Authors: Susan Stoker
with a job she hates and a detestable boss she likes even less, Adeline Reynolds could use a break. It doesn’t look like she’ll get one today. Her service dog, Coco, is alerting her she’s about to have an epileptic seizure—and her frustrated blind date has left her to deal on her own. Enter firefighter Dean Christopherson, who escorts her to the nearby fire station, where she can suffer through her ordeal safe from injury and prying eyes.
—known as “Crash” to his friends—didn’t expect to find The One in a diner during his lunch break, but he’s blindsided by the beautiful, brave Adeline. She brings out his every protective instinct—along with the carnal ones. As they get to know each other, Dean’s feelings for Adeline grow fast, as does his irritation with her boss, whose behavior is suspicious at best.
s much as
he wants to protect Adeline from the world, Crash has to tread carefully. His overprotectiveness could push her away…and leave her vulnerable to a man whose obsession has reached the boiling point.
helter for Adeline
is the 7th book in the Badge of Honor: Texas Heroes Series. Each book is a stand-alone, with no cliffhanger endings.
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This book is a word of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are products of the author’s imagination or used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons living or dead is entirely coincidental.
Copyright © 2017 by Susan Stoker
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Cover Design by Chris Mackey, AURA Design Group
Edited by Kelli Collins & Missy Borucki
Manufactured in the United States
deline Reynolds took
a deep breath and crossed her fingers before walking through the door of the small diner. She didn’t mind online dating, but the last few men she’d met had been so far from what she was looking for it wasn’t funny. Dirk was twenty-two, way too young; John was forty-eight, too old; Roman was about a hundred and fifty pounds heavier than depicted in the picture he’d posted in his profile; and Mark was just plain weird.
She had high hopes for Bud, despite his name.
Her younger sister, Alicia, thought she was insane for looking online for someone to spend the rest of her life with, but then again, Alicia had met the love of her life in high school and hadn’t had to worry about finding good men to date as an adult.
Adeline was careful. She never gave out her address or phone number to any of the men she met online. She chatted with them on the Internet for at least three weeks before agreeing to meet them in person. When she did meet with someone, she made sure it was for a quick lunch date in a public place first. And she stalked the man online, trying to find out everything she could about him before deciding to take the next step and meet in person.
Bud was around her age, thirty-four, had a full-time job, he’d never been married and had no children, and looked normal. Looking normal was important, because she herself was nothing special. She had about twenty…or thirty…extra pounds on her shorter frame, her black hair was medium length, and she had a perfectly boring job, which she hated.
She also had a dog. And that’s where being normal ended for her.
Adeline had epilepsy and would most likely always have it. And really, epilepsy wasn’t actually that rare, three million people, or one out of every twenty-six, had some form of the disorder. As best the doctors could tell, it was caused by her very long delivery at birth. Her mom had a hard time and Adeline’s brain was starved of oxygen. Other than the seizures, Adeline was as healthy as a horse.
“Seriously? You want to leave now? We just ordered,” her date exclaimed in disbelief.
to, but Coco is alerting. I’m going to have a seizure, and I don’t know if it’s going to be a big one or not. I need to get somewhere safe before it happens.”
Bud looked at her in horror. “You’re gonna start spazzing now? Here? In front of everyone?”
“Not if you help me find somewhere private I can go to,” Adeline said dryly, ignoring the offensive “spaz” remark.
“I can take you home.”
Adeline shook her head. “I won’t make it. I only have about ten minutes. It would take me around twenty-five to get home.” Not to mention she didn’t want him knowing where she lived. It was a rule she had with the men she met online. No allowing them to know where she lived until after at least the third date.
She preferred not to beg, but didn’t have a choice at the moment. She gave him one more chance to be a good guy. “Please, Bud. I know you weren’t expecting this, and honestly, neither was I, but I can’t control when they happen. Will you please help me?”
Bud shook his head and threw his napkin on the table and stood up. “This is way over my head. I can’t handle this. I only wanted to have lunch and see if we had any chemistry. You’re nice and all that, and having a dog around all the time is one thing, but this is something else altogether. I wish I could help you, but I can’t. Sorry.”
Adeline didn’t bother watching as Bud stalked away. It was disappointing, but not the end of the world. It had happened before, a guy walking away from her after finding out the realities of being with someone suffering from a disease like hers. If she could turn her seizures off, she would. But since it wasn’t possible, she’d come to terms with them.
She tried to reassure Coco that she understood his alert, and get her purse and jacket together at the same time. It wasn’t the first time she’d had to deal with an imminent seizure in a public place, and it most certainly wouldn’t be the last.
“Are you all right?”
Adeline whipped her head up in surprise and stared at the man standing next to the booth. She hadn’t noticed him walking up to her, more concerned about getting her stuff together and trying to reassure Coco.
He was tall; she had to crane her head up pretty far to look into his eyes. He was looking down at her in concern, his brows drawn together. Even though she was nervous about her pending seizure, she couldn’t help but notice how good looking the man was. He was tan and had a five o’clock shadow, as if it’d been more than a day since he’d last shaved.
But the thing that really struck her was what he was wearing. The navy-blue cargo pants, along with the T-shirt that had “Station 7” emblazoned on the front with a large Maltese cross under it, made her entire body sag in relief.
“You’re a firefighter?”
“An EMT or paramedic?” she clarified, knowing that just because someone was a firefighter didn’t necessarily mean they’d gone through medical training.
“Yes…?” The word was stretched out into a question.
“I’m Adeline. I have about ten minutes or so before I’m going to have an epileptic seizure, as Coco,”—she gestured toward the dog currently panting in her face and pawing at her leg—“has warned me. I need to get to a safe place, I can’t drive, and the person who could’ve taken me somewhere,”—she paused for a precious moment to glare at the door Bud had disappeared through—“seems to have ditched me. I’m incredibly embarrassed, but I’d appreciate the help.”
The firefighter held out his hand and said in a calm and controlled tone, which went a long way toward making her feel better about the entire situation she’d found herself in, “My name is Dean. It’s good to meet you. Trust me; I’ll take care of you.”
Crash closed his hand around Adeline’s, threw a twenty-dollar bill on the table, then helped her to her feet. He had no idea if the money would cover whatever she and her date had ordered, but he had other things to worry about at the moment. He kept hold of her hand and led her to the front of the restaurant and out the door. Luckily they were across the street from Station 7.
He’d gone to the diner to eat lunch with Hayden, a sheriff’s deputy, who was one of his good friends. They’d been talking about everything that had happened to her boyfriend when he’d been abused and stalked by an ex-girlfriend. Crash would never understand how people could be so crazy when they were in a relationship—or when that relationship ended.
“Where are we going?”
Crash glanced over at the woman walking next to him and was impressed at her composure. “Sorry, I should’ve reassured you already. The station I work out of is right across the street. We have a room where you can relax and be safe.”
“Thank you,” she breathed, obviously pleased with his answer. “I was going to ask the manager if there was an office or someplace I could lay down in, but I wasn’t sure about how clean it might be.”
Crash chuckled. “I can’t guarantee how clean the fire station is, but I can guess that it’ll be better than lying on the floor over there.” He gestured back to the diner. They served amazing food, but he knew the owner was a pack-rat, and any office in the place was probably stuffed to the gills with paper, boxes, and who knew what else.
He held open the door to the station then followed Adeline and Coco inside.
“Yo! Crash, that you? That was a fast lunch,” a deep voice called out from down the hall.
“Crash? I thought you said your name was Dean?” Adeline asked.
“It is. But I don’t usually go by it. Crash is my nickname. Come on, let me introduce you real quick to the guys before we get you settled.”
She glanced at her watch, then nodded reluctantly.
“It’ll be fast, promise,” he reassured her, putting his hand on the small of her back and encouraging her to walk ahead of him down the hall.
They walked into a large open room, which had a couple of couches and a huge television. A professional-looking kitchen was to the right of the room, complete with stainless steel appliances.
“Hey. Guys, this is Adeline and her dog Coco—”
Driftwood interrupted him before he could explain what they were doing there. “Wow, you work even quicker than me, Crash. Maybe you should be the official playboy of the station instead of me.”
“Fuck off,” Crash told him. “Adeline, this is Driftwood, Chief, Taco, and Sledge. Tiger, Squirrel, and Moose are around here somewhere I’m sure.” He looked her in the eyes as he said, “They’re jerks most of the time, but I trust them with my life, and they’re the kind of men I’d want around me in a medical emergency. Okay?”
Crash turned back to the room. His friends might be jokesters, but they obviously understood that something more was up than one of their buddies bringing a chick to the station. “We’ll be in the back office.”
“What’s up?” Chief asked, standing.
Adeline answered before Crash could open his mouth. “I’m epileptic and my dog alerted that I’m going to have a seizure.”
“Go,” the tall Native American demanded, waving Crash toward another hallway in the back of the room. “Let us know if you need anything.”
Crash nodded in thanks and moved his hand so it rested between Adeline’s shoulder blades. “Come on, let’s get you settled.”
They headed across the room and into the hallway Chief had indicated. Crash opened the first door to the right and ushered Adeline and her four-legged friend inside. He kept his hand on her until she was sitting on the leather couch.
“Is this okay? Do I need to clear a spot on the floor?” Crash knew if Adeline had a grand mal seizure, it would be better for her to be on the floor, so she couldn’t fall off the couch and possibly get hurt, but he wasn’t sure what to expect just yet. There were so many different kinds of seizures someone with epilepsy could have, he didn’t want to assume. “Do you need to go to the hospital afterwards? Should I get an ambulance en route?”
Adeline didn’t answer him. She was staring off into space and didn’t seem to be aware of where she was. Coco whined at her feet and nudged her with his nose.
“Easy, boy. I’ve got her,” Crash soothed, putting one arm around Adeline’s waist and shifting her body until she was lying supine on the leather cushions. He sat at her hip so he could keep her from tumbling off the edge if it came to that, and to keep a close eye on her. Her dog jumped up onto the couch at her feet and laid his head on her shins.
Her hands began to jerk at her sides as the seizure progressed.
Crash had seen people in the midst of seizures before, so he wasn’t surprised or bothered by what was happening. From his observation, she was having a complex partial seizure. He’d seen them plenty of times over his career. Patients seemed to be out of it or staring into space as their brain sent electric impulses through their body, and many times it was paired with the jerky motions of their hands, as was Adeline’s.
He kept his eyes on her the entire time, monitoring her breathing and watching the pulse beat in her neck. Eventually her jerky arm and hand movements slowed, but she continued to stare off into space.
Crash ran his eyes over her flushed cheeks, using his medical training to continue monitoring her condition. After several minutes, a small sigh slipped from between her lips. Crash moved the hand he’d been using to take her pulse and brushed it against her cheek. She quieted immediately, and he would’ve sworn she’d turned into his touch.
He’d seen Adeline enter the restaurant the moment she stepped through the door. The smile on her face as she’d walked toward the table was beautiful. When he’d realized she was meeting a man, he’d felt a pang of remorse so strong it had almost taken his breath away. He’d only partly been listening to Hayden while covertly watching Adeline interact with the man sitting across from her.
It was obvious after only a few short minutes that the two didn’t really know each other. Crash figured it was probably a first date, or second at most. But it wasn’t until the man threw down his napkin and got up, leaving the woman looking nervous and unsure, that he’d moved.
Crash couldn’t remember if he’d even said goodbye to Hayden or not; he’d seen the woman in distress and wanted to do something about it. Immediately. Thank God he had. The thought of her lying on the dirty floor of the diner, with people staring at her as she seized, was repugnant to him. No one should ever have that indignity foisted upon them.
Crash continued to monitor Adeline’s breathing long after she’d stopped twitching. The skin of her cheek felt warm, but not overly so. After a while, her dog whined at the same time she gave a slow blink, licked her lips and took a deep breath. She turned her head slightly and looked up at him with a dazed expression, as if she wasn’t quite sure where she was or what was going on.
“Hey, you with me?” Crash asked in a low, steady voice.
She looked confused, as if she’d just woken up after a twelve-hour nap. She swallowed and one of her hands moved down toward her dog. Coco whined and shifted at her feet enough so he could reach her fingers and lick them enthusiastically. Adeline smiled and took another long, slow breath.
Crash was impressed by how quickly she came back to herself, and realized where she was and what had happened. “Yeah, Dean, I’m good. How long was I out of it?”
“Only ten minutes or so. Want a glass of water?”
Crash put his hand on her forearm, which was now lying across her stomach, and gave it a little squeeze before standing up and striding out of the room. He’d offered to get her something to drink because he was worried about her and also to give her a little time to get her equilibrium back.
If he was being honest, he needed a moment to get himself under control as well.
He was a professional. Had assisted many people with the aftereffects of a seizure, but none of them had ever affected
as Adeline did. He felt protective of her, as any good medic would, but it was more than that.
It was also ridiculous. She could be a raving bitch or in a relationship. He had no idea what she was really doing in the restaurant, only his suspicions. Feeling protective was a normal reaction for him; it was nothing more than that. At least that was what he told himself.