Slow Burn

Book Cover: Slow Burn

About the book

Zoe Griffin has a fresh new life…a hard-earned doctorate degree and a burgeoning nutritionist practice in Colorado. The only thing missing is the man she fell in love with.

Cooper Flannagan did “new life” ad nauseum as an Army brat and shudders at the very mention of change. His fellow firefighters on San Amaro Island, Texas, are his family. He’s dug his roots deep, and he finally feels like he belongs. Then Zoe walks back into his life…and sometimes, it turns out, there’s more than one path to belonging.

Slow Burn is a stand-alone short story in the Island Fire series.

Excerpt:

Cooper Flannagan would know that voice anywhere.

It was the voice of an angel. Scratch that. The voice of a siren. The voice of his ex-girlfriend, Zoe Griffin, who also happened to be the sister of his roommate, Penn.

He rolled over in his king-size bed, his sleep-blurred mind wondering how the hell he could’ve passed out so hard after his shift that he would miss his alarm. It’d been a rough shift, for damn sure — he could still smell the acrid smoke odor from the apartment fire even though he’d showered twice — but he felt like he’d just fallen asleep minutes ago.

He reached over to the nightstand and fumbled around for his phone to check the time. One o’clock? Zoe and her mother weren’t supposed to arrive from Colorado until after four p.m. He’d planned to be out of the condo by then.

READ MORE

Cooper turned onto his stomach and shoved his head under his pillow in an attempt to block out that laugh of hers. That melodious sound that used to make his world go round. He needed more than four hours’ sleep in order to survive the next four days with Zoe in town.

It was no use. He lay there for the longest ten minutes of his life, fighting to go back to slumberville, but he couldn’t stop imagining every move she might be making, the way the waves in her shiny, brunette hair sometimes fell into her face as she spoke, what she might be wearing…

He’d known there was no way to avoid her this weekend, but he’d hoped he could put off running into her at least until tomorrow. Her surprise early visit had ruined that.

She had to know he was here. Penn would tell her even if she didn’t ask. Did that mean… Did she want to see him?

The thought was more enticing than he’d ever admit out loud. And it had him sitting up on the edge of the bed, unable to ignore the burning curiosity any longer. Because suddenly, despite what he’d been telling himself and the rest of the world the four months since they’d broken up, he wanted more than anything to see Zoe.

oOo

Zoe cut off her own sentence halfway through and promptly forgot what she was saying. Forgot she was saying anything. That’s what seeing Cooper in the flesh did to her.

He’d slipped into the bathroom from his bedroom — his shaggy, golden-brown head had only been in her line of sight for two-point-two seconds max — and she lost all track of the conversation with her mom and brother. Lucky thing that breathing was involuntary, otherwise she probably would have forgotten that too.

And this was after three weeks of preparing herself, of imagining the moment she laid eyes on him again, knowing she would see him lots over the course of her big brother’s birthday weekend. Almost a month of visualizing it having no effect whatsoever on her.

Yeah, so much for visualization.

“You didn’t tell me he was here,” she hissed at her knucklehead brother.

“He lives here, Zo.”

Was that a smirk on Penn’s face? Definitely a spark of amusement in his green eyes. She managed to swallow the urge to throttle him and bit the inside of her inner lip until it bled.

Their mother, Nell Griffin, who was sitting with her back to the hallway, looked around curiously. “Is Cooper home?”

“He’s sleeping,” Penn said.

Was sleeping,” Zoe clarified.

“He worked last night.”

Which meant he’d finished his shift at the fire station at seven this morning, Zoe knew. Then he’d likely gone out for breakfast with the guys he’d worked with — scrambled eggs, thick-cut bacon, and enough greasy hash browns with cheese to stop a weaker heart were his favorites — then straight home to sleep. He’d probably stripped down to nothing and climbed into the cool sheets of the king-size bed he’d no doubt made the previous time he’d crawled out of it.

Zoe shook her head to erase the details she knew so well. Especially the naked bit.

“You can’t be surprised, honey,” their mom said.

No. Surprised wasn’t it. Leveled by fresh pain was more like it. Four months of trying to get over Cooper, trying to get on with her life, and the sting was as acute in this moment as it had been the night they’d argued long-distance — ironically, about their long-distance relationship status — and then broken up. That she’d been the one to end it made no difference whatsoever.

Her throat felt like a ball of felt had lodged in it, and her mouth had become instantly parched.

“I’m going to get that water you offered me after all,” she said to Penn as she stood. If she was in the kitchen, she wouldn’t be able to see when Cooper emerged from the bathroom and went back to bed. She glanced at her watch. “Then we should head to the Silver Sands and check in, Mom.”

“Check-in isn’t usually until three or four.” Nell frowned and tilted her perfectly coiffed head at her daughter as Zoe headed toward the kitchen.

“We know the owner,” she said over her shoulder in an understatement. “I’m sure Nadia will get us in whenever we’re ready.”

Zoe was so ready.

And so too slow.

She heard footsteps behind her as she stood at the sink filling a glass. Bare footsteps. Not her brother, as he wore shoes most of the time to help support his back after the injury that had ended his firefighting career. Not her mother, as noisy heels were permanently attached to her feet.

Keeping her back to the doorway, Zoe turned off the tap and brought the glass to her dry lips. The glass was too small, the water gone too fast, as Cooper stood several feet behind her at the breakfast bar. Waiting. She could feel his stare on her back.

“Hey,” he finally said when she continued to stall with her back to him. “Zoe.”

She closed her eyes. There was a certain timbre in his voice whenever he spoke her name. A slight drawl to the “oh” sound in it. She’d always loved it.

Now it made her want to cry.

COLLAPSE