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Authors: Jessica Keller

The Fireman's Secret

BOOK: The Fireman's Secret
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Rekindling Her Life

After the fire that injured her and burned down Goose Harbor’s only church fourteen years ago, Shelby Beck is planning to rebuild—the structure and her life. But her wounds have always caused her to keep men at a distance. When Joel Palermo returns to town as a fireman and is assigned to help Shelby raise funds for the new construction, she’s surprised at how easy it is to get close to her brother’s old friend. Could he be the man she’ll finally trust enough to let in? Or will the bond they’ve built go up in flames, when Joel’s own scars are revealed?

Goose Harbor: Love is in big supply on the shores of Lake Michigan

“Everything that’s happened to me isn’t worth repeating.”

Joel balled his hands and put them in his pockets.

“How come you won’t trust me?” Shelby whispered.

“Shelby—believe me when I say I already trust you more than any other person in my life.”

“I can only get as close to you as you’ll let me.”

Precisely the problem. Did he want a close relationship like she did? Sure, he enjoyed spending time with her and she got him to smile like he hadn’t in a long time. But were those things worth the pain that more than likely would accompany the moment she decided she was done with him?

Shelby looked as if she was going to start crying again. He had to say something.

He cleared his throat. Why was this so difficult? “I…I don’t want you to look at me differently.”

“I won’t.”


You will
. Everyone does.” They heard about sad little Joel Palermo and they all got the same look. That cartoon-eyes-welling-up-with-tears face. Their expressions a clear mix of wondering if they should hug him or step away slowly.

“Maybe we should go back.” Shelby sighed.

He caught her arm. “Stay. Please.” Joel’s eyes searched hers.

“Give me a reason to stay.”

Jessica Keller
is a Starbucks drinker, avid reader and chocolate aficionado. Jessica holds degrees in communications and biblical studies. She is multipublished in both romance and young-adult fiction and loves to interact with readers through social media. Jessica lives in the Chicagoland suburbs with her amazing husband, beautiful daughter and two annoyingly outgoing cats who happen to be named after superheroes. Find all her contact information at
jessicakellerbooks.com
.

Books by Jessica Keller

Love Inspired

Goose Harbor Series

The Widower’s Second Chance

The Fireman’s Secret

Home for Good

 

 

Visit the Author Profile page at
Harlequin.com
for more titles.

THE FIREMAN’S SECRET

Jessica Keller

For we are God’s handiwork,
created in Christ Jesus to do good works,
which God prepared in advance for us to do.

—Ephesians 2:10

For my sweet Anna.
The person God made you to be will always
be enough. Never forget that or allow anyone
to make you feel differently. You are loved
beyond comprehension, just as you are.

Contents

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Chapter Thirteen

Chapter Fourteen

Chapter Fifteen

Chapter Sixteen

Chapter Seventeen

Chapter Eighteen

Dear Reader

Excerpt

Chapter One

M
oonlight flashed like a strobe light through the dense canopy of trees lining the road just a mile away from the shores of Lake Michigan. Shelby rolled down her window to let the cool breeze kiss her skin, but the air hung thick with a strong after-rain worm smell and the wind caused the important deed papers sitting on her passenger seat to stir. She promptly rolled the window back up.

Dampness clung to her toes. The running shoes she wore might be ruined now, but dogs needed to be walked and let outside for a little bit, even when it rained.

Her one working headlight bounced off a green sign. Welcome to Goose Harbor. As she read those words, the muscles in her shoulders relaxed instantly.
Home.

Perhaps she’d drive past the land she’d inherited. Until now, she’d avoided the street the old church had been on—not wanting to see the barren lot or be reminded of the day that had changed her life. The congregation had never rebuilt the church after it burned down, and somehow Shelby felt as if her life hadn’t been able to move forward since then. Rebuilding the church wouldn’t take away the scars she had received from being trapped in the burning structure all those years ago, but maybe seeing the church standing again would help her move on.

It had to.

A hill came into view and she gunned the car’s engine. Bad idea. The vehicle started to shake uncontrollably.

“Please don’t die on me,” she begged. She eased off the gas and watched the dials on the dashboard bounce. “Please, please, please.”

She glanced back at the road and gasped.

A deer leaped onto the street no more than ten feet in front of her. In a split-second calculation, Shelby realized there was no time to move out of the way. She was going too fast. She jammed her foot on the brakes. The car’s tires squealed, and like a madman on a warpath, her Volkswagen struck the deer.

Shelby’s head lashed forward, slamming against the steering wheel. The car’s one good headlight blinked out. The deer flew up onto the hood. White-knuckling the steering wheel, Shelby hung on as her car careered into the steep, wet ditch, tossing gravel and glass shards like candy from a parade float.

With a final death groan, the car came to a rest.

Headlights on the road pulled to a halt above her. A car door slammed.

A deep, male voice called out. “Hello? Are you hurt?” The man skidded down the ditch. He wrenched open her door. “Is it just you in here or are there others?”

“Only me.” She coughed and turned a bit, catching a glimpse of his black leather coat.

He stayed her with a hand on her shoulder. “Maybe you shouldn’t get up just yet.”

The man crouched and his face came into view. Rich hazel eyes full of concern, jaw set, and spiked black hair—he looked as if he belonged on a motorcycle. He couldn’t be from Goose Harbor, because she didn’t know him—and she knew everyone in her small town.

His dark eyebrows scrunched. “I saw you swerve off the road. Looks like you’ve got a cut on your forehead. Does anything else hurt?” He tapped his left temple to show her where the cut was.

“I’m okay...I think.” Shelby yanked a napkin from her purse and pressed it to her cut. “How’s the deer?”

He kept his hand on her shoulder. “Let’s worry about you right now. My name’s Joel. I’m a fireman, so I’m a trained EMT. I’d like to make sure your head’s okay before you get up.” His forehead creased as he assessed her. Leaning close, Joel inspected the wound with his warm eyes.

“I’m okay.” Shelby tugged at her sleeves, pulling them as low on her wrists as she could. Whoever he was, Joel didn’t know about the burn marks on her arms and legs, and she’d like it to stay that way. The less he stared at her, the better.

But he didn’t move. “Are you having any feelings of nausea or a quick onset headache?”

“Seriously, I’m fine.” She glanced at the napkin she’d been holding to her head. It didn’t look like she was bleeding that badly.

“Do me a favor and wait here for a second.” The fireman turned and climbed back to his vehicle. A couple of minutes later, he carefully navigated his way back down the slippery slope with a tube of paste, a small flashlight and gauze in his hands.

“Humor me?” He clicked on the flashlight and bent to be eye-level with her. “Okay, I’m going to shine this in your eyes.”

Shelby squinted and he told her to keep her eyes open.

“Great.” He clicked off the flashlight and tucked it into one of his coat pockets. “Your eyes responded how they should, so that’s good news.”

“Well, that’s a relief.” She grinned at him.

“You have pretty eyes.” He stopped what he was doing for a moment and his face relaxed—like how she imagined he would have looked at her if their eyes met across a coffee shop. The moment was over too soon. He immediately snapped back into EMT mode.

“Here.” He unwrapped the gauze. “We need to put this on your head. It’ll work a whole lot better than that napkin.”

With two fingers, Joel gently moved her hair out of the way. “I’m going to put some of this ointment on your cut, okay? It’ll probably tingle some.” His steady fingers worked quickly, his touch considerate. “This might burn a little, but I’m going to need you to hold the gauze on there for me.”

Shelby blew out a long stream of air but obeyed. Hopefully the deer had gotten up and continued into the forest. The image of an injured animal didn’t sit well with her, especially when she felt fine.

“Good. Just like that,” Joel coached. “Put pressure on it and hold it.” He rocked back so he was sitting on his heels. “I should call for an ambulance.”

“No.” She grabbed his wrist as he reached for his pocket and probably his cell phone. An ambulance meant that her brother, Caleb, would be called and he’d overreact. A lecture from him was best saved until morning. “I’m good. I could drive home if my car wasn’t in the ditch.”

“Then let me call for a tow truck.”

So this Joel was persistent. And cute. He wasn’t built and overly muscled like her brother, but he had a quiet strength about him. She narrowed her eyes. He actually looked familiar.

Shelby shook her head. “I go to church with the local mechanic. He has two small kids and I don’t want to wake them up by calling him right now. I’ll get in touch with him tomorrow.”

Joel looked back up to the road. “If the cops see your car here they might give you a ticket.”

“My brother’s best friend is on rotation for the night shift this week. I’ll send him a text to let him know about my car.” Good thing Miles had recently made the transfer from the police force in the big city of Brookside to the smaller Goose Harbor department. It came in handy being buddies with one of the seven officers in town.

A slow smile lit Joel’s face. “Everyone still knows everyone around here, don’t they? It sounds like Goose Harbor hasn’t changed a bit since I left.”

Since he left?
Shelby leaned closer. He smelled like cinnamon gum.
Joel.
She knew a Joel once... The image of a wiry teenager with midnight black hair, a closed-lipped smile and deep hazel eyes popped into her mind.

“Are you...?” It had to be. “Joel Palermo, right?” Caught up in the excitement of seeing an old friend, she grabbed both his hands. He couldn’t have been more than sixteen when he left town some fourteen years ago.

BOOK: The Fireman's Secret
5.48Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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