Light Her Fire Excerpt
Copyright © 2014 by Samanthe Beck.All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce, distribute, or transmit in any form or by any means. For information regarding subsidiary rights, please contact the Publisher.
You’ve hit a new low when the chance to eye-fuck Melody Merritt in Boone’s Market is what passes for excitement in your life. Josh Bradley almost groaned out loud as he watched Melody run slim, busy fingers over every single cucumber in the “Five for $5′′ bin. He dumped a bag of apples into his cart without tearing his attention from those nimble hands, which were currently stroking one cucumber so thoroughly he was going to have a bystander orgasm right there between the Galas and the Granny Smiths.
If the guys in Cincinnati could see you now, they’d be laughing their asses off. Right. Moving to sleepy Bluelick, Kentucky, to become fire chief had been a mistake—though watching Miss Bluelick chew her lip and fondle cucumbers almost made the career blunder worthwhile. Almost. But the last three months had proved one thing beyond a shadow of a doubt—he was a city boy. He needed action. Something in short supply in Bluelick, notwithstanding what was happening in his pants at the moment thanks to Melody.
He picked out a bunch of bananas and added them to his cart. Ironically, his appetite for action—and a fair dose of ambition—were what had pulled him to this Kentucky-fried Mayberry in the first place. He’d stalled out in the Cincinnati Fire Department as an assistant chief with no chance of advancement until the chief retired, which the man showed no sign of doing. Chief Warren had told him to be patient, get more years under his belt, and when the time was right, Josh would be ready.
Frustration tightened his jaw. As much as he valued his mentor’s advice, marking time solely for the sake of marking time wasn’t his strong suit. He’d learned early a person’s tenure on this earth could be short. He had goals to achieve, a legacy to honor, and saw no point in dicking around. When he’d learned about the opening in Bluelick, he’d traded the status quo in the city for the opportunity to parlay the chief’s gig in Bluelick to the same role in a larger department, and ultimately, build the kind of career his father had aimed for—one that would make his father proud.
The squeak of cart wheels brought him back to the present. A little old lady rolled by. His eyes cut back to Melody. She was a head-turner by any standard...a tall, refined, southern Grace Kelly. He’d dubbed her Miss Bluelick because she practically personified the place with her deep-rooted family tree and small-town sensibilities. The starched white blouse and flow-y yellow skirt she wore said, “Mind your manners.” Manners he didn’t possess. Not your type, he reminded himself. You don’t do good girls. He’d heard the rumors. Rumors about how her former fiancé spent a few years in New York and DC, getting his law degree and a bunch of other letters after his name. The man had also apparently picked up some “big city tastes,” sexually speaking, which the prim and proper Bluelick belle didn’t care to indulge. Josh’s tastes didn’t tend toward prim and proper, either, but every once in a while he caught a glimpse of something less than proper sparkling in her mountain lake eyes. Like now. She stood on the opposite side of the produce section, staring at him with an expression that had his cock doing its best impression of a tower ladder. She blinked, as if suddenly realizing he was staring back, and looked away.
Pathetic. You’re in a grocery store fantasizing about corrupting Miss Bluelick. Then again, who could blame him? What red-blooded man with a pulse wouldn’t have a little cucumber envy right now? He scowled. The degree of his attraction pissed him off. He wasn’t looking to get tied down, but even if he was, no way was he getting tied down in Mayberry. He planned to serve his time—a year, max—and then move on. Preferably to someplace that didn’t inspire early retirement jokes from the assholes in his old department.
No. Melody wasn’t his type. And even if she were, he should steer clear of her. But a part of him wanted to see just how deep all the Southern propriety really ran...
Melody Ann Merritt, get a hold of yourself. Nobody moans in the middle of Boone’s Market, no matter how firm the cucumbers are.She couldn’t blame the cucumbers for the sudden urge to flee to the frozen foods section to cool down. She could— and did—blame Fire Chief Bradley for standing over there by the heirloom tomatoes, sending her looks designed to make a Sunday school teacher fan herself. It wasn’t the first time, either. She wasn’t blind, for God’s sake, but even if she was, she’d have noticed him eyeing her whenever their paths crossed. Every female past puberty in Bluelick sat up and took notice the day Josh Bradley hit their tiny town. She risked a glance at him while he hefted a sack of potatoes, and swallowed at the sight of rock-hard muscles bunching and flexing under his dark blue uniform shirt and matching utility pants as he bent over to stow the potatoes on the rack under his cart. Her libido took a quick, unapproved inventory—long legs, strong thighs that strained the seams of his pants just a little when he crouched, and a positively awe-inspiring butt she had an insane urge to sink her teeth into.
The upper half of him was just as good. Good enough to have some of the women in town contemplating torching their own kitchens, and feigning loss of consciousness to get a ride on his broad shoulders. His sandy-blond hair looked like he’d shoved his fingers through it, as always, and made her want to do the same, to see if it felt as thick and soft as it appeared. His eyes were the shade of wild Kentucky bluegrass.
His eyes...shoot, he was watching her now—giving her a long, blatantly appraising stare—while she ogled him. She jerked her gaze away and concentrated on bagging her cucumbers. Silly to pretend she didn’t see him. Boone’s Market wasn’t exactly the Mall of America. Only a couple of bins of produce separated them. Plus, it’s not like she could pretend she didn’t recognize him.
In a town this size folks recognized each other. She’d spoken to him before. Twice, actually. People considered her the poster girl for Bluelick, and she always made a point to be friendly. Okay, maybe she’d attempted to be more than friendly when they’d talked, but even ten years out of practice, she’d picked up on his interest. No. Scratch that. “Interest” was far too civilized a word. Stumbling into his tractor-beam gaze had been like getting sucked into a vortex of fuck-lust. She’d never experienced anything like it outside a Nature Channel documentary. The looks he sent her warned there would be no respectful wooing—only a short, ruthless chase, her inevitable surrender, and then... please God...complete and utter domination.
But he’d never made a move.
She risked another glance at him from under her lashes. Yep. There was the look. A feather of temptation tickled down her spine. Not smart. Prudence and propriety dictated that a girl who’d just ended a ten-year engagement to her high school sweetheart wait a decent amount of time before letting some strapping male animal with overactive pheromones haul her off and have his way with her. Unfortunately, prudence and propriety couldn’t help her pass another lonely night. Decency couldn’t stave off the frustration of sitting on a shelf for over a decade, cherished, but mostly untouched. She lifted her chin and dropped the cucumbers into her basket with a thump. Well, she was officially off the shelf now and, dang it all to hell and back, she wanted to be touched. Used, for once, instead of simply admired from a distance. Was that so wrong? She lifted her chin, ready to risk her reputation to get what she wanted. It was now or—
“Hello, dear. How’s your mama doing? And those pretty girls of yours?”
Ms. Van Hendler’s raspy voice derailed her train of thought. Melody turned to the tiny blue-haired woman. Ms. V was eighty if she was a day, and prone to confusion. Right now she was confusing Melody for her younger sister, Belinda. Belinda, who, growing up, had always insisted she was never getting married, and never, ever “birthing a bunch of babies.” Belinda, who now lived happily ever after in a suburb off the double A, with her husband of six years and their three daughters. Melody didn’t bother correcting Ms. V. She smiled. “They’re all good, Ms. Van Hendler. Thank you for asking.”
“That’s nice to hear. And what about your sister? I heard Roger broke off their engagement. She must be devastated, poor girl, waiting patiently all that time for him to finish his education, only to end up alone.” A vise tightened around her temples. She resisted an urge to massage them. “Melody’s absolutely fine. The breakup was mutual.”
“Of course. Of course. Very brave of her. She must be almost thirty—”
“Twenty-eight. She just turned twenty-eight.”
“Oh, well, that’s a relief. She’s still got some time. And anyway, it’s different nowadays, isn’t it? Back in my day, if a girl wasn’t married by thirty, she might as well clean out her hope chest.”
“Times have changed,” Melody agreed, and tried not to roll her eyes.
“Indeed. Not that we’ll give up hope for Melody, no matter how long it takes. She was always
a pretty girl. Always a good girl, too—never a whisper of scandalous behavior out of that one. I’m sure some lucky man, somewhere, will scoop her up. When you see her next, please tell her I said hello, and wish her well for me.”
“Consider it done, Ms. Van Hendler,” she managed through a stiff smile as Ms. V tottered away toward the pet supplies aisle, grinding all plans of sweet seduction under her squeaky cart wheels.
All for the best. Melody let her smile fall, along with her courage. Ms. V’s comments knocked some sense into her. She might not have a fiancé anymore, or any immediate prospect of marriage, babies, and the happy ever after she’d always envisioned, but she had one thing left—her reputation. An asset she’d been on the verge of sacrificing for a cheap, meaningless encounter. Enticing as it was to envision boldly approaching Josh and telling him she had an urgent need for his big, powerful hose...or whatever—hitting on a near- stranger was not her strong suit—she couldn’t. She was a good girl. People respected that about her. She probably didn’t have it in her, anyway.
A sterling reputation would continue to shine after the glow of youth dimmed and looks faded. She wandered blindly over to the next produce display and ended up staring at a bin of prunes. Each one stared back at her like a dark, wrinkly omen, silently mocking her sterling reputation.
Oh, God. Was this how the entire town saw her? A dried-up old maid at twenty-eight. How had it come to this? Because you spent ten years sacrificing and compromising and focusing on the future while Roger went away to school. All that time she’d been patiently sitting on her shelf here in Bluelick, waiting. Oh, sure, she’d gotten her associate’s degree in office management at the junior college, but mostly she’d been marking time until he moved home and they started their “real life.” The whole sad situation wasn’t completely Roger’s fault. For years she’d sensed things were...off, but she’d believed him every time he’d looked at her with earnest eyes and put his lack of passion down to the stress of school, or the pressure of his clerkship, or some other outside factor. Hell, he’d convinced himself. Convincing her had probably taken a lot less effort, because she’d wanted to be convinced. They’d bought into a sweet, idyllic vision of a future together— wanted it with all their hearts—to the point she’d ignored some important messages from her head.
Knowing they shared the blame didn’t make it any less depressing to realize the girl her senior class had voted Most Likely to Be Married With Children was now just two short years from the big three-oh, unmarried, childless, and damn near a virgin. And if she thought about that pitiful truth one more second, she would likely burst into tears.
You don’t have to be a good girl anymore. You’re free, single, and well over the age of consent.Get some thrills out of life while you’re still young enough to enjoy them, unless you’re ready to accept exchanging gossip with old Ms. V in the aisle at Boone’s Market as the highlight of your day.
She eyed Josh. He stood with his profile to her, testing the melons. Her skin tightened, watching him heft the smooth, pale globes in his wide-palmed hands. Maybe she made a sound, or maybe he simply sensed her attention, because he straightened and turned toward her. Their gazes collided. He froze, seemingly caught off guard for once, a melon cupped securely in each hand.
Heat rushed to her face and her chest started to tingle. She could think of a better use for those hands. And so could he, she suspected. You have ten years to make up for, starting now. Before she knew quite what she planned to do, Melody marched over, planted herself in front of his cart, and looked him square in the eye. “You ready to make your move, Chief, or are you just going to stare all night?”