
and your smoke alarm has been going off
for ten minutes,” she grumbled. “So I called the fire department.”

Kate’s eyes widened. A lump formed in her throat, making it difficult to
swallow. She knew which fire district she was in, and she also know what time it
was. “Please say you didn’t!”

“I most certainly did. I’ve missed most of my show!”

Mrs. Banks turned and ambled back up the stairs while Kate leaned in the
doorway as the sounds of sirens grew louder and louder.

The screech of the smoke detector wouldn’t let up, hurting her ears and
making her want to scream in frustration. She’d tried everything shy of a
crowbar — not that she had one — to get that oven door open. Nothing had worked.
She knew, deep down, she would not be able to stop it without help.

But as three big firemen arrived at her unit wearing full gear, oxygen tanks
and boots, she wished she’d come up with a plan that could have somehow included
throwing the oven out the window.

“Lady,” the captain greeted with a sour expression on his weathered face. He
was the very same captain who’d warned her not to call them away from the
Superbowl. “You really got a fire or is this some kind of a dumb joke?”

 

Chapter Three

Hoseman Rockland “Rocky” Massaro entered the town house behind his captain
and the driver, Bud Hailey.

The woman put her hands on her hips. “No, this isn’t a joke. I’m sorry, but I
really do have a fire.” The blare of the smoke alarms continued. “Trust me — I
wish you weren’t here.”

“Ditto,” Rocky said, moving around the sofa and giving her a casual glance as
he headed into the kitchen.

She followed them and pointed at the oven. Rocky peeked inside. A small fire
burned, flames flickering upward in a tiny blaze. He attempted to open the door.
It wouldn’t budge.

Captain Evans motioned to the settings. “Self-cleaning.”

The time remaining before the door would unlock was exactly three hours and
twenty-three minutes.

“Good one,” Rocky replied to no one in particular before he thought the
better of it.

“I didn’t do it on purpose,” she bristled, her eyes tempered with hazel fire.

“Nobody said you did,” Captain Evans replied calmly. The captain was royally
irritated they’d been called out, but he was keeping his feelings under his hat.
These things happened, and it always seemed that a call came during dinner,
their favorite program or the biggest football game of the season.

“Well…I know I made that comment at the grocery store, but I was just
kidding.” She bit her lower lip, her brows arching.

Normally, Rocky would have made a flirtatious comment. But he was too
preoccupied, not to mention the hellacious sound of smoke alarms was making it
next to impossible to talk.

Rocky dragged a chair from the kitchen table, stood on it, and disengaged the
electric smoke detector. Muffled, but steady, screeches continued to come from
the back of the town house.

“What are we going to do?” she asked, a helpless tone in her voice.

For the first time, Rocky really looked at her. She was attractive with short
blond hair to her shoulders. Rocky liked the color, the cut. It framed her face,
made her cheekbones look high and her lips full. She appeared to be in her early
thirties, and was tall and fit. She wore jeans, boots and a black sweater.

Rocky grinned, feeling a little more like himself as the Superbowl was
momentarily forgotten.

“For starters, you can show me to the bedroom,” he said, giving her a long
stare that held a fire of its own.

She stammered, “W-what for?”

“Your alarms are on the same wiring system. I can’t just yank one. They all
have to be pulled. What did you think I meant?”

He held on to a laugh as she blushed, then led the way down a hall. He hated
to admit it, but the feminine sway of her hips distracted him.

 

Chapter Four

Kate’s bedroom was neat and orderly, decorated in tones of blues and tans.
Rocky made quick work of the alarm. One more to go. The extra bedroom.

The engine driver, Bud, called her back into the living room and Rocky heard
him say, “Ma’am, what’s your name?”

“Kate. Kate Larsen.”

“Kate, sometimes when we unplug the stove, the computer resets and we can
open the door. We’re going to have to pull the unit away from the wall.”

Slipping into the room that served as an office, Rocky disconnected the last
fire alarm then set the now quiet apparatus on the desk. Kate Larsen was
extremely tidy. Very organized.

The top of her desk didn’t have any papers on it except for copies of
The
Idaho Statesman.
It was human nature to be curious about how people lived,
and the big pile of newspapers drew his attention. Especially the one on top
where a column was circled in red pen — with a skull and crossbones doodled next
to it.

“Hey, Rocky. Come give us a hand.”

Rocky pulled his gaze away from the article and went back to the kitchen. He
helped with the stove and they yanked the heavy-duty plug. The captain tried the
oven door again. It was sealed tight. And the fire still flickered inside.

“What were you baking?” Rocky asked.

He was suddenly very curious about her. Something was clicking in his head
about that newspaper column in her office. The meaning behind it was right
there, but the pieces hadn’t fallen together for him yet.

“Cupcakes. For a baby shower I’m having tonight. I’m really not a baker, I
just thought I’d give it a try. I’m so much better at eating out.” Dismay
creased her forehead as she ran her hand through her hair. “Now I might have to
cancel.”

“Hang tight,” Captain Evans assured. “Sometimes this happens on certain
models. There’s nothing we can do right now except wait for the oven door to
unlock. The computer should reset before the three hours is up. Shouldn’t be too
long.”

But it was already too long. No doubt the first quarter had gotten underway.
Maybe even a touchdown. At least a first down.

The captain’s gaze fell on the TV. “Would you mind?”

Kate shrugged, clicking on the television with a remote.

The three of them stood in front of the tube as the football game filled the
screen. No score. Second down.

Rocky vaguely noticed Kate’s movement. She glanced around before pulling out
a chair and plopping her chin in her hands. She alternately watched a few
seconds of the game, then the weenie roast of a fire that continued to waver
inside her oven.

He didn’t hear her sigh of frustration. His team had just landed the ball.

 

 

Chapter Five

There was no score in the football game when a beer commercial came on.

“Gotta check something,” Rocky said, and he strode down the hallway.

Once in Kate’s office, he looked at that skull and crossbones doodle.

A muscle tensed at Rocky’s jaw as he recognized the scribbled-on opinion
piece. Hell, he’d been the one who’d written the letter to the editor. It didn’t
take a genius to figure out why the newspapers were open to the food reviews by
Katherine Largo.

Nervously, Kate appeared in the doorway, blond hair falling over her brow. It
was as if she just remembered what “evidence” she had on the desk.

He smiled, not giving her a clue. He purposefully avoided looking at the
computer or newspapers. “Just double checking the wiring where I took the smoke
alarm down.”

Her mouth formed an “Oh.” She had very kissable lips. His body reacted toward
her, a tightening he tried to ignore.

So this was the woman who called their Rib Shack an appetizer for those who
swigged chalky-pink, stomach-acid-reducers as a main course. Greasy ribs? Spicy
sauce? And an atmosphere that wasted a perfectly great river view?

“Um, can I get you a bottled water or something to drink?” she asked while
practically steering him out of the room. Her shoulder bumped his in the doorway
as they exited together. The soft curves of her body against the heavy weight of
his turnout coat caused him to pull in a tight breath. He was reminded of the
oxygen tank strapped on his back.

BOOK: On Fire
13.76Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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