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Jill Shalvis, Jacquie D’Alessandro, Jamie Sobrato

Heating up the Holidays

© 2008



CRISTINA LEWIS walked into the florist’s shop with a tiny bit of an attitude, which, at least according to those who knew her best, was nothing new. Whatever. She rarely wasted time thinking about her demeanor, or what people thought of it.

Probably not the best way to make friends, but she wasn’t out to do so. Not in her world, where she was the lone female firefighter at station #34 in Santa Rey, California, a surfer-boy beach town. Her attitude was her shield, which she backed up by being good at what she did. The best, actually, and as a result, she was respected and trusted. And maybe a little feared, which worked, too.

Give her a burning building or a wrecked car threatening to explode any day of the week and she’d handle it. Unfortunately, today’s task was picking out a Christmas bouquet for the new chief and his wife.

Cristina wasn’t a Christmas person. Hell, she wasn’t a people person, so the fact that she was the one in here while her crew waited outside on the rig was fairly ridiculous. “I know nothing about flowers,” she warned the clerk who came around the front desk with a welcoming smile. “And even less about the whole ho-ho spirit, so we can skip the sales talk.”

“Good. I hate the sales talk.”

Okay, the woman was tough and had a sense of humor. Perfect. “Can you get me a Christmas bouquet and make it painless?”

“I’m an expert in painless.” The clerk’s professional smile never wavered. “For a boyfriend? Husband?”

Ha. Cristina didn’t have a husband. She didn’t have a boyfriend, either. The closest she’d come lately was her vibrator, but that had broken a few months back and she hadn’t yet replaced it. As for a real live penis, that honor had all too briefly belonged to an extremely laid-back, easygoing, sexy-as-hell EMT named Dustin Mauer, whom she’d had to dump through no particular fault of his own-other than that he possessed the most baffling ability to make her want things. Things she didn’t want to want. Things like a happily ever after, which she’d never believed in.

“It’s for the new boss’s wife.” She slapped the seventy-five bucks the crew had all pooled together onto the counter. “In the name of sucking up to the powers that be, apparently.”

“Well, you came to the right place.”

“Great.” Cristina just wanted to do this and get out, maybe fight a blaze or rescue someone. Anything but this. She knew damn well she was in here only because she had the lone vagina on the squad. Any one of those guys out there would have done a better job on this and they all knew it, but they were too busy cackling like little girls over making Cristina do it.

From some hidden speaker came a soft medley of Christmas tunes, and when she looked around, her senses were assaulted with a myriad of scents and colors. Flowers, plants, crafty stuff, it was everywhere, like a nightmare, all in green and red and silver and gold. Festive chaos.

It made her feel dizzy, and just a little like a bull in a china shop.

“Make sure it looks pretty,” came Blake’s voice over the radio at her hip. The radio issued by the fire department, the one supposedly to be used for emergencies only.

Cristina sighed. At the moment she didn’t care that Blake had had an incredibly rough year and that she loved him like the brother she’d never had, she snatched the radio off her hip and snarled, “You sent me in here, you’ll deal with what I pick.”


So she wasn’t a fan of Christmas, so what. She had no family to speak of other than the one she’d made at the station, and therefore didn’t have a lot of happy yuletide memories. To her, Christmas was just another day at the firehouse, albeit with better goodies to steal out of the fridge.

“Make sure it has some red flowers on it,” came Blake’s voice again. “She loves red flowers, apparently.”

Like she cared what some higher-up’s wife liked. The last chief had been a serial arsonist. In her eyes, the new chief still had to prove himself. “You’ll like what I pick,” she informed him with plenty of her famed attitude. “Even if it smells like sh-”

“Wow, somebody really needs to get laid.” There was laughter in his voice now.

Yeah, okay, so she did need that, desperately, but she’d done the stupid thing and dumped Dustin after one fantastic night of amazing sex, and now he refused to have additional amazing sex without “more,” whatever the hell that meant.

Not that that was any of Blake’s business.

The clerk cleared her throat and held up some sort of floral arrangement with what even Cristina had to admit was a gorgeous mix of red flowers and greenery, and a silver bow that managed not to look obnoxious. “Okay, you are good.”

The clerk smiled. “Oh, I’m better than good. Do you want to take it with you or have it delivered?”

“Delivered, please.” And while she pulled out the address she’d written down and waited for the woman to handle the paperwork, she eyed the store again. With her chore now completed, she could take a breath of relief and admit that maybe the place had a charm to it. It did smell damn good. She eyed the small tree on the counter, filled with tiny red envelopes. “What are those?”

“A present-in-an-envelope. Donate twenty-five bucks that will go to one of several local charities, and you get a surprise donated from a local business-a spa treatment or a dinner for two, things like that.”

Cristina didn’t know what came over her but she dug into her uniform pants and pulled out a twenty and a five. Scrooge, her ass.

“Pick an envelope, any one,” the clerk told her cheerfully.

Cristina debated a moment, then grabbed one.

Feeling a little silly, she exited the shop. On the rig, Blake was on the radio with dispatch and waving to her to hurry up because they had a call.

As she hopped into the truck she read her card: Good for one night’s stay at Santa Rey’s most romantic getaway-the Sweet Pea B and B.

Terrific. There was only one man she’d want to spend the night there with, but Dustin wouldn’t do it, not unless she gave him his damn “more.” She stared at the card, rolled her eyes at the irony, then shoved it in her pocket and did as she did with everything that disturbed her. She brushed it aside and let it go.

DUSTIN MAUER drove his ambulance with easy purpose, as always. As an EMT, he knew the drill. Get to the scene as quickly as possible without risking anyone’s life, assess the victims, get them the necessary medical care. He’d been doing just that for nearly ten years, since graduating from Cal Poly. It hadn’t been his life goal to be an EMT, it’d been merely a means to an end, a decent paycheck with which to pay off his education debt while he and his brother Jason had gotten their renovation business up and running.

But then Jason had gone into the military and their business had become a sort of side deal, as in, they got to it when they got to it, and Dustin had gotten comfortable being an EMT. Plus he was excellent at it, and until a few months ago, had truly loved what he did every day.

Then he’d fallen for the stubborn, gorgeous Cristina Lewis and she’d dumped him, and he’d been restless ever since.

He pulled up to the multicar pileup on Hwy 1. James, his new partner, was talking to dispatch, but he could see what they faced-a big rig had hit the center divider, caught fire and then two other cars had impacted it, sliding beneath the trailer. It was a chaotic mess, and all units had been called to the scene.

The firefighters from his station were already there. Blake was working the flames, and Zach and Aidan were using the jaws of life to extract the people trapped in the first car, while Sam and Eddie rescued the woman in the second car.