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Wildfire at Dawn

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Blurb

“The Firehawks and Night Stalker series will captivate your imagination with their spirited and intelligent look at the men and women who risk their lives everyday.” - Reading Café

-a Firehawks Smokejumpers romance-

Johnny Akbar Jepps, lead smokejumper for Mount Hood Aviation, is always first out of the plane, first into the fire, and first with the ladies. But the one thing he never puts on the line? His heart. Until he meets a woman who gallops away with it.

Laura Jenson, wilderness guide and expert horsewoman, leads tourists from the Mount Hood Timberline Lodge into the wilds of Oregon. She knows the game and has no interest in some lady-killing, full-of-himself smokejumper. Not until Johnny lights her heart on fire.

They both risk everything without getting burned in the Wildfire at Dawn.

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Chapter 1-1
Chapter 1 Mount Hood Aviation’s lead smokejumper Johnny Akbar Jepps rolled out of his lower bunk careful not to bang his head on the upper. Well, he tried to roll out, but every muscle fought him, making it more a crawl than a roll. He checked the clock on his phone. Late morning. He’d slept twenty of the last twenty-four hours and his body felt as if he’d spent the entire time in one position. The coarse plank flooring had been worn smooth by thousands of feet hitting exactly this same spot year in and year out for decades. He managed to stand upright…then he felt it, his shoulders and legs screamed. Oh, right. The New Tillamook Burn. Just about the nastiest damn blaze he’d fought in a decade of jumping wildfires. Two hundred thousand acres—over three hundred square miles—of rugged Pacific Coast Range forest, poof! The worst forest fire in a decade for the Pacific Northwest, but they’d killed it off without a single fatality or losing a single town. There’d been a few bigger ones, out in the flatter eastern part of Oregon state. But that much area—mostly on terrain too steep to climb even when it wasn’t on fire—had been a horror. Akbar opened the blackout curtain and winced against the summer brightness of blue sky and towering trees that lined the firefighter’s camp. Tim was gone from the upper bunk, without kicking Akbar on his way out. He must have been as hazed out as Akbar felt. He did a couple of side stretches and could feel every single minute of the eight straight days on the wildfire to contain the bastard, then the excruciating nine days more to convince it that it was dead enough to hand off to a Type II incident mop-up crew. Not since his beginning days on a hotshot crew had he spent seventeen days on a single fire. And in all that time nothing more than catnaps in the acrid safety of the “black”—the burned-over section of a fire, black with char and stark with no hint of green foliage. The mop-up crews would be out there for weeks before it was dead past restarting, but at least it was truly done in. That fire wasn’t merely contained; they’d killed it bad. Yesterday morning, after demobilizing, his team of smokies had pitched into their bunks. No wonder he was so damned sore. His stretches worked out the worst of the kinks but he still must be looking like an old man stumbling about. He looked down at the sheets. Damn it. They’d been fresh before he went to the fire, now he’d have to wash them again. He’d been too exhausted to shower before sleeping and they were all smeared with the dirt and soot that he could still feel caking his skin. Two-Tall Tim, his number two man and as tall as two of Akbar, kinda, wasn’t in his bunk. His towel was missing from the hook. Shower. Shower would be good. He grabbed his own towel and headed down the dark, narrow hall to the far end of the bunk house. Every one of the dozen doors of his smoke teams were still closed, smokies still sacked out. A glance down another corridor and he could see that at least a couple of the Mount Hood Aviation helicopter crews were up, but most still had closed doors with no hint of light from open curtains sliding under them. All of MHA had gone above and beyond on this one. “Hey, Tim.” Sure enough, the tall Eurasian was in one of the shower stalls, propped up against the back wall letting the hot water stream over him. “Akbar the Great lives,” Two-Tall sounded half asleep. “Mostly. Doghouse?” Akbar stripped down and hit the next stall. The old plywood dividers were flimsy with age and gray with too many showers. The Mount Hood Aviation firefighters’ Hoodie One base camp had been a kids’ summer camp for decades. Long since defunct, MHA had taken it over and converted the playfields into landing areas for their helicopters, and regraded the main road into a decent airstrip for the spotter and jump planes. “Doghouse? Hell, yeah. I’m like ten thousand calories short.” Two-Tall found some energy in his voice at the idea of a trip into town. The Doghouse Inn was in the nearest town. Hood River lay about a half hour down the mountain and had exactly what they needed: smokejumper-sized portions and a very high ratio of awesomely fit young women come to windsurf the Columbia Gorge. The Gorge, which formed the Washington and Oregon border, provided a fantastically target-rich environment for a smokejumper too long in the woods. “You’re too tall to be short of anything,” Akbar knew he was being a little slow to reply, but he’d only been awake for minutes. “You’re like a hundred thousand calories short of being even a halfway decent size,” Tim was obviously recovering faster than he was. “Just because my parents loved me instead of tying me to a rack every night ain’t my problem, buddy.” He scrubbed and soaped and scrubbed some more until he felt mostly clean. “I’m telling you, Two-Tall. Whoever invented the hot shower, that’s the dude we should give the Nobel prize to.” “You say that every time.” “You arguing?” He heard Tim give a satisfied groan as some muscle finally let go under the steamy hot water. “Not for a second.” Akbar stepped out and walked over to the line of sinks, smearing a hand back and forth to wipe the condensation from the sheet of stainless steel screwed to the wall. His hazy reflection still sported several smears of char. “You so purdy, Akbar.” “Purdier than you, Two-Tall.” He headed back into the shower to get the last of it. “So not. You’re jealous.” Akbar wasn’t the least bit jealous. Yes, despite his lean height, Tim was handsome enough to sweep up any ladies he wanted. But on his own, Akbar did pretty damn well himself. What he didn’t have in height, he made up for with a proper smokejumper’s muscled build. Mixed with his tan-dark Indian complexion, he did fine. The real fun, of course, was when the two of them went cruising together. The women never knew what to make of the two of them side by side. The contrast kept them off balance enough to open even more doors. He smiled as he toweled down. It also didn’t hurt that their opening answer to “what do you do” was “I jump out of planes to fight forest fires.” Worked every damn time. God he loved this job.

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