Jackson Garrett is a Hot Shot, one of an elite team who fights forest fires. More than once he's saved the lives of the people on his crew. And more than once, Jackson knows, the reason he's made it out alive is Lexie--his one true love. It's always been a relief that he could go home to her. But now she doesn't want him back.
All or nothing?
Lexie Garrett doesn't feel as if she ever had a husband. With Jackson always away, she's raised their daughter alone. During one last night of bliss before she finalizes their divorce, she becomes pregnant. Lexie loves Jackson--she has no doubt about that. But will he be there for her, the way he says he will? This time and forever?
Heat Level: medium
Hot Shot Series (Book 1)
Driven by the whipping wind, flames made ashes of the drought-dry trees on the ridge. Jackson Garrett could feel the heat increase as the fire advanced toward him. Ignoring the sweat trickling down his face, Jackson turned and checked on the progress of the fire advancing up the steep slope toward he and his crew, listening to the panicked voices on the radio crackling in his ear. The words were in Russian and, although he’d been in Russia for nearly half a year, they were speaking too fast for Jackson to understand. Except he did understand.
They were dead.
Not yet, but it was only a matter of time. Ivan, Levka, Potenka, Breniv and Alek. Men he’d trained these past few months to fight forest fires the American way. Men he’d become fond of despite the language barrier and their reluctance to learn a method some bureaucrat figured would help the Russians stem their annual forest fire devastation. What a joke. You needed equipment to fight fires, or at least reliable equipment that wasn’t salvaged from some war fought fifty or more years ago and well-trained, well-conditioned men. When Jackson had first arrived in Russia and realized the extent of the experience and resources of the men he’d been assigned to, he’d laughed. A smart man would have filed a report with the government agency that sent him over and taken the first plane back to the states.
Most smart men didn’t have a freshly signed divorce agreement tucked in their passport. So he’d stayed, not yet ready to return home and smile at his Hot Shot buddies, hiding the fact that his wife had blindsided him with a divorce, that he hadn’t been able to sweet talk his way back into their bed.
Like every other Hot Shot from Silver Bend, he was overly confident in most any situation. When Jackson met Lexie at the Boise restaurant more than six months ago, he’d been stupidly sure of himself. Even after he’d signed the divorce papers and finessed Lexie into a motel room in Boise, convinced they’d rip the papers to shreds come morning. So sure of himself he’d been thinking about how he’d brag to his buddies about Lexie’s hot temper and how that made making up that much hotter, while she was putting her clothes back on and walking out on him for good.
“This was break up sex. Nothing more,” Lexie had pronounced, her eyes brimming with tears, the divorce papers clutched in one hand and the motel room door handle gripped in the other. “I didn’t believe those empty promises of yours at dinner. I just had to…” Lexie paused, swallowed, blinked rapidly. “It was break up sex,” she reaffirmed before disappearing out of his life.
Now, Jackson wondered what it was that Lexie had to do that night with him and why she’d been so upset about it. He remembered the first time he’d asked her out in high school. He’d given her some smooth line. He couldn’t even remember now what it’d been. She laughed at him – after he’d spent weeks working up the nerve to ask her out – and told him he was full of hot air. Whenever Lexie got mad at him, she accused him of that – being full of hot air. She’d gone out with him anyway…after he’d asked her out three more times.
Now there was a joke. Soon, he’d be nothing but hot air, his body incinerated and smoldering. Lexie would cry for him when she found out because she had a heart that was big enough to mourn an idiot like Jackson, even after she’d kicked him out of her life. It’d be harder on his little girl, Heidi. She’d over-dramatize the event. But Heidi had Lexie, and Lexie would figure out what she needed, support her and love her no matter what. Heidi could count on Lexie.
According to Lex, Heidi couldn’t count on him.
The idea that his family would go on without him held no comfort. Jackson swayed on the mountainside, suddenly feeling every ounce of the thirty-plus pounds of gear he carried, as he realized how dispensable he was to Lexie and Heidi. He’d become just a voice on the other end of the line, a house payment, medical coverage. He wanted his family back. Not that he was in a position to get them back now, caught between two fires halfway around the world. He didn’t even have a way to call them and hear their voices one last time, to tell them how much they meant to him.
He’d been in tough spots before, but he’d always believed he’d make it out. His Hot Shot crew back home nicknamed him Golden because they could always rely on him to get them out of sticky situations. Now he realized the reason he believed he’d make it was that Lexie had always been waiting for him.
She wasn’t waiting for him anymore.
With his right hand, Jackson reached into his pocket and fingered the small medal Lexie had given him years ago. It was his good luck charm. No. That was wrong. Lexie was his good luck charm. Things just weren’t the same without her in his life.
“Damn it,” Jackson swore, aware of the heat again. Fine time for him to stop moping and realize he needed to fight for the only woman he’d ever loved. He couldn’t die now. Somehow, he’d screwed up his life, but he wouldn’t die like this. He wouldn’t leave Lexie and Heidi without trying to be a good dad and husband one more time. He’d figure out where he went wrong later, after he found a way out of the firestorm closing in on them.
Scowling, Jackson watched his team of trainees futilely attempt to complete the fire line he’d abandoned the moment he’d seen the fire peak the ridge. But with no chopper rescue possible and no planes to drop a load of water as an escape route, they were as good as crispy.
They needed a miracle.
Or a man who had to make it back home.
The Story Behind the Story
A funny thing happened to me when I was writing the proposals for what would be my second and third books - I discovered Suzanne Brockmann and her Navy Seals! If you haven't read any of Suz' action packed romances, I suggest you give one a try. My epiphany with her work was that she had a group of men working together and she could write about every one! She could transfer new men in! She could have a series that went on forever!
It was late summer when I was kicking around ideas for stories. My new editor asked me to send in a couple story ideas for her to choose from. I sent in a two book idea for cops and - after seeing most of Yosemite burn on TV - I sent in a two book idea for Hot Shots, who fight fires by creating fire breaks. Hot Shots cut down trees, dig massive trenches, set smaller controlled burns to stop the fire from raging in one direction...and they do it by hiking in to a remote location. So if something hits the fan ("fit hits the shan" as Toby Keith would say), they can be trapped.
Clearly, my editor was brilliant and chose the Hot Shot proposals. I didn't embark upon this lightly. I had some ideas. And my step-sister had very wisely married a Hot Shot years before. I will admit that he laughed at one of my life saving solutions, but admitted that stranger things have saved lives.
My hero and heroine married young. He became a Hot Shot. She stayed home to raise the baby. As often happens as people grow, the relationship became strained (Hot Shots aren't home for more than 5-6 months a year, sometimes less). But I was convinced that this couple deserved a second chance. And besides, it was time for Garrett, nicknamed Golden because things so often went his way, to have to work hard at something he wanted for a change.
Cover buzz: I sent in a lot of mountain pictures - trees, wildflowers, etc. This is one of my favorite Superromance covers.