Authors: Sami Lee
Rob turned when she called his name, flashing his smile when he recognized her. “Hey, Pam.”
“Is it over?” she asked. “Where’s Steve?”
“He’s doing a final check of the rooms. He’s always got to do a final check. He’s obsessive compulsive about putting out fires.”
When Rob had the audacity to smile, Pam withered him with a fierce look. “That’s funny? He’s in there by himself and you’re laughing?”
Rob’s expression sobered. “He’ll be right out, Pam. It was a small fire in one of the classrooms, a science experiment gone wrong. The flames were mostly out by the time we got here. We’re only taking precautions.”
“He’ll be right out? You promise?”
“Yeah.” He smiled again and this time it was a comfort. He put an arm around her shoulders. “Come here.”
When he drew her close to his body, Pam leaned into him willingly. Rob rubbed soothing circles over her back and slowly the stress of the last hour began to seep out of her. She held on to some of it though. She wouldn’t feel completely at ease until she saw Steve and knew for sure he was all right.
After a moment, Pam pulled back. It was easy to do. As nice as it was to receive comfort from Rob, there was no real magnetism keeping them together, no sexual heat. He was as handsome as sin, but he simply didn’t make her heart skip beats. Pam couldn’t remember if he ever had.
She peered up at his face. “I lied to you, Rob.”
“About being twenty-eight.”
“Ah.” He shrugged, appearing chagrinned. “I lied to you about being twenty-five.”
“Really? How old are you?”
All this time she’d been berating herself for being attracted to a man seven years her junior, when in fact he was… “Oh my God. You’re nine years younger than me.”
Rob used his fingers to count up from twenty-three. When he got to twenty-nine, Pam smacked his hand. “That’s far enough. If you can’t work it out quicker than that, you don’t deserve to know.”
He chuckled. “So you’re in your thirties. Big deal. If I wanted to go out with you, it wouldn’t make a bit of difference to me. You didn’t need to lie.”
didn’t need to lie.”
“Oh, yes, I did.” He laughed. “You’ve got the hang-up about it.”
Pam crossed her arms over her chest. He had a point there. There was no way she could see herself dating a twenty-three-year-old. “Well, I suppose it’s lucky for me we’re not going to go out then.”
“Lucky for both of us. Steve would kill me if I asked.”
“He would?” Pam stared at Rob in shock. “Why?”
Rob rolled his eyes. “I might be nine years younger than you, but I reckon I’m about nine times smarter than you and Steve put together. The two of you ought to sit down and have a conversation.”
Before Pam could press Rob on what he meant by that, a flash of yellow at the doorway to the science building caught her eye. It was a fireman’s jacket. A moment later, Steve emerged from the darkness carrying something in his hand. Pam’s heart soared with relief. He was fine. Thank God, he was fine.
He caught sight of her as he approached. His easy steps faltered when his gaze flicked from her to Rob. The smile on his face disappeared to be replaced by a neutral expression that left an icy imprint on Pam’s heart. Clearly, he wasn’t as happy to see her as she was to see him.
“Did you make some new friends in there, Waller?”
“Yeah.” Steve lifted the thing he held in his hand and Pam finally looked at it properly. It was a guinea pig in a cage. “One of the teachers remembered George after they got out. The kids are tracking his growth as a science experiment. I went back to get him.”
Pam stared at Steve as he took off his glove and poked his finger through the cage for George to sniff. Her words were measured, careful. “You went back into a burning building to save a rodent?”
Steve arched a brow at her tone. “Don’t call him a rodent. He’s a guinea pig, from a long line of pedigreed guinea pigs, I’m sure. Besides, the fire’s long out and it wasn’t much of one anyway.”
“It wasn’t much of a fire? Next time we’ll make sure we get a real blaze happening for you, shall we? Wouldn’t want you to have a dull day on the job.”
Steve stared at her for a drawn-out moment. Then he sent a perplexed glance Rob’s way. “What’s up with her?”
Rob smirked. “She was worried about you.”
“I was not,” Pam denied. “There was nothing to worry about, apparently. Except maybe George.”
Ignoring Steve’s voice, ignoring the softness in it that she must surely be imagining, Pam spun on her heel and stalked away before she embarrassed herself further. She’d been wringing her hands, concerned about Steve Waller’s welfare when there’d been nothing to worry about. She’d been dying to see him but he’d barely looked at her. He was having a more meaningful relationship with a guinea pig than he ever intended to have with her. She felt ridiculous. She felt completely transparent.
Steve’s voice was close behind her, so close Pam had to speed up to keep ahead of him as she stalked across the soccer field. “Don’t call me that. And don’t follow me.”
“I need to talk to you.”
“Aren’t you on the clock? The taxpayers are paying your wages, Waller. Better get back to it.”
“Damn it, Pam.” Steve grasped her by the arm, halting her forward progress. He spun her around so she faced him. His eyes glittered with frustration. “I want to know if what Rob said was true. Were you worried about me?”
“Why is it so important for you to know that?”
“Because I didn’t think you gave a shit what happened to me, and if I’ve got that wrong I have to know. Then I won’t feel like such a dick for being worried about you.”
“Me? I didn’t go into a smoke-filled building to save a hamster—”
“Alone, mind you,” Pam went on, ignoring Steve’s correction. “You went in alone. Is that normal procedure? Because if it is, your job is stupid. You’re the one with the stupid, dangerous job. Why would you be worried about me?”
“Because I was called to a fire at the place where I know you work. Do you have any idea how crazy I was going on the way over here? Not knowing if you were caught in one of those rooms?” Steve roared. “I was out of my mind!”
“I teach English, not science, knucklehead!”
The muscles along his jaw tensed. He’d taken off his helmet before coming after her, and his hair stood on end, poking out in all directions. In combination with the sooty blackness of his face, the way his blue eyes flashed with fury made him look sort of…insane. As crazy as he claimed to have been at the thought of her in danger. Pam’s heart skipped a beat and she began to second-guess her impulse to call him a knucklehead.
She was just about to apologize—after all, it was actually quite nice that he’d been worried about her—when her words disappeared on a gasp of shock. Steve picked her up, hefted her over his shoulder and began carting her off the soccer field.
“Wh-what are you doing?” Pam managed to demand, although not as stridently as she’d like. The position put pressure on her midsection and made it hard for her to catch her breath. “Is this the fireman’s carry?”
“How cliché of you.”
“It may be a cliché, but you didn’t expect it.”
No, she hadn’t. She was stunned to the back of her teeth and mortified to boot. Pam cast her head about, trying to see if the whole school was watching. Her hair was in her face so she couldn’t tell. She was glad there weren’t that many students left on the grounds, but she knew the few that remained would gleefully pass on news of Miss. Spencer’s misadventure. She’d never hear the end of it.
“Put me down, Waller!” Pam battered at what flesh she could with her hands. She ended up slapping Steve’s rock-hard butt. She remembered how firm it was, how good it had felt in her hands last week when she’d grabbed it as he pumped into her.
Great. He’s carting you off like a sack of horse manure and you get turned on.
She realized she was back in her classroom when the familiar chairs and tables came into view. Steve kicked the door shut behind him and hauled her over to her desk, where he unceremoniously dumped her on her backside.
Pam shoved a hand through her hair to push it off her face and let out an indignant huff. “Your fireside manner leaves a lot to be desired, Waller.”
“And you make me mental, Spencer.” Hands on hips, he glared at her. “You can’t tell me not to be concerned about you, or that I’m not allowed to care about you. It’s too late for that.”
Pam’s heart rate, already fast due to her unexpected trip across the school grounds, picked up speed at the implication of his words. Did Steve really care that much about her? The possibility dissipated some of her annoyance, but she crossed her arms over her chest and matched Steve’s glare. “I told you I was perfectly safe.”
“I didn’t know that for sure. You never know how a fire’s going to spread. And you substitute sometimes. You watch other teachers’ classes for them. You change rooms when you need to use someone’s sound equipment. Based on that, you could have been anywhere in the school—including the science block.”
Pam stared at him, stunned into silence by his knowledge of the finer details of her job. When she was done gaping, she managed to choke out a question. “How do you know all that?”
Steve took a step forward, moving closer. He’d shucked his yellow jacket before coming after her too, and now wore his rubber pants and a fitted navy T-shirt with the fire service’s emblem on it. Pam felt the heat of his flesh winding around her and wondered if the cotton of his shirt would be warm to the touch. She was warm, that was for sure. The seriousness of Steve’s gaze heated her blood.
He reached up and touched her face, the lightest of touches. “I know because I’ve been listening, Pam. Somewhere between mutual ribbings and deciding we didn’t like each other, we talked. You’re the third of four children—two older brothers and one younger sister. When you were a kid you had a cat named Pepper. When she got hit by a car you cried for a week. You were a bit of a tomboy growing up but believe me sweetheart, there’s nothing boyish about you now.”
The curve of his lips brought back every memory of last weekend, of how he’d kissed and caressed her, how he’d made her feel so feminine and sexy. Yes, Rob had been there too, but in the week since, it had been the memory of Steve’s hands on her she hadn’t been able to shake. “Steve—”
“You’ve read all seven Harry Potter books three times,” he continued. “You prefer violent action movies to chick flicks and you don’t eat chocolate because it gives you a headache. You played soccer at school and your dream holiday would be a trip to see the World Cup in—”
“Steve stop!” Pam crushed her hand to his mouth. “Stop talking or you’ll end up telling me my bra size and I’ll be horrified to think you know that too.”
She felt his grin against her palm before he moved her hand aside. “Size is irrelevant.”
Pam raised a brow. “That’s what men always say.”
Damn, sweetheart, I love your smart mouth.” His smile was affectionate, his grip on her wrist gentle. But when he moved her hand to settle over his heart, Pam realized there was nothing gentle about the way it slammed into his chest in a rapid cadence. Her own heart accelerated in tandem with his, launching itself against her ribcage in a mixture of excitement and fear, fear that she had this wrong somehow. Steve being serious and affectionate was not what she’d expected.
When he spoke, his words vibrated against her hand. “Tell me why you didn’t call Rob.”
Pam looked into his eyes. He was all seriousness again, and in the face of such sobriety, Pam couldn’t hedge. “Because I’m not interested in him.”
Some of the tension seeped out of Steve’s expression. His Adam’s apple bobbed as he swallowed. “What about me?”
“You? You’re the man who once said to me, relationships are for suckers. Oh yes, I’ve been listening too,” Pam said when Steve gave her a pained look. “You’re not interested in the same things I am, Waller. And I can’t afford to get strung along only to get my heart broken later because you can’t take anything between us seriously—”
“You want serious?” Steve interrupted. “I’ll show you serious.”
He pulled her to him then, crashing his lips into hers with a force that made Pam’s head spin. Her hands went to his chest automatically, an instinctive act of self-defense. But before she could push him away, the heat of his kiss jumped from him to her, like a fire leaping from one building to another. Her senses were like dry kindling, going up in flames the instant Steve’s tongue breached her mouth. Pam sent her own tongue to tangle, to mate with his, helpless against the blaze of passion that burned inside her.
Her ass slid on the desk as Steve drew her forward, pressing her breasts to his chest. Pam wrapped her thighs around his waist, anchoring his hips to hers. She was helpless to do otherwise. Once he held her like this, she didn’t want him to let her go. Ever.
“Magic,” Steve murmured against her mouth as the kiss slowed, became something less fiery and more achingly sensual. He drew back a little so he was merely nibbling at her lips now, as though he couldn’t get enough of the taste of her. “The way you kiss me is magic.”
Pam let out a shaky breath that fanned over Steve’s cheek. “That’s you.”
“It’s us.” Cupping her jaw, Steve held her face still so she couldn’t avoid meeting his earnest gaze. “We’re magic together and you know it.”
“But Steve, what about—”
“I want it with you, sweetheart. When I said I didn’t want a relationship or love or someone to care about me, I was lying to everyone. Most of all I was lying to myself. I do want more than a series of meaningless flings. I want more now, because you made me want more.” He rested his forehead against hers and pushed out a shuddering sigh. “I want you, Pam. I’m crazy about you. Will you give me a chance to prove it?”
“Oh, Steve.” Pam wound her fingers through his hair. “I’m crazy about you too. I haven’t stopped thinking about you for a second since last week. Once you get in a woman’s head, you’re impossible to get out.”