Fully Engaged

Fully Engaged

Eve Gaddy

April 2013 $12.95
ISBN: 978-1-61194-283-5

Their passion is one fire they can't put out.

 
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Synopsis | Reviews | Excerpt

Back Cover

Nine years ago, he left her alone and pregnant. Now he’s back.

 When hotshot firefighter Callie Kilpatrick gets a new partner, he’s the last man she ever wanted to meet again: Rick Montana, the man she once loved and planned to marry, the man who left her without explanation. Rick resurrects all the old, unresolved feelings she had for him. Though she never told him about her pregnancy, she blames him for the loss of their child.

As for Rick, he's never forgotten Callie. But as her anger singes him, he wonders if he’ll ever be able to get past the walls she’s built around her heart. When they must work together to discover a murderer, they discover that passion still burns hot between them.

Eve Gaddy is the award-winning author of sixteen novels. She lives in east Texas with her husband of many years and her incredibly spoiled Golden Retriever, who is convinced he's her third child.


Reviews

"Altogether a terrific read, I could barely put it down!" -- Laura Benn, Dewey Does It

"Fully Engaged is definitely a prime example of what romantic suspense is supposed to look like." -- Rhonda Dennis, Delighted Reader

"…an easy, sweet, enjoyable read." -- Nicci Rushing, Goodreads

"…exciting and sexy to read." -- Michelle Wilson, Ms. Romantic Reads

" . . . Danger, desire and deftly written characters intertwine to make Eve Gaddy’s FULLY ENGAGED a romantic scorcher." – Romantic Times Bookclub


 

Excerpt

 

Prologue

CALLIE KILPATRICK shoved her helmet back and wiped sweat from her forehead, squinting against the smoke that drifted upward to sting her eyes and lodge in her throat. The fire burned sluggishly at the base of the canyon, tame in comparison to many wildfires her team—Los Lobos Hotshots—had worked.

With the hoe end pointing down, Callie raised her Pulaski above her head and drove it into the trench she wished they’d never started. Over eight years of drought had baked the dirt concrete-hard. It made digging the fire line as much fun as breaking rocks on a chain gang.

Keeping an eye on the fire, she listened to the banter between her crew boss, Johnny Sobieski, and his partner, Sean Romero. Johnny dug along the same firebreak line as Callie. Judging by his sound effects, he wasn’t having much success, either.

"What do you want for a wedding present, Sobieski?” Sean asked. "As long as it’s ten bucks or less.” Standing lookout several yards away, he scanned the area as he talked. "Damn, I think the temperature’s risen ten degrees since we got here.” He wiped his neck with his bandanna and swore again.

"More like twenty.” Johnny paused a moment to lean on the handle of his shovel and glanced over at Callie. "What do you say, Cal? What do we want?”

"Softer dirt for a start. I’m beat. Given a choice, I’d rather be out by the pool drinking a cold one.” Smiling, she blew her fiancé a kiss. "Of course, if I didn’t have to take up your slack, Sobieski, I wouldn’t be so tired.”

Johnny grinned, but didn’t take the bait. "That’s why I’m marrying you, Kilpatrick. You’re such a hard worker, it gives me more time to relax.” He went back to work, swinging his arms up and down in a rhythm he made look effortless.

A sudden, cold gust of wind almost knocked Callie flat. She heard Sean shout, and then a thunderous boom echoed from the base of the canyon as it exploded into a hellish rainbow of red, yellow, and orange flames. A hundred-foot wall of flame shot up, death on wings of fire, speeding upward, screaming destruction with the roar of a freight train.

"Get over the ridge!” Johnny shouted.

All three made a mad scramble to reach the safety of the treeless ridge. Hurry! she urged silently, expecting at any moment to feel the lick of flames at the heels of her heavy boots—fingers of the devil, reaching for her, pulling her back to bake in the hell on the hillside.

Ahead, she saw the flash of yellow shirts through the miasma of thick, swirling smoke. The three of them ran straight up the mountain, their heavy packs placing another burden on already-straining lungs, before they took a few precious seconds to dump their loads. Breathing labored, hearts pounding, they pushed themselves ruthlessly upward, stumbling over rocks, boulders, ditches, and undergrowth, their legs leaden and exhausted.

"Gonzales and Silver!” Sean gasped for air. "They’ re—”

Johnny cut him off. "I’m going to get them. You and Callie get the hell over that ridge.”

"Johnny, no,” Callie said, stretching out a gloved hand toward him, gripping his arm through the cloth of his shirt. "Don’t go back.” If he went back down that hill she’d never see him again. She felt it as keenly as the heat of the approaching fire, knew it more surely than she’d ever known anything in her life.

They stood at the crest of the ridge, a step away from safety. Johnny shook his head. He grabbed her hand, squeezing hard through the thick protection of their gloves, and then let go. Even through the goggles, she saw the purpose in his eyes.

"They’re my men, Cal.”

And then he was gone, beating his way back down the mountain in a path she could only pray would avoid the oncoming fury.

The flames shot higher—two hundred feet—against a black backdrop of sky, the fiery breath of a dragon engulfing everything in its path. Callie struggled to open her aluminum fire shelter, to crawl inside it and hope that the fire would pass them by. Against her cheekbone, she felt the harsh scrape of brush. Rocks jabbed sharply into her breasts, her belly, her legs, as she fought to hold the shelter down against the terrifying rip of the wind. Stupefying heat welled up around her, and she burrowed her head in the dirt, desperate for breath in the oxygen-starved atmosphere.

Sean’s voice—harsh and raspy—cut through her fear. "Johnny didn’t make it, Cal.”

And then there was blackness.


 

 

Chapter One

Two years later

"YOU MUST BE out of your ever-lovin’ mind,” Callie Kilpatrick said, glaring at Jim Bader. "You expect me to take some rookie cowboy with me to a fire? As part of the team? As my partner?”

"Fires, plural.” Bader’s smile was more of a smirk. "And yes, that’s exactly what I expect. It’s my prerogative.”

Callie couldn’t think of a single thing to say that wasn’t obscene. Her old partner had been among those to quit after last season. She’d known that Bader, as the head of the local Bureau of Land Management office in Winnechaka, Colorado, would be hiring new people this spring. But she hadn’t expected him to pick her partner. She’d assumed that would be up to her. Then he’d stopped her in the hall and sprung this on her.

Bader continued, his entire attitude calculated to jerk her chain. "He can handle himself, don’t worry. He’s been in hotter spots than a forest fire before.”

"Oh, right,” she said with a snort of disbelief. God grant her patience, a rookie. "Like what?”

He lit a cigarette, blowing the smoke in Callie’s face. "He was an award-winning journalist. This ‘cowboy’s’ been all over the world. The Middle East, Ireland, Africa. Name it, he’s been there.”

She fisted her hands on her hips. "He hasn’t been to a fire with Los Lobos. Or any other hotshot crew, has he? Why can’t he just stay with the other journalists? There’s always a gaggle of them hanging around. And why assign him to me?”

Bader heaved an irritated sigh. "I thought I’d explained that. He’s a firefighter now. Has been for the last several years. And he’s transferring to Los Lobos.”

"So let Sean have him.” But she knew as soon as the words left her mouth that Bader wouldn’t give the rookie to Sean. Their crew leader was the only one of them Bader respected. Or feared—she wasn’t sure which.

"Romero has a partner. He doesn’t need another one.” Flicking his ashes carelessly, Bader didn’t appear to notice that they’d landed on her jeans. "You need a new partner, I found you one. What’s your problem?”

The problem, she thought, was Bader’s ego. He’d been out to get her ever since he’d hit on her and she’d turned him down. Callie gritted her teeth in a futile effort to keep her temper. "How can I do my job if I have to worry about carting around a nonprofessional? Has he even had any training?”

The twenty people who normally comprised a hotshot team were a close-knit, highly trained group. They fought forest fires, rather than structural ones, and spent much of their time at fire camps out in the wilderness.

"He’s a trained firefighter, Kilpatrick. How many times do I have to tell you that?”

Bader stood so that the smoke from his cigarette floated right into Callie’s face. It was deliberate, she suspected. He’d heard her say that she ate enough smoke during fire season to last her a lifetime.

"For the last three seasons, he’s been with a crew in California. Now he wants to see what the hotshots are about. I owe him, and you—” he jabbed a finger at her for emphasis "—are going to pay up.”

"I could quit over this. It’s not your job to pick my partners. It’s my job. Or Sean’s. Not yours.”

"Maybe not technically. But I am in charge of hiring.” He shrugged, waiting for her reaction.

"Take your cowboy and shove—”

"I wouldn’t,” he interrupted. "Either hand in your resignation or get ready to meet your new partner. It makes no difference to me.”

They engaged in a staring contest, Callie glaring, Bader still smirking. "All right,” she finally said. "I’ll take him. But the first time he gets in my way, he’s gone, and I don’t care how many favors you owe him.”

"He’s in my office now. Ask him about his qualifications yourself,” Bader said, jerking open the door.

She stalked through the open doorway and halted in midstride, staring at the "rookie” while she felt every bit of blood drain from her face. Oh, God, she prayed. Tell me I’m dreaming.

He lounged with his rear propped against the edge of Bader’s desk, his scuffed boots crossed at the ankle. The quintessential cowboy in a chambray shirt, old, tight, faded jeans, and a battered brown Stetson. Tall, broad-shouldered, with deep-set bedroom eyes and dark blond hair reaching his collar, he was a sight most women would appreciate and quite a few would be willing to fight over.

To Callie he was a vision from hell.

"Rick?” She forced the word past the constriction in her throat. "Rick Montana?”

"Killer?” His eyes widened in surprise. Cool and forest green, they looked her over with barely veiled disbelief.

She shut her eyes. Killer. The name evoked memories buried under a mountain of torment. She heard the crunch of snow beneath her skis, felt the cold air hitting her face, nearly cried out as the agonizing pain ripped through her leg and her stomach, just as it had all those years ago. As quickly as the image had come, it faded.

Her eyes opened to unvarnished reality."You’re the new crew member?”

Bader sat at his desk and looked from one to the other. "You two know each other?”

"Oh, yeah.” He smiled significantly. "We know each other real well, don’t we, Killer?”

That deep southern drawl pierced her memories like a sharp knife. Damn Bader for putting her in this position. Her stomach churned with a violent urge to throw up. It had been bad enough when she’d thought she’d be babysitting some unknown rookie. But Rick Montana...

She turned to Bader. "Find yourself another victim. It’s not going to be me.”

He sat up straight and gaped at her. "Are you telling me you’re handing in your resignation?”

Ignoring Montana, she faced Bader, better able to deal with him than the one person from her past she never thought she’d see again. "If I have to, yes.” Her hands curled into fists. "You have no authority to pick my partner without my input. Put him on the team, but I don’t have to take him as a partner.”

"Kilpatrick, you’re the only one without a partner. Grow up, why don’t you?”

"When did you become a firefighter, Killer?” Montana cut in, amusement filling his voice.

She flicked him a glance that lived up to the nickname. "None of your business. And don’t call me that.”

His shoulders shook with suppressed laughter. "It’s hard to imagine. Killer Kilpatrick, a forest firefighter. A hotshot, to boot.”

"No stranger than Slick Ricky Montana as a prizewinning journalist,” she snapped. Her gaze cruised over him insultingly. "Last I knew, you were majoring in exit lines. Or was it women?”

His lips curved into a smile that was still, damn it, every bit as charming and potent now as it had been nine years ago. "They don’t teach what I learned in any school, darlin’,” he assured her.

"Now, look, Kilpatrick,” Bader all but shouted. "I’ve had enough of your bellyaching. Montana’s going to be your partner, so live with it.”

Rick held up a hand. "No, no, Jim. It’s all right. If Killer—excuse me, if Ms. Kilpatrick is afraid to take me on, I’m sure you can find someone else on the team who’d be willing.”

Callie glared at Rick through narrowed eyes. "Afraid isn’t the word. Try revolted.” To Bader she added, "I don’t want a rookie for a partner, especially if it’s him.”

Rick laughed out loud. She forced herself not to deck him. He knew better than anyone else why she wanted nothing to do with him.

He was still smiling when he answered her. "I’m not exactly a rookie. Give me a chance, Killer.”

Callie glanced over at Bader, standing with his eyes bugging out and malicious curiosity written on his face as plain as the top line of an eye chart. "Montana and I need to discuss this privately.” Turning to Rick, she jerked her head toward the door and stalked out.

RICK FOLLOWED Callie as she stepped out of the building into the crisp Colorado sunlight and headed for the nature trail that snaked its way upward from the base of the mountain. His boots sank silently into the layer of pine needles and leaves lining the ground. It was beginning to warm up, the tail end of a dry spring that meant trouble for the coming season. Callie set a brutal pace. Luckily for him, he’d already adjusted to the altitude.

Finally, she came to a halt in a small clearing and turned to him with anger shooting from her eyes. She looked great, he thought, even mad as hell. At five foot eleven, she stood eye to eye with most men, and even though Rick suspected every inch of her was muscle, she didn’t look masculine. No, she was all female, with legs that went on forever and curves in all the right places. "I get the idea you’re not glad to see me.”

"Is this a joke?”

Rick shook his head slowly, his eyes on hers. "One of life’s little ironies, I guess.”

"What are you doing here?”

"My job.” He crossed his arms over his chest and watched her glare at him.

"I thought you were a journalist.”

"Used to be. Now I’m a firefighter—”

"With Los Lobos Hotshots,” she finished. Her eyes narrowed in sudden suspicion. "Did you know I belonged to this team?”

The lie slid easily off his tongue. "You flatter yourself, Sugar. You think I’d go to all that trouble to find you again? After nine years?” It was exactly what he’d done, but he didn’t think it would help his cause to tell her that now. If she had any idea how many strings he’d pulled so that their meeting would seem coincidental, she’d die laughing. "Tell me something, Killer, what the hell happened to you?”

"Stop calling me that.”

"Remind you of something?”

"You know damn good and well what it reminds me of, Montana. A part of my life that’s over.”

For her maybe, but not for him. "Apparently. I never heard a word about you on the ski circuit after I...” He hesitated a moment and continued, "After I left. What happened?”

Her glare could have dissolved volcanic rock. "You mean after you dumped me? I’m so flattered you remember. I’ll bet you’ve dumped a lot of women since then.”

He hadn’t been seriously involved with anyone since her, but he doubted she’d believe that. "I kept looking for you at the Olympic ski trials,” he said after a minute, "but you never surfaced. You flat disappeared.”

Pain flashed in her eyes before anger took over again. "If you’d tried, you could have found me easily enough. But you didn’t try, did you, Rick? You just wanted out.”

His jaw tightened as he remembered how hard it had been for him to leave her. "Callie, I—”

She cut him off with a slash of her hand. "Don’t. I don’t want to hear it.”

Too bad, because he intended to tell her. "I had a good reason for leaving, Callie. You didn’t hang around long enough to find out, did you?”

"Why should I have? I might have been naïve, but I understood being dumped.”

"There’s a lot you don’t know. If you’ll let me explain—”

"I’m not interested in your lame explanations.”

"You want to ignore what really happened. The reality is—”

"Reality?” she shouted. "I’ll give you reality, you son of a bitch!” She whacked him on the chest with her fist, sending him back a step. "Reality is you left town in the middle of the night, and after one damn phone call to break our engagement, I didn’t hear from you again. Ever. Don’t stroll up to me nine years later and expect me to listen to your excuses. I’ve got better things to do.”

He reminded himself how his disappearance must have looked to her. How much he’d hurt her when he’d finally found the courage to call her and say he wasn’t going to marry her. There was so much she didn’t know, but she obviously was in no mood to listen to him.

"Maybe we shouldn’t talk about the past now,” he said, wondering if he’d ever get the chance to explain.

"We shouldn’t talk about it ever,” she snapped back. "The only way our working together has a dog’s chance is for you and me to pretend we never knew each other.”

Amused, he raised an eyebrow. "Oh, come on, Callie. After all, we were—”

"I remember perfectly well what we were. But you had a relationship with Killer Kilpatrick, Montana. And Killer died a long time ago.”

She turned her back and strode away from him. He could tell by her fists clenching and unclenching that she was trying to gain control of her anger. Finally, she turned back to face him and said, "If I work with you, and that’s a big if, we need to get some things straight.”

"What’s that, darlin’?” Propping his back against a tree, he waited to see her in action. Callie on a roll had always been something to watch.

"First of all, don’t call me ‘darlin” in that hokey southern drawl of yours. Tripping down memory lane with you isn’t my idea of fun. I’m not about to repeat the past, so don’t even think about it.” Preparing for battle, she crossed her arms over her chest.

Rick whistled admiringly. "Full of yourself, aren’t you? Why do you think I’d even want to get involved with you again?”

"Good, then we agree about one thing, at least.”

His gaze flickered over her. He knew he was antagonizing her, but he didn’t know any way around it. Maybe once she got past the initial anger, she’d be more reasonable. Might even listen to his real reason for being there. For now, he’d do better to give her as much of the truth as he dared.

"I’m here for two reasons. To fight fires and to research a book. Can you handle that, Sugar?”

"Oh, I can handle it, Montana. I’ve been doing it for years. But your tail’s going to be dragging about a foot off the ground before you even realize what hit you. Do you have any idea what’s involved in being on a hotshot fire team? We don’t just pour water on house fires out here.”

"Don’t worry about me, darlin’, I’ll keep up. I’ve been in training.”

Her look conveyed volumes of contempt. "What did you do, read a book?”

He smiled. "As a matter of fact—” he straightened and strode away from the tree "—I went through wildland firefighting training and spent three seasons on a fire crew. One of the finest crews in California.” He stuck his thumbs into his back pockets and rocked back on his heels.

Callie gave him a skeptical look. "You actually went through fire training and fought fires for three seasons? Just to get a story?”

"Originally I wanted a change from journalism, so I went into firefighting. Later, after I’d done it for a while, I decided to write about it. So here I am, Killer. All yours.”

"I wouldn’t have you on a platter with an apple stuck in your mouth.”

He had to smile at that. "Not the entrée, darlin’.”

"I don’t want you as an entrée... or anything else,” she said. "Do us both a favor, Montana. Admit you chose the wrong crew to play reporter with and go someplace else. You won’t like it here.”

"I think I’ll like it here just fine.”

"You won’t last a week.”

"Don’t count on it. When do I get to meet the rest of the guys?”

Her mouth clamped shut, and he could almost hear her teeth grind. He remembered that temper. Evidently, she still had it. She still had a lot of other things, too, such as the ability to knock him for a loop just by walking into a room.

His gaze lingering on her legs, he admitted she still looked great in tight jeans. Her faded purple T-shirt hung loosely to her waistband, not quite concealing the curves of her breasts. She fooled with a long, dark braid of hair that reached nearly to her waist. If he loosened it, would her hair be as soft and silky as it had been in college?

He suspected it would be. Some things never changed, and studying Callie, he realized that some things never would. She had the same smart mouth, tempting him to silence it the way he would have before. And her eyes, an odd slate gray, still deepened to the dusky hue of sundown in the heat of anger—or passion.

The rush of memories didn’t surprise him. Callie Kilpatrick was damn hard to forget.

There was a difference, though, that he couldn’t ignore. In college, she’d been a girl. A woman stood before him now. An angry woman who looked ready to cut out his heart and stomp on it.

She got hold of herself, though, and sliced him with a glance that was sharp as a scythe. "If you want to work on this team, with me or anyone else, this is going to be the last discussion we have about our mutual past. Understand?”

Not much of a peace offering, but he’d take what he could get. Rick smiled at her and held out his hand. "That’s a deal. Friends?”

She stared down at his hand, and for a moment he thought she was going to spit on it. Then she raised her eyes to meet his. "Friends? Not a chance in hell, Montana.” She turned her back on him and stalked away.

WHY HAD RICK Montana come back into her life? Callie hiked farther up the trail, needing to get as far away from him as possible. After the way he’d abandoned her years ago, she couldn’t imagine why he’d deliberately look her up. But she didn’t believe in coincidence.

Maybe fate was putting the screws to her once again.

Why he’d come back didn’t matter. Only that he had. She had to deal with him again, and with the memories that had surged back the instant she saw him. She stopped, tightening her arm across her stomach as those memories plunged her into the past.

She smelled the crisp cool air of the morning that had changed her life. Felt again the despair that had gripped her after Rick’s call, the despair that had turned to fear when she’d stared at the test results and known what her future held.

She’d gone to the mountain for solace. Instead, she’d found only more pain.

All because of Rick Montana.


 

 


 


 


 


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