Never Too Hot
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“Are you saying what I think you're saying?” Kelsey asked, not bothering to hide the excitement in her voice.
Of course all her friends saw was Connor the gorgeous firefighter. But it was so much more complicated than that.
Knowing she had to be honest, not just with her friends, but with herself most of all, Ginger said, “The odds of anything working out long-term with Connor are slim to none. He's going back to California soon and he's already made it perfectly clear that he's not the least bit interested in a wife and kids. But-”
Her friends had both stopped knitting now, too, all smiles gone as they listened intently.
“I'm sick of trying so hard to make the right decisions all the time.” She nodded at the four-times-pregnant woman across the room. “She has everything I want. I thought if I followed all the rules, I'd get it too.”
Bitterness came at her again. “I'm thirty-three years old. I'm sick of waiting for the perfect moment, for the perfect situation, for the perfect man. All I know is that I've never felt an attraction like this before.”
She took a deep breath. And then another.
“All I keep thinking is that even if it all ends up being a huge mistake, at least I'll know I really lived, for once in my life. Because damn it, this time I want to leap.”
Not to piss anyone off this time. Not to prove anything to anyone. But simply because everything in her head, heart, and body was drawn to Connor. Because she'd pleased everyone else for so long.
And this time, she wanted something for herself.
Rebecca grabbed her right hand. “Then I say you should leap.”
Kelsey took her left hand. “And know that we'll be here to catch you if you need us.”
The next morning, Connor slid his saw into the soft wood of the log he'd punched a hole in that first day on the porch and began the painstaking process of cutting off the rotted parts. He'd finished most of the rewiring the night before and relished digging into the grueling job of cutting into the logs by hand, just as he'd always enjoyed working as a hotshot in a forest cutting down brush and dead trees.
If he couldn't fight fire, he wanted to be sweating in other ways.
After only four days of working on the cabin, he was impressed with the work his great-grandparents had put into building this house. If renovation took this much sweat-equity, he was certain building from scratch — without the help of carpenters and architects — was a thousand times harder. And all that more satisfying.
One day, he'd started to think, he'd like to build his own log cabin out in Lake Tahoe. Working on Poplar Cove was like taking a hands-on class, the best possible way to learn what needed to be done.
Working on the cabin gave him plenty of time to think. Enough time to come up with a plan for dealing with Ginger.
During the day he was going to keep his head down in the cabin, focus on the work that he needed to get done. No more shared meals. No more cozy chats. And at night, when a full day of pent-up desire had him bursting at the seams, he'd get the hell out of Poplar Cove and stay away until he was sure Ginger was safely tucked into bed.
Last night, he'd headed into the local watering hole at the end of Main. Fourth of July preparations were heavily under way along Main Street with large groups of kids and parents working to decorate floats. He'd been one of those kids once, had looked forward to the parade and fireworks all year.
Becoming a hotshot had changed fireworks for him. Even before he'd gotten burned, the first two weeks of July were rough. Constant fires, both accidental and intentional. He hadn't enjoyed watching a Fourth of July show in years. But last summer had been the worst, knowing there would be fires and that he wouldn't be out there to put them out. He wasn't looking forward to tonight's show, was already thinking about getting out on the roof and dock and watering them down.
He tensed as he heard the screen door open, knew it was time to put his plan into action. To stay on his side of the room. Looking up at the clock he saw that it was only 11 a.m. Ginger must only be working breakfast today.
What was he doing following her schedule so closely?
She put her bag down on the nearest chair and smiled. “Hi.”
The tightness in his chest opened up when he saw her. He drank her in, forgetting everything for the moment but the pleasure of being in the same room.
She moved closer, looked at the new hole in the wall. “Wow, you really are going to replace the logs, aren't you?”
A strand of hair was in her mouth and the next thing he knew he was hooking a finger on it, his knuckle sliding against her cheek.
He made himself move away from her. “I told myself I wasn't going to touch you.”
“No,” she said softly, “this is good. We need to talk about this. What's between us.”
“There can't be anything between us.”
She nodded, but said, “Why not?”
Before he could remember any of the reasons, she was moving closer to him, saying, “No, don't answer that. I already know why we shouldn't do this. But do you really think we can stop it?”
He couldn't look away from her mouth, from the soft, pink flesh. There wasn't enough self-control in the world to stay away from her, but just before he gave in to the thing he most wanted, he heard her voice in his head from last night.
“I wasted thirty-three years. I came here to finally get it right.”
Getting involved with him would be getting it all wrong.
“We've got to stop it.”
Hurt flashed in her eyes so quickly that he almost missed it. But not quite. He couldn't let her think she wasn't desirable like her dickhead of a husband had.
“Don't think that I don't want you, Ginger. I've wanted you from the first moment. You know that.”
He watched her swallow, lick her lips. “I do know it. But I don't know why you have to be so hell-bent on doing the right thing. Most guys would just take what they could get and not worry about consequences.”
“I like you,” he said slowly, knowing he was trying to remind himself as much as her of his reasons. “If we had met in a bar, if I knew I was never going to see you again, if we weren't sharing this cabin for the next month, if I didn't know about your marriage, then things would be different. But we both know I'm heading back to Tahoe soon.