Authors: Vonnie Davis
Book One in the
A division of HarperCollins
HarperImpulse an imprint of
77–85 Fulham Palace Road
Hammersmith, London W6 8JB
First published in Great Britain by HarperImpulse 2014
Copyright © Vonnie Davis 2014
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Vonnie Davis asserts the moral right
to be identified as the author of this work.
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This novel is entirely a work of fiction.
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the work of the author’s imagination. Any resemblance to
actual persons, living or dead, events or localities is
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To all the fire personnel who keep our homes and our lives safe and to their loved ones who worry about their safety on a daily basis. Thank you.
Quinn Gallagher was
Cassie Wolford marched to the side door of Fire and Marine Rescue Unit Thirty-two in Clearwater, Florida. She swiped the entry pass she’d purloined a year or so ago from her oldest brother and yanked the handle when the light in the security lock turned green. Propping her hip against the door, she maneuvered the large box containing the remainder of her birthday cake through the doorway.
Quinn better have a damn good excuse for being a no-show at my party last night.
She’d asked him twice if he was coming and, both times, he’d used that wicked smile on her before claiming he wouldn’t miss her twenty-first birthday for the world. So unless he was inside hobbling on crutches with two broken legs or wore a body cast from face to feet, he was about to get his jaw jacked.
I don’t care if he does have a body built for sin and I want to be his number one sinner.
With both of her brothers serving as firemen in this top-notch unit, Cassie knew her way around the building. She crossed the threshold into the firemen’s living quarters, slapped the cake on the large dining room table and pivoted toward conversation floating in from the TV area amid the battle sounds of a warrior game on Wii.
Masculine laughter, deep and sensual, slithered straight to her core before spreading out to spark all her nerve endings. Quinn Gallagher did that to her, no matter if it was his laughter, his voice, or his eyes that fluctuated between blue and grey.
Why Quinn? Why not a guy who is as crazy for me as I am for him? But no, I have to fall hard for Mr. I-Could-Give-a-Shit.
One quick glance in his direction, and she sucked air. Quinn, in his typically jovial manner, was recanting a story to her youngest brother, Jace, and a new fireman she’d yet to meet. All Quinn wore was a white towel slung low around his narrow hips.
Water drops lazily forged a trail down his tanned and toned body. Moisture dripped from his freshly shampooed dark hair, trailed over his perpetual five-o’clock shadow and plopped onto his collarbone, splatted onto his hardened pecs and washboard stomach, before skiing the hills and valleys over every ridge of his abs.
Oh, to be a droplet of water.
Even though they’d jogged together often under the hot Florida sun, seeing his tribal tattoo over his broad shoulder, left pec and upper arm still made her fingers itch to touch and fondle, especially that strange indentation between swirls of ink that decorated his shoulder blade.
He was such a perfect specimen of male hotness with those magnetic eyes and firm lips that smiled easily and often, creasing his cheeks with deep dimples. Cassie wanted him so badly, she ached. Yet he treated her more like a little sister or a family friend. She scowled.
Hell, why not spray-paint some black spots on me? Let him scratch behind my ears like he does the firehouse Dalmatian.
The new guy spied her first. “Hey, how’d you get in here?”
Jace’s head whipped in her direction. “Looks like my sister overrode the security system—again. Somehow she’s been doing it for years.” Jace strode toward Cassie and wrapped his arm around her shoulder before kissing her hair. “Boyd, meet my baby sister, Cassie. Sis, this is the newest pair of boots in our unit, Boyd Calloway.”
She extended her hand. “Nice to meet you, Boyd. Since I turned twenty-one yesterday, I now decree I’m to be classified as Jace’s
sister.” Her brother smirked when she elbowed him. “I’m serious, Jace, I won’t put up with being called the baby anymore.” She patted the cake box. “There was so much cake left from last night’s party, I brought it by for the guys. Not everyone who promised to come showed up.” She aimed a glare at Quinn.
“Hell, peanut, was that last night?” He shook his head, flinging droplets in every direction.
Did she mean so damn little? She’d had such high hopes for last night. She’d dreamed of a birthday kiss from him, and not one of those baby ones on the nose or forehead, either. A lip to lip, tongue to tongue, make-her-insides-quiver adult kiss. Tears threatened and she fought to blink them away. She would not cry in front of him. “You know damn well it was.”
“Hey, when a sexy woman shows up on a man’s doorstep with a bottle of tequila and a proposition, he’s prone to forget what day it is.” Quinn flashed her a cocky grin that flayed the edges of her heart.
The rest of the guys in the unit cheered in affirmation.
Jace’s arm tightened around her shoulder, his lips next to her ear. “Don’t let him get to you, sis. You know how he is.”
Yeah, she knew. Quinn was a player. She wasn’t; she’d crushed exclusively on him for three years, waiting for the jerk to notice her. What a fool she’d been to think once she turned twenty-one, he’d accept her as an equal, as a woman old enough to date. The man moved from woman to woman like she moved from one shade of fingernail polish to another. Just how was she to get him out of her system? Maybe she needed to play a little herself. Wasn’t that what tonight was about?
She breathed a kiss on Jace’s cheek. “Gotta go. Sara and Misty are waiting in the car. We’re going to Iguana Ike’s. Have some beers. Party a little.” She wiggled her hips. “Dance a lot. Girls’ night out.”
Quinn dared to take a couple steps toward her, his eyes narrowed. Gone was his previous fun-loving insolence. In its place was macho authority. “You’re going out, dressed like that?”
Geesh! Talk about mood shuffling.
Jace grabbed the cake box and headed toward the kitchen. “Boyd, let’s get some coffee to go with the cake. We’ll get the hell out of the way, and let kerosene and a match deal with their inevitable explosion in private.”
Boyd glanced from her to Quinn before following Jace. “What makes you think there’s going to be an explosion?”
“I know my ba…ah…youngest sister. Two things we don’t do with Cassie. One is tell her how to wear her hair. She’s a beautician and a damn good one. Second, we don’t tell her what to wear. Grab some plates, will ya?”
Cassie fisted her hands on her hips. “What’s wrong with the way I’m dressed? This is the outfit Wolf and Becca gave me for my birthday.”
Quinn reached to yank the off-the-shoulder sleeve to cover her shoulder. “I’m betting Becca picked this out for you. ʼCause I know damn well that protective older brother of yours would never allow you out in a black sweater that reveals more than it covers.” He propped his hands over the V of his sculptured abdomen and leaned in. “You go into a meat market like Iguana Ike’s with all that cleavage hanging out and you’ll have sharks circling for the kill.”
She pointedly glanced at her siren red fingernail polish with black swirls. “Not that it’s any of your business, but perhaps that’s exactly what I want. Sharks.” Maybe the player needed a dose of his own medicine.
His eyes narrowed for a beat and a muscle ticked in his square jaw. “Don’t play with me, Cassie. It’s been a helluva day, and I’m not in the mood. We just got back from a marine rescue off Sand Key Park and it didn’t go well. Wolf and Barclay weren’t able to save a teen. Booze and scuba-diving never mix.”
“Oh no! How’s Wolf taking it? He gets so upset when he can’t save someone. Taking care of everyone else is his thing. It’s what keeps him going.” He’d certainly taken care of her over the years and had gotten her to face some painful issues.
Quinn pointed toward the hallway. “The Wolf’s in a mood, that’s for sure. Been banging equipment around. He’s in the showers now. I’d love to see what his opinion is of your outfit. Hell, that red leather skirt barely covers the essentials.”
“Aw, hell. Here we go. Cassie in a snit is not a pretty sight.” Jace’s remark drifted in from the kitchen.
“I don’t dress to please my brother. Nor will I ever dress to please the likes of a man who can’t live up to his promises.” She slid the black sweater off her shoulder and down her arm the way she’d worn it earlier. Then she presented Quinn with a defiant glare. “Now that we have that clear, you, Mr. Romeo, can go to hell. I hope the woman who was more important to you than my birthday party gave you a good dose of the clap.”
Several fireman hooted and hollered at her snide remark. As usual, the place was wall-to-wall with male ears.
She snatched her purse from the table and took two steps before Quinn’s hand vised around her wrist and jerked her against his chest. She was nearly lipstick to pierced brown nipple with his very fine pecs.
God, I’d like to bite one out of sheer spite.
“Watch your mouth, peanut—”
“Stop calling me ‘peanut’. I’m an adult now.” She heaved a sigh.
Which would negate my biting his nipple, wouldn’t it?
Quinn’s gaze swept over her face for a second, his jaw clenched in annoyance. “All right, since you’re an adult, you ought to be able to handle this. I’m tired of you panting after me. I’m not interested. I mean, I love you like a sister and I’d do anything for you. Hell, we jog together often. Scuba-dive. Catch a movie now and then. But we do it all as friends. Nothing more.” He exhaled a long sigh and shook his head once. “Dating is out of the question. I want you to stop drooling over me as if I’m husband material.”
Oh, dear God.
Are my desires that apparent?
He couldn’t have said such a hurtful thing. Not her Quinn. Her chest constricted, forcing her stomach to do a free fall to her stilettos. The block walls of the building warped inward for a few seconds and the tile floor tilted. A buzzing filled her ears and her breathing all but ceased in lungs clutched by pain.
Dear God, no.
Since the news of her parents’ death no one’s words had wounded her so deeply. Evidently she hadn’t hid her fascination with him as well as she’d hoped. Not only was Quinn well aware of her yearnings, but he resented them. So much so he felt the need to announce in front of everyone that he held zero desire for her.
He feels no attraction for me.
Happiness limped from her soul on a ragged sigh. Through her veil of tears, Wolf stood, hands on hips, like a storm cloud ready to erupt. Beside him were Jace and several firemen. She’d embarrassed her brothers, too. Had her behavior been so obvious, so humorous to everyone?
What an idiot I am.
“I…I’m sorry.” She fought to keep her voice steady.
God, please don’t let me cry in front of these men.
“Cassie, baby.” Wolf advanced, concern evident in his features. He’d resigned his commission in the SEALs to come home to care for her and her older sisters after their parents died. He’d pulled her through many rough days and nights. No one could pull her through this, though. It was time for her to face the cold hard bitchin’ truth: Quinn wanted her to leave him alone.
She stepped back and extended a hand in a stop gesture. “I’m sorry I’ve been such a pain in everyone’s ass.” Reaching into the outer pocket of her purse, she grasped Wolf’s key card. “Here.” She extended it to him. “I won’t need this anymore.”
Wolf shook his head. “Keep it. I’ve known you had it all along. The Captain knows too. I want you to go to Becca’s tonight.”
Yes, her oldest brother would send her to the safety of his fiancée’s care. Everyone wanted to tell her where to go, who to be with, who to love…or not love. Would they ever accept the fact she was able to take care of herself? Perhaps she needed to prove she could. Hell, she was no weakling. All she needed was some time to adjust to a life without dreaming about Quinn and then move on.
Eight or nine years ought to do it.
She tossed the entry card onto the table and strode out of the fire station for the last time.
I’m a grown woman. I can do this. The hell with Quinn Gallagher.