UPDATE: The winner of the free download from yesterday’s post is…Linda!
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Hey there! Yesterday’s contest is still open. And if you post on this blog today, that will give you a second entry! In the meantime, enjoy an excerpt from my story inside the upcoming 12-Alarm Cowboys! Believe me, you do not want to miss this box set! It’s sssssmokin’!
AFTER THE FIRE by Cora Seton
When a series of fires keeps bringing him to her door, a firefighter must uncover his ex-girlfriend’s secret or risk losing her forever.
WHERE THERE’S SMOKE (A Cowboy Way Novella) by Becky McGraw
Cowboy Austin McBride follows a herd to a new town, but firefighting is his passion, so he applies at a local station. Standing between him and the job is a blonde bombshell who thinks she’s a shoe-in.
SADDLES AND SOOT by Cynthia D’Alba
Rancher and volunteer firefighter extinguishes a grass fire accidentally started by the town’s sexy temporary veterinarian but there’s something about her that ignites a fire inside of him.
CONTROLLED BURN (Cowboys on the Edge, Book One) by Delilah Devlin
Rancher and volunteer firefighter assigns himself to watch a reformed firebug during a controlled burn but she lights the fire inside him instead of the dead grass around them.
HIS FIREFLY COWGIRL by Beth Williamson
When an arson investigator returns to her hometown she clashes with the firefighter cowboy who broke her heart. Embers turn to sparks between a cowboy and his firefly cowgirl.
HER VOLUNTEER COWBOY (Book 6: Harland County) by Donna Michaels
Sparks reignite when one-nighters reunite. Can the firefighter/Guardsman convince the reforming bad girl she’s worth fighting for, or will she leave before he finds the courage to volunteer his heart?
COWBOY’S MATCH by Lexi Post
When a cowboy firefighter works a fire at a nudist resort, he’s sure his ex-girlfriend, the bookkeeper, is to blame. But as he investigates her, his gut tells him he’s going to get burned.
HELLFIRE, TEXAS by Elle James
A Cowboy-Volunteer Firefighter helps a runaway city girl put out a car fire only to find himself embroiled in a hot little mess of ex-boyfriend persuasion.
REKINDLED (Dallas Fire & Rescue, Book One) by Paige Tyler
A hunky firefighter rescues his best friend’s sexy sister from a hotel fire set by her psychotic ex-boyfriend who’d rather see her dead than with another man.
TEXAS WILDFIRE by Sable Hunter
Honored VFD hero is no angel. In love with his Captain’s wife, all hell breaks loose when Titan learns Makenna is abused. The firestorm their love ignites is so intense no one will emerge unscathed.
HOT IN THE SADDLE – Randi Alexander
When a rancher/volunteer firefighter is injured saving the life of a female stockcar racer, she stays to pay her debt of gratitude. Will he regret risking his life when he learns why she came to Texas?
COME HELL OR HIGH WATER by Sabrina York
When offered a second chance to seduce his high school crush, cowboy/fireman Cade Silver cannot resist. Despite her resistance, he is determined to win her, come hell or high water.
Excerpt from the opening of CONTROLLED BURN:
Caldera, Texas had been aptly named by its founders. Although technically late winter, the air was unseasonably warm—hot as a witch’s cauldron, and the town just as cursed.
Or, at least the place was so far as Carly Lohan was concerned.
Carly closed her car door and drew a deep breath, thinking she’d as soon have a root canal as walk into the midst of the people gathering inside the community center. All gazes would turn her way. They’d nudge their friends, and the ugly whispers would begin.
She might as well have had a big “A” branded on her forehead, but not for adultery like Hester Prynne—her crime was far worse. Arson wasn’t something folks around here would ever forgive.
Not that she thought of herself as an arsonist. However, a charge like that, even against a minor, clung like skunk spray. Which was why she’d headed to college as soon as she’d graduated high school and now lived a town away. Tonight, she had to face Calderans one last time.
Gripping her purse like it was a shield, she strode toward the door. Before she even reached the steps, she heard a whistle sound from behind her.
“Well, would you lookie there. If it ain’t Carly Lohan. Long time, no see.”
If she were ninety, she would have recognized Tater Johnson’s nasal twang. He’d taunted from her first day in kindergarten and had been the biggest thorn in her side all throughout school. The fact she was here today was partly because of him. She forced a smile and turned. “Good to see you, Tater.”
He smoked a cigarette while sitting on the edge of his truck bed. “Burn up any canyons lately?” he drawled.
Wow. He didn’t even take a second to work up to that. Carly stopped the automatic wince before he could see it. The last thing she should do was rise to a single one of his taunts. “Not lately. You going to the meeting?” she asked, tilting her head toward the open doors.
“Course.” He tipped back his cowboy hat and gave her a narrowed stare. “Keepin’ Caldera Canyon safe is important to me—which is why I’m wonderin’ what the hell you’re doin’ here.”
Carly felt her face heat. Before she could think of a more mature reply, she shot him the bird and turned on her heel. Good Lord, she’d only been back for five minutes and was already reverting to her old ways.
His grating chuckles followed her inside the large hall. The instant satisfaction she’d felt at giving the rude gesture faded as she entered and searched the rows of metal folding chairs. All seats were taken—of course, except for a couple right in front of the speakers’ table. Shit.
She didn’t have a choice. She’d be sitting across from the current sheriff of Caldera County. Her gaze snagged on the man sitting beside him, Jeremiah McCord, and her stomach sank at the glare he leveled. Shit-shit-shit.
Only to herself would she admit the man intimidated her. He was a large man—well over six feet and broad. And he was handsome when his features weren’t set into grim lines as they were now.
“Let’s call this meeting to order,” a man dressed in a park ranger’s uniform said. “We’re all here to talk about the prescribed burn we’re implementing inside the park four days from now.”
She turned her attention to the speaker. At least, he wasn’t staring at her. She didn’t know him, so she kept her gaze glued to the ranger as he started the slide show.
Pictures of happy campers sitting around campfires flashed on the screen, followed by more photos of the rugged bluffs surrounding the park. “Our goal, come Monday morning, will be to burn brush and dried vegetation from the canyon floor, while keeping the fire under control and halting it before the blaze runs the rim of the canyon, endangering local ranches. We won’t touch the areas around the campgrounds or the park service buildings. Those have been kept clear of excess brush by camp personnel. We’re focusing our efforts on the areas north of the campgrounds, through the upper canyon, toward the north rim of the park.”
The next picture was of a jackrabbit hiding in the brush. “A prescribed burn is good for the canyon’s plants and trees, and for its wildlife. By removing underbrush and new seedlings, we give the forest a chance to grow and deprive wildfires of fuel.”
The next photo was of rows of volunteers digging firebreaks, with flames licking across dry grass. The flames blazed orange, yellow, purple—so pretty—she couldn’t stop herself from startling when the slide changed to a photograph of those same volunteers, covered in soot, but smiling as they stood in front of a scorched patch of earth, trees with their bark only slightly singed.
“This is the outcome we want. A safe burn. A way to renew the earth and prevent uncontrolled blazes in the future…”
Carly drew a deep breath, and then made the mistake of again looking at Jeremiah. His gaze bored into her, cold and hard. Had he seen how the picture of the fire held her mesmerized? Her stomach tightened, and she felt a little sick.
Keeping her expression neutral, she returned his stare. She wasn’t that same reckless girl. She’d done her penance, and then some. Performing this last act of restitution would expunge her juvenile record, and she could function without worrying someone would discover her past mistake. She could submit a job application without her hand shaking, because she feared a background check would reveal her crime. And maybe she could finally make use of her teaching degree.
Thank God, she didn’t have to work around here. Jeremiah would consider it his civic duty to make sure everyone kept a close eye on her. He wasn’t exactly the most forgiving man, and if she couldn’t find a better job, she’d never be able to repay him for what he’d lost.
The rest of the presentation droned on and on. The park ranger was followed by the local fire chief, and then the park service expert they’d brought in to help supervise the burn. She tried to pay attention, but felt as though a hundred accusing fingers were pointed at her back. So she sat rigid in her seat, arms crossed, waiting for the briefing to end. She’d get her team assignment and head back to the motel where she’d left her suitcase. Then she could close her door and sleep until Saturday’s training.
Seven years hadn’t been nearly long enough to ease the feeling of guilt that weighed her down. Moving away had helped her live a more normal life, but she’d had these little reminders every so often, part of the deal the judge had made with her to protect her future. Participating in the controlled burn inside the park would be the last time Calderans would have to suffer her presence. And she theirs.
At last, the park ranger turned off the projector. Everyone rose and made their way to the board where team assignments were listed.
She waited patiently while being jostled—probably deliberately. At last, she scanned the list.
Her name was listed on a team of ten—and led by Jeremiah McCord. Shit.
Jeremiah stood near the doors, ready to nab Carly before she could skulk away. Blake Thacker, the local fire chief, stood next to him. “You put her on my team.” Jeremiah muttered.
Blake’s mouth twitched. “You’ve been so vocal about what a hazard she is to have around, so I thought you’d rest easier keeping her close.”
“It’s been seven years,” Blake said, slapping his shoulder. “She hasn’t burned up a canyon or set a house on fire.”
“Not that we know of.”
Blake shook his head. “Don’t you think the time has come to give her a little slack? She’s a grown woman now, not a rebellious teenager.”
Eyeing Carly as she moved away from the board, he couldn’t help but note the fact she was a woman now. Still skinny, but taller and with an interesting bit of flare to her hips. “She’s a menace. Nearly cost me my ranch.”
Blake gave him a baleful glance. “And walking up to the front of the room had to have taken a lot of courage, knowing no one wants her here.”
Jeremiah didn’t like the pang of doubt that struck his chest. He’d aimed a pretty mean stare her way. Not that she’d seemed the least bit put off. Her chin had inched up, and she’d kept her gaze averted, watching those images of flames spreading across brush.
He hadn’t missed the one real moment of emotion that had crossed her face. The picture of the fire had held her captive. No, she hadn’t changed a bit. Maybe she’d simply gotten better at hiding her firebug proclivities.
“Play nice,” Blake said, under his breath as people filed out of the building. “Judge Sessions says this’ll happen, whether you want it to or not. I’ve given you a way to control the situation. You can thank me later.”
Blake gave him another pat and walked away, just as Carly, who was almost the last person out the door came abreast. Her glance landed on him then darted to the door. So she was nervous around him. Good. “Don’t be late for training,” he bit out.
She halted, and her glance crashed with his. “I won’t,” she said, her mouth crimping into a straight line, and her brow furrowing.
Jeremiah felt a little thrill of attraction tingle in his balls. Oh, hell no. But before he could stem the impulse, he blurted, “Where you staying?”
“At the Prickly Pear Motel.”
He slowly shook his head, dreading what he was about to say. But he knew he wouldn’t rest easy if he didn’t have her under his thumb, twenty-four/seven for the next four days. Keep your enemies close and all… “I’ll follow you there and wait for you to check out.”
Her chin shot higher. “I’m not going away. This is the last task I have to complete to clear my name.”
“I’m not having you roaming free until this is done.”
She stuck her hand on her hip. “Gonna ask your buddy the sheriff to lock me up when I’m not with you?”
Jeremiah nearly growled. “Sweetheart, you’ve got a choice—you’re either sitting in lock-up, or you’re coming home with me.”
“The hell I am.” Her smoky gray eyes rounded.
He liked the flush of pink that crept across her cheeks. He noted, not for the first time, that she was pretty. But her beauty was likely a honey trap. The judge had taken one look at her slim body and pretty blonde looks, and let her off lightly—giving her a short stint in a juvenile detention facility, a fine she’d never pay off, and community service, rather than sending her to a women’s prison where she belonged.
Sure, she looked like an angel, but he knew better. He’d seen the excitement glinting in her eyes when the picture of brushfire had popped on the screen. She hadn’t changed. No, Carly Lohan was a danger to him and every ranch rimming the canyon. “I’ll follow you to the motel.”
“Don’t you think we ought to at least be on first-name basis before you invite me home?” At his next glare, she blew out an exasperated breath that billowed her cheeks. “Fine, it’s just five days, and you saved me the expense of a hotel. You have to feed me, too.”
“Oh, you’ll earn your room and board, Carly,” he drawled, warming to the thought of how he’d keep her busy for the next few days. She wouldn’t be so saucy after mucking out horseshit in the barn. And then an image popped into his mind of other forms of service she might provide…
He clamped down on his attraction. Don’t go there. She was trouble with a capital T, and the sooner she was gone, the better.
Carly turned on a heel, marched through the doors and down the steps, him following close behind. Her car wasn’t much to look at. Paint was peeling. The rear fender was missing.
Looked like she’d had hard times. Again, his chest tightened, wondering where she’d been all this time, and what hardships she’d faced.
Not his problem, he reminded himself, setting his jaw as he climbed into his truck and followed her taillights a mile down the highway.
The Prickly Pear was the worst sort of dive, serving long-haul truckers and tawdry trysts. He parked beside her POS car and waited in his truck as she disappeared into a room. When she came out a moment later, she carried one suitcase. Obviously, she hadn’t unpacked.
She dumped the case in her trunk and stomped to the office. He watched through the dusty glass as she paid her bill.
The kid behind the counter darted a glance out the window, and his eyes widened on Jeremiah’s truck. Kevin Twomey. Ah hell. The whole town would know he’d been waiting for her outside a motel. Just what he needed. Kevin’s mama was the biggest gossip in the county.
At last, she made her way out and stopped beside his window. “I’ll follow you. Maybe he won’t think you’re a stalker.”
She didn’t give him a chance to respond, simply turned as neatly as a soldier and marched to her car. By the time he heard the engine, a smile was tugging at his mouth. She might be a firebug, and have no business participating in a controlled burn, but the girl had grit.