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Authors: Amy Knupp

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Burning Ambition

BOOK: Burning Ambition
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Joe sat down hard in the worn chair at his desk
He was still able to make out Faith’s feminine scent lingering in the air, and even that ticked him off.

He’d blown it. Whether you looked at it professionally or personally, he’d said all the wrong things, in the wrong way, when she’d confided that she didn’t know what to do about her dad. He hadn’t intended to come across as an unfeeling bastard. Wasn’t trying to threaten her or the chief. If she was just another firefighter, just one of the guys, he would’ve handled it—
her
—better.

She was getting to him, and that wasn’t okay. Even if he didn’t care what her dad, the chief, thought. Even if he wasn’t trying to get the assistant chief job.

It wasn’t okay.

It was unprofessional and somewhat embarrassing that the department got one woman on its staff and the damn captain couldn’t keep a rein on his thoughts.

Dear Reader,

During my research for The Texas Firefighters series, I was more than a little surprised to learn the status of women in the fire service. It’s the twenty-first century, right? Women have made big strides in attaining equality in the workplace…in most occupations. They’re still fighting for respect in fire stations, though.

When I first considered writing a female firefighter character, I knew this would likely be an integral part of who she is. Faith Peligni is the first woman in the history of the San Amaro Island Fire Department, and she’s driven to prove herself—because of that and because her dad is the fire chief. She has to fight not only the image of being a weaker female but also of being favored because of her father’s position.

The worst thing she could do is fall for someone in the department—especially an officer. Captain Joe Mendoza can’t afford to have feelings for Faith, either, as her dad is his mentor, his boss and has heavy influence on the promotion Joe hopes to attain.

But she does…and he does.

I hope you enjoy Faith and Joe’s journey from off-limits to happily-ever-after! Thank you for picking up my book. If you’d like to learn more about my other books, please visit me online at www.amyknupp.com or contact me at [email protected] I enjoy hearing from readers!

Happy reading,

Amy Knupp

Burning Ambition
Amy Knupp

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Amy Knupp lives in Wisconsin with her husband, two sons and five cats. She graduated from the University of Kansas with degrees in French and journalism, and feels lucky to use very little of either one in her writing career. She’s a member of Romance Writers of America, Mad City Romance Writers and Wisconsin Romance Writers. In her spare time she enjoys reading, college basketball, addictive computer games and watching big red fire trucks race by.
Burning Ambition
is her eighth book from Harlequin Superromance. To learn more about Amy and her stories, visit www.amyknupp.com.
Books by Amy Knupp
HARLEQUIN SUPERROMANCE
1342—UNEXPECTED COMPLICATION

1402—THE BOY NEXT DOOR

1463—DOCTOR IN HER HOUSE

1537—THE SECRET SHE KEPT

1646—PLAYING WITH FIRE
*

1652—A LITTLE CONSEQUENCE
*

1658—FULLY INVOLVED
*

Acknowledgments
Thank you, yet again, to the most patient retired firefighter ever, for talking me through countless fire scenarios and answering another thousand questions for this book.
Thank you to Denise McClain for answering my medical questions so willingly (and to your dad for giving me an enjoyable glimpse of a hard-core, old-school firefighter.)
Thank you to Doug McCune for educating me on the finer points of baseball spring training.
Thanks to Tasha Hacaga, Emily Becher and Kay Stockham for the brainstorming, the inspiration and the motivation. And for accommodating my sudden odd music “needs.”
To my parents, thanks for being the best unpaid promotional team a girl could have.
To my boys, thank you for putting up with a less-than-spectacular summer when every other phrase out of my mouth was “after my deadline”!
And as always, thanks to Justin for having an extremely high tolerance for midnight plotting sessions and an uncanny knack for knowing when to slide a margarita in front of me.
CONTENTS
CHAPTER ONE
F
AITH
P
ELIGNI FELT AS IF
she was being thrown right into the fire her first day. And that was just how she liked it.
Everyone on duty at the San Amaro Island Fire Department had gathered across the street from the station at the city-owned training facility. Captain Joe Mendoza, whom Faith had known in passing since she was three feet tall and running around in her father’s too-big standard issue helmet, was currently explaining the drill. It was a two-person relay that involved dragging a hundred-fifty-pound dummy, climbing the four-story tower while carrying a heavy coil of hose, then rappelling down the outside wall. Each pair would be timed, with the fastest team the winner.

There was enough trash-talk going on between some of the guys to fill the Houston city dump. Faith had been introduced to a few of them, and so far, everyone was leaving her alone. On the one hand, she was grateful for the peace, but on the other, it meant she didn’t fit in. She wasn’t one of the guys. Standing by herself as Cale Jackson, one of the lieutenants, demonstrated each stage of the drill, she wondered if she ever would be. Did she want to be?

Maybe. What she really wanted was their respect. To be able to walk through the department and be confident that no one still believed she wasn’t here on her own merit.

“Listen up, men. And women.” Captain Mendoza sought out Faith’s eyes with his coffee-black ones. “Sorry, Faith. Old habits. I’m going to pair everybody up and then we’ll get started. Any questions?”

No one responded, so the captain began calling off names. Instead of worrying about who she’d be partnered with, Faith walked closer to the tower to scope it out, looking for any pitfalls, since she wasn’t familiar with it.

“Peligni, you’re with me,” the captain said, finishing up his list.

Faith didn’t glance at him, afraid she’d betray her annoyance. Was he putting her with him so he could “help” her? A charity case? She bit down on any protest and turned to face him.

“I have a reputation for winning this,” Captain Mendoza said as he approached. “You think you’re up for it?”

She studied him, searching for a hint of bullshitting. He was a big man, well over six feet tall and wide in the shoulders. His eyes were gentle, kind, yet he had a look about him that said you definitely didn’t want to get on his bad side. His black hair was short, his face tanned. Strong. Handsome. The kind of face you wanted to trust. As far as she could tell, he was being sincere.

“I’ll do the best I can,” she said.

He likely thought the activities this drill involved put her at a disadvantage. The first two legs depended mostly on upper body strength, which, of course, women were lacking compared to men. However, Faith was confident that she was stronger than most people gave her credit for, thanks in large part to extra workouts every week. Even on her days off, she put in one to two hours of physical training. While it would never make her stronger than some of these guys, she could definitely hold her own.

The third leg, rappelling, was one of Faith’s favorites. She loved the feeling of flying downward and bouncing off the wall. One of her brothers, Lou, had taken her skydiving once, and it had been just as fun but with less control. Lou teased her that she’d missed her calling, and had tried to get her to join him in the military.

She watched intently as the other teams took their turns, trying to pick up tips, spots where they lost time. The men watching paid attention in a general yelling and cheering way, but they’d obviously been through this drill numerous times and weren’t worried about shaving off every possible second like she was. Of course, they didn’t have the stakes she did. If they didn’t win, it was just another day. If she didn’t win, there’d be rumblings that she shouldn’t have gotten the job, that a woman couldn’t hack this career, and on and on. While she didn’t want to let such talk get to her, she had no doubt it would. Maybe she was shallow, but she wanted her fellow firefighters’ respect.

Captain Mendoza leaned in close to her and she caught a whiff of his masculine, sporty scent. “The last two stairs before the top are wobbly as hell. Watch your step up there.”

She nodded, debating internally. She considered being stubborn and working things out herself. But that wouldn’t serve the bigger goal of winning, would it? Though she didn’t like the idea of getting help, she liked losing even less. “Any other tips?”

“You’re asking for something I’ve never given away before,” he said, watching her with those dark eyes.

“Not even to your teammates?”

“None of them has ever been smart enough to ask.”

They shared a brief grin, and Faith said, “Well?”

“Avoid the handrails. They’ll slow you down.”

“Got it. Thanks.”

“We’re up next. You ready?”

“Ready as I’ll ever be.”

“I’ll go first.”

Faith nodded, and followed him to the starting line while the second-to-last pair finished up.

“Faith,” the captain said, making her look up at him. “Show me what you’ve got.”

With that, he turned around and started suiting up in full gear. Faith did the same.

“Time to beat,” the official timekeeper called out as the man before them—she couldn’t remember his name—crossed the finish. “Four minutes, fourteen seconds.”

“Can we do that?” Faith muttered to Captain Mendoza as they continued to prep.

“Have to push it,” he said. “I think we can.”

She knew it was up to her to pull her weight. No sweat.

Yeah, right.

The captain finished putting his gear on, and the whistle blew for him to start. Most of the guys were loud in their support of him as he lugged the dummy over the ground, but Faith kept her cheering silent, willing him to make up for any time she might lose ascending the tower with the heavy hose.

She put her last glove on, transfixed by the sight of him. She’d guess he was around forty, based on the lines of his face, not the way he moved. He was one of the biggest men on this shift, all solid muscle, and yet his grace and speed mesmerized her. He made it look as if the hose weighed three pounds instead of thirty. When he got to the top, he quickly fastened the rappelling gear and went over the edge. Like the rest of the guys, he took the wall in four rhythmic bounces.

Faith’s adrenaline kicked in as he ran toward her.

“Go for it,” he said as he tagged her hand.

She took off in a sprint to the spot where he’d dragged the dummy. The thing weighed more than she did, but she was used to that. No excuses in her world. She toted it back to the starting line and then sprinted to the tower.

When she reached the coil of hose, she stumbled a bit and almost fell. Just what she needed. She caught herself at the last moment and avoided ending up on her butt, but lost a couple seconds. She heaved the hose up and took off, eyes on each step, focusing on balance, avoiding the handrails.

By the last flight of stairs, her lungs were screaming, and she wondered if the air was thinner up here, because she sure wasn’t getting enough oxygen. She forged on, preparing herself for the last two wobbly steps before unloading the coil.

Now for the fun part.

She attached her rappelling equipment and, without hesitation, climbed on top of the wall and lowered herself over, her back to the group of firefighters. Instead of hitting the wall four times, she flung herself out and made it halfway down with her first release. Pushing off with her legs, she flew the rest of the way, hitting the ground hard but intact. She unfastened the rope and sprinted to the finish line, ignoring the burning in her lungs.

BOOK: Burning Ambition
4.49Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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