“You should marry a firefighter. They cook, they clean and they’re only home a few days a week.”
This wisdom, imparted to me in my teens, made no sense. Now, after two decades of marriage to a firefighter, I’ve discovered these special men do far more.
Endless and unspeakable gratitude to my husband, Rick, for cooking, cleaning, and letting me do my own thing once in a while. For taking care of sick kids, running car pools, helping with homework, fixing everything, knowing everyone, and generally keeping the sky from collapse when I’m under a deadline. Which is, like, always. For giving me perspective, helping me cope, and brainstorming over breakfast. I love you.
Deep appreciation to my daughters for understanding that dedication to a goal often requires sacrifice and for supporting me during those times. An extra thumbs-up to my youngest, who has given me the gift of time by running my errands, handling my office tasks, and taking those Jamba Juice runs to keep me infused with energy.
A special thanks to Russ Hanush, math, science, physics expert extraordinaire and longtime tutor to my daughters, for generously sharing his time and knowledge, and taking questions like “Could a natural substance be engineered to detonate inside a person’s body remotely?” with enthusiasm.
To Margie Lawson, whose expertise of language and emotion have done more for my writing than any other single source, all while making me laugh until I cried. (I back loaded that just for you, Margie.)
To my editor, Alicia Condon, who had a deeper vision for Rush’s villain, and for trusting in me to shape that idea into the novel. To my agent, Paige Wheeler, who helped me fully understand that vision and gave me the confidence to jump in.
To Despina Konstantinopoulou, an editor and reader in Athens, Greece, who generously translated all Mateo’s Greek throughout Blaze. A shout to my street team, Swan’s Sirens, for their support and enthusiasm. Thanks to my sisters, Jane, Clare, and Anne, who are always pushing my latest book into their friends’ hands.
And last, but never least, to my amazing critique partner, Elisabeth Naughton, without whom I would be lost. Thanks for propping me up, E.
Five years ago
That could not be Jessica Fury’s husband. Not the man hanging upside down, fifty feet off the ground over unforgiving asphalt, prepared to perform a midair flip, hoping—hoping—to grab that ladder and scale down to safety. Not all in the name of some spontaneous, reckless, madcap training drill. Sure as hell not after he’d just been trying to coax her into making a baby with him hours ago.
Only it was. It so was. Goddamnit.
The catcalls and laughter from the other members of their hazmat team usually filled Jessica with joy. Tonight, the boisterous encouragement egging her husband on in his latest stunt made her teeth grind.
She stood at the base of a ladder, securing the structure for what should have been Quaid’s execution of a simple bailout maneuver during one of their standard team training sessions. But what kept flashing in her mind—over and over, like the repeat of a movie clip—was the love of her life, her brand-freaking-new husband, diving out that fifth-story window headfirst, wrapping his leg in the safety rope instead of avoiding it, and pushing off the rungs of the ladder he should have been holding tight, then . . . letting go.
Just letting go fifty feet in the air.
Beads of sweat burst across her forehead. The building spun in her vision against the darkening sky. Jessica swayed and tightened her grip on the ladder.
He looked amazing, she couldn’t deny that—his strong body filling out the heavy turnouts and silhouetted against the evening, red helmet gleaming in the sunset. That mischievous, full-of-himself grin lit his handsome face. Confidence, courage, and challenge electrified the air around him.
No doubt about it—this was one-hundred percent authentic Quaid Legend in his element.
“Hey, buddy,” Teague called from where he stood on the other side of the ladder. “Hope your life insurance is paid up. If you don’t die from this stupid stunt, you can bet your ass Jess is gonna kill you when you touch down.”
Another round of laughter erupted. Jessica fingers tightened on the ladder until they stung. Quaid’s joyous grin dimmed and his beautiful eyes darted to hers.
“Legend!” Battalion Chief Kai Ryder, their team leader, yelled at Quaid from so close beside Jessica, she jumped. “What the fuck do you think you’re doing?”
“Kai.” Jessica’s voice scraped out of her throat. One more crack to her heart and it was going to explode. “Scream at him after he’s on the ground. Please.”
Kai’s attention jerked from Quaid’s precarious sway to Jessica’s face and, damn it, pity crept into his eyes.
The sting of tears pressed across the bridge of her nose. She would not cry. She would not. Damn Quaid for scaring her so badly she hurt. Damn him for putting her in this position with her team.
Kai approached the building. “Get your ass down here, you sonofabitch. A simple bailout, Legend. What part of that didn’t you understand? You’ve only done it a million fucking times.”
“Well, yeah, chief,” Quaid said with typical ease. “That’s why I wanted to work on this one.”
This was classic Quaid—going rogue. Quaid the adventure seeker, the adrenaline junkie. Once upon a time, and not all that long ago, it had been sexy. Exciting. Only occasionally annoying. Now married, with him nudging her toward a family, it was terrifying.
“Goddamnit, Quaid,” Jessica whispered.
“It’s what happened with Duke,” Teague said at Jessica’s side, using his smooth mediator tone. “He hasn’t been able to shake it.”
Her thoughts turned to their friend, another firefighter, who was still in a coma with severe brain damage. Duke had recently found himself right where Quaid hung now after being blown out a window at a structure fire. Only Duke had been trapped as the building collapsed around him.
“I know.” Her heart felt too big for her chest. “But if he wants to practice getting out of a bad situation, he has to plan for it. He needs an air pad out here. He needs to start lower and build up. He needs—”
“He’s been doing this for weeks, Jess. He’s gone higher—”
“What?” Her gaze broke from Quaid and cut to Teague. His blue eyes shone bright beneath the brim of his helmet.