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T.J. Kline returns to Hidden Falls with the sweet and fun story of a small-town firefighter and the stubborn woman who refuses to fall for his charms.
Emma Jordan has returned home after her father’s death to run the animal sanctuary that had been his legacy. But strange things start happening, and it seems that someone is out to shut her down, someone who doesn’t mind putting lives in jeopardy to see it through. When Hidden Falls’ sexiest fireman starts to ask questions, Emma needs to make sure his charm doesn’t distract her from keeping her dreams alive.
Ben McQuaid has an obligation as a local fireman to protect the community, even from a well-meaning wildlife veterinarian who’s in way over her head. But, it’s becoming hard to keep his loyalty to the town and his desire for the pretty vet separate. As Ben and Emma become caught in a dangerous game of cat and mouse, their feelings for each other are growing.
Will they let duty drive them apart or will they dare to fall?
“Hey, Ben, I have a favor to ask.”
Ben McQuaid rolled his eyes skyward. Of course, his brother Andrew needed another favor. Lately, Ben seemed to be the one doing the favors more often than receiving any. But, that’s what brothers did for one another, right? And with six siblings, most of them younger, that added up to be a lot of favors.
“Make it quick, I’m on my way into the fire station for my shift.”
“Good, because this is more of an official call than a favor anyway. I need you to head down to the Quinn place on Mosquito Road. Apparently, there’s a cat stuck in a tree. It seems stupid to call it in to the firehouse and drag the engine out for a cat. See? I’m actually doing you a favor and saving you all that cleaning and polishing you have to do just for driving a truck out of the garage.”
They’d be cleaning the engine anyway. Plus, without an engine, Ben had no ladder to get up the tree. “So, what you’re suggesting is that I shimmy up the tree the way I did when we were ten to get the football you and Grant would get stuck.”
Andrew’s chuckle sounded through the receiver. “Pretty much. Look, the call just came in from dispatch and you’ve got to drive by there on your way into town anyway. No sense in making it an official call.”
There was nothing about this that was a favor for Ben. “What’s wrong, is there an apple fritter with your name on it? This way you save yourself the effort of having to fill out another police report, right?” Andrew wasn’t fooling him.
“There’s that too.” Ben heard Andrew address someone else in the background. “Hey, I have to run. There’s a domestic dispute at the winery. You got this, right?”
“Yeah, I’ll take care of it,” Ben said with a sigh.
“Thanks. I owe you one.”
“One?” Ben muttered to himself as the receiver disconnected in his ear and he took the turn off onto Mosquito Road. “You owe me more than that.”
He wasn’t looking forward to this. Hollister Quinn was one of those old guys who spoke his mind, loudly and often. He’d been the first in line to protest the latest upgrades being done to spruce up their small foothill town. Said he liked it rustic, the way it’d been for years and that it should stay that way. However, now that there was talk about Hidden Falls trying to become more of a tourist attraction along the way to Tahoe, an idea that would bring higher profits for local businesses which, in turn, kept the town thriving, Quinn was complaining even more. A visit with Quinn, even to retrieve a kitten, was sure to bring a lengthy lecture about how the people of Hidden Falls were selling out. Ben rubbed the knots of tension already building at the back of his neck.
Pulling into the circular driveway in front of the Quinn house, he maneuvered his pickup between several other vehicles, none of which were Hollister’s. A crowd was already gathered under one of the tall pines in the front yard.
“Great,” the old man complained as Ben edged closer to the chaos. “Please, tell me you’re here to do something productive, not just here to gawk like everyone else. I need someone to get that damn thing outta my tree.” He pointed to where a tabby kitten yowled loudly from a high branch on the tree.
Ben squinted, following the old man’s gaze. “Are you sure that’s a cat? It doesn’t look—”
“What else would it be?” Quinn rolled his eyes before glaring at Ben and shoving him toward the god-awful howling the cat in the tree was making. “Do your job, fireman, and get that thing down.” He turned away, muttering something about the woman running the animal sanctuary down the road but Ben didn’t quite catch it and he wasn’t about to risk having the old man rip him a new one again.
“Sure thing, Mr. Quinn,” Ben agreed, wondering again why he’d wanted to be a firefighter. Sweating it out with the cattle on his parents’ ranch sounded a hell of a lot better right now than climbing a tree to get the shit clawed out of him by a frightened kitten.
He glanced around at the large group of neighbors that had come to watch, curious at the interest for a simple kitten stuck in a tree. It wasn’t a big enough deal to warrant this sort of hullabaloo. The kitten yowled louder and Ben had just lifted his foot onto the ladder Quinn had left braced against the side of the tree when Ellie Quinn, the old man’s daughter, hurried to his side.
“Ben, I’m sorry. I tried to get my dad to just leave the poor thing alone, but you know how he is.” She shot him a coy smile and her eyelashes fluttered.
Ellie was a nice woman. The same age as his younger sister and obviously interested in him. She was sweet, kind to everyone she met, a member of the local women’s shelter planning committee and generous to a fault. In fact, she was exactly what he wanted in a woman, plus she had a “girl next door” quality that made her adorable. His mother had been trying to set them up for months, reminding him that he should be giving her grandchildren before she was too old to enjoy them. The problem was, Ben wasn’t attracted to Ellie at all. He wanted to be, but every time he was around her, there was no stirring in him, no warm fuzzies like he’d had with other women. Nothing to get a rise out of him, so to speak, at all. It was almost like he wanted to continually find himself getting screwed over by crazy women. “Don’t worry about it, Ellie,” he said, waving a hand in her direction and looking up the tree. “I’ll just get this guy down and he’ll take off back home.” Ben wasn’t nearly as confident about his ability to get the cat down as he sounded but Ellie was sweet. He couldn’t blame her for her cantankerous father.
She cocked her head and gave him a confused look. “Oh. Um, okay.”
Putting one foot over the other as he climbed the ladder, trying to ignore the jeers and shouts from below, Ben pulled himself into a fork in the tree, hanging his legs over the branch as he straddled it. He could barely see the spotted fluffy coat of the kitten but, from what he could see, it was definitely young. He’d never understand how a stupid animal could get itself into a tree but couldn’t get back out. Then again, it wasn’t like people didn’t get themselves into some pretty precarious positions they couldn’t figure their way out of.
Tucking his feet under him so he was squatting on the limb, grateful for the heavy tread of his work boots, Ben reach for a thick branch to his right, using it to swing him to the V beside where the cat was hiding. The gasp from the onlookers below nearly made him laugh. Sure, falling would be painful but the fifteen-foot landing into mulch couldn’t hurt any more than the second story floor of an old farmhouse collapsing from under him during a call and dropping him into the concrete basement below. Those two fractured ribs had hurt like hell.
Straddling the second branch, he watched the kitten for a moment. The poor animal was scared out of its mind. Its big blue eyes were round with fear and, from this vantage point, he could see that it was a matted mess. Tiny claws clung to the rippled bark of the tree and he wondered how he was possibly going to convince the frightened animal to let go without his very vulnerable bare arm replacing the tree trunk under its claws.
“Here, kitty,” he called quietly. The cat turned toward him and he saw the unmistakable black tufts over the kitten’s ears. It turned away again, edging out onto the branch and he saw the stubby tail.
Holy crap, that is not a cat. It’s a freakin’ bobcat kitten.
“Shit,” he muttered. “That damn brother of mine owes me big time.”
T.J. Kline was bitten by the horse bug early and began training horses at fourteen—as well as competing in rodeos and winning several rodeo queen competitions—but has always known writing was her first love. She also writes under the name Tina Klinesmith. In her spare time, she can be found spending as many hours as possible laughing hysterically with her husband, teens, and their menagerie of pets in Northern California. That is, when she isn’t running around the California Gold Country researching new stories.
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