Never Too Hot
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“I should be hearing from the Forest Service about getting back to my hotshot crew soon. Until then, I'll be here working on Poplar Cove for Sam's wedding. Make sure to keep July thirty-first open.”
“Any chance you'd consider moving out here full time?” Tim asked. “You know, joining up with the local firefighting crew. My business is growing fast and you were always a whiz at building things. I could certainly use the help.”
Connor didn't even have to think about it. “My life is back in Tahoe.” He couldn't imagine leaving the Tahoe Pines hotshot crew for good. He'd never pictured anything else for himself, never wanted to.
Then again, he'd never pictured meeting a woman like Ginger out here, either.
“Yeah,” Tim agreed, “it's so wet in the Adirondacks, I'm sure the action you'd see out here is nothing compared to what you get out in the West. I can't think of the last time a cabin burned on the lake.”
They turned into a big workshop and Connor whistled low between his teeth at the half-dozen old Ford trucks currently in process. “Quite a setup you've got here.”
Walking up to the nearest, a dented and scratched cherry-red Ford with duct-taped seats, Tim said, “Do you think this one would work for the summer? It's already beat to all hell, so you won't have to worry about chucking scraps and tools into it. Besides, I don't have time to work on it until fall.”
“I was going to offer to pay you for it, but now I think I'm going to keep my money.”
“You're welcome,” Tim said, clearly grinning at the thought of Connor riding around town in the old jalopy. “Now let's get back to the kitchen before Kelsey's blueberry pancakes get cold.” He rubbed his slightly rounding belly.
“There's one big reason to get married. Great cooking.”
But talking about his Forest Service appeal had brought the agitation back. “Thanks, but I'm good grabbing something in town.”
There was a threat in his friend's eyes. “Kelsey's feelings will be hurt if you leave now.”
Minutes later Connor was sitting down at the breakfast bar digging into the plates of food set out across the tiled counter. Still eating long after Tim and his wife were finished, his friend frowned and said, “How the hell do you eat like that and not gain weight?”
Kelsey teased her husband. “My guess is he does more exercise than walking the dog to the nearest tree before bed.”
“So if you're fixing up Poplar Cove for Sam's wedding,” Tim asked, “then where's Ginger staying?”
Kelsey and Tim shot each other a loaded look. “Hey, Connor,” Kelsey asked, “tell me, is there a pretty little thing back home pining away for you?”
Hell no. Connor figured that was his cue to leave before they went all matchmaker on his ass.
“Thanks for the great food.” He held up the keys. “And the truck. I'll do my best not to wrap it around a tree.”
“I'll follow you to drop off the rental car,” Tim offered.
As they drove tandem into town, Connor noted that all around him, people were paired off. His friends, Tim and Stu. His brother, Sam. His squad boss, Logan.
From out of the blue, a picture of Ginger holding his hand in his bedroom hit him straight in the gut.
He could still remember how good it had felt to have her small fingers softly stroking his scars.
Heading into the grocery store after work, Ginger bypassed the stack of blue plastic baskets to grab one of the carts on wheels. She was halfway through the produce aisle when she asked herself what in heck was she doing buying all this food? She certainly didn't need an entire bag of apples or a big bunch of bananas.
Five minutes with a man under her roof and she'd turned into Old Mother Hubbard.
Connor wasn't a real houseguest. She didn't have to feed him. Or clean up after him. He was a big boy. He could take care of himself. Find his own food. Cook his own meals.
But as she started to put the bananas back on the pile she couldn't help but feel like a total bitch.
She needed to feed herself anyway. So, really, what was the big deal of making enough for two? She'd feel horrible sitting in the dining room eating while he starved. Especially given how much he worked out. If it had been a woman who'd shown up on her porch yesterday, would she have made such a big stinking deal about the whole thing?
No, of course not.
Really, she told herself as she put the bananas back in her cart and continued through the meat aisle, picking up a roast and some ground turkey, she'd always liked to cook. And meals for one could get kind of boring, unless you didn't mind tons of leftovers. For the next few days, she'd get a chance to make a few of the new recipes she'd ripped out of Cooking Light magazine. That'd be fun.
And then he'd leave and she'd get back to her normal life. Cabin all to herself. Free to do what she wanted, when she wanted, with no input from anyone else.
Funny how it no longer sounded quite as good as it once had.
Thirty minutes later she pulled up at Poplar Cove beside a classic Ford truck. Quickly guessing that Connor had traded in his rental, she was pleasantly surprised by his choice. She would have figured a firefighter would choose one of those monster trucks on huge tires, the ones you needed a ladder to climb into. Not something with dents and scratches. She couldn't help but smile as she looked in the window and saw duct tape all over the seats.
It all went back to first impressions and how incorrect they could be. Because here was more proof that Connor was nothing like her ex-husband. Jeremy wouldn't have been caught dead in a beat-up old truck.
Grocery bags in hand, Ginger walked up the porch stairs to the sounds of hammering. Her heart skipped a beat at the thought of a man who actually knew how to do more than screw in a lightbulb. Telling herself there were plenty of things sexier than a guy who knew how to use hand tools — although right at this moment she couldn't think of any — she took a deep breath and headed for the kitchen.
He didn't notice her at first and for good reason. He'd pulled the old stove out from the wall and was kneeling in front of a panel of very confusing-looking wires. Not wanting him to electrocute himself on her account, she was about to turn around and leave when he looked up.