I'm Sure, page 1
Table of Contents
Praise for Beverly Breton
Thank you for purchasing this publication of The Wild Rose Press, Inc.
Jason reaches over the table and takes my hand in his.
Much as I try scrubbing at the dirt, my nails are almost never 100% clean, and I’ve got a long scratch across my knuckles. And anyhow, in the middle of a work day, that’s part of who I am.
He turns my hand palm up and runs his finger across the calluses.
My heart skitters a beat at the feel of his hands cradling mine. His touch exudes caring. Imagining him tending a person in distress is easy.
Need I say it? I like the feel of him touching me. The world is charmingly in order right here, right now. But what is he doing? “Is something wrong with my hand?”
“Every time I see you, you’re in the water. And you’re the odd duck. I was just seeing”—he turns his head to examine my palm, his carved cheeks in profile—“if there’s a web between your fingers…”
Bemusement laces his tone. “Like a Labrador retriever?” I retort, stifling the urge to flex my fingers; I don’t want him to let my hand go.
He laughs and releases my hand. “My favorite animal. But a dog? No. That’s not what you bring to mind.”
His grin is so open, so easy, I decide to divulge something I’ve never told anyone. “I did wish for scales when I was younger. I thought it would be cool to be a mermaid.” He takes me in for a beat, his gaze deep.
“I can see that.”
His voice is low and velvety. I draw in a ragged breath.
Praise for Beverly Breton
“…I loved Ms. Breton’s voice and found [MAY DAY MAGIC] to be one story that I’d highly recommend to readers.”
~Night Owl Romance (5 Stars)
“[UNDER A HALLOWEEN MOON] is a light-hearted, fast-paced book and a great way to spend an afternoon…I will definitely look for this author in the future.”
~The Romance Studio
“Sometimes the past isn’t there to haunt you—it’s there to give you the chance you never thought you deserved…[SPECS APPEAL] is my first story by Ms. Breton, but it won’t be my last. If you want a sweet little romance that will have you begging for more, you need to read SPECS APPEAL.”
~Long and Short Reviews
“[STARS IN HER EYES is a] sweet story about beginnings and fate taking over when we need that extra push in the right direction.”
~You Gotta Read Reviews (5 Stars)
A Candy Hearts Romance
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales, is entirely coincidental.
COPYRIGHT © 2016 by Beverly Breton-Carroll
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission of the author or The Wild Rose Press, Inc. except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews.
Contact Information: firstname.lastname@example.org
Cover Art by RJ Morris
The Wild Rose Press, Inc.
PO Box 708
Adams Basin, NY 14410-0708
Visit us at www.thewildrosepress.com
First Sweetheart Rose Edition, 2016
Digital ISBN 978-1-5092-0591-2
A Candy Hearts Romance
Published in the United States of America
To all the emergency responders
who take care of us every day,
and a special acknowledgement
to the two who took time to educate me.
Thank you, Christian and Mary Ellen!
Any errors I made are purely my own…
“Are you Megan?”
The sun is warm on my back as I crouch at the edge of a water pond at the plant nursery where I work. February in southern California is temperate enough for shorts, and the air feels refreshing on my legs. But up top, in my denim shirt and industrial rubber gloves, with the temperature rising, I’m working up a sweat. The guys in the yard call me Ariel because of my long, wavy, copper-colored hair, which is tied back, but it never stays in place, and strands are sticking to my forehead.
The net result—although it’s only mid-morning, I must look like I’ve been in the rain forest for a week.
I slip off my mucky wet gloves, push back a corkscrew curl, and stand to face the customer calling me.
Holey moley. My head literally falls backward to take him in. He’s got hickory brown hair long enough to muss, and cheekbones that could cut granite. He’s half a foot taller than me, and I’m five feet seven inches, plus I’m guessing he’s in his late twenties, like me. He’s wearing a navy blue T-shirt that stretches across his chest, showcasing arms to dream about, with dark blue work pants and broken-in black work boots.
I ease down my chin.
“I’ve got trouble with my plumbing,” he announces.
We plant-people have an earthy sense of humor, pun intended. I can laugh at the yard guys’ off-color remarks, but we’ve worked together for years. I don’t expect a customer to take such liberties. I notice him checking the name sewn on my shirt as I formulate a reply.
“Sorry, Megan.” He runs a hand through his hair, tousling it. “That didn’t sound right.”
My name has never sounded better than it just did rolling off his tongue. An unexpected jitter flips through me.
His forehead furrows. “I know better than to make pronouncements about…plumbing.”
I’m about to answer, but the way he looks at me, with those long-lashed dark blue eyes, empties my brain. I can feel the standard furrow of concentration forming between my brows. For a moment, we’re in a frown off.
He shoves his hands in his pockets. “I’m a fireman, and I’ve fielded more remarks about big—” His eyes widen.
He’s backed himself into a corner. Again. I can’t help it. I guffaw. And a word finally emerges from my mouth. “Hoses?” I’m rewarded with a devastating grin. His teeth are perfectly white, but they’re not perfect, and that makes him all the more attractive.
“Thank you. Yes.” He looks over at the fountain spraying from the center of a nearby pond and gestures. “My aunt’s pond fountain isn’t working, and I’m hoping to fix it. The woman inside, with the flowers, told me you could help?”
I stifle a snort. I’m sure she did. That would be our nursery florist, my friend Sara—soon to be Sara Thomson-Blankenship—a person on a crusade to find everyone else partners and pending wedded bliss. No doubt she fell all over herself sending this guy out here. “Do you know what you need?”
“I need a replacement—”
Alarm flashes through his eyes.
Then his mouth curls up on one corner and pulling his hand from his pocket, he reveals a section of black hose. “This.”
“Okay.” I take the hose from his hand.
“Please tell me you know the diameter so we don’t have to discuss…”
Measuring my hose. How could I not finish it in my own mind? I suppress another chuckle. “I know the diameter,” I say, but I can’t help adding, “but how much, er, length?” I press together my lips, b
“Really?” His eyebrow quirks.
He’s not only incredibly handsome, he’s adorable.
He huffs out a breath. “Six feet.”
“I can do that.” I realize what I just said, and heat rises in my face. Enough of this. I’m worse than the yard guys. I bob my head and turn away. “I have to get it in the shed.” In the cool shade inside, I get back on task. Selecting a roll of black tubing, I measure six feet, pick up a hacksaw, and start cutting. Out of the corner of my eye, I’m aware of him just outside the doorway. A breeze comes through the opening, with a scent of whatever he’s wearing—soap or aftershave. It’s fresh, and crisp, like myrtle—one of my favorite scents in the garden. My whole body wakes up at this awareness.
I draw a deep breath—through my mouth so I don’t intoxicate myself more—and focus. He could make this cut in quarter time, but I don’t like feeling like the weaker sex. I lean in and push harder—my arm complains—and the job is done. I coil the tubing, fasten a tie, and hand it over.
Our fingers touch. The sensation is like handing him a nest of live wire. The connection is shocking.
I replace the master roll on the shelf and catch my breath. “Anything else you need—?”
“Jason. I’m Jason.”
His blue gaze engages my hazel one. My mouth goes dry. I swallow and manage to ask, “Anything else, Jason?”
“How about connecting?”
Connecting? A rush goes through my body. I’m titillated and alarmed. Is he asking what I think he’s asking? After a few minutes of innuendos about his hose? I purse my lips. This guy’s gone too far. Harassment happens here in the nursery yard, but never with a guy that looks like this, a guy who could probably get most any woman with a waggle of his finger, or his…I stop myself. Enough.
The yard guys will step in when they see we’re having trouble with a male customer, but no one is in sight. I grit my teeth, and then, right before I make a complete and utter fool of myself, I realize he’s staring at the tubing.
“I should probably pick up some new connectors, too. Don’t you think?”
He’s not talking about the two of us behind the shed. Hello, Megan. He’s connecting the new hose so he can fix the pond. My cheeks burn like I’ve baked them in a 500-degree oven. From a low shelf, I retrieve a kit.
He jiggles the pieces around in the plastic bag so he can see them all. Then he nods. “Great, thanks.” He points at the potted plants near the pond where I was working. “That purple flower there? Looks like an iris?” he questions. “Is that for a pond?”
I nod. “It is. Water iris.”
“My uncle’s been gone one year tomorrow.” He walks over and picks up one of the pots of iris.
I have to drag my gaze off his biceps as he picks up the iris plant.
“My aunt likes purple. You think she could grow this?”
He’s buying a plant for his aunt on the anniversary of his uncle’s passing? The lump in my throat makes answering difficult. I swallow hard. “I think she could.”
Sara accosts me an hour later—big surprise. I’m pulling a water hose across the yard to one of the far ponds. I tell her I have more pressing things to think about than one fleeting customer which isn’t true. The instant connection with Jason is the most exciting thing that’s happened in a long time. I am still thinking about him, and my palms are sweating even when my gloves are off. I predict I’ll be thinking about him for some time to come. He’s a firefighter somewhere, not much to go on. Sara would have extracted more information.
My friend groans. “Come on, Megan. I saw him. A cadaver would perk up for McDreamy there. You can’t pretend he’s a run-of-the-mill event.”
I scowl at her. “You’re almost married. Why so fixated on the eye candy?”
Stupid remark. I don’t talk like that. I don’t think like that. I’m road blocking, sending her another way. Sara’s piercing gaze drills me. Ignoring this wiry determined woman with her jet black Cleopatra cut, bracelets that take up half her forearm, and bright red capris is hard. “You’re protesting too much.”
Under Sara’s scrutiny, I feel my cheeks heating again—the bane of the redhead.
“And to answer your question, I’m focused on you. More than a year had passed since you’ve dated anyone. Come on, Megan. You’re giving the deadbeat former boyfriend way too much power for way too long.” She tilts her head, narrowing her gaze. “Not all men are liars.”
I know not all men are liars. And cheaters. And frauds. Like the last guy I went out with, for three entire years, only to discover he’d had additional girlfriends for at least two of those years, and he used the oldest excuse in the book. Those late nights he told me he was at work, he was hard at work for sure—just not at his job. Mostly, I keep the book shut tight on this chapter of my life.
And anyhow, Jason’s smoking good looks weren’t his most attractive feature. I would have noticed Jason if he’d been asking me from inside a hazmat suit about buying an iris for his grieving aunt.
I would have noticed his heart.
I shove a potted shrub someone left in the walkway back in place with my foot. “But my fraud radar sucks,” I remind Sara. “Not to be trusted. We know this for a fact.”
Sara brushes aside her Cleopatra bangs, her engagement ring sparkling in the sunlight. “That was then. This is now.” She caresses a stray wisp back off my forehead until she reaches my ponytail, and then she tugs.
The pull doesn’t hurt, but her concern does and creates a pang in my chest.
“Come on, sweetie. Let someone treat you nice. Dress up pretty, if just for an evening.”
Sara can’t fathom wearing a uniform of khaki shorts, denim shirts, boots, and mud every day like I do. I don’t mind. The outfit is efficient for what I do, and designing and creating water gardens never ceases to fill me with wonder.
But I’d be lying if I claimed I hadn’t wished, more than once in the past year, that I had an occasional reason to ditch the work clothes, dress up, brush out my hair, and have a man give me the kind of attention he gives to a woman he cares about.
“Would just one date kill you?
The original topic of this conversation, Jason, fills my senses in 3-D. Myrtle-scented Jason. One date, with him? Only one, and then no more? Yea, that could do me in. I yank on the hose, taking a few steps away to search for what it’s snagged on.
“Sara!” One of the high school cashiers is leaning out the door of the nursery building. “Customer in floral.”
“Got it!” Sara calls back. “Think about it,” she intones.
Again, I yank at the stubborn hose, harder this time. I follow the length, my own boots as heavy as if they’re filled with water now, too. Darn Sara.
But it’s not Sara who’s stirred up old wounds, and I know it. Jason is the trigger.
I lean over the basil plant Tony grows on the hallway windowsill at our firehouse and inhale. My Aunt Dee always has a large pot of basil growing to add to her home-made tomato sauce. To me, basil smells like home.
Does Megan grow basil on her windowsill?
Imaginings about Megan have been bombarding me for three days since I fixed Aunt Dee’s pond. Megan, so seriously listening to me struggle to explain my problem without landing the double entendre my buddies here at the station house are so fond of, then laughing and announcing the word herself.
I can’t help my grin. Maybe I didn’t realize this before, but I do now. I’m drawn to serious with the ability to laugh.
“Two points!” The shout comes from the rec room.
I poke in my head. Three of my colleagues are engrossed in a basketball video game. We tend to stay away from virtual annihilation and destruction as entertainment, opting for sports or Jeopardy instead. I’m reigning Jeopardy champ.
“Answer that if you can, LeBron!”
This current basketball game is a no cont
Firehouses often have one or two guys who like to cook, and Tony Marino is ours. He’s here, with his striped dish towel slung over his shoulder. I’m adequate in the kitchen—I’m Italian, too—but Tony’s a magician, sautéing chicken cutlets or conjuring a salad dressing. The mouth-watering scent of tomato sauce and basil fills the room. My stomach growls in anticipation of Tony’s lasagna, or maybe stuffed shells tonight. The firehouse is home, and these big goons are family. No one understands better the routine we’ve chosen.
I was on two long calls today, both hospital trips. We’re all trained to be fire fighters, plus we also have emergency medical technician or paramedic certification. I’m one of the paramedics.
The first call was tough. A senior male fainted getting up from the table after too much breakfast. At any rate, the meal came back up before we got there. The man couldn’t tell me his name or answer any other simple questions. And his living situation wasn’t ideal. He needed hospital care, but we couldn’t maneuver the stretcher through the cluttered house until we physically moved all kinds of boxes and furniture. I checked in with the staff before I left the hospital this second time; he’s resting comfortably.
The table is set for eight, because it’s the first Sunday of the month and Tony’s wife and two boys are coming for dinner. The eleven-year-old is a mini Tony, and, according to Dad, can already throw together a mean lasagna. And the five-year-old is a stitch. We have to keep ourselves in check when he’s here and not act like we’re five ourselves—or risk the wrath of Tony.
Tony having his kids and wife to dinner at the station is a good thing. Maintaining a “normal” existence with family is an ongoing challenge. The work we do can be intense and consuming. We have trouble making guarantees to family or friends. In an emergency, we can miss dinner. The weekend family picnic. Back-to-school night. Any number of family events.
And although we’re trained and educated and have up-to-date equipment, we have a potentially dangerous job. We all know the possibility, no matter how remote, is always there—we could become one of the casualties of the next emergency ourselves. I heave a sigh. That’s the part of the job it’s easier not to contemplate, but I always do when I think about getting involved in a relationship of my own.