Never Too Hot
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Funny how none of those tags seemed to fit the barely dressed, out-of-tune singer with the paintbrushes and wild curls.
“If you really think you need to get in there to fix anything,” she continued, “work it out with her. And FYI, if this phone call is any indication as to your approach, I'd think about putting on some of the charm you used to be famous for.” In the background he could hear his grandfather speaking. “It's cocktail hour, honey, got to go.
Connor hung up the phone, staring out at the sun slowly setting over the lake as he pondered the unexpected complication to his summer plans.
His grandmother was right. His best bet for getting Ginger to give him what he wanted would be to yank the old charming Connor out of the rubble. But it had been a long time since he'd been with a woman, since the days when all he had to do was grin and they'd fall into his arms.
That first time he'd gone back to one of the usual firefighter groupie haunts after his grafts had healed, he'd barely been in the bar ten minutes when he realized he didn't belong there anymore. Not because the women looked repulsed, even though he knew that would come if they got too close and made the mistake of running their fingers over his scars.
He didn't belong there, because he wasn't fighting fire anymore. And he wouldn't belong in that world again until he convinced the Forest Service to put him back on his crew.
The sun kept falling, the clouds turning a brilliant red-orange that he remembered so well from childhood. But then, suddenly they weren't clouds anymore.
They were red-orange flames.
He was back in California, out on the mountain, in the deadly heat, running, running, running but not gettinganywhere. Not getting away.
God, he'd never felt heat like this. Never run so hard. His lungs were running on fumes and then he was choking,gasping, his lungs shutting down as he tried to breathe in oxygen that wasn't there anymore.
This was it.
He'd finally met the fire he couldn't outrun.
He could practically hear the flames laughing at him as they blew him down, pulling him in, dragging himbackward, dragging him under, taking him straight into hell.
Oh shit, his hands were melting. The pain took him over as every goddamned cell broke apart and all he couldthink was Fuck. Fuck. Fuck.
Death would be a sweet release from this torture, but he didn't want it, was fighting with everything he had.
He wasn't done yet, damn it!
And then, he realized he couldn't feel his hands anymore, couldn't hold on to his Pulaski. It dropped out of hishands, fell in a loud crash…
Connor abruptly found himself standing back on the dock. The empty beer bottle was lying on the dock between his feet. The breeze had picked up, cooling the sweat that was covering his face.
What had just happened? One moment he was looking out at the lake and the next…
Fucking PTSD. The episodes hadn't started up right away, not until the pain from his skin grafts had become unbearable. His first Forest Service reinstatement denial had made them worse. With every appeal that had been denied, his episodes had grown bigger, more intense.
And he'd had to work harder and harder to deny their existence.
“HEY SWEETHEART, you brought me the wrong pie.”
Ginger looked down at the thick slice of lemon meringue she'd just set in front of Mr. Sherman. He was one of the diner's regulars, an old-timer whose wife had passed away long before Ginger arrived at Blue Mountain Lake.
Either he didn't know how to cook or didn't want to. Most nights, he arrived at six p.m. on the dot and sat down at the table in the back corner. Sometimes he was joined by a friend. Tonight, he'd dined alone on meat loaf and mashed potatoes. Cherry pie was his standing dessert order.
“I'm sorry about that, Mr. Sherman,” she said as she picked up the offending plate. “I don't know where my mind is tonight.”
A blatant lie.
Ginger took the lemon pie back, switched it with a slice of cherry, gave it to Mr. Sherman, and was wiping down the counter with more force than necessary when the bells on the front door chimed. She put down her rag and she was reaching into the menu box when she looked up.
And saw him.
The immediate instinct to smooth down her hair and check her shirt for stains was so strong her hands were halfway to her head by the time she realized what she was doing.
What was she doing? Why was she worrying about impressing Connor?
That part of her life, the one where she made sure to be primped and polished just in case she ran into an acquaintance in an overpriced chichi grocery store was over and done with. She was simply going to show Connor to a seat, take his order and then deliver his food as she would any other customer.
And no matter what, she wasn't going to have any kind of hormonal reaction to his broad shoulders or chiseled jaw.
Cold as ice. That was her.
He sat down right in front of her, looking just as dangerous as he had on her porch.
“You're here. Ginger Sinclair.”
She'd never heard anyone say her name like that, almost like it was a curse, but with a distinct sensual vibration beneath it.
Her heart jumped in response and she watched in horror as his eyes honed in on the pulse point at her neck. And then, as Elvis sang about how he couldn't help falling in love, she swore she could hear Connor's breathing speed up as he watched her body react to his close proximity.
She felt herself lean in toward him, saw him shift closer to her on the bar stool even as her fingers were itching to reach out, to touch him and see if he would feel as hot as he looked.
The menu she'd been holding smacked into the underside of the counter and snapped her out of the crazy spell just in time. Connor looked a little stunned too.
What had just happened to her? To both of them? Had they both become unwilling participants in some sort of mad scientist's chemistry experiment to combine Man A with Woman B to see how quickly they'd combust?
Annoyed by her ridiculous lack of self-control, Ginger slapped the menu down on the gleaming Formica counter harder and louder than she'd planned.
“Tonight's special is meat loaf and mashed potatoes. I'll give you a few minutes to look at the menu and decide what you want.”
But instead of looking at the menu he said, “I know exactly what I want.”