Authors: Susan Stoker
“I’ve had a good time. You’re good company.”
“Thanks. But the night’s not over.”
“Nope. I have one more surprise up my sleeve.”
Adeline eyed him with a smile. “I’m afraid to ask.”
Dean laughed. “Nothing bad. Promise. But we have to drive there. I’d like you to ride with me…if that’s okay. I’ll bring you back here for your car.”
Adeline bit her lip. The night had been amazing. Dean was funny, interesting, and surprisingly romantic. She hadn’t expected that. Probably stereotypical of her, and rude, but there it was. She would’ve never guessed the hot fireman would take her to a glass-blowing demonstration then dinner at the small Belgian hole-in-the-wall bistro.
“This isn’t where you’re gonna take me back to your apartment and show me the hidden closet where you keep the bones of women you’ve taken out then killed and stashed, is it?”
Dean chuckled and put his free hand on her shoulder, brushing it down her back to rest in the hollow of her spine. “No, beautiful. I told you before, you’re safe with me. I wouldn’t hurt one hair on your head.”
Adeline considered him a moment. Tipping her glass up and finishing the last of her wine, she finally nodded. “Okay. I trust you.”
Dean’s eyes closed for a moment, then opened, and Adeline almost gasped at the intense look he gave her.
“Thank you,” he said. “That means a lot to me. Ready?”
She nodded, and he stood and held the back of the chair, helping to move it out of her way as she got up. As they walked through the restaurant, his hand made its way to the small of her back, and even though she was wearing the corset, Adeline could swear she felt the heat from his fingers seep into her skin.
They leisurely walked to the parking garage where he’d left his car.
“You don’t mind a few dog hairs do you?” Adeline asked him. “I brush Coco every day, but I swear the dog grows hair overnight, just to annoy me.”
“It’s fine. There’s probably still a lot of hair in my car from my Rottie.”
Adeline didn’t ask where they were going, which was probably stupid, but she hadn’t lied. She did trust Dean. Besides, he seemed to like surprising her.
They drove for around twenty minutes on the Interstate, and she recognized the area as he turned off. “What are we—”
“Hang on, beautiful. Almost there.”
Adeline didn’t say a word as Dean pulled into the parking lot next to Station 7. The building was lit up and she saw one of the trucks parked behind it.
Dean cut off the engine and turned to her. “You trust me, right?”
“Yeaaaaaaah?” The word was drawn out in question.
“And you said you can be adventurous, yeah?”
“Again, for the most part, yes.”
“Good.” With that, Dean opened his door and got out. Adeline sat in her seat in confusion as he came around to her side and opened her door. He held out his hand. She put her hand in his and he pulled her out to stand in front of him. Looking up at him, she waited for an explanation.
“Wanna watch the sunset with me?”
“Sure. I’m not sure how that’s adventurous though.”
“How about watching it from the bucket at the top of the ladder?” He gestured to the truck sitting in the lot next to them.
Adeline’s eyes got huge as she looked from the fire truck and the ladder safely tucked in the down position, then back to Dean. “Seriously?” she asked.
“Seriously. Unless you’re scared of heights, then no, I’m just kidding.”
“I’m not afraid of heights,” Adeline enthused. “This is so awesome!”
He smiled then, and Adeline realized how nervous he’d been that she’d say no or otherwise freak out.
“Great, let’s go in and say hi to whoever’s here, then we’ll get our butts up there before the sun goes down. I’d hate to have planned for this and then freaking miss the sunset.” He turned and opened the back door of his car to let Coco jump out, then took her hand again and excitedly walked them to the side door of the station.
Adeline shook her head as Dean pulled her along. She’d thought several times that night that Dean was the most romantic man she’d ever met. But now she saw the excited little boy who lived inside the man shell. God help her, it was a combination she couldn’t resist.
“‘Bout time you got back. Cuttin’ it close!”
The four firemen sitting in the large common area watching a basketball game on the huge television all spoke at once as they entered.
“Whatever,” he told his friends. Turning to Adeline, he waved a hand at the guys. “Adeline, meet Moose, Taco, Killer, and Jones.”
“Nice to meet you,” she said, nodding at each of the men.
“Moose and Taco usually work with me, but they’re taking an extra shift for a couple of guys who needed the night off.”
The two men in question stood up and came over to where Adeline and Crash were standing.
An older man, tall, built, and good looking, stuck out his hand to Adeline. “I’m Moose. We’ve heard a lot about you from Crash. It’s good to finally meet you.”
Adeline’s eyes swung to Dean’s in surprise, but she quickly looked back at the man in front of her and shook his hand. “Do I want to know how you got your nickname?”
All three of the men laughed. “No.”
The other man reached his hand out after she dropped Moose’s. “I’m Taco. And yes, I got my name probably for the reason you’re thinking. It’s my favorite food and I’ve been known to eat a few in one sitting.”
Crash leaned forward and put his mouth next to Adeline’s ear and said in a low voice, but not low enough that the man in front of her couldn’t hear, “He’s been known to eat over ten at a time. Don’t ever challenge him to a contest.”
He saw Adeline’s shiver as his warm breath brushed over the nape of her neck when he spoke and felt his insides clench. He’d had a wonderful time getting to know Adeline tonight. She was funny and interesting, not to mention beautiful. He’d put his hands on her as much as he could get away with and not be a creeper.
Crash wasn’t an expert, but he could tell she had some sort of contraption on under her clothes. Whatever it was, it was doing amazing things to her shape. Her tits sat high and perky on her chest, her cleavage playing peek-a-boo in the scoop neck of her shirt. Her waist was hourglass-shaped, but she wasn’t skin and bones. She was all woman, and every time she moved, he got a whiff of whatever perfume she’d put on. He’d been half hard all night, and he couldn’t wait to get in the bucket and get to know her even better.
Moose and Taco had said they’d help him set it up. They’d made sure the truck was ready and safe for them to be lifted high in the air. They’d sit below in the parking lot as spotters for as long as Crash needed them to be there. While he might want to be completely alone with Adeline, for safety’s sake, that wasn’t going to happen.
Adeline looked up at him after dropping Taco’s hand and grinned. “I’ll keep that in mind.” She turned back to his friend. “Although the most I’ve ever eaten in one sitting was four, and that was because I’d just walked a five-K and was starving. I think your record is safe from me.”
Taco beamed. “You walked a five-K and were starved and only ate four? Shit, I’d’ve downed that many as an appetizer.”
“You didn’t run it?” Moose asked conversationally.
“Do I look like a runner to you?” Without giving him time to answer, Adeline continued, “No. I’m too thick to run. I don’t run. Ever. There would have to be zombies, serial killers, and maybe my asshole boss chasing me to want to break into a jog.” She shook her head and smiled. “So, no, I didn’t run. I only did it because my sister begged me. And when Alicia begs, it’s not pretty. So Coco and I walked, she ran it, and we went out to eat afterwards.”
Moose leaned forward and said in a deep voice, “Honey, you’re not too thick for anything. You don’t want to run, don’t run. You’re perfect just the way you are.”
“Okay, that’s it. We’re done,” Crash growled, not liking the way Moose was looking at Adeline. He wrapped his arm around her waist, resting his palm on her belly, and pulled her into him and away from Moose.
The other man laughed, then stepped back, giving them both some room. “It’s so much fun to fuck with you.”
Crash glared. “Not cool. How would you feel if I said that to Tig—”
“Careful,” Moose clipped.
“Not as funny when the shoe’s on the other foot, is it?” Crash ground out between clenched teeth.
“Okay, okay, enough. How ‘bout we go and get you two set up in the bucket?” Taco said, playing peacemaker.
Crash took a deep breath and tried to calm down. Feeling Adeline’s fingernails in his arm, he looked down at her. She was holding onto his forearm with one hand, the other still holding Coco, but instead of being stiff in his arms, as he’d expected, she had relaxed into him. Her back was warm against his chest and he could feel her quick breaths. She was looking at Moose, but somehow Crash knew she was wholly focused on him.
Damn. She was fucking perfect.
He shifted his hand to the left an inch, enclosing her in his embrace a bit more, and her hand pressed against his arm infinitesimally.
His name coming from Taco brought him back to his senses. He couldn’t feel up Adeline standing in the station in front of his friends…no matter how much he wanted to. Reluctantly, he backed away and let his hand fall from her body. “You ready, beautiful?”
She looked up at him and Crash wanted to say “fuck it” and take her back to his car and make out with her for the next few hours. Her eyes were slightly dilated and she licked her lips. Her chest rose and fell each time she breathed and he could see a slight sheen of perspiration on her forehead. If he wasn’t mistaken, she was as turned on as he was.
Deciding he needed a fucking gold medal for his restraint and the light tone of his voice, Crash moved his hand to hers and tugged. “Come on. Let’s go see a sunset. You ever been up a ladder like this?”
He was pretty sure she hadn’t, but asked anyway. He wasn’t surprised when she shook her head. He pulled her toward the door.
“There’s not a lot you need to know. The ladder is all hydraulic. We’ll strap the safety lines on, and Moose and Taco will do all the work. They’ll lift us up until we’re high enough. If it gets to be too much, just let me know and we’ll stop. You sure you’re not afraid of heights?”
She smiled up at him as they headed back out into the warm Texas air. “I’m sure. Now if you took me up in a plane and told me I had to jump without a parachute, I would guarantee that I’d be scared of heights.”
“But no, I’m really not. Bring it, Dean.”
“All right then. Will you be good leaving Coco down here with my friends?”
“Yeah, he’ll be fine.”
“No, gorgeous. Will
She looked down and to the right for a moment, then back up at him. “Yeah. I think I can manage thirty minutes away from my medical alert dog, Dean. If you’re afraid I’m going to have a seizure, we can just skip this and you can take me home.”
“Damn,” Taco murmured from nearby.
Crash looked at Adeline and winced. Taking her hand and taking two steps away from the truck and the two men, he turned his back and used his free hand to tip her chin up to him. “I didn’t mean it like that and I’m sorry if it sounded like I did. I can see that this is a sore subject, so instead of beating around the bush and pretending I don’t know what you mean, I’m gonna lay it out. I don’t give a fuck if you have a seizure when you’re around me. It doesn’t matter. If you do, I’ll take care of you until it passes. I only asked because I know you enough to know that you seem to be more relaxed when Coco is around. I get it; he’s allowed you to have your freedom. All I meant was whether you’d be comfortable enough, if you trusted me enough, to leave Coco behind. I wasn’t judging. If you’re not, he can certainly come up too. There’s room in the bucket. But I swear to God, beautiful, warning or not, I can take care of you if you have a seizure. A hundred feet in the air, or both feet on the ground.”
Adeline closed her eyes and took a step forward. She laid her forehead on his chest and sighed. Her hand was still in his and her other hand still held Coco’s leash. The dog didn’t make a sound, but Crash saw him lean against Adeline’s leg as if emotionally supporting her.
“I’m an idiot,” she mumbled into his shirt.
They weren’t hugging, or touching anywhere except where her head met his chest and their clasped hands, but it felt more intimate to Crash than any encounter he’d had with a woman in the past year. He could no more resist touching her than he could drive past a wreck and not stop to see if he could help.
His hand came up and rested on the back of her head. He used his thumb to lightly caress her hair. Her perfume wafted up to his nose along with whatever shampoo she’d used that morning. Inhaling deeply, Crash wanted to bottle her essence so he could bring it out whenever he needed to remember this moment.
“You’re not an idiot.”
“I’m so used to being defensive about my epilepsy, I didn’t even stop to think that you weren’t asking if I thought I could go half an hour without having a seizure but were actually just being thoughtful. I’m sorry.”
“Apology accepted,” Crash said immediately. “And I’ll try to make sure I’m more clear in the future. Yeah?”
They stood there for a moment before Crash said dryly, “If we’re gonna see any part of this sunset, we should probably get moving. But I’m good with staying right here, just like this, and saying to hell with the damn sun too.”
Adeline chuckled and straightened. Crash didn’t move his hand from the back of her head, keeping her close.
“You went to a lot of trouble. And when I tell people about the best first date I’ve ever had in my life, I’d really like it to include not only glass-blowing and Belgian food, but having the opportunity to go up in a fireman’s ladder and watching the sunset from the bucket high above his fire station.”
“Then by all means, let’s get moving so you can have that, beautiful.”
“You’re welcome. Seriously.” Crash leaned forward and kissed Adeline’s forehead, leaving his lips on her skin for a moment longer than was situationally appropriate. Then without a word, he turned and walked back to where Taco and Moose were standing next to the truck, grinning widely.
Shaking his head at his friends, but not saying a word, Crash led Adeline to the back of the truck. She held out the leash to Taco. “Will you hold him while we’re up there?”
“Of course. Don’t worry about us. We’ll just hang down here and do manly shit.”
Adeline giggled. “If I come back down and find out you’ve taught my dog to guzzle beer, smoke cigars, and whistle at the ladies, I won’t be happy.”
“Aw man,” Taco mock-whined. “Girls take all the fun out of everything.” He winked at her. “No worries, Adeline. I’ll take good care of him for you.”
“Thanks. Coco, go on.”
Again, as if her words were a magic switch, the dog’s body wiggled and twisted as he jumped up onto Taco.
Luckily, Taco wasn’t upset that he suddenly had a hyper, almost hundred-pound dog in his face.
“He’s, uh, still learning to tone down his enthusiasm when he’s not on duty,” she explained sheepishly.
“It’s fine,” Taco told her, laughing at her dog.
“Come on, beautiful,” Crash told her, putting his hand on her back. “Time to go.”
He carefully watched as Adeline stepped up into the truck and kept his hand on her back as they made their way into the bucket. He held up the chain, letting her duck under it, and he followed right behind her.
Crash vaguely heard Moose and Taco readying the truck as he turned to the beautiful woman next to him. He held up a thick rope.
“Safety line. I’m gonna put on a harness, but that’s not gonna work with your pretty outfit. This’ll go around your waist and be clipped to the side of the bucket, but also to me. I’ll be attached to the bucket as well, so no matter what happens, you’re safe. Got it?”
“Of course, Dean. I didn’t think otherwise. I know you wouldn’t take me up there if it wasn’t one hundred percent safe.”
Crash bent to step into the harness. He’d done it a thousand times and could clip himself in without thought. “I wouldn’t say it’s one hundred percent safe,” he admitted. “But it’s also not exactly dangerous either. There’s no wind tonight and the ladder just passed inspection last month. You’re safer in this thing with me than you will be driving home tonight. Simply because I know every inch of this machine. I tested it out before dinner to make sure it was operating normally, and I personally inspected the carabiners and ropes we’ll be using tonight as well. I can tell you that you’re as safe as you can be with me, but I can’t vouch for the assholes who’ll be driving around you tonight.”
Adeline reached out and touched his arm. “Thank you.”
Crash felt his dick twitch in his pants. Jesus, he had to get himself under control. If one small touch of her fingers on his arm could make him get hard, he was doomed. But it felt good. Felt good to be so attracted to a woman he knew he’d do anything to keep safe. Felt good to be completely focused on her. It felt good to simply be with a woman who seemed to want to be with him too.
He finished clipping the harness and attached the safety line on the back and both sides to the safety points on the bucket. Satisfied that he was properly clipped in, he held up the rope. “Your turn. Lift your arms.”
Adeline did as he requested and Crash put both his arms around her waist, transferring one end of the rope in his right hand to his left. He stood there a moment, loving the feel of his arms around her.
“Dean? Will it fit around me?”
“Yeah, beautiful. It fits just fine. I’m just enjoying being here with you for a moment.”
She smiled at him then. “We’re gonna miss the sunset if you don’t hurry up.”
He took a step back and brought the ends of the rope together in front of her, clipping them together with a carabiner, and taking another piece of rope and attaching it to the side of the bucket. Lastly, he attached one more line from the harness around his own body to the rope around hers.
“There. Now where you go, I go.”
If Crash could’ve stopped time, taken a photo to remember the exact look in Adeline’s eyes, he would’ve. Her eyes got soft, and the look of yearning, disbelief, and hope seemed to echo everything he was feeling inside. Instead, he merely smiled and held up his hand to signal to Moose that they were ready.