LONE STAR NIGHTS
Their passion is one fire they can’t put out.
Nine years ago, he left her alone and pregnant. Now he’s back.
When hotshot firefighter Callie Kilpatrick gets a new partner, he’s the last man she ever wanted to meet again: Rick Montana, the man she once loved and planned to marry, the man who left her without explanation. Rick resurrects all the old, unresolved feelings she had for him. Though she never told him about her pregnancy, she blames him for the loss of their child.
As for Rick, he's never forgotten Callie. But as her anger singes him, he wonders if he’ll ever be able to get past the walls she’s built around her heart. When they must work together to discover a murderer, they discover that passion still burns hot between them.
“YOU MUST BE out of your ever-lovin’ mind,” Callie Kilpatrick said, glaring at Jim Bader. “You expect me to take some rookie cowboy with me to a fire? As part of the team? As my partner?”
“Fires, plural.” Bader’s smile was more of a smirk. “And yes, that’s exactly what I expect. It’s my prerogative.”
Callie couldn’t think of a single thing to say that wasn’t obscene. Her old partner had been among those to quit after last season. She’d known that Bader, as the head of the local Bureau of Land Management office in Winnechaka, Colorado, would be hiring new people this spring. But she hadn’t expected him to pick her partner. She’d assumed that would be up to her. Then
he’d stopped her in the hall and sprung this on her.
Bader continued, his entire attitude calculated to jerk her chain. “He can handle himself, don’t worry. He’s been in hotter spots than a forest fire before.”
“Oh, right,” she said with a snort of disbelief. God grant her patience, a rookie. “Like what?”
He lit a cigarette, blowing the smoke in Callie’s face. “He was an award-winning journalist. This ‘cowboy’s’ been all over the world. The Middle East, Ireland, Africa. Name it, he’s been there.”
She fisted her hands on her hips. “He hasn’t been to a fire with Los Lobos. Or any other hotshot crew, has he? Why can’t he just stay with the other journalists? There’s always a gaggle of them hanging around. And why assign him to me?”
Bader heaved an irritated sigh. “I thought I’d explained that. He’s a firefighter now. Has been for the last several years. And he’s transferring to Los Lobos.”
“So let Sean have him.” But she knew as soon as the words left her mouth that Bader wouldn’t give the rookie to Sean. Their crew leader was the only one of them Bader respected. Or feared—she wasn’t sure which.
“Romero has a partner. He doesn’t need another one. Flicking his ashes carelessly, Bader didn’t appear to notice that they’d landed on her jeans. “You need a new partner, I found you one. What’s your problem?”
The problem, she thought, was Bader’s ego. He’d been out to get her ever since he’d hit on her and she’d turned him down. Callie gritted her teeth in a futile effort to keep her temper. “How can I do my job if I have to worry about carting around a nonprofessional? Has he even had any training?”
The twenty people who normally comprised a hotshot team were a close-knit, highly trained group. They fought forest fires, rather than structural ones, and spent much of their time at fire camps out in the wilderness.
“He’s a trained firefighter, Kilpatrick. How many times do I have to tell you that?”
Bader stood so that the smoke from his cigarette floated right into Callie’s face. It was deliberate, she suspected. He’d heard her say that she ate enough smoke during fire season to last her a lifetime. “For the last three seasons, he’s been with a crew in California. Now he wants to see what the hotshots are about. I owe him, and you—” he jabbed a finger at her for emphasis “—are going to pay up.”
“I could quit over this. It’s not your job to pick my partners. It’s my job. Or Sean’s. Not yours.”
“Maybe not technically. But I am in charge of hiring.” He shrugged, waiting for her reaction.
“Take your cowboy and shove—”
“I wouldn’t,” he interrupted. “Either hand in your resignation or get ready to meet your new partner. It makes no difference to me.”
They engaged in a staring contest, Callie glaring, Bader still smirking. “All right,” she finally said. “I’ll take him. But the first time he gets in my way, he’s gone, and I don’t care how many favors you owe him.”
“He’s in my office now. Ask him about his qualifications
yourself,” Bader said, jerking open the door.
She stalked through the open doorway and halted in midstride, staring at the “rookie” while she felt every bit of blood drain from her face. Oh, God, she prayed. Tell me I’m dreaming.
He lounged with his rear propped against the edge of Bader’s desk, his scuffed boots crossed at the ankle. The quintessential cowboy in a chambray shirt, old, tight, faded jeans, and a battered brown Stetson. Tall, broad-shouldered, with deep-set bedroom eyes and dark blond hair reaching his
collar, he was a sight most women would appreciate and quite a few would be willing to fight over.
To Callie he was a vision from hell. “Rick?” She forced the word past the constriction in her throat. “Rick Montana?”
“Killer?” His eyes widened in surprise. Cool and forest green, they looked her over with barely veiled disbelief.
She shut her eyes. Killer. The name evoked memories buried under a mountain of torment. She heard the crunch of snow beneath her skis, felt the cold air hitting her face, nearly cried out as the agonizing pain ripped through her leg and her stomach, just as it had all those years ago. As quickly as the image had come, it faded.
Her eyes opened to unvarnished reality. “You’re the new crew member?”
Bader sat at his desk and looked from one to the other. “You two know each other?”
“Oh, yeah.” He smiled significantly. “We know each other real well, don’t we, Killer?”