The Firefighter’s Slow Burn

by

Karen Foley

Dylan McCafferty enjoys anything that gets his adrenaline pumping. He’s an avid risk-taker, except when it comes to love. He has too many adventures left on his bucket-list to ever settle down. But when Hayden Temple rolls into town, bringing her two young nephews and a whole lot of trouble with her, he finds himself out of his comfort zone. Now, the biggest risk is the one he’ll take with his heart.

Blamed for a barn fire that killed her father when she was just a teenager, Hayden Temple knows it’s impossible to outrun the past, yet she still longs for a place to call home. She believes she’s found that in the small town of Glacier Creek—and the sexy thrill-seeker who might be the one person capable of keeping her ghosts at bay. But after her young nephews inadvertently start a wildfire that threatens the small town, she’s the one raked across the coals. When Hayden’s past finally catches up with her, will she be forced to stand by and watch as any future with Dylan goes up in flames?

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A loud commotion outside the offices of Adrenaline Adventures made Dylan McCafferty look up from where he studied a topographical map of the mountains surrounding the small town of Glacier Creek, Montana. On the street below, a lime-green Jeep towing a shiny silver Airstream trailer tried to turn into a small side street, but the driver had misjudged the amount of clearance. In a classic rookie move, the driver had attempted to reverse out of the side street but had overcompensated. Now the Jeep and the trailer were jack-knifed at an impossible angle, completely blocking the road. Dylan might not have intervened, except the back end of the trailer was dangerously close to his Range Rover, parked along the curb.

He shot to his feet, drawing the attention of his friend and partner, Jamie Colter, who was talking on the phone with a client. Now he followed the direction of Dylan’s gaze, and cupped his hand over the phone.

“Need any help?” he asked.

“No,” Dylan muttered darkly. “I got this.”

He took the stairs to the first floor two at a time, and burst out onto the sidewalk, where a small crowd of spectators had begun to gather. Glacier Creek was a small town by any standards, but its proximity to Flathead Lake and Glacier National Park made it a popular tourist destination in the summer, swelling the local population. A long, shady greenway divided Main Street into two one-way streets, and a colorful explosion of quaint art galleries, gift shops, restaurants, and local businesses characterized each side of the main road. The roads converged in a small parking area next to the lake, just a few blocks down, where a long, wide pier extended out over the water.

Dylan couldn’t begin to fathom why this driver had decided to bring the Airstream through the congested town center. As he saw the trailer begin to reverse—directly into his Range Rover—he hurriedly pushed his way through the crowd.

“Whoa, whoa!” he shouted, and ran to the passenger side of the Jeep, thumping his hand hard on the window.

The Jeep came to an abrupt stop, and Dylan looked through the glass to see a woman behind the wheel, her expression both alarmed and frustrated.

Dylan yanked the passenger door open. “Take your foot off the gas,” he commanded, “or you’re going to drive this rig right through my vehicle.”

She turned to look at him, and whatever else Dylan had meant to say was completely forgotten as he found himself staring into the biggest, bluest eyes he’d ever seen, ringed in lush, black lashes. For one long, endless instant their gazes locked. Her pert, pink mouth had fallen open, and all Dylan could think was how those soft lips might feel beneath his own. The way her attention was riveted on him, Dylan knew she’d felt it too—the electric thrum of attraction passing between them was too strong to ignore.

But then she dragged her gaze from his and craned her neck to look through the open passenger door, and saw the trailer was scant inches from the Range Rover. Dylan was still trying to collect his wits, which had scattered somewhere on the floor near her feet. Jesus, she was more than just pretty—she was like something conjured out of his fantasies, with glossy, black hair cut in short layers that curled up gently at the ends, and made him want to slide his fingers through them. The long fringe of her bangs framed her face so the first thing you noticed were those amazing eyes. No makeup, either, he was sure of it. Just flawless skin, thick lashes, and those decadent lips.

He was a goner.

“Oh, sugar beets!” She thrust the Jeep into drive, but there was nowhere for her to go, wedged as she was by the surrounding cars. Realizing her predicament, she thumped her hand on the steering wheel and threw him an accusing glare, as if he were somehow to blame. “Now what am I supposed to do?”

Her voice had a husky quality to it that Dylan liked. It made him think of dark, velvet nights and hot, unhurried sex. He gave her his slow, sexy smile, the one that never failed to make the ladies go a little boneless.

“What do I get if I help you out?” he asked suggestively. “I think a kiss would be fair payment.”

Her eyes widened, and her lips rounded in an “oh” of surprise, before they clamped tightly shut and her brows drew together in a disapproving frown.

Muffled laughter came from the back of the Jeep, and Dylan peered inside to see two young boys in the back seat, falling against each other in amusement. They shared their mother’s black hair and startling blue eyes. Dylan almost tripped over himself in his hurry to step away from the Jeep.

Jesus, she was married! Even if she wasn’t, she had kids.

Dylan was a firm believer in rules, and rule number one was steer clear of married women. The second rule was steer clear of women with kids. There was a reason he was still single at the ripe old age of thirty—he had no desire to be tied down. Not now. Maybe not ever. He had too many adventures left on his bucket list to be shackled to a wife and kids.

“Slide over,” he said now, reluctantly discarding any thoughts of seduction. “I’ll get you out of here.”

The woman’s expression turned to one of amusement. “What? You think you can do a better job of driving than I can?”

Dylan leaned across the passenger seat, and smiled. “Sweetheart, I know I can. Move over.”

He watched as her skin flushed pink and her eyes widened. Then she looked past him to where a dozen or more people stood on the sidewalk watching in amusement. Behind her, cars were stacking up along Main Street. Nobody was blowing their horn, but it was only a matter of time before their patience wore thin.

“Fine,” she muttered, and lifted herself across the center console to the passenger seat. She was so close he could see the fine blue vein at her temple, throbbing now with suppressed emotion. “She’s all yours.”

Rounding the front of the Jeep, he climbed behind the wheel and adjusted the seat for his longer legs. He turned to look at the boys. “Having fun, guys?”

“Yes!” the older one said, bouncing on the seat. “This is awesome!”

“Are we going to crash into that car?” This from the smaller boy, who peered out the window with an anxious expression.

“Another dent in that thing might be an improvement,” the woman observed. She narrowed her gaze on Dylan. “Are you sure you know what you’re doing? Because if that’s your vehicle, you obviously have no idea how to drive.”

The ancient Range Rover had seen better days, but that didn’t mean it wasn’t still his baby. “Those marks are called experience,” he said, focusing his attention on the side mirrors. “Something you obviously don’t have, or you wouldn’t be in this tight spot.”

She gave a small huff of mock outrage, but her eyes were smiling. “When’s the last time you had your vision checked? I’ve had this Jeep for over a year, and there’s not a mark on it. That’s the sign of an experienced driver.”

“I guess it’s all in how you look at it,” he said, carefully turning the wheel.

“Speaking of which…” She glanced uncertainly into her side mirror at how close the trailer was to the vehicles parked along the curb. “Maybe I should get out and guide you.”

“Nope, I’ve got this,” Dylan assured her.

“Pretty sure of yourself, aren’t you?”

Dylan flashed her a grin. “Yep.”

She’d left him very little room in which to maneuver the Jeep and the trailer, and it took more than a few minutes to carefully inch his way clear, but soon he was driving forward with the trailer pulling straight behind him. A cheer went up from the spectators on the sidewalk, and Dylan barely suppressed an urge to give the woman a triumphant grin. Instead, he drove to a spot several blocks up, at the end of the greenway, and pulled the vehicle over before killing the engine.

“You should be all set from here,” he said, turning in his seat to face her.

Up close, she was even prettier than he’d realized, and he knew a sense of bitter disappointment that she was off-limits. Didn’t it just figure?

“Thanks, I appreciate the help.” She glanced back down the road to where his Range Rover was now several blocks away. “Sorry you have such a long walk back to your car.”

Dylan arched an eyebrow, unable to resist teasing her, just a little. “Do I look like I’m out of shape?”

Her eyes swept over him, and for just an instant Dylan saw awareness and something else flicker in their depths. Appreciation? His entire body tightened under that swift, cerulean scrutiny.

“No,” she reluctantly admitted, and another flush of color crawled up her neck. She reached for the door handle. “Well, thanks again. I can take it from here.”

Dylan found himself reluctant to leave, despite the warning bells jangling in his head. “Where are you headed?”

She hesitated. “There’s a campground just on the lake—”

“I know it,” Dylan said. “The Glacier Creek Campground. You’ll like it there. The sites are clean and good-sized, and there’s a nice little beach. I understand they have activities for the kids, too.”

“Yes, that’s why I chose it. Well, that and the proximity to Glacier National Park.” She opened the passenger door and prepared to climb out.

“Where are you traveling from?” He didn’t want her to leave. He told himself there was absolutely no point in continuing any conversation with her, but he couldn’t prevent his mouth from talking.

“We’re doing a cross-country road trip,” she said, shooting a warning glance toward the boys, who were busy pummeling each other in the back seat. “We started our trip in Newark, New Jersey, about five weeks ago, and now here we are.”

Dylan gave a low whistle. “That’s a lot of driving.”

“It’s been a lot of fun.”

She gave him a bright smile, but Dylan sensed she wasn’t being entirely truthful. Had she come this far on her own, with just the boys?

“You plan on driving through the park?” He referred to nearby Glacier National Park, which was the biggest draw for most of the tourists who passed through town.

“Possibly. I’m more interested in doing some hiking in the area.”

“That’s great. If you stop by our office, we have plenty of trail maps for the park, and we could even provide a guide for you, if you’re interested.”

She sharpened her gaze on him. “What is it, exactly, you do?”

Dylan extended his hand. “I’m Dylan McCafferty—part owner of Adrenaline Adventures. You can’t miss it; it’s in the old mercantile building a few blocks back.”

After a brief hesitation, she placed her hand in his, and Dylan closed his fingers around hers, admiring her firm grip. “Hayden Temple, and these two are Ollie and Jackson. I’m not sure we’re up for any adrenaline-inducing adventures. Just being away from the city is enough for us.”

Dylan found himself mesmerized by the tilt of her eyes. “We also rent kayaks, bikes, and hiking gear. Why don’t you stop by?” He raised his hands. “No pressure, and definitely no sales pitch. But we’d be happy to give you some tips on the best hiking trails for kids.”

“Maybe—thanks.” When he continued to stare at her, she gave him an expectant look as if to say, What?

She wore no wedding band or diamond on her left hand, and he desperately wanted to ask about any significant other, but decided he was already wading in too deep just by encouraging her to stop by the store. She had kids, and he definitely didn’t need the kind of complication she represented.

Quickly, before he could say something he’d regret, he climbed out of the Jeep. “Okay, then. Nice meeting you, and enjoy your stay in Glacier Creek.”

He stepped back and jammed his hands into his pockets as Hayden came around to the driver’s side and climbed in. She wore a pair of khaki shorts that hugged the curves of her sweet ass, and her bare legs were toned and trim. Dylan couldn’t help but notice her T-shirt did nothing to disguise the pert thrust of her small breasts. She absolutely was not his type, but every cell in his body rose to attention when she gave him a last, farewell smile.

He nodded as she put the Jeep into gear, and watched as she drove away, until finally she made a right turn toward Highway 35 along the lake, and the trailer disappeared from view. Dylan blew out a breath and scrubbed his hands over his face. He was really losing it if he even remotely considered her to be fair game. He mentally checked off all the factors working against her: possibly married, definitely a mom, lived on the other side of the country.

No question about it—she was completely off-limits.

End of Excerpt

The Firefighter’s Slow Burn is available in the following formats:

ISBN:

May 10, 2018

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