Update! Ellen Blakley is the winner of the free download! DD
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Two more days. I can hardly wait. When you read it, you’ll get back to me, right? Let me know what you thought. Tell me who you want center stage in the next story…?
This book’s about more than just the sex. Yes, there’s tons of sex, but it’s about a firehouse that’s hurting too. No one more than Coop. I’m sharing the opening of the story with you below so you can see the demons he’s fighting. Coop’s a little bitter and closed off. You know what he needs.
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from among my Delta Heat titles!
One of the crappiest shifts of firefighter John “Coop” Cooper’s life took another nosedive when his lieutenant caught him before he’d even had a chance to drop his turnout gear after their latest run. With sooty sweat stinging his eyes and his suspenders half-up half-down, he sighed as the LT curled his fingers, beckoning him over.
Coop knew exactly what this was about, and despite his fatigue, his mind zipped through all the possible excuses he could muster to escape.
“You’re the last one,” Lieutenant Knox Triplett said, his face hard and his hazel gaze narrowing on Coop.
Used to be that Coop cared about pleasing Knox. He’d strove to be first to his gear and into the truck, first in the door of a burning building, and was careful never to fuck up a room-to-room search. He’d cared about being the best firefighter he could be. But lately, he’d just been showing up, going through the motions. Doing what he had to do to get through the shift.
Knox had been patient, his gazes merciful and sympathetic. But it looked as though he’d reached the end of his tether so far as Coop was concerned.
Coop wished he could feel anger or shame. But all he could muster was irritation. He wanted out of the station. The shift was nearly over and he had to dodge this bullet one more time. “The last one? You sure about that?” Coop asked, not bothering to look Knox in the eye.
Knox tapped his clipboard. “I asked for a hundred percent cooperation with the internal investigation, with the NIOSH assholes. Don’t know what it is with you guys. This should be the easy part. The counselor’s here to help you.”
Coop raked a hand through his hair. “That’s the point, LT. I don’t need his help. I’m tired of talking about it.”
A muscle tensed in the side of the LT’s jaw. “Let me make this simple. If you don’t make time to see Russell, I’m putting you on suspension.”
Coop cussed under his breath. By Knox’s stern tone, Coop knew the LT wasn’t bluffing. “Where is he?” he grumbled.
“The conference room. Don’t bother showering. No more stalling.” Finally, his stern expression eased. “Just get it over with, Coop. You’re not the only one who lost a friend. We’re here for you.” He reached out and awkwardly patted Coop’s shoulder and then tilted his head toward the corridor. Compassion and firmness. The LT never slacked. He took his job seriously.
“Let me drop my gear,” Coop mumbled. He turned back to the truck and took his sweet time stripping off his boots and trousers.
“Don’t worry about cleaning it,” Noah, the engine driver, said as he came around the side of the vehicle. “I’ve got you covered. No need to piss the LT off any further.”
How many people had heard their conversation? Coop didn’t bother looking around to see. He nodded and turned toward the corridor.
“Hey,” Noah called after him. “Some of the guys are going with Billy to his club tonight. Why not join us?”
Noah meant well. All the men did. They’d tiptoed around him, given him time and space to handle his grief. But Coop had turned down every invitation for drinks and even for Saturday football . “Think I’ll pass,” he muttered. He fisted his hands at his sides and strode down the corridor.
Farley Russell was seated at the table in the conference room, a pen in hand and a folder opened in front of him. The bristles of his buzz cut shone gold in the fluorescent light. He glanced up when Coop entered the room and gave him a half-smile when he slumped into a chair. “We’ll make this quick. Unless you need to talk.”
Coop shook his head and tightened his lips.
“How you sleeping, Coop?”
“Just fine.” If waking up in a cold sweat night after night was fine.
Russell gave a soft snort and his lips twisted. “Knox says you haven’t been performing up to your previous level. That you seem to be operating on automatic.”
Coop shifted on his chair and strummed his fingers on the tabletop . He couldn’t make his impatience any clearer. “I haven’t fucked up.”
“Yet.” Russell made some notes in the folder and then closed it and clasped his hands together, resting them atop the sheaf of notes. “Truitt was your friend,” he said carefully and without any emotion.
Something Coop appreciated. He was done with the looks and the soft voices. He grunted. Danny Truitt had been more than just a friend. The two of them had attended high school together, had applied and been accepted to the same firefighter academy class. They’d jockeyed hard to win spots in the same firehouse, which had taken a couple of years, and then they’d spent eight years with the same crew in Firehouse 69.
Their bunks had been side-by-side. Their lockers too. They’d double-dated. Coop had stood as Danny’s best man when he’d married Melody.
And it had been Coop who had hoisted up Danny’s body from the wreckage of the roof that had collapsed when they’d vented it during an apartment fire.
The moment he’d gotten Danny to the ground and pushed off his SCBA mask was forever imprinted on his mind. Danny’s irrepressible grin, even in the worst circumstances, had been forever wiped away.
“I’ve read the report. Talked to the other firefighters who worked that fire. You were in the middle of it, a step away from joining Danny in that hole. You can’t blame yourself. You could just as easily have died.”
And he should have. Coop’s fingers curled tightly. Danny had a wife and a kid on the way. Other than Danny and his buddies in the firehouse, no one would have missed Coop. No one depended on him.
“You’ve been hard to nail into a chair.” Russell’s smile was thin, but his brown eyes were steady, probing. He’d been a firefighter until he’d been sidelined with a back injury. He knew what it was like in the firehouse. The fact he’d had some college gave him a new lease. Now he helped other firefighters in crisis.
All Coop had was this job. This house. He had no family. His mother died when he was still in diapers, and his dad had died of cancer during Coop’s senior year of high school. And now, he’d lost his best friend. But because he was part of this house, he was holding it together—if just barely. Even though he knew Russell wasn’t some psychologist sitting in an ivory tower, studying him like he was a case and not a man, he still didn’t feel like spilling his guts. “I’m handling it,” he said, his voice a growl, something he didn’t intend, but he didn’t really care if he hurt Russell’s feelings. He didn’t want to be here. How much clearer could he make that fact known?
Russell sighed. “Look, I won’t keep you. I’ll check you off the list.” He reached into his pocket and pulled out a business card, which he handed to Coop. “You’ve met your LT’s requirements, but if you ever need to talk—doesn’t have to be about the fire or Danny Truitt—I’m here.”
Reluctantly, Coop took it. He curved his hand around it, bending it. He’d toss it when he left. No need to be ruder than he’d already been. Russell just wanted to help.
But Coop didn’t want help. Didn’t deserve it. “We done?”
Russell nodded, and Coop shot up out of the chair. He checked himself at the door and gave the other man a nod before escaping. Once outside the room, he breathed deeply. A shower. Then home. Maybe Christa would be happy enough seeing him to give him a quick fuck before he slept for a day.
But when he entered the locker room, his footsteps became leaden again, his shoulders weighed down. He approached his locker, trying not to look to the right. A splotch of bright white snagged his gaze. The stenciled plate with the name Truitt etched across it was gone, replaced by a white slash of tape, the name Harris printed in Magic Marker.
Coop sucked in a deep breath and then exploded in anger, his closed fist slamming against the door and leaving a concave dent. Dammit, there were other empty lockers that weren’t Danny’s. What the fuck?
“Better to rip it off like a Band-Aid,” came Knox’s voice from the doorway, sounding hollow in the small room. “We have a replacement. He’ll be here Monday morning.”
Coop didn’t bother turning. With his shoulders stiff, he listened as the LT’s footsteps faded away before he opened his own locker.
A fuck, maybe two. Maybe he’d get shitfaced, although inwardly he cringed at the memory of the last conversation he’d had with Christa. He’d been drunk, and remembered she’d threatened to leave him. They’d been together for three years on and off, and the sex was still great.
“You never talk to me.”
So what was new? They’d landed in bed the first night they’d met. Conversation wasn’t what they were about.
Coop stripped and stuffed his dirty clothes into the laundry sack to take home. He’d shower, just like he had hundreds of times. He’d go home. Come Monday, he’d be back, facing some other asshole trying to take Danny’s place. He slammed his locker shut.
No one could replace Danny. He rubbed his chest over his heart, but it didn’t diminish the pain, the constant ache. The guilt. Weary now, he shuffled to the shower. All he needed was a fuck, a beer and a night of dreamless sleep.