As a kid, Randi Cooke couldn't wait to follow her father and four brothers into a firefighting career. But after a terrible accident at her very first fire, she fled her Florida hometown. Three years later an arson investigation brings her back to face her estranged family...and Zac Parker, the friend and lover who betrayed her when she needed him most.Zac Parker had a home with the local fire department, until a false accusation cost him his career. Now he and Randi have to work together to find the culprit in another suspicious fire. He let her down once before. Can he earn Randi's forgiveness and give them both a second chance.
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September 08, 2008
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Excerpt from A Firefighter in the Family by Trish Milburn
The familiar scent of wet ash invaded Randi's nostrils. Even though the flames had been extinguished and no visible smoke drifted into the bright blue sky, the acrid smell clung to the air, refusing to relinquish its grip. Her stomach twisted. It wasn't the first time fire had blazed in her hometown, but thankfully no one was hurt this time.
From the spot on Sea Oat Road where she now stood, she'd once only been able to see blue-green waves, sugar-white sand and a line of beach homes painted cotton-candy pink, daffodil-yellow and robin's-egg blue. Now she stared at the charred remains of a high-rise condo complex, the soot, crumbling timbers and twisted metal more out of place here in this idyllic spot than at any fire scene she'd ever been sent to investigate.
She glanced toward a side parking lot and spotted a familiar shock of white hair. Smiling, she headed in that direction. When she got within earshot, she called out. "Hey, old man."
Jack Young looked up from where he was stowing equipment in the Number 1 engine. His eyes brightened when he saw her. "Well, I'll be. I haven't seen you in ages." The man she'd always called Uncle Jack came toward her and wrapped her in a bear hug that remained strong for a man closing in on seventy.
"What are you doing still working fires? You should be taking it easy." She phrased her words as teasing, but part of her did worry about him still undertaking the hard labor of firefighting.
"Hon, I've been working so long I don't know how to relax. Besides, this department would fall apart without me." He gestured to a couple of young firefighters at the front of the engine. "These nimwits wouldn't know one end of the hose from the other."
The younger guys snorted.
"So, Steve sent you home to handle this one, huh?" Jack asked as he wiped sweat from his forehead.
Randi ignored the reference to "home." She couldn't think of Horizon Beach like that anymore. It hurt too much. "Yeah. Looks like you had your hands full with this one."
"You can say that again. This baby burned like burning was going out of style. It was amazing to see."
That was saying a lot coming from a guy who'd seen every kind of fire known to man--everything from a lightning-sparked brush fire to a frightening oil-tanker blaze in the Gulf.
She glanced at Jack's profile, saw how he looked into the distance with the familiar expression he got after taking on a big fire. Like he'd stared into the eyes of the beast but lived to tell about it. Jack, more than anyone else she'd ever met, knew fire wasn't just a thing. It was a living, breathing soul bent on destruction. He gave fire the respect it deserved. She just wanted to send it all back to hell.
"So, what's the story?" she asked.
Jack scratched his gray stubble. "Better talk to Will. He was first on the scene. I was bringing up the rear on this one."
"Okay." She'd rather eat sawdust than talk to her brother. "I'll catch you later." Randi walked toward the engine closer to the burned building.
She stepped off the sidewalk where several current Horizon Beach residents and visitors stood speculating about the midnight blaze that had consumed the building.
"Come on, Thor." Her giant black Labrador retriever--one part fire dog, one part best friend--fell into step beside her as she headed for the burned-out shell of the once nearly completed Horizon Vista Resort.
A young fireman stepped out from where he'd been talking to a man in street clothes. "Ma'am, you can't come in here."
She slipped her ID from her pocket. "I'm Randi Cooke with the state fire marshal's office."
He examined the identification card. "You must be--"
"Yeah. Sister to half your department." And daughter of the former chief, and granddaughter to the chief before that.
"Eric and Will are still here." He pointed toward a fire engine, and she saw Will retrieving a tangle of hoses.
She inhaled deeply, but instead of fortifying her for a meeting with her oldest brother, it only filled her nostrils with the scent of ashes. She exhaled through her nose, trying to banish the heavy, choking smell. "Thank you."
Randi headed for the engine. Her nerves jangled, and the muscles in her shoulders tightened despite her internal monologue to stay calm and professional, as she always was at a fire scene. Will looked her way.
Though he should have been expecting her, the widening of his eyes indicated he was surprised to see her.
He'd shucked most of his turnout gear, but the boots, flame-retardant bunker pants and suspenders remained. His blond hair poked out in half a dozen directions from sweat and his helmet.
"Randi. When did you get here?"
She tried to ignore the coolness in his voice, but knowing the reason behind it made that task impossible. "A few minutes ago. Looks like you had a busy night."