Abby Williams lost her husband—and the future she envisioned—to a roadside bomb in a foreign land, so a kitchen fire is no big deal. When the local firemen show up to put out the blaze, the army widow finds herself attracted to one hot volunteer firefighter…until she realizes it’s Justin Donovan, a man five years her junior.
Justin has long carried a torch for Abby. But after she got married ten years ago, he put her out of his mind, left Ardent Springs for Chicago, and got a job as a real estate developer. Now he’s back—for reasons he’d rather not share—and he wants to prove to Abby that age is nothing but a number. Will Abby’s reluctance and Justin’s secrets extinguish any attempts at romance? Or will the sparks between them ignite a second chance at love?
“The kitchen’s secured,” announced a deep voice from out of the darkness.
The lack of daylight combined with the soot marring the man’s face made it difficult to pinpoint his identity. Nonetheless, a flutter of awareness prickled along Abby’s skin as the man grew closer and removed his helmet. Full lips split into a sexy grin that revealed a perfect row of pearly whites, while hazel eyes looked her up and down, sending the flutter migrating through her limbs. The heavy gear looked cumbersome, but his wide shoulders, evident inside the thick jacket, bore the weight with ease.
When the mystery man stepped closer, Abby tilted her head back to see his face and nearly sighed aloud. Even covered in soot he was gorgeous. High cheekbones. Strong jawline. Eyes the color of burnished gold.
“Are you all right, Abby?” he asked.
She continued to stare for several seconds, struck dumb by the smudged beauty before her. And then the lust fog cleared and she realized he’d used her name.
How could a man she’d never met before know her name?
“Clifton, did you make sure she got checked out?” Without awaiting a response, he leaned closer, bringing his perfect lips mere inches from hers. “Abby, are you breathing okay?”
Her name sounded good on those lips, and she almost reached out to touch them. Nodding, she struggled to regain her composure. “I’m fine. Really.” Brushing a hand through her windblown hair, she said, “Do I know you?”
“You remember the Donovan kid, don’t ya?” Clifton asked. “Ken and Karen’s boy.” The old man clipped his fellow firefighter on the arm. “Went off to the big city to make his mark, but he’s back where he belongs now.”
The reality check hit Abby like a blow. She remembered him all right. As the boy she used to babysit. And that added pervert to her other credits of the night. The universe definitely hated her.
“Chief said to have you help Ronnie with the hose, Clif. I can handle things here.”
By the looks of him, Justin Donovan could handle Abby six ways from Sunday. And sixty seconds ago, she’d have let him.
“Roger that,” the older man said, shuffling off to his assigned task.
Silence loomed as Abby reined in her raging hormones.
“Are you really okay?” Justin asked, voice heavy with concern.
“Yeah,” she answered, tugging Clifton’s yellow coat tighter across her front. Why couldn’t she have grabbed a jacket on her way out of the house? They’d let her pack up a few things from her room, but everything on the coatrack in the foyer had been tainted by smoke. “Cold, but okay. I didn’t know you were back in Ardent Springs. Your parents must be happy to have you home.”
Whenever Abby would run into Karen Donovan around town, the older woman never failed to brag about her successful son living up in Chicago, but the conversation always included her wish that he would come home to Tennessee more often.
“They are,” he said, as if uninterested in small talk. Gold-green eyes traveled from her head to her toes, igniting traitorous little fires along the way. As if he’d missed the lack of makeup and the dirty coat covering most of her body, he said, “You were always pretty, but now . . .”
Clueless how to respond, Abby ignored the compliment and changed the subject. “I can’t believe I nearly burned down my house. How bad is the kitchen?”
“Oh,” Justin replied, sparing a glance at the house behind him. “I’ve seen worse.” Clifton had said the same, but Abby didn’t believe either one of them. “And you didn’t do anything. It was an electrical short in the stove.”
“But that’s a brand-new stove,” she said. “I must have done something wrong.”
“You didn’t do anything wrong except end up with a bum stove, which you couldn’t have known by looking at it. The fire didn’t get far beyond the appliance and cabinets above it, but you’re definitely going to want to stay someplace else tonight. I have a comfortable couch if you need it.”
Though her hormones screamed yes! Abby declined the friendly offer, certain that the younger man didn’t really want his old babysitter invading his space. “I appreciate that, but I’ve called my brother. I’ll stay with him or at my mom’s house tonight.”
“I don’t mind.” Justin tucked the helmet under his arm. “I’ve been meaning to look you up.”
Perhaps he’d forgotten their previous connection. “Wouldn’t that be . . . weird?” she asked.
Justin tilted his head. “Why would it be weird?”
Slipping her arm through the front of the coat, she waved a hand between them. “There’s an age difference here, remember? I was your babysitter.”
“I’m not a kid anymore, Abby.” She could see that. Boy, could she see that. “Nothing wrong with two adults getting to know each other.”
Terri Osburn started putting words on the page in 2007. Five years later, she was named a finalist in the Romance Writers of America Golden Heart contest for unpublished manuscripts. Shortly after, she signed with an agent and moved into publication, with her debut novel, Meant to Be, released from Montlake Romance in May 2013. Terri lives on the East Coast with one high schooler, three long-suffering tabbies, and a hyper Yorkiepoo with attachment issues. To learn more about Terri, check out her website at terriosburn.com.