Lucy Palmer toughed up during a decade on death row for killing her husband. Now, with her conviction overturned, she has a second shot at freedom. Life is harder than she ever expected. Getting a job is hard. Winning back the love of her brokenhearted son? That is her biggest challenge.
Her biggest ally could be her only friend. The man her son loves like a father. The man she once rejected.
Firefighter Jarrett Freeman’s career is helping people. He loves the work and has great friends. A large share of his spare time is spent mentoring the son of the woman he should never have fallen for. A woman who just regained freedom from death row.
Seeing Lucy again is a kick in the gut. And seeing what her past has done to her is an unexpected jolt to his heart. The road to reconciliation could drive their emotions straight into the danger zone…
Warning: Her murder conviction was overturned, but with one fireman she’s anything but innocent.
Sweat-slick and coated with blood, Jarrett Freeman was officially a mess as he sat in the backseat of a flattened car and held Maggie, a trapped victim, completely still. The rest of the crew worked outside the car. Some worked to keep leaking fuel from igniting a fire, others worked on how to get Maggie untrapped while the paramedics checked on the other driver.
“It hurts.” Maggie’s breath shuddered on an inhale.
“Pain’s good.” Jarrett said it as much for himself as for her. What he’d thought was a position he could hold for a while turned out to be a nerve pincher. “Pain means you feel something.”
Like the sizzling hum of agony slicing down the left side of his back.
“I’d rather not.”
“You sound like my little brother.” Allen wasn’t really his brother, but it was a convenient way to explain their relationship. “He doesn’t like anything that resembles pain.”
“Pain can keep you alive in moments like this.” Jarrett squeezed her shoulder. “Embrace it and tell me if you stop feeling.”
“Okay.” Maggie closed her eyes and a tear leaked free. “Tell me about your brother. I like your voice. Distract me.”
“He’s more like an honorary brother.” Jarrett didn’t talk much about his personal life; not even his crew knew much about Allen. The kid had only come to the station a couple times and both times he’d left too quickly to meet anyone. Jarrett wouldn’t spill his soul to Maggie but neither could he deny her request. Maybe talking would take his mind off the strain on his back.
Charlie passed a blanket through the shattered windshield. “Cover up and brace yourself for a lot of noise.”
Jarrett used his one free arm and moved slowly to cover Maggie’s torso and face. She tensed against him.
Outside, Ice Man yanked the crank on the saw. Maggie jumped and then yelled from the resulting pain.
Angling his head so his mouth was close enough her ear for her to hear over the screech of machine against car metal, Jarrett reminded her to stay very still. Shouted commands and pauses in the cutting went on outside. Inside the car, Jarrett focused on Maggie.
“Allen’s a complicated kid. He’s had a rough life, so he can’t seem to decide if he wants to hate the world or see some of its value.” It was a simplified explanation of the boy he’d wished could be his own. The angry boy whose dad had been killed, whose mom had been taken away, and whose grandparents had turned their backs on him. The boy who understandably kept people at arm’s length and rarely opened up.
“He’s lucky to have you.”
Jarrett was the lucky one. Lucky, because knowing Allen kept the boy’s parents alive for Jarrett. The boy’s father had turned into an abusive ass, but Jarrett had once considered him a great friend. His mother, well, she was the woman he’d loved since high school. Loved but could never have.
“I noticed a stuffed toy in the backseat,” Jarrett shifted the subject. “Do you have a kid?”
Maggie relaxed against him despite the cutting and prying sounds the blanket failed to block. “A daughter. She stared fifth grade at a new school a few weeks ago. Today has me wishing I hadn’t come back to Dallas.”
“Okay, Maggie.” Andy interrupted anything else she may have said. He pulled the blanket back and revealed the newly open door of Maggie’s crushed car. “You ready for a new scene?”
Maggie nodded and conversation stopped as the crew worked to get her on a board and transferred to the gurney. Andy stood back from the others long enough for Jarrett to exit the car.
“Just doing my job.”
“You may get to crawl in with all the distraught ladies from now on. Hell, you may have found your niche.”
It wasn’t like they took turns. They followed orders or did what was necessary wherever they were. He’d been the first to her car, so he’d gone in.
“Great.” Prying the door open with his bare hands would have been easier than keeping his muscles perfectly still while holding a victim immobile. He was going to be aching later.
The four-car pile-up in the middle of rush hour on a day when Hades controlled the thermostat had closed I-35. They’d lost two, but they’d saved three. The job was easier when he focused on lives saved. The saves almost made the misery of the turnout gear bearable.
“Who needs steam rooms?” Ben asked as he climbed into the truck behind Jarrett. “We have Mother Nature in Texas.”
Jarrett smirked. “You spend a lot of time in steam rooms, Ben? Is that how you stay pretty for the girls?”
“At least I have girls to be pretty for.”
“Put ’em in your pants boys. It’s too hot for your competitions.” Delancey, the only woman on the truck, was a damn good firefighter. If only she didn’t expect people to always share their feelings and get along.
“It’s never too hot to fight,” Jarrett insisted for no reason other than to annoy her. At first he’d acted like an ass for the sake of testing her ability to fit in. He kept it up because she gave as good as she got.
“Because that would mean it’s too hot to f—”
“Hey. Hey.” Mike, the oldest guy on truck and the only one to turn a relationship into a successful marriage, climbed into the truck and cut off Delancey. “Let’s not have that kind of talk on the truck.”
“Why?” Delancey taunted. She’d learned to speak their crass lingo as well as she fought fires. And she wouldn’t hear it from Jarrett, but she was one of the best he’d seen. “You have to be getting more than Andy. He hasn’t been with anyone… How long has it been, cuz?”
Jarrett grinned, enjoying her. “Asks a woman clearly getting her share.”
Her face went all gooey at the slightest mention of the man she’d carried from a burning building. It hadn’t ended at a rescue for either of them.
“Speaking of Logan,” Mike said from his seat behind the wheel, “is he getting back into accounting?”
“You forget how to balance your checkbook?” Charlie spoke for the first time since sliding into the last seat. He wasn’t above putting his own barbs into a conversation, but he typically erred on the side of charming when women were around. He’d given up on trying to charm Delancey, as she had a natural immunity to him.
“Nah. My tax extension’s coming due. Sheila’s hoping for a big return.”
“I’ll mention it to him,” Delancey said. “Maybe he’ll take pity on your wife and overlook your ineptness.”
Logan Mathis lost his livelihood in the fire. Worse, he lost the only remaining member of his family—his sister—and he’d been terribly burned. His scars made it impossible to forget. Whether he’d always been reserved or had become so after the fire, Logan wasn’t an easy man to get to know. Delancey’s confidence in his willingness to do a favor for a friend of hers reflected strongly on how much he loved her. It won friendship points.
“Why doesn’t he start a new firm?” Jarrett voiced his curiosity for the first time. “He could be based at home.”
“Most clients need some face-to-face before turning their finances over to an accountant.” She shook her head and frowned. “Logan’s still not ready for that.”
“If he’ll do my taxes, I’ll send everything through you or email. He’ll never have to see me if he doesn’t want. I just can’t handle my books alone.” Mike’s wife had whipped compliance into him. The man’s eagerness to do everything she wanted was one reason Jarrett had no interest in marriage.
“He’d be okay seeing you, Mike.” To provide for his family, Mike, like a lot of firefighters, had a side job on non-shift days. He owned a handyman business and complained often about the recordkeeping involved.
Delancey and Mike kept talking. The other guys branched off into a conversation about ways to make the heat bearable—namely women in next to no clothes, or a pool or lake, or scantily clad women by a pool delivering an ice cold beer. Their ideas sent Jarrett’s mind to thoughts of being wet with a woman. Specifically with the one woman he’d always enjoyed seeing in a swimsuit. The woman he’d only exchanged emails with for the last decade. The woman whose last email had mentioned an early release.
He’d fallen for her in high school, but his best friend had gotten to her first. Loving his friend like a brother, Jarrett swallowed his feelings. He’d kept them hidden through high school, their engagement, their wedding, and then their marriage.
He’d failed to reconcile his own feelings about Lucy. Worse, he had yet to tell Allen she was getting out. He’d tried a few times, but the right words always failed him.
They pulled into the truck bay and one of the guys let out a low wolf whistle. Jarrett looked out the window and his thoughts scurried. Time ran out.