All Fired Up
Madison Falls Series- Book 6
Fire Chief Alex Ross is used to finding himself in dangerous situations. Rescuing a cat stuck up a tree isn’t one of them. He’s less than thrilled, especially when he finds out that the feline in question was used as a ruse by an amorous old lady on the make…again.
Alex needs a rescue and fate brings him Julie Hanlin, a former damsel in distress he saved the summer before. With a little persuading, Julie plays hero and untangles him from a sticky situation.
The town is abuzz when they catch Alex and Julie on an impromptu date. He thinks it’s the local grapevine doing its thing until he notices the ladies are checking him out a little too closely and whispering a touch more than usual.
Julie is caught in her own predicament. Alex thinks her attraction is merely a case of hero worship. Little does he know that he’s the center of a secret she thought would never come to light.
Kiss by kiss, Alex wants her more than ever. Julie finally has his attention, but the whole town is watching and once he realizes why, a desire that finally catches flame might go up in smoke.
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“Damn it, cat. Come here!”
Alex Ross had better things to do than chasing after a cat stuck in a tree. The cat in question stared at him in sullen indifference and licked a calico-colored paw.
“Would you believe me if I told you that I saw her toss that cat up there?”
At the sound of her amused voice, Alex slipped, and if not for some quick thinking and a convenient branch, would have fallen right on top of her. Happily. Don’t go there.
He chanced a glance down and saw Julie, the little spitfire who took up most of his thoughts on a good day and most of his dreams on any night. She was dressed in an old black pea coat that matched her inky black hair. Her fuzzy pink earmuffs and scarf were a contrast of color that said she could make Army/Navy surplus look cute. Her violet-blue eyes were trained on him, despite the chill that was making the tip of her nose cherry red.
Alex called down to her, “Yep.” There was no need to say more. He had no problem believing Darlene Donaldson would toss a cat up a tree. The silver-haired cougar watched him jog by her fancy house each morning. There was nothing covert about it either. She either stood on her wraparound front porch and waved, or in colder weather, like now, watched him from her living room window.
This wasn’t the first time the older woman used the fireman-rescuing-a-cat-up-a-tree maneuver. For a supposed pillar of the community and member of one of the founding families of Madison Falls, she made no qualms about her interest in younger men. The fact that the men she fruitlessly pursued were usually less than half her age made no difference to her. He was raised to treat the older generation with respect, so here he was, stuck up a tree, freezing his tail off, talking to a feline that had no desire to be rescued. While Julie Hanlin watched. Not his best morning.
Speaking of conniving cougars, Darlene poked her head out the front door, long, silver braid dangling from her head like a pendulum, as she checked his progress. “Alex, dear, when you’re finished collecting Boo-Boo, would you care to come in for some hot cocoa?”
She pretended not to see Julie standing in front of the sycamore tree, where he was having zero luck collecting the cat. It was just as well since Julie had her mouth covered with a fuzzy pink mitten, trying to hide her amusement at his expense.
He peered up at Boo-Boo-Satan cat, who’d managed to climb five branches higher while Alex had been distracted. Bored green cat eyes gazed back as if to say, good luck with that.
Alex called out from his perch on the bottom branch. “No, thank you, ma’am. After I rescue your cat, I need to finish my run and get to the station.”
Darlene stepped out a bit further and pulled a floral print woolen shawl tighter around her bony shoulders. “I could come out and spot you.”
Yeah, she’d tried that before. The woman was ninety pounds soaking wet. She sure as hell couldn’t catch him at twice her weight. Not to mention, her idea of spotting him was keeping a hand on his ass to prevent him from falling five feet to the ground. Alex figured he’d risk the odds of slipping.
Julie’s chuckle, stifled by her cleared throat, didn’t help matters.
He pulled his knit cap more securely over his ears and tried to think warm thoughts. “No, thank you, ma’am. I’m trained for this.”
That made Julie laugh outright.
Technically, he was trained to fight fires and save lives. Chasing after moody felines lobbed up into sycamores by amorous old ladies was an unfortunate bonus. Things in Madison Falls moved at a slower pace, so saving cats and teaching fire prevention at the elementary school mostly filled the void between putting out fires. The rest of the time, they trained and maintained the trucks and equipment. As Fire Chief, Alex was also responsible for a mountain of paperwork. He still loved his job. Sometimes the calm was a welcome respite. Sometimes the calm was simply—boring. Not that he wished fire or ill will on anyone in town.
Julie wrapped her arms around herself and started bouncing from one foot to the other. The wind had picked up and his death grip on the branch above him was the only thing keeping him from falling on his ass. She stared down the street and spared another glance up the tree where he was having zero luck getting a hold of the damned cat. Julie’s smile was half amusement and half commiseration. Her breath came out in puffs of white mist. “Well, Alex, I’ll leave you to it. Enjoy the cocoa.”
He wasn’t going in Darlene’s house without a chair and a bullwhip to keep the randy old lady at bay. The woman was notorious for getting handsy. No way in hell was he getting felt up—again—by someone old enough to be his grandma. Not even for hot cocoa.
Alex hissed down at Julie, “Don’t you dare leave me!”
She turned away from the house and whispered back, “Scared of Mrs. Donaldson?”
“Hell, yes.” He’d faced infernos less dangerous than Darlene.
Julie smirked at his honesty. “Smart man. What’s in it for me?”
Alex stretched to reach the blasted cat…almost there…Boo-Boo cat took a vicious swipe at him. Son of a bitch! The sting sliced against skin. For his trouble, a trio of blood-speckled red welts appeared on the back of his hand. Ungrateful cat.
He kept his voice low and begged. “Anything, Julie. Just be my buffer.”
Julie nodded and turned to where the silver braid was once again the only thing peeking from the door. “Sorry, Mrs. Donaldson.” She put in the right amount of polite sympathy and added a slight head tilt to lay on the charm. “Alex and I already have a cocoa date. He promised me something hot before work.”
She glanced back up at him and winked. What that woman did for his blood pressure was unreal. Julie could be an outrageous flirt and he tried not to get caught up in the image of giving her something hot. He’d give her something hot, all right. His version included naked and sweaty too. Lately, that seemed to be all he could think about each time she said so much as hello, never mind the flirting. He squeezed the branch tighter.
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