Read The Fire Inside Online

Authors: Kathryn Shay

Tags: #firefighter romance series, #firefighting romance, #family sagas novel, #female firefigher, #firefighter romance novels, #firefighter training, #psychologist romance

The Fire Inside (8 page)

BOOK: The Fire Inside
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“Hello, Jack.” Her nearness affected him.
He’d been thinking about making love to her ever since he’d seen
her again.

“Let’s sit.” When they did, he asked, “What’s
happening with your ankle and your plans?”

“I’m bummed. More after this morning.”

“What happened this morning?”

“I met with the HCFD physical-fitness
trainer. He agrees with the diagnosis that my ankle will never be
strong enough to go back on the line. One false move could endanger
my crew.”

“Which you wouldn’t want.”

She stared at him, and again, a deep sadness
claimed her face. “You know, you always did talk like a
shrink.”

“Let’s talk about
you
.” He hesitated.
“Are you still thinking the rope-climbing incident caused the final
result?”

“No. Both the RFD doc and Cory say it was the
original break, received in the line of duty.”

“Cory?”

“The new trainer here. He’s a sweet guy.” She
lifted her chin a bit, and something feminine flitted across her
face. “I like him.”

Jack remembered now. Cory Cameron was about
Tess’s age, and Jack had heard the females at the Academy call him
yummy
. He’d also heard some of the male officers say the guy
was a womanizer.

“Keep your head on straight about Cameron,
Tess.” The words came out more clipped than he intended.

“My head on straight?”

Even as he gave her the scuttlebutt, he felt
like a jerk. He never participated in gossip.

Her eyes flared. “
That
is none of your
business.”

“Isn’t it?” he blurted out, his tone rife
with meaning. Damn it to hell, this woman was still in his
blood.

“Why would it be? We had
a hot one-night
stand
—your phrase. That’s all.”

Before he could tell her that wasn’t what he
thought, the door to Ian’s office opened and he wheeled out. “Sorry
to keep you waiting, Tess.”

“No problem. I’m early anyway.”

Ian gave him a bright smile. “Jack,
hello.”

“Hi, Ian. Doing well?” He certainly looked it
with his relaxed posture and calm demeanor. It had been a long road
to get there. He wondered if Tess would be able to accept the loss
of her physical ability to do the job. If anyone could help her do
that, it was the man before him.

“Couldn’t be better.” He motioned to Tess.
“Come on in.”

She walked away from Jack without saying
good-bye. Ian’s interruption was good fortune, though. Jack had
been about to broach dangerous territory. For days, he’d been
thinking about this whole thing with her—the lovemaking, the
separation and her ending up in Hidden Cove, maybe permanently.
He’d finally admitted he had strong feelings for her. He just
didn’t know what the hell to do about them.

o0o

“I was emotionally immobilized for a long
time. I couldn’t get my bearings.” Ian Woodward stared ahead, and
Tess regretted causing the pain in his eyes. “I’d lay in that bed
at the rehab center and think about the life ahead of me. About
never being a firefighter again. I believed I couldn’t live without
the job, the use of my legs. I didn’t want to.”

“What happened?”

Ian gave a small smile. “A volunteer in the
center straightened me out with some tough love, and also real
understanding. When I couldn’t sleep, he’d stay up with me and
talk. He made me get out of bed during the day, and before I knew
it, I was racing with other wheelers down the corridors.”

“I admire you so much, Ian.” Tess meant that.
“And I feel like a jerk that I’m bitching about something so small
in comparison.”

His blond brows knitted. “Don’t say that. You
have to give up line firefighting. I know how hard that is.”

“Yet you surround yourself with what you
can’t have.”

“That was my exact sentiment to my
brother-in-law. In some ways, it’s still hard. But I’ll tell you
one thing, I’ve found such profound meaning and satisfaction in
working here”—his hand encompassed the room, the Academy—“that my
life would be incomplete without it.” He took a bead on her. “You
can have that, too.”

She felt her eyes sting. “It would be so hard
to teach others to do what I want to do so bad.”

“At first. But I got over it rather fast.
Teaching them to survive out there has its rewards, Tess.”

“I did like teaching.” She thought of Jack.
“But I was tough on the recruits.”

“We need to be tough on them. Within
reason.”

She drew in a breath. “Thank you for sharing
your experiences with me.”

“One more thing. Firefighting used to be my
life. It isn’t anymore. I have a wife and baby girl, and I’m
happier than when I could still walk. Remember that, too.”

“Thanks.”

“I hope I see you again.”


Giving him a grateful smile, she left the
office. She had some thinking to do about the first part of their
talk. Maybe she
could
teach recruits and be fulfilled, but
she’d go back to Rockland to do that. She didn’t think she could
work with Jack.

It was too dangerous. Since Joey died and
she’d lost the most important relationship in her life, she never
let anybody in but the Malvasos, and even that was hard for her to
do. But seeing Jack again made her realize he threatened those
barriers, and she was afraid to have them knocked down. If he
hadn’t loved and left her, so to speak, she might have trusted him,
might have taken a chance. But no, not now.

She was glad Ian had a spouse and a child,
but she never would. And so her choices about her career had to be
made carefully.

o0o

Right after lunch, the instructors for the
next recruit class met with Noah in his office. “Olive, you’re
on.”

Olive Hennessey, the only female battalion
chief in the department, was a force to be reckoned with. Smiling,
she addressed the group. “We’re here to discuss an addition to the
upcoming recruit class which starts in nine days. You all have your
assignments, and this won’t add to your load.” She turned to Jack.
“Do you know everyone here, Captain?”

The group included Captain Ian Woodward,
Lieutenant Quinn Frazier, Captain Haywood Jenkins, all officers
permanently stationed at the Academy. Line firefighters, a
necessary part of training, were Lieutenant Jane Phillips,
Firefighter Tom Senate and Lieutenant Tony Ramirez. Mark Lucas, who
ran EMS, was the medical representative.

“I know you all.” His expression was
quizzical. “I’m surprised to see you back, Tony.”

Tony’s laugh was deep and from his belly.
“Yeah, I volunteered. Grady O’Connor made captain, and so I’m
letting him take over my officer spot at Quint 7 for a while.
Besides, I wanted to teach again.”

Tony’s story was vastly different from the
last time he’d come to the Academy. His wife had become unable to
deal with the dangerous job he performed. The couple was doing fine
now; Jack knew, because he’d had lunch with Sophia last week.
Though her therapy was over, they still kept in touch. And he’d
also cooked for Tony’s crew in the recent past. Jack made a point
of visiting firehouses periodically to stay in touch with
firefighters. That he also cooked them a meal went over big with
the crews.

Olive continued, “Jack is here because he’ll
be running a workshop entitled Recruit Concerns.”

Tom Senate, a tall guy with a buzz cut was a
firefighter at Engine 5. He moved to the edge of his seat, a sign
that he was troubled by the announcement. Word on the street was
that he was a good guy, but strictly by the book. “There’s been
rumors about this class.”

“Jack?” Olive gave him the floor.

“The workshop was my idea, Tom, but approved
by Olive and the chief. The class is intended for the recruits to
work off some psychological stress, much like they work off
physical stress in fitness training.”

“So they’ll talk about what’s stressful for
them in the training they get from us?”

“Yes.”

He shrugged. “That’s good, I guess. As long
as we’re told of their concerns.”

Jack was prepared for it. “No, you won’t be
notified, unless I suspect they’ll harm themselves or others.”

The man’s dark brows knitted. “
Any
stress they experience can harm others who’re fighting fires next
to them.”

“That’s true on the line. But while they’re
training, the issues won’t affect what you and the other
instructors do with them.”

“Will you talk about us?” Tom asked.

“Probably.” He thought of Tess and how the
young recruits in Rockland complained about her toughness. He was
grateful she wasn’t part of this group; he didn’t want to deal with
negative things said about her.

Tom shook his head vehemently. “This isn’t
okay with me. Not unless the instructors are included in the
loop.”

Leaning over his desk, Noah braced his arms
on the surface. “We want to give these kids the best opportunities
they can get. Admitting their dissatisfaction, discomfort and fears
will give us insight into what we might want to improve for future
classes, as well as helping the recruits deal with their
concerns.”

Tom was still scowling. “I don’t like the
idea of this goin’ on behind my back. It’ll create paranoia.” He
turned to Jack. “No offense, Doc, but who’s to say if we’re tough
on them that they won’t go cryin’ to you and we’ll…I don’t know,
get in trouble somehow?”

“You’re looking at everything negative that
can happen, Tom. I’m sure I can handle whatever I hear from them in
a constructive way.”

Tom faced Noah. “Sorry, Chief. I volunteered
to help teach recruits because I thought we should all do our part.
But I didn’t sign up for fifteen kids takin’ potshots at me. I’d
like to be returned to the line.”

Noah’s brow furrowed. “I can’t guarantee
you’d get your spot at Engine 5.”

“I’ll do my four months somewhere else, then,
and go back to my station house after my time’s up.”

“You feel this strongly about Jack’s
workshop?”

“I’m afraid I do. Sorry to upset the balance
of things, but I don’t wanna teach under these circumstances.”

“And we don’t want you here if you feel that
way.” Olive’s voice was stern but not hostile.

“Go ahead, Senate.” Noah’s tone was also
grave. “I’ll have Battalion Chief Malvaso take care of reassigning
you.”

Once Tom left, all eyes focused on Noah.
“So,” he said to them. “What do we do now? I hope it’s not too late
to get someone else.”

Mitch leaned forward. “I might have the
answer to that. My cousin Tess is visiting Hidden Cove.” He
explained her injury. “But she got glowing reviews from the RFD
where she was training recruits. She’s here for an indefinite
period of time. Maybe she’ll take the job. You’d have to interview
her, of course, but it would solve our vacancy problem.”

Olive gave a sly smile. “That’d even this up,
three women, three men. What does everybody think?”

Everybody agreed to at least interview
her.

Except one person. “I object, Mitch.” Jack’s
voice was firm. “I’m sorry. I know you care about her.”
I do
too,
he thought
.
“But she isn’t a good match for
us.”

o0o

Tess asked Ian to let her into the Academy
gym to work off some of the tension that coiled inside her like a
knot. Ian had told it to her straight, and she’d listened—with a
heavy heart—but she’d heard what he said: she had to accept what
had happened to her and do something else with her life.

She’d brought a workout bag, changed into
bike pants and a tank top and started to walk the track, which
formed a perimeter around the gym. The place would be the home of
the recruit class in nine days. They’d treat the space like a
firehouse: they’d train in here and outside all day. Ropes would
hang from the ceiling, and the maze on the left side of the stage
was ready for them. One corner near the kitchen would be set up for
lunches and dinners. She remembered one time in the RFD class, the
kids had cooked a big dinner of fried chicken, fancy potatoes and
salad. They’d just sat down, when the chief in charge sounded the
alarm for a call over at the smokehouse. Except for two teachers
who went with them, the staff had stayed behind, laughing at the
traditional initiation every recruit class experienced. Now, when
she smelled chicken cooking, she remembered that night.

As she sped up her walking, she remembered
other things: the joy at seeing every single recruit graduate, the
pride she took in herself for being part of their instruction. One
small eighteen-year-old, whom she thought maybe wouldn’t make it,
had come up to her after graduation and hugged her.

Thanks for being tough on me, Captain
Righetti. Nobody is, because I’m so small, but keeping on me helped
me make it through. I won’t disappoint you.

“Take that, Dr. Harrison!”

Tess had been trying to keep thoughts of him
at bay, but it was hard, because he was tight with her family and
seeing him made her remember their time together. No matter, she’d
go back to Rockland soon. Maybe teaching up there, and being away
from him, would make her forget what it felt like to have his hands
all over her.

Buck up, Tess
, she told herself now.
Stop the pity party.

She’d just increased her speed again when
Cory Cameron came into the gym. “Lookin’ good there.”

So was he. His blond hair was longish; he had
muscles to die for and killer blue eyes. Right now, wearing a damp
shirt and shorts that showed the sinew of his legs, he was very
attractive.

Keep your head on straight about Cory
Cameron,
Jack had said
.

Damn him for invading her thoughts.

“Want some company? I got some free
time.”

“Sure.”

Falling in step beside her, he kept his
stride in time with hers. “Walking will strengthen those muscles
around the ankle.”

BOOK: The Fire Inside
12.4Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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