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“More than anything, it was nice reconnecting, and we’re working on it.” I wrinkle my nose as I say it. I have no idea what there is to work on, and what the hell I mean. “Anyway, seeing my friends has also helped, and this town is filled with the kookiest people, too. I’ve got a lot of material to work with.”
“I’m hearing a lot of really good news. Please tell me you have a plot sort of set up in your head?”
I nod, even if she can’t see it or my puffy pout. “Actually, I kinda do.”
“Fantastic. Well, when you’ve written a few chapters, send it over, and we can talk over the kinks.”
It’s a brilliant idea, and I’m glad it buys me some time to you know, actually come up with a plot. I wasn’t admitting that there’s a mixture of fictional details and the nonfictional elements that I’d also like to get straightened out.
BEEP! BEEP! BEEP! BEEP! BEEP!
“WHAT’S THAT SOUND?” Janet yells into the phone.
“I DON’T KNOW!” I spin on my heels, my eyes going wide as I see a large cloud of billowing smoke coming from my kitchen. “OH SHIT, CALL YOU BACK!”
I hang up my phone, throwing it onto the couch. I run into the kitchen while covering my ears.
BEEP! BEEP! BEEP! BEEP! BEEP!
The ringing is so loud, it’s messing with my brain waves as I try to take in the sight of the kitchen currently filling with smoke.
“MY SOUP!” I scream. I rush to the stove, waving away the cloud of smoke. I can barely see, and now I’m coughing.
A small flame plumes from the burner. I fumble with the switch, blowing it out, and move the pot to the sink.
The fire is out, but the smoke detector is merciless.
That sound! “ARGH!” I shout, waving my hands to disperse the smoke. I fling the kitchen door open and run to the window above the sink, wedging it open, all while still flailing my arms.
“Mom would kill me,” I mumble, trying to remember where the smoke detector is, but I can’t catch sight of a blinking red light, and it’s too loud and has been ringing too long that I can’t pick a direction it’s coming from.
BEEP! BEEP! BEEP! BEEP! BEEP!
I run to the front door and open all the rest of the windows downstairs.
That’s when I hear not only the incessant beeping, but also the sound of a fire truck.
“Oh no,” I groan. I consider trying to find a place to hide, but I can already see a red fire truck coming to a crunching halt out the open window. There’s no avoiding this terribly embarrassing situation.
“They just HAD to be firemen, didn’t they? And I just HAD to try and cook something!” I grumble as I scoot myself back into the kitchen to try and wave off more smoke, and maybe to also hide my face.
Thinking I’ll have the whole crew, meaning my stupid friends, come into my house, I’m surprised when I hear only one pair of heavy boots enter my living room over the constant beeps.
I’m the color that my tomato soup is supposed to look like, not its charred remains in the pot. I want to crawl into a corner to never be seen again.
The nameless boots take a few steps inside, clonking around, and the anticipation is killing me.
“There’s no fire. You can leave!” I shout. My hands fly over my mouth, and I whisper to myself, “You are digging yourself the most embarrassing grave of your life, and when people come to visit you in your death, they will only point and laugh.”
Suddenly, the beeping stops and the heavy steps move toward me. It’s a relief when the throb in my head stops and the ringing in my ears slows. My brain can finally catch up with what to do.
I peer down at my oversized sweater and shorts with boots, realizing I look homeless-mountain-woman-chic, which is not the cutest.
Caiden appears in the doorway to the kitchen with a crooked grin; a black and yellow helmet is set securely on his head. His appearance must be a joke to mock me, no gear other than the helmet. A navy long-sleeved shirt stretches across his chest and is tucked into navy work pants that are even tucked into burly black fireman boots with a yellow trim. He looks hot, and I add it to the list of everything I hate him for.
“Well,” he chuffs, a fire extinguisher resting easily in his left hand. “What do we have here?”
“Nothing.” My jaw locks as I try to think of an excuse. “I was cooking and—”
“There’s your first mistake, I think.”
I want to tell him that Janet would agree with him, but the comment would go over his stupid helmet. My chompers chomp shut in annoyance as I glare.
“What were you makin’?” he practically sings as he leans toward the stove.
“I know you’re just here to dance around me being an idiot.”
He grins, and his pearly white teeth appear blindingly under his dark scruff. So smug.
“Hailey,” he tuts, taking two steps closer to me, and I hate that I think the permanent charcoal smell of his uniform is wonderful. “I take my job very seriously.”
“Right,” I reply, crossing my arms over my chest while looking at his highly unprepared appearance.
He laughs as he watches me, leaning in even closer, and I swear you’d think this guy just won the Nobel Peace Prize or something, he’s gloating so much.
“Plus, I guess you were wrong. I don’t always rescue kittens from trees, now do I?”
My jaw falls slack as he repeats my words from the other night. He lifts his large hand to my face to boop me on the nose in the most patronizing way he can manage. “But maybe I do rescue kittens from burning buildings, eh?”
I try so hard to hide my smile. I close my eyes and shake my head. My arms come jutting out, and my palms collide into his chest to shove him back. It doesn’t move him. He’s as solid as a rock, and I let out an audible grumble. “Gah! Get out!”
This time, he releases a belt of warm laughter that’s most definitely at my expense.
“I’m not a kitten, Caiden, I’m a fucking lioness who’s going to swipe that smug grin off your face with my claws.”
More laughter, and his eyes do that heavy drag that I’ve witnessed so many times skimming every surface of exposed skin on my body.
Once his twinkling eyes meet mine, they spark as if he remembers something. “Speaking of kittens, I hope he’s okay…”
Caiden turns around and hurries out the front door. Before I know it, I can hear his boots on the porch on the side of the house.
My eyes go wide. “Oh. My. God. The cat! You’re looking for that cat!”
When I exit my front door, I can see Brandon, Tyler, and Cam leaning against the side of the fire truck, and they’re all laughing… at me.
I slide my accusing finger their way. “You all need better things to do!”
“Why would we want to be anywhere else when you provide the best entertainment since you hit town?”
I don’t have to look to know who said that as my feet turn the corner. “Fuck you, Brandon!”
More laughter. I make a mental note to remind Brandon that my right hook is as good as it was when I was fifteen. “Caiden!”
When I round the corner, my face twists in mock disgust, and I run both hands through my hair. “Caiden, you do realize you’re a parody of yourself, right?” But then my loins writhe in hormonal need when I see him holding a kitten. I can’t tell what’s happening to my lower half—my ovaries might be melting—as I watch him cuddle this white cat with little black paws, a black patch of fur over its nose, and wide green eyes that could rival its rescuer.
Not that the cat needed rescuing. There was one flame. I did not almost kill a kitten.
“What?” he asks, still scratching the underside of the cat’s chin.
I’m still trying to pull the puddle of myself together while trying to be irate. “A fireman and cats? You’ve got Harlequin written all over you. You’d practically write my novel yourself.”
His chin darts up. “Did you just admit you’ve written about me?”
My brows scrunch together as I realize what I’ve just said. “Uh, no. I just meant with your stupid, hunky fireman backstory and love for the annoyingly furry, you’d be—” he’s watching me with that shit-eating grin again. Yup, my grave is much deeper than before. “What I mean is… what are you doing with that cat? Are you the one who’s—?”
His grin calms as his eyes dart everywhere but to me as he realizes he’s given himself away.
About ALEX ROSAAlex Rosa lives in Los Angeles, California. By day she’s a Digital Marketing Manager and by night a writer of swoon-worthy books. With nearly ten years of writing experience, she has published five novels, including the Tryst Series with Intermix, Penguin Random House’s digital imprint. She finds her home amongst words, whether it be in books or in film. A pop culture fanatic, cemetery creeper, and self-proclaimed nerd, she’s always following her favorite fandoms, the latest foodie finds, or picking her next city excursion or outdoor undertaking. Her obsessions are on the brink of bizarre, but that’s just the way she likes it.