By: Shirley Penick

“Thanks, but I’m okay. Well, mostly, anyway.” Her eyes filled with tears.

“You don’t have any pets or friends spending the night that need to be gotten out, do you?”

“No, I don’t have time for pets and I just spent most of the evening with you, so no hot hookups. I mean, I didn’t have time to find someone or well…” She put her hands over her face. She was babbling in the midst of an emergency and he was patiently listening to her.

He laughed and pulled her hands down. “Don’t worry, I understand what you’re trying to say.”

“It’s the smoke. It made me confused.” That’s a good excuse.

“Right. You sit here and don’t move until the ambulance gets here to give you some oxygen and check you out. I’m going to go help with the fire so all my work on a children’s menu doesn’t go up in flames, so to speak.”

She nodded, looking worriedly toward her restaurant. He shut the door on the Jeep and jogged over to the firetruck.


“Coughing, sore throat, stinging eyes, but otherwise fine. Just smoke issues.”

Greg nodded. “Good, glad you got here quick.”

“I was still awake drawing a menu up—for Amber, in fact.”

“At four AM? You are psycho. Even I was in bed, asleep, after closing up the bar.”

“No, just an artist. We creative types have to work when the mojo flows.” Jeremy shrugged.

“Like I said, psycho. Anyway, the ambulance will be here in a couple minutes. Go around to the back and lend a hand. The fire is all in the banquet hall. Doesn’t seem to be in the main part of the restaurant. Want to keep it that way.”

“You got it.”

Jeremy hustled around to the back of the building, glad to be able to get into the physical fight against the fire. When the call had come in for Amber’s restaurant, he’d about had a heart attack. Knowing she lived upstairs, he’d been terrified for her. He’d torn out of his house and wasn’t even sure he’d shut the door in his haste to get to her. Since no one was out at four in the morning, he’d raced from the residential part of town to Main Street, hoping she was all right.

When he’d pulled up and run over to the side he was so damn glad to see the fire was showing no signs of engagement near her living area. When he’d kicked in the door he’d been surprised by the amount of smoke in her apartment. He wasn’t quite sure why it was filled—with the fire on the other side of the building, that would be something to check out later.

When the fire was finally out, and they were done cleaning up, Jeremy pulled his bunker coat off.

“Whoa, what are you doing fighting a fire half naked?” Terry asked. “Didn’t that coat chafe?”

Jeremy shrugged. “Yeah, a little, but Amber needed my shirt more than I did. She’d used hers to breathe through and I didn’t want her getting too cold out here.”

“Yeah, but a little eye candy would have been nice,” the new probie said.

Jeremy grabbed him by the shirt-front and brought him in close. “We don’t treat our women like that. Especially not ones that nearly died from smoke inhalation.”

Terry clapped him on the shoulder. “Down, boy. Scottie here didn’t mean anything by it, did you?”

Scott shook his head. “No, I was just smarting off. Sorry, Jeremy. I didn’t know you and her…”

Terry clapped a hand over the kid’s mouth. “Stop while you’re behind Scottie and go roll up that hose.”

Jeremy released him and shook his head. “Punks.”

Terry nodded. “Yeah, but that doesn’t mean you need to go all bat-shit crazy on the kid.”

“I know. I just, well, I don’t know why it pissed me off so much.”

“Maybe because you’re starting to have feelings for her.”

“No, nothing like that. I just think she should have respect. Yeah, she’s a beautiful woman, but she doesn’t need the kid lusting after her.”

“Well, try not to get psycho about it. He’s just a kid. When he mouths off, give him work to do and he’ll learn to keep his trap shut.”

Jeremy laughed. “True enough. Speaking of the woman, where is Amber?”

“Went with Chris to his house for the night. Greg kept her updated on the fire and then sent her home with Chris when it was out and he could leave.”

“Oh, poor Amber. Home with the pregnant one.” Jeremy shook his head sadly.

Terry laughed. “Yeah, we may need to help her escape in a few hours.”

AMBER COULDN’T SLEEP. Her mind was whirling. She had no idea what was next. Could she get into her restaurant or her apartment? She didn’t have any clothes. Maybe she could borrow some of Barbara’s, but they weren’t the same size. Barbara and Kristen were both pretty small women; they could nearly be twins. Amber had a couple of inches and a few more curves on her, but sweats might work until she could get some of her own stuff.