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Fanning The Fire Marshal's Flame

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Lolita O’Malley has secrets. Lots of secrets. Being a pyromaniac when her dad was an ex fire chief was a big one. Being an assassin under The Bellona Collective was infinitely bigger. Bellona helped her manage her impulse control disease and kept her focused on her future while maintaining her ability to never let her secrets into the light. She has no time for serious relationships considering her last foray into love led her into a world of trouble.

Diarmid Clooney is a federal fire marshal and a new case has landed on his desk, moving him back to New York. In reconnecting with his closest friend and mentor he’s reacquainted with Conor’s daughter Lita and she’s all grown up.

When Lita reveals her childhood crush on him was the catalyst to one of the most horrific nights of her life and the cause of her current dark path, Diarmid believes he can help Lita overcome some of the pain in her past. Convincing Lita not everything needs to go up in flames is a hard task but what else is a firefighter good for if not controlling blazing infernos, especially when the heat between them is just too hot to avoid.

Lita needs to tread carefully because it’s her fires in the files on his desk and her future at risk. Will she surrender peacefully or will Lita do what she does best and let the world burn?

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Blast From The Past
The screaming of the smoke alarm going off woke her abruptly and made Lita throw her blankets off and race down to the kitchen in the house she shared with her father. Fifty-five years old and a retired fire chief and he still couldn’t cook eggs in the morning without setting off the smoke detector. She stormed into the kitchen to see him waving a dish towel under the device and the pan with the blackened scrambled eggs smoking furiously still sitting on the stove. “Dad, seriously. You should be capable of making eggs.” She knew her tone was one of a parent reprimanding her child but there were days it felt very much this way. The older she got, the more they behaved like siblings than parent and child. “I got distracted playing Candy Crush.” He admitted with a shrug. “Candy Crush or swiping on Tinder?” she glowered at him “A little of both,” he teased. “Update your damn profile to say you’re a retired fire chief who can’t cook in the kitchen without causing a fire.” She cursed under her breath as she scraped the burnt eggs into the garbage and dropped the pan into the sink. She opened the kitchen window, waved an apology to old Mrs. McCutcheon on the other side of the fence who was looking over nosily like she did and then turned back to face him. “You can’t play on your phone while you’re making food.” She scolded him angrily. “You are right. I will say in my defence, the last time I burned the eggs, it wasn’t because I was playing on my phone.” “No, you were writing a list of s**t you needed at the grocery store. There are tasks which require your undivided attention. Using a stove is one of them.” She scolded furiously. “It’s not my fault. Your grandmother cooked every one of my meals until the day we put her in the home.” “Spoiled princess,” she mocked him with a shake of her head. “She made me cook my own food but tended to you like a man-child.” “Since you’re up,” he looked at her beseechingly. She gave an impatient snort at him. At his age he was still very good looking, she supposed, with hardly a wrinkle, bright blue eyes, and a cap of reddish blonde hair to match his devilish smile. “You need to find a girlfriend to come make you breakfast,” she folded her arms over her chest. “Why? Even if you get married, you and your husband can live here with me.” He grinned at her. “You know you’ll never leave the nest. You’re too much a daddy’s girl.” “I would sooner die than have my father on the opposite side of the hall to where I carry out my conjugal duties.” She saw his lips twist in disgust as he considered her words, “I’m going to take a shower.” “Will you cook me breakfast after?” his voice was pleading as he followed her. “Yes, but Corry is picking me up to go to the women’s shelter this morning.” “Why her? You spend too much time there,” he raced her up the stairs immediately panicking over Corry. “You volunteer there. You work there. You need to get out more. Date more.” “I work there, part time,” she corrected. “It’s fun doing the volunteer work in the craft center with the kids and letting them do science experiments.” “It’s a s**t way to use your degree.” She rolled her eyes and closed the door to the bathroom on his face, “Dad, I use my degree working for the research company in Manhattan.” She needed to pee and him being on the other side of the door was making her bladder shy. “Could you go away now?” “It’s all very clandestine,” he ignored her request. “Why can’t you just tell me the name of the company you work for?” “I did. I told you it’s a subsidiary for Draxton Enterprises and their Innovation lab. I can’t give you more details than this because it’s classified.” “She has her fingers in a lot of pie, that woman,” he made an annoyed griping noise. “That woman, as you called her, helped me pick up the pieces and held me while I sobbed after the brat pack took all my dignity. She was the one who opened the door to me at the women’s shelter in the middle of the night when I was torn between trying to make it until dawn or jumping off the bridge in Brooklyn. She rallied a support team for me and had them in place before the sun was up. She’s the one who got me back to school and working doing administrative duties until I had my head on straight again.” She willed him to go away, knowing from his huffed breath he was still outside the door, “seriously, pops, beat it. The longer you bug me the longer it takes for me to come make your eggs.” “You make her out to be a saint but nobody with her kind of money is.” “I don’t need her to be a saint. I just need her to be a friend and she’s a good one.” She heard his heavy footsteps stomp down the stairs and grimaced at the closed door. She made quick work of her shower and while she was getting dressed in her room, she heard the doorbell and waited for the bellow of her father telling her Corry was early, but he was quiet. If it were Corry, he’d be yelling at her to get down the stairs. Her friend drove the man insane and with glee. She tied her hair up into a bun and secured it with a silk scarf. A dab of sunscreen, matte lipstick and a slick of mascara and she was good to go. She grabbed her leather jacket out of her closet and threw on a pair of thick soled ankle boots with her jeans and t-shirt and made her way down the stairs. She stopped at the bottom of the stairs and tried to place the voice in the other room. Her father didn’t have a lot of visitors and when they did, they were clients of his, patrons of his art. The two men were talking excitedly and then it clicked in her brain as she recognized the voice of the man in the other room. She looked to the front door and considered racing through it and disappearing into the early morning. According to her therapist there would be people and events which would bring back the trauma of the night of her assault in a vicious wave as if it happened only yesterday instead of the eight years ago it was. In this very moment, it very tremendously like the day she was released from hospital. She gripped the balustrade and steadied her breathing. Inhale to the count of four, hold to the count of seven, exhale to the count of eight. Four times. She opened her eyes, flexed her fingers, and nodded decisively at herself. She could do this. She entered the kitchen and fought the fluttering of her heart at the image of the man sitting at the table with her father. She pushed it down and gave a nod when he looked up, his bright blue eyes smiling warmly at her. “Morning Lita,” he said, “long time no see.” “Diarmid,” she spoke brusquely and turned to the sink and grimaced at herself for how terse she sounded. She didn’t want to be angry, yet she could feel it bubbling under the surface. She needed to get the hell out of the house and away from the two men in the room. She had never told her father the impact this man had on her life, so it was no wonder it hadn’t occurred to him to give her a heads up about his visit. She couldn’t blame her dad, but she had a strange urge to smack the pair of their heads together like cartoon characters. “Do you still want eggs, dad?” “If you don’t mind,” he looked to his companion, “Diarmid, do you want breakfast? Lita adds cheese to the scramble and every time I do it, I burn the cheese. I swear it’s my mother haunting me by distracting me while I cook just to remind me, I can’t live without her.” “Damn near burns my house down every time,” she grumbled under her breath. Diarmid’s warm chuckle at her words made her grimace and she kept her back to him. How does one hate and desire a person all at once? This would have to be a question for Psych-One. “No thanks, I had breakfast before coming over.” His voice was still deep and rich but not bullfrog like. In her head, his tone had always reminded her of when her grandmother used to make warm butterscotch caramels, rich and decadent but silky and smooth. Men who looked like him should have high-pitched and nasally voices, she decided as she prepared the pan for her father’s eggs. She had originally considered eating with him but there was no way she was sticking around to dine with Diarmid. The minute Corry arrived she was bailing on this little reunion party and preferably doing any activity which would let her blow off steam. “Diarmid just moved back from Boston.” Her father said excitedly. Her hand touched the bottom of the frying pan, and she sucked back a breath and shoved her finger into her mouth. She did not need her father’s old friend hovering around. He was investigator for crying out loud and he hadn’t missed anything in his job eight years ago. He was going to be far more observant now. “Crap,” she mumbled around her finger. “Did you burn yourself?” He stood up from the table quickly and moved to her and grabbed her hand. Damn inspector missed nothing, she considered with annoyance as she yanked her hand away and waved him to go sit back down. “It’s fine. Flesh wound. I do worse in the lab.” “You look different than the last time I saw you. You’re all grown up. No glasses.” “I was grown up the last time you saw me, Diarmid. I was just battered and bruised. Lasik took care of the glasses.” “Lolita!” her father rebuked sharply, “there’s no need to be snarky.” “Why is this considered snarky?” she cast a disparaging glance over her shoulder to the man who had moved to sit back at the table with her father watching her cautiously. Intuitively he was feeling her animosity and she knew it. Good. She didn’t need to like him. “He’s the one who brought up me being all grown up. I’m just stating a fact.” She surreptitiously looked at her finger and grimaced. At least it wasn’t her trigger finger. She grabbed the eggs and quickly scrambled them into the pan. She cooked the eggs exactly the way her father liked them aware there was an uncomfortable silence behind her but not feeling responsible enough to deal with it. She poured herself a coffee, took a long drink of it, and closed her eyes while she waited for her father’s toast. She threw a couple of slices of thick cut ham into the pan after putting his eggs on a plate and let it warm up. “What have you been doing with yourself, Lita?” Diarmid tried again to talk to her. “Working for a division of Draxton Enterprises part time. Doing administrative and teaching work for the women’s shelter the rest of the time.” “Women’s shelter?” he appeared surprised. “Yes, I help run a support group for r**e survivors and then I also work in the kid’s unit doing science experiments. Draxton has started a STEM project there and she asked me to spearhead it. It keeps the kids who are at risk of getting into trouble focused on anything other than the pain of a broken home.” She turned and met his gaze head on. She expected to see the pity in his eyes, and he didn’t disappoint. The minute she’d said the word r**e he too was back in this house eight years ago on the day she’d been released from hospital with her busted open lip, her neck bruised, and insides battered. There was a time when as a foolish child she’d have appreciated even a single glance from the older man. Now he looked at her like she was a basket case and perhaps she was. It had been nearly eight years since she’d seen him, but it suddenly didn’t feel long enough. He’d gotten older too. He had to be thirty-eight now. He’d always been her father’s right-hand man at the fire station. Her dad had taken him under his wing when he’d started out as a firefighter. He’d moved up the ranks fast and had become an inspector before he’d been thirty and had relied heavily on her father’s counsel to deal with the internal politics of the NYPD. The day the newest recruits to her father’s unit, including the son of her father’s superior, had turned her world upside down, Diarmid had taken a post in Boston. He’d supposed to have been at the fireman’s ball where s**t had gone down. He’d skipped the party for his job interview. She’d gotten drugged, beaten, and r***d. Her father had gotten a forced retirement and Diarmid had gotten a new life in another city. He'd never known she’d had a crush on him of course. He’d been thirty to her eighteen. She hadn’t been much for social events, attending a special private school for gifted children on scholarship when she was younger and already in year two of university. She was usually home in sweats, oversized sweaters, and her thick glasses. She had turned eighteen and her father had insisted she come with him to the annual ball. She had been nervous, but her grandmother had taken her dress shopping and she had been dreading it. Until, the week before the fireman’s ball, Diarmid had winked at her and told him to save him a dance and her stupid teenage heart had created fantasies about how he would declare his undying love while they danced at the ball. Then when she had arrived on her father’s arm and one of the other chief inspectors had mentioned he’d heard Diarmid had gone for his interview in Boston her childish little heart had fractured. She had decided she would show him and flirt with whoever looked in her direction. In retrospect, he would neither have noticed nor cared if she had flirted or danced with anyone else because she’d just been a kid, his friend’s kid on top of it all. Yet in all the wisdom of a girl who had never dated, never had a boyfriend, had never even had her first kiss, in her fantastical imagination, she had expected Diarmid would cancel his trip to Boston, would show up at the party and demand she stop dancing with the young men he worked with and insist they belonged together. She grimaced as she found herself pulled into the memories and aware it was because of the man in her kitchen. She was helpless to stop them from flooding her brain. She closed her eyes against it and gripped the kitchen counter tightly. She was stronger than this and yet, she was pulled back in time.

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