Trevor cursed under his breath as he stumbled out of the news van and into another humid Houston night. His polo shirt stuck to him like a second skin and beads of sweat gathered on his upper lip. This was really going to suck.
Ahead of him by about one-hundred yards, a warehouse was engulfed in flames. Ash fell from the sky like confetti to dot the dirty concrete, along with his brand new military style boots. He rolled his eyes and ran a hand through his hair, unsurprised to find flecks of ash had already fallen within the raven locks.
“Hey, man, you ready?”
Trevor turned to find his cameraman, Nick, already pointing the camera toward the raging fire. If he didn’t hurry up and say his piece there would be nothing left to report.
“Yeah,” Trevor replied. “Let’s go.”
In less than a minute he had his game face on and was answering questions from the anchors sitting in the air-conditioned studio across town. The whole clip lasted about two minutes, and then he was turning off the microphone while Nick took a few final shots.
Trevor was standing in the open door of the van putting equipment away when Nick whistled low. “Damn, there she is. Almost makes me wanna set my house on fire.”
Trevor’s pulse sped up and sweat broke out for a different reason than the heat as he turned to see who had gotten Nick’s attention. And there she was, all five feet-three inches of warm-blooded, Texas woman. Her dark brown hair was covered by the HFD helmet and the protective gear hid her curves, but Trevor had spent enough nights fantasizing about them to know every single one. “Damn.”
Nick chuckled and clapped Trevor on the shoulder as he walked past to put his camera away. “Ya know, she could prob’ly use a cold drink after a blazer like this one. I’ll bet if you were ‘round the station at quittin’ time she’d let you take her out for one.”
Trevor was shaking his head before Nick even finished. “No way, man. A woman like that is more than I can handle. I like mine uncomplicated and forgetful. As in, they forget I never called them back.”
Nick snorted a laugh before stepping into the van.
Trevor turned his attention back to the lone female firefighter on the scene. Julia wasn’t an anomaly in the city, but she was the only one on duty for the stations that had been called. A full year had passed since they met when Trevor did a story on female firefighters in Houston. She had caught his eye all those months ago and plagued him like a sickness, but he was determined not to get snared by the beautiful woman. He didn’t do long-term relationships, and she had forever written all over her. So, for now he would keep her in the fantasy category and nothing more.
Julia watched the news van pull away as the acrid taste of smoke burned the back of her throat. It wasn’t enough to worry over. She had just removed her mask and instinctively sucked in a lungful of humid air. The warehouse was a complete loss and now they simply watched for hot spots to flare up. Annoyance filled her at how quickly Trevor had jumped in the van to leave. Would it kill the man to say hello? With a shrug she went back to work and pushed him from her thoughts.
Three hours later she pulled into an all-night diner with a sigh of anticipation. The big fires always made her hungry, as she burned off untold calories while working them. Eating alone usually depressed her but tonight she was too tired to care. Not to mention hungry. Her stomach growled its approval as she stepped inside and the distinct smell of bacon filled her nostrils. She took a deep breath and smiled at the waitress behind the counter. Without bothering to look around she slipped onto a stool and picked up a menu.
By the time Julia was ready to order, a glass of ice-water and a set of utensils appeared before her. “Coffee, please, and the breakfast special.”
The waitress nodded her approval and moved away.
Julia picked up the water and gulped half of it down as someone took the seat next to her. A large shape filled her peripheral vision but she didn’t think much of it until he spoke. “Fancy meeting you here.”
She couldn’t hide the surprise from her face as she turned to face Trevor. He just grinned and blatantly looked her over. “As usual, you clean up well.”
“Thanks…I think. I guess you don’t.” She brushed ash off one of his shoulders with a laugh.
“Damn. Thanks. I thought I’d gotten it all before walking in here.”
“I figured you’d be fast asleep by now.”
The waitress set down his water and utensils and he nodded thanks before looking at Julia again. “Nope. Just finished wrapping up the piece for the morning news. Nick dumped me here before taking off to the studio.”
They were in the heart of the city, an area with new residential building going up every week. Julia lived in a loft only two blocks away. “Oh? So you live close, or is he coming back for you?”
“I live a couple of blocks from here in one of the new high-rises.”
“So…that was some fire, huh?”
She hid a grin by taking a sip of water. He never seemed to know what to say to her. All of their conversations had consisted of talking about firefighting.
“Um…yeah. It was really…hot.”
He snorted a laugh and shook his head. “Yeah.”
She set her glass down and turned to fully face him. “Trevor, why can’t you talk to me like I’m a woman, and not just a firefighter?”
Both brows went up in true surprise. “I talk to you like you’re a woman.”
“Bull. What’s my favorite color? My middle name? The last book I read?”
He looked completely dumbfounded for a moment and she almost took pity on him. But then he shrugged and turned to fully face her. “You know I don’t know any of those things. But, have you considered you don’t know those things about me either?”
She opened her mouth to give a sarcastic response, but stopped herself and snapped it shut.
“Ha,” he said. “Nothing to say to that, huh?”
“Well…okay, you’re right. So tell me.”
“Tell you what?”
She rolled her eyes. “Your favorite color, your middle name, and the last book you read.”
He spun back to face the counter and motioned for the waitress. Julia waited patiently as he placed his breakfast order before facing her again.
“All right. Blue, Marcus, and The Art of War.”
He rolled the finger of one hand toward her with an expectant look on his face. She smiled and gave in. “Purple, Grace, and The Pale Horseman.”
He looked completely surprised again. “Yeah? You like Bernard Cornwell?”
“I love him. You?”
“Yeah, he’s pretty good.”
Her food arrived and she dug in while he talked of the Cornwell books he liked the most. Once his food was set before him they shared a companionable silence as they ate. Their coffees were refilled and the diner slowly came to life. The minutes slipped away as they talked some more and eventually became more friends than acquaintances.
Finally, Julia covered a yawn with one hand and glanced out the window. “Damn. Is that the sun?”
He turned to look and laughed. “Yup. Looks like we brought in the dawn.”
“I need to get home and get some sleep.”
“Probably not a bad idea.”
He grabbed both checks and before she could protest headed for the cashier. She just smiled as she followed him out the door. “Want a ride home?”
He looked down the street at the light traffic. “It’s not far.”
“Yeah, but you’ll sweat off all the food you just ate before you walk three steps. My car has great air-conditioning.”
He laughed and nodded his agreement. “Okay, you win.”
Julia had a sinking suspicion she knew where he lived as he pointed in the direction of her building. Sure enough, they soon realized they were neighbors.
“How long have you lived here?” he asked.
“About three months. You?”
“Almost a year.”
He followed her up two flights of stairs, but stopped at the landing to the third floor. “I’m up there.”
She watched him motion with his chin and fought the urge to grab his hand.
“Oh. I’m here on two. Do you wanna…have some coffee?”
Never mind the two pots they’d most likely had at the diner. Julia couldn’t silence the urge she had to spend more time in Trevor’s presence. She was exhausted, her muscles were sore, and she needed to pee. But the idea of letting him walk away seemed too final. After the past year of dancing around each other, getting him to even talk to her felt like some sort of miracle. She wasn’t usually this daring with a man she hadn’t actually dated yet, but this one time she wanted to take a chance.
“Um…are you sure?”
She almost laughed at his question because she wasn’t sure at all. But there was no way she’d let him know that. “Yeah, of course.”
He smiled and her heart melted a little. She turned away quickly to hide any tell-tale signs on her face and led the way to her door.
Trevor wanted to kick himself. What the hell was he doing? Warning bells were going off in his head as he watched Julia’s fine rear-end lead him down the hallway. He tried to remember the reasons he had convinced himself getting to know her was a bad idea, but they had all disappeared the moment she smiled at him. Sitting down beside her at the diner had been a momentary lapse in judgment, but he couldn’t regret it. He’d learned over the past couple of hours that she was an amazing woman.
Now he just had to keep his cool. The last thing he wanted was another cup of coffee but he also didn’t want to go home to his lonely loft just yet. No, spending even five more minutes with her would be time well spent.
They walked into her place and he looked around at the finely decorated open space. She had an eye for nice things, but he could tell nothing was over-the-top expensive. If anything, Julia seemed to know what went well on a firefighter’s budget and he admired the feminine touches. Overall, it had a warm, lived-in look.
“Do you want coffee?” she asked.
Her nervousness was palpable and endearing. Now that he was in her place she didn’t seem to know what to do with him. He took pity on her and closed the distance.
“Hey.” He cupped her face in both hands and placed a soft kiss on her pretty, pink lips. “It’s just me. You know me.”
Her breasts rose as she took a deep breath and his attention was momentarily snared. He fought to raise his gaze and noticed moisture in her eyes. Crap.
“Yeah,” she whispered. “I know you. But do you know me?”
He ran his thumbs over her cheeks before letting his hands drop to her waist. Then he slowly pulled her into his arms. He rested his chin on her head and held her. “Yeah, baby, I know you. I’ve been fighting this insane urge I’ve had to know you better for months. But now, fighting it doesn’t seem like such a good idea anymore.”
“Why were you fighting it? You had to know I’ve wanted to spend time with you. I never made it a secret.”
He smiled as he remembered the heated looks she’d given him when they crossed paths. It had taken a lot of willpower to ignore those. “I know. I’m just an idiot, I guess. It’s been a while since I’ve really dated a woman seriously. I usually just go out for a good time on the weekends.”
She pulled away and frowned at him. “I’m not a one-night stand kind of girl, Trevor. I thought you knew that.”
“So…what are you doing here?”
He took the time to think about it, knowing this answer would be one of the most important things he ever said to her. “I’m here to start something that will last a hell of a lot longer than one night.”
He took the step separating them and kissed her again. Suddenly, all the reasons he’d told himself to stay away from her no longer mattered. As he pulled her back into his arms he realized she fit against him perfectly, like two pieces of a puzzle. The soft curves he’s been dreaming about melted against his hard planes and calm acceptance filled him. This was right.
“I don’t believe in one-night stands, or taking a guy to bed after only one date.”
“But, I think technically we’ve just spent two days together and it’s no longer night time.”
He glanced out the window at the slowly rising sun. Then he turned back to her with a grin. “I’m off the next couple of days. So, if it’ll help I can just stay in your bed until we know each other better.”
She laughed and left his arms, turning away from him. “Sounds like a plan to me.”
Then she whipped off her shirt and walked away.
“Hot damn, am I glad I was called for that warehouse fire.”
He followed the trail of discarded clothes to her bedroom and prepared to help the firefighter heat things up.