Authors: Gina Watson
Tags: #Fiction, #Romance, #General, #Collections & Anthologies, #Family & Relationships, #Love & Romance, #Contemporary, #Erotica, #Sagas
St. Martin Family Saga
Emergency Responders Series
Copyright © 2014* by Gina Watson
All Rights Reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system without the written permission of the author, except where permitted by law.
s he looked
at the fresh young faces of the probies eager to prove themselves, Clay thought of the others who had come before them and not made it through the city’s probationary program. They had three candidates this time. The rest of the crew was there to demonstrate the Nineteenth’s unity. Even the paramedics had turned out for the welcome, including Clay’s good buddy, Jackson Olivier. As acting fire chief, Clay was instrumental in the orientation of new candidates. It was imperative they understood how working as a team could save all their asses.
He pointed to the one who appeared least intimidated. “You there, what are you most afraid of?”
“You mean like in life or love?”
Some of the unit laughed, until Clay pierced them with a squinting glare.
“Imagine your worst enemy. Has everybody got that person pictured? Now imagine that asshole is holding a weapon.” Clay made deliberate eye contact with the joker. With a raised brow he asked, “What’s yours holding?”
“Okay, a Tommy gun. Now imagine your enemy has duplicated himself a hundred times and each of him is aiming a loaded Tommy gun at your face.” More laughter filled the room, this time from the candidates.
“Enough. Fuck, the analogy usually works. Most of the time it’s not a Tommy gun. So… imagine one hundred evil dictators with a fully loaded hose of Agent Orange aimed at your face.”
One of the probies raised his hand. Clay nodded.
“What’s Agent Orange, sir?”
Shit. He was only thirty-five, but these young guys made him feel like those two-hundred-year-old turtles he’d seen at the zoo as a kid.
Clay stood, spread his feet, and squared his shoulders in an effort to project his most dominant stance, which, at six five, hadn’t failed him yet.
“Forget the analogy. Forget trying to make jokes.” He stared down at the joker who still sported acne across the bridge of his oily nose. “Fighting fire is no joke. She doesn’t have a sense of humor. The moment you take her for granted is the moment you lose the battle and possibly your life.”
As he spoke, he started to pace in the small classroom.
“The infrastructure in this town is quite old and it can cause fire to act differently than you’ve experienced in any drill.” He cleared his throat. “Speaking of drills, we’ll start those today. You’ll be paired off with a senior firefighter and your performances recorded. As you meet the criteria, you may pair with your senior fireman on a call. If you don’t meet the criteria, you can tag along, but under no circumstances will you leave the truck. If you
go in, note that all probies will wear SCBA gear even if your partner does not, even if you think you don’t need it. No exceptions.
“First drill will be hose hauling and then binding hose packs.”
He saw the Joker’s hand go up, but he wasn’t about to acknowledge it until he was finished making assignments.
“Colin, your partner is Ace, Blake you’re with Hollywood, and Joker, you’re with me.”
The kid lowered his hand.
“Did you have a question?”
“We’ve just come from the academy, sir. Upwards of six hundred hours. At least half of those were hose binding.” He tapped his fist to his chest in a proud gesture. “Fastest in my class; no one can beat me. I’m good with binding and hauling.”
Keith Hamilton Billingsley III. Clay knew the kid was the city manager’s son, but he’d be damned if that garnered him special privileges. He thought back to his days as a probie. Fifteen years ago he would have never talked back to his chief. Clay pressed his lips together. If the kid didn’t respect him here, he wouldn’t do so during a fire, and that could mean his life. He snapped his fingers and pointed at the braggart. “Tell you what, kid. You beat me, no more drills. I’ll give you free rein. You can jump in, call your own shots, and you’ll get no guff from me.”
Mr. Billingsley’s face transformed as he figured he’d just won the pissing contest. He high-fived the other rookies and cocked his head at Clay. “You’re going down, old-timer.”
The fighters from Clay’s unit weren’t laughing; they knew the kid didn’t stand a chance of beating Clay in any drill. He walked up to Keith and dropped his hand on the kid’s shoulder, pressing harder every second.
“We haven’t talked about what happens when you lose.”
His laughter immediately abated at Clay’s deep baritone. Clay towered an entire head over the kid, and he wasn’t timid about pushing his advantage. He pushed into the kid’s space, nodding slowly as he looked around.
“Hmm… The stakes should be stated for the entire crew to hear.” He steepled his fingers as he pondered, eyes closed. “Should you lose, you will serve
station meals for one month in the dining room. And you will do so wearing a French maid’s costume, which you will also don when you daily dust the station. And finally, when we shoot the holiday calendar, you will wear the French maid costume, but in red.” Clay opened his eyes and spread his arms wide. “So there you have it.”
The room erupted in laughter as Clay and Keith stood toe to toe, engaged in their showdown. If Keith’s teeth locked any tighter, his jaw would crack. The kid smiled a thin line.
“Well, I certainly won’t be losing, so I guess the joke’s on you, old man.”
Clay folded his arms across his chest. “We’ll see.”
Ace, so named because he’d win every hand in any card game, clapped a hand over Clay’s shoulder and pulled him aside. “Hey, Stephanie’s outside asking for you.”
Clay looked toward the door. “Shit, do you think you can shake her?”
“Naw, man. Already tried. She said she’d wait.”
Clay set his exasperated gaze on his colleague. “Wait? For how long?”
He shrugged. “I don’t know.” He tossed his chin at Clay and said, “Thought you broke up with her.”
It always annoyed him that people thought he and Stephanie had ever been together.
“We weren’t even dating, so how could I break up with her?” His voice was louder than he’d intended, and the other guys turned in their direction.
Ace shrugged again as he walked away, shaking his hand in the air. “I’m just relaying the message.”
Clay grumbled as he slowly strode toward the bay-door exit.
Stephanie used to work at the Nineteenth, but then she transferred and now worked for the fire inspector. They’d been good friends when she’d worked at the station. One night they’d gone out dancing and things went a little too far. They had sex and after that he’d tried to distance himself from her, but she was hard to shake. She wanted explanations, and he could understand that. But when he’d tried to tell her why he couldn’t be with her, his real reason would have been too revealing and so he’d been vague. It was an asshole move, but he would have done anything to get out of telling her the truth. He didn’t want to explain himself to any woman; the last thing he needed was her thinking she was going to
He looked through the blinds and saw her standing with her back to him, facing the street. She was dressed in black slim-fit slacks and a white T-shirt. She looked feminine in her petite black heels. With her hands in the pockets of her pants, she appeared casual. He couldn’t imagine what she wanted.
It wasn’t that she was undesirable. With her shiny brown hair, smooth bronze skin, and tight body, she was damn near perfection. To top it off, she was a nice, normal, easy-going woman. He’d just grown tired of holding himself back. He didn’t know where the need came, from, but he needed to dominate and control during sex. And to him control meant bondage. He’d tried to deny the need, he’d tried a shrink, tried lifting weights, and he’d even tried martial arts. Nothing gave him release like aggressively emptying himself into a bound woman. Only thing was, he couldn’t go around town tying up women for sex. Not typical women. Not women who might know his family or people he did business with.
For years he’d thought there was something seriously wrong with him, but then he’d found others like himself. And
he discovered the club.
The club, where those who liked binding and those who liked to be bound could come together and satisfy themselves without having to expose their desires to an uncomprehending world.
He scrubbed his face with his hand and opened the door. As his shoes thudded on the pavement, Stephanie turned her head. When her eyes connected with his, she smiled.
He smiled tightly back. “Stephanie.”
Awkward silence had him casting his gaze to the ground. Shit, it had been years since he’d been with a woman outside of the club. The only reason the two of them had hooked up was because they’d been drinking. That week one of the firefighters had died in the line of duty. It had been a hard period for them all, and he hadn’t wanted to go home alone and sensed Stephanie hadn’t either.
“It’s good to see you.”
He grumbled an incoherent response.
She cleared her throat. “Well, anyway, the reason I’m here is because you won’t return my other attempts at communication and, well, I like to have the last damn word.”
He watched as she gathered her resolve and enlarged her petite five-foot-two frame. She was lucky he hadn’t broken her. Her head lifted, and she met his gaze with a hard one of her own.
“Look, I’m not going to force you into a relationship because we had one night; I just don’t want to lose you as a friend. We weren’t super close before, but now you won’t even speak to me. I thought we’d at least hook up for the ball like we always do.”
Damn. What, exactly, was he supposed to say? The ball was several weeks away. Crazy woman. His jaw tightened as he thought through his feelings. “I’m sorry, Stephanie. I didn’t intend to hurt you, but I don’t want to lead you on either. The truth is, after we had sex, I got a little nervous. It’s been years since I’d done anything like that.”
Her forehead hitched. “What?”
Clay scratched his head. “I don’t really, uh, have sex with normal women.”
“Normal women.” She took a deliberate step and pushed her index finger into his chest while her free hand rested at her hip. “
women? I know you go to that sex club, but what I didn’t know is that you’re a coward. You’re so jaded now that you don’t know when something is real. It’s got to be smoke and mirrors for you. Don’t you want something true and honest?”
“I don’t expect you to understand, but what I do
feel honest to me. More real than anything I’ve done.”
She shook her head vigorously. “It’s your loss then, Clay. Goodbye.” She turned and sashayed down the sidewalk, swinging her hips impressively wide given that she was so petite.
She was absolutely right—it was his loss. She’d make some guy a fine lady, but she wasn’t for him. But he could and did let her have what she desired—the last word.
He opened the door to go inside.
He turned and was delighted when his eyes landed on a beautiful blond with steel gray eyes—eyes that held depth and mystery despite her young age. He was faintly aware that he’d smiled a little too long. She was looking expectantly at him. “Hello there. Can I help you?”
“I’ve been up and down this street twice looking for the post office but I think my address must be wrong.”
Her voice was sultry and clear. The kind of voice he could listen to for hours. “You probably have the old address. There’s a new building, two blocks over on Franklin.” He pointed in the general direction.
“So two blocks west?”
Smart too. He couldn’t recall meeting a woman who knew cardinal directions. “Yes that’s it exactly, due west.”
“Thank you very much. Have a great day.”
She started to walk away in her little shorts and sandals and he was hypnotized. He didn’t want her to get away. “I’ll walk with you. Gotta get something at the deli next door.”
“Oh, okay.” She shrugged and kept walking.
She was certainty interesting but she also entertained. He found himself chuckling under his breath. He took two large steps and caught up. “I didn’t see a car, do you live nearby?”
“Yeah um, I’m close.”
She was young and definitely not interested in him. He frowned and didn’t like that his ego felt the sting of her denial. Usually he didn’t have to work at all to get a woman’s attention. “You’re not from around here.”
She turned so he could see her face. She seemed to be contemplating something. “I said I live close by.”
“I mean you don’t speak like you grew up in the south.”
“Gotcha.” Denied. He didn’t know what to do so he filled the awkward silence. “If you like Italian food there’s a great deli near the post office. You can dine in or get it to go. Everyday they make bread and fresh pasta that you can buy too. And tiramisu, cannolis, neapolitans. I love to get their pizza dough and bring it home.” She slowed her pace but kept her head forward, intent on her walk. He was officially an idiot. They turned onto Franklin and he pointed. “There’s your post office. Thanks for accompanying an old timer.” He opened the door to the deli and she dashed in under his arm.
“On second thought, I think I’ll check out this deli, I love cannolis. You should do their advertising.” Her large bright smile was infectious. She drew him to her like a magnet draws metal.