Okay, so I accidentally sneaked a peek at this entire excerpt and let me tell you: adorable, tense, and there’s a dog! Check out the perfect storm of everything we want in this bit from Katie Ruggle‘s Fan The Flames, out now!
They returned to the station after a quick stop to gas up the truck, and Steve gave Ian hand signals from the ground to help direct him in backing the truck into its spot. The two firemen who hadn’t gone on the call had finished cleaning up from training, so it didn’t take long before everyone was calling their good nights and heading to the parking lot.
Rory stared at Ian’s Bronco, her stomach twisting. In the excitement of the call, she’d forgotten that he’d driven her into town. All she wanted to do was hide in her bunker and process the evening—or maybe just hide in her bunker, full stop. The processing could wait.
“Ready?” Ian opened the passenger door and waited for her to get into the SUV. With a sigh, she swung onto the seat, appreciating the relatively short climb in comparison to the rescue truck. He closed the door and rounded the hood while she watched him, feeling like a rabbit crouched in a woodpile as a coyote circled her hiding spot.
Shaking her head to clear it of her fanciful thoughts, she kept her eyes off Ian as he got into the driver’s seat. Instead, she focused intently on fastening her seatbelt, impatient with her ricocheting emotions. Somehow, just the act of getting into his vehicle had transformed the night back into a date.
“Does it ever make you nervous?” she blurted, desperate to put off the awkward silence she just knew was waiting to descend.
“Does what make me nervous?” Giving her a curious look, he cranked the engine.
“Driving. After seeing so many accidents.”
“Not really nervous.” He paused, thinking. “More cautious, maybe.”
She snorted. “Or maybe not. I saw how fast you were driving the rescue truck.”
With a grin, he said, “It’s different heading to a call. Lives are at stake.”
“Plus, you just like to drive fast.”
That brought an actual laugh. “True.”
The silence hit, and Rory released a soundless sigh. She’d known it would get quiet and awkward sooner or later.
“You’d be good at this,” Ian said.
Turning her head, she eyed him curiously.
“You should sign up to be a volunteer firefighter,” he clarified. “You were calm and took everything in stride.”
Rory snorted. “If you’d have taken my pulse, you wouldn’t have called me calm.”
“Doesn’t matter what’s happening on the inside. As long as you keep thinking, you’ll be fine.”
“I’ll consider it.” That would mean a heap of social interactions she’d managed to avoid all her life—training, team bonding, summer potlucks, Christmas parties. She winced, not able to stop the curl of panic rising in her stomach at the idea. “I’m not that great at, well, group activities.”
She expected him to laugh, but the look he gave her was thoughtful, instead. “I think you’d like it. They become your family.”
That wasn’t the most appealing thought. Her last family experience wasn’t anything she wanted to re-create. Since Rory didn’t know how to share this in a way that didn’t make her seem damaged, she just made a noncommittal sound and changed the subject. “The Riders are kind of like a family, too, aren’t they?”
“Yeah.” His laugh didn’t contain much amusement. “A dysfunctional family.”
Rory opened her mouth and closed it again, not sure how she’d managed to direct the conversation from slightly uncomfortable to completely awkward. “Julius?” she finally asked.
Ian was quiet long enough for her to think he wasn’t going to answer, but he finally said, “Mostly. Plus Billy’s been acting erratically, Zup’s being sulky, Rave’s flipping out about the stupidest shit, and someone’s sneaking booze to Julius, like they’re doing him a fucking favor or something.” He blew out a hard breath. “Sorry. About the swearing.”
“It’s okay. I’ve heard worse.”
“You shouldn’t have to hear that sh—uh, stuff.”
Sending him a sideways glance, she said, “You do know that you’re encouraging me to volunteer for the fire department.”
“The fire department, containing firefighters, whose dirty mouths are second only to cops?”
His laugh was grudging but more authentic than the hollow sound he’d made earlier. “Okay, you might have a point. I think the Riders win for most profanity, though.”
“True. It really doesn’t bother me though.”
His grimace looked to be part rueful and part pained. “Last time I babysat Steve’s kids, I stepped on a Lego and let loose. Maya, his littlest one, started crying. The only way I could get her to stop was to promise I’d quit swearing. I’m trying, but it’s fu—uh, really tough.”
The sweetness of his explanation twisted her heart. Rory had always thought of herself as unromantic, but the mental image of big, manly Ian attempting to comfort a little girl just made her melt.
Ian turned onto her drive, pulling up to the triple-locked gate and setting off the deer cameras in a battery of flashes. As Rory opened her door, he caught her arm.
“Wait,” he said when she looked at him, startled. “I’ll unlock it. Give me your keys.”
“Don’t be stupid.” She hopped out of the SUV, digging the keys out of her coat pocket. It just made sense for the passenger to be the one to get the gate. There was chivalry, but then there was plain inefficiency. Apparently, Ian didn’t agree, since he got out of the truck as well.
As she opened each padlock and untangled the chains, he watched the area around them. After they pushed aside the gates, Ian jerked his head toward the Bronco.
“Drive through, and I’ll shut these.”
With a shrug, she did as he asked. It was only when she was sitting in the idling truck, waiting for him to finish relocking the gate, that she realized he was going to be locked in the compound. Her spine stiffened, her fingers clutching the steering wheel. Did that mean he was planning on staying the night? Because that was not going to happen.
In a full-on panic, she opened the driver’s door and jumped out of his Bronco, nearly crashing into him.
“You can’t stay,” she blurted. Although she immediately felt a flush rise on her cheeks, she was freaked enough by the idea of someone—even Ian—invading her home, to ignore her embarrassment. “I’ll unlock the gate again so you can leave.”
“Nope.” He stepped around her and got into the driver’s seat. “You asked for one more night, and you got it. Time’s up.” As she watched, anxiously chewing the inside of her lip, he drove the short distance to the shop parking lot and backed into a corner spot. Jack hurdled out of the darkness toward her. Sitting on her boots, he smacked his tail against her legs in his excitement. She automatically rubbed his ears. Giving a low moan of pleasure, he leaned into her touch.
“What am I going to do about him, Jack?” she muttered. “How do I get him to leave?”
A blissed-out groan was the dog’s only response.
“I don’t suppose you could bite him? Or just show some teeth and chase him off the property?” Her hopes on that front were dashed when Jack spotted Ian getting out of the Bronco. With an excited yip, the dog tore over to Ian, greeting him with as enthusiastic a welcome as he’d given Rory, the creator of his food. With a defeated sigh, she walked over to the pair.
“Let’s go, then,” she grumbled, heading for the narrow path that led to the back entrance of the shop.
About Fan The Flames
In the remote Rocky Mountains, lives depend on the Search & Rescue brotherhood. But in a place this far off the map, trust is hard to come by and secrets can be murder…
As a Motorcycle Club member and firefighter, Ian Walsh is used to riding the line between the good guys and the bad. He may owe the Club his life, but his heart rests with his fire station brothers…and with the girl he’s loved since they were kids, Rory Sorenson. Ian would do anything for Rory. He’d die for her. Kill for her. Defend her to his last breath—and he may just have to.
Every con in the Rockies knows Rory is the go-to girl for less-than-legal firearms, and for the past few years, she’s managed to keep the peace between dangerous factions by remaining strictly neutral. But when she defends herself against a brutal attack, Rory finds herself catapulted into the center of a Motorcycle Club war—with only Ian standing between her and a threat greater than either of them could have imagined.
When she’s not writing, Katie Ruggle rides horses, shoots guns, and travels to warm places where she can SCUBA dive. Graduating from the Police Academy, Katie received her ice-rescue certification and can attest that the reservoirs in the Colorado mountains really are that cold. While she still misses her off-grid, solar- and wind-powered house in the Rocky Mountains, she now lives in Rochester, Minnesota near her family.