Stockland Fire Department Series, Vol. 3
By Tonya Ramagos
For Lydia Caney, divorced and with a son to raise on her own, love is just a burning trap. Then she meets a new man and finds herself Playing With Fire.
If someone had told fire marshall Lydia Caney she would grow up to move to a small town where one couldn’t sneeze without the entire population knowing, she would have laughed in their face. Lydia, a trained smoke-jumper had once lived for risk. And if that person had told her she would become a divorced mother and a care giver to her handicapped younger sister by the age of thirty she would have said they were certifiable.
Yet that was exactly how her life had turned out. So many plans, so many dreams lost, some due to irresponsible acts, others chalked up to the hand fate had dealt. Now she has a new job as fire marshall and is determined to put dangerous men and dangerous risks behind her. Too late, she realizes, she is playing with fire.
ISBN 1-59431- 149-8 Romance/ Firefighting
Cover Art/Maggie Dix
Also available in RTF and HTML formats.
If someone had told Lydia Caney she would grow up to move to a small town where one couldn’t sneeze without the entire population knowing, and live in a cookie-cutter house complete with a screened-in porch and a swing set in the back yard she would have laughed in their face. And if that person had told her she would become a divorced mother with dead parents and the guardian of her handicapped younger sister by the age of thirty she would have said they were certifiable. Yet that was exactly how her life had turned out. So many plans, so many dreams lost, some due to irresponsible acts, others chalked up to the hand fate had dealt.
As if her life were a game of gin, Lydia had been given good cards and bad. It was food for her challenge-oriented soul. She lived each day working to discard the bad, unneeded cards, slowly replacing them with good ones that fit with the pairs she held until one day she would have all her cards in line and call gin. At least she hoped that day would come.
Lydia had drawn another card with her decision to uproot her life and that of her eight year-old son and sister to move to the small town of Stockland, Tennessee. With any luck the card would mark the beginning of a new pair of cards in her hand, hopefully replacing oddball, unwanted ones she had tossed away when they left the city behind.
Humming softly to herself, Lydia lifted her foot from the gas pedal, applied increasing pressure to the brake and eased the rental truck with classic car in tow through the tight turn onto a narrow residential street. Though they couldn’t hear her, she muttered a thank you to the residents of the block for not parking their cars in the street. Had there been one obstacle in her way of making the turn she was certain it would have been flat as a pancake by now.
“You’re getting pretty good at that,” a groggy voice praised from the passenger side of the truck.
“Well, if it isn’t sleeping beauty awaking from her deep peaceful slumber,” she teased, casting a quick glance at her sister. “Thanks for keeping me company for the last three hundred miles.”
Annette straightened in the seat and rubbed her eyes with the palms of her hands. “Sorry sis. You should’ve waked me.”
“You needed the sleep.”
“No more than you do. I’ve gotten double the sleep you have in the last two days.”
Though she would have liked to, Lydia couldn’t argue. She was tired. Exhausted really. Tossing away her unwanted cards hadn’t been easy. In doing so, it seemed she had discarded sleep as well. She had begun to prepare for the move nearly a month before, packing items they didn’t use in their everyday lives and severing ties with bill collectors, her son’s school and Annette’s doctors, but she had still been buried in a mountain of work in the last forty-eight hours. So many chores had to be put off until the last minute, only a fraction of which included picking up the rental truck and trailer, packing the remainder of their belongings, cleaning the apartment they would be leaving behind and loading everything they owned into the twenty-five feet of space the truck provided.
“I’m sorry I haven’t been more help to you.” Annette stretched an arm over her sleeping nephew between them to lay a soft hand on Lydia’s shoulder. “It’s been rough on you and the work isn’t over yet.”
“It’s okay,” Lydia said, keeping her voice cheerful though she felt a lump forming in her throat. “You’ve done and will continue to do all you can. I know that. Just keeping Neal entertained has been an enormous help.”
“I’m sure going to miss him,” Annette whispered, softly brushing a strand of the boys ruffled blond hair from his forehead. “Is Daniel still coming to get him tomorrow?”
Lydia nodded, the lump in her throat growing as the dread of the quickly approaching day increased. It’s only for a month, she silently reminded herself. But she knew that month would be the longest of the year. While she always looked forward to summer vacation and the chance to spend more time with her eight-year old son, she dreaded the month he would spend with his father more than anything life threw at her.
“Are we almost there? Should I wake him or do you want to let him sleep?”
Lydia contemplated that for a moment. The excitement of the past two days had left Neal nearly as exhausted as his mommy. So much so that they had barely begun the ten-hour drive to their new home when he had curled up on the bench seat between Lydia and Annette and fallen fast asleep.
“He’s been sleeping for a long time,” she said finally. “I’m afraid he’s going to be up half the night.”
“I’ll stay up with him if he is,” Annette said, though she knew her sister would never go to bed as long as her son was still awake, especially not when Neal would be leaving for his father’s sometime the next day. “He’ll probably wake up when the truck stops anyway. And besides, he can help us carry the things we’ll need tonight into the house.”
As if on cue, the house came into view. Lydia felt a mixture of excitement and a new feeling of nervousness at the mere sight of the country-style structure they would now call home. Surprise and confusion mixed with her other emotions as she watched two men move about in front of the porch steps. Could she be looking at the wrong house? She’d only seen it once— two weeks earlier when she had made a quick trip to town to finalize her acceptance as the new area Fire Marshal and secure a place for them to live— and it had been in the bright of day. Now, with the dimming sunlight of the quickly approaching late hour, she wondered if she could be mistaken on the exact house for which she had signed the lease.
Her eyes swept the cookie-cutter house and surrounding area. Two houses, nearly identical in size and build sat on either side of the house in question. Emerald green shutters hung on either side of the windows set against ivory painted wooden walls. There was a single car garage on one side and a screened in porch perfect for lounging around on a cool summer evening stretched the length of the front of the house. Perfectly manicured shrubs lined the outside of the porch and walkway. It was just as Lydia remembered it, inviting and cozy. She knew that the inside was complete with all the appliances they would need— microwave, refrigerator, dishwasher, washer and dryer, things she didn’t own herself— as well as a fireplace and even a small Jacuzzi in the master bath that she couldn’t wait to sink her aching body into. But for the life of her, she couldn’t remember the sweet old lady that owned the house telling her that it came complete with two men!
She had almost decided she was mistaken about the exact house when her gaze landed on a stone statue about four feet tall that set several yards from the right edge of the porch. It was a statue of a mermaid intricately carved with unmistakable detail and precision. She clearly remembered admiring that statue during her one and only visit to the house. She clearly remembered that the house she signed the lease for was the only house on the street with anything even remotely resembling the statue. The largest piece in a young woman’s collection of mermaid beauties, the landlord had said. The young woman was her daughter-in-law that had previously occupied the house. The statue had been too large and difficult to move so it had been left behind.
So it has to be the house, Lydia decided as she brought the truck to a stop on the side of the street in front of the yard. Glancing in the side mirror, she saw that the length of the trailer in tow stretched in front of the neighbors yard— her new landlord’s yard— but wasn’t blocking their driveway. Alarm made the hairs on her arms stand on end as she noted two patrol cars parked there. Had something happened to the sweet old lady? Had there been a break-in? Was that why two men appeared to be checking out the house she had rented next door?
“Mommy, is that our new house? Who are those men in our yard?” Neal’s muzzy, deepening young voice brought Lydia from her thoughts.
“I don’t know sweetheart,” she answered, hoping he couldn’t hear the apprehension in her voice. She darted a guarded glance at her sister before looking back to the house where the men now stood staring back at her. After a few seconds that felt more like days, one of them— a tall lanky looking man who reminded Lydia of Barnie Fife in his younger years— waved and began walking toward the truck. “I guess we’re about to find out.” Taking a deep breath to calm her nervously racing heart, Lydia shut off the engine, opened the driver door and slowly stepped out of the truck.
“You must be Lydia?” The man spoke in a slight southern drawl paired with a smile that was as bright as sunshine even in the dimming light of evening. He reached her in a few long strides and extended his hand. “I’m Bernard Presley. Most people call me Bernie.”
Lydia stifled a laugh as she shook the kind man’s hand. Guess his parents saw the resemblance to the old movie star too.
“I’m sorry I didn’t get to meet you when you were in town last. My mother owns the house.”
“Ah, so you’re the Bernard she spoke of so fondly,” Lydia said, as recognition dawned. He had been the only thing the older woman had talked about when she had looked at the house and signed the lease. She had learned that the man who now stood before her was single, a do-gooder, the youngest of three children and the town deputy sheriff.
Which also explained the patrol cars.