Read Trial by Fire Online

Authors: Jo Davis

Tags: #Fiction, #Romance, #Suspense

Trial by Fire

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

Thank you to:

My family, who freed me to follow my dream: my wonderful husband, Paul, you are forever my hero. Also, our two terrific children, my parents, my in-laws, and far too many family members to list. I love you all.

My fantastic agent, Roberta Brown. Your faith in me never wavered. I’m proud to know you, and to call you a friend.

My savvy editor, Tracy Bernstein, for believing in my work and giving the boys of Fire Station Five a home. I’ll always be grateful for the day Howard crossed your path.

Debra Stevens, my best friend of nearly forty years. You’ve always believed I could achieve anything, and encouraged me to go for it—especially when it involved getting us both in hot water! You are my sister, my lifeline.

Diana Dittman, my sister-in-law and best friend of almost thirty years. You’ve encouraged me every step of my journey. The miles may separate us, but the path always leads us home.

My fabulous critique partners, Tracy Garrett and Suzanne Welsh. I couldn’t do it without you. Girlfriends, life is good.

The Foxes: Tracy Garrett, Suzanne Welsh, Jane Graves, Sandy Blair, Franny Karkosak, Kay Thomas, Julie Benson, Lorraine Heath, and Alice Fairbanks-Burton. You guys are my cheering section, my margarita buddies, my sanity.

The NAL art department for the fabulous cover of my dreams.

Stonecreek Media for my awesome Web site. Amy and Justin, your gorgeous custom designs and awesome client relations set the bar for the rest.

Special thanks to:

These brave, real-life heroes who inspired the Firefighters of Station Five series: Captain Steve Deutsch, David Lewis, Wally Harris, Nick Franco, and Ken Marston. Steve, thank you for putting up with my endless questions and welcoming me into your world. I appreciate you more than you know. Ken, you have my eternal gratitude for inspiring Howard.

Peggy Harrell and the guys at the Plano Fire Department: Captain Forest Harrell, Brian Askew, and James Henry. Thank you all for your generosity, and for the saying printed on the window of the door to your bay, EVERYBODY GOES HOME. Those words still give me goose bumps, and I had to include them in the book.

Sean Hughes, division chief and emergency management /homeland security coordinator, North Rich-land Hills Fire Department, for a unique look into the very difficult job of protecting citizens from all manner of threats.

Lieutenant Steve Voltmann, Arlington Fire Department. Bless you for answering pages of my questions, and on your vacation, no less!

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jo Davis
spent sixteen years in the public school trenches before she left teaching to pursue her dreams of becoming a full-time writer. An active member of Romance Writers of America, she’s been a Golden Heart Award finalist for Best Romantic Suspense. She lives in Texas with her husband and two children. Visit her Web site at
www.jodavis.net
.

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First published by Signet Eclipse, an imprint of New American Library, a division of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

First Printing, August 2008

Copyright © Jo Davis, 2008

All rights reserved

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PUBLISHER’S NOTE

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are 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.

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To my parents, Bryan and Trena.

Dad, your example of quiet strength and
perseverance, and the respect you command from
others, continues to be the most valuable gift a father
can give. When I looked for a role model to instill
these qualities in Lieutenant Howard Paxton, I turned
to you. And now the whole world knows it.

Mom, your unwavering faith in me, and your
infectious optimism and encouragement, has picked
me up off the floor more times than I can count.
You’re proof that a mom can truly be a
daughter’s best friend.

I love you both.

Table of Contents

Title Page

Copyright Page

Dedication

Acknowledgements

 

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

Chapter 19

Chapter 20

Chapter 21

 

Teaser chapter

About the Author

1

Lieutenant Howard Paxton gritted his teeth against the burn, every muscle straining as he pumped three hundred pounds of iron from his bare, sweaty chest.

This, friends and neighbors, is where you wind up when you’re cursed with insomnia and a drunken screwup for a bunkmate.
As far back as he recalled, he’d never slept through the night. The odds of running across a miraculous cure for night-owl syndrome after thirty-six years? Forget it. No help for that, except working himself until he dropped.

As for Julian Party-Like-You’re-Gonna-Die Salvatore . . .

Recalling the nasty scene on shift today between Jules and Zack, Howard tightened his grip on the bar and started another series of reps. Of all things to target with his asinine practical jokes, Jules had to pick Engine 171, for God’s sake? Zack’s baby, his pride and joy. Took a biggie to trip Zack’s trigger, and Salvatore knew exactly how to flip the switch. They’d almost come to blows before he’d stepped between them, yanking apart a couple of snarling junkyard dogs.

Quiet, nerdy Zack Knight? Who knew?

Hands down, Salvatore was the most immature, self-absorbed team member he’d ever taken under his wing. Wasn’t the first time he’d dealt with a weak link like Salvatore, wouldn’t be the last. If the guy didn’t grow up, he’d get somebody hurt one of these days. Case in point: today’s fireworks. Slowly, his lack of discipline in his personal life was bleeding into the job. Pray to Jesus the captain fired him first. And yet . . .

Tense with frustration, Julian had defended himself later, keeping his anger in check, his tone respectful. They’d been holed up in the privacy of the office Howard shared with the captain. “Lieutenant, if the joke had come from anybody but me, we wouldn’t be standing here. Can you deny that?”

He couldn’t.

In spite of having the personality of a horny jackrabbit with ADD, Salvatore was an excellent firefighter and paramedic. Coolheaded in a tough situation, good at calming accident victims. If only he’d get a handle on the cocky attitude and get serious, maybe the team would bond with him.

Okay, give Jules a chance. Can’t fix the guy overnight. Think about something else.

Another rep, and another. He ought to stop, but he needed to exhaust his body enough to sleep without shadows crowding his mind, forming the strange images that always began in confusion.

Night after night for the past few months. Always the same. A bunch of fragments ending in murky terror.

Shouting. Anxiety. Why?

The vegetable garden in the moonlight. Tomatoes ripening on the curling vines. Fresh dirt under the little boy’s toes.

The cool night air whispering on his skin.

Fear. Horror. The crushing pressure on his chest. Can’t get away . . .

Howard!

No escape. Don’t understand—

“Howard! God, what are you doing?”

At the moment? Suffocating. His lapse in focus had caused him to push past his limit. Lose control. More than three hundred pounds bore down on his chest, pressing the silver bar into his skin, fingers trapped underneath.

Captain Sean Tanner’s worried face appeared above his. Sean grabbed the bar with both hands and heaved upward, helping to set the weights into the holder with a metallic clang.

Gasping, Howard struggled to sit up. Sean knelt, steadying him with one hand on his back, the other on his shoulder.

“Thanks, pal.” Howard coughed, sucked in several more breaths.

“Are you all right, Six-Pack?”

“I’m fine.”

“How many times do I have to tell you not to bench press without a goddamned spotter?”

Wiping the sweat off his face, he glanced at Sean. Yep, his friend was rattled, judging by the reproach in his startling green eyes.

“Sorry, hoss. Can’t find the sandman tonight.” He paused, taking in Tanner’s haggard appearance. “Looks like I’m not the only one.”

“Shit, yeah.” Sean pushed to his feet, backed up a few steps, and parked his butt on the seat of the stationary exercise bike. With a loud sigh, he raked a hand through his dark brown hair.

Studying him, Howard felt his gut knot. Purple smudges under his friend’s eyes and the hollows in his pale cheeks testified to just how little rest he’d been getting. He’d lost so much weight, his stomach was concave and the blue warm-up pants hung off his hips. And, Christ, when had his hair started to turn silver at the temples?

Then again, they all knew the tragic answer to that one.

“The medication’s not helping?” he asked carefully.

“I’m not taking it anymore.”

“Jesus, Sean—”

“Don’t start with me, Howard.” His face hardened. “The station doesn’t need a captain zoned out on antidepressants. ”

“The guys need a
leader
who’s not gonna pick up a gun and blow his brains out.”

The blood drained from Sean’s face. “My God, is that what you think? That I want to die?”

“Seems like you already have. Now you’re just waiting to bury yourself with Blair and the kids.”
Bull’s-eye.

Tanner clenched his fists so hard his knuckles turned as white as the grooves around his mouth. “You push too far, old friend.”

“Not nearly far enough. You’re no quitter, so prove it. Keep taking the pills,” he urged gently. “Just for a while longer. Promise me.”

Sean gave a bitter laugh. “And then what? Tell me what I’m supposed to do with the rest of my life.”

Without my family.
The unspoken truth hung heavy between them.

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