Flame (Firefighters of Montana Book 5)

By: Victoria Purman

A Firefighters of Montana Romance

Chapter One

It wasn’t a long way from Missoula to Dex McCoy’s hometown of Glacier Creek, Montana. Only two and a bit hours, if he took the most direct way. Today, Dex needed to take the long way, along Highway 35, which curved along the east side of Flathead Lake, Big Mountain right there where it had always been, the blue waters of Flathead Lake calling him home. As he drove, he listened to nothing but the throaty rumble of his truck and his breathing. No music on the radio. No company in the passenger seat.

When he’d left three months before to do a smokejumper exchange with another crew in Missoula, an important part of his graduation from rookie to full-time crew member, the Flathead Valley and the mountains all around it had been every possible shade of green. Now, the aspen, cottonwood, and tamarack trees were showing their fall colors—yellow and gold and a shimmering orange. As he drove, Dex thought there was nothing sweeter than seeing once again what felt like his mountains, his sky, his forests laid out before him, as far as the horizon could stretch. The turning of the seasons also reminded him that the more things changed, the more they stayed exactly the damn same.

Dex could have stopped in at the Glacier Creek service station on Flathead Lake, checked in with his captain, Sam Gaskill, and his buddies, dropped off his gear, and stored it in his locker, so he would be ready for the next call out. But he didn’t. He could have driven on out to North Fork, the family ranch where his brother Mitch lived with his wife Sarah and their daughter Lila, but that would have turned into dinner and a conversation about their old man, and playing with Lila, and that sweet kid deserved every bit of his attention, not some bone-tired uncle who probably still stank of smoke. Definitely still stank of smoke. He’d call them when he got home, make plans to invite himself over for Mitch’s famous barbeque and some much needed hugs from his niece. After a much needed night’s sleep, he was due back on base tomorrow and, right now, he needed to get home to his apartment in Glacier Creek and crash in his own bed. He needed to dig out some clothes that hadn’t been on high rotation for the three months he’d been away, that didn’t reek of smoke and pine and sweat, and he needed to sleep.

He was nearly there.

He wound down the window, rested his elbow on the door, and stuck his head out into the wind like the family dog Rusty used to. Rusty had loved riding shotgun in the truck. The mutt would whimper and whine to have the door opened so he could jump up into the cabin, and would then shove his wet nose against the glass until Dex leaned over and wound it down all the way. With narrowed eyes and his tongue hanging blissfully about as far out of his mouth as it could get, the dog was never happier than when he was sitting in the truck with Dex. He smiled at the memory of that damn dog, now gone, buried under a cottonwood tree at North Fork. He leaned out into the wind, sucked in the cool, crisp Montana air he loved, but was careful to keep his tongue in his mouth.

Come to think of it, he’d spent a lifetime holding his tongue.

After his Mom died when he was eighteen years old, he didn’t ever tell anyone how much he missed her and her hugs at night, her whispered goodnights and kisses on the forehead where his hair met his skin.

When Mitch, older by five years, had taken over the running of North Fork, Dex hadn’t complained or been envious of his brother. Mitch had already been working with their father, learning all there was to know about managing the ranch. They’d agreed it was the most practical thing to do and anyway, there was an adventuresome spirit in Dex that he couldn’t define back then, but he knew he didn’t want to be tied to the ranch. Or Montana.

He’d held his tongue about that, too, seeing his father had still been trying to cope with their mother’s death, trying to hold it together for his two sons. The last thing he’d needed back then was for Dex to announce he was leaving.

Dex was practiced at not saying what he needed to or wanted to. When the other guys in the squad—or his Captain, Sam—had given him good-natured shit for a mistake or a slip, he took it on without backbiting, vowing to learn from it, to get better, not get even.

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