Home > Heat Exchange(9)

Heat Exchange(9)
Author: Shannon Stacey

    “No, thank you. We really appreciate you volunteering your time.”

    He gave her his best public relations smile, secure in doing so because of the ring on her finger and lack of I’m hitting on a firefighter vibe. “Just doing our part for the children, ma’am.”

    She nodded and went back to her students, leaving him relieved he’d judged the situation correctly. Having a teacher flirt with him in front of her students would be a level of awkward he didn’t care to experience. He’d learned fairly quickly that, for whatever reason, there were women out there who really liked men in uniform, with police and fire uniforms ranking right up there. Fake kitchen fires were rare, but not unheard of, and it seemed like every firehouse had a story about busting through a front door to find the lady of the house wearing little to nothing.

    For a few years, he’d been like a kid in a candy store, so to speak, but it had gotten old after a while. He’d grown to hate not being sure if a woman was attracted to him or his job, so one time he’d actually told a woman he was interested in that he was a plumber. It was a lie he kept going for several weeks, until she suffered a plumbing emergency and he was forced to admit he had no idea why disgusting water was backing up into her bathtub.

    That had been his longest relationship, surviving his confession and lasting about a year and a half. He’d even been thinking about an engagement ring, but she struggled with his job and in the end, she opted out. Or rather, she opted for a guy who worked in a bank and was home by five and never worked weekends.

    There had been a few almost-serious relationships since then, but they always fizzled out under the strain of his job. Flipping back and forth between day tours and night tours was something that came naturally to him at this point, but it was a lot harder on the people in his life.

    He tried to stay hopeful, but sometimes it was hard to be optimistic about finding a woman he’d spend the rest of his life with. Even Scotty’s sisters—who’d grown up with Tommy Kincaid and surrounded by firefighters—hadn’t been able to make their marriages to firefighters work. Sure, there were a lot of strong marriages if he looked around enough, but it got discouraging at times.

    “Hey, Hunt, you gonna stand around yank—” Scotty bit off the words, no doubt remembering just in time they had a young audience. “Doing nothing, or are you gonna help?”

    Once they’d gotten the metal rod bolted into the proper position, Chris Eriksson turned testing it out into a comedy skit that made the children laugh and then, finally, it was time for some press photos. The kids gave them a handmade thank-you card that the firefighters promised to hang on their bulletin board, and then it was time to get back to the station. Several guys had agreed to cover for them, but only for a few morning hours.

    Once they were on their way back, in Eriksson’s truck, Chris looked over at Scott. “Hey, I heard Lydia’s back.”

    Aidan was glad he’d been too slow to call shotgun and was wedged into the truck’s inadequate backseat because he felt the quick flash of heat across the back of his neck. He was going to end up in trouble if he didn’t figure out how to stifle his reaction to hearing Lydia’s name.

    But the way she’d looked at him at Kincaid’s last night...

    “Yeah,” Scotty said. “She’s going to help out at the bar so Ashley can take a little time off while she and Danny figure out what the hell they’re doing.”

    “I heard Walsh was staying with you. That’s cozy.”

    Aidan wondered if Lydia knew that part yet, because he couldn’t imagine she’d take it well. He’d known the Kincaid family almost a decade and a half, and he knew that Ashley was the older sister, but Lydia was the junkyard dog. If you messed with the family, Ashley would try to talk it out with you, but Lydia would take your head off your shoulders.

    “Lydia can worry about the beer and burgers and stay out of the rest of it,” Scotty said.

    Aidan laughed out loud. “I wouldn’t recommend you tell her that.”

    “Hell, no. I’m not stupid.”

    As they got close, Eriksson sighed. “Fun time’s over. Chief says we’ve gotta clean the engine bays today. And everything else that needs cleaning.”

    “That’s bullshit,” Scotty said. “I swear to God, the guys on night tour last week were all raised in barns. We should go drag their asses out of bed and make them clean up.”

    Aidan didn’t mind the thought of filling the time around any runs with cleaning. It was mindless work that would keep him from having to look his best friend in the eye until he’d gotten a handle on thinking dirty thoughts about the guy’s sister.

    He didn’t think the she started it excuse would cut it with Scott Kincaid.



           Chapter Three

    LYDIA ALMOST MADE it to Kincaid’s Pub without getting sidetracked. She might have made it all the way if she hadn’t heard sirens in the distance, which made her think of her brother. And thinking about her brother brought her back to the fact that—in her eyes—he’d chosen a fellow firefighter over his own sister.

    She detoured down an alley and then over two blocks until she was standing in front of three stories of old, red brick. The bay doors were open so she could see the gleaming fronts of both trucks—Engine 59 written over the door on the left and Ladder 37 written over the right in big gold letters that gleamed against the chalky brick.

    When she was a little girl, she’d thought it was a castle. She’d even drawn it into a picture for art class, the bricks towering behind a dark-haired princess in a long pink gown. The assignment had been fairy-tale illustrations, so the teacher had drawn a sad face on her picture. Lydia had been crushed. She’d also been the one who hid the unsealed bag of pastrami in the depths of the art teacher’s desk supply cabinet, but nobody knew that but her.

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