Pilot Rachel Quinlan is fearless fighting forest fires, but on the home front it’s a different story. She’s still not completely over her crush on Cole Hudson, love of her sister Missy’s life – and he left Eden eleven years ago. Not that it matters, because now she has Missy’s kids to raise and her family’s failing business to run. But that’s before the past collides with the present – and an accident brings Cole to the rescue. A Little Secret (a big surprise).
Heat level: medium.
Note from Melinda: The 4th story in the Hot Shot series revisits my Silver Bend Hot Shots, but moves Back to Eden where Cole Hudson (nicknamed Chainsaw by the team for his tree-felling abilities) needs to wrap up a few loose ends. Here's a taste of the prologue...
Cole Hudson was never going to love her.
Rachel Quinlan stared at Cole's parked truck - the engine not even pinging or popping because it had long since cooled - and the sick sensation caused by unyielding truth settled in her gut.
Oh, Cole liked her well enough and had even taken her out to dinner and to the movies a time or two. If pressed, he might even say he loved her. But it would be clear that he didn't love her-love her, not in the happily-ever-after kind of way.
With tear-filled eyes, Rachel stared up at the blue sky blossoming above Eden - a sky that cruelly promised a beautiful October day fit for a wedding - someone else's wedding.
It wasn't just that Cole was four years older than Rachel and treated her as if she still hadn't reached puberty. Heck, she'd filled out a bra three years ago, and Cole hadn't seemed to notice. And it wasn't for lack of bodily contact. He gave Rachel a hug every time he saw her, sweeping her up and twirling her around, his deep laughter rumbling through to her soul.
Rachel sighed. Nope. The problem was Cole Hudson didn't lover like a man loved a woman. He could never love her that way. Because he'd lost his heart to Rachel's older sister, Missy. It seemed disloyal to have such strong feelings for someone Missy had once so dearly loved, but Missy had let Cole go, and had accepted a proposal of marriage from another man. Still, there was Cole's truck and Missy was conspicuously absent from the Quinlan house.
In less than four hours, Missy was supposed to be marrying Lyle Whitehall in front of God and everyone at the Chapel in the Valley on Main Street. If Missy...when Missy married Lyle later today, their worries were supposed to be over. Rachel had no clue as to what would happen to them if Missy didn't marry Lyle at eleven o'clock, but she'd bet it wouldn't be very good.
The impossibility of having Cole love her threatened to overwhelm Rachel as she stared at his truck parked in front of room twenty-two of the Shady Lady motel on the outskirts of Eden.
The question was: Who was in the motel room with Cole?
Suddenly filled with an anger demanding an outlet, Rachel ran up to the door to number twenty-two and pounded on it. Before her knuckles hit the warped wood a second time, Cole opened the motel room door and stalked past Rachel without so much as a glance. Missy huddled in the mussed bed, a sheet pulled up to her shoulders and tears streaming down her pale face.
Missy, who had always been Rachel's rock, as well as sister, mother, friend and confidante, and who always looked model perfect, looked as if she was thirty-nine, not nineteen.
Rachel forgot all about her own shattered dreams as she ran across the worn, stained carpet to comfort her sister.
The Story Behind the Story
This was the fourth in my Hot Shot series of books about wildland fire fighters. The one huge thing I learned from writing this book is: Don't have one of your future heroes come across as just a bit dense in the first three books!
This was Cole's story. Cole had been a little slow on the uptake in the first three books - more of a straightman than a dull tool tho and a sweetheart with the ladies. But that foundation in those first three books made his story a bit more challenging to write.
This time instead of fighting fires on the ground or rescuing lost aunties in the mountains, I had the heroine flying a plane that dumped water and fire retardant on the fire. Have you ever seen the movie Always? Holly Hunter is flying a plane trying to dump fire retardant on Hot Shots trapped on a ridge. She manages to pull her plane out of the deep dive needed to save them. You'll have to read about my heroine's challenges.
Cover buzz: Harlequin always asks for inspiration in designing the cover and I sent in lots of horse pictures. I really liked the cover except the little boy's sweater (what an eye-catching stripe!). This was the first time I wrote a horse character in one of my books. Writers aren't supposed to base characters on living people, but the horse in this book was very closely based on my horse, who was gentle as a kitten unless the wrong rider got on her (and to be fair, sometimes she felt the wrong rider was me!).