Authors: Rhonda Lee Carver
Second Burn Cowboy
2014 Rhonda Lee Carver
Copyright © 2014 by Rhonda Lee Carver
All rights reserved.
Published in the United States
Published by Rhonda Lee Carver
Cover Art by Samantha Holt
Second Burn Cowboy
Book 6, Second Chance
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidences are a fabrication of the author’s imagination. Any resemblance to actual people, living or dead, establishments, events, or locales is coincidental.
To my family
HOW AM I
roped into these things?
Deckland Brooke clicked the windshield wipers on high as the
rain came down in a waterfall, making visibility next to impossible. Every few minutes high-pitched beeps sounded over the radio station with a tornado warning for the area. He had a feeling Mother Nature was pissed off and he was smack-dab in the middle of her temper tantrum. Thankfully, his 4x4 was built tough, and she stayed steady on the road.
at the leaning trees along the street, he sighed and scrubbed his jaw. This certainly wasn’t a good time for a craving.
Peyton and Apri
l had sent him out to grab tirami-something-or-other. He had no clue what it was, but apparently Elsa had a box waiting at her bakery and his sisters-in-law had to have it or else. He always wondered what the “else” meant. Coming from two pregnant women with hormonal issues and a non-stop chocolate hankering, he thought it best not to ask.
He should have stopped at the
grocery store off the highway and picked up goodies from their in-house bakery. He’d preferred it over seeing Elsa but with all the talk about Elsa’s Fluff pastries being the best, he was certain he’d only wreak havoc not getting what the ladies wanted.
Once again, how did he end up on the raw end of this?
He’d only agreed to watch over Peyton and April, not signed up as their devoted servant. But hell, he shouldn’t complain. Dante and Dillon would be home in the morning and Deckland would be back to the old grind—working, working and more work. He hoped his brothers enjoyed their mini-vacation, even if going to the auction hadn’t been their choice.
His thoughts moved to th
e owner of the bakery, Elsa Matthews. They’d met a few months ago, if that’s what he could call the awkward encounter. His grip automatically tightened on the steering wheel and his gut clenched as he recalled the night of Dante and April’s engagement party. His brother had gotten his boxers in a bunch over something or other, which led to an argument with April and they’d disappeared in a huff. The party had ended with a bang, literally. Luckily, the couple made up and was happily married.
party guests had left abruptly, and Deckland and Elsa were the only two remaining. He’d helped her pack boxes of uneaten cupcakes and, when she’d tried to start the old van, it was dead. He’d offered to take her home, or take a look under the hood, but she’d insisted on calling a tow truck. He knew some women liked their independence.
nting to come across as pushy, and partially not minding the company of a beautiful woman, he’d offered her a beer and leftover food.
After a few longnecks and
easy chatter about the weather and why sushi was never a good choice for a buffet, the slow songs drifting from the radio had been too inviting to ignore. He’d asked her to dance, something he didn’t do very often.
One that he’d remember for a long time to come. But tonight he wasn’t going to take a stroll down memory lane.
his thoughts clean of what they’d shared, or what they
share, he concentrated on the flooding streets. He made a silent wish that the road toward the ranch didn’t wash out. The thought of sleeping in his truck for the night didn’t entice him.
He should be home watching the weather channel, not in the middle of
a torrential downpour. However, he could be at the ranch, surrounded by two pregnant women and their raging hormones. He was probably safer out in the storm.
The vibration in his pocket made him frown.
He could only guess who was trying to reach him. Pulling out his cell, he slowed the truck as he read the text from April.
“Grab some mini-cupcakes too. Thanks. A.”
Growling, he dropped his phone on the passenger seat. His brothers had warned him to prepare for numerous “craving” trips, but this was ridiculous. He was now the official snack runner. Earlier it was pickled eggs. He’d made a jaunt to the local farmer’s market and grabbed every jar they had, but by the time he got back twenty minutes later, the women had settled for scrambled eggs and couldn’t eat another bite. Disgruntled that his effort was shot down, he’d sat down with a jar and a fork and switched on ESPN. Hell, he didn’t even like pickled eggs.
f a damn tornado did come tonight, at least he’d be the one blown away and not Peyton and April. He couldn’t let anything happen to them. They had become the sisters he never had.
Hearing the beeping on the radio alerting another weather update, Deckland
reached to turn up the volume. He lifted his gaze just as a black blob darted in front of him.
it!” He slammed on the brakes and the big truck tires slid on the wet pavement until finally coming to a sideways stop. Rolling down the window, he skimmed the area, ready to let loose on the idiot who almost caused a serious accident, but he couldn’t see anything beyond ten feet through the heavy shower. Closing the window and wiping the rain from his face, he mumbled a string of curse words. The jogger was lucky Deckland didn’t hit him.
the bridge of his nose, he dropped his hand as he realized something wasn’t right. Who would be out in this weather running and wearing all black? He darted a glance down the darkened street, scanning the blurred fronts of the businesses. Nothing seemed amiss, at least from what he could see.
He jerked as a
flash of orange-red burst from the top of a building at the end of the street. “What the—?” Flames shot out of the roof, lighting the murky night.
Air swooshed from his lungs.
Sliding his truck into park
, he threw open his door.
out, he landed in an ankle deep puddle, splashing the cold water on his jeans. He raced up the street, barely registering that his hat flew off.
Drops of rain
pelted him, stinging his face and eyes, clouding his vision.
By the time he made it to the sidewalk,
his clothes were soaked and clinging to his skin.
He was r
unning so fast he came to a sliding stop before crashing into the doors to the bakery. His breathing was heavy in his ears as his adrenaline spiked. He peered through the glass, gauging the situation. The lights were on and he could see black smoke and flames rolling from the back of the store.
Instinct kicked in.
He tried the handle, but it was locked and the closed sign was up. Elsa had been waiting for him. She was in the bakery, he knew.
Glancing down the sidewalk, he spotted
a cigarette receptacle. He grabbed the heavy vessel and threw it through one door. The glass crashed around him, nicking his skin.
He wasted no time.
Leaping through the jagged opening, broken glass crunched under his boots as he made his way across the tiled floor. The smoke was growing heavier and his breathing became labored. His eyes throbbed and he lifted his hand, using it as a shield. He still couldn’t see through the haze.
earing his shirt from his torso, he covered his face and made his way closer to the back where flames shot out from the cracks of the double doors. The heat singed the hair on his arms, and he hoped Elsa wasn’t in the kitchen when the fire had started. Where could she be?
His mind raced with fear
. The only other time he’d known such an emotion was when he’d gotten word that his parents had died.
o one could live through the fire that was now covering more than half the building.
of flame inched over the walls, melting everything in its way with an intensity that trumped anything one could imagine.
Framed pictures on the wall sizzled,
split then fell to the floor in a clatter. Electrical outlets popped and sparked. A strong smell of boiling material scorched his nose.
overhead lights flickered twice then everything went dark.
The fire lit the space with a
n eerie golden glow. The ceiling creaked and wood cracked in warning. His lungs ached and his chest became heavy. He realized he didn’t have much time.
He ignored an inner voice telling him to rush back where he came and
instead slowly made his way toward the fire when he heard a stifled voice
Was this his imagination
“Help! Back here!”
He heard it again, low but clear.
the counter, he skipped his gaze through the shadows until he saw movement. Elsa was sprawled out, one hand covering her head. Deckland dropped to his knees beside her. “It’ll be okay. I’ll get you out of here.” Scooping her up in his arms, he held her tight against his chest. “Take my shirt and cover your face.”
did as he requested, looking at him over the material, eyes wide with terror. “My—my place. It’s on fire. We have to put out the fire,” she said in a muffled voice.
pulled her closer, protecting her the best he could from the accosting smoke. He didn’t have the heart to tell her the fire was already out of control and if they didn’t hurry, the shop wouldn’t be the only thing it claimed.
rushed toward the entrance as pieces of the ceiling crumbled around them. A large, burning clump fell in his path and he kicked it out of his way. The smoke thickened and he couldn’t see, but he continued through the cloud until he saw the beam of the outside security light. He carefully stepped through the broken glass.
Stepping into fresh air, they
both sputtered and coughed. He sucked oxygen into his parched lungs.
ystanders were now standing in the street and on the sidewalk. Sirens loomed in the distance.
Two men dashed forward. “Is there anyone else inside?”
one of them asked.
“No,” Elsa said in a husky voice
man reached out. “Here, let me help with her.”
Deckland shook his head
and stepped past. He couldn’t just hand her off to a stranger.
Not wanting to lay her in the rain,
Deckland carried her to his truck, opened the passenger door and carefully placed her on the seat. Her head rolled back, and he gazed into blue eyes filled with moisture. Streaks of smoke and dirt marred her long blonde hair and pale cheeks.
“The fire truck is on its way.” He stood next to her
, not willing to leave her side until help had arrived.
“It’s too late to save anything. It’s all gone.”
A tear slid from one eye and down her temple, disappearing into her hairline. His heart skipped a beat. Taking her slender hand into his, he offered her comfort but knew it helped very little as she watched her business become engulfed in flames.
He ticked his gaze over her, looking for any signs that she was hurt.
“I don’t see any cuts. No broken bones.”
She lifted herself straighter in the leather seat. “I’m okay, I think. I must have
fallen while I was trying to put out the fire.” She brought her hand to her head. “I woke up to the sound of crashing glass and lots of smoke. I can’t believe you came when you did.”