FLIRTING WITH FIRE

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COLORADO HEARTTHROBS #1

Flirting with Fire 400

Walking through fire will either burn them…or forge a bond that will last a lifetime.

All work and no play has left hunky firefighter Cole Castillo’s poetic soul floundering. Contrary to his meddling sister’s fairy-tale wishes, romance is the last thing he deserves, and a week-long getaway at a luxurious mountain resort won’t atone for the grievous mistake that haunts him. So he’s ready to bail…until he finds a sexy little number jumping on the bed in his assigned suite.

Free-spirited school teacher Ivy Bradford has issues–parent issues, phobia issues, work issues–but one look at her sexy, tormented roommate, and those problems fade to black. To get him to stay for the week, Ivy poses a bet that Cole can’t resist. But bratwurst eating and beer drinking aren’t the only things that will challenge the delicate bond they forge during the week.

When obligations from Cole’s past come a’knocking, will their steamy connection withstand the heat or go up in flames?

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LONG EXCERPT

“What do you mean, suite mate? I was under the impression I won seven days of solitude, not a week of bunking with a total stranger.” Cole Castillo turned on his younger sister who’d entered him in this crazy contest without his knowledge. “Did you know this from the start, Mya?”

“Please keep your voice down, Mr. Castillo.” Castle Alainn’s on-duty assistant manager—his polished name badge said CONWAY—quickly closed the door to the elegant, wood paneled office. “Our contest is certainly no gauche hook up.” Conway directed Cole to sit in one of the expensive-looking leather chairs like he was one of their regular posh guests instead of a run-of-the-mill fireman.

Maybe Mya had padded his contest entry more than she’d let on.

Then it dawned on him.

He shot out of the chair. “You. Little. Brat. This is a blind date?”

Mya shrugged and grinned with the dimples that had saved her butt for two decades. “I didn’t know for sure, but there was gossip. Come on, Cole, it’ll be fun. Your year from hell is turning you into a fuddy-duddy. Even your boss thinks you need some time off.”

Mierda. Cole should have known something was up as soon as he’d tried to check in and the front desk staff had whisked him in here, all stifled giggles and sly looks. He marched to the door. “I’m done here. If you’re not in my truck in five minutes, you can hitchhike back to Fort Collins, Mya.” He had too many responsibilities at home to waste time indulging in frat boy misadventures. That ship had sailed when his father was gunned down on a domestic abuse call ten years ago.

Mya ran ahead of him, placing herself as blockade against the door. Cole would have laughed at her puny deterrence if he hadn’t been so dog-tired.

“At least meet her!” she cried.

He glared at his sister. “I don’t have to do anything. This was over the top, even for you.”

Lo siento. Don’t be mad. All you’ve ever done is take care of our familia. I want you to have some carefree memories tucked in with all the serious, responsible ones. Please meet her. The owners have supposedly matched you two out of five hundred entries.”

“Seven hundred eighty-eight entries,” Conway corrected. “And she happens to be from Colorado. That was amazing odds considering the entries came from all over the United States.”

“Oh wow, see? Cole, pleeease.

This whole thing was ridiculous. “Move away from the door, Mya.”

She gathered her long, black hair into one fist like she always did when she’d decided to dig in her heels. Then she smiled sweetly at the assistant manager. “Can I have a minute alone with my brother?”

When Conway quietly left the room, Mya re-closed the door.

Cole sighed. “I’m not doing this, lobito.”

“Buttering me up with the little wolf bit won’t work this time. If you don’t meet this woman, I’ll tell the fire chief you’re getting worse.”

Anger flared through his gut at her underhanded tactics, quickly followed by pain and relentless guilt. Mya knew what had happened the day the station responded to a call from a girl trapped by flames in her bedroom. He’d been the one to encourage his sister to apply for the job in the Administrative Services Division of the Poudre Fire Authority, the entity that protected the city of Fort Collins and two-hundred-thirty-five miles of the surrounding area.

Bad call, Castillo. “Your meddling has limits, and you’re way over the line here.”

“It’s not just me, Cole. Since Stan’s death, the whole firehouse has watched you. The chief will put you on administrative duty and send you to grief counseling if he continues to hear reports that, contrary to your claims, you’re not bouncing back.”

Cole’s chest ached with memories of falling through the burning floor and hearing his buddy’s agonized voice over their helmet radios. Why did it always feel like hours instead of months since that tragic day? “Why would you do something like this…after everything?”

Mya’s eyes hardened. “I’m not letting you retreat into that dark place anymore. It’s time to stop hiding and start living. Tough love hurts, Cole. You taught us that.”

He stared her down, but she didn’t flinch. The moments ticked by as laughter rang out in the lobby. All too soon the space around them became quiet once more. Still, she didn’t look away or make this about herself.

She’s finally growing up. The realization made him both sad and relieved.

He’d meet this other winner to get Mya off his back. Then when his sister saw for her stubborn-self how absurd this contest was, he’d be in the clear to get the hell outta Dodge. When he got home, he offer to help his neighbor fix a leaky roof. He’d also heard that the goodwill store needed strong backs for delivering furniture to the homeless shelter, and God knew Stan’s wife needed all kinds of assistance. “Fine, let’s get this over with.”

Mya threw herself in his arms. “This is going to be fabulous!” She opened the door and Conway stumbled inside, his face turning an unbelievable shade of red when he met Cole’s frown.

The assistant manager cleared his throat, straightened his bow tie, and gestured for them to follow. The castle was nearly as stunning as the landscape on which it perched. Slabs of limestone on the staircase gave way to intimate hallways of luxurious hardwoods and tall windows that accommodated breathtaking views of crystalline Lake Noble.

Conway led them to the end of the second floor where autumn sunshine spilled upon a paneled door. A muted voice coming from inside that room made Cole’s pulse pound at the base of his throat.

As Conway opened the door, Mya clapped in anticipation, the little shit. His sister’s excitement did nothing to soothe his sudden anxiety. Meeting someone new and having to pretend like he was something or someone he wasn’t…

This can’t work.

Conway opened his arm expansively like Cole was stepping onto a red carpet or something equally pretentious. “This way please.”

The main living area held matching white leather chairs, a luxurious sofa, and a two-sided fireplace in one of the bedroom walls. Cole wandered to the wall of windows, mesmerized by the spectacular view of the Rockies when Mya grabbed his arm and, with a giggle, steered him to the second bedroom where he saw…

A blur of bare feet, tan legs, a mouthwatering ass in khaki shorts, and gold-streaked brown hair set to flying as a woman jumped—jumped—on the king-sized bed facing an enormous oil painting over the headboard, her back to them.

A smile tugged Cole’s mouth, but he flattened his lips when Mya sent him a look of triumph. His social anxiety returned ten-fold.

Conway edged around to the woman’s field of vision and waved hesitantly. The woman gasped and spun to face them as she tore her ear buds out with one hand and clasped a micro video camera to her chest with the other. In the blink of an eye, she recovered from her surprise, plopped to her butt, a pretty blush on her cheeks and a blinding smile that nearly stopped Cole’s heart.

“Hi.” She turned off her music, set the tiniest video camera he’d ever seen on the bed, and stood to approach them. She reached for Mya’s hand first. “I’m Ivy.”

Mya shifted to smirk at Cole’s bemused expression before he could wipe it into oblivion—hijo de puta—then she moved into Ivy’s personal space to haul her in for a death-grip hug.

He recognized that look. Mya understood him better than his other two siblings. That look meant she knew he’d felt a jolt when he saw Ivy. A jolt that wasn’t anything like the pain he’d cocooned around himself these last many months.

A fluttery, messy something like…interest.

Cole scrubbed a hand down the side of his face when he couldn’t resist another glance at Ivy’s plush lips, blue eyes, and tangled hair. There was something undeniably compelling about her.

It can come to nothing.

He quelled a flare of disappointment, steeling himself to wish Ivy a good week.

Alone.

Hopefully Mya’s anger would manifest into silent-treatment on the way home because he craved quiet. He didn’t need her raging at him, telling him he was making an epic mistake.

The mistake would be staying.

No way in hell could he atone for his sins with a roommate like Ivy.

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