Seeing Red

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By Jill Shalvis

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IT ONLY TAKES A SPARK

Summer Abrams left everything behind-the warehouse fire that took her father’s life, the town where her world fell apart, and her best friend in the world, Joe Walker. All she carried with her was guilt. Now, twelve years later, another fire has devastated the same warehouse, and Summer returns to Ocean Beach to search for answers. But what she finds first is an old flame that never went out . . .

Joe Walker has become the town fire marshal-sexy, strong, and an expert at keeping people at bay. The only person he ever let into his heart broke it and left town without a word. Now that she’s back, Joe swears he won’t fall for Summer again . . . but the heat between them is irresistible. As he tries to help her heal the past, can he take a risk on building a future with Summer?

Excerpt

Dear Readers,

I have a thing for firefighters. I always have. There's just something about a guy who's willing to put his life on the line for others, isn't there? The job itself suggests being strong of mind and body and is innately masculine. (With apologies to the women firefighters out there, you're all beautiful!).

Years ago, I wrote three romances featuring firefighter heroes. The books have been out of print for a long time now and never made it to the digital age. My wonderful publisher has taken them out of obscurity and is reissuing them as ebooks.

WHITE HEAT, BLUE FLAME, and SEEING RED are not connected books, so they can be read in any order. Keep in mind they were written a long time ago and are not from this smart phone/digital age. But one thing they do have in common with my more recent books is a sexy, hot hero and a happily ever after.

Hope you enjoy!

Best wishes,




Prologue

There was nothing good about running laps, except for maybe the view of the guys in nylon shorts ahead of her. Actually, she liked the ocean air in her hair and face as much as the cute butts, but today Summer Abrams's thoughts were occupied elsewhere altogether. She was fantasizing about Kilimanjaro, Rio, the Amazon…all the places her bohemian father had taken her on his research travels over the years. Summer lived for those trips. "Only three weeks until we're out of school," she said with breathless glee.

Joe didn't say anything, so Summer looked around for him. He'd lagged behind, camera swinging awkwardly off his back with each plodding step. He always had his camera, but especially now that he was working on his final project and wanted the freedom to take a picture when it suited him. He was her best friend in the whole world, and she slowed down to match his pace, inhaling deeply the tangy air from the Pacific Ocean only half a block away. She could smell day-old fish from the pier, kosher hot dogs from one of the lunch stands, and coconut-scented board wax. The last was from her own hands as she'd gone out surfing at the crack of dawn.

Much as she loved to travel, she also loved it right here. In her mind, Ocean Beach didn't deserve the reputation of being the redheaded stepchild of the San Diego beaches. Sure it had far more leather-skinned old-timers, starving students, and unemployed transients than say La Jolla, but it also had more character. For Summer, O.B. was everything, and life was good.

Change was coming, though. As a senior, Joe would be graduating soon and then heading off to San Diego State College. Not Summer. She still had two years left in high school, which she hated to think about. She wanted to start her life too!

But no one deserved a ticket out of Dodge more than Joe Walker. At the moment he was attempting to take a picture of her and trying keep up at the same time, huffing and puffing like a locomotive in the clinging late May heat—the punishment for not taking his required regular physical education classes as a sophomore and junior. "You've been neglecting your cardio again," she said. "I bet you're not even carrying those energizing crystals I gave you."

"I'm fine," he panted, clearly not. He outweighed her by seventy-five pounds, none of it muscle.

"Admit it, you'd rather be eating a doughnut."

This got her the first genuine smile from him since PE class had begun thirty minutes ago. His perpetually scruffy light-brown hair was plastered to his head, his face beet red and dripping sweat into his show-all eyes.

He had the biggest heart of anyone she'd ever met, and a fading bruise on his chunky cheek. A burst of deep worry worked through her at the thought of the things he suffered at home, things she'd never fully understand. Though her parents were so in love they often excluded her by accident, she'd never been treated with anything but kindness. "Let's walk."

"I'm fine, Red." He swiped his face on the front of his T-shirt.

"Hey, look. Fat Boy's gonna have a heart attack."

This from one of the four football players who'd just caught up to them. Forced to run in their pads by their coach, they slowed down to pass, three of them eyeballing Summer with leering grins.

Ignoring them, Summer smiled only at the fourth boy. He was Danny, the school's star quarterback. Tall, dark, and yummy, he was the cutest guy in the school, and she wanted him to take her to her prom so badly she could taste it. She'd been wearing her lucky charm bracelet all week in hopes that it would work its magic.

"Hi Summer," he said in a reverent tone, taking an elbow in the ribs for doing so. He gave an elbow back. "How are you doing?"

She felt a dopey grin split her face. "Good."

"Oh, jeez. Move." One of the others shoved Danny out of his way.

If Danny was the cutest guy in Ocean Beach, then Mitch was their village idiot. Still jogging backward, he sent a bunch of wet disgusting kissy noises toward Summer while two of his fellow idiots hooted and hollered. "What do you say, Flower Power Girl? You and me. Tonight. Ditch Fat Boy here and let me show you what a real guy does with his hands. And trust me, it won't be taking pics—unless you want me to."

"Shut up, Mitch," Joe said.

Summer glanced at him, silently begging him to let it go. But he never let anything go. Instead he wore his heart—and temper—on his sleeve for the world to stomp on. The last time he'd confronted Mitch and gang, he'd gotten a black eye and fat lip out of the deal. Little damage compared to what Joe's father could do on a drunken rampage, but still.

"Come on, Summer." Mitch had a nasty smile that made her skin crawl. "How about a little show 'n' tell? I'll show you mine, you show me yours. And I don't mean your fancy little crystals either." He laughed uproariously over this until Joe growled and lunged forward, hands fisted, camera banging awkwardly around his neck.

"Joe, no," Summer cried, and hauled him back by the shirt.

"Joe, no," Mitch taunted, but Danny finally grabbed his friend and shoved him along, flashing a glance back at Summer with an apology in his eyes.

She smiled her thanks.

He smiled back.

It made her knees wobble, and for a moment as they kept running, she just stared after him, sending ask-me-to-the-prom thoughts his way. Then she turned to Joe.

He'd left the track.

"Joe? Where're you going?"

He didn't slow, and given the speed he'd taken on, he'd finally gotten his second wind.

"Joe, stop!" she called out to him. "We'll lose ten points if we ditch the rest of class!" She hesitated, because the ten point loss would put her into the B range and she prized her As, but this was Joe, and the misery weighing his shoulders down tore at her. "Damn it."

He raced down the little side street behind the school as if he'd turned into a marathon sprinter, and having never seen him move so fast, Summer followed.

If Joe realized she was following him he gave no clue, just continued to haul ass as if his life depended on it. The muggy heat seeped up through the asphalt into her running shoes as they slapped on the ground with each step. They were at the heart of O.B. now, passing the liquor store where they bought their sodas, the five-and-dime where she purchased lip gloss and magazines when she had money, and then her favorite burger joint, next to the new trendy restaurant with the neo-scripted name flashing on its front. "Joe? Wanna get a drink?"

He turned onto Newport Avenue.

"Or not," she muttered as they passed a tattoo parlor offering custom tattooing in the "San Diego tradition," whatever that meant, before the street ended at the beach. Joe turned onto a tiny little side street Summer knew well because her mother and aunt owned one of the old warehouses here, where they kept the stock they hadn't yet put into Creative Interiors, their downtown beach furnishings and design store.

She and Joe often sneaked into the cool basement on a hot day just like this one. If they had any money, they'd buy a frozen yogurt first, then come here to talk for hours. More recently she'd met Danny here for more than just a frozen yogurt.

The place was a tall, old, secret haven, and she knew when Joe ran around to the back of the warehouse that he'd remembered that her father often sneaked away and came here as well.

Tim Abrams coveted his privacy, Summer thought with a fond smile. Her father loved to climb up into the open loft above, where he'd gaze out the small window overlooking the city and the Pacific Ocean as he wrote. Here, he always claimed, he could cleanse his aura and lose himself in his stories.

But right now it was Joe and his need to lose himself that worried Summer. She followed him through the back door, down the long, steep steps to the basement, watching as he navigated around the large wood beams and stacks upon stacks of boxes of stock.

He flung himself to the small mat they often sat on. Arm over his eyes, he lay silent except for his ragged breathing.

The only light came from a small bulb over their heads. A hazy cloud of dust hovered in the still air. "Joe?"

"I want to be alone."

Her father's new orange tabby kitten appeared and wound her warm body around Summer's ankles, bumping her head against Joe's hand. Socks had one green eye, one brown, and four white paws, hence her name. She never gave up until the human she'd targeted paid attention to her. Face still covered, Joe caved, stroking the kitten beneath her chin until a loud rumbling purr filled the room.

Summer's wobbly legs needed a break so she sat at Joe's hip, hugging her knees. "If you wanted to be alone, why did you come here?"

He didn't answer and she sighed. She could feel his misery, and she ached for him. "I'm sorry, Joe."

"For?"

For your mother being dead. For having a horrible, cruel father. For hating school. For being different. "For whatever's bugging you."

He let out a rude snort. "Go away, Summer."

That he used her real name instead of his nickname for her, Red, scared her. "Look, jogging is stupid, okay? I'm only good at it because—"

"It's not the jogging."

"Mitch's a big jerk. He's just acting that way because I wouldn't go out with him—"

Joe dropped his arm from his face and stared at the ceiling. "This isn't about you for once. Imagine that."

Shocked, she shut her mouth.

"Mew."

Summer ignored the kitten and absorbed the pain of Joe's words. He'd never, ever, said anything hurtful to her in all their years of friendship. They lived next door to each other. They walked to and from school together. They studied, they listened to music, and late at night, when his father came looking for blood, usually Joe's, she waited up to watch him climb out his window and into hers, where she'd pretend not to see the suffering in his eyes because he hated her pity. She'd swallow the urge to hug him tight, instead lighting a soothing incense and tossing him her extra pillow and blanket. Then he'd silently curl up on her beanbag chair to get some safe sleep.

Now she stared at her closest friend in the world, the person she trusted above all else, a ball of hurt in her chest because he was shutting her out, snapping at her when all she was doing was trying to help. "Joe—"

"I said go away." He reached into his pocket and thrust her amber crystal back at her.

She stared down at it. She'd given it to him for its gentle and nurturing nature, but he hadn't allowed it to work. Worse, he'd never sent her away before—never. Stunned, she stood up. "When you're not so grumpy, you know where to find me."

"Yeah. With Danny."

"There's nothing—" But she broke off, because the truth was she had a huge, gut-tightening, heart-melting crush on Danny. She did. She wanted to write his name in her notebook all day long, with little hearts circling it. She wanted to gobble him up.

But that was different from her love for Joe, so very different. "Joe—"

"Don't deny it."

Embarrassed, she backed away from him. "I'll be waiting for you."

"Uh huh."

She had no idea why he was taking this out on her. It was cruel and unfair, but she knew he wasn't either of those things.

"Summer?"

She whipped around at the sound of Danny's voice. Still wearing his football gear, he stood at the bottom of the stairs, unable to see Joe lying on the floor because of the supporting wood beam and piles of boxes. Grinning, he held up a condom. "I followed you, though I lost you at the last turn. Figured you'd come here. Look what I have. We won't have to stop this time."

Joe jerked upright, eyed what Danny held between his fingers, and shot Summer a look filled with so much all in one glance that she nearly fell over with it. Before she could open her mouth, he'd vaulted to his feet, the camera banging against his side as he leapt at Danny, the back of his T-shirt still drenched with sweat.

Danny cried out with surprise, and both boys toppled to the floor, rolling as they fought. Terrified, Summer moved in, thinking that Danny, the leaner, tougher, and much more athletic of the two, would kill Joe. "Stop it!" The camera shattered into pieces at her feet. "Oh my God, stop! Danny, no—"

But Joe held his own, landing a punch to Danny's stomach. He pulled his fist back again but Summer grabbed his arm. "No! Joe, please, stop!"

He didn't want to, she could feel a shocking violence rolling off him in waves, and she knew she had to tell him the truth. "I like him. Okay? I like him a lot. Are you listening?" she sobbed. "I brought him here last time, I was the one who wished we'd had the condom."

He went utterly still with shock, and because she held his arm, was helpless to the solid, powerful blow Danny dealt him, right in the jaw. Summer threw herself over Joe's body so that Danny couldn't hit him again, but the protective gesture was not only too little too late, but also unnecessary because Danny sagged back and clutched his stomach. "What the fuck is his problem?"

But Summer couldn't answer, she was staring in horror at the top of the stairs. "Oh my God."

Both boys whipped around. Their eyes widened in shock.

From around the edges of the poorly hinged door drifted long fingers of smoke, writhing in the air like flying deadly snakes.

The warehouse above them had caught fire.




Chapter 1

Joe Walker couldn't believe his bad luck. He lay flat on his belly in an inch of cold, mucky water, surrounded by grime and soot and the thick stench of smoke, all of which was slowly permeating through his coveralls, his skin, and the mask he wore to protect his lungs. Just another day at the spa.

Or a day in the life of a fire marshal who worked for MAST, the Metro Arson Strike Team out of San Diego.

The fire had occurred only hours before. Now he turned on his camera, clicked the shutter, checked the digital display to make sure he had what he wanted, and blew a speck of dirt off the lens.

Firefighting was a dirty business. But inspecting the damage, searching for burn patterns, putting together the story of what had happened, and ruling for natural causes or arson, was dirtier.

Even so, he'd never expected to be here again, in the very basement of the warehouse that had so irrevocably changed his life twelve years ago. It was just past the crack of dawn—he stifled a yawn as he glanced at his watch—far too early to think about the past.

Damn he hated getting up before the sun, but given that the majority of arson occurred at night, early mornings were a common fact of his life. A common fact that never failed to annoy Cindy.

"Being the lover of a firefighter was supposed to be exciting," she'd murmured as he'd crawled out of her bed at four a.m.—an hour ago now. "Not utterly exhausting."

He opened his mouth to correct her—he'd gone from firefighter to fire marshal two years ago—but she'd run a hand down his torso, her eyes going molten as she did.

That she found him so desirable still stunned him. He'd never told her that he'd been the fat loser all through school, or that he couldn't have gotten laid if he'd begged, a phenomenon that had lasted until the sheer physical labor of firefighting had gnawed away at his baby fat.

"Come back here." Her soft voice had floated on the predawn air as he'd stumbled through her bedroom trying to find his clothes.

"I can't."

"Of course you can." She opened her legs, danced her fingers between them.

His tongue had nearly fallen out but he buckled his belt and added his gun and pager to it. "Cindy. I have to go."

"Fine." She turned over, exposing a mouth-watering ass as she stretched for a pillow, which she then aimed at his head. "But don't even think about coming tonight. Figuratively or literally."

He'd caught the pillow an inch from his face and sighed as he'd grabbed his shoes on the way out. After dating her for the past two months, he knew he had to give her a break. Nearly half of their overnights had been interrupted.

He didn't know how to tell her that the stats weren't going to get better. Fine as her body was, and as much as he enjoyed it, he lived and breathed his work.

Except today. He couldn't believe he was back. Here. Drawn now by something beneath the shelving unit, he put both his past and Cindy out of his mind and inched in a little closer.

There were no windows in the basement to let in the early sun. The electricity had been blown in the fire, which might or might not explain why the overhead sprinklers hadn't gone off. There was nothing but the narrow beam from his flashlight guiding him as he followed a curious burn pattern underneath the large, heavy, unbudgeable metal shelving unit. He fired off a few more pictures, then swung the camera around his neck to lie against his back while he studied a particularly interesting find with his light.

"Anything?" his partner asked from behind him, still standing straight up, and probably nice and dry to boot.

"Yeah, I've got—" Joe broke off as his flashlight suddenly highlighted two glowing eyes only inches from his outstretched hand. Accompanying those feral eyes came an unwelcoming hiss. Shit. Jerking upright, he smashed his head into the metal shelf above him.

"What the hell is that?" asked Kenny from his helpful perch five feet back.

Joe waited until the stars faded from his vision, but his heart still raced, pounding his ribs as he eyed whatever was currently eyeing him right back. "I'm not sure."

After the historic bushfires in the entire San Diego area two years ago, which had drawn rabbits, raccoons, deer, and even mountain cats into the suburbs, the gleaming, sorely pissed off gaze could belong to anything.

And nothing he wanted to be this close to.

"Well, don't get bit," Kenny said.

"Thanks." Joe watched the animal as it watched him. Neither of them moving. "Helpful advice."

"I try."

Joe shifted his flashlight over the cornered animal, but it didn't help because the shallow water covering the floor made a crazy reflection. "I can't see."

"Who needs to see? It's growling like a wild possum on a bad PMS trip. Get the hell out of its way."

"I think it's hurt." And Joe had spent enough years growing up as the underdog to be unwilling to just leave it. "Do you think you could come closer than the two miles you're standing back and give me a hand?"

"I have a healthy fear of rabid, hissing animals."

"We were just hanging off the roof staring a thirty-foot fall in the face as we studied the loft and you didn't blink, but a little animal scares you?"

"I didn't get enough love as a child. Are you sure it's little?"

Joe eyed the decidedly not-so-little silhouette hunched over and miserable. "It's shaking like a leaf, does that count?" But since he couldn't see its teeth, he still didn't move. "Come distract it so I can back out of here."

Into Joe's peripheral vision came Kenny's two boots not caked in muck like Joe's. Kenny's boots rarely got dirty. In fact, Kenny rarely got dirty. It was just one of the strange little mysteries of life.

"I'm going to scare it out from the back," Kenny said. "So watch yourself."

"Wait." Joe began to scoot out from beneath the shelving unit, his life flashing before the eyes he didn't want to have scratched out. "Okay now," he said, dirty water dripping off him.

Kenny banged his flashlight against the metal, and with a screeching howl, the hissing thing zipped out from beneath the unit and into the inky blackness of the basement.

Both Joe and Kenny whipped around, shining their twin beams across the wet, dank floor to the far corner, onto the large, orange…cat. She had white paws and a deep scratch down one side of her face, which held one green eye, and one brown.

"A cat." Kenny shook his head, a few drops of dirty water marring his glasses. He removed them and wiped the lens with a handkerchief he pulled from his pocket. "A damn cat."

Filthy, wet, and overheated, Joe stripped out of the top part of his coveralls, letting the sleeves and torso hang off his hips. He wore a sweat drenched T-shirt beneath, but he left that on as he stepped closer in disbelief. "Socks?"

Unhappy and wet, the cat shook first one paw and then another, glaring at him the whole time.

Hunkering down, Joe outstretched his fingers. "Here, Socks."

Above them the building rumbled ominously. He knew there was still an entire firefighter crew out there clearing hot spots and checking the soundness of the structure. Everyone knew he and Kenny were down here.

The ground shook again.

Kenny and Joe stared at each other. Kenny pushed up his glasses and gestured to the stairs. "Let's hit it."

"Yeah, but we'll be back later."

"Why, what did you find?"

"A rainbow-like sheen to the water beneath the unit."

They both knew that could indicate an accelerant, such as gasoline or paint thinner. Since there was nothing in the basement but boxes of stock for a furnishings shop, the appearance of such a chemical was automatically suspicious.

Or was that simply because Joe had personally been in this very spot for another fire entirely? One that had ended in a terrible, tragic death?

Either way, he and Kenny would know everything there was to know by the end of their investigation. If it had been arson, they'd uncover it. Conviction, however, was another story entirely. That was because arson was a sneaky bastard of a crime, usually done quietly in the dead of the night, a solo act more fervent than masturbation. The evidence never lied, but being able to actually prove motive and cause, not to mention tying a suspect to the scene of the crime, had often proved frustrating.

Over the years, Joe had learned the hard way that the key to the job was detachment and an unflappable composure. But this case would test both because he had memories to battle here as well, memories strong enough to begin a low throbbing at the base of his skull.

Socks had been just a kitten on that long ago day when everything had gone so terribly wrong, costing Tim Abrams his life, costing Summer Abrams the rest of her adolescence, costing Joe the only bright spot in his life at the time.

But whether this cat at his feet was Socks or not, Joe couldn't leave her down here, hurt and terrified. "Here kitty, kitty."

"I wouldn't," Kenny warned as Joe reached for her, and sure enough, the cat turned into a wild thing in Joe's arms, hissing and spitting, using both paws to swipe down his chest, making him hiss as well. He didn't look down to see if the damn feline had yanked out his heart or if it only felt like it, because at that moment the building shuddered wildly.

Both their radios squawked to life. "Walker, Simmons. Get out," came a booming voice in stereo. "Do you copy? Roof is going to collapse. Get out now."

"Copy," Kenny yelled as dust rained over them. He snatched up their evidence-collecting bag and Joe's flashlight. "Let's beat it."

Joe still had his arms full of pissed-off feline. Chest burning from the scratches, he shook his head when Kenny turned toward the stairs that led up through the burned shell of the warehouse. "Not that way."

"It's our exit, Walk. Time to get off this train."

"There's a back door, and if it wasn't destroyed in the fire, it's a faster way out."

"If we die down here, I'm taking that cat to hell with me," Kenny vowed, following so close on Joe's tail he could feel him breathing down his neck.

"We're not dying, not today." The dust and dirt falling on them turned to a cakey mud on Joe's drenched body as they ran down a narrow hallway to a second set of stairs, leading up.

The set he and Summer had always used when they didn't want to be seen.

"You weren't here when they fought the fire last night," Kenny said breathlessly as they began to climb the rickety wood steps. "And we haven't seen the blueprints yet. How did you know—"

"Been here before. Keep moving—"

From behind them came another foreboding tremble, and everything around them began to shake as if they were in an earthquake.

Not an earthquake, Joe knew, just a warehouse that had taken more punishment than it could withstand. He hoped to God everyone was off the roof because this sucker really was going to collapse.

Genre:

  • "Top Pick! 4 1/2 Stars! Laughter is served in doses as generous as the chocolate the heroine relies on to get through the day. Readers will treasure each turn of the page and be sorry when this one is over."—RT Book Reviews on Forever and a Day
  • "4 Stars! Shalvis's latest Lucky Harbor novel is a winner-full of laughter, snark and a super-hot attraction between the main characters. Shalvis has painted a wonderful world, full of entertaining supporting characters and beautiful scenery."—RT Book Reviews on At Last
  • "4 Stars! Shalvis pens a tale rife with the three "H"s of romance: heat, heart and humor. LUCKY IN LOVE is a down-to-the-toes charmer..."—RT Book Reviews on Lucky in Love
  • "Count on Jill Shalvis for a witty, steamy, unputdownable love story."—Robyn Carr, New York Times bestselling author of Harvest Moon
  • "Heartwarming and sexy...an abundance of chemistry, smoldering romance, and hilarious sisterly antics."—Publishers Weekly on Simply Irresistible
  • "Jill Shalvis is a total original! It doesn't get any better."—Suzanne Forster, New York Times bestselling author
  • "Ms. Shalvis characters leap off the page"—RT Book Reviews
  • "Shalvis writes with humor, heart, and sizzling heat!"—Carly Phillips, New York Times Bestselling Author

On Sale
Aug 6, 2013
Page Count
352 pages
Publisher
Forever Yours
ISBN-13
9781455547562

Jill Shalvis

About the Author

New York Times bestselling author Jill Shalvis lives in a small town in the Sierras full of quirky characters. Any resemblance to the quirky characters in her books is, um, mostly coincidental. Look for Jill’s bestselling, award-winning books wherever romances are sold and visit her website for a complete book list and daily blog detailing her city-girl-living-in-the-mountains adventures.

Learn more about this author