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Up in Smoke (ebook)

Up in Smoke (ebook)

Hot in Chicago Rookies

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Last night she was the stranger I kissed and more. Today she's the new rookie firefighter on my crew. One wrong move and it could all go up in smoke.


  • Boss/employee
  • Age gap
  • Single dad
  • Firefighters
  • Grumpy-sunshine
  • Protector hero


Lives are on the line at Engine 6 … and so are hearts.

Running an engine crew in the Chicago Fire Department is my dream job, and between that, my awesome kid, and my nosey sister, I lead a pretty great life. Bruised and burned by my marriage, I don’t have time for dating or drama, but I always have time for pie. And when I share a slice of cherry with a sweet redhead, followed by the hottest, dirtiest, most pulse-pounding kiss of my life, I start to rethink the possibilities.

Until that woman walks into my firehouse and upends my well-ordered world.

Abby Sullivan is now a rookie firefighter on my crew and a threat to my self-control more dangerous than a five-alarm blaze. My job is to watch her six when all I want is to watch her fall into my bed. Lust has no place in the firehouse, and a distraction like Abby with her electric blue eyes, waves of flame-red hair, and freckles I want to map with my tongue, is one I can ill afford. 

Because one wrong move … and it could all go up in smoke.

Up in Smoke is the first in the brand new Hot in Chicago Rookies series about firefighters navigating the trials of new jobs and sizzling romances as they find their place in the world and the love of a lifetime.

Chapter One Look Inside


“Here’s to fucking us!”

Sam looks at Jude who has just uttered that beyond classy toast and shakes his head. “Is that your sneaky way of suggesting a threesome?”

Jude grins, all blue-eyed devilish sparkle. “You really think I have the hots for you, Killian? After six months of watching your ass on every ladder at the academy—figuratively and literally—I can safely assure you I’m not interested. I’m done with falling for straights.”

Laughing, I clink my glass against theirs, eager to get us back on track. “Here’s to us and our hot graduate asses. We made it, guys! We fucking made it!”

Sam puts his arm around me. “Yeah, graduation’s great and all, but why doesn’t Jude want me, Abby? Am I not sexy enough?”

“Oh, you’re plenty sexy.” Sam is probably the hottest guy I’ve ever seen in real life. Think a more feral Tom Hardy. “But you’re also, I’d say, a …” I check in with Jude.

“Zero?” he offers with little conviction.

“Let’s go with one on the Kinsey scale.” I pat Sam’s very muscled, very hot arm. “You probably get a little turned on by gay porn but only because you like the grunting. Otherwise, no interest in boys.”

For the last six months, I’ve become close enough to Jude Torres and Sam Killian—my best buddies in the academy—to be able to talk frankly about our sex lives. Though really, it’s frankly about their sex lives which are varied and productive. As for mine, it’s an arid desert with not a green shoot of sexual hope in sight.

Not a problem as I’m determined to focus on my career. Four years as a paramedic has led me to the Chicago Fire Department and its training academy. After six months in the program, I’m now a fully-fledged candidate, meaning I have another year to make my mark and earn my wings on the job.

I have things to prove and people to prove wrong. So that sounds like the start of some underdog sob story, but we all have obstacles to hurdle and the journey can be treacherous to your mental health. Just thinking of the “people” sends a corkscrew of discomfort rippling down my spine.

I take a sip of my rum and coke, determined to make it last. Knowing these two, a club is in my future and I want to keep my wits about me given that I’ll be starting at legendary Chicago firehouse, Engine 6, the day after tomorrow. Sharp mind, keen focus, no traces of a hangover.

“I wish we were all at the same house.” Both Jude and I were assigned to Engine 6 in Bucktown while Sam will be kicking things off at 70 in Uptown.

“We knew they’d never put three candidates on the same engine,” Sam says with a shrug of one broad shoulder. Jude and I wouldn’t even be on the same crew. He’s starting tomorrow on the A platoon, a day ahead of me. “This might be it. We’re never going to see each other again.”

“Good, you can finally get over your obsession with me.” Jude leans in to kiss Sam on the cheek. “And see if you can find someone else to crib notes from.”

“Uh, never fucking happened.” Sam points a finger at Jude. “I am going to miss you guys, but I’m guessing it’ll make our get togethers all the more meaningful.” He divides a heartfelt look between us. “Look after each other, okay? Even though you’re not on the same shift, do what you can to have each other’s backs.”

He clears his throat, probably a little embarrassed at his moment of gravity. In all our time together, Sam’s never taken anything seriously except scrambling up a ladder quicker than anyone else and making it out of the smoke box in sixty seconds flat. Of the three of us, he’s the one most likely to capitalize on his hot firefighter status. I’ve witnessed him working his charms on any number of women in any number of bars, and even here in O’Neil’s on Wells, the Killian force is strong.

Jude holds Sam’s gaze squarely, not letting him off the hook, awkward emotions be damned. Never one to shy from the touchy-feely stuff, our Jude. “Wish you were with us, Sammy. Gonna miss you.”

“Don’t worry, I’ll take care of him,” I assure Sam with a side glance at my guardian angel-slash-precious charge. “Make sure he doesn’t get into any trouble.”

“Actually, I’m more worried about you, Ms. Thrillseeker.”

I tap my collarbone and mouth “Moi?”

“Yeah, you. Have you ever met a dangerous situation you haven’t wanted to cozy up to?”

Sure I like to get my kicks going toe to toe with the boys. All my life I’ve been forging ahead, anxious to prove I can meet anyone on the battlefield of life, regardless of gender. I was the one shoving frogs down little boys’ pants and generally making their puny little lives a nightmare on the playground. Strike first, atone later. 

To be honest, I’d rather hit a dirt bike track or a climbing wall than a club. But this is graduation night and I’m dressed to the nines. One look at the boys tells me we’ll be hitting that club before the hour is through.

* * *

“Okay, I’m out.”

Sam bestows on me a drunk-eyed squint. “You had one dance! With me! I thought you were here to celebrate.”

“I am. I was.” The night is already history. “You know I don’t like this thump-thump music and how we can’t hear each other speak and—”


Jude has paired off with a metal-enhanced Cyborg hipster. Several women are giving Sam come-hither looks (or come-on-my-face looks as Jude calls them) and he’s been kind enough to limit his usually meandering attention to me. I’m merely cramping the boys’ style.

I thumb over my shoulder toward the exit. “I’ll catch an Uber.”

“I’ll walk you out,” Sam yells. 

Two minutes later, I’m in a car, heading home. Strangely I’m not tired, but then the excitement of the next phase of my life is still thrumming through my veins. A new job, a new workplace, a new start.

Thinking on that new beginning sends me to the place I’ve been trying to avoid all night. All year, to be honest, since I told my father I wanted to join the Chicago Fire Department. When you’re the daughter of a powerful man, a man who has some say over your career because he effectively controls the playing field, it’s tough to maneuver. Fire Commissioner Chuck Sullivan didn’t want his only child to become a firefighter and the big man usually gets what he wants. Today’s graduation ceremony was the first time I’d seen him in four months. As he pinned that badge to my uniform and congratulated me, he practically choked on the words.

I touch the Claddagh pendant around my neck, a precious memento from the late Joanne Sullivan. My mother would be on my side in this, even though her own dreams had crashed and burned long ago. At least she got a few good years in. Thinking about her life cut short would usually be enough to conjure empathy for my father, except the memory of the last time we spoke before the ceremony today ices it out.

You’ll quit in the first month, Abigail. Tops.

I growl, causing the Uber driver to catch my eye with concern. Eager to not look like more of a weirdo than usual, I check my phone and see that Maria Fernandez from CFD Media Affairs has left me another message reminding me to route any media enquiries through them. I don’t expect any, but the brass seem to think my candidacy has feel-good sap oozing from its pores. 

Rookie Female Firefighter Follows in Trailblazer Mom’s Footsteps.

That I might turn into a circus curiosity pisses me off to no end. My situation shouldn’t be that newsworthy, but I understand why the human-interest stories grab attention in our shit-soaked world. People need heroes—and city governments need heroes in underrepresented groups. Maybe I’ve brought it on myself by requesting to be stationed where my mother served, but it means a lot to me to be assigned there. 

At least I’ll have someone in my corner, even if that someone is a ghost.

Sam has sent me a photo of Jude with his hand down Metal-Face’s pants—in the middle of the club! The things these boys get away with. A message follows: text me when you get home.

Only I’m not ready to go home yet. I want pie. A big slice of cherry pie—and I know just where to get it.

Made it, I text, so he won’t be worried. Then I give the driver new directions.

* * *

Fern’s Diner is quiet, not unexpected for a Tuesday night in early May and perfect for me to ease the bass thump of the club from my head. Fern is actually a grumpy Greek guy called Stavros, but he’s not usually here at night. Instead my favorite server is on duty. 

Tessa grins at me, then does a double-take. “You’re wearing a dress!”

“Damn right I’m wearing a dress. It’s graduation night, baby!”

“Hey, congrats. And you decided to spend it at the 24-hour diner like a loser?”

“I did a bar crawl.”

“What constitutes a bar crawl in Abby’s world?” Finger quotes for extra derision points.

“One drinking establishment. But then …” I hold up a finger of my own to halt her colorful commentary. “I hit a club. For twenty minutes.” So I pretty much failed as a club kid. “I can’t keep up with the boys. They’re too sexy for me.”

“To have your problems.”

Yet my measly problems are a thing of the past because it seems Tessa and I are telepathically linked. How else to explain what’s waiting on the counter right in front of me? The perfect slice of cherry pie with a heaven-sent scoop of vanilla ice cream is haloed by the diner lamp above like an offering.

I throw my purse on a seat and clamber onto the one to the left of it, right in front of the pie. “How did you know?”

“How did I know what?”

I gesture to the pie. “That I would be stopping in at this very minute with pie-shaped intentions?”

“I’m good but not that good.” Sadness drifts across her face. “That pie is not your pie.”

“I beg to differ.” I pick up the fork. “It’s positioned right in front of me and I am seated right in front of it. This pie has my name on it. How is this not my pie again?”

“Because it’s mine.”

Alas, no, that is not one of my chatty voices asserting its right to pie. This is deep, external, and designed to send a sensuous shiver to every one of my nooks, crannies, and extremities. I swivel and yep, not a projection of my pie-hungry brain. 

The guy claiming the pie is tall, dark, hazel-eyed, and steel-jawed. I’ve been working with buff firefighters for the last few months, but none of them hold a candle to what this guy is serving up. He’s older than them, for a start. Maybe early-thirties with that confidence that comes from seeing shit and knowing how to deal with it. His square jaw is dusted with stubble that has the makings of a sexy beard. His untucked blue Oxford strains a little in the chest and shoulders area, and while there might be interesting things happening further down, I’m not the ogling type. Not in public, anyway.

Your pie?”

My pie.” A diner-full of amusement is conveyed in those two syllables.

“Your seat, as well?” I sneak a glance at Tessa who is wiping a counter, resolutely neutral, the Switzerland of servers. There are ten empty seats at the counter and I have somehow landed on the one already occupied.

“Yep. I stepped away for a second. Didn’t expect to have to fight anyone for it.”

As I slip off the stool, the action moves my dress up a few inches. Not intentional, but the guy notices. And I notice him noticing.

That shiver from before graduates to a full-scale shimmy.

Leaving my purse, I aim for the seat on the other side of it which means I have to bypass Pie Guy who steps aside to let me, oh, about two seconds too late. Those two seconds have us standing there trying to decide if this is awkward or sexy. My fantasy says sexy. My history says exceptionally awkward. 

“Sorry,” I say because he didn’t.

“No problem.” He takes the seat I’ve just vacated.

While every booth is empty except for the one where diner regular Doris and her gentleman friend are kicking it old style with chicken noodle soup, that doesn’t mean I could slip into one of the free ones. Stavros has a policy that singles eat at the counter, and even though he’s not present, he would somehow know and give Tessa hell for it.

So I sit at the counter two seats over with my purse as a buffer between me and the pie thief, who has picked up a fork and is contemplating that slice of heaven. This gives me a moment to contemplate him in profile. Tiny lines feather out at the corner of the one eye I can see. Dark, thick, lustrous, and charmingly tousled hair tops his head—tousled, possibly because he’s spent time scrubbing one of those big fork-holding hands through it. Who could be that frustrated with pie in play?

Now that the seating has been rearranged and pie ownership has been determined, Tessa saunters over to me. “What’ll it be?”

“I’ll have what he’s having.” Cute rom-com diner moment for those who know or care.

Tessa looks despondent, not the response I expected. “That was the last slice.”

“It was?”

I direct my most forlorn glance toward the pie that should have been mine. My counter-mate has yet to make a dent. Fork in one hand, phone in the other, he’s hovering in pre-pie-eating mode. Somehow this makes it worse.

Just eat the damn pie, idiot.

Tessa must have noticed my unattractive envy manifesting because she coughs to get my attention. Only it’s more than a cough—she’s trying to tell me something.

“What’s that?”

Another cough, this time with the word “up” at the end of it.

“I have no idea what you’re saying.”

She winks, though it looks like winking is a brand-new activity for her. Punctuating the move is a weird chin swivel to my left.

“Are you having a stroke?”

“She’s trying to tell you I’ve been stood up.”

Okay, if the pie-that-should-have-been-mine didn’t have my attention, that laconically delivered statement would do the trick. I snag gazes with Pie Guy—still with fork in hand and slice intact—and find him with a very expressive eyebrow in supreme arch.


“I think she’s telling you this so you’ll cut me some slack about having the pie you so clearly want.”

“I don’t—” I glare at Tessa who’s giving me a look that says Pie Guy has read the room correctly. There’s something different about his accent, too. It’s rougher with an East Coast flattening of the vowels. “So I came in here with cherry pie in mind but I can just as easily go for …”

“Apple or Boston cream?” Tessa offers.

I’m not a fan of apple and Boston cream isn’t pie, it’s cake, dammit.

“Coffee would be fine.”

There then follows the most beautiful sound in the world: a plate sliding across the counter surface.

“Oh, no. I couldn’t.” I most certainly could. The pie has now taken on epic proportions in my night’s narrative.

I raise my gaze from the pie to him. A river of sensual heat threatens to overwhelm me. I really love pie.

Just kidding! It’s all him.

“You came in here expecting your favorite dessert.” I hear it clearer now. New York, I suspect. “I haven’t taken a bite yet.”

Tessa pours my coffee and pushes it toward me with an eyebrow tilt of her own. 

“I really couldn’t.” I look at my friend, who should be offering to officially split it with a knife and two separate plates, but strangely … isn’t.

Matchmaker instincts are overriding server ones, I assume.

I grab a Splenda packet from the caddy and use the adding and stirring time to contemplate my next move. Refusing to acknowledge his offer would be rude. This way, he can have it back with a bite taken out of it and we can return to our respective corners, pie enemies once more. 

“How about I take a small bite?”

A fork appears—the ever so helpful Tessa again—and five seconds later my taste buds are dancing to the tune of tart fruit and buttery pie crust. I must have moaned on my way to Heaven because when I come back to earth, Pie Guy is staring at me.

“Well, that was worth it.”

I push the pie back to him. “Your turn.”

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