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Authors: Jennifer Bernard

Set the Night on Fire (9 page)

BOOK: Set the Night on Fire
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She touched his forearm in comfort, and he felt his muscles tense at her touch. Talking about that time brought back visceral memories. The burn in his thighs from running up mountain trails. The icy streams he dove into for relief. The spookiness of moonless nights. The profound peace he experienced while watching a white-tailed deer graze in a clearing.

“Honestly, the Sierras might have saved my sanity. When I came back out, I felt like I could breathe again.”

“Wow,” she said softly. “That’s an incredible story.”

“I guess so, until I woke up one morning to a foot of snow outside my tent.” He laughed at the memory of that moment. A foot of snow, boots falling apart. He’d even run out of the beef jerky he’d been living on. Yet another impossible situation.

“What did you do then?” The fascination in Evie’s voice made him wonder why he didn’t tell this story more often. Normally he didn’t talk much about himself. He liked action, not talk. But with Evie, everything was different.

“I hiked down to a lower elevation and found a campground that had fire pits. But my matches were all wet and I’d lost my lighter. I went around the campground looking for someone to borrow matches from. I ran into a bunch of guys grilling trout they’d caught in the river. They turned out to be a crew of smokejumpers on an end-of-season campout. They pulled up a camp chair for me and let me dry my stuff by their fire. I hung out with them the rest of the week and listened to all their smoke-jumping stories.” He shook his head. “Damn, Evie, you really know how to get a guy talking.”

“Don’t stop yet! I want to hear what happened next. ‘Whatever you command, milady.’ remember?”

“You, milady,” he told her, “are big trouble.”

“Yes, but didn’t you say you don’t mind trouble? Now keep going, please. Is that why you became a firefighter, because of those smokejumpers?”

“Yup. They were cool guys. They all had different lives during the off season. One was a documentary filmmaker, another was training for an Iron Man race. One of them traveled someplace different every winter. But they all came back to the smoke-jumping job every summer because they loved it and it paid well. By the time they’d packed up to head home, I knew I wanted to be one of them.”

Evie laughed. “It’s funny how things work out, isn’t it? You ran into exactly the right people at the right time. What if they’d been accountants or encyclopedia salesmen? Oh, look!” She pointed up ahead, to where the ocean shimmered just beyond the airstrip. “There’s your place.”

13

T
ime spent
with Sean passed differently than time spent with other people. It zipped by so fast, Evie barely noticed. She’d been so caught up in his story that before she knew it, they were bumping down a back road shortcut to the airstrip. Every time she looked at Sean, with his dark hair all tumbled and sexy, the planes of his face so ruggedly appealing, her heart skipped a few beats. His broad shoulders kept brushing against hers. His energy was so dynamically masculine. Really, he made every other man seem kind of…boring.

He pulled over at a spot that had a slightly higher elevation than the airstrip. From there, they had a panoramic view of the ocean, the old tarmac, the hangar and other buildings. “How’s this?”

“Perfect.” She looked around, noticing the high grass bending before the wind. Her mother loved the sound of the wind. Pulling out her camera, she set it to record video. “This is really nice of you, Sean.”

He jumped out of the truck and stood with his hands interlaced behind his neck, stretching from the drive. “It’s not a problem. Do your thing, milady. I’ll be over here enjoying the view.”

She stepped out of the truck. The wind lifted her hair and rustled through the grass. She hit the record button on her camera and aimed it at the grass. That was what her mother loved. The swishing, whispering susurration. That was the word her mother used for it. She’d made Evie look it up once.
Susurrus
. Whispering, murmuring or rustle.

When she’d recorded enough audio, she framed some close-ups of California poppies and wild strawberries. Molly McGraw used to scoff at Evie’s obsession with photography. She’d always told Evie that no photo could show as much as a sketch could. Losing her ability to draw might have been one of the toughest effects of her Parkinson’s. Not that she’d ever complained. No, McGraws simply didn’t do that sort of thing.

Evie let out a sigh as she straightened up and put the lens cap back on her camera. Sean had closed his eyes and tilted his head back so the mid-March sun could warm his face. The wind molded his t-shirt against the musculature of his chest. She treated herself to a moment of shameless ogling. Her photographer’s eye appreciated the perfect vee between his wide shoulders and narrow hips. His well-worn jeans hugged his rear-end just right. His pose read as confident but not threatening. Strong but not a bully.

Her heart did a few slow flips and she let out an involuntary sigh.

His eyes opened and he glanced over at her. Her appreciation must have been written all over her face, because he grinned and raised an eyebrow. “I’d say penny for your thoughts, but I’m betting they’re worth a lot more than that.”

“Were you always this sexy?” she asked, walking toward him. She put her camera on the hood of the truck as she passed it. “Was I too young to notice when you lived with us?”

He laughed and swung her against him. “You’re crushing my self-esteem now. You didn’t notice that badass jacket I used to wear all the time? Skull on the back, black leather?”

“That’s right! I did forget. That was part of your ‘bad boy’ wardrobe.”

“I was told that chicks dig the bad boys.”

“Yes, we do,” she assured him. “We really do, especially when they’re the kind that put out fires.”

He looped his arms around her and brushed his mouth across hers, causing an instant riot of tingles. “I’m thinking more about starting one right now,” he murmured against her lips. “And since I’m trained, you’re perfectly safe.”

“Maybe I’m tired of safe.”

“Whatever you say, milady.”

She smiled as he worked his hands under her shirt and ran his thumbs across her lower back. The skin there was surprisingly sensitive. No one had ever touched her there, so she hadn’t known. He did that for quite some time. The slow, patient sweeps of those calloused thumbs made her melt against him. She wanted to feel him too, so she dragged his t-shirt up. Her fingers traced the long, lean muscles along his spine. Every flex and jump of his muscles sent desire flowing through her.

“I think you should take this off,” she whispered.

She pulled his shirt higher, tugging it over the broad expanse of his shoulders. He ducked his head so she could work it all the way off. When he stood bare-chested before her, she stared at him in awe. Every muscle had the sort of definition she’d only ever seen in ads or magazines. He was absolutely cut, ripped, whatever the word was. A tattoo wrapped around his rib cage—a single flame that spiraled in two directions, heart and back. Outlined in black, filled in with shades of crimson and persimmon-orange, it looked almost alive thanks to his rapid breathing.

“How do you look like this?” she asked, pressing her hand against the firm surface of his abdomen. “Do you spend hours and hours at the gym?”

“Not really. My thing is running up mountains. Sometimes I bike up mountains too. Or carry heavy backpacks up mountains.”

She could picture him powering his way up a steep trail—bare-chested, of course. Sweating. Pumping. Oh Lord.

“Which mountains? Where were you living before you took the job here?”

“I have a house in Boulder, Colorado. That’s where I’ll go when the fire season ends.”

For a moment, her heart sank. Of course he wasn’t going to stay in Jupiter Point. Why would he? He’d had a whole life before he came back. She told herself it didn’t matter anyway. She wasn’t interested in a relationship. She was interested in S.E.X. And that was pretty much a first for her, so she’d better not mess it up with other emotions.

She bent her head to swirl her tongue across his nipple. He let out a hiss of breath but stayed stock still while she explored his musculature with hands and lips and even teeth. The texture of his flesh was so firm and springy. It fascinated her. And when she nibbled on the tiny pebble of his nipple, she loved the way it hardened.

To have this tough, strong man at the mercy of her tongue filled her with a sense of power.

“How about you lose
your
shirt and I try that on you?” Sean asked in a strained, raspy voice that sent shivers through her. She remembered her dream and the way he swirled his tongue in circles around the peak. “Come on. Show me your boobs.”

“What?” She straightened, laughing in surprise.

“Please? Come on, I’m busy restraining every primitive impulse in my body. And believe me, I have a lot of those. You’re licking on me and stroking me and my dick is as hard as a gear shift. Don’t I deserve something here?”

“You make some valid points.” She took her hands away from his chest and lifted her shirt in a quick flash. At the expression on his face, she burst out laughing.

“No fair. I blinked at the wrong moment. And you’re wearing a bra.”

“If you blinked, how do you know I’m wearing a bra?”

“Damn it, why do you have to be so smart and all? Do it again. For the fire service. For the guy who’s going to keep your precious town from burning down.”

She rolled her eyes. “Drama queen.” Again, she yanked her shirt up, but this time he snagged her wrist before she could cover herself. She closed her eyes under his long scrutiny.

“I think you might be the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen,” he said softly.

A feather-light touch traveled across the upper slope of her breast, then dipped into the valley between them. Her skin rippled with reaction. Her breath sped up until it came in quick little pants. She closed her eyes so she could give herself fully to the sensation. The rustling wind, the faraway crash of waves on the shoreline, even the distant honk of a car on the highway, all of it became part of the experience. As if the boundaries between her and the world around her were dissolving.

The pad of his finger had a rough grain to it, but the way he touched her was so gentle. The contradiction was delicious. He tugged down the edge of her bra and cupped her breast in his warm hand. His thumb glanced across her nipple almost casually. She jerked at the electric sensation.

“You know I think you’re gorgeous, right?” he murmured.

“You said that, yes.” She felt her gut tighten, as she always did when people spoke about her appearance. It always felt like something outside her, something alien.

“And feel this.” He put her hand on the front of his jeans so she felt the swell of his erection. “That’s not because of how you look. It’s because of how you respond to me. I bet you’re as wet as that ocean right now.”

She froze. Words from the past—Brad’s words—buzzed in her ears.
That’s not supposed to happen.
I bet there’s something wrong with you. Do your parents know what you’re really like?

Trembling, she jerked out of his arms and yanked down her top. “What did you say?”

Looking bewildered, he raised his hands in a defensive gesture. “Hey, that wasn’t an insult. I said it was a turn-on. I’m not complaining about it.”

She turned away and buried her head in her hands. No matter what she did, she couldn’t make Brad shut up.
I’ll tell everyone what a nympho you are…

“I can’t do this,” she gasped. “This is a mistake.”

“Sweetheart, we don’t have to do anything you don’t want to do. But come on, talk to me.” She finally managed to raise her eyes to his. She didn’t see a hint of mockery in his smoked-green eyes, just pure concern and bewilderment. He didn’t step away, didn’t throw up his hands in disgust. He just stood patiently, waiting for what she would say next.

“I’m sorry,” she finally managed. “I—“ She had to tell Sean. She wanted to tell him. The shame from that night pressed against her heart until she thought it might burst. But how could she talk about something shameful without feeling the shame all over again? “With Brad, in that car that night, it wasn’t exactly what you think.”

His jaw flexed at her mention of Brad. “Okay.”

God, this was hard. No wonder the McGraws never talked about anything difficult. Because it was freaking difficult! She clenched her fists—
do it, Evie, grow some lady balls
—and took in a deep breath.

Her phone buzzed loudly. With a sense of relief, she dug it out of her back pocket. It was a text from Merry.
Sending you Brad’s op-ed. Brace yourself.

Her face must have showed her fear, because Sean was at her side in an instant. “What is it?”

“Give me a second. I have to read this.”

She opened the PDF and scanned through it.


It’s a shame, in this day and age, that personal issues are allowed to interfere with the forward progress of our community. Those business leaders who are unable to put aside their own feelings of rejection should step aside for the good of Jupiter Point. I represent unity and success for all. But when our leaders make decisions on the basis of emotion instead of logic, how are we supposed to come together to advance our mutual interests? Already my opponent is making political points from the failure of my own hometown to support me. This is a shameful moment in Jupiter Point history.

“Oh my God,” she whispered. “He didn’t.”

“Let me see.”

She thrust the phone at him. Everyone in town was about to read it anyway. “He’s throwing out innuendo about emotions and rejection, like I’m some kind of spurned lover trying to get revenge. No matter what I say now, I’ll look bad.”

He scanned the article, then handed the phone back. “Tell him to fuck off. Make a statement. Tell everyone what he did, why you can’t support him.”

Heat rushed into her face. “I can’t do that.”

“Why the hell not? Do you need a witness? I was there, Evie. I can back you up. We can’t let him pull this crap.”

She worried at her bottom lip with her teeth. “It’s not that simple. My mother doesn’t respond well to stress. The last thing I want is a controversy.”

“Honey.” He cupped her face in his hands. “There’s already controversy. If you want it to go away, you’ll have to do what he says and step down.”

She studied his face. “You think that’s what I should do?”

“No, I think you should punch the dude in the face. Worked for me.”

Burying her face in her palms, she let out a low moan. “I hate that he’s trying to push me around, but how do I fight back without upsetting my family? This is an impossible situation.”

He drew her close, and she felt his hands running up and down her back. “Take it from me, sweetness. That’s the best kind.”

She sighed against his chest. This afternoon had not gone the way she’d wanted at all. “Can I get a rain check on this conversation? And the rest of it? I should call Merry and check in with my parents.”

For a moment, he didn’t answer. “Sure, I’ll let you off the hook. For now.”

BOOK: Set the Night on Fire
10.18Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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