Lydia Kincaid left Boston to get away from the firefighting community—but family is number one, and her father needs her help running the pub he bought when he retired. Soon, Lydia finds it hard to resist the familiar comfort and routine, and even harder to resist her brother's handsome friend Aidan.
Aidan Hunt is a firefighter because of the Kincaid family. He's had the hots for Lydia for years, but if ever a woman was off-limits to him, it's her. She's his mentor's daughter. His best friend's sister. The ex-wife of a fellow firefighter. But his plan to play it cool fails, and soon he and Lydia have crossed a line they can't uncross.
As flirtation turns into something more serious, Lydia knows she should be planning her escape. Being a firefighter's wife was the hardest thing she's ever done, and she doesn't know if she has the strength to do it again. Aidan can't imagine walking away from Boston Fire—the job and the brotherhood are his life. But if he wants Lydia in it, he'll have to decide who's first in his heart.
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New York Times and USA Today bestselling author Shannon Stacey lives with her husband and two sons in New England, where her two favorite activities are writing stories of happily ever after and off-roading with her friends and family. You can contact Shannon through her website, www.shannonstacey.com, as well as sign up for her newsletter.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
Lydia Kincaid could pull a pint of Guinness so perfect her Irish ancestors would weep tears of appreciation, but fine dining? Forget about it.
"The customer is disappointed in the sear on these scallops," she told the sous-chef, setting the plate down.
"In what way?"
"Hell if I know. They look like all the other scallops." Lydia had a hairpin sticking into her scalp, and it took every bit of her willpower not to poke at it. Her dark hair was too long, thick and wavy to be confined into a chic little bun, but it was part of the dress code. And going home with a headache every night was just part of the job. "Ten bucks says if I wait three minutes, then pop that same plate in the microwave for fifteen seconds and take it out to her, she'll gush over how the sear is so perfect now."
"If I see you microwaving scallops, I'll make sure the only food you ever get to touch in this city again is fast food."
Lydia rolled her eyes, having heard that threat many times before, and accepted a fresh plate of scallops from the line cook. The sous-chef just sniffed loudly and dumped the unacceptable batch in the garbage, plate and all. She was pretty sure the guy spent all his off time watching reality television chefs throw tantrums.
Three hours later, Lydia was in her car and letting her hair down. She dropped the bobby pins and elastic bands into her cup holder to fish out before her next shift and then used both hands to shake her hair out and massage her scalp.
She hated her job. Maybe some of it stemmed from the disparity between the cold formality of this restaurant and the warm and loud world she'd come from, but she also flat-out wasn't very good at it. The foods perplexed her and, according to the kitchen manager, her tableside manner lacked polish. Two years hadn't yet managed to put a shine on her. The tips were usually good, though, and living in Concord, New Hampshire, cost less than living in Boston, but it still wasn't cheap.
She'd just put her car in gear when she heard the siren in the distance. With her foot still on the brake, she watched as the fire engine came into view—red lights flashing through the dark night—and sped past.
With a sigh, she shifted her foot to the gas pedal. She didn't need to hold her breath anymore. Didn't need to find the closest scanner. Nobody she loved was on that truck so, while she said a quick prayer for their safety, they were faceless strangers and life wasn't temporarily suspended.
And that was why she'd keep trying to please people who wouldn't know a good scallop sear if it bit them on the ass and taking shit from the sous-chef. That job financed her new life here in New Hampshire, including a decent apartment she shared with a roommate, and it was a nice enough life that she wasn't tempted to go home.
Her life wasn't perfect. It had certainly been lacking in sex and friendship lately, but she wasn't going backward just because the road was longer or harder than she'd thought. She wanted something different and she was going to keep working toward it.
Thanks to the miracle of an apartment building with an off-street parking lot, Lydia had a dedicated parking spot waiting for her. It was another reason she put up with customers who nitpicked their entrées just because they were paying so much for them.
Her roommate worked at a sports bar and wouldn't be home for another couple of hours, so Lydia took a quick shower and put on her sweats. She'd just curled up on the sofa with the remote and a couple of the cookies her blessed-with-a-great-metabolism roommate had freshly baked when her cell phone rang.
She knew before looking at the caller ID it would be her sister. Not many people called her, and none late at night. "Hey, Ashley. What's up?"
"My marriage is over."
Lydia couldn't wrap her mind around the words at first. Had something happened to Danny? But she hadn't said that. She said it was over. "What do you mean it's over?"
"I told him I wasn't sure I wanted to be married to him anymore and that I needed some space. He didn't even say anything. He just packed up a couple of bags and left."
"Oh my God, Ashley." Lydia sank onto the edge of her bed, stunned. "Where did this even come from?"
"I've been unhappy for a while. I just didn't tell anybody." Her sister sighed, the sound hollow and discouraged over the phone. "Like a moron, I thought I could talk to him about it. Instead, he left."
"Why have you been unhappy? Dammit, Ashley, what is going on? Did he cheat? I swear to God if he stepped out—"
"No. He didn't cheat. And it's too much for me talk about now."
"If you had been talking to me all along, it wouldn't be too much now. You can't call me and tell me your marriage is over and then tell me you don't want to talk about it."
"I know, but it's...it's too much. I called to talk to you about the bar."
Uh-oh. Alarm bells went off in Lydia's mind, but there was no way she could extricate herself from the conversation without being a shitty sister.
"I need you to come back and help Dad," Ashley said, and Lydia dropped her head back against the sofa cushion, stifling a groan. "I need some time off."
"I have a job, Ashley. And an apartment."
"You've told me a bunch of times that you hate your job."
She couldn't deny that since a conversation rarely passed between them without mention of that fact.
"And it's waiting tables," Ashley continued. "It's not like I'm asking you to take a hiatus from some fancy career path."
That was bitchy, even for Ashley, but Lydia decided to give her a pass. She didn't know what had gone wrong in their marriage, but she did know Ashley loved Danny Walsh with every fiber of her being, so she had to be a wreck.
"I can't leave Shelly high and dry," Lydia said in a calm, reasonable tone. "This is a great apartment and I'm lucky to have it. It has off-street parking and my space has my apartment number in it. It's literally only mine."
"I can't be at the bar, Lydia. You know how it is there. Everybody's got a comment or some advice to give, and I have to hear every five minutes what a great guy Danny is and why can't I just give him another chance?"
Danny really was a great guy, but she could understand her sister not wanting to be reminded of it constantly while they were in the process of separating. But going back to Boston and working at Kincaid's was a step in the wrong direction for Lydia.
"I don't know, Ash."
"Please. You don't know—" To Lydia's dismay, her sister's voice was choked off by a sob. "I can't do it, Lydia. I really, really need you." Shit. "I'll be home tomorrow."
"We got smoke showing on three and at least one possible on the floor," Rick Gullotti said. "Meet you at the top, boys."
Aidan Hunt threw a mock salute in the direction of the ladder company's lieutenant and tossed the ax to Grant Cutter before grabbing the Halligan tool for himself. With a fork at one end and a hook and adze head on the other end, it was essentially a long crowbar on steroids and they never went anywhere without it. After confirmation Scotty Kincaid had the line, and a thumbs-up from Danny Walsh at the truck, he and the other guys from Engine 59 headed for the front door of the three-decker.
Some bunch of geniuses, generations before, had decided the best way to house a shitload of people in a small amount of space was to build three-story houses—each floor a separate unit—and cram them close together. It was great if you needed a place to live and didn't mind living in a goldfish bowl. It was less great if it was your job to make sure an out-of-control kitchen fire didn't burn down the entire block.
They made their way up the stairs, not finding trouble until they reached the top floor. The door to the apartment stood open, with smoke pouring out. Aidan listened to the crackle of the radio over the sound of his own breathing in the mask. The guys from Ladder 37 had gained access by way of the window and had a woman descending, but her kid was still inside.
"Shit." Aidan confirmed Walsh knew they were going into the apartment and was standing by to charge the line if they needed water, and then looked for nods from Kincaid and Cutter.
He went in, making his way through the smoke. It was bad enough so the child would be coughing—hopefully—but there was chaos in the front of the apartment as another company that had shown up tried to knock down the flames from the front.
Making his way to the kid's bedroom, he signaled for Cutter to look under the bed while he went to the closet. If the kid was scared and hiding from them, odds were he or she was in one of those two spots.
"Bingo," he heard Cutter say into his ear.
The updates were growing more urgent and he heard Kincaid call for water, which meant the fire was heading their way. "No time to be nice. Grab the kid and let's go."
It was a little girl and she screamed as Cutter pulled her out from under the bed. She was fighting him and, because his hold was awkward, once she was free of the bed, Cutter almost lost her. Aidan swore under his breath. If she bolted, they could all be in trouble.
He leaned the Halligan against the wall and picked up the little girl. By holding her slightly slanted, he was able to hold her arms and legs still without running the risk of smacking her head on the way down.
"Grab the Halligan and let's go."
"More guys are coming up," Walsh radioed in. "Get out of there now."
The smoke was dense now and the little girl was doing more coughing and gasping than crying. "My dog!"
Aidan went past Kincaid, slapping him on the shoulder. Once Cutter went by, Kincaid could retreat—they all stayed together—and let another company deal with the flames.
"I see her dog," Aidan heard Cutter say, and he turned just in time to see the guy disappear back into the bedroom.
"Jesus Christ," Scotty yelled. "Cutter, get your ass down those stairs. Hunt, just go."
He didn't want to leave them, and he wouldn't have except the fight was going out of the child in his arms. Holding her tight, he started back down the stairs they'd come up. At the second floor he met another company coming up, but he kept going.
Once he cleared the building, he headed for the ambulance and passed the girl over to the waiting medics. It was less than two minutes before Cutter and Kincaid emerged from the building, but it felt like forever.
They yanked their masks off as Cutter walked over to the little girl and—after getting a nod from EMS—put an obviously terrified little dog on the girl's lap. They all smiled as the girl wrapped her arms around her pet and then her mom put her arms around both. Aidan put his hand on Cutter's shoulder and the news cameras got their tired, happy smiles for the evening news.
Once they were back on the other side of the engine and out of view of the cameras, Kincaid grabbed the front of Cutter's coat and shoved him against the truck. "You want to save puppies, that's great. If there's time. Once you're told to get the fuck out, you don't go back for pets. And if you ever risk my life again, or any other guy's, for a goddamn dog, I'll make sure you can't even get a job emptying the garbage at Waste Reduction."
Once Cutter nodded, Kincaid released him and they looked to Danny for a status update. They had it pretty well knocked down and, though the third floor was a loss and the lower floors wouldn't be pretty, the people who lived in the neighboring houses weren't going to have a bad day.
Two hours later, Aidan sat on the bench in the shower room and tied his shoes. Danny was stowing his shower stuff, a towel wrapped around his waist. He'd been quiet since they got back, other than having a talk with Cutter, since he was the officer of the bunch. But he was always quiet, so it was hard to tell what was going on with him.
"Got any plans tonight?" Aidan finally asked, just to break the silence.
"Nope. Probably see if there's a game on."
Aidan wasn't sure what to say to that. He didn't have a lot of experience with a good friend going through a divorce. Breakups, sure, but not a marriage ending. "If you want to talk, just let me know. We can grab a beer or something."
"Talk about what?"
"Don't bullshit me, Walsh. We know what's going on and it's a tough situation. So if you want to talk, just let me know."
"She doesn't want to be married to me anymore, so we're getting a divorce." Danny closed his locker, not needing to slam it to get his point across. "There's nothing to talk about."
"Okay." Aidan tossed his towel in the laundry bin and went out the door.
A lot of guys had trouble expressing their emotions, but Danny took it to a whole new level. Aidan thought talking about it over a few beers might help, but he shouldn't have been surprised the offer was refused.
He'd really like to know what had gone wrong in the Walsh marriage, though. He liked Danny and Ashley and he'd always thought they were a great couple. If they couldn't make it work, Aidan wasn't sure he had a chance. And lately he'd been thinking a lot about how nice it would be to have somebody to share his life with.
A mental snapshot of the little girl cradling her dog filled his mind. He wouldn't mind having a dog. But his hours would be too hard on a dog, and he wasn't a fan of cats. They were a little creepy and not good for playing ball in the park. He could probably keep a fish alive, but they weren't exactly a warm hug at the end of the long tour.
With a sigh he went into the kitchen to rummage for a snack. If he couldn't keep a dog happy, he probably didn't have much chance of keeping a wife happy. And that was assuming he even met a woman he wanted to get to know well enough to consider a ring. So far, not so good.
"Cutter ate the last brownie," Scotty told him as soon as he walked into the kitchen area.
Aidan shook his head, glaring at the young guy sitting at the table with a very guilty flush on his face. "You really do want to get your ass kicked today, don't you?"
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