Authors: Candi Wall
This one is for you.
I know Abby’s mom isn’t exactly flattering in comparison, but I swear I was thinking of Abby and her amazing fortitude when I dedicated this to you…
You are my heroine, my support and the perfect example of who I want to be. If I become even a fraction of the woman you are, I’ll consider myself complete. Thank you for being a guide, an inspiration and when needed—a wake-up call. But above all else—thank you for being a friend.
I love you more than words can say.
Coast of Maine
“…One person injured. Caller stated no smoke coming from the vehicle…”
Bracken Elliot pulled his truck onto the main road faster than he intended. The tires hit the black ice coating the pavement and swung the truck in a wide arc. He compensated quickly, slashing the wheel in the direction of the spin and regaining control. He jerked the lever to engage four-wheel drive and flipped on his emergency flashers.
“Brighton Engine One en route…
Brack smiled as Jensen’s voice crackled over the repeater. He couldn’t have expected a faster response. His team was in top form.
“Copy Engine One 10-8 to the scene at Riley’s Trail,” dispatch replied. “Ambulance is en route.”
Brack grabbed the radio handset. “Brighton Three is 10-8, ETA two minutes.”
The orange strobe flasher on his truck bounced off the steady flow of snowflakes streaming across the windshield. It was a miserable night. A night everyone should be home. But that never kept the vehicles off the roads in Maine.
Flashers up ahead broke through the steady curtain of snow. Even from a distance, Brack could make out the odd angle of the taillights low on the embankment. A second set of emergency flashers glowed from midway into the road. Whoever had stopped had made a good choice in vehicle placement to warn other vehicles.
He pulled up behind the small car and grabbed his fire gear and first-responder equipment. He called in the status over the portable radio at his shoulder as he ran. “Dispatch, Fire Three is 10-10 at Riley’s Trail.”
After updating dispatch, he called out, “Hello?”
A faint voice called back, “Over here.”
Brack ran toward the overturned SUV, sliding halfway down the incline. The vehicle had buckled against a tree on impact, smashing in the driver-side door. On initial assessment, the scene looked relatively safe. He rushed around the vehicle to the open passenger door.
“In here.” A young woman knelt behind the driver’s seat immobilizing the victim’s neck. “Hurry.”
The driver was pinned by the steering wheel and a deep laceration marred the man’s forehead. Blood poured from the wound, spreading over and between the woman’s medical-gloved fingers. To her credit, she had the man’s neck braced with her other hand.
“Thank God,” she rasped. “Male, forty-six, strong pulse, conscious and complaining of pain in his upper right thigh. Semi-lucid with mobility in all extremities.”
Brack nodded and shimmied into the backseat with her. “Miss, I’m going to slide behind you to hold him while you get out.”
“I’m a licensed EMT.” The woman flashed him an irritated glance. “I just need you to make sure that smoke doesn’t turn into fire until after the ambulance gets here.”
Shit. He’d missed the smoke in the dark.
“Licensed or not, I’ll take it from here,” Brack snapped.
He slid across the backseat until he was situated behind her and wiggled his hand under hers to keep pressure on the man’s forehead. “Keep his head steady until I have him.”
“I think it would be better—”
“Just do as I say,” Brack commanded, concerned for a civilian, trained or not, to be in this situation.
The woman shifted, her back and legs pressing against him as she ducked beneath his arm to slide away. Her hand stayed firmly on the man’s chin. “Ready?”
Brack nodded, taking over the immobilization. “Now get out of here. If you want to help, update the paramedics when they get here.”
“Why don’t I twiddle my thumbs while I’m at it?” She sent him a dark glance and pulled a penlight from her pocket. After climbing into the front passenger seat, she flashed the light toward the victim. “Sir? Sir, can you still hear me?”
The man grumbled incoherently.
“I’m going to check your eyes.” She forced one of his eyelids open with her thumb and forefinger. “You’re doing great, sir. What’s your name?”
She switched to the other eye.
“Clayton Dennison,” the man groaned in weak response.
“Good, Clayton. That’s great. Do you know what happened?” She glanced at Brack. “Pupils reactive. I can smell alcohol.”
The low wail of a siren reached out in the distance, and bright emergency flashers strobed over the SUV’s fractured windows. Brack nodded. “We’ll take it from here.”
She ignored his hint, talking quietly to the victim instead. When the ambulance crew appeared behind her, she backed out of the vehicle. He could hear her updating the EMTs, her voice strong and sure. He didn’t know who she was, but she knew her shit. Then she was gone, and Brack put her out of his mind. He had a victim to take care of.
Abby smiled at the young firefighter. He leaned against the side of the fire truck holding a stop sign lit with bright, red lights, watching the roads for approaching vehicles. “Yeah, Captain Elliot is my uncle. He’s a good sort. He just likes things to go his way.”
Captain Elliot’s nephew was being kind. All she’d seen so far was how rude and demanding, well,
might be more appropriate, the captain could be. She’d been helping and he’d tried to force her out of the way. From then on all he’d done was bite off one head after another. Including his sweet nephew’s. “Why’d he yell at you like that?”
“Because he went against protocol,” Captain Elliot answered from behind her.
She turned to face the captain, surprised by the handsome man approaching. Whether it was the adrenaline pumping through her or the blinding flashers before, she hadn’t gotten a good look at him. Now, hell. He was tall and lean, with a presence that met her before his body actually closed the space between them. Up close he was even better. Broad shoulders and blue eyes—a deadly combo. She’d have to buy a fire department calendar from this unit.
“Is the victim—” she pried her tongue from the roof of her mouth and pointed to the ambulance, “—is he going to be okay?”
“Should be,” he answered before turning to his nephew. “What the hell were you thinking, Jensen?”
Jensen’s eyes narrowed. “Look, Captain. I thought—”
Captain Elliot sliced a hand through the air. “You know the rules. There’s a damn good reason we run the drills we do. So that shit like this doesn’t happen.”
“What was I supposed to do? Just ignore—”
“You were supposed to stay back as ordered.”
Abby turned away, embarrassed for the young man. She’d been a member of enough fire departments to know laying into your members wasn’t the way to train them. Especially in front of someone else. This captain had issues with throwing around his authority.
“Nothing went wrong,” Jensen growled. “So no harm done.”
“No harm? Maybe not this time.” The captain ripped his helmet off. “If we all could depend on luck, it’d be great. But we can’t, and you have no idea what it would feel like to know your foolish choice was the reason someone else was hurt, or worse. How would you feel if Sam or Lucas, hell, even your sister, was hurt because of you?”
Jensen took a step forward. “I’d hate it, no doubt. But we all can’t walk through life fearing everything like you do, Uncle Brack.”
Brack? Captain Brack Elliot.
Really? Even his name was sexy.
But his nephew’s statement took all the wind out of Brack’s sails, as if he’d received a brutal gut shot. He eyed his nephew. “This would be a good time for you to get the hell out of my face. Go see your mother. I’m pretty sure she’ll punish your stupidity more than a suspension slip ever could.”
Jensen walked away, his shoulders slumped.
With a deep breath, the captain—Brack—leaned back against the side of the rescue truck. Abby studied the firm line of his clenched jaw, the worry in his eyes that couldn’t be hidden by the dark night. “What did he do?”
“Nothing.” He cast a quick glance in her direction. “Thanks for your help. The police will want a statement before you leave.”
And then he was off. Nothing more, nothing less than those incredible shoulders and attitude. Abby shook her head. Sexy or not, this captain scored a big fat zero on the personality scale. Those harried eyes were so dark she wondered if he had a light bone in his body. And she planned to join
team? She wasn’t so sure after tonight.
But, this was as good a time as any to mention it.
Unfortunately Captain Grumpy was right about the police wanting a statement. The officer heading in her direction already had his notebook out. “Miss? Captain Elliot said you were first on the scene?”
Abby nodded and shot a glance at the retreating captain just in time to see the slight grin he tossed her way.
Brack’s hands shook as he cradled his forehead. He stared at the reports on his desk without really seeing them.
He’d scared the hell out of all of them by opening the vehicle’s hood before they were ready. Brack hated the feeling of fear. Hated knowing someone he cared about was in danger. He’d lived through two losses, only barely, and he’d be damned if anyone else was harmed on his watch. Even if that meant he had to kick his brother’s son—his own nephew—off the team.
A tentative knock at his office door pulled him from his thoughts, and he clenched his hands together before calling out for them to enter. He wasn’t in the mood for much after the last call, so whoever was foolish enough to bother him had better be prepared.
“Excuse me, Captain Elliot? I’m interested in joining the fire and rescue team. I’ve stopped by twice and no one was here. I figured—after the accident—I could catch you tonight.”
Brack stared at the young woman he’d met earlier at the scene. “Name?”
She moved a bit farther into the room, her hazel eyes roaming over his office. “Abby. Abby Burke.” She pulled a bag from her shoulder, and after fishing through it for a moment, dropped a thick folder on his desk.
He flipped the cover open and waved to a seat. Exhaustion blurred the words. “After tonight it’s pretty obvious you’ve had training. Care to elaborate?”
Her soft chuckle grabbed his attention. “Yeah, I’ve had some.” After taking the offered seat, she leaned forward. “My file should supply most of the information you need.”
Long strands of wavy blond hair escaped from her ponytail to frame her cheeks. She was pretty, in a natural, no-makeup-needed kind of way. A green turtleneck hugged firm, trim arms, and her white sleeveless jacket tapered into a small waist. And damn she looked young. She couldn’t be more than—he scanned the cover letter in her folder for a birth date—twenty-eight.
Huh. He wouldn’t have guessed that old.
“Joining is one thing, but heading out for calls is another. That will depend on what you’ve got for experience.” He closed the folder and settled back in his chair. “Honestly, I’m too tired to read, so why don’t you tell me what you’ve done before coming here.”
She rolled her eyes. Hell. The woman had attitude. She didn’t even know him yet and already he sensed irritation in her steady gaze. The scowl marring her lips affirmed his guess.
Had to be a new record.
Usually it took a couple of weeks before people became irritated with him.
With a subtle sigh, she sat up straighter. “My name’s Aretha Beatrice Yolanda Burke, but I’d appreciate it if you’d call me Abby. I was born in Middleton, New York. Grew up all over since my mother liked to travel. I graduated from high school at seventeen, joined the Coast Guard two months later, and I’ve been stationed in several locations, last assignment being Sitka, Alaska.
“I’ve earned several distinctions, which I’d rather not list for you since they don’t mean a lot to people outside of the service, and I received an honorable discharge from the U.S. Coast Guard two years ago. I’ve been a member of four different fire and rescue units from Washington State to Georgia in the last two years. The most recent being a great department in the northern section of Florida.”