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Reggie Andrews was climbing Mount Rainier when the tone sounded, pulling him from his sleep and the dreams.
He blinked and sat upright, swinging his legs over the twin bed in the individual bunk room.
Not too bad on the nap.
That had to be about fifteen minutes out of a twenty-minute power nap. Short enough to feel revived, but not long enough to get groggy.
He put his glasses back on, then made his way through the firehouse, passing the beanery—which was the nickname for the kitchen.
“Be safe out there.”
Reggie glanced over and gave Blake a thumbs-up. His friend, a paramedic at the station, was washing up the dishes from dinner earlier.
“Thanks, buddy. Always am.”
Thankfully, it was another basic life support call and there wasn’t a rush to get into the heavy fire gear. By the time he reached the engine, Amber, another firefighter on the shift, was already waiting.
“I see you’re finally awake, Lieutenant.”
“Some of us require more beauty sleep than others.” Well used to their easy banter, he gave her a wide grin and climbed behind the wheel of the engine.
Amber gave a small laugh and settled into the passenger seat. “If you’re going for beauty, then maybe you should borrow some of my makeup, Lieutenant. It could only help.”
A surge of amusement and affection hit him as he cast her a sideways glance. Damn, but he loved working with her. She was just so fun and witty.
“Right, like you wear makeup,” he teased.
Within seconds they’d left the station, lights flashing, as they responded to what was classified as a basic life support run that required their EMT skills.
The fire departments all over Seattle were constantly busy—their station wasn’t unique—and there seemed to be just as many medical calls lately, if not more, than fire-related.
Reggie pulled the engine up in front of the coffee shop and shot her a smile. Already, a crowd of curious onlookers had gathered.
She lifted a brow and opened her door. “I’m always ready.”
The call was for abdominal pain, and while he assessed the victim’s condition, Amber did the paperwork and asked questions.
They worked together with an ease that came with several years of being paired with one another more often than not.
Within fifteen minutes, the episode had subsided, and the patient had declined transport to the hospital. Which meant they wrapped it up and headed back to the station.
“You know, I do wear makeup sometimes.”
Thrown by her comment, he gave her a sideways glance as he drove. “What?”
“Your joke earlier that I don’t wear makeup. I absolutely do.” She shrugged. “I just don’t wear it around you guys.”
Not quite sure how to respond to that, he made a small murmur of agreement.
Being the only female firefighter at their small station, she’d certainly solidified her place as one of the guys. She was part of the firefighter family. Or the “fire fam,” as he called it.
Even though she’d only been at the station for a few years, she’d proven she was just as good—if not better—as any of the men.
When she’d first started out, he’d had taken her under his wing a bit. Part of it was his job, and part of it had been feeling a bit protective because of how damn young she’d been—joining the department when she’d just turned twenty.
“Why would I put on makeup to come to work?” she continued. “And poker night is super casual too.”
“No, I get it,” he agreed. “You save the mascara and lipstick for girls’ night out, am I right?”
She laughed. “Something like that. And on the rare occasion I have a date.”
His brows furrowed.
Amber dating. Now why was that such a weird concept to envision?
Maybe because she was off-limits—an unspoken rule, of course—to all the guys in the department. She was one of them. One of the bros. And you didn’t date the girl bro.
So, basically, they kept her in the same mental box as one of the guys.
“Anyway, speaking of poker night, it’s tomorrow night after everyone sleeps the day away. Are you in?”
“Have I missed one yet?” he drawled and adjusted his glasses.
“No, you haven’t. Which makes my job easy for the food planning. It’s these other guys who can be hard to pin down.”
“Well, Blake’s married now, so you need to cut the man some slack.”
“Actually, Blake is coming this time. Something about his wife being back in Nevada for a few days.”
“Nice.” He nodded and pulled the engine back into the firehouse bay. “What can I bring?”
“Yourself.” She lifted a brow. “And maybe some of your family’s cookies?”
It was no secret that everyone loved the sweets from his family’s bakery. He’d been known to bring them to the station and to parties more often than not.
Reggie climbed out of the engine and followed her back into the station. “Are you more into the muffins, cookies, or—”
“Those oatmeal chocolate cookies with pink Himalayan salt are amazing.” She grimaced, keeping pace with him. “The oatmeal makes it healthy, right?”
“Exactly. That’s what I tell myself too.”
“You ever find it weird?” She glanced at him. “That you’re a firefighter when your entire family went into the bakery business?”
“Nah, it’s cool. That’s their thing. Not mine.”
His sister had been all too excited to follow in their parents’ footsteps and dedicate her life to working at Sugar Me Sweet.
But the heat from battling fires called to him far more than the heat from the kitchen ever could.
No judgment to his family. They loved what they did, and so did he.
“I’m going to try and lift some weights before the next call comes in. You wanna join?”
Did she want to join?
Amber Chapman struggled to keep her expression indifferent as she gave a small shrug. “Yeah, I could do a few reps. Maybe get in some time on the elliptical.”
And try really freaking hard not to stare at your biceps, Lieutenant.
Which had honestly become one of her favorite pastimes. Which probably made her a little lecherous, but whatever. One couldn’t simply pretend a legit Adonis wasn’t lifting weights next to you.
“Cool. Let’s do it.”
When Reggie walked past her and made his way to the gym, she let her gaze trail over him.
The man was six foot one of perfection. His beautiful brown skin covered impressive muscles, from his shaved head to his large feet.
Large feet, large—no, Amber. Stop being a perv.
This stupid crush on him had begun almost immediately—definitely within her first few days on the job.
While other guys had been skeptical of her being so young—and being a woman—Reggie had seen her skills and been a lifeline of advice and reassurance.
He’d taken her under his wing until she was confident enough to step out from under it. But he’d never made her feel like she wasn’t capable of doing this job. Never made her question her choice of being a firefighter—where others had.
And so it was really kind of bitterly ironic that because he treated her like one of the guys so well, he never seemed to see her as a woman.
Which is fine. You can’t really date your superior anyway, Amber.
Despite the internal reminder—one all too familiar to her—her heart never seemed to get the message.
She clenched her jaw and followed after him.
By the time she climbed onto the elliptical, she was ready to expel some energy. Even still, her gaze sidled over across the room to where Reggie was doing kettlebell swings.
Each contraction had the muscles in his forearms and biceps rippling.
She grunted and looked away, picking up her pace.
OK, there was no denying he was hot, but Reggie was also the epitome of a nice guy.
Where arrogance seemed to run freely among many of the other male firefighters she worked with, he was humble. Humble, sweet, and hot.
Just take my panties already.
The tone went off, but Adam and J.D. went out on it, leaving them a few more minutes in the gym.
Maybe it was time to get in some weight lifting too.
She climbed off the elliptical, wiped it down, and then went to grab some free weights. She’d only managed a few biceps curls before another tone went off.
Reggie met her gaze in the mirror and grimaced. “Guess this is us.”
It wasn’t easy to get in a long workout while on shift, but anything was better than nothing.
They set down their weights and headed for the bay.
A few minutes later they were geared up and on their way to a kitchen fire in a bar with Chad and Chuck.
The fire was fairly small and easily put out. Once done, they cleaned up the scene and rolled the hoses and got them back on the apparatus.
Amber double-checked all equipment and tools were accounted for, ignoring the loud bar patrons who’d left the building, but still lingered nearby to watch.
“Hey, I think that firefighter is a chick.”
Well used to the occasional comments about her being a woman, Amber ignored them and focused on her task.
Their laughter got louder and the comments cruder, and she ground her teeth together so she wouldn’t say something that would get her in trouble.
Like hey, assholes, eat a bag of dicks or something equally unprofessional.
“Be respectful,” Reggie hollered.
Her gaze flickered to the lieutenant in surprise. Clearly, he wasn’t about to sit quietly on this one.
She gave him a small grateful smile as he grunted, not looking too happy.
There was more snickering behind her before there was a rush of footsteps. Even while wearing her heavy turnout gear, she was aware of the hands that grabbed her ass.
Amber saw red and spun around, but somehow Reggie beat her to it.
Shock ripped through her as she watched him push the drunk, college-aged kid against the side of the building.
“What the hell is wrong with you?” Reggie ground out. “Keep your damn hands to yourself and let us do our job here.”
The younger man’s glassy eyes went wide.
Her heart quickened at the anger blazing in Reggie’s stare. The barely leashed violence.
Never, ever, had she seen Mr. Nice Guy get mad. And a mad Reggie was a sight to behold.
“Lieutenant,” she said softly.
He ignored her and kept his attention on the other guy. “I believe you owe her an apology.”
“S-sorry, ma’am. I shouldn’t have grabbed your ass. In my defense, I’m really drunk.” The college kid grimaced. “And if it’s any consolation, I couldn’t feel anything under those heavy pants.”
Drunk fucking idiots.
“No, that’s not a consolation.” She shook her head and glanced around. Chuck and Chad were back near the engine, but watching warily from afar.
Time to put an end to this.
She touched Reggie’s shoulder gently, and his gaze slid to hers.
She made the silent plea for him to let the other man go.
Reggie seemed reluctant, but gave a small nod and stepped away. Though not before his final warning. “Being drunk isn’t an excuse to touch a woman without her permission. Especially one saving your favorite watering hole.”
The other two guys arrived beside them, clearly concerned.
“Everything okay?” Chad asked.
“We’re good.” She kept her voice calm and firm. “Let’s just get back to the station, okay? It’s a busy night.”
But when they arrived, not everyone seemed keen to let it go.
“You know, you probably could’ve called the police or something,” Chuck said. “File assault charges.”
“For some drunk asshole grabbing my butt? Please, it’s a waste of my time and the police’s.”
The two men shrugged and walked off, clearly not going to push it any further.
“I’m sorry that happened to you.”
She turned at Reggie’s soft words and shrugged. “It’s happened before.”
Disbelief flashed in his eyes. “Someone grabbed you like that while you were out on a call?”
She hesitated. “This was the first time someone tried to grab my ass. But the comments? The crude remarks? Yes. It happens now and then.”
She wouldn’t fill him in on what it was like out at bars when she wasn’t in uniform. Some men were just jerks.
Reggie shook his head. “It’s not right.”
“Maybe not.” She bit her lip. “But you probably shouldn’t have shoved him against the wall like that.”
He cast her a quick glance. “Are you mad I did?”
No, it was actually kind of amazing how fast he’d come to her defense. And fanned the fire of that little crush she already had on him.
But she couldn’t say any of that aloud.
Feeling heat steal into her cheeks, she cleared her throat and gave a terse shake of her head.
“No, but I don’t want you to get into trouble. If that guy were to call and complain that you—”
“It’d still have been worth it.” He caught her hand and gave it a small squeeze.
Everything went a little warm and fuzzy inside her, and her breath caught. He was touching her. Lord, his hand was so big. Rough. What would it be like—
“You’re like a little sister to me, Amber. And all the guys here are my brothers. We’re family. And no one messes with my family.”
He let her go and walked off, and the air hissed out from between her lips.
That was great. He thought of her like a sister.
Well, there it was. If by some crazy chance, Reggie had a list of women’s pants he wanted to get into, hers clearly weren’t on it.
This wasn’t Game of Thrones.
End of Excerpt