EDIT: WINNER–Linda May!
I’m so excited to share my brand new, sexy firefighter contemporary romance! It’s part of a series but also a complete standalone. But after reading about Reggie, you’ll want to go back and read about his firefighter crew.
Reggie gave up on love, but love has yet to give up on him…
Firefighter Reggie Morgan is done with love, done with relationships, and done with complications. Unfortunately, Cupid isn’t done with him. Problems arise when he’s called to a hit and run and finds a scared little girl, a butt-ugly stray puppy, and an unconscious woman who lingers in his mind long after she’s gone. The girl is six years old going on forty. The puppy is a handful. And the girl’s mother, Maggie… She might just be the woman to melt Reggie’s icy heart. But Reggie’s loved and lost a ready-made family before. The pain of losing nearly broke him. Maggie is a teacher by trade, and she has no intention of letting Reggie go. Instead she’ll teach Reggie all about falling—and staying—in love.
The third in the hot contemporary series Turn Up the Heat.
July in Seattle
“I hate these things,” Reggie Morgan muttered to his partner as they readied to give a presentation to a full crowd of eager firefighting enthusiasts.
“Relax. You’ll do fine.” Mack ran a hand through his always perfect hair, the guy vain enough to always wear it styled. Then again, the new fire station had used Mack’s chiseled chin, golden tan, and laughing, bright-blue eyes on a lot of the promotional material for Station 44.
“Why aren’t you giving this stupid speech? You’re on all the posters.”
“You could have been.” Mack grinned. “Your sister said you’re no Idris Elba, but I disagree.”
“Well, maybe Morris Chestnut, but with hair.”
“Mack, come on. You’re good at talking.” He added under his breath, “You never shut up.” When Mack frowned, he hurriedly tacked on, “You really represent Station 44.”
“So do you and the rest of C shift. What’s your point?”
Reggie had been stress-sweating for the past half hour, thankful his dark blue service uniform hid any unfortunate pit stains. Hell, put him in the middle of a roaring fire, in a submarine having technical difficulties 800 feet below the surface, or at a family dinner with his father and sisters giving him dating advice. All traumatic experiences.
But none of them could beat a Monday afternoon lecture at the local library in front of a ton of people, the majority under the age of ten.
Reggie tried again. “You’re the station’s wonder-boy.”
Mack smirked. “That’s true. I am the most talented, best looking, and—”
Mack shrugged. “And yet, the lieutenant wanted you to give the class. Go figure.”
Reggie wished he’d never confessed to the LT how much he hated public speaking. Now the guy made it his mission in life to get Reggie over that nagging fear. “Yes, but he never said you couldn’t help.”
“And take any attention away from the great Reggie Morgan? No thanks. I’ll just stand by, clicking slides, and look pretty while the brains of the operation—that’s what you’re always calling yourself, isn’t it?—takes center stage.”
Reggie did like to remind the rest of his four-man crew that he was the brains of their unit. And the brawn, come to think of it. Sure, the other two on duty had some muscle, but none of them could out-bench him. Mack might be faster on a distance run, but Reggie could break him in half without much effort. Of course, since his free time anymore consisted of lifting weights when not hanging with the guys, that did explain—
“Quit stalling. You’re up.” Mack shoved him from behind the stacks he’d been hiding, exposing him to a bazillion stares.
Reggie caught his balance, glared over his shoulder at Mack, then plastered a smile on his face and walked toward the large screen, which would display the slideshow presentation the station had put together for events such as these.
He looked out over the crowd of close to fifty—hell—children and a few parents, all waiting expectantly for Reggie to regale them with stories about firefighting and life in the station.
He cleared his throat and said, “Hello there” at the same time the librarian in charge of public events introduced him. Reggie ignored Mack’s chuckle and watched his future ex-friend walk to the other side of the screen, pick up a remote for the slideshow, and wait.
The librarian was saying, “—Reggie Morgan, one of our wonderful firefighters from the new station serving the Beacon Hill, NewHolly, and South Beacon Hill neighborhoods. Reggie’s here today to tell us what it’s like to be a firefighter. He’s got pictures too.”
Mack waved at the crowd, at ease with being in front of people the way Reggie would never be.
“And I see that Firefighter Morgan’s brought along an assistant,” the librarian, old enough to be Reggie’s grandmother, said with a smile.
“A handsome, single assistant,” Mack said with a huge grin. “I’m Mack.”
“Mack,” Reggie said under his breath. “Behave.”
Several of the parents with their children gave Mack a second look.
“I’ll give you my number when we’re through,” the librarian teased and continued when the laughter had died down. “Welcome all, and let’s get this show on the road.” She turned to Reggie. “And thank you for agreeing to do this.”
The lieutenant had carved out an hour for the lecture, part of the fire department’s public relations and a way to engage the community. Reggie loved the idea of the station getting to know their neighbors, but not if he had to be the one doing the talking.
He gave Mack another look.
The bastard ignored him.
Reggie turned back to the crowd of eager faces and knew he might as well get started. “Hi, everyone. Thanks for coming out on a sunny summer day. I know you’d probably rather be swimming or playing than hearing me talk.”
“Not me,” one little girl said. “I have a lot of questions.”
“Me too,” a young boy agreed.
“Okay. Great.” Reggie cleared his throat, not comfortable with such scrutiny. The little girl had dark eyes that seemed to look through him, not at him. She couldn’t be more than five or six, dressed to look adorable in matching pink shorts and a tee-shirt showing off her tan, holding a fuzzy grizzly bear.
But that cuteness packaged a small, intense, and scary kid.
He swallowed and pointed to the screen, now showing a picture of a fire truck and the number 44 emblazoned over it. “I’m Reggie. This is Mack.” Mack nodded. “We’re with Station 44, and we work C shift. Our station has four eight-person shifts—A, B, C, and D. And we have two lieutenants, who are our bosses. We—”
The little girl cut in, “How come you only have two lieutenants, but you have four shifts? I know my math, and I think you’re missing two.”
Reggie contained a sigh. “Our lieutenants cover two shifts each.”
“Oh.” The little girl nodded.
“We have pretty much the best job in the world, because we get to help people when we can, and we get to meet new people all the time.”
“But what if they’re burned? That’s not great.” The little girl frowned.
Behind her, a well-dressed man, in slacks and a polo, rolled his eyes.
“That’s a good point,” Reggie agreed. “And maybe this job wouldn’t be good for someone who hates fire or is afraid of blood. But we—”
“Blood?” The girl’s eyes narrowed. “What blood? Do you make people bleed?”
Mack coughed but didn’t quite muffle his laughter.
A few adults grinned.
The girl’s father—uncle?—shushed her. “Emily, let him speak. Sorry.”
“No problem.” Reggie mentally thanked the guy. “Well, we as firefighters in the awesome city of Seattle have to do a lot more than put out fires. As you probably know, there are thirty-four stations in the city, including Harbor View Medical Center. All of them run twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week.”
Mack changed the slides, showing the layout.
“We have five battalions, and each battalion has a chief.”
One boy raised his hand. Not the intense Emily, thank goodness.
“Yes?” Reggie said.
“Do you mean battalions like the Army? My dad is in the Army.”
“Are you in the Army?” Emily asked. Without raising her hand.
“Actually, I was in the Navy. Mack was in the Air Force, and two of our crew who aren’t here were in the Marines.”
“Semper Fi,” a woman said from the back of the room.
Semper Fi—always faithful, the Marine Corps motto.
Reggie grinned. “I’ll tell them you said that. But you know, we live with an always-faithful mindset when we work too. Firefighting is a lot more than using a hose with water to put out a fire. Does anyone know what life saving is?”
A little boy in the back answered, “Saving a person so he doesn’t die.”
“That’s a great answer.”
The boy beamed.
“Every firefighter in Seattle must first be an EMT—an emergency medical technician. We do something called basic life support. That’s like taking your pulse or listening to your heart. We can splint your arm if it’s broken and take you to the hospital to get fixed. Has anyone ever seen an ambulance?”
Mack clicked the slide to show them an ambulance, and everyone’s hands raised.
“That’s what we drive when we’re not in the fire truck. Actually, most of what we do is help people get better. We help them in our ambulance, what we call an aid vehicle, and let them go see their own doctor when they want. But if they’re really bad off, we might take them to the hospital.”
“Do you wrap them like mummies?” a little boy wearing a superhero shirt and cape asked.
“No, not like mummies.” Reggie wanted the kids to understand. “The ones who take the really hurt people to the hospital are called paramedics. They do advanced life support. So, if you had a heart attack or got shot or had a really bad break and were bleeding all over the place, the paramedic might treat you in the back of the ambulance. And you know what?”
“What?” asked a girl wearing blue frames with thick lenses. Her eyes looked huge behind them.
“We don’t really have that many paramedics, which is kind of weird, if you think about it. We have paramedics in our fire stations, but we only have seven medic units in all of the city. The medic unit is what the paramedics drive. Remember, I said that we EMT’s use aid vehicles, like the ambulances. The medic vehicles look like ours but inside, the paramedics do the fancy stuff, like give IVs, intubate, and handle acute sickness and trauma. They go to a special school for that.”
“Did you go to school?” Emily asked, her powerful gaze burning a hole through him.
“Do you shoot people?”
“Do you stab them?” a boy sitting next to her asked. “So, you make them bleed then you patch them up?”
“No.” The boy’s identical twin shook his head. “He doesn’t make them bleed. The paramedic does.”
Reggie bit back a groan. “No, the paramedic doesn’t make anyone bleed.”
“Does he stab them with a sword?” another child asked.
“No, we don’t stab or shoot anyone.”
“Do you have a gun?” another child asked.
Mack’s face had turned red with his effort to hold back laughter.
And the class went downhill from there.
By the end of the lecture, Reggie had regained control, only barely, but enough to answer questions from the adults as well. He and Mack showed everyone slides of the inside of an engine truck, explained how the different stations had different equipment, and how their SCBA (self-contained breathing apparatus) gear worked. They’d brought a clean one for a live demonstration, and the children had a lot of fun looking through the mask and trying on a helmet.
The class turned out to be informative and entertaining.
Even though Emily continued to try to stare into Reggie’s soul.
She walked up to him at the very end despite her parent trying his best to get her to leave. The man held up his hands in defeat. “I give up.”
Reggie noticed that she carried a stuffed brown bear, a cute and furry little grizzly with an ax strapped to its back. Apt that she carried a stuffed predator considering the girl’s ferocity with questions.
She looked from her bear to him. “You use an ax like Brownie. And you’re brown like Brownie.”
Reggie nodded. “I am.”
“I think you’re pretty.”
Mack guffawed behind him.
“Ah, thank you. I think you’re pretty too.”
“P-R-E-T-T-Y. I’m a good speller.”
“I see that.”
“I wish I had teeth and claws so when Marty Binker hits me, I could carve him up.” She curled her fingers and pretended to claw his arm. “After the fight, you could heal me by doing BLS and I wouldn’t have to go to the hospital.” She leaned closer to whisper in a loud voice, “Uncle Doug had to go to the hospital because he was pooping a lot.”
The man with Emily, Doug apparently, turned bright red. “Okay, Emily, we need to get you back to your mom.” In a lower but still audible voice, Doug added, “She owes me big for this.”
Emily continued, “But then they gave him ivy and he had more fluid and got better.”
“Ivy?” Mack asked.
“I think she means an IV.” Reggie stared at the little girl who said ivy and fluid in the same sentence. “It must have been pretty serious if Uncle Doug needed an IV. I’m glad he’s better.”
She nodded, solemn, and Reggie was struck by how cute she was when not grilling him. She reminded him of Rachel, a little girl he’d been doing his level best not to think about while surrounded by so many children. The sadness that had never left him returned, though he refused to let it show.
“I’m glad he’s better too.” Emily smiled. “I’m Emily.” She held out her hand.
He shook it, conscious of how much larger than her he was. “I’m Reggie.”
“I know. I was paying attention.”
“Emily, we need to go,” Doug reminded her.
“Okay. Thank you for the stories. Maybe you can come over for dinner with me and my mom. She’s really nice and makes macaroni with hot dogs in it. And she hardly ever poops. Well, sometimes, but—”
“And we’re done.” Doug scooped Emily up in his arms and tickled her. As she laughed, he said to Reggie, “Thanks for the class. And really, you did great. Especially in front of the terror of John Muir Elementary.” He nodded to Emily.
Reggie grinned. “Thanks. Today was harder than running the gauntlet when I was in the Navy.”
Doug laughed. “I’ll bet. Thanks for all you do. You too, Mack.”
Mack nodded. “Any time.”
They left, and Reggie was sorry to see them go. Though the little girl had been a tough sell, he felt as if he’d won her over by the end.
“You know, you should have gotten Emily’s mom’s number.” Mack rubbed his chin. “She doesn’t poop a lot, apparently. That’s pretty much your speed, right?”
They drove back to work just as a call came in.
“Thank God .” With any luck, they’d get someone they could help to take Reggie’s mind from cute little girls he’d never see again. Adorable Emily and her brown bear, and Rachel, the daughter who might have been.
When Doug handed Emily off to Maggie after her return from an excruciating visit to the dentist, Maggie thanked him, her lower lip still numb. “You’re the best. Thanks for taking my tiny terror.” She sank back on her couch in her semi-clean apartment while Emily raced to her room.
“Don’t mention it.” Doug, her neighbor, fellow teacher, and best friend, shook his head. “I mean it. I want to forget today as soon as possible.”
He sighed, looking downtrodden. For a man of thirty-nine years, Doug looked much younger. He smiled and laughed a lot, living in the moment, something she’d been doing her best to emulate. So, for Doug to sigh like that…
Doug looked her right in the eye. “Just another day in the life of Emily Swanson. We went to the library. And Emily asked…questions.”
Maggie cringed. “How bad was it?”
Doug started laughing.
Maggie’s daughter was six going on thirty. A precocious little genius with lofty dreams of becoming the first ever bear-princess-assassin. The idea being to gouge out the patient’s heart with her bear claws, eat only a tiny bit of it as bear-payment, then kill her victims to save the bear kingdom from evil poachers.
And no, Maggie would never again allow her ex to read her daughter Grimm’s Fairy tales while binging on Animal Planet. Stephen knew better.
Doug caught his breath, finally. “I think she scared the firefighter giving the lecture. The guy was built like a tank and had to be over six feet tall. But he had the look of fear when your daughter asked him question after question. He did pretty well, overall. Then of course, at the end, Emily told him he was pretty and mentioned I was once hospitalized because I pooped too much.” Doug dragged a hand over his face. “It was really embarrassing. Not just because of the poop mention, but because both firemen there for the talk were drool-worthy.”
“I’m not kidding. We should take Emily on a tour of Station 44 when C shift is on duty.”
Maggie laughed. “I’m telling Benny you said that.”
“Please. Who do you think will be driving us to the station?”
“Good point.” Maggie loved Doug and Benny. Her family, if not by blood, the married couple had been supportive and loving from the very first day Maggie had met Doug at school. A fellow teacher, Doug had been more than welcoming. Thanks to him, she’d found the apartment next door when she and Stephen had divorced.
“Have I ever told you how much I love you and Benny?”
“Not since yesterday. But go ahead and tell me again. I earned it.”
Maggie reached up for a hug, and he leaned down to give her one. “Wow,” she exclaimed. “My hands are almost overlapping behind you! You’ve been losing weight!”
He pulled back with a huge smile. “I love you even more now. Make sure to say that again in front of Benny. We’re having a competition. Winner gets an all-expense-paid dinner at Canliss.”
“Isn’t that contrary to losing all that weight? Rewarding yourself with food sends the wrong message, doesn’t it?”
Doug glared. “Until you’ve had their caramelized mussels and dry aged rib-eye, don’t judge.”
“And don’t you guys have a joint bank account? What’s the point of who pays?”
“Your daughter told centerfold hunks I pooped so much I had to be hospitalized. Let me have this contest.”
She bit back laughter. “Oh, er, right. I hope you win.” She looked him over. “But you’re one to talk, calling someone else a ‘centerfold hunk.’” Doug had dark hair he kept constantly black thanks to a salon, a trim figure even when not dieting, and features she would have called pretty on a woman and oddly stunning on a man.
In contrast, Benny had height and mass, most of it muscle though the slow-building tire around his middle attested to his love of good food. He had brutish features, full sleeves of tattoos over bronze skin, and wore his shaggy hair back in a ponytail. A retired semi-professional wrestler who now taught piano and dabbled in painting, Benny loved nothing more than to gossip about the apartment complex and lament Maggie’s lack of a love life.
The pair complemented each other, and Maggie had found in them real family.
“So how did you end up taking Emily to the library? I thought Benny volunteered.”
Maggie had a summer job to make ends meet and often relied upon Emily’s “uncles” to help with childcare.
“He was supposed to, but they needed his help at the community center since their piano player called in sick. And honestly, he’s been dying to play something that doesn’t involve scales.”
“Oh. I’m happy he got to play today. And I’m sorry about your, ah, pooping problem.”
Doug grimaced. “Oh stop. It was one time when I had the flu, two years ago. I was dehydrated, is all. How the hell does she remember something from that long ago?”
Maggie had long ago stopped wondering how her daughter did half the things she did. “It’s Emily.”
“True.” He shrugged.
“Was the library fun, at least?”
“The lecture was surprisingly good, considering the fireman looked like he was about to pass out when he started.”
“I used to be that way. But after being traumatized by dealing with a classroom full of seven-year-olds, I got over public speaking fast.”
“And then you had Emily.”
“Yep. The cure for all that ails you.”
The cure returned to the living room in last year’s Halloween ninja costume, carrying her bear and throwing stars made out of tin foil.
“I need nunchucks, Mag-Mom.”
Maggie refrained from rolling her eyes. At least Mag-Mom was better than Margaret-Mother—what Emily had taken to calling her last month. With any luck, Maggie would become Mommy once more. “Nunchucks? What for?”
“To hunt down the assassins after me and my new friend, Reggie.”
“The scared, hunky fireman,” Doug murmured.
“So, Reggie was nice?”
Emily nodded. “And pretty. He thinks I’m pretty too. I bet if I asked nicely, he’d give me a baby brother.”
Maggie just stared at her daughter with wide eyes. “A baby brother? I thought you wanted a turtle.”
“I did, but Sherry has a baby brother, and she said he smiles at her all the time.”
“Probably just gas,” Doug said.
“Maybe.” Emily narrowed her eyes on her mother. “But Sherry said he looks like her mom and dad and kinda like her. My brother would be an EMT ninja who has fire dog stickers.” That said, Emily did somersaults down the hallway with Brownie the bear, making explosion noises.
“EMT ninja? Stickers?”
Doug grinned. “Reggie, the hunky fireman, is an EMT, and he gave out stickers at the end of his speech. She’s right. Any baby you had would be a ninja and fight boo boos. A win-win. Let’s schedule that tour of Station 44.”
“Oh boy. Let’s not. The last time Emily wanted to set me up with someone, Mr. Nelson’s wife was not amused.”
Doug laughed. “No, but Benny and I were. And hey, now you get extra fries with your order at the deli when Mr. Nelson waits on you.”
They didn’t eat there when she saw Mrs. Nelson at the counter, however.
Maggie sighed. “I’d better go make Emily some paper towel nunchucks before she orders the real thing off Amazon.”
“Can I just say how happy I am to have access to that beautiful child? And that Benny and I can give her back at a moment’s notice?”
“No, you can’t say that.”
“Die, evil fire lord,” Emily screeched from her room and gave an almost maniacal laugh. “You are thwarted again. This time, my dagger will spear your heart.”
Doug looked at Maggie. “Your six-year-old knows the word ‘thwarted’ and her dagger is ‘spearing’ someone’s heart. Yep, I’m ecstatic to leave that little girl with her mommy.” He danced out the door with a wide grin.
“Thwarted by a six-year-old, her poopy uncle, and a pretty if scared fireman,” Maggie muttered and went in search of her craft bin, praying she had something to satisfy her brainy, beautiful, tiny-terror.
To enter to win a print copy* of BURNING DESIRE, simply comment below and answer this question: Who is your favorite winter hero? Santa? Jack Frost? Krampus (ha!)? Someone in your family? Good luck!
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About the Author: Caffeine addict, boy referee, and romance aficionado, New York Times and USA Today bestselling author Marie Harte has over 100 books published with more constantly on the way. She’s a confessed bibliophile and devotee of action movies. Whether hiking in Central Oregon, biking around town, or hanging at the local tea shop, she’s constantly plotting to give everyone a happily ever after. Visit https://marieharte.com and fall in love.