About Braving The Blaze...
Single-minded Dean Harward is going to become a veterinarian if it kills him. He’s worked summers as a volunteer wildfire fighter to earn big cash for college. Just his luck, a pyrophobic woman gets assigned to his team. He’s certain she’ll get him killed before he can graduate. Ginger Warby is a walking firestorm as accidents continually spark around her. Or are they accidents? Can Dean keep the flames of desire he reluctantly feels for her under control long enough to keep them and his Yellow Labrador alive?
“I know volunteering sounds crazy, but I’ve got to do this.” Ginger Warby locked her fingers together and sat down on her best friend’s floral-print sofa.
Brenda whirled around in bewilderment. “This has got to be the most idiotic thing you’ve ever thought of doing. Why? Why would you even try? I know how terrified you are of fire.” She flopped into the mauve recliner next to Ginger, her face still rumpled in disbelief. “Look at cooking school.”
Ginger took a deep breath and exhaled slowly. So she had flunked out of culinary school. She’d done her best. She couldn’t help it if she couldn’t set her Crepes Suzette…or the Bombe Alaska…or…or the Lobster fra Diavolo on fire. Three little dishes. There’d been plenty of other meals she’d fixed to perfection.
At least she’d managed to get over her fear of gas stoves and barbeque grills while she attended school. She’d made progress. Well, as long as they didn’t have a flare-up of flames. The image of the time her T-bone steaks dripped grease and sent flames roaring up through the grill popped into her mind. She’d gone screaming out of the class as her classmates roared with laughter.
Before she’d chosen culinary art for her career, she should’ve realized where there’s heat, there’s fire. Why did chefs prefer gas stoves to electric anyway? Someone somewhere had to start a new trend.
“You’re afraid of a sparkler, Ging.” Brenda shook her head in skepticism.
“I’ve gotten better though. You just don’t understand.”
“I know my best friend just told me she’s planning to put herself in the middle of the biggest wildfire Utah’s ever seen, but she’s afraid of a match. You’re going from the proverbial frying pan into the fire. Somebody has to talk some sense into you.”
How could Ginger explain all of her reasoning? Especially since the death of Brenda’s brother, Barrett, had a lot to do with her decision. Only a week had gone by since his funeral. Ginger hoped she could get over her fear and at the same time understand Barrett’s tragic death.
“I just feel strongly about going, Bren. I really want to face my fears. And besides, they desperately need help on this fire. I’ll just be one of the camp crew, anyway.”
Brenda reached for her hand. “So face your fears. But putting yourself in the middle of a one-hundred thousand acre wildfire is just plain nuts.”
“Could you stop mentioning that?”
“Wildfire, wildfire, wildfire.”
“You can’t even face the word, let alone face the actual fire.” Brenda hit her palm to her forehead. “This doesn’t have anything to do with Barrett, does it?”
Ginger noticed the glassy look in her best friend’s eyes. “No, not really. As I said, they need the help. Let’s talk about you. What’ve you been up to since we last talked?”
“And your hair!” Brenda stared at her with a horrified look. “You cut off all your gorgeous butter-colored hair for a fire? Since we were eight, you swore you’d never cut it.”
“It was always getting in my pots of soup. I’m…I’m glad it’s gone.”
“I don’t believe you.”
“Well, I certainly didn’t want it to catch on fire. I’ll be much safer with my hair short.” She didn’t want her terror to show, so she ducked her head.
“But did you use a scythe to cut it? My gosh, it stands out everywhere.”
“Still not happy with this discussion, Bren,” she returned in frustration.
Brenda clicked her tongue. “I still can’t believe you’re thinking of doing such a crazy thing.”
“Not thinking; I’m doing.”
“Not thinking is right. Daniel doesn’t even want to face that monster.” Brenda sobered. “I don’t want to lose someone else to a fire.”
Ginger’s heart lodged in her throat. “I know, and you won’t. I’ll just be doing camp duty, and you need Daniel here with you and little Darcy. How are things with the two of you?” Ginger asked, still hoping to change the subject.
“Have you talked to Sage yet?” Brenda asked instead.
Ginger sighed. How could her friend manage to bring up every subject she’d been trying to ban from her mind?
“I’m sure he’d want to discuss this plan of yours.” Brenda leaned back in the recliner with a raised brow.
“I…I haven’t seen him since the funeral.” She dug her nails into her thumbs until she couldn’t stand the pain any longer. Sage had gotten over what she’d done years ago. At least he acted like he had forgiven her. She just couldn’t forgive herself.
“What do you think he’s going to say about this?” Brenda crooked her neck, scanning the backyard for her daughter. “I shouldn’t let her outside in all this smoke, but she gets tired of being cooped up. And frankly, I’m not sure the air is any better inside than out no matter what they say on the news.”
“Come on. Let’s talk about something else besides the fire. What’s been going on since we last talked?” Ginger asked.
She knew her friend well enough to know she wouldn’t let the subject drop, but she didn’t want to hear another word about Sage or the Tushar fire. Ginger’s anxiety would explode through the roof if they kept talking about the subject. She already felt like running back to
with her tail between her legs. Salt Lake
Convincing herself to come back home for Barrett’s funeral after flunking out at school was bad enough, but volunteering to fight her biggest trepidation on earth stressed her out to the max. She again tried not to think about being seventeen and the events which lead up to her phobia. The images flashed in her mind. Darn. Didn’t want to think about that memory. Could she ever put the experience behind her?
After this wildfire, would she be able to go back to school and face that flambé? Would she get her degree? Would she ever be able to do anything without being frightened? She mentally shook herself. She had to move forward, or otherwise she’d never be able to move on with her life.
“So then Daniel and I took little Darcy to Hogle Zoo, and do you know what she said when she saw the monkeys?” Brenda’s eyes sparkled with love for her little daughter.
Ginger shrugged, but couldn’t manage to control the flashing images of smoke, orange flames and sizzling trees which played over and over in her mind. How could she when smoke already burned her throat like eating suicide chicken wings basted with
sauce, hot pepper flakes and chopped chilies for garnish. It amazed her that a fire so many miles away could fill Brenda’s house with so much smoke the place looked like they’d landed in the middle of a smoker’s convention. Tabasco
“Hey, are you listening?” Brenda asked.
“Uh, yeah. Little Darcy is adorable.”
And the story of Darcy and the monkeys was sweet, but Ginger had to admit she didn’t have her full attention on the story. Despite her determination to face her pyrophobia head on, black fear consumed her thoughts. At this point, she wished she’d have stayed in her safe little apartment hundreds of miles away. Being here brought back too many memories. Seeing Brenda made her return especially difficult; she looked too much like her brother. The thought of Barrett’s death made her chicken croissant sandwich from lunch do the funky chicken in her stomach.
How could Barrett have gotten trapped in a fire on his farm? What had sparked the flames? Could it have been equipment like they’d said? A van riding the rim of a blown tire on I-15? Another cigarette thrown from a passing car? There’d been lots of possibilities but no answers. If the police thought the fire looked suspicious, why weren’t they investigating further?
The Tushar fire had everyone’s attention, that’s why. It claimed her thoughts too, but she couldn’t forget about Barrett. Having been more than good friends with him at one time, she unequivocally wanted to know all the circumstances surrounding his death. Unfortunately, what had taken his life happened to be fire, making this all the more difficult for her to confront.
Barrett and Ginger’s brother, Sage, had been best friends. Along with her and Brenda, they had been the awesome foursome through their school years. They’d done everything together. She’d been surprised Sage and Brenda hadn’t married. As for her and Barrett… The thought stung like a thorn pricking her finger picking blackberries on the family farm. More memories she didn’t want to think about right now.
She needed to pay attention to Brenda. She did care about the everyday life of her best friend, but an overwhelming, terrifying dread clogged her brain. She needed to push her phobias aside and listen.
Brenda jumped to her feet and headed toward the kitchen. “I think we could both use a glass of cold iced tea.”
If only they had enough tea to put out the wildfire.
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Cindy A. Christiansen, an author of sweet romance with comedy, suspense...and dogs has spent the week with us on our blog here in Texas. Her inclusion of dogs in all of her books shows her love for them and she donates time and money to organizations that help abused and abandoned dogs.She lives with her wonderful family and delightful dogs in West Jordan, UT.
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