Braving the Heat(3)

By: Regan Black

If she didn’t figure this out, she’d leave Grant shorthanded during what was sure to be a packed house tonight. She shook the steering wheel. Sure, Grant might understand, but that wasn’t the point. Letting people down, shirking commitments wasn’t how she operated. Besides, working at the Escape Club distracted her, filling all the empty hours while the PFD kept her off the job.

As tears threatened again, she jerked the rearview mirror around and glared at her reflection. “You are a firefighter,” she said to the moody face in the mirror. She pushed the wisps of hair that had escaped her braid behind her ears. “You’re one of the best,” she said, willing away the doubt in the blue eyes staring back at her.

And if you lose the case and your career is over, who will you be?

She was really starting to hate that pesky negative voice that kept sounding off. Shoving the mirror back into place, she tried to start the car once more. Instead of getting anything out of the engine, she heard a knock on the window. She jumped in the seat, startled to see Mitch Galway on the other side of her open door. Her friend, part-time Escape Club bartender and fellow firefighter, Mitch had suggested she ask Grant for a job to help her through her current crisis. Momentary crisis.

“Car trouble?” he asked, tipping his head to the exposed engine.

“It won’t turn over.”

“Let me hear it.” He signaled her to try again. Mitch knew cars and often helped his older brother with custom restorations at the Galway Automotive shop over in Spruce Hill. At the lack of response, he frowned and walked out of sight behind the open hood.

She silently prayed he could help as she checked the time. If she didn’t make it to her apartment soon, all her belongings would be out of reach for at least two weeks. The last thing she needed was the expense of buying a new wardrobe.

“Any ideas?” she asked as she joined him. “I know it has gas in the tank.”

He frowned at the engine. “In that case, my first guess is an alternator,” he said. “You need a good mechanic?”

“I am a good mechanic,” she reminded him. Or she had been when her dad was alive. With the right tools and time, she could probably sort this out on her own. Too bad she didn’t have either.

“True.” He dropped the hood back down and dusted off his palms. “You know I can hook you up,” he said with a quick smile.

“What I need is a good car.” She explained the dwindling time issue to Mitch. “I never should’ve waited until the last minute to do this.” She didn’t share the still more embarrassing fact that she had no idea where she would stay tonight or any night until she could go back to her apartment. Mitch had offered his spare room to her last week, but she’d turned him down. Newlyweds, he and his wife didn’t need her underfoot.

Mitch tossed her the keys to his truck. “Go get your stuff,” he said. “I’ll call my brother and get your car towed to the shop.”

Dollar signs danced through her head. Maybe she could trade labor for parts or something if his brother was amenable. “I’m not sure—”

“We’ll figure it out,” he said, waving off her concerns before she could name them all. “Get going.”

“All right.” Arguing with him to save a smidge of pride only robbed her of more time. “Thanks.”

She grabbed her backpack and dashed over to Mitch’s truck. She appreciated his generosity as well as his gracious acceptance of her circumstances. Everyone on the PFD knew she was in over her head with the civil suit and working every available hour at the Escape Club to pay for a decent lawyer to defend her.

A former firefighter himself, the plaintiff, Randall Murtagh, knew better than most people what should be done during a rescue. That he’d made it nearly impossible for her to save him didn’t seem to have any relevance to his injuries, in his mind. A card-carrying member of the old guard who believed only men were capable of pulling people out of burning buildings, he made no secret of the fact that he wanted women drummed out of the ranks. If he couldn’t get all the females off the PFD with this case, he seemed hell-bent on making her a prime example against equal opportunity employment.

And there she was dwelling on the negative again. She couldn’t control his issues, only her response, and she wouldn’t let a jerk like Murtagh take any more chunks of her life.

Fortunately, she was soon distracted, packing all the belongings she cared to take as swiftly as possible. She crammed clothing and linens into two suitcases, boxed up her stand mixer and kitchenware, and filled two more boxes with family pictures and hand-me-downs that were irreplaceable. Per the instructions from the landlord, she labeled her bed and dresser, the only furnishings she’d added to the apartment when she moved in, and locked the door.

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