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Hot to the Touch (ebook)

Hot to the Touch (ebook)

Hot in Chicago Rookies

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She hates me. But when tragedy strikes and we're forced to live together, hate's the last thing on my mind.


  • Enemies to lovers
  • Forced proximity
  • Single parents
  • Firefighters
  • Playboy vs. Prim
  • Put your shirt on!

Chapter One Look Inside


Who brings a hot date to a three-year-old’s birthday party?

At this point in my acquaintance with Sam Killian, nothing should surprise me. This is the guy who mooned the guests at his brother’s wedding. Who duct taped a harmonica to the grill of his sister-in-law’s car. Who changed the auto-correct in his mom’s phone so every time she texted “bye” it changed to “penis.” You know, all the frat boy classics.

The man is twenty-seven with the mental age of a fourteen-year-old boy, and that’s generous. No one brings a date to a kid’s party, not when the date is dressed like she thinks this is a night club. But then this is Sam, who I’ve known and happily avoided to the best of my ability for the last six years, ever since his brother and my sister tied the knot.

“How did he think this was a good venue to introduce his latest fling?”

My sister, Anastasia—Annie to everyone—giggles as she cuts the crusts off a PB&J sandwich, or more accurately cashew butter and fig jam. It’s that kind of children’s party. Spencer, the birthday boy, won’t eat them any other way.

“I think the ‘fling’ label is somewhat of a stretch.”

True. That implies some sort of longevity, more than a one and done.

“But here. Really?” An hour ago, I came across the happy couple upstairs, coming out of the guest bathroom. She had a blissed-out look on her face and he was pulling up his zipper.

“He brought someone else to his parents’ anniversary party last month.” Smiling, she touches my arm. “I know he pisses you off but maybe don’t think about it so much.”

“I don’t! I just find it fascinating that this same man is responsible for saving lives.”

Sam’s a firefighter, though God knows why he bothers. The guy doesn’t need a job because both the Killian boys inherited pots of money from their late grandfather. Annie’s husband, Jake, the eldest Killian son, is a software developer, because he loves tech and wants to be a useful member of society.

As for Sam? I’ve no doubt he’s contributing as a first responder, but I suspect it’s just as likely another prop in his playboy persona, a tool to attract women like the redhead with a skirt so short I can tell the color of her thong. 


“He loves his job,” Annie says indulgently. That tone is typical around Sam. Peter Pan would never grow up so why not let him do his thing?

“Good for him!” I say cheerfully, as I drag my gaze away from—oh my God, is he feeling up his date near the bouncy castle? Surely, they’ve already mauled each other enough in private.

Ignore him. So he bugs the hell out of me, but I only have to see him a couple of times a year on my rare visits to Chicago from New York. This is precious time I need to be devoting to my sister and her babies.

“Hey, Spence, what’s your favorite present?” I hunker down to my nephew’s level. 

He scrunches up his face as he thinks really, really hard. “Fire truck!”

“Oh, yeah?” I don’t need three guesses to know who gave him that.

“He loves that fire truck,” Annie says with a twinkle in her eye. She gets a kick out of my antipathy toward her brother-in-law as long as it doesn’t affect the kids. “Sam got special decals for it to reflect his new squad.”

“Course he did.”

The air changes because guess who’s decided to grace us with his presence? I stand and turn to face the favorite uncle himself.

He’s handsome, I’ll give him that, in a rugged, carved from unyielding granite kind of way. Not my type at all, but I can see the appeal. If I didn’t know he came from money, I would think he’s a blue-collar guy who works with his hands. They look rough, calloused. Capable. 

I prefer smoother, office-appropriate men, who don’t look like they might break me in half or put me over their knee because they’d assume I like it. I’m sure he works out—excessively. No one’s neck is naturally that thick. Maybe he pulls Cadillacs with it while he calls out to his fuck-de-jour, “Look at me, babe!” 

Today he’s wearing what could best be described as a muscle shirt, though the early October air is a little cool for short sleeves. There’s something almost obscene about the way his T-shirt’s sleeves mold to his biceps, like they’re imprinted onto the fabric. He would probably tell you he runs hot, the kind of statement a man like him would use as a chat up line. I run hot, babe, therefore I am hot. Or, I run hot, babe, but it makes stripping so much easier.

To be fair, I’ve never heard him speak like this. The Sam Killian alter ego I’ve created in my imagination just happens to also be a jerk.

“Cassie,” he says, though it’s not my name. I go by Cassandra in my professional life and Cass to my family and friends. Sam knows this. “You’re looking well.”

The taunt in his tone is unmistakable. He doesn’t approve of my floral dress with a full skirt (too old-fashioned) or the way I’ve done my hair (a braided updo because it’s generally unmanageable otherwise). Sam likely tells his dates how to wear their hair (long, flowing, all the better for him to hold onto while he … bleh) or which outfits work best for children’s birthday parties.

He’s a good foot taller than me, and as my neck strains to meet his gaze, I pin on my most diplomatic smile. In my job as a financial planner, it’s the smile I give a client who thinks he can afford a champagne retirement on a beer bottle pocket. 

“Sam, I hear you have a new job.”

He puffs up, the cock of the walk. “Rescue Squad. I’m pretty excited about it.”

“Yes, all those people depending on you.”

He smirks at the dig I can’t help giving. “Don’t worry, I’m a total pro when I’m wearing the uniform.” Implying that’s the only time he keeps it professional.

He scoops up the birthday boy. “Hey, Spence!”

“No kissing!”

“What? But I love kissing.” Is it my imagination or does he flick a sly look my way?

Annie whispers to me, “Spence suddenly hates kissing. He thinks it’s girly. Not sure where he got that from.”

Sam grins at his nephew. “Have you had any cake yet?”

“Cake!” Spence yells, so excited about everything.

“I think he’s going to have a sandwich first.”

The bane of my existence rolls right over my suggestion. “So this cake of yours—is it chocolate or strawberry or mayonnaise or maybe cactus flavored?”

Spence giggles. “Cactus,” though he pronounces it “Cack-ass.” 

“Cactus cake—yum! I bet it’s … spiky! Like your face!”

That sends Spencer into a torrent of giggles again. I love his laugh even when it’s earned by Sam Killian.

“Sammie,” a breathy voice cuts through the little boy’s joy. Purple Thong is standing behind him. “Where’s the little girl’s room?” 

“Hey, Candy, have you met everyone? This is my sis, Annie, my sister-in-law, Cassie. And this little monster is Spencer the Cactus Boy.”

“I’m not a cack-ass boy!” But he loves it all the same, especially as everyone is laughing, and Spence adores being the center of attention. 

Annie, in hostess mode, smiles at Candy. “Let me show you to the restroom.”

“Oh, I thought …” Candy sends a significant look at Sam. She knows where one of the restrooms is and had evidently hoped to explore the tile further with dear old Sammie.

“Thanks, Annie,” Sam says obliviously as he helps himself to one of the sandwiches intended for Spence. He crushes it in a single bite.

“Me too!” Spencer squirms a little and Sam puts him down.

“Okay, I guess we’re doing a bathroom field trip!” Annie takes her son’s hand and walks into the house with a hip-swaying Candy, who sends a forlorn look over her shoulder at Sam. He completely ignores her.

Instead, his attention is completely focused on me. For a moment, this gives me an odd thrill until I realize what it means: I have to talk to him.

There’s an awkward pause while we size each other up. Usually, we have other people as a buffer, but in the rare moments when we’re alone, the air seems to be extra-charged.

“You know, I’m not actually your sister-in-law.” He called Annie his sister, which registered a small pinch of envy in me at their closeness. 

His lips twitch. “Aren’t you?”

“No, you and I are not related.”

“And this bothers you because …” His mouth curves as a light bulb goes off in the dim room that passes for his brain. “It’d be weird if we were related, I guess.”

I don’t ask what would be weird because I know exactly what he’s alluding to. 

“I just like the details to be correct.”

But Sam’s already moved on because details are unimportant to him. He doesn’t care that I’m annoyed, or maybe he prefers when I am. It gives him a perverse pleasure.

“Kind of surprised you’re here,” he says.


“You made a special trip from New York for a kid’s birthday party?”

“Spencer means the world to me. And I like spending time with my sister and Jake.” But not you.

His smile says he understands completely. We’ve always seen eye to eye on our mutual dislike. 

“Where’s the boyfriend?”

“Derek is in the middle of an important merger right now. He’s heading to London the day after tomorrow for a couple of weeks and there’s a lot of prep for the trip.” I would have liked him to come with me to Chicago, but he’s usually far too busy for personal events like this.

Sam holds my gaze, and I wait impatiently for whatever drivel trips off his tongue next. 

“How long have you two been together?” Because he loves the sound of his own voice, he answers his own question, “Since just after Jake’s wedding, right? That’s, what, six years?”

Has it really been that long? It’s easy to forget when you’re busy with work and the routine. Derek’s job as the lead associate in McKenzie Clark’s Mergers & Acquisitions division requires long hours, especially in the weeks leading up to a deal. I don’t usually begrudge his commitment to his work, though it would be nice if he could make time for the things and people I care about.

We had a fight about it before I left. He asked me to get a gift for his parents’ 40th wedding anniversary because “you have time for that sort of thing” and he doesn’t. Like I’m his personal assistant. It devolved into an argument about our priorities and how misaligned they are of late.

Things have been stale for a while, and when he gets back from the London trip, I’m going to push for couples’ counseling. Anything to get us out of our rut.

Sam is waiting for me to comment on my lengthy relationship without a ring on it. As I’ve yet to weigh in, he adds, “Guess he’s not rushing to complete that merger.”

This guy is the worst. “It’s really none of your business. But if you must know, we don’t think a piece of paper is necessary to declare our feelings for each other.” It comes out sounding prim and ridiculous, my standard tone around Sam Killian. 

Now he’s looking at me intently, like he can see the need inside me. To have a life like my baby sister’s, with kids and birthday parties and a noisy extended family. But I’m also a busy professional, as is Derek, so our current relationship status suits us. We are perfect for each other, even if some nights I let my mind run away with wishing for things I can’t have.

Because Sam’s remaining unusually silent, but typically judgmental, I’m unnerved and come out with the first thing that pops into my head.

“What happened to the dancer you brought to the Christmas party last year?” I’ve no doubt he’s plowed through several women since.

“Oh, you know me, Cassie—”

“It’s Cassandra.”

“It is?” Like this is news to him. “Well, I’m not like you, the serious-about-life-and-love type. Much prefer to have my fun while I can.”

I smile thinly. “Before your looks fade?”

He leans in, and God help me, he smells incredible. Sandalwood with top notes of something citrusy. “Probably gonna be a while before that happens. I mean, look at me.”

I do, taking in that strong jaw, aquiline nose, the cobalt-blue eyes, the sensual lips. He also has great hair because of course he does. Wavy, the kind that’s perfect for the threading of fingers. More annoying than the jaw and nose and eyes and hair is that he’s right. Looks like his won’t fade, they’ll merely mature into distinction, though a part of me hopes his party-hard lifestyle will eventually have some negative effect. Such as leprosy of the dick.

I’ve spent too long without returning a verbal volley, which puts this silence firmly in the Sam Killian win column.

Finally I manage, “So, you’re pretty. Good for you, Sammie.”

“Now, I don’t mind that at all. Lots of my friends call me that. Lots of my dates, too.” Moaning that name in the throes is the unspoken part. The man is so obvious. “You’re not really a nicknames kind of girl, are you?”

“I’m not a girl. And a little less condescension if you don’t mind.”

His eyebrows go up. “I’m the condescending one?”

“You think I am?”

He chuckles, but it’s kind of mirthless for once, or maybe I’m just more in tune with his feelings. We have this much in common, both annoyed to have to talk to each other, yet neither of us willing to be the one to end it.

“For the last six years, you’ve acted like I’m no better than something on the bottom of your high-heeled shoe.”

“The night before Jake and Annie’s wedding, you placed a fake snake on my chair—”

“Now I apologized for that. That was supposed to be Jake’s chair.”

“And you assumed I was Annie’s mom. I’m only five years older than her.” At thirty-two, I’m also five years older than Sam, and feeling more ancient with every passing second.

Another lazy, incorrigible grin. I want to punch his teeth in. 

“You know I didn’t really assume that. It was a little joke, Cassie—Andra. Besides you practically raised her. Did a great job, too.”

This compliment shocks me into speechlessness.

It’s true—at least the part about me raising Annie. Our sperm donor was never in the picture and our mom, Aileen, was a flaky mess, always running after any guy who paid her the slightest bit of attention. Once Annie turned thirteen, Mom thought she was old enough to be alone. But really she thought I was old enough at eighteen to look after her. 

Bye bye, college plans. And don’t even think about dating

No one knew I’d already secured a place at the School of the Art Institute, that I was planning to move to Chicago in the next six months. No one would ever know.

I spent the next five years making sure that Annie was raised right, made it to Cornell, and had the best possible start to her adult life. I eventually started college myself, though later than everyone else, and in a more practical field. I didn’t mind because Annie was my number one priority. Still is.

“She’s all the family I have.” The moment the words leave my mouth, I feel raw and foolish. I’m just giving him more ammunition. 

“You have us, the dreaded in-laws,” he says blithely. “But I can see why you’re not in a hurry to claim me.”

This is more like it. Though I sense his humor is a bid to cover my unfortunate display of vulnerability. 

“Never a truer word.” There’s my prissiness again, only this time I’m playing into it because … Sam likes that about me. 

Why did I think that?

An age-old memory digs its sensuous claws into my psyche. Tell me how much you hate me with that smart mouth, Cassie.

“So back to the ‘we’re not related’ thing, huh?” He shuffles closer, sending out another whiff of clean body scent that makes me slightly woozy. “I think maybe you like me more than you’re letting on.”

I hear it clearly, the barely masked threat of the past. There was a time when I almost let my guard down. Almost let him in. But common sense ruled, and I told him it would never happen. All these years later, I should feel victorious, secure in the knowledge I didn’t make a stupid blunder.

Yet each time we meet, he acts like I should be grateful he once graced me with his attention. And I’m left wondering if maybe I did miss out.

Ladies and gentlemen, the Sam Killian playbook in action.

“That’s where you’re mistaken,” I say, trying to sound reasonable instead of … whatever I think Sam Killian might get a kick out of. “You and I are never going to get along, which is fine. We don’t have to. We see each other a few times a year, and I imagine that’ll be even less as the kids get older. There’s no need to cry over it.”

“Understood.” His gaze is level and direct, the word almost strained through his perfectly straight white teeth. Sam’s ego can’t stand it when a woman won’t kowtow to his charm.

“I’m going to get another drink before we cut the cake,” I say, moving away. “Enjoy the rest of the party.”

“Sure. You, too.”


This firefighter needs a rescue ...

I might be a rookie Chicago firefighter, but I’m on top of the world. I’ve just earned my spot on Rescue Squad at legendary Engine 6, can get all the action I want both in and out of the bedroom, and am possessed of an enviable sneaker collection. Nothing can harsh my vibe except her—Cassandra Ferguson, my brother’s sister-in-law, or as I affectionately label her: the blister-in-law. Ever since I met her, she’s looked down her perky little nose at me, never mind that I’m a good foot taller. Apparently, I offended her with a few risqué jokes and an offer for a fun, no-strings night—crimes that have relegated me to lower than dirt in St. Cassandra's eyes.

These days we’re at a stalemate. Don’t get along, can’t get along. Only when tragedy strikes, we have no choice but to put our animosity aside for the sake of our hurting niece and nephew, who need us now more than ever. As co-guardians, Cassie and I are enemy combatants in an uneasy truce, flailing around in a no-man’s land of grief and lust, forced to work as a team.

Thing is, when Cassie and I team up—when we really work together—the results are explosive. In a sexy way. In an amazing way. Maybe … in every way. But with stakes this high, we can’t get it wrong.

Even though it feels so, so right.

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