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Authors: Jennifer Bernard

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BOOK: Set the Night on Fire
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Sean wiped sweat off his forehead with the back of his hand and glanced up at the thick, glowing carpet of stars overhead. “If I say yes, will you promise not to make me call you Iron Man?”

“No. It’s a helluva good nickname, and I want it.”

Sean laughed. God, it felt good to banter with Rollo again. For a while, after the burnover, he’d feared for his crewmate’s mental state.

“Fine. Come for an interview. Give it a few weeks though. I have a list of candidates I can choose from, but they’re giving me some discretion. Anyway, it’s barebones here. We don’t even have cots here yet. I’m sleeping on the hard floor in a sleeping bag.”

“No friendly Jupiter Point girls willing to give the famous Magneto a place to sleep? You’re losing your touch, man.”

“You have no idea,” Sean mumbled before hanging up. Less than one full day in town and he’d already sent one woman running the opposite direction.

And that wasn’t right. First opportunity, he was going to find Evie and fix things. He’d upset her by reappearing out of the blue. Maybe he should have warned her. The decent thing to do would be to apologize, right? In person, if possible.

He tilted his head back to look up at the stars. His gaze went right to the planet Jupiter.

“It’s community outreach,” he told the distant planet—as if it cared. “That’s all.”


he aftershocks
of Evie’s non-endorsement hit as soon as she walked into her parents’ house the next morning. She always stopped in before work to kiss her mother and see what help her father needed that day.

“Good morning, Mama.” She crouched next to her mother’s recliner, where she spent most of her time since her diagnosis. Molly McGraw offered her a crooked but still radiant smile, set off by her white cotton-candy fluff of hair. The Parkinson’s had been like a slow-moving earthquake in their lives. They’d adjusted to it in stages—special retrofitted shower, portable wheelchair, adaptive silverware, bars next to the toilet. The changes still came, making “normal” a moving target.

“Well, well, you look like the same daughter, despite what the town is saying.” Her father walked in carrying a glass of water and a handful of pills. Everyone in town still called him the Dean even though he’d retired several years ago. Even Evie had gotten into that habit. Evie raised the recliner so her mother could take the medication more easily.

“Still me.”

“I don’t understand, Evie. You’ve known Brad your whole life.”

, she wanted to say.
I know him.
But she’d never said one word to her parents about that night and didn’t want to start now. “I can’t talk about it right now. I have to get to work. Do you want me to do the grocery shopping or would you rather have me watch Mom while you take a break?”

Luckily, the Dean was a McGraw, and didn’t like difficult conversations any more than she did. “You take care of the shopping. All this talk is bad for my digestion.”

Ouch. Now she was giving her father gastrointestinal issues as well. The guilt…the guilt… “Text me a grocery list.” She rose to her feet. “I’ll stop by the store after work.”

“Jim White’s been calling me. I don’t know quite what to say to him.”

“Tell him I’ve lost my marbles,” she snapped. “I’m sure that’s what he thinks anyway. Have I lost my marbles, Mama?”

She made a whirling-finger “crazy” sign next to her temple. Her mother’s lips lifted in an expression of delight.

“Don’t do that,” the Dean said sternly. “She’s upset enough as it is. She slept very badly last night. Stress isn’t good for her.”

“Sorry.” More guilt. She rested her cheek on the top of her mother’s head. Her soft hair felt like comfort itself. The Parkinson’s had progressed shockingly fast and she didn’t speak much anymore. Talking exhausted her. Honestly, Evie didn’t think something like Brad’s endorsement would even register on her mother’s list of worries.

But arguing with the Dean wasn’t an option. They were McGraws, after all. Confrontation was not part of their DNA.

he spent
the rest of the week fielding calls and visits from the other downtown business owners. Luckily Jack Drummond, the previous president and owner of the Rings of Saturn Jewelers, saved her butt.

“I’ve been telling everyone not to get their panties in a twist. You’re holding out for more concrete promises, aren’t you? Smart woman.” He downed his espresso in one shot.

“I am?”

“Make him sweat. Brilliant move. He’s running as a pro-business candidate. Just think how it’s going to look if his own hometown business association doesn’t endorse him. He’ll promise us anything to get our support. I’ll make sure the others understand your strategy here. Nice work, Evie.”

“Um, thanks.” Yup, it was all part of her master plan. The one that didn’t exist and was bound to blow up in her face.

“Maybe I’ll stop in at the bookstore and explain the situation to Mrs. Murphy.”

“Sure. Okay.” As soon as Jack left, she let out a lungful of air. This was getting so out of hand. Over the last few days, Brad had already called twice and left voice mails requesting a meeting with her. She should call him back and deliver the endorsement right now. Except that, try as she might, her fingers refused to hit the dial button.

At lunch, she turned her sign to “Moon,” fled to her office, and made herself a peanut butter sandwich. Lunch of champions—or cowards hiding out in their back offices. The thought of meeting with Brad made her sandwich hard to swallow. She hadn’t been alone with him since that night. But this was different. They were grown-ups. Professionals. They’d have the meeting in a public place. It would be fine. He couldn’t hurt her anymore. He didn’t
to hurt her. All he wanted was his endorsement.

Someone knocked on the front door. She ignored the intruder—couldn’t they see that the gallery was closed?

After a few moments, the same knocking came at the back door, the one that opened onto her office. Exasperated, she wiped peanut butter off her fingers and flung it open.

Sean Marcus stood there, tall and wide-shouldered and mouthwatering. He wore a Dallas Cowboys t-shirt that adhered to every hard muscle of his chest. The heather-gray color emphasized his black hair and made his smoky eyes stand out like dark jade.

Her heart slammed against her chest. Not from nerves, but from something she wasn’t used to feeling. Anticipation. A sort of buzz, as if something exciting was about to happen.

She ruthlessly ignored it. She had no business getting fluttery over Sean Marcus. “I’m closed,” she told him.

“I noticed.” He strolled in as if the information meant nothing to him.

“That closed sign applies to hotshots too.”

“It doesn’t apply to old friends, does it?”

She screwed up her face. “I can’t say that I ever thought of you that way.” Giving in, she closed the door behind him. She followed him as he prowled into her domain, struggling to keep her gaze off his killer rear-end.

“Really? That sounds almost flirtatious.”

“Well, it wasn’t,” she told him firmly. “I never flirt. I wouldn’t even know how to.”

In the midst of surveying her office, he paused and examined her intently. “Why not? Does a woman like you not need to?”

“A woman like me? What does that mean?”

He raised an eyebrow and looked her up and down, quick and scorching. “Come on, Evie. You don’t need
to tell you you’re a knockout.”

She honestly hated it when anyone made reference to her appearance. She definitely didn’t see what everyone else seemed to. “Eye of the beholder,” she muttered, shrugging off his compliment, if that’s what it was. “What are you doing here, Sean?”

“I talked to Hunter. He told me you started this gallery a few years ago. Said you like to show it off.”

to show it off during regular business hours.” She brushed crumbs off her skirt, an A-line number in a lovely shade of putty.

“All right, point taken. But this is the only time I could make it. Come on, I came to apologize. Give a guy a break.”

Oh, that sneaky groove in his cheek—it ought to be abolished. It took his face from rugged to devastating.

“Fine, I’ll give you a tour, but let’s make it quick. This is my only break and the entire town’s been driving me crazy all day.”

“I bet. Even I’ve been hearing about it.”

“Really?” She pulled a face as she led the way out of the back office onto the main gallery floor. She’d painted the walls a creamy white and installed a cherry wood floor that she was still paying off. The new espresso bar took up the far corner, and a big bay window overlooked Constellation Way. The space was clean and understated, but she wondered if it looked maybe a little dull.

“Gas station, coffee shop, you name it. You’re the talk of the town. They say what you did was very out of character for the virgin saint of Jupiter Point.”


“They didn’t use those words,” he added quickly. “It was more of an overall impression. People say you’re kind and caring, sweet, accommodating.”

Accommodating, my ass
. “Were you always this aggravating or have you been working on this side of your personality?” She moved around the counter to the espresso machine. Caffeine might improve this encounter.


She batted her eyelashes at him. “Only if you sugarcoat it for the virgin saint.”

He smiled broadly. “Touché. By the way, yes, I’d love an espresso.”

She ground her teeth. She hadn’t even invited him here, and now she was giving him a tour and making him coffee? The nerve. “That’ll be ten dollars.”

“A ten-dollar espresso?”

“The price goes up when I’m closed.”

He laughed. “I’d pay a lot more than that to have coffee with you.”

Again that excitement surged into her throat. She put a hand to her neck as if to push it back down. She went behind the counter and pulled two shots of espresso, but in truth, she barely knew what she was doing. Sean had all her attention. Goose bumps rippled up and down her skin as his deep voice washed over her.

“Truth is—since you asked—I’m going out of my way to irritate you because I like that look you get in your eye.”

“You mean that bloody-murder look?”

“That’s it. Exactly. It suits you.”

She pushed the demitasse of espresso across the counter. A bit of coffee sloshed into the saucer. “Didn’t you mention something about an apology?”

“Right.” The grin vanished from his face and he looked at her seriously. “I upset you after the meeting. I felt bad about it.”

“I wasn’t upset because of you. Well, not originally, anyway. It was just…” She trailed off. “I wasn’t really mad at you. I was mad at myself for doing something so crazy.”

He picked up the tiny cup. She was fascinated by how big his hands looked compared to the cup. A scar ran across his knuckles and a raised burn mark marred his thumb. “You said what was real. You didn’t want to support that asshole. What’s so crazy about that?”

“My personal feelings have nothing to do with it. And I don’t want to talk about this anymore. Please. I’ve been bombarded all week.”

“As milady commands.” He lifted the cup to her and tossed back the shot. “Can I ask one more question?”

She rested her elbows on the counter and propped her chin in her cupped hand. “Could I possibly stop you?”

“Of course you could. But why would you want to? We’re old friends, remember?”

A smile quivered at the corners of her lips. She remembered how much Sean Marcus used to fight with his father. “A handful,” he’d been described as back then. Not much had changed, apparently. “What’s your question?”

But now that he had her permission, he didn’t seem to want to ask his question. He got to his feet and prowled close to the display of photographs taken through the infrared telescope at the Jupiter Point Observatory. Solar flares in vivid purples and oranges, a close up of the Tarantula Nebula, a view of Mercury during its transit across the sun.

“Did you take any of these?” he asked abruptly.

“Of course not. Those are from the Observatory telescope. I’m just an amateur.” What would it be like to photograph Sean? Spectacular, most likely. Those turbulent eyes, slashing cheekbones, jaw brushed with stubble. She’d pose him straight on, staring right into the camera, daring the viewer to pass judgment. The background would be dark, with a shaft of sunlight illuminating him.

“You used to talk about backpacking around Europe or Southeast Asia with your camera. Did you ever do that?”

She hadn’t thought about that idea in years. “No.”

He looked at her inscrutably. “College?”

“Sure.” She lifted her chin. “Jupiter Point Community. My father was the Dean there, remember? What about you?”

“Sort of. After I left here, I got my BA in fire science and took a bunch of extra training courses. I have the equivalent of an advanced degree. But it’s all in fire science.”

“Why firefighting?”

He shrugged. “I wanted to keep busy. I thought about the military, but you remember my dad. The ultimate anti-government hippie. The whole ‘question authority’ thing was drilled into me pretty hard. Of course, he hated it when that included him. Anyway, I decided I wouldn’t be a good fit as a soldier.”

Back when Sean had lived with them, her mother used to try to draw him out on the subject of his parents. But he never bit, not once. And now he was bringing the topic up on his own. Intending to comfort, she put a hand on his forearm.

The shock of the contact felt like a current of voltage passing through her. Quickly, she snatched her hand away.

He gave her a funny look, as if he wanted to say something but wasn’t sure he should.

“What?” She clasped both hands behind her back and tried to steady them.

“You should go out to dinner with me.”


Nothing he said could have shocked her more. Not that dinner invitations were unusual. She received more than her share, and definitely more than she ever thought about accepting. Sometimes she thought asking her to dinner and getting rejected must be a rite of passage for the men of Jupiter Point. Like getting drunk at Barstow’s Brews or skinny-dipping at Stargazer Beach.

“Does that seem like a strange idea?”

“Well…” She trailed off. He hadn’t exactly
her to dinner. He’d just told her she should. “I don’t date.”


“I mean, I go on dates, of course. But…” She bit her lip, embarrassed to complete the thought.

“But…” he repeated. When she didn’t answer, he folded his arms across his chest. “I’m not leaving until you answer,” he warned her. “You can’t just leave that ‘but’ hanging out there. Isn’t there a grammar rule about that?”

She scowled at him. “You’re aggravating me again.”

“Yes, I can tell. Your eyes are all lit up like a backyard bonfire. It’s turning me on.”

“Fires turn you on?”

“No. That’s all you, sweetness.”

She wanted to run. She wanted to tackle him and kiss him. She wanted to scream. All at the same time—which made no sense at all. “I don’t date because of this. Exactly this.” She gave him a little mock-shove. Which would have worked except that she felt the warmth of his body and the solid curve of muscle under his t-shirt. And then she couldn’t pull her hand away. And
—he was holding her hand in place, nice and secure, right against his hard chest.

BOOK: Set the Night on Fire
7.58Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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