Authors: Susan Stoker
* * *
he man sat
in the leather chair in his living room, oblivious to the television in the background. He rocked back and forth as he thought about the woman. He hadn’t really noticed her until recently. But now that he had, he couldn’t stop thinking about her.
I like her.
I want her to be mine.
Tomorrow I’ll get to see her again.
I can’t wait.
s far as
he was concerned, Friday couldn’t come soon enough.
“What’s put that weird-ass look on your ugly mug?” Penelope “Tiger” Turner, the lone female on the squad, asked Crash the next day.
They’d been sitting around watching television, killing time until their shift ended or they got a call, whichever came first.
“Nothin’,” Crash told her, not able to keep the small smile off his face.
“Bull. Does it have anything to do with the woman you hid in the back room yesterday, then snuck out of here without letting anyone talk to her?”
Crash turned to her. “I didn’t hide her in the back. She was having a seizure. I was giving her some privacy.”
“Ha!” Penelope crowed. “I knew it was her. Spill it!”
Crash knew he was grinning like an idiot, but didn’t care. Deciding that maybe Penelope was the best person to talk to about Adeline, he said, “Her name is Adeline. She was on a blind date and when her dog alerted to the fact she was going to have a seizure, the asshole she was with got up and left.”
“Christ, what a douche.”
“Exactly. So I went over to see what I could do to help, and brought her here. She had her seizure, and we went back over to eat lunch. I asked her out, she said yes, and we’re getting together on Friday.”
“Somehow I think there’s a lot you’re leaving out,” Penelope said dryly.
“Not really,” Crash protested.
“She was cute,” Penelope noted.
“Yeah.” She was more than cute, but Dean wasn’t going to get into it with Penelope. When he was watching over her at the station, he was focused on her health, but later, at lunch, he’d noticed.
She wasn’t very tall, probably half a foot shorter than he was. When they’d walked side-by-side to the diner he towered over her. It had made him feel even more protective of her. Adeline’s black hair shone in the sunlight and brushed against her shoulders as she walked. Her hair was so dark it almost looked like she had blue highlights in the thick strands. Her lips were full and if she’d been wearing lipstick it had long since been nibbled or wiped off by the time they sat across from each other in the booth at lunch. He recalled her flushed cheeks when he complimented her, as if she wasn’t used to them, and her lashes were long and thick when she looked away from him, not able to meet his eyes.
She had been wearing a long, flowery skirt and a white button-down blouse and he’d been able to see a hint of her curves under it. Penelope was right, Adeline was cute, but she was more than that. He enjoyed not only talking with her, but her pragmatic take on her life and illness. He couldn’t wait to get to know her better.
“I need to figure out where I want to take her on our date,” Crash mused out loud.
Penelope looked at him for a moment with her head tilted. “You like her.”
“No, I mean, you
her. This isn’t just another date, is it?”
Crash shrugged. “It’s too early to know what it is.”
“Don’t lie about it. There’s something about her. Something that’s caught your eye.”
Crash looked over at Penelope. She was sitting on the couch next to him, her head resting on her hand, her elbow propped up on the back of the couch. She wasn’t teasing him; she was completely serious.
“Yeah. Although it’s crazy. I just met her.”
As much as Crash portrayed the playboy to his friends, in actuality he was anything but. He had a profile on a dating website, but had never entertained the idea of actually meeting anyone in person who messaged him. He dated, but was very picky about the women he took to his bed. He supposed it was sappy. He probably should be happy with playing the field and screwing as many women as he could…but he wasn’t.
He once saw a picture on social media that said something to the effect of, “I wish I’d found you sooner so I could’ve spent more time loving you.” It was exactly how he felt. He was only thirty-two, but if he could’ve met a woman when he was twenty who made his heart speed up just by looking at her, who made him happy simply by hearing her laugh, and who he wanted to wake up to for the rest of his life, he would’ve married her on the spot.
He couldn’t help but thinking about how much time he was losing. Crash knew he wasn’t typical in that sense. Most of his buddies enjoyed being single, but he didn’t. He only played the game, pretending to be interested in dating as many people as possible. Maybe too well.
“It doesn’t matter that you just met her. Sometimes, all it takes is one look at someone and you know.” Penelope’s voice was low and serious. “It’s not necessarily convenient, and it might not be the person you think you should be attracted to. Sometimes you know deep in your heart that it’s, in fact, the last person you should be attracted to, but it just is.”
Suddenly feeling as if they were no longer talking about him and Adeline, Crash asked, “You felt that before, Tiger?”
The small blonde dynamo nodded.
Protective feelings rose in Crash like a tidal wave. Penelope was one of a core group of friends who worked as firefighters at Station 7. She was Sledge’s sister, and she’d busted her ass and proved herself more than capable of holding her own against the taller, heavier, and stronger men she worked with. She didn’t quit, no matter what.
When she’d gone over to the Middle East to do a tour with her National Guard unit and had gotten kidnapped, it had nearly killed every one of the firefighters. They’d worked hand in hand with her brother to lobby whoever would listen to rescue her. Luckily, the President had authorized a Special Forces team to go in and get her out.
She was back at work, and most of the time everyone thought she’d been dealing exceptionally well, but every now and then a very vulnerable side of the woman peeked out. Like now. Crash had no idea she might be harboring feelings for someone. He also had no idea who it could be, as the woman volunteered to take shifts for other firefighters all the time…she spent more time here at the station than at her apartment.
But he knew that Moose more than liked the small spitfire, and it would be ideal if she liked him back. Crash probed for more information.
“Who is he?”
As if his words brought her back to the present, Penelope smiled in a vacant way and Crash knew any chance he had of finding out who she might be pining over was most likely lost. Shaking her head, she said, “Oh, you know, I got to meet Chris Pratt when I went to the White House for that ceremony thing. God, is that man fine.”
“Tiger. Be serious. Was it one of the SEALs who rescued you? Or those mysterious Army guys you won’t talk about but we all know you see when you go up to Fort Hood for debriefings and your counseling sessions?”
She burst out laughing. “First of all, those SEALs are all happily married. They’d sooner cut off their dicks than even look at me in that way. And secondly, those Army guys are way too alpha for me. Nope, I like a nice malleable guy. Someone I can bend to my will.”
Her words said one thing, but the look in her eyes said something else entirely. Crash opened his mouth to say something, but she hurried on, cutting him off.
“Anyway, it doesn’t matter. All I’m saying is that if you like this chick, you should go for it. I know you project a manwhore attitude to everyone around here, but you haven’t been out on a real date in forever.” Her voice got serious once more. “Any woman would be lucky as shit to have you in her life. Don’t discount whatever you’re feeling about this chick because you just met her. You’re not proposing, or asking her to move in…at least you’d better not be, that would be creepy.” She smiled to let him know she was teasing, then got serious again.
“Be honest with her. Let her know that you enjoy spending time with her. Get to know her with no pressure. There are way too many assholes out there and it’s hard to find a good man. Trust me, I know this, especially after being dubbed the country’s ‘Army Princess.’ You
a good man, Crash. A very good man. There’s nothing I want more than for all of you guys here at the station to find your own good women.”
“You’re welcome. Now, what are your plans for your date?”
Crash smiled. “I’m not telling you.”
“What? Why not?” Penelope protested, sitting up straight in shock.
“What are you, twelve? That’s not an answer.”
“You suck. Well, I hope it’s appropriate for a first date. I mean, most men screw it up. I wouldn’t be surprised if you went overboard. You’re gonna scare her away if you don’t do it right. I’m just trying to help you and—”
Loud tones alerting them to an incoming call pealed through the room, cutting off whatever it was Penelope was going to say. Both Penelope and Crash were on their feet before the voice of the dispatcher came through the speakers telling them they were being called to a multiple-car crash on the Interstate.
Looking over at Crash as they headed to their lockers to put on their bunker gear, Penelope said, “Just tell me one thing, you’re not taking her to a country and western bar…are you?”
“All Texan women like a man in boots and a cowboy hat, don’t they?”
“Oh Lord. I tried. Don’t come cryin’ to me when she doesn’t want to see you again, Crash.”
He merely ducked his head and concentrated on getting dressed and to the fire truck. It was fun to mess with Penelope’s head. Even Crash knew better than to take a woman to a bar on their first date. Not only was it usually too loud to really talk, there were way too many other men who might think it was okay to hit on her in a bar setting.
No, he wanted Adeline all to himself.
* * *
ater that night
, Crash lay on his bunk at the firehouse, his arm behind his head. He was tired, they’d been going nonstop all day, and this was the first break they’d gotten. Besides the horrific accident on the Interstate, they’d investigated two fire alarms—which luckily had turned out to be nothing—three medical calls, one car fire, and a small grass fire.
This was the first time he’d had to himself all day. His thoughts turned to Adeline.
Crash hadn’t yet come close to finding anyone he wanted to spend the rest of his life with. His parents were happily married, and he wanted what they had. He needed to find a woman who was independent enough to be able to deal with his shift schedule at the station—which meant spending nights alone when he was on duty—but who still needed and wanted him around.
He wanted to be her best friend, and for her to be his. Wanted to see her eyes light up when he came through the door, wanted to be able to talk to her about the highs and lows of his day and have her comfort him when he lost patients. He wanted to be there for her when she needed to bitch about her job or to pick her up when she had too much to drink on girls’ night out.
Along with all that, Dean wanted passion. He’d lusted over women before, and had some good times in bed, but he’d never felt the
to be with someone. The bone-deep desire to please her, to fuck her brains out, then to make love to her tenderly for hours. It was what had been missing in all of his relationships in the past.
He had no idea if Adeline Reynolds was that person, but for the first time in his life he couldn’t stop thinking about a woman. When he’d been holding the head of a lady in her late twenties in a car that afternoon, keeping her vertebrae aligned just in case, he had the horrifying thought that what if it had been Adeline? When he’d been holding the hose and throwing water on the grass fire, his thoughts had turned to Adeline and he’d wondered what she was doing right that moment. When they’d gone to one of the false alarms and he’d heard a dog barking inside the house next door, he thought about Coco and wondered how he and Adeline had gotten together.
It should’ve annoyed him how she kept creeping into his thoughts, but it didn’t. It made him more anxious to see her. To talk to her. To get to know her better.
Scooting up on the bed, Crash leaned back against the headboard and grabbed his phone. He’d held off texting her all day, but couldn’t wait anymore. He wanted to know how the meeting with her asshole boss went. Wanted to know if she’d had any more seizures. Hell, he just wanted to talk to her…even if the talking was through text.
: How was your day, beautiful?
rash had never been
the kind of man to use endearments with the women he dated. But when he thought about Adeline, the word beautiful just seemed to pop into his brain. Every time.
It took a while—well, five minutes was a while for him right now since he wanted to talk, but finally she responded.
: Crappy. Yours?
Dean: I’m sorry. I’m guessing the meeting didn’t go well?
Adeline: You’d guess right.
Dean: Want to talk about it?
t took a couple of minutes
, but she finally texted back.
: It’s too unbelievable and convoluted to type out.