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Down in Flames (ebook)

Down in Flames (ebook)

Hot in Chicago Rookies

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My random hookup isn't so random. He's a hot hockey player with a secret. And he wants me to be his first.

Note: this is an MM firefighter-hockey player romance. While it can be read as a standalone, it's a crossover book with my Rookie Rebels hockey universe.


  • Gay romance
  • Firefighter and hockey player heroes
  • Virgin hero
  • Touch him and die
  • Lessons in love
  • Hero with a past


A steamy and emotional standalone MM firefighter-hockey player romance.

“I loved Jude and Hudson and their hard-won romance! Watching them fight their love, then fall in love was everything!”— #1 NYT BESTSELLING LAUREN BLAKELY

It was supposed to be a random hookup.

At a crossroads, my life a hot mess, I swiped right on the guy with the washboard abs and the tree-trunk thighs. His handle was Holt (yeah, really) but as soon as he opened the door, I recognized him: Hudson Grey, the hottest prospect in pro-hockey and apparently, secretly playing for my team. Not mind-blowing enough? He needed someone to punch his V-card, and I was only too happy to volunteer as tribute . . .

Then he ghosted me when it got to be too much.

A year later, my life is back on track and I’m a candidate firefighter at legendary Engine 6. While I might be new to the Chicago Fire Department, I’m a veteran in the game of steamy hookups. My No. 1 rule? No newbies. Except now Hudson has been traded to my hometown team, the Chicago Rebels, and he’s out, proud, and ready to date. And he wants my help introducing him to the local gay scene.

My messy past means I’m the worst guy to be mentoring the shy, sexy jock. But neither can I stand by and watch while others touch the man who already feels like mine.

I might have been his first, but I’m about to learn that the new guy has even more to teach me about hunger, hope, and falling hard . . .

Includes: First times, hot firefighters, sexy hockey players, mini-golf shenanigans, meddling friends, and fighting like hell for the love of a lifetime.

Chapter One Look Inside


I can’t believe I’m doing this. 

But it’s my best shot: on the road, big city, night before a game. And now that my roommate has left, so can I. As long as I’m back by curfew.

I head down to the lobby of the Hyatt Regency in downtown Chicago, the taxi stand my goal. Walking briskly so I don’t run into anyone, but not too fast that I arouse suspicion …


Darn. My teammate, Benny Alvarez, is coming toward me, a takeout bag in his hand. A second line forward with the New Jersey Atlantics, he’s as chatty as they come. Good guy, though. They’re not all as nice as Benny.

“You headed out?”

“Yeah, for a walk.”

“Want company?”

“Kind of need to clear my head.” It’s not a complete untruth. I need to clear something, and my head is just the start of it.

“I hear ya!” Benny grins. “I picked up sammies for the boys, a little pre-meal snack before we hit the restaurant. You joining us?”

“Sure. See you later.”

“It’s a date, man. You’d better put out!”

Off he ambles, ever congenial, though I wonder about that “you’d better put out” comment. Is there something behind that?

I could try to join them for dinner. I don’t think my errand is going to take long. It certainly doesn’t when I’m on my own, so how much more complicated could it be with a second person?

Ha, ha, very funny. The addition of another person is what makes this the most complicated endeavor in the world.

I’m here to lose my virginity to a stranger.

Eighteen minutes later, I’m checked into a room in the Hoxton, a trendy hotel in the west Loop. I’m not likely to run into anyone I know here given I’m not famous enough to have to use an alias. Frankly, I wouldn’t know where to start because you have to give a real ID and credit card. The receptionist didn’t even blink at my name, no recognition of the winner of the Hobey Baker award or the guy who scored a hat trick in the Frozen Four final. Sure, it was two years ago, but still.

It’s good to be anonymous.

He did give me a look when I said I had no luggage. I’d considered bringing a change of clothes, but if anyone saw me leaving the team hotel with a bag … better to get the “you’re clearly here to screw someone” look from a stranger than questions about where I’m going with an overnight bag from my teammates.

Once in the room, I do a quick recce. Nice, big shower. Well-stocked mini-bar. Standalone full-length mirror with an ornate frame. My mother would love it.

Probably best not to think of my mom right now.

I test the mattress of the king-sized bed by sitting on it. I’m sure it will do.

It’s later than I thought, only ten minutes to lift-off. Do I have time for a shower? I sniff my armpits. Not terrible, but could be better. Then I’d have to wear this same shirt, but at least my body would be clean … before I take the shirt off again.

Unless we do it with clothes half on-half off. Pop that cherry quick and get on with my day. I wouldn’t even need to showcase my notorious stamina, though that likely only applies to my work in the gym or on the ice. 

What if I’m so excited I go off like a premature firework? Oh gosh, I hope he’s not a porn-level athlete. Some of those guys last forever. I’m pretty sure I won’t be able to maintain those energy levels in the bedroom.

Or on this sofa.

Or maybe against that door.

Okay, breathe. You know how you get. 

I inhale for four seconds.

Hold my breath for seven.

Exhale with a whoosh for eight.

The “whoosh” is always my favorite part of the 4-7-8 exercise, that audible signifier that I’m doing something to get my errant thoughts under control.

A few more reps, and I’m feeling 10% more calm, which will have to do. 

Still hasn’t improved the sweating situation, though. I could take the quickest shower known to man …

The knock on the door makes me jump out of my skin, which I wish was an actual possibility right now. I want to be someone else, someone with chill, a guy who doesn’t need to take care of business with a stranger because he’s too chicken to come out and date like a normal person.

Another knock, and I realize I’ve been sitting here, trembling for close to sixty seconds, which is a long time to leave someone hanging outside a door. I have a notification on the Thirsty app.

I’m here.

It must be my “date,” and I’m still sweating like a virgin in a hotel room.

Correction: boutique hotel room.

Swallowing a lump the size of my thundering heart, I head to the door while wiping my hand on my jeans. I grip the door handle and pull it open with a confidence I do not possess.

He. Is. Gorgeous. 

Torn between gratitude that he’s so attractive and anxiety that he’s way too hot to be cruising in my significantly less hot orbit, I stand there gawping. Like mine, the photo on the app was his torso only and it looked airbrushed. 

This god before me is the real deal. Denim-blue eyes, dark hair on the long side, a beard I’m already imagining in secret places. A vintage Led Zeppelin shirt peeks from an open black leather jacket and clings lovingly to hard pecs. 

Keeping it classy, I don’t stray to what’s happening south of the border. I get a sense of jeans and thick, muscular thighs.

Though the notion of keeping the ogling to a minimum is a touch absurd. I found this guy on a hookup site for gay men.

He speaks first, probably because my dry mouth has evicted all my sparkling conversation.

“Holt? I’m Jude. Good to meet you.”

Holt. While I couldn’t choose a fake name to check into the hotel, I was able to come up with a new me for the app. If I was to start killing it in the NHL, I’d rather this experience didn’t come back to haunt me. Tonight, I’m Holt. Which, now that I think of it, sounds like some Wild West gunslinger and is probably the stupidest alias I could have invented.

Howdy, partner, wanna slide your gun into my holster?

Ack, I am the worst.

Another quick swallow, though there’s nothing to lubricate my mouth. I don’t offer my hand because (a) it’s clammy, and (b) this isn’t a job interview. 

“Same. I mean, it’s great to meet you, not that I’m Jude and you’re—uh, Holt.”

Already screwing up big time.

There’s a subtle lift at the corner of his mouth and suddenly, all I can imagine is that mobile mouth on mine, on my neck, on my chest, on my …

He’s said something, and I missed it. “Sorry, what?”

“Can I come in?”

“Yeah, right! Of course!” I step back and he walks past me, his aftershave a luxurious tickle in my nostrils. From behind, he’s just as impressive. Broad shouldered, strong back tapering to narrow hips, that perfect V-shape to his body. Which brings me to his ass.

He looks over his shoulder and spots me obviously checking him out. His eyebrow raise is amused.

“Nice place, love what you’ve done with it.”

So he’s not a dick. I laugh a second too late, and he rewards my effort with a pity grin.

“You want a drink?” That’s probably a good host thing to do. 

“Sounds great.”

Preparing a beverage would give me something to occupy my hands, but it probably won’t quell the rumpus in my brain. Should we be kissing already? Should we have got down to business the second the door closed?

Should I still be a virgin?

Maybe he’s changed his mind. Maybe he—

Calm the heck down. Make his drink.

“They have scotch, vodka—”

“Any pop?”

Pop. That’s what people in the Midwest call soda, so he’s homegrown. 

“Coke, ginger ale.”

“I’ll take the ginger ale.”

“I can go get ice?”

With a quick headshake, he removes his jacket, throws it casually on the bed, and heads to the sofa. His biceps are inked, with a full sleeve to his wrist on the right side. “One of those glasses on the sideboard is fine.”

He sounds confident, his swagger a sign he’s done this before. I’m not sure if that’s good or not, and after a second of not-very-coherent thought, I decide it’s probably better that one of us knows what he’s doing. His profile said he was 23 and “likes to be in charge,” which I think is code for a top. 

Exactly what I need.

Bartending takes a couple of minutes. I’m conscious about not wanting to spill anything, like I need to impress him and leave the room in the condition I found it or my mom will be checking my bed-making skills later. It gives me a chance to organize my thoughts.

First and foremost is that I should not be near liquids or glassware. 

Next, that I’m punching well above my weight. He could be doing this for a living and making a fortune off that body, but instead he’s here, ready to have sex with me—I hope—for free.

Does he recognize me? I don’t think so. There was no hint of it when I opened the door, but I’m not sure I’d understand any social cues right now, given my anxiety.

I pass off the glass filled with ginger ale and sip on my Coke. If there was ever a time I wished I drank alcohol, it’s now. But it’s probably best I keep my wits about me in case I’ve made the biggest mistake of my life and this guy scams me. Or worse.

I’m built and could take anyone who tried to overcome me physically, but I’m no match for a weapon or extra assholes on hand. (Ha, extra assholes. Wishful thinking or what?) Any encounter with a stranger brings with it a certain peril.

Some people might say that’s part of the thrill.

“Want to sit?” Jude asks. I wonder if it’s his real name.

His skin is a golden-brown but not in a tanning booth or spray way, more like he’s spent hours outdoors soaking up the sun’s rays. Everything about him is natural and easy, while everything about me is the opposite. 

Forced, contrived, and as phony as they come.

I sit in one corner of what is really a love seat. It’s far too small. My knee practically touches his.

He smiles, and I almost drop my drink. Please keep that lethal weapon to yourself.

“How was your day?” He says it slowly, a little joke about making small talk, like we’re in some Fifties-era sitcom.

I smile tightly, letting him know I’m cool and in on it.

“Okay. I’m from out of town, so I had to travel to get here.” He doesn’t ask, but I add, “From the East Coast.”

“Long way to come for a blow job.”

A slug of Coke enters my airway, and I struggle to recover with some less-than-sexy coughing.

“Sorry,” he says with a grin that says he’s not sorry at all.

I wonder why he’s not making a move. Maybe he’s not attracted to me, and he’s trying to think of a good way to bail.

“Have you done this before?” I blurt out.

“Sat on a sofa drinking ginger ale with a hot guy? Yep, that’s on my resume.” 

“Sorry, I didn’t mean to—I mean, I assume you have. I’m just …” I trail off because that about captures it. I’m one giant instance of dot dot dot.

Did he say I was hot?

“I’m guessing you haven’t done this before.” He arches an eyebrow, clearly tickled by the notion. “Sat on a sofa drinking Coke with a hot guy.”

I’m completely mind-blanked by his charm. What I wouldn’t give to have even a pinkie nail portion of that ease in this situation.

“No, I haven’t.” Quickly I amend, “The sofa, the soda. At least, not this soda.” Is soda our shorthand for guys or hookups? I think so, but it’s like I’m learning a completely new language. He doesn’t need to know that he would be my first to go the distance. I’ve messed around before in college, but those instances were furtive and shameful. More like stress relief, or at least that’s what we told ourselves.

This is different. This is a deliberate choice to take what I want.

“Figured as much. You looked surprised to see me, like you’d forgotten.”

“No, not that. I thought I had more time. I meant to shower before you arrived. Not that I haven’t already today, but I’ve been traveling—”

“From the East Coast.”

“New Jersey. Here on business for a couple of days.”

Still no sign that he recognizes me, which might be some internalized homophobia on my part, assuming a gay guy doesn’t follow professional hockey.

I’m a gay guy, and I play professional hockey.

“What’s that?” He’s studying me, like I’m a puzzle to be solved.

“I didn’t say anything.”

“You didn’t have to. You got this look like you are regretting every second of this adventure.”

“You think this is an adventure?”

Another hint of a smile. I’m starting to live for that hook of his mouth. “Sure, why not?”

“I was just wondering about whether you … drink a lot of ginger ale on a lot of sofas.”

“Sofas, love seats, armchairs. I’m equal opportunity on furniture as long as everyone’s on board.”

In that brief second, a bolt of jealousy rips through me. Ridiculous, I know, but I hate every other man who has touched him. Who will touch him. 

I have no illusions about gay relationships and sex. Gay guys are more fluid about dating, or so my research tells me. Less inclined to be hung up on heteronormative expectations, but that can’t be an absolute truth. I’m a gay guy—admittedly not an out gay guy, but I know that much about myself—and I want to be with one person. I want to date one person, connect with one person, eventually marry one person.

But until I achieve a level of ease with who I am that’s even a tenth of the swagger this guy is rocking, I won’t ever have that. I was initially worried any reveal of my sexuality would hinder my chances in the draft, then my ability to bond with my team. These days … well, I’m waiting for the right time.

Sure, that’s why.

I need to get this monkey off my back first. My cursed virginity. Then everything else will happen the way it should.

He puts his soda down on the coffee table. Takes my glass and places it beside the other. Our fingers don’t brush, but I imagine that they do. I’ve never been short of imagination when it comes to romance.

He stretches his arms above his head, enough to pull the hem of his shirt up and give me a preview of his abs. I’ve no doubt it’s deliberate, but I appreciate the reminder of what this is about. All the clichés are working overtime, and I’m here for it. 

“Are you on board, Holt?” He says my name with a hint of humor, like he knows it’s fake. Maybe everyone uses fake names on the Thirsty app. 

“I am.”

“You seem a little unsure.”

I surreptitiously rub my clammy palms against my jeans. “I’m just nervous.”

The wicked gleam in his eyes softens to something like sympathy. “No problem. How about we move a little closer and see where that takes us?” He shifts an inch toward me. “This okay?”

I nod.

Another breath-stealing inch. “And this?”

My swallow is audible, rivaling my heartbeat for the loudest thing in the room. Or maybe it’s the frazzled thoughts running hamster wheel circuits in my head.

Another nod from me, I think. I’m not entirely sure what’s real and what’s fantasy.

“Do you want to talk, or do you want to touch?”

“Touch,” I whisper, the sound almost ripped from inside me. I want to touch him so badly I’m a shaking, sweaty mess. How could he possibly find that attractive?

“Then go ahead.”

This should feel unnatural and stilted, yet the moment my fingertips graze his chest, a warmth suffuses me. I suddenly feel—know—this is the best decision I’ve made all day. 

All week, all year.

I spread my palm, anxious to absorb all that heat. This man’s magnetism. I’m not completely new to touching men, but before it always felt wrong.

This doesn’t feel wrong. This feels like the culmination of a long journey of pushing boulders out of my path and climbing out of ditches. Something has cracked open inside me. A geyser of want is gushing free.

I slide a hand over his shoulder down to his bicep. The full ink sleeve looks like an angel surrounded by clouds.

“You feel amazing.”

His breath catches, and for the first time since he walked in, the knot in my chest loosens. He’s affected.

By me.

Touching a man’s skin with a slowness that kills me has never felt so sensual. Before, when I messed around, there was never any tease. No going slow. Just running through the motions to get off as quickly as possible. This doesn’t feel like that, at least not for me.

For him, maybe. This is likely a run-of-the-mill evening for him. 

“You have tattoos.”

“Good eye,” he teases. “Does that bother you?”

“I—I don’t really have an opinion.”

“Sure about that?”

“I’ve never been interested for myself, but on someone else, on a body like yours, it’s hot.”

“Which you’d know for sure if you took off my shirt.”

My hand freezes. “I’m going too slow.”

He snatches a breath. “No. Well, maybe. What I’m saying is that I need your hands on me a bit … more.”

He sounds almost as desperate as I am, though I’m not sure that would be possible. I’m on fire. My gaze dips to his crotch and widens on seeing the massive bulge there.

So the guy turns on easily. It doesn’t mean anything. It’s merely hands and skin and anticipation, all contributing to sex endorphins gone wild. 

He pulls his shirt off, almost impatiently, because apparently, I’m not up to the task.

Jeepers, the tattoos are indeed hot. There’s a rose, a cross, some text I can barely read through my lust-blurred gaze. Something about the sun. He takes my hand and places it on his pec.

I pull away.


“My hands are clammy. I should wash them.”

“Maybe you should take that shower.”

Oh. I try not to take that critically, but whatever he sees on my face means I’ve failed to hide it.

“Not that I think you need to get clean, but it would be a good way for us to explore and maybe kill two birds. You’ll feel better, and then we’ll both feel better. But first …” He leans over and touches a thumb to my mouth. 

I can feel my lower lip trembling, not because I’m afraid of his touch, but because I’m afraid he’ll stop.

He moves closer, those denim-blue eyes dip to my mouth, and he inhales a shuddering breath.

I try to remain still. If I breathe or swallow or blink, I’m going to ruin this moment.

His lips make contact with mine.

Even though I knew it was coming, I still make a surprised sound. I’m such a rube! But then blazing need kicks in, and I press my mouth against his, giving him leave to go further. 

He nudges my lips open, slants his head, and licks into my mouth. Oh.

It’s divine.

I’m dying.

It’s over far too soon.

He murmurs, “Just to release the pressure.”

Not sure it’s done anything of the sort, but I appreciate the effort, just as I appreciate the sight of him standing and looming over me, six feet and change of gorgeous, inked muscle.

He holds out his hand. “Let’s go, Holt.”

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