Third book in the Wasteland Trilogy
September 16th, 2021
A firefighter and a former soldier have survived an apocalypse, but there is still danger lurking in the winter light…
Firefighter Juliet Van Pelt’s strength comes from previous adversity, but there’s an arsonist in town who wants to crank up the heat. When threatening letters target her, she turns to the one man she has never forgotten.
Former Army Ranger and sniper Mark O’Day can’t forget the woman he met months ago when their city was in chaos and they shared a dangerous moment. When opportunity brings her into his life again and danger threatens, he knows there is no alternative but to keep her close and never let her go.
“Damn, Van Pelt, the way you’re polishing that tumbler is giving me ideas,” Firefighter Decker Okono leered.
Juliet Van Pelt broke from her trance long enough to throw a glare his way. They stood at the sink in the kitchen area of Fire Station Three finishing kitchen duty. Soon she’d take the mandatory forty-eight-hour time off, even if they needed every hand they could get. Besides, her accounting job waited at home, demanding she take care of her “day job” business. As a volunteer, she didn’t get paid, she fought fires for free. Okono, on the other hand, was a full-fledged firefighter with a few years under his belt and the paycheck to go with it.
She continued to dry the glass, turning her attention back to the busy street beyond the station house. “Keep on dreaming, Okono.”
She’d been dreaming all right. Pretending that January’s Long Valley Super Volcano eruption in California hadn’t jacked up their world. Hadn’t wreaked havoc across the United States. Bangor’s population had increased tenfold since the disaster, as waves of refugees from the western states poured into the eastern seaboard and points north. Traffic jammed the streets, and they’d worked a record number of car wrecks in the last week. Fires, too. The job never ended. In the months since the volcano had destroyed the world as they’d known it, things had improved. Riots had ceased, but crime had skyrocketed, and poverty and a general economic downturn had made life a far grimmer situation.
She opened the cabinet to her upper right and deposited the glass.
“Baby, there’s no need for you to dream,” Okono said. “I have everything you need right here inside this uniform.”
Seriously? She almost choked on the idea of sharing anything intimate with the ex-Navy SEAL, especially sex. Even meaningful conversation with this goober seemed completely beyond the realm of possibility.
“I thought Navy SEALS were supposed to be all honorable and shit,” she said, injecting toughness into her voice.
She felt rather than saw him bristle, and for a second wondered if she’d crossed the line. She didn’t know him, not really. If he decided to go postal, she was in deep kimchee. Okono grunted and rinsed another glass. He handed it to her and she dried it thoroughly before adding it to the cabinet.
“I’m as honorable as you’re gonna get, little lady.” His accent changed to fake southern. He was from New Jersey. “There aren’t many good men out there, Van Pelt. A woman needs a protector in this big, bad world. You could do worse than me.”
She laughed, but the sound held nothing but derision. “Yeah, right.”
“I’m serious. This is a different world. More dangerous since Long Valley. And it isn’t getting better anytime soon.”
Got that right. But not this guy. No, she didn’t want or need his protection. Especially not a man who thought his status as a former SEAL entitled him to front row seats to everything, including sex. He seemed to never have heard of sexual harassment, and she could report him. Thing is, she didn’t want the conflict. She could handle his brand of idiocy with one hand tied behind her back.
No, there were other men...far more agreeable than Okono. Her mind flashed back to April when a nasty fire had taken down a warehouse. A serial arsonist had been operating in Buckleport for months now. Scores of buildings had burned and the arson investigators hadn’t closed in on a suspect yet. During that fire she’d met a man who continued to intrude on her thoughts day and night. Hell, he’d done more than that. The nameless man had been part of a security team making sure firefighters weren’t harassed by some bad-ass-wannabes. Her mind drifted to the conversation.
The fire had cooled down, the destruction pretty complete, the old warehouse a smoldering ruin. They’d be here for hours more knocking down any flare ups. One of the rednecks who’d harassed the crew stepped toward her when she’d stopped near the ladder truck to strip off her self-contained breathing apparatus.
“Hey, pretty lady,” the man said, his big body and ham-sized biceps showing pure power. “What the hell are you doing out here? Women shouldn’t be taking a man’s job.”
“What?” she asked, not even sure she’d heard him right. She wasn’t up for games--she was hot, tired, and grimy as hell.
He crossed those beefy arms. “Women ain’t designed to be firefighters.”
“I’m not taking anyone’s job, bub. I’m a volunteer. I don’t get paid.” His mouth dropped open, but before he could say anything else stupid, she continued. “If you don’t mind, I have work to do.”
The man’s glare grew hot with anger. “Listen, bitch--”
“Move along, sir,” a deeper voice said from slightly behind her.
She turned her attention to the man the voice belonged to, and he approached with his semi-automatic clasped in front of him. Her rescuer stood taller than six feet and had dangerous written all over him.
The dipwad who’d given her a hard time stepped back and held both hands up. “Hey, hey. No need to get all violent with me, cop.”
“I’m not a cop. Move back and let the firefighter do her job.”
Her rescuer wore a black baseball cap, tactical or flak vest over a black t-shirt, a pair of khaki cargo pants, and a seriously thunderous frown. She’d seen two men and one woman pile out of an unmarked black SUV not long ago and realized they were one of the private security teams who now supplemented police and military in protecting the city. Security dude owned a powerful, ripped physique that said he might have been in the military at one point. Sunglasses and a baseball cap didn’t camouflage his craggy good looks. His dark hair, almost black, was cut military short as well. All of that wouldn’t have normally drawn her attention, but his voice had a certain quality...an intense, whiskey-deep sound.
“Move along,” the private security man said to the redneck wannabe.
When the guy backed away and left, security dude took his glasses off. His dark chocolate eyes held an intensity that slammed into her with a force she hadn’t expected. She saw undeniable curiosity and attraction in the way he looked at her, but his attention didn’t feel slimy.
“You all right?” he asked.
“Of course.” Defensiveness dripped from her tone. “I can handle myself.”
His gaze swept up and down her body, the look in his eyes telling her he liked what he saw very much. Unlike the slimeball who’d just left, the security dude’s attention sent a wild thrill through her belly.
“I’m sure you can,” security dude said. “But I’m here to help if you need me.”
“Oh, don’t worry. I won’t need you.”
Her captain called her name right then, and when she saw security dude next he was at least fifty yards away.
After that day she hadn’t seen him again, but God she’d dreamed about mystery security man. Hot, sexy dreams that made no sense.