Mr. Asshole Photographer had sure taken any joy out of the day. His mother should have thrown him away and kept the bloody stork.
Once the Firehawk was settled, Jeannie began the shutdown checklist. Cycling down electronics and engines, and finishing up the logs for the day was normally a soothing, meditative action. But her pen wouldn’t write; it took her a while to scrounge up one that wasn’t dried out. The setting sun was streaming straight into the front windshield, making it wholly impossible to read the gauges in the shadow. And her pretty chopper had a hundred smoke smears on the seat, the headset, the door, the cargo bay, the…all from the jerk who wouldn’t stay safe with his hotshot crew.
After nearly breaking the plastic clipboard with the log sheet on it, Jeannie set it down very carefully. She slowly removed the headset that felt as if it had become permanently implanted into the sides of her head and hung it over the collective. Now she could hear the soft pings of the metal cooling in the turbine engines.
Jeannie leaned her head back against her seat, closed her eyes, and did her best not to scream.
The right-hand door on her side of the chopper creaked open, letting in the smells of smoke and cooking dinner. Of the achingly dry field grasses of the temporary helibase—they had to worry about not igniting them with the service truck’s exhaust even though the hay harvest was done.
She opened one eye and spotted Calvin Jackson standing just to her right and wearing one of his smarmy grins on his handsome face.
She didn’t plan.
She didn’t even think.
Jeannie blessed being left-handed as she shot out a fist and clipped him sharply on the chin. With it coming all the way across her body, she got some good power behind it. He tumbled backward, landing hard on the ground at Emily Beale’s feet. She had come up behind Cal without Jeannie noticing.
Jeannie looked at Emily, waiting for her reaction. Behind her mirrored shades, the fierce blond tilted her head down to look at the man groaning at her feet, then back up at Jeannie.
“Nice punch,” was all she said.
“Uh, thanks.” Jeannie’s hand hurt like hell. The guy must have a steel plate embedded in his chin.
Jeannie had to reach over with her right hand to pull the ignition key—her left hand was zinging too much to grip at the moment—and then she climbed down and closed the door.
She stepped over Cal, stopping shoulder to shoulder with Emily but facing in the opposite direction. “Okay if I finish the shutdown later?”
“Get some ice on your hand. I’ll ask Denise and her service crew to finish it for you.”
Jeannie nodded, managing not to look down at the evil Mr. Calvin Jackson, then headed for the food truck to get an ice pack and a cold beer.
“You certainly didn’t make a friend today, did you?”
Cal lay on his back, the short-cut grass prickling like hell. His head hadn’t stopped spinning, so he didn’t try getting up just yet.
He blinked open one eye against the pain. A pretty blond looked down at him through mirrored shades. He’d bet she’d be even better right side up, but it wasn’t worth the risk of standing to find out.
She waited quietly.
“I kinda thought that I had, but apparently not so much.” He levered himself up to sitting position and leaned back against the chopper to wait out the head whirl. He was right. Once the blond steadied a bit in his vision, she was a stunner. A stunner with a wedding ring and a serious dose of attitude.
“If you damaged her hand, I won’t be pleased.”
He opened his mouth to protest on behalf of his chin, then thought better of it. “You must be the ex-major she was talking about.”
“Which means I know many ways to hurt you. What did you do to her?”
“Nothing. She saved my life today, damned amazing bit of flying. She’s really, really good. I liked her, too. But I was mainly coming over to thank her again for saving me.”
At that the major stopped her “looming in the gathering darkness” thing. She was tall, slender, and poised like a fighter. There wasn’t a chance in hell he was ever going to mess with her.
A big man strolled up close enough for Cal to see him clearly. Cal hadn’t noticed when the sun had disappeared beyond the trees, though it still lit the sky with the blood-orange of an ash-filled sky. The guy was the antithesis of the woman: dark-haired, broad-shouldered. He had a big, easy grin, a rolling gait, and a one-year-old girl tucked in the crook of one of his massive arms.
“Trouble here?” He handed the girl off to the woman. Then he abruptly changed moods and took over doing the badass looming thing.
Of course, writing Emily Beale and Mark Henderson once again also has its joys. And crashing the four of them together as they battle bushfires in the Australian Outback and wildfires in East Timor...well, Full Blaze certainly was fun to write. Just hoping you enjoy the reading as much as I did the telling.
M. L. Buchman has over 30 novels in print. His military romantic suspense books have been named Barnes & Noble and NPR “Top 5 of the year” and Booklist “Top 10 of the Year.” He has been nominated for the Reviewer’s Choice Award for “Top 10 Romantic Suspense of 2014” by RT Book Reviews. In addition to romance, he also writes thrillers, fantasy, and science fiction.
In among his career as a corporate project manager he has: rebuilt and single-handed a fifty-foot sailboat, both flown and jumped out of airplanes, designed and built two houses, and bicycled solo around the world. He is now making his living as a full-time writer on the Oregon Coast with his beloved wife. He is constantly amazed at what you can do with a degree in Geophysics. You may keep up with his writing by subscribing to his newsletter at www.mlbuchman.com.