Stockland Fire Department Series, Vol.1
By Tonya Ramagos
Gabrielle McPherson's looking for Mr. Right, but not if he's in a dangerous line of work. Then a firefighter saves her life....
In Book I of the Stockland FD Series, Lance Cavenaugh is drawn to Gabrielle, but he is plagued by demons—memories of a late fiance he couldn't save from a fire, and of the work he did as a volunteer at Ground Zero following 9/11. Now he works in a small-town department, trying to shake off his burn-out, and he's sworn off women for good. Can Gabrielle change his mind? If she does, how will she cope when he faces danger once again in an explosive factory fire?
ISBN 1-59431-687-2 or 978-1-59431-687-6
Cover art by Maggie Dix
Gabrielle McPherson’s project of remodeling the old house had begun about six months ago. It was the only house left on the block that didn’t have the modern-day style. The other houses around hers had either been built later or had been remodeled long ago. That’s what she planned to do with hers. She had decided to start from the inside and work her way out. When her plans were complete the house was sure to look far different than it did now.
At first she had felt incredibly wrong and guilty about making all the changes she intended. It was as if by doing so she would be betraying the memory of her grandparents. It had been their house. They had raised her in this house. Her parents had died tragically in a car accident when she was still a young child and her grandparents had stepped in to take care of her. As the only other member of the family, when her grandparents passed away, all of their belongings including the house and store were left to her.
It probably would have been far less expensive and a whole lot easier to simply demolish the old house and start from the ground up with a new one. She was doing the repairs herself—most of them anyway. She’d had the help of some friends here and there. Bonnie-Jean and Clyde were lending their hands whenever possible as well as a few of the other neighborhood residents. They were making good progress too! So far, one of the two bedrooms and the laundry room were complete. The hall leading to the bathroom and other bedroom had been next on the list.
The old house had been neglected for so long and so many things had deteriorated over the years. But it was home. Other than the short time Gabrielle had been married to Noah, she had never lived anywhere else. Deep in these walls were memories that would always be there no matter how many repairs were done. Still, after pondering her actions for a moment, she came to the conclusion that she deserved one night off.
She placed the book and glass of wine on an overturned bucket inside the hall, stripped off her slacks, stockings, burgundy blouse and undergarments and tossed them in the overfilled clothesbasket before heading to the bathroom. Moments later, the aroma of strawberry bubble bath entwined with the steam of the water confirmed the relaxing soak time would be just what the doctor ordered.
She twisted her hair into a loose knot and lit two aromatherapy candles before settling into the scented water, glass and book in hand. The water was a chip of the paradise she so longed to have. A small chip, mind you, but a chip nevertheless.
She sank lower and opened her new book but suddenly her eagerness to read was swept away. Instead, it was replaced by the need to see the hunk from the bookstore again. Her gaze averted to the suds surrounding her. The bubbles played prettily over her breasts. The only thing that would make her bath better was if he were there. She placed the book on the rim of the tub and sipped her wine. Closing her eyes, she allowed the full image of her mystery man to form in the darkness.
She found herself fantasizing about having those big, muscular arms wrapped around her, her body pressed against the hard wall of his chest—among other places. She gazed up into those amazing eyes and instantly became lost in an intimate, private world. In that world, only the two of them and the phenomenal attraction they shared existed. Her focus slid to his lips, moist and inviting. She felt his arms tighten around her waist as he continued to hold her in a passionate embrace. The space between their faces closed until their lips met in a kiss so light, so soft. Then the kiss became deeper and deeper and…
Gabrielle wasn’t sure what startled her awake. She hadn’t realized she had dozed off. The water was on the verge of being cold so she knew she had been out for a while. She pushed herself straight in the tub and was reaching for the stopper when she smelled—smoke! Thick, scorched smelling atmosphere. She glanced at the aromatherapy candles she had lit before climbing into the tub. The candles had burned themselves out. Slowly, her gaze traveled around the bathroom. And then she saw it. A fog of gray smoke was rolling in under the bathroom door from the hall. The house was on fire!
Panic seized her insides, threatening to send her into hysterics. “Stay calm,” she coached herself in a whisper. She tried not to breath too deeply. The air in the room was hazy and reeked of burnt newspaper and heaven only knew what else. She had to get out of there.
She leaped from the tub, threw a thick terrycloth robe over her wet, naked body and reached for the doorknob. But the instant her skin touched the brass she jerked her hand back. The heat of the knob scalded her palm. Almost instantly a red welt rose in the center. Clenching her wrist, she hugged her injured hand to her chest. Her racing pulse hammered in her eardrums, drowning out any sounds that may have been around her. The fire was on the other side of the door. She was trapped!
Stay calm, her inner voice chanted. Panicking now would only seal her fate. Frantically looking around the bathroom, she quickly went over her options. There weren’t many. The only window was high above the tub and too small even for her slim figure to crawl through. The smoke was getting thicker. If she didn’t do something soon she would pass out from smoke inhalation. Thankfully there were plenty of towels in the room. Using the water still standing in the tub, she soaked two towels and jammed them between the bottom of the door and broken tiled floor. That would buy her some time. Her only hope was to break the small window and shout for help. She could only pray like the dickens that someone would hear her.
She grabbed a hairdryer from the cabinet under the sink and used it to break the window. The smoke that blanketed the room poured out making her gag and momentarily eliminating any hopes of fresh air. It was then that she heard the scream. Bonnie-Jean. In a ripple of time, the short, plump woman came running around the side of the house. Gabrielle had never been so relieved to see anyone in her life. How Bonnie-Jean had known she was in trouble she had no clue. She was just grateful to have help.
“Gabrielle, are you all right?” Bonnie-Jean cried frantically.