Second Chance Summer
After fighting a brush fire at the base of Cedar Ridge for ten straight hours, Aidan Kincaid had only three things on his mind: sex, pizza, and beer. Given the way the day had gone, he’d gladly take them in any order he could get them.
Not in the cards.
He and the rest of his fire crew had finally managed to get back to the station. They’d been there just long enough to load their plates when the alarm went off again.
“What the hell!”
“Gonna break the damn bell and shove it up someone’s—”
“This is bullshit…”
Whoever said no one could out-swear a sailor had never lived in a firehouse. Ignoring the grumbling around him, Aidan pushed his plate away and met his partner Mitch’s gaze.
“Gotta be a full moon bringing out the crazy,” Mitch said.
“Maybe the crazy just follows you,” Aidan suggested.
In turn, Mitch suggested Aidan was number one. With his middle finger.
They’d been playing this game since first grade, when Mitch had stolen Aidan’s lunch and Aidan had popped him in the nose for it. As punishment they’d had to pick up and haul trash for the janitor for two weeks.
The two of them had become best friends and had spent the next decade being as wild and crazy as possible.
Eventually they’d grown up and found responsibility, going through the fire academy and now working as Colorado Wildland Firefighters for their bread and butter, volunteering on the local Search-and-Rescue team as needed. And here in Cedar Ridge they were needed a lot. Lost hikers, overzealous hunters, clueless novice rafters—you name it, they’d been called to save it.
Tonight’s fire call came in as a possible suicide jumper off the courthouse, which at five stories was the highest building in town.
As they pulled up, they could see a woman had climbed out a window on the fifth floor. She stood on a ledge that couldn’t have been more than a foot wide. Wearing nothing but her bra and panties.
“Well, at least Nicky left her Victoria’s Secrets on, this time,” Mitch noted.
Nicky was a bit of a regular.
And Mitch was right. The last time Nicky had gotten upset was after finding the town’s councilman she’d been sleeping with going at it on his desk with his assistant. She’d stripped all the way down to her birthday suit before covering herself in Post-it notes. Aidan wondered what had set her off this time.
“I changed my mind,” she screamed, jabbing a finger down at them. “I don’t want to die! He’s not worth it!”
No Post-it notes this time. A bonus. The police had blocked off traffic, but the scene was still chaotic.
“Somebody get up here and save me!” Nicky yelled. “If I fall and die, I’m going to sue every one of you for being so freaking slow! Honest to God, what does a girl have to do to get a rescue around here?”
“So she’s changed her mind,” the captain said dryly to Aidan and Mitch. Aidan and Mitch exchanged glances. No one could reach her from inside the window. And climbing out on the ledge wasn’t an option; it was too narrow—and decomposing to boot. And thanks to the layout of the building and the hillside, their truck couldn’t get close enough to the building to be effective either.
They all knew what this meant. One of them was going to have to follow the half-naked crazy chick out onto the ledge. There were a few problems with this.
Aidan and his team had a reputation for being unflappable and tough as nails, but the truth was, plenty unnerved them—including a half-naked crazy chick on a ledge five stories up. They’d just learned to do whatever needed to be done, no matter what.
“Let the fun begin,” Mitch muttered.
Plan A was for the captain to head inside and attempt to talk Nicky back inside the window. Since Plan A had a high potential for going south, Plan B was to be run simultaneously—head to the roof and begin setting up rigging for an over-the-roof retrieval.
Through it all, Nicky never stopped screaming at them, alternately begging them to hurry and hurtling insults their way.
Then came the cap’s radio message. “Yeah, so she’s declining to crawl back in the window because there’s no press here yet. Last time she was front-page news.”
Onward. The team found a good anchor spot on the roof. As Mitch and Aidan were the two most senior members of the unit, one of them always took lead. Mitch looked at Aidan. “Okay, go make like Spiderman and rescue the damsel in distress.”
“Why me?” Aidan asked.
“It’s your turn.”
“Hey, you’re the one who likes her undies,” Aidan pointed out. Not that he objected to a rescue, any rescue, but this one had shit-show written all over it.
“I weigh more than you do,” Mitch said logically.
Only because he was six foot four to Aidan’s six two, but whatever. The team got the line set up, and then Aidan got into his five-point harness and hooked himself to the first of the two lines. Mitch hooked up to the second one just in case Aidan got into trouble, and the rest of the unit prepared for go time.
Aidan dropped over the edge. The plan was to rappel him down until he hung ten feet above Nicky. He’d then kick out from the building at the same time that his team lowered him eleven more feet, bringing him to just below her, putting him between her and the fifty-foot drop. He’d attach a harness to Nicky, and the team would give them enough slack so that Aidan could rappel down with her.
And the team indeed lowered Aidan to just above Nicky. Aidan kicked out. But as usual, nothing went to plan. Just as he started to swing back toward the wall, Nicky leapt off the ledge like some rabid raccoon and wrapped herself around him.
Not more than a hundred and ten pounds, she clung to him like a monkey as they hurtled at neck-breaking speed toward the wall. Aidan managed to grip her tight and twist in midair so that he was the one to slam into the brick.
Even as lightweight as she was, it still hurt like hell.
“Jesus Christ,” Aidan heard the captain and Mitch say in stereo as they watched helplessly—one from above, one from below, at the window.
They didn’t know the half of it. With Nicky’s legs wrapped and locked around Aidan’s waist, her arms squeezing his head like a grape and her breasts literally suffocating him, he couldn’t breathe. Somehow he managed to turn his head sideways to suck in some air, but he still couldn’t see. “I’ve got you,” he said. “I’m not going to let go, but you need to loosen your grip.”
Nicky was too busy screaming in his ear to hear him, not loosening her grip at all. “Omigod, don’t you fuckin’ drop me or I’ll sue you the most!”
Mitch had dropped over the edge as soon Nicky leapt on Aidan’s back. He was rappelling down as fast as he could, laughing all the way. Aidan couldn’t see shit but he could hear him clearly, the asshole.
“Got his six,” Mitch said into the radio as he came even with Aidan, still laughing. “Though I can’t tell where Aidan ends and Nicky begins.”
You can kill him later, Aidan promised himself. “Listen to me,” he said to Nicky. “I’ve got you. I need you to stop yelling in my ear and look at me.”
She gulped in a breath and relaxed her hold only enough to look at him. Her eyes were wide, wet, and raccooned from her mascara.
“I’m not going to let go of you,” he assured her, staring into her eyes, doing his best to give her an anchor. “You hear me, Nicky? No one’s falling to their death today.”
She nodded and started to cry in earnest at the same time. Aidan preferred her screaming.
“She’s not attached to anything,” the captain reminded them via radio.
“You don’t have to worry about that, Cap,” Mitch responded. “She’s not letting go of Aidan.”
Nope, she wasn’t. She’d embedded her nails into him good, and her legs were crossed and locked at the small of his back, but at least he could breathe. “Just get us down,” he said.
As the team lowered them, Mitch kept alongside, offering encouragement, cracking his own ass up as they went.
On the ground, Aidan’s new companion was peeled off of him and taken away for further evaluation. Aidan took his first deep breath since the rescue had begun. Aching in more muscles than he’d realized he even had, he gathered his gear.
“You okay?” their captain asked. “You took a few hard hits up there.”
“I’m fine.” He could feel where he’d have bruises tomorrow, and he was pretty sure his back had been scrapped raw from the demolition derby collision with the brick wall, but he’d had worse.
Mitch grinned at him. “Man, you just had your bones totally jumped by a nearly naked chick. We almost had to resuscitate you. Fireman Asphyxiated by Boobs, news at eleven.”
Their captain eyed Mitch, and then Aidan. “You remember we have a strict no killing each other policy?”
Aidan reluctantly nodded.
“I’m going to lift that rule for a one-time exception,” the captain said, cocking his head at Mitch.
Mitch’s smile faded. “Hey.”
But the captain had walked away.
“Whatever,” Mitch said to Aidan. “If you kill me, you’ll never find out what I know.”
Aidan slid him a glance. “You never know anything.”
“I know lots, starting with a rumor that you’re about to get a blast from the past.”
“Yeah. I hear Lily Danville’s back,” Mitch said.
Aidan froze at the name he hadn’t heard in a very long time. Years. Ten of them to be exact.
Mitch raised a brow. “Gray hasn’t mentioned it?”
No, Aidan’s older brother had not told him a thing, which raised the question.
“How did you hear?” Aidan asked.
“Lenny. He caught the gossip at the resort. Your family runs the place, how did you not hear this?”
Lenny had gone to high school with them and now worked at the Kincaid resort as a big-equipment driver. Aidan stared at Mitch, unable to process that everyone had known before him.
Lily Danville… Damn. Turning, he started to walk away.
“It’s no big deal,” Mitch said. “It’s not like you’re seeing Shelly anymore, right? You’re a free agent, so if you want to try to get Lily back… Hey, wait up.”
Aidan didn’t wait. And it was true he wasn’t seeing Shelly anymore. Technically, they’d never been “seeing” each other. They’d had a satisfying physical relationship whenever they both felt like it, and neither of them had felt like it in over a month now. He hadn’t thought about her once since.
But Lily Danville…
He hadn’t seen her in forever, and yet he still thought about her way too often.
“Hold up,” Mitch called out. “Your half of the gear’s still—” He broke off when Aidan kept walking. “Seriously?” And when Aidan didn’t so much as look back, Mitch swore and worked to gather the load, making some of the newbies help. He was quiet on the ride back to the station but only because they weren’t alone and also because he was playing a game on his phone.
Aidan reached over and swiped his finger across Mitch’s screen.
Mitch swore, nearly lost the phone out the window, and then turned to glare at Aidan. “You owe me a Candy Crush life.”
“Tell me more about Lily being back.”
“Oh, now you want to talk? You done pouting then?”
When Aidan just gave him the I-can-kick-your-ass gaze, Mitch grinned. “You know you were.”
“It’s all over Facebook,” one of the guys said from the back. “The news about Lily.”
“Aidan forgot his password,” Mitch said. “A year ago.”
Aidan ignored him, mostly because his brain was on overload. Lily. Back in town…
He’d long ago convinced himself that whatever he’d felt for her all those years ago had been just a stupid teenage boy thing.
Seemed he was going to get a chance to test out that theory, ready or not.