Excerpt: Hot Shot
Book 4 (6 Novellas): Hidden Cove Firefighters
“You sure you want to do this? We weren’t always nice guys in high school.”
Brody O’Malley toed the gravel in the parking lot with his hand-tooled boots and glanced over at his twin brother, who’d spoken the concern. They didn’t look exactly alike, but both were over six feet, muscular, with sandy blond hair and blue eyes, though Brody’s were darker than Ryan’s. “It’s only a reunion. What can they do to us?”
Angling his head to the front door, Ryan shrugged. “Some of the girls we scorned are probably lined up inside picketing our arrival.”
“They don’t know we’re coming. The invite said anybody could drop in Friday night.”
“There is that.”
Shaking off thoughts of their wild days, Brody straightened his shoulders. “Anyway, we weren’t complete jerks. We liked to play the field is all. I’m going in. Don’t let me show you up.”
The latter comment was one of the reasons the two of them had been such bad boys in their teen and young adult years. They were always trying to outdo each other.
“That’ll be the day.”
Both men headed into Camden Cove Country Club, which was hosting this Labor Day weekend shindig. They’d grown up in town, though neither lived nor worked here now.
“You ever been to this place?” Ryan asked at the door. Their family was nowhere near country club rich.
Brody scanned the area, which sported a big entryway with dining rooms in front and to the left of them, with a bar to the right. Fancy chandeliers hung in strategic spots, and the moldings were beautiful hand-carved wood. “Yeah. We had our Senior Prom here, remember?”
A hostess approached them, and they got The Once-over, a look often directed the twins’ way when they were out together. Twice the sex appeal. Twice the fun. “You gentlemen here for the reunion?”
Ryan winked at her. “Yes we are, darlin’.”
“Your classmates are on the patio.”
Teetering on heels that made her legs look great, she led them through the bar to the back of the club. A cocktail party was in full swing on the outdoor patio overlooking an expansive golf course. September had stayed warm. Balmy night air surrounded them as stars twinkled down from the sky.
“Here we go,” Ryan said, and they headed outside.
After he took a few steps, Brody stopped short. He knew he was in for razzing tonight. It was one of the reasons neither of the brothers had been back to a reunion. What he hadn’t expected was he’d come face-to-face, as soon as they arrived, with a woman who didn’t seem to have changed at all in a decade and a half. On closer inspection, though, her reddish hair had turned more auburn but was still cut short. Makeup-less blue eyes looked up, and the smile on her face died as soon as her gaze landed on them. Pure shock suffused her delicate features, making Brody feel like a first class shit.
“Oh, I didn’t know…didn’t see…um, hi, guys.” Emma Walsh recovered quickly. She was—had been—too nice to do otherwise.
“Hi, Emmy,” Ryan said first.
She blinked at the nickname.
But Brody couldn’t find his voice. He was completely caught off guard by the only girl he’d ever loved—and ditched—because he didn’t want to be tied down.
Despite the surprise of seeing Brody O’Malley again, Emma brought herself in check. “Let’s start again. Hi, to both of you. Nice to see you again.” She studied them quickly. Damn it, they both still looked good. Better, even, than in their high school days. Then, they’d been cute, hot teenagers; they’d grown up to be sexy, virile men. For a few years, she’d seen them from a distance around town now and again. But not in a while. Their parents had moved out of Camden to the renovated cottage—now a nice house—on Hidden Cove and the boys had settled there, too.
Ryan nodded and Brody stepped forward and took her hand. “Hi, Emma.”
His touch was unfamiliar, bringing forth a spurt of nostalgia over what they’d lost. “Come on over to the reception desk. Get name tags.”
She didn’t precede them but finagled her way next to Ryan and as far away from Brody as she could get. Just his presence disturbed her.
“So, how you been?” Ryan asked.
“Are you still in the area?”
“Yes, I’m a teacher at Camden Elementary. I, um, heard you majored in criminal justice and are a cop.”
“A sergeant. I’m on the streets, still in uniform and train rookies. I’ve also done some special projects like being the liaison in arson investigation.”
“Brody’s a firefighter.”
“I heard that, too.” She shot Brody a glance and smiled weakly. “Both noble professions.”
He rolled his eyes. Nobility was not a word that would have applied to the O’Malley brothers fifteen years ago.
“We’re bringing our fourth grade classes to a fire station here in Camden Cove at the end of September.”
“Yeah, we have kids come visit ours all the time.” Brody smiled. “The guys bitch about it, but I kinda like being looked up to.”
“Since I haven’t talked to you two, let me say I’m sorry about the colleagues you lost in 9/11.”
“Yeah, thanks.” Ryan touched Brody’s shoulder. “This guy took it pretty hard.”
Soon, they reached the registration desk at the end of the stone patio, thank God. Emma smiled graciously “Hey, ladies, look who’s here.”
The two women who’d organized the event glanced up. Karen’s eyebrows rose. Amy’s face got red. They’d been two of the O’Malley brothers’ casualties. Before Emma, but casualties nonetheless. She wondered if Ryan and Brody realized the damage they’d left in their wakes.
“Hey, is that you, Rye? Brody?”
Turning, Emma smiled at the guy who wouldn’t break her heart if his life depended on it.
Brody frowned and glanced at his name tag. “Mark Adams? Wow, you look different.”
“Yep, I grew into my looks, my mother says.”
He had. Gone was the nerd with glasses. He’d filled out, gotten contacts and a great haircut. His features had matured him into a handsome guy.
Sliding his hand around Emma’s waist, Mark smiled broadly. “Surprised to see you here, though. You haven’t come to a reunion before.”
Brody’s gaze dropped to Mark’s hand and where it rested intimately on Emma. “Um, yeah. But this was our fifteenth and all.”
“Then, welcome.” He moved in even closer to Emma. “Right, Em?”
“Sure, of course.” To them she said, “You’ll want to mingle.”
“Have fun.” Mark tugged on Emma’s hand. “Come and see Joey Calder. He’s a coach at Hidden Cove High School. A teacher, just like us.”
Emma left the O’Malleys, thankful to be distanced from Brody’s still-overwhelming presence. At least she’d be able to collect herself. God, she hated her reaction to him after all these years. Holding on to Mark’s hand, she let this very dear man lead her through the crowd and away from the guy who’d hurt her like no other ever had.
But as they stopped to talk to Joey, amidst the murmur of voices and a piano playing some cool jazz, Emma couldn’t forestall the memory of her last contact with Brody all those years ago. Maybe seeing him with their old classmates caused images to come unfiltered.…
On graduation night, in the boathouse of the cottage his family owned on Hidden Lake, Emma and Brody had gotten dressed after a bout of lovemaking. He took her hand and shrugged his shoulder, a telltale sign she wasn’t going to like what he was about to say. Still, she hadn’t suspected the news.
“I’m, um, not gonna be around soon,” he said casually.
She brushed a hand down his caramel-colored hair. “I know, silly. We’re both heading off to college.” She’d been so innocent then.
“I mean this summer. Rye and I are going to backpack through Europe. A graduation present from Mom’s rich brother.”
A scowl breached her mouth. “You have a job as a lifeguard lined up.”
“I know. This was a last-minute gift. And, um, look, Emmy. You know I care about you. A lot. But, I think we should be, you know, nonexclusive. Now and when we go to school.”
For a moment, she hadn’t understood. “Nonexclusive?”
At least he’d reddened with embarrassment.
“As in dating others?” Her tone was incredulous. “Sleeping with others?”
“Um, yeah.” At the tears that immediately formed in her eyes, he added, “Look, honey, you knew the score. I told you when we started dating I wasn’t a tie-me-down kind of guy.”
“Eight months ago. You told me that eight months ago and proceeded to be exclusive the whole time. Or I never would have slept with you.”
He fidgeted. “I don’t feel like settling down. I love you but—”
She hadn’t even railed at him. Hadn’t even said what a schmuck he was to have had sex with her before dropping his little bomb. Instead, she’d walked out of the boathouse, gotten in her car and left him behind.…
It had taken her a long time to get over him, to trust men again. Damn it, she hoped this didn’t cause her a setback. After a period of depression, she’d vowed not to waste another minute crying over Brody O’Malley. And that was a promise to herself that she intended to keep.
Brody wasn’t his usual upbeat self as they raced toward the Rescue 7 rig. A compressor had blown in a factory that made light fixtures, a fire had broken out, and there was a whole night shift inside. The Quint and Midi from Firehouse 7 were called, too, as well as two other trucks from different locations. The incident was serious.
“You okay?” Felicia White asked on the way out. “You’re quiet. You’ve been quiet for days. Is it because 9/11 was last week?”
Firefighters all over the country had a hell of a time on the anniversary of the terrorist attacks that changed their lives. Brody included.
“Partly, I guess. But I got a lot on my mind.”
“At least you’re a thinker.” She snorted. “That brother of yours is all reaction and no thought.”
Needling their lieutenant was a favorite past time of Brody’s. So after they jumped into their turnout gear and climbed on the truck, he continued their conversation. “For the life of me I can’t understand why you don’t like Ryan. Most people do. Hey, maybe you have the hots for him and you’re pretending to hate him like a first grade girl.”
“Bite me! Besides, it’s his type I don’t like.”
“Rye and I couldn’t be more similar and you like me.”
“Nah, you’re a better man.”
He gave that some consideration as they sped through streets slickened by rain. It was true in some ways, especially concerning women. Ryan could be a dog. He had a rule of six with them: never spend more than six hours with a woman you didn’t like, never let a relationship go on for six days if you hadn’t slept with her, and break off all but the best matches after six weeks. Once or twice, he’d dated someone for six months, but they didn’t go any further.
Then there was the fact that Ryan had been one of the reasons Brody had broken up with Emma Walsh, whom he couldn’t stop thinking about after seeing her at the reunion. His brother had razzed him during his and Emma’s entire relationship and nagged him to ditch her before the two of them went to Europe. Brody hadn’t fought too hard. At eighteen, he wasn’t ready to settle down. Still, he’d missed her like crazy on the whole trip and through the first semester of his freshman year.
Now, he missed her again, which was ludicrous. But Felicia was right. He’d been quiet all week. Introspective. Nostalgic. The unexpected meeting with Emma had affected him—a lot. And he hadn’t even gotten to talk to her again that night. She was either in deep discussion with her beau of two years, or she was working on details of the event. But he had a feeling she was also avoiding any contact with him. Meanwhile, he couldn’t keep his eyes off her.
Their captain’s grave voice from the front seat brought him back from the memories. “This is gonna be a long night, guys. Lots of injured people, the update from the chief says.” They reached the site and the cap hopped off the truck, barking orders. “O’Malley, go right to Incident Command. The chief wants you working with the other medics.”
All of the HCFD were now trained EMTs, but there were more than a few with advanced certification like his as a paramedic. Jumping off the truck into the cool mid-September night, he strode to IC and found Battalion Chief Erikson directing the scene. “Hey, O’Malley, glad to see you. You’re going inside.”
“How bad is it?”
“The medics in the building report people pinned under machines and some buried in debris. Enter through the front door and go left. Factory work stations are at the far end.”
“I’m on my way.” Donning his mask and air tank and buttoning up his turnout coat, Brody raced inside. The thick, black smoke meant the chemical elements in the building were noxious. Breathing in that shit was dangerous. Dropping to his knees because of the heat and the fact that he couldn’t see anything, he crawled his way down the corridor, running his hand along the wall to find his way. He bumped into some chairs but finally reached the factory.
He called out, “Yo, O’Malley here.”
“Straight, O’Malley.” His friend, Zach Malvaso, another paramedic, yelled the directions.
Brody inched over. Malvaso’s voice was tinny through the mask. “Male, looks to be around forty. He just stopped breathing. Take over CPR.” Zach eased back and stood. “I got more where this came from.”
Staying on his knees, Brody began his chest compression. Meanwhile, the water slapping on the fire, shouts, and falling debris created a cacophony around him.
“One-two-three-four-five. One-two-three-four-five.” His hands pressed on the guy’s chest in time with his counting. After some mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, he got the man breathing. He whipped off his mask and gave the guy air. Over the next half hour, Brody alternated sharing his own oxygen and taking some for himself. When he didn’t have his mask on, he coughed violently. So did the victim.
Finally, a crew came in with the Hurst equipment. A generator rent the air, and soon, rabbit tools were prying the weight off the man’s legs. “Come on, buddy,” Brody whispered as the man was freed. “Stay with me.”
Behind him now, White and Sands handed him a collar; after he secured the guy’s neck, they lifted him to a backboard. “You two take him out,” White told them. “I’m heading to the next one.”
Brody eased off his air tank and set it on the stretcher so the man could have air. Carefully, they hefted him, crept around debris and skirted smoldering timbers. He coughed and choked.
Sands stopped. “Take some of my air,” she shouted and started to remove her mask.
“No. Keep going. We’re close to the door.”
At least they could see better, which meant the fire must be nearly doused. Sands caught her foot on something and stumbled, causing the air tank to fall from the backboard. Brody reached for it but missed, and several pounds of metal hit his foot instead. “Jesus.” Though it was almost empty, the contact hurt like a bitch.
When everything was right again, he hobbled with them to the front exit.
Once outside, another team of medics relieved them of the patient, and Brody fell to his knees, choked and coughed again. Sands came over and forced some oxygen on him. His lungs felt better, but his eyes stung and watered. He held on to the fact that he was feeling shitty, but at least they’d had a save. After a few minutes, he put the mask down and breathed clean air, hoping the symptoms would abate. Now that the emergency had lessened, his foot hurt like hell.
About fifteen minutes later, Gabe approached him. Bending down, he looked Brody in the eye. “You okay?”
“Yeah. Haven’t had a mouthful like that in a while.”
“You should have shared air with Sands. It’s going to cost you in recovery.”
“How’s the guy?”
Even though his vision was blurry, Brody could see the grim expression on Gabe’s face. “Sorry, Brody. He crashed in the ambulance. They couldn’t revive him.”