Authors: Barbara Freethy
SO THIS IS LOVE
SO THIS IS LOVE
© Copyright 2013 Barbara Freethy
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
Table of Contents
Emma Callaway walked quickly down the dark street, wishing she'd arrived at her father's party on time so that she could have gotten a better parking spot, instead of having to hike three blocks up hill. As she passed a lone guy smoking a cigarette in front of a twenty-four hour market, she felt an odd sense of unease. The man's gaze seemed to follow her down the street, and she picked up her pace.
She wasn't normally afraid to walk at night, especially not in the West Portal neighborhood of San Francisco, but the street was filled mostly with retail and commercial buildings, and at nine-o'clock on a Sunday night, they were all closed, making her feel isolated and alone.
She took a quick glance over her shoulder. There was no one following her, but the shadowy street did not ease her nerves. She told herself to stop imagining things. She was just on edge. The last few weeks of work had been challenging, and all she wanted to do was relax and spend a few hours with her family as they celebrated her father's recent promotion to Deputy Chief of Operations for the San Francisco Fire Department.
Emma was enormously proud of her father, but Jack Callaway's latest feat had only set the bar of achievement that much higher for herself and the rest of the Callaway clan. Not that the bar hadn't always been high. Firefighting had been a family tradition for at least four generations, including the current one. Three of her brothers were firefighters, and she'd started out as a firefighter as well, eventually becoming a fire investigator a year earlier.
She loved being an investigator, but it was also frustrating work. Determining whether a fire was arson was one thing, finding the perpetrator and getting justice was another. But she wasn't going to think about her open cases tonight. She just wanted to spend time with her family and friends.
Opening the door to Brady's Bar and Grill, she stepped inside and paused, surprised at the huge crowd. Her father was a popular guy, but it seemed as if half the city had come to toast his latest achievement. A long mahogany bar covered the far wall, and there was a line three deep to get cocktails. The dance floor was packed with people drinking, talking, and laughing, and every table in the main dining room appeared to be full. Gazing to the right side of the restaurant, she saw a cluster of people in the hall by the back room where darts and pool were the games of choice.
Brady's would make a killing tonight, she thought with a smile, not that they didn't do a good business most nights. Brady's was a firefighters' bar. The owner, Harry Brady, had a son, Christian, who was also a firefighter, and it wasn't uncommon for shifts to end with a trip to the bar. Wherever she looked, she saw familiar faces. She was a local girl, and Brady's was a local bar—the kind of place where everyone knew each other's name.
The door opened behind her and a blast of chill November air sent a tingle down her spine. Glancing over her shoulder, that cold quickly turned to heat when she met the deeply intense and penetrating green eyes of Max Harrison, an inspector with the San Francisco Police Department.
Max had transferred from Los Angeles three months earlier, and since then their paths had crossed a few too many times. She'd found Max to be a cocky, territorial detective, whose idea of sharing information was her telling him everything she knew, and him giving nothing in return.
While she didn't like Max's attitude, she couldn't help but appreciate the way he filled out a pair of faded jeans and carried off a brown leather jacket over a cream-colored knit shirt. He was tall and athletically built with a mouth-watering physique, light brown hair that shimmered with gold, and a far too sexy mouth. But she knew trouble when she saw it, and the last thing she needed in her life was man trouble. She'd gotten out of a serious relationship a few months earlier, and she didn't need to dive into another one, especially not with someone who could heat up her body with just one look.
"What are you doing here?" she asked shortly.
Their meetings were always tense, the mix of anger and attraction between them making most of their encounters awkward and uncomfortable. It was bad enough they had to occasionally work together; she didn't want to socialize with him, too.
"Your brother, Burke, invited me. We play basketball together on Wednesday nights."
Of course they did. The police/fire basketball league was hugely popular. As a female firefighter, she'd always felt left out when it came to the basketball games. She could compete in co-ed softball, but the basketball games were all guys, and that was the way they liked it.
Her phone buzzed, and she pulled it out of her bag, hoping it wasn't work calling.
Frowning, she realized she would have preferred a work text than the one she'd just received. "Damn," she muttered.
"Something wrong?" Max asked.
She returned her phone to the outer pocket of her bag. "It's nothing." She'd barely finished speaking when her phone buzzed again.
"Doesn't sound like nothing," he said, a speculative gleam in his eyes. "Aren't you going to answer it?"
Her phone buzzed again, and she pulled it out of her bag to turn the ring to silent. As she did so, she saw three texts on the screen. Seriously? Jon hadn't talked to her this much when they were sharing an apartment. "I can't believe this," she muttered, then wished she'd kept her mouth shut as Max's interested gaze settled on hers. "Ex-boyfriend," she explained.
"He must want another chance."
"Men always want what they can't have."
He tipped his head in acknowledgement. "The chase can be appealing."
"I'm not good at playing games."
"I doubt that. I've seen your competitive streak."
"Not when it comes to the games of love," she corrected.
Max smiled, and with that smile came sparks, the fluttering of butterflies in her stomach, the sudden dampness on her palms, the tingly feeling of anticipation shooting down her spine. They weren't standing very far apart, only a few inches between them. It wouldn't take more than a step to put her hands on his solid chest, lean in, raise her face to his.
She put the brakes on her runaway thoughts. She was not going to kiss Max Harrison. That would be reckless and stupid. It would probably also be really good, because he looked like the kind of man who knew how to kiss a woman. But she was not going to test out that theory.
She couldn't let a little lust get in the way of her common sense. They had to work together. She needed to keep things professional.
Clearing her throat, she said, "I should find my father."
"Isn't that him over there?" Max tipped his head toward the center of the room.
As the crowd parted, she could see her parents, grandparents and several of her siblings seated at a table in the center of the room. Her father was the focus of attention, which didn't surprise her. Jack Callaway had a larger-than-life personality, and like his Irish ancestors, there was nothing he enjoyed more than telling a good story and sharing a pint or two.
With dark brown hair that was now peppered with gray, wide-set blue eyes, and a big booming laugh, Jack had charisma and presence, which was probably why he'd done so well in his career; he was a natural born leader. He was also a man of high integrity and deep commitment to his job, which made him a great role model. She'd admired him for a very long time, not just as a father but also as a firefighter. She could see that same respect in the eyes of everyone at the table.
"That's him," she murmured, glancing back at Max. "You haven't met yet?"
"No. Is that your mother next to him, the pretty blonde in the red dress?"
"You look more like your mother than your father."
"I do take after my mom, but Jack isn't my biological father. He's my stepfather."
Surprise flashed in Max's eyes. "I didn't know that. You have his name."
"It all happened a long time ago. My mother, Lynda, married Jack when I was four years old. He legally adopted me as well as my older sister, Nicole, three years later. Since we rarely saw my biological father, we were both happy to become Callaways."
"So you and Nicole are biological sisters. What about the rest of your siblings? Who belongs to who?"
"Burke, Aiden, Drew, and Sean are my stepbrothers. Their real mother died. Jack was a widow when he met my mom. After they got married, the twins, Shayla and Colton were born. It's a yours, mine and ours kind of situation, but in reality, we're just one big happy, sometimes crazy, family."
"I can see the pride in your eyes," he commented.
"I love my family. Although, I have to admit that being a Callaway comes with expectations. Jack and his father are hard acts to follow."
"From what I've seen, you're up for the challenge."
She tilted her head, giving him a thoughtful look. "Is that a compliment, Harrison?"
"Don't let it go to your head, Callaway. Who else is at your dad's table?"
"Next to my mother are Jack's parents, Eleanor and Patrick. Then there is my baby sister, Shayla. She's a girl genius, only twenty-three and almost done with medical school. And lastly there's Colton, Shayla's twin. He's a rookie firefighter. I'm not sure where the rest of my siblings are."
"It sounds like your siblings are all very high-achievers."
"Jack told us the Callaways were born to serve and protect, and most of my siblings have followed that tradition, four in firefighting, one in medicine, one in search and rescue, and one in teaching. My brother, Sean, is the only one who didn't follow the plan. He's a musician, a fantastic singer and song writer," she added, not wanting Max to think she wasn't proud of Sean. "He couldn't come tonight, because he's touring the Pacific Northwest."
"How does he get along with your father?"
"They have their moments, but Sean has always moved to a different beat. That's my family. Tell me about yours."
"Nowhere near as interesting," he said shortly.
"Let me be the judge."
"Maybe another time. Can I get you a drink? It looks like the line for drinks is thinning out."
She wasn't surprised he dodged her question. He'd been remarkably reticent when it came to his private life. She'd been tempted to do a little research on him more than once, but she'd always stopped herself. The less she knew about him the better.
"I'll take a sparkling water if you're going to the bar," she said. "I'm on call this weekend."
As Max turned around, he was almost run down by one of her long-time friends, Tony Moretti.
Tony was an attractive thirty-two-year-old of Italian descent. He and his twin brother, Jarod, had grown up around the corner from her.
"Emma," Tony said, opening his arms wide. "I was hoping you'd be here. I was looking for you at Mass today, but I didn't see you." She gave him a quick hug, aware that Max hadn't actually gone to the bar as he'd proposed. Instead, he lingered a few feet away watching them. She wondered why he was so interested.
"I didn't make it to church this morning," she said, turning her attention to Tony. "I've been really busy at work."
"I couldn't believe someone torched the school at St. Andrew's. Do you have any suspects?"
"Not yet. But I haven't given up."
"Speaking of not giving up, you owe me a date," Tony said. "Remember? I helped you move out of your ex-boyfriend's apartment, and you offered to buy me dinner."
"I do remember. I'm sorry I've been busy."
"So let's make a date."
She saw the determination in Tony's eyes and wondered where it came from. She'd known him since she was six years old, and while they'd been a part of the same social group for years, they'd never gone out alone together, and she wasn't sure she wanted to change that. She liked Tony a lot, but he was a flirt, and she didn't want them to end up in an awkward situation. Their families were friends.
"I'll take a look at my calendar tomorrow, and we'll find a day that works," she said.
"What's good?" another man asked.
She smiled at Tony's brother, Jarod. The Morettis were fraternal twins but looked almost identical with their dark hair and dark eyes.