Blaze is demanding. Unyielding. A punisher.
He thinks he can rid me of my demons
by exacting even more of me than I ask myself.
He says he can wash my sins clean.
Absolve me of the fire that scalded my soul.
All I have to do is turn myself over to him.
The only problem–he doesn’t just want my body.
He wants my life.
Note: This steamy stand-alone romance contains a dominant, dirty talking fireman, a fiery new recruit and enough kink to start a three alarm fire. If such material offends you, please do not read this book! No cliffhangers, no cheating.
With four brothers—all cops, not firemen—I’m not afraid of any guy. Especially not guys like these.
Even if their, I mean our, captain doesn’t want a female on the crew.
“What are you playing?” I ask my new teammates innocently as they deal another round of poker to kill time at the station.
Rocket—the friendliest, but possibly dorkiest—grins. “Poker—know how to play?”
I twirl the end of my dark ponytail around my finger. “Yeah, I think so.”
James, who is the least friendly of the guys—not counting the captain—folds his arms over his large chest. “We don’t play for money, though.”
I know what’s coming and I’m not afraid. “Oh yeah?” I’m pretty good at playing innocent. “What do you play for?”
“Have you heard of strip poker?”
Rocket flushes slightly, clearly thrilled by the suggestion. “Yeah, it’s just for fun,” he leers. “That way if we get a call, the person who took off the most takes the longest to get ready.”
Uh huh. Right.
I pull a chair up to the table. “Okay. I’m in.”
“You are?” Rocket’s eyes pop, like he can’t believe how lucky they got.
James still looks like he tasted a lemon, but he starts shuffling and deals the cards.
I sit back, hold my cards and hide my inner smirk. If these asshole firemen believe they can haze me into taking my clothes off and becoming their wet dream fire maiden, I’ll let them harbor that impossible fantasy—for at least another half hour.
See—here’s what I know. Firemen are nicer than cops. More predictable. They have that same hero desire but it burns—heh—brighter. They’re not quite as power-hungry or controlling. Except for the captain. They call him Blaze—I’m guessing because of a temper. He’s got a streak of controlling cop for sure. It’s a trait that I hate in my brothers, but unfortunately makes my knees go weak in a boss. Especially a fire captain boss.
The rest of these boys were the football stars in high school—good-looking, rigid thinkers, slightly chauvinistic, but generally nice guys. No one’s gonna actually get naked here and they know it. Oh, they probably think they’re gonna get an eyeful of my bra and panties, maybe even harbor hope of seeing some boobage—not that there’s much to see—but they don’t know who they’re up against.
If anyone knows how to play poker, it’s me.
What my brothers don’t know is that I also know how to play dingy sex kitten and make stupid would-be poker champs think I’m in over my head.
Which means, at the end of this game, these boys are going to be the ones sitting in their boxer briefs, and I’m going to be using my phone to take pictures I can forever hold over their heads.
“So, Lia,” Scott, my thirty-something hot but ignorant new colleague drawls, “It’s you.”
“We need a better name for her,” Rocket says.
“Yeah, too bad Rocket’s already taken,” I say drily.
He grins good-naturedly. “How about Sparks? She’s definitely a little spark plug, plus she’s always lighting matches.”
Damn, they noticed that. I just burned a few outside between fires to let off steam. I’ll have to be more careful.
“It’s your bet, Sparks,” James says without a smile. “Let me guess, you’re starting with your boots.”
“Nope.” I make a show of slowly peeling my red FDNY t-shirt over my head. “I’ll open.” All three of the other firefighters on duty tonight stare. “Let’s start with the shirt. That way you guys can get a nice look at what’s not coming off tonight.” I squeeze both my breasts through the very chaste, full-coverage pink sports bra.
Scott’s hand drops under the table, presumably to rearrange his junk. “I see.” He clears his throat. “Didn’t expect that from you.”
I hide my triumph. They thought they’d force me to admit I can’t claim to be just one of the guys. Cock-tease is my surprise rebuttal.
He, too, peels his shirt off, revealing a perfect pair of pects on a gleaming dark-skinned chest. Not that I’m looking. Every guy here is ripped. Being physically fit is part of the job requirement. But I’m used to guys like these from the CrossFit gym. “I’ll see your shirt.” He stands up and unbuttons his Nomex pants. “And raise you a pair of pants.”
“Ooh,” James and Rocket croon, looking for my reaction.
I can’t hold back my smirk. If they think showing me their boxers is going to fluster me, they have a shit-ton of more thinks coming. I can give it as well as they do.
I completed my fire training. I worked three summers as a hot-shot for the Forest Service in Arizona. No female is in better shape than I am right now. And still I had to apply and reapply for thirty-two months to get this job. No one will say it, but I guarantee it’s about their bias against my small size and gender.
But I’m putting that behind me because I finally landed this job—despite the intimidating interview with the chief and battalion chief. And now that I got in and am one step closer to my dream job, I’m going to prove how well I fit in. There won’t be awkwardness. They’ll respect me as much as they do anyone else.
“What. The fuck. Is going on here?”
At the sound of the captain’s angry boom, we all jump and throw our cards down, sitting up straight.
This is how I know deep down these are nice boys. They have the grace to go completely shame-faced, hurriedly scooping up the cards and tossing me my shirt.
“Nothing, Captain,” Scott says, yanking his own shirt back on.
Our hard-assed captain, Ted MacKenzie—Blaze—is like the Greek god of firemen. Tall, tattooed and beef-alicious, he’s young to be in charge—maybe in his mid-thirties. And what he lacks in years he makes up for in gruffness. The man is two hundred fifty pounds of pure authority and alpha male dominance. A fact I find far too sexy for my own good.
And he definitely isn’t having it right now. Laser beams shoot from his striking blue eyes. Anger radiates from him, letting us all know we’re in deep shit.
“Aw, we’re just indoctrinating Sparks into our poker games, Cap,” Rocket says.
“Sparks, huh.” His eyes shoot to me and he flicks his brows. “Fitting.”
I square my shoulders to hide the fact that I’m cowed. And turned on. My pussy clenches and damn my nipples—they prod the inside of my sports bra. But I’m like this in Blaze’s presence all the time. I’m always attracted the guys who don’t think I’m good enough.
What does that say about me?
And since this guy seemed pissed as hell to be assigned a female to his crew, I suddenly question the wisdom of our little strip poker game. He looks ready to commit murder. We each receive our own special glare, which travels slowly around the circle until we’re all sweating like kids sent to the principal’s office.
“This is not a goddamn frat house. Burke is here to work, like the rest of you. She’s not here for you to stroke your pathetic dicks. You’re going to treat her like any other goddamn fireman—fireperson—whatever.” He throws up an impatient hand. He jerks his chin at me. “Put your shirt on.”
My cheeks flame, but I hold his gaze with a note of defiance as I slide it on.
No matter—he’s back to lecturing the guys, pointing his finger at each one in turn. “We haven’t had a woman on the crew before, but that doesn’t mean you lose your goddamn heads. I expect every one of you to figure out how to be appropriate starting today. Right now.” He points at the ground. “You don’t make suggestive remarks, you don’t talk about sex around her and you sure as hell don’t try to get her to do a goddamn strip tease. If I ever see this kind of shit again, I will write you up on harassment so fast your heads will spin. Is that perfectly clear?”
“Yes, sir,” they all say immediately.
“And God help any of you if I ever hear you try anything with her. You will lose more than your job, you will lose your nuts.”
The guys, who had been sitting up straight for the brutal lecture, sink down in their seats.
“This firehouse is a strict no-fraternizing zone.” He looks at me for that.
I had been slightly flattered by the protective note to his lecture, but now white hot anger pours through me. I stick my chin out but somehow manage to keep my mouth shut.
But seriously? Is he implying I’m trying to seduce my co-workers? What a prick.
He keeps the blazing gaze fixed on me. “And you. You worked your ass off to get into this firehouse. Don’t fuck it up now.” He turns and walks away.
I’m on my feet—definitely too pissed to be around these guys a minute longer. I stalk to the tiny cubicle that serves as my bedroom for the night and shut the door, reaching for a book of matches with shaking hands.
The scrape of the head and bright flare of the flame calm me. The sulfur stings my nostrils and sends the signal to my brain. Like an addict getting a hit, my body responds. My muscles relax, heart rate slows. My pleasure centers activate.
I hold the match, letting it burn down to my fingers before I drop it in the metal wastebasket. I’m safe with matches. If anyone knows the danger of fire, it’s me. I light another, then one more until I’ve soothed the tiger.
I flick another match. Damn the prickly captain for screwing up what would’ve been a perfectly genial way to break the boys in. I drop the match in the trash can. Damn the prickly captain for making me want to prove myself to him all over again. I drop the matches on the desk and stand up. Fuck it. I am going to give him a piece of my mind.
I’m all about equal rights—I am.
But having Lia Burke in my firehouse might be the death of me.
I head back to the station office and sit at the desk. Lord. I can’t fucking believe they sent me a tiny female. Sure, she passed the test. She’s strong and looks tough as hell. Definitely one of those CrossFit chicks who can bench twice her weight.
But her presence here is going to be the biggest pain in my ass ever.
She’s also hot. Her smooth caramel skin looks downright lickable, and the big green eyes are set off by long, curling lashes. Not the fake kind that are so popular these days. Natural lashes—no mascara or anything, not that I’m an expert on these things.
And she has junk in the trunk. I’m definitely an ass man and this girl? She has the best posterior I’ve ever had the pleasure of walking behind. Not that I do that on purpose.
Not unless I want to sprout wood in front of my crew.
I can’t stand the other guys ogling her. I mean, I seriously can’t stand it.
They are not exactly PC. It’s locker room talk around here twenty-four seven. I swear I’m going to have a sexual harassment claim on my hands in less than a month.
Even though she’s trying to prove she’s cool with whatever they throw her way.
Yeah, the little spitfire is going to turn this firehouse on its head.
But what troubles me even more is I know something about this girl. Her brother is friends with a battalion chief friend of mine. When she got hired, he reminded me of a fire we put out.
I started at the Staten Island station—Ladder 153. There was a three alarm fire that destroyed a cop’s place ten years ago. The cop’s oldest son was friends with our captain—my buddy who is now a battalion chief.
We tried so hard to save the house, but it was too late—the entire thing was made of sticks and went up fast. I remember the Puerto Rican wife crying in Spanish while the cop and his kids tried to be heroes and help. We had to order back the four boys and one girl a number of times.
The fire had been ruled accidental, originating in the girl’s bedroom. That girl was Lia Burke.
And for some reason, knowing her history makes me even more protective of her.
She’s fighting demons. She became a firefighter to try reverse her past.
As if that ever works. We can’t make up for our past mistakes. I should know.
A prickle on the back of my neck tells me I’m being watched and I look up. Here she is—one hip propped against my doorway, her slender but buff arms folded across her chest.
She’s so small we had to order her a child’s size t-shirt for her wear, but damn, the spunk in her is anything but petite. Her dark curls are pulled up in a high ponytail, dark-lashed green eyes are bright against her flushed skin.
“Yes, Burke?” I have to work hard not to think about the way her nipples got hard when I was going off on the crew.
I work even harder not to wonder what that means.
Her jaw muscles tighten, then release, then tighten again.
Little girl is trying to hold her tongue and, if I’m interpreting correctly, not blow up at me. I really have to work to force back all the fantasies that crowd my brain about punishing her for sass. Or forcing her to speak her mind. It could easily go either way.
Another beat passes and she pushes her hip off the door frame. “Nevermind.” She turns and walks away, the sway of her perky ass making my cock twitch in my pants.
“No, come back. Let’s talk this out. You pissed at me?” I may be a hardass, but I’m actually all about communication amongst the team.
When she turns, her expression’s softened, relief flickering over it. She leans a hand against the doorframe, staying outside it. “Kinda. Were you implying I was trying to—”
I hold my hands up. “I wasn’t implying anything.” I stand up from the chair. I’m a big guy, and she’s freakin’ tiny, but she doesn’t draw back. If anything, she leans forward, eyes dilating. “Strip poker isn’t allowed in this firehouse under my watch, that’s it. End of story.”
Her mouth turns down at the corners.
“Listen, you’re trying to find your place here—getting to know the guys. I get it.” I shove my hands in my pockets to seem less threatening. “I’m sure you would’ve had them all in their boxer shorts by the time you were done.”
A smile quirks before she hides it again, her body posture relaxing even more. I like putting her at ease. Almost as much as I liked seeing her reaction—physical, anyway—to my dominance back there.
“The thing is—we haven’t had a woman on the team before. It’s going to be an adjustment for all of us. And I don’t want anyone thinking…”
I stop because, what am I going to say? I don’t want them thinking the same thing I am about her? How much they’d love to feel that tight little body squirming underneath theirs? How they’d love to give her a little personal training?
“I don’t want anyone to fuck with you, that’s all. Because then I’d have to pound their faces in.”
This time I succeed in wringing a real grin from her—one that stays on her face and makes her big eyes crinkle. She’s unbelievably pretty, with flawless skin and a pair of dimples. It takes all my willpower not to drop my gaze to her breasts, because I’m dying to see if I made those little nipples hard again.
She rolls her eyes. “So you’re playing big brother, not boss? I already have four of those, so it’s not really a role I need filled.”
Oh, sugar, my thoughts are anything but brotherly.
“Yeah—I’m Big Brother with the capital Bs. Always watching.” I do the two fingers at my eyes, two fingers at her eyes gesture and she laughs. Something that buckled down across my chest when I walked in on the guys’ shenanigans releases. “I see you can take care of yourself, Sparks. Just don’t make me sorry you got placed here.”
“Okay, there it is.” She’s fully in my office now, hands on her hips. “I knew there was something you were trying to say to me. So what is it?”
Her show of defiance makes my cock ache. I want take this girl in hand so badly, my palm twitches. I can’t stop myself from advancing on her until we’re toe to toe. Nose to chest.
I’m dying to wrap my fist in her hair, tip that saucy head back to keep her eyes on my face. Fortunately for her, she lifts them of her own accord.
“Enough, little dragon.” I tower over her, hands on my hips. “You don’t march into my office breathing fire and throwing out attitude. You have something to say to me, you show some respect.”
She swallows and takes a step back. “I’m sorry, sir.”
Christ, yes. The nipples are hard. Even through a sports bra and t-shirt. Her eyes are dilated, too, and the way she rubs her lips together makes my cock chubby.
“That’s better.” I pin her with an authoritative stare and let the silence stretch between us before I go on. “I didn’t say anything to you I wouldn’t have said if you were a man.”
She rolls her tongue around in her cheek. “You call the other guys little dragon?”
I fight a smile. “Did that offend you?”
She cocks a hip, her posture turned seductive. “Nah.”
“Good. Are we okay?” I automatically reach out to thump her shoulder the way I would one of the guys after a talk in the office. At the last second, I pull the thump part back and just touch her. It’s just a shoulder—it’s not like I have hands on her face, or her waist, or anywhere intimate—and yet it’s like time freezes the moment I touch her. Our eyes lock, heat races through my limbs. I have to force myself to drop my hand but when I do, my gaze falls on those full, pouty lips.
“Yeah, we’re good.” She’s lost most of her tough girl attitude, her expression more wondering now. It’s amazing how badly I want to see her stripped bare to me—the facade gone. I want to know the real Lia—what makes her tick.
But that won’t be happening. No stripping—of clothes or otherwise. Not for me or any other asshole in this station.
USA TODAY BESTSELLING AUTHOR RENEE ROSE is a naughty wordsmith who writes kinky BDSM novels. Named Eroticon USA’s Next Top Erotic Author in 2013, she has also won The Romance Reviews Best Historical Romance, and Spanking Romance Reviews’ Best Sci-fi, Paranormal, Historical, Erotic, Ageplay and favorite couple and author. She’s hit #1 on Amazon in multiple categories in the U.S. and U.K., is often found on the list of Amazon’s Top Author list. She also pens BDSM stories under the name Darling Adams.