The clashing relationship between tomboy Josie Miller and fellow paramedic-firefighter, Pete Miller, escalates after he realizes Joe is not just one-of-the-boys. Pete has a sketchy history and has earned a reputation for one-night stands in the small town of Parmenter, New Hampshire nestled between the Mercy River, the mountains, and the small college. Since he arrived a year ago, Josie suspects he is hiding something. Something too horrible to share, even with her. Working side by side, Joe loves her job, and Pete.
They respond to accident calls, medical emergencies, and fast-moving forest fires amid sparks of another kind. Joe’s clumsiness and baggy uniform work against her when she yearns to be the kind of woman Pete wants like the pretty blonde they must rescue after her car hits a moose.
Outside influences come to play when the sister of Pete’s alleged victim shows up and accuses him of something even worse…her sister’s recent death. Once on track to be a doctor, the sister’s betrayal and lies caused Pete to run far away and keep women at a distance unless they agreed to share his bed…and nothing more.
Pete plans to skip town while Josie worries she has given her heart to a monster. A suicide note, some well-landed fists, stolen moments of love, and a desire to listen to their hearts lead these two heroes toward a climax filled with tension, pain, bloodshed, and atonement.
He should keep her in sight, as long as I keep my hands to myself. As he contemplated how to apologize, a large *crack* made him freeze. Loud and as threatening as a rifle shot, he glanced up. High above their heads, a brittle tree erupted in flames. As in a slow-motion movie scene, the fireball hurtled toward the forest floor at their feet.
"Pete! Watch out!" Josie yelled her warning and then escaped toward the back of the ambulance. She slid to a halt and glanced back, relieved he’d followed her. Horror gripped her as the top half of a tree fell into the road. Its flaming remains cut off the ambulance’s only exit.
"What do we do now?" she cried, praying he had an idea. Before Pete could answer, a stand of trees to their left erupted in flames. Smoke swirled, blacking out the sun. Underbrush, dry as kindling, crackled and caught fire. Heat lightning, silent and minutes ahead of the approaching second storm, had shot bolts of high-voltage arrows at their peaceful parking spot.
"Can we drive through this?" she asked, pointing to the burning wall of flames ahead. Burning twigs and leaves rained down on their heads, pelting the top of the ambulance and eating up everything around them.
"No," Pete answered, glaring back at her.
He isn’t scared, just honest.
"We need to get out of here. The fire up the mountain has everyone’s attention. They may not even know we’re in danger. We can skirt around to the north and get down the mountain. I’ll call in a report and tell the Chief."
She met his gaze and nodded.
"Dispatch can send another ambulance to replace us. We can’t help anybody, now. Grab our turn-out gear, oxygen bottles, and masks," he ordered.
Josie climbed into the ambulance as the sound of crackling twigs and leaves roared. She clipped her heavy yellow fire coat closed. She buckled her helmet onto the fire-resistant hood she’d pulled down over her hair. Pete jumped out of the driver’s seat and slammed the door. He started hauling on gear as well.
"You’re scowling. What did they say?"
"Nothing. The radio doesn’t work. The storm’s last bolt fried everything electrical. It’s toast." He glared at her as he pulled on his helmet. "We will be, too, if we don’t find a safe way out of the fire. Are you familiar with this area at all? I usually hike and climb on the south side, near Falcon Ridge."
Josie picked up the portable oxygen tank meant for patient care, not fire fighting. She pulled the strap over one shoulder while fitting the mask over her face. Opening the valve, clean, clear oxygen flowed into her nose and mouth. It would keep the smoke at bay. For awhile. She pulled the mask back down in order to answer him.
"I played here with my brothers. Several trails end up at Mercy River up, before she flows under Lennox Bridge and passes to the other side of north Main Street. If we keep going downhill, we’ll meet up with the river.
"We’ll find our trek slow going in these heavy coats."
"We need to conserve our strength," she reminded him.
"Our strength won’t mean squat if we get caught in the fire. Let’s go. We’ll regroup with the others, later. Don’t leave anything personal in the ambulance. It won’t be here." He glanced back at the rig.
Stabbing pain pierced her chest at the thought of their ambulance. Their responsibility. Over two-hundred-thousand dollars worth of equipment will be swallowed up by flames.
"There’s nothing we can do?"
"Not a thing. Let’s go," he scowled. "I don’t plan to die today."
His brusque tone had returned. For a moment, she balked at following him into the woods. He had resorted to ordering her around while looking surly and acting argumentative.
At least he’s not sexually attracted to me right now.
Thanks, in part, to the forty pounds of unsightly fire-resistant boots, coat, and helmet that covered her. The best birth control a girl could get. She pointed toward the small path she’d mentioned and Pete took off down the trail without giving her a second thought.