Award-Winning Author of Romantic and Erotic Suspense
  Jo Davis  
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Excerpt from LINE OF FIRE

Copyright © Jo Davis, 2010
All Rights Reserved, Penguin Group USALINE OF FIRE

After a day of putting out fires, the sizzling-hot men of Station Five tend to start a different kind of blaze. Take All-American—and all-sexy—Tommy Skyler...

To the other men of the A-shift, Tommy’s a lucky guy who has it all. But deep inside, the golden boy of Station Five hides a private pain. He was once a star quarterback on the fast track, until tragedy derailed his dream. Ever since then, he’s struggled with the choices he’s made—including his decision to become a firefighter.

His one ray of light shines in beautiful nurse Shea Ford. And when a dangerous rescue lands Tommy in the ER, what better opportunity to win her over? As Shea gives in to her feelings for him, they reach the heights of passion. But when a sinister conspiracy culminates in deadly arson, Tommy will lose more than he ever imagined. A ruthless enemy is closing in, threatening to destroy the couple’s love—and their lives.

 

Chapter One

“Go wide! Go wide!”

“Come on, Skyler! Pass the ball!”

Tommy Skyler peddled backward, fingers gripping leather, muscles tense. A good quarterback never rushed.

A star quarterback locked on his receiver, fired, and planted the pigskin dead in his chest. Every single time.

For a couple of seconds, Tommy was back at Bryant-Denny Stadium. A crowd of over ninety thousand. Half of them on their feet, screaming his name.

Better than being a rock star. Almost better than sex.

He’d go down in fucking history.

Zeroing in on his target, he pumped his arm and let the football fly. It left his fingertips, spiraling in a perfect arc toward his receiver.

He had a split second to see Eve Marshall catch the pass with a muffled umph before his lieutenant at Fire Station Five, Howard “Six-Pack” Paxton, broke Julian Salvatore’s block, barreled into Tommy like a two-ton freight train, and put him on his back, the wind temporarily knocked out of his lungs.

Tommy heaved a breath, then barked a laugh as Six-Pack rolled off him. “Jesus. You missed your calling, man. You should’ve played in the pros.”

“Nah. I was completely disillusioned when I found out the players couldn’t date the cheerleaders. Ruined it for me.” The lieutenant pushed to his feet, brushed the grass off his regulation navy blue pants, and offered Tommy a hand.

Tommy took it, letting the big man yank him up. “I hear you. One of the dumbest rules on the planet if you ask me.”

“Maybe that’s changed by now?”

“Got no clue.”

He suppressed the twinge in his chest. Once upon a time, he knew practically everything there was to know about the world of pro football. A world that had been his for the taking. And he’d been out of the loop for only two years.

Fuck, it felt like a lifetime. Might as well be.

“Great pass,” Eve said breathlessly, jogging over. She tossed the football back to Tommy, who caught it, grinning.

“Nice catch.”

Eve propped her fists on her slim hips. “Maybe you should’ve gone pro. Ever consider it?”

Eyeing their pretty teammate, the only female firefighter at Station Five, he was distracted from answering right away. The woman had some serious mojo goin’ on, if a man didn’t mind them a little tough—both mentally and physically.

And Tommy so did not mind. From the top of her dark head, to her lean, muscular body, to her long legs, the woman was strong as hell. The curve of her angular jaw hinted at more than a thin streak of stubbornness—more like a will of iron. He should know. He’d flirted with her, half-seriously, over the past couple of years, only to be firmly shut down.

Oh, she didn’t mind his teasing, even seemed to get a kick out of it, but never failed to get across that their byplay would not evolve into something else. Ever.

Should his ribbing cross the line, she’d tear off his balls and feed them to him for lunch.

If their captain, Sean Tanner, didn’t do the deed first.

Not that Eve was his type anyway, since he’d met—

“Skyler? Yoo-hoo!”

He blinked at her. “What?”

“Focus, kid. I asked if you’d thought of going pro?”

“Not a kid, Eve,” he said, suppressing a sigh of annoyance. Now where have I heard that song and dance before? “And yeah, I thought about it. Didn’t work out.”

She frowned at his clipped tone, the absence of his usual comeback filled with innuendo. Something she wasn’t used to from him, he figured. “Why not?”

He barked a short laugh, surprised at the bitter sound. “I decided being rich and famous didn’t appeal.”

Tommy barely caught her scowl as he spun and strode for the bay. Behind him, he heard Julian caution quietly, “Leave it alone, Evie.”

“What? What’d I say?” Her voice rose. “Skyler—”

Three loud tones over the station’s intercom system ended her protest, and Tommy broke into a jog as the computerized female voice began to relay their call. Saved by the bell.

Or not. Crap. Had he heard correctly?

Zack Knight, their FAO—fire apparatus operator—stuck his head out of the bay and yelled, “Come on, slackers! Haul your asses!”

Tommy rushed into the bay and skidded to a halt next to the big quint, shoved his feet into his boots, and yanked up his heavy fire-retardant pants. The others followed suit as Tanner joined them.

Tommy glanced at Zack. “Did she say—”

“Scaffold collapsed downtown,” Sean interrupted, jerking on his own gear. “Two construction workers dead, one clinging to what’s left of the scaffold. Forty-four stories up.”

“Shit,” Tommy breathed. Quickly, he donned his coat and reached for his hat. “Aerial ladder on the quint’s not gonna reach.”

“One of you will have to rappel down to him, get him into a safety harness.” Ready, the captain yanked open the passenger door of the quint, braced a boot on the running board, and hauled himself up. “Let’s go!”

Tommy climbed into the backseat of the cab, Julian right behind him. Zack slid behind the wheel and Sean took the place of the commanding officer in the passenger’s seat. Since the two commanding officers never rode in the same vehicle, the lieutenant took the ambulance, Eve joining him.

Tommy glanced at Julian, musing that just a couple of months ago, their resident bad-boy had been practically shackled to the lieutenant’s side out of sheer necessity. The man had needed a keeper, for damned sure. But exorcising one’s demons, not to mention finding true love, had a tendency to change a man for the better.

I don’t need to change, but I wouldn’t turn down the lovin’.

As if. Settling back in his seat, he frowned, attempting to force his mind away from a certain cute-as-a-button nurse with shoulder-length curly brown hair and liquid brown eyes. Freckles across her pert nose. Smart as a whip.

And harboring an apparent aversion to getting too close to him, no matter how hard he tried.

“I can hear your brain grinding, amigo. What gives?”

Tommy studied Julian, surprised, not for the first time lately, by the genuine concern on his friend’s face. “Dude, am I that obvious?”

“To me, sure.” Julian shot a pointed glance to their companions in the front.

Tommy gave him a small smile, grateful the man had his back yet again. Jules wasn’t the type to flap his lips in front of the others, especially about two very painful subjects—the elusive Shea Ford for one. Second, how Tommy’s own dreams had died along with his older brother.

On the topic of Shea, at least, he could let his friend off the hook. Besides, Zack and the captain weren’t paying attention anyway.

“Same girl problem, different day,” he replied simply. Julian nodded in understanding, giving him a grin.

“Hmm. Shea still thinks you’re too young? Didn’t I tell you the first thing you need to do is give your vocabulary a dude-ectomy? A woman doesn’t mind her guy having the stamina of an eighteen-year-old, just don’t sound like one.”

He laughed in spite of himself. “Girl advice, coming from the man who used to change women more often than his boxers. That’s scary, Jules.” Though the man did have a point.

The other man arched a black brow, his teeth white against his bronzed face. “Caught one, didn’t I?”

“Touché. How is Grace, by the way?”

“Uh-uh, no changing the subject. What seems to be the problem with you and your lady? I mean, you said you’ve been out together, right?”

“For a quick burger, and then once to a movie.” Tommy shrugged, not letting on how much her rejection of him as a man truly hurt. “We had a good time, got along fine. But I might as well have been her brother, considering the distance she kept between us. When I dropped her off after the movie, she shook my freakin’ hand, man.”

Julian grimaced. “Ouch. Even a brother would get a hug.”

“No shit.”

“I hate to say this, but . . . maybe there’s just no spark.”

“No, that’s one thing I’m sure of,” Tommy said firmly. “I said she kept it on the down-low, not that there wasn’t a current flowing. Seriously, you could power Sugarland for a week with the electricity we got goin’ on when we’re together. She just won’t let me close.”

“Well, there might be your answer.” Julian waved a hand at his friend. “The problem isn’t you at all, but something going on with her. Ever think of that?”

Tommy blinked at him, the light dawning. “I’m such an idiot. Why didn’t I think of it first?”

“Because you’re a guy. And in typical guy fashion, you’ve thought of nothing but your wants and needs right from the start. What about what she wants and needs? I grew up with four older sisters. Believe me, I know what I’m talking about.”

Tommy felt his cheeks grow hot. Dammit. “Aw, crap. I’ve really screwed up everything.”

“Not necessarily. Give her time, be there for her. Listen to what she has to say. It’s not a race, so don’t push her away by moving at warp speed.”

“I never thought of it that way before,” he muttered. “Thanks, du—Julian.”

The other man snickered at his self-correction. “There’s hope for you yet, kid.”

“Not a kid.” He sighed, mulling over Julian’s advice. Had he been so self-absorbed he’d missed some serious signals from Shea? Ignored her needs? If so, that was about to change. Maybe there was hope for them after all.

They fell silent and he focused on the problems they faced as they neared their destination. When the building came into view, the collapsed scaffold crumpled against the unfinished side like a child’s pile of pickup sticks, Tommy gave a low whistle.

“We’ve got a worker stuck up there? Fuckin’ A, this is gonna suck.”

The others muttered in agreement, and the tension in the cab became palpable. Zack pulled the quint past the construction fence, well away from danger should the rest of the structure come down. The second he stopped, they jumped from their vehicles, gazes automatically fixed on the wreckage before them. The captain began barking orders.

“Howard, I want you, Salvatore, and Skyler on the roof. Take the ropes and harnesses, and decide who gets to play Spider-Man.”

“I’ll do it,” Tommy volunteered.

Julian looked relieved and Howard said, “You’re in.”

“Marshall, you’ll work the ground with me,” Sean continued, ignoring Eve’s scowl. “There’s no telling what damage, if any, has been done to the framework of the building or whether it’ll shift, so let’s move it!”

Eve stepped forward, voice hard. “I’m just as capable of—”

“Not now, goddammit,” the captain snapped. Then he turned his back on her and keyed his radio, calling the battalion chief to find out his ETA.

Tommy didn’t blame Eve for being pissed. Wasn’t the first time Sean had passed her over for the more strenuous or exciting task. But nobody had time to debate the matter. Tommy helped the lieutenant and Julian with the gear, then followed on their heels. On the way, his gaze fell on two man-sized lumps covered by a black tarp, at least a half-dozen workers standing by, looking on mournfully.

Jesus Christ. How awful to start a workday as normally as any other and have it end in tragedy. He averted his eyes and took in the distance from the roof to the scaffold, concentrated on the job ahead.

This wasn’t going to be easy. Even from here, the piteous cries of the worker drifted to them, raising the hair on the back of his neck. The only thing worse than hearing the man’s panic would be if it abruptly ended, in a bad way.

They rode the construction lift to the roof and set about securing the rope and pulley system to nearby support beams. Tommy quickly shed his heavy fire coat, which did nothing to relieve the stifling July heat, but at least his movements wouldn’t be so restricted. The pants and boots, he left on in the interest of time.

He yanked on a pair of gloves, then let Julian help him with one harness; the other, connected to his own, he’d put on the worker as an extra safety measure before they were both lowered to the ground. Ready to go, he sat on the ledge of the roof, bracing himself until the rope was drawn taut.

Julian tried an encouraging smile, but it came out more of a grimace. “Be careful, man. Better you than me.”

“I’m so touched, thanks.”

“All right,” Howard said. “When you’re ready.”

Tommy nodded. “Go.”

As he eased himself over the side, the line remained tight, giving him a sense of relative security. He wasn’t afraid of heights—just the fall and the sudden stop at the end. As long as the equipment did the job, he was good.

He held on to the rope, using his feet to “walk” down the side of the building. Technically, he wasn’t really rappelling since he was being lowered by his teammates, but he figured that was semantics. His ass was dangling more than forty stories above the ground, so what the hell difference did it make what it was called?

Foot by foot, he crept downward. Two stories. Three. Sweat rolled down his spine, into his eyes. Glancing below, he finally caught sight of the worker clinging to a metal pole a few feet from the side of the building. His hard hat was missing, revealing a balding head. Beefy shoulders, gut riding over his belt. Big sonofabitch, probably outweighed him by fifty pounds or more.

Fantastic.

“Hurry!” the man bellowed, panic cracking his voice. “I can’t hang on much longer!”

“Don’t move!” Which, of course, the man did, becoming more agitated the closer Tommy got.

“I—I can’t help it! I’m slipping!”

“I’m almost there,” he called, hoping he sounded reassuring. “Just a few more seconds, okay? What’s your name?”

“R-russell.”

“I’m Tommy. Hold tight, Russell. I’m comin’ your way.”

“Oh, God, I’m gonna fall!”

Dread settled in the pit of his stomach. This situation had clusterfuck written all over it. “No, you’re not. Look at me, all right? Focus on me.”

At last, Tommy became level with Russell, quickly assessing his only option. Carefully, he pushed away from the wall with one foot and used the other to test the sturdiness of a cross-pole. Gradually, he put all his weight on it, relieved when it held. He needed only one minute more. Maybe luck was on their side.

Bracing one hand on another pole to steady himself, he began to inch toward Russell, talking calmly, crossing the few feet separating them. “Easy does it. I’ve got a harness here with your name on it, connected to mine. Soon as I get you strapped in, we’ll—”

The structure shifted, shuddering under Tommy’s boots. For Russell, that was all she wrote.

He yelled, eyes rolling, terrified, as he scrambled toward Tommy.

“No! Stay right—”

Tommy barely had a split-second to react. Russell launched himself across the remaining distance, forcing Tommy to catch him in an awkward bear hug.

Just as the rest of the scaffold collapsed.

Tommy’s boots slipped and he swung free, toward the side of the building, with two hundred fifty pounds of deadweight in his arms. Metal groaned, rained down on them. One rod struck Tommy’s fire hat, sending it flying.

Along for the ride, struggling to retain his hold on his heavy burden, he braced himself for the impact with the side of the building.

Tommy hit the bricks on his right side, pain exploding in his head and shoulder. The world spun crazily, but he held on to Russell. Who clung to him for dear life, screaming like a little girl.

Shut up, jackass! This predicament is partially your fault.

That’s what he wanted to yell at Russell, who was too far gone to care. Just focus on getting him to the ground.

From above them, Howard yelled, “Hang on! We’re sending you down!”

They were moving, Tommy realized through the buzzing between his ears. Lower and lower. Peering over Russell’s shoulder, he saw another engine company had arrived, bringing more firefighters from another station as backup. Yellow coats and pants everywhere, rushing toward him.

The ground came up to meet him, and Tommy stood on rubbery knees, releasing his hold on the worker. Several pairs of hands grabbed Russell and led him away. More hands worked at Tommy’s harness, getting him free.

“. . . okay?”

Tommy blinked, trying to find the speaker. “What?”

A hand gripped his shoulder. “I asked, are you okay?”

Eve’s worried face swam in front of him, and he waved her off. “I’m fine. Ready to run laps.”

His grin felt wrong, like his muscles wouldn’t work. He shook off another pair of hands and took a couple of steps so they could see he was perfectly all right.

Tommy’s knees buckled.

The last thing he saw was the captain lunging to catch him.

 

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