Flame (Firefighters of Montana Book 5)

By: Victoria Purman

Jacqui quirked an eyebrow. “What’s up with you today? You wouldn’t by any chance be a little distracted by a certain smokejumper in a red truck that just drove by?”

Cady looked down at the counter. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

Jacqui picked up her cupcake—red velvet with vanilla frosting. “Sure you don’t.”

Cady took a moment to enjoy the tease in Jacqui’s voice and in her eyes. She’d come a long way since losing her husband, in the days when grief seemed to control her. Her new pixie cut really suited her, made her look more worldly than her braids had. Cady ran her fingers through her own high ponytail. Shoulder length hair was practical and hygienic because she could pull it back, but it meant her hair was neither long nor short. A bit of nothing, really.

Cady opened the register and stacked the bill on top of the others under the clip in the tray before shoving it closed with her hip. She may as well address the elephant in the room.

“I suppose you’re talking about Dex McCoy.”

“Uh huh. Him. Red truck guy. The one who seems to be able to make you blush just by driving by, judging by how pink your cheeks are.”

Cady examined the cash register. Snatched a paper napkin from the napkin holder, scrunched it up into a ball and began polishing the display on the register. “The whole town is on edge when the smokejumpers are away. You know that. I’m glad he’s back safely, is all.”

“Of course you are.” Jacqui leaned closer, checked over each shoulder to ensure no-one else could hear what she was about to say. She waited a beat until two grey-haired women tucked their purses away and headed towards the door. “Listen, Cady. You’re a grown woman. Single. Hot. And downright available. And Dex is single and hot and also downright available. What’s stopping you two?”

What was stopping them? Cady didn’t want to go over the feelings she’d had about Dex since high school—high school, for Pete’s sake—and especially about what had happened between them that night at The Drop Zone just before she left to go to the culinary institute in California. She didn’t want to remember the fight. Or especially the kiss. She wasn’t even sure it qualified as a kiss if he’d stood there like an old oak tree and hadn’t even kissed her back. The feelings of rejection still stung.

“Let’s just say we’re very different people,” Cady said, brushing off Jacqui’s suggestion like it was a stray hair on her shoulder.

Jacqui’s grin said more than her words did. “Different can be good you know, but hey, your loss. And his, too.” She turned towards the door, and then looked back. “Hey, did Miranda talk to you about the catering for the ceremony on Saturday?”

“Yeah, she did.” Cady wiped her hands on her apron, glad for the change of conversation. “She came by yesterday and I’ve got it all sorted out.” Cady stopped. In her relief at the change of subject, she’d forgotten. Damn. How on earth could that have slipped her mind? It was a year now since Jacqui’s first husband, Captain Russ Edwards, had died doing what he loved. He was smokejumping when he was caught by a rogue wind and slammed into trees up in the mountains. His parachute hung in the fire station now, with his name and the date of his passing embroidered in the red and white, stripes. Everyone was gathering that weekend to attend the ceremony to remember, reflect, and give thanks for his life and sacrifice.

Cady’s slapped a hand to her mouth, as if the physical act would stop more words tumbling out. “Oh, Jac, I’m sorry. I didn’t think… you okay?”

Jacqui nodded, a sad smile on her face. “I know I will be. You’re coming, right? We don’t just want your there for your cakes, you know.”

“Of course I’m coming.” Cady reached over the counter and squeezed her friend’s hand. “I’ll be right beside you. If I can elbow Vin out of the way, that is. You two are so great together. Have I told you that?”

“Yes. Only about a million times,” Jacqui said with a happy smile, which faded quickly into seriousness. “It’s not just me who lost Russ, Cady. The town, his friends, the crew at the fire station.” Her voice trailed off. “It was a nice thing for the new captain to do. God, Sam Gaskill has been there a year already and I still think of him as the new captain.”

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