Read Set the Night on Fire Online

Authors: Jennifer Bernard

Set the Night on Fire (10 page)

BOOK: Set the Night on Fire
5.07Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads
14

M
rs. Murphy didn’t waste
a second barging into the Sky View Gallery the next morning.

“You should hear some of the things people are saying out there.” She heaved her rear onto a stool and fanned her face. She was wearing a red cape and an old-fashioned bonnet—her “story time” outfit, which seemed appropriate to Evie. “I’ve heard people say you’ve been in love with Brad White since you were kids. They say you’ve been pining after him all these years. You never told me that.”

“Because it’s ridiculous.” Evie sorted through the mail that had come into the gallery during her spontaneous day off. She’d decided to take the high road in response to Brad’s op-ed, mostly because she didn’t see another option she could stomach. “I have absolutely zero interest in Brad White.”

“But you used to go with him, didn’t you? Jess over at the Milky Way says she remembers Brad bringing you in for ice cream a couple of times.”

“That was a very, very long time ago. There is nothing between me and Brad, and there never will be.”

“Well, that’s all well and good.” Mrs. Murphy pulled a copy of the
Mercury News-Gazette
from the inside pocket of her cape. “But it was in the paper, hon.”

Evie snatched it from her hand and gave a quick glance at the op-ed, which featured a posed photo of Brad’s slick, smiling face. “He can say what he wants, but it doesn’t make it true. You notice how he never called me by name?”

She handed the paper back. Mrs. Murphy took it, though she looked disappointed that Evie didn’t have anything more to say about the article.

“Anyway, I heard you were with Sean Marcus yesterday, and you were looking pretty cozy.”

Evie pretended to be fascinated with a framing catalogue. She should have seen that coming. She contemplated the pros and cons of word getting out about her and Sean’s…thing, whatever it was. The upside was that people might abandon the topic of her and Brad. The downside was that her private life would be the subject of conversation.

Then again, it already was.

“Well, everyone knows we’re old friends,” she said. “He used to live with us, remember? He was good friends with Hunter. We’re just reconnecting.”

“Reconnecting.” Mrs. Murphy’s eyes lit up. “That’s exactly what I thought. I always thought he was a good boy, just a little misunderstood. And that father of his, what a disaster. But I must say, he’s grown up right.”

Evie couldn’t agree more. She indulged in a moment of reverie over the feel of his skin stretched over his firm muscles. The rippling topography of his torso. The strength in his wide shoulders and smoky-green eyes.

She blinked and focused back on her catalogue.
Gilt corner frames. Matte backing. Work. Reality.

“Believe me, Mrs. Murphy, I’m entirely focused on work right now. Work and my mother, that’s it. No time for much socializing.”

Just then, with her usual perfect timing, Suzanne waltzed into the gallery like a brisk ocean breeze. “Cuz, you are holding out on me. Is it true you and Brad used to be engaged, but he broke it off because you didn’t want to be a political wife?”

“Of course not.” Evie snapped shut the framing catalogue and moved on to the electric bill. “Don’t you think you would know if I’d ever been engaged?”

“Evie has a new man,” Mrs. Murphy informed Suzanne. “That hunky fireman, Sean Marcus.”

“That’s it. Cousin privileges revoked.” Suzanne folded her arms and tapped her foot. “When you start seeing a man as fine as Sean Marcus, you are bound by the cousin code to share the news.”

“Sean and I spent one afternoon together.” Evie scowled at her long-limbed cousin. “We took photos for Mom. And there is no cousin code.”

“An afternoon? You spent an afternoon together?”

“Yes. So what? And don’t I have a right to some privacy?”

Suzanne ignored that rhetorical question, since in her mind clearly it didn’t apply. “That means it’s serious. I know your usual M.O. when you’re on a date. It involves an hour and a half of stilted conversation that ends right after your last spoonful of chocolate mousse. An afternoon, now, that’s completely different.”

Even though Suzanne was two years younger than Evie, she loved to play the role of relationship expert. After all, she actually had an active love life and was currently
this close
to getting engaged. Her current boyfriend was on the verge of graduating from law school and kept dropping hints about a proposal coming soon. Evie hoped he knew what he was getting into. Suzanne was a wild card, completely fun and unpredictable, with an edge that could sneak up on you.

“That’s right. It
was
different. It wasn’t a date. It was a photography project.” Evie tossed the electric bill in the trash, then bent to retrieve it while Suzanne hooted.

“Oh, how can I resist the ten million naughty jokes that just popped into my brain?”

“Well, that’s probably my cue. I should get going.” Mrs. Murphy slid off the stool. As usual, Suzanne twitched the older woman’s dress back down over her butt. “I’ve told you a million times, Evie,” the older woman sighed. “These stools are the bane of my life.”

Maybe she should raise them even higher, Evie thought uncharitably as the front door closed behind Mrs. Murphy. Or take them out entirely.

Luckily, she didn’t have to face any more questions from Suzanne. Unfortunately, that was because everyone in Jupiter Point seemed to find a reason to stop by the Sky View Gallery over the next couple of days. Thank goodness, a steady flow of tourists who knew nothing about Brad White or Sean Marcus kept her busy. She helped a pair of honeymooners from Japan select a photo of the Andromeda galaxy. She did a portrait photo of a young couple from Long Beach who had just gotten engaged.

Then the hammer fell.

Benito Marquez from the Goodnight Moon B&B stopped in to inform her that Jack Drummond, the previous president, had called an informal meeting of the Jupiter Point Business Coalition for later in the week. “If you want to keep your position, you must come,” he told her. “Very important. Most people think you’ve been doing a good job, Evie, until now. You must explain to us what you’re doing. I voted for you, but now I have doubts. Our town is drawing the wrong kind of attention.”

“I understand.”

“If you decide to step down—”

“No.” She didn’t even need a second to think about it. “I’m not considering that.”

“But this must be difficult for you, no?”

“I’m not stepping down,” she said firmly as she showed Benito to the door.

Stepping down would be the same thing as letting Brad win. That’s why he was making such a public spectacle—because he liked the spotlight and she didn’t. He knew she’d do anything to avoid being the center of attention. He was playing her like a harp.

And he was so good at that sort of thing. He’d been honing his public relations skills for years, while she…

She’d been turning her sign to “moon.”

S
ean had
interviews booked solid over the next few days, but it was hard to concentrate on the eager local candidates when all he could think about was Evie McGraw and the way she’d pulled away from him and told him it was all a mistake. The woman was driving him nuts. If he was smart, he’d walk away right now.

But he didn’t want to. He wanted more kissing, more touching, more of her smile. And he wanted to find out what had her so twisted up inside.

That night…it wasn’t exactly what you think
.

He could drive himself crazy wondering what she meant by that. He couldn’t read her mind. At some point, she was going to have to tell him what these land mines were all about. Otherwise, he’d keep tripping over them and unintentionally blowing up their relationship.

Not that they had a “relationship,” per se. But they had a thing. Or did they? Was she pulling the plug completely?

“Sir?” The candidate in the Folding Chair of Death squirmed. Sean realized he’d been scowling at him as if he was responsible for the way Evie was confusing him. “Did you have any more questions?”

“Yes.” He glanced at the sheet in front of him, which listed the basics about the candidate, Tim Peavy. Josh had done a thorough job of checking into his background. A military vet with two years of deployment in Iraq under his belt, he’d recently gotten his red card. One of Sean’s mandates was to increase the number of veterans on the crew. “You’ve been taking extra fire science courses, you said?”

“Yes, fire science and EMT.”

“Good, good. And you’ve been getting into shape for the physical tests?”

“Yes.”

“Drop down and give me some pushups. One minute. Fast as you can.”

The kid did as told—that military training paid off—and launched into a rapid series of pushups.

Josh, who was leaning his chair against the wall, kept the time while Sean counted. “Stop,” Josh called after a minute.

Tim sat up, face red but grinning. “How many was that?”

“Twenty-seven.”

“Awesome!”

“You’ll need to do at least thirty in sixty seconds,” Sean told him. “Forty-five sit-ups in a minute, and seven pull-ups, all performed consecutively. Hotshots have to show up fit at the start of the season, so get to the gym, the dojo, the track, whatever you do.”

Tim’s grimace drew a laugh from Josh. “If you think that’s tough, guess how many pushups Sean here does?”

“How many?”

“What’s your record, Sean? Forty-three in sixty?”

“Never mind that.” Sean gestured for Tim to sit back down. “I’m sure you can get into shape in no time. I like that you have military experience and that you’ve been educating yourself about fire science. That’s all great. Let me ask you one more question before you go. It’s going to be a tough one. When’s the last time you lied? I want you to tell me about that.”

“What?”

“Standard question.”

“Yup,” Josh agreed. “Important question too.”

Tim glanced from one to the other. Slowly his face fell. “I used to lie a lot before I joined the Army. I was into drugs. I got busted for underage drinking. I lied all the time.”

Sean nodded encouragingly. “And now?”

“It’s behind me. I don’t want that life. That’s why I joined up. I needed to stay out of trouble.”

Sean glanced at the sheet of paper before him. Based on what Josh had found in his background check, everything the guy said was true.

“I’m not that person anymore,” Tim said. “I’m married. We’re trying for a kid. I want to make something good out of my life.”

Sean nodded, knowing exactly what he meant. He’d been in that exact spot about thirteen years ago. He loved hiring guys like this—guys who’d had a rough start in life but wanted something better.

“I get it,” Sean told him. “I just wanted to hear what you had to say. I’m looking for men—and women—with character, not just skills. It’s not easy to be honest about your faults or your past. But on a crew like this, we have to trust each other. And that means telling the truth. To yourself and to the other guys. That’s what makes us a team, not just a bunch of people working together. You understand?”

He nodded eagerly. “I do. I do. That’s what I want. I want to be part of a team doing something good.”

“It’s some of the hardest work you’ll ever do,” Sean warned. “Can you handle sixteen-hour days?”

“For two weeks straight?” Josh added.

“Uh…”

“Cutting paths in the dirt? It ain’t all that glamorous. You’re scraping the line down to mineral so there’s nothing there to burn. You do that over and over again, hour after hour, until your back aches and your hands feel like claws. And then there’s always the chance that the fire you’re trying to stop will jump that line.”

“You ever been chased by a three-hundred-foot tall, half-a-million acre monster?” Josh asked.

“Well, I was in the Army, so…”

They all laughed. Sean’s phone vibrated with an incoming text. He glanced at it briefly to make sure it wasn’t one of the higher-ups with something urgent.

The text was from Evie.
I finally showed my mom the photos from the airstrip. They’d like to invite you to dinner tonight. Will you come? Please?

She wasn’t pulling the plug. Their “whatever it was”—still was. When Sean looked up, his changed expression must have shocked the wannabe hotshot.

“I’m in. I’m in, aren’t I?” Tim looked over at Josh for confirmation. “He’s smiling. Am I hired?”

Sean grinned. Why not? “Subject to final approval, welcome to the Jupiter Point Hotshots.”

A
fter the last interview
, as Sean and Josh unloaded a shipment of tents, Josh said, “I got a call from Finn. He wants to fly us out to LA so the screenwriters can interview us.”

“No.”

“Come on, Magneto. Free trip to Hollywood. Models, actresses, Kardashians. We could take a side trip out to San Gabriel. I have friends in the fire department there.”

“I don’t have time for a vacation in LaLa Land. The fire season’s only a few weeks away. That’s if it doesn’t start early, which most people are saying it will.” He tossed a box to Josh, who caught it easily and swung it onto the shelf.

“Which is why it’s a perfect time for a break. Once summer hits, it’ll be nonstop.”

Sean squinted at his friend. “Why are you so into this movie thing?”

“For the chicks,” Josh said promptly. With a bandanna tied around his head to keep his shaggy mop of hair away from his face, he looked like a pirate.

“Bullshit.” Sean knew perfectly well that Josh’s “player” facade was mostly an act. “Can I ask you something? During the burnover, did anything come into your mind about what you wanted to do afterward?”

“Sure. Emma Watson. I told you guys.”

“Something not related to women. Like for me, I knew I had to come back to Jupiter Point.” Sean checked the back of the van, saw no more boxes, and closed the doors with a slam.

“But you came back for a woman.”

Sean’s jaw dropped. “The hell I did. I came back to prove them all wrong. Show them I wasn’t a punk kid anymore.”

Josh was watching him closely. “Prove it to who? The McGraws?”

“No. Well, yes, them. And everyone else.”

BOOK: Set the Night on Fire
5.07Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

Other books

Finding Mary Jane by Amy Sparling
Away with the Fishes by Stephanie Siciarz
A Denial of Death by Gin Jones
The Viking's Pursuit by Winter, Nikki
Murder Must Advertise by Dorothy L. Sayers
Kentucky Hauntings by Roberta Simpson Brown
Burn for You by Stephanie Reid
Lamb by Christopher Moore