Reckless (Rescue Squad #1)
by Kimberly Kincaid
SOMEONE’S BOUND TO GET BURNED…
Zoe Westin may be a fire captain’s daughter, but feeding the people in her hometown of Fairview is her number one priority. Running a soup kitchen is also the perfect way to prove to her dad that helping people doesn’t always mean risking life and limb. But when she's saddled with a gorgeous firefighter doing community service after yet another daredevil stunt, the kitchen has never been so hot.
Alex Donovan thrives on adrenaline, and stirring a pot of soup doesn’t exactly qualify. He’s not an expert at following the rules either, not even when they come from the stubborn, sexy daughter of the man who's not only his boss, but his mentor. Determined to show Zoe that not every risk ends in catastrophe, Alex challenges her both in the kitchen and out. One reckless step leads to another, but will falling for each other be a risk worth taking, or will it just get them burned?
Zoe paused, her ponytail swinging in a blond arc over her shoulders as she dropped her chin by just a fraction. “Why don’t you finish up with these dishes and grab the rule book for some extra reading. Clearly, you need to review the food service guidelines again before you’ll be ready to work in the dining room.”
The heel of her shiny black and silver clogs gave a squeak as she turned back toward the kitchen, but she’d barely gotten past the swinging door before Alex had caught up with her.
“You didn’t answer the question.” Somewhere, way in the back room of his brain, he knew picking at her probably wasn’t the brightest idea he’d ever sprouted. But he’d never been too partial to holding back, and anyway, he couldn’t deny his irritation at the extra assignment or his ripping curiosity at how fast she’d been to swerve around the subject.
Zoe had been unapologetic about standing her ground since the minute he’d laid eyes on her yesterday, to the point that she’d marched him around the kitchen like a lieutenant doing stair drills with a squad full of rookies. No way would she scale back over something like a refill rule. Unless he’d hit a nerve.
“No, I didn’t.” She crossed the kitchen tiles, propping the dry goods pantry door open with one denim-wrapped hip before sliding a wooden doorstop into place. Alex followed her into the warm, tightly packed space, the residual sounds from the kitchen receding into a distant thrum of background noise as they moved farther into the galley-style storage room.
“That’s all you’re going to say?”
“A day and a half ’s worth of zipping your lips and walking around here like you don’t care about anything, and you want to break your code of silence over a cup of coffee?”
Zoe’s hands moved just a fraction too quickly as she searched the open-air metal shelves in front of her, and just like that, Alex left propriety in the dust.
“Obviously,” he pointed out, taking another step toward her until he was close enough to feel the vibration of her surprise. Her movements slid to a halt, her fingers halfway over a carton of vegetable stock, and he didn’t waste any time taking advantage of the hitch. “So humor me. Are you really so bound and determined to go by the book that you can’t give a poor old man a second cup of coffee? I thought the whole point of a soup kitchen was to feed people when they’re hungry, not turn them away because of some stupid rule.”
In a hot instant, Zoe knocked the surprise directly back to his court. “You really don’t get it, do you?” She turned to face him, her chin tipped defiantly so she could meet his gaze despite the seven-inch height differential between them. “It’s not that I don’t want Hector to have a second cup of coffee. Hell, Alex, I want to give him enough refills to float him to China. But I can’t.”
Something Alex couldn’t label with a name flickered in her caramel-colored stare, replaced by her standard-issue seriousness before he could even be one hundred percent positive he’d seen a change. “Why not? You’re the director.”
“Exactly,” she said, the softness of her voice refusing to match the sternness of her expression. “I’m the director. It’s my job to feed as many people as possible so no one goes without. And if Hector gets two cups of coffee, someone else gets none, so yeah. I have to be that tight with the rules.”
His gut sank in sudden understanding. “Your funding is really that thin?” he asked. The flicker in her eyes made a repeat performance, and Alex was unprepared for the vulnerability in Zoe’s answer.
“I treat feeding people the way you treat being a firefighter. Do you really think I’d pull up on doing it for one second unless I didn’t have a choice?”
Oh hell. He opened his mouth, but before he could form an answer, her eyebrows tugged into a deep furrow.
“Wait . . . what’s that smell?”
Alex blinked, trying to process the question despite all the whaaaaaat running rampant in his melon. “Don’t look at me,” he said, holding up his hands in mock surrender. “I took a shower this morning.”
“Not you.” Zoe frowned, pressing up to her toes to scan the pantry’s top shelf. Rocking back on his heels, Alex mimicked her movements on the other side of the narrow storage space, and come to think of it, now that they were all the way inside, the pantry did seem to be giving off kind of a funky odor.
With their argument seemingly forgotten, Zoe turned toward the deepest stretch of the corridor-like room, where she’d had him unload all those endless cartons of who knows what yesterday. “You double checked the contents of these boxes before you put them on the shelves, right?”
He swallowed hard, his throat tightening into a knot full of very bad things. “You said to unload them and put them in the pantry, not open them up.”
“I said to unload them per the guidelines, which means they should’ve been checked. Did you not read any of the book?”
“Not to move a bunch of boxes,” Alex argued. “And anyway, that thing is a doorstop.”
“That thing is important!” Zoe’s eyes flashed with the color and intensity of double-batch bourbon as she started shushing boxes over the metal wire shelves, popping them open and muttering something unintelligible under her breath. A few seconds later, she jerked back from the ominously stained cardboard carton in her grasp, turning to throw a hard cough into the crook of her elbow.
“Ugh.” The pungent smell of something rotten hit Alex right in the gag reflex, and he squeezed his eyes shut against their involuntary watering. “What is that?”
“That appears to be one of the boxes that should have been sorted with the meat delivery and put in the walk-in for today’s lunch and dinner service,” Zoe bit out, her lips flattening into a hard seal as she swung her gaze from the soggy box to his face.
“But it was on the kitchen counter with all the other stuff during yesterday’s dry goods delivery.” It had to have been, otherwise he never would’ve shoved the thing back here with all the others like she’d told him to.
“The individual boxes aren’t always marked with what’s inside, which is exactly why whoever unloads them is supposed to do an inventory of each one to make sure the items go to the right place, especially on days when we have multiple food deliveries. The procedures are very clearly outlined in the manual.”
All of a sudden, the very bad things in the pit of his belly grew into something even worse. “I guess I must have missed this one. I’m sorry.” Alex took a few steps toward the kitchen for a trash bag to just suck it up and take care of the mess when the harsh burst of Zoe’s exhale stopped him dead in his Red Wings.
“Sorry’s not going to cut it,” she said, meeting him toe to toe on the dark brown pantry tiles. He could admit to screwing up—hell, he just had, and he’d offered a genuine apology to boot. What else could she possibly want?
“Look, I get that you’re mad, Zoe, but it was a mistake. I didn’t knowingly put that box back here.”
“You also didn’t knowingly do your job like you were supposed to. It’s one thing for you to put out minimal effort while you do your community service.” A muscle ticked in her jawline, punctuating the absolute certainty of her words as she added, “But I don’t have room in my kitchen for blatant screw ups, and I certainly can’t babysit you every second of the day. Sorry, Alex. But you’ve got to go.”
Alex took a step back, and Zoe had to give him this. The shock on his ridiculously handsome face actually looked genuine. “What do you mean, I’ve got to go?”
“It’s pretty self-explanatory, don’t you think? You just cost me money and resources I can’t afford to lose. I have no way to feed everyone for the rest of the day, and there’s nine kinds of a mess back here where this stuff leaked through the cardboard. Not only is it a clean-up job I don’t have time for, but I could probably wallpaper my office with the health code violations I’d rack up if an inspector walked through that door right now. Add all of that together, and it looks like a pink slip to me.”
Kimberly Kincaid writes contemporary romance that splits the difference between sexy and sweet. When she's not sitting crosslegged in an ancient desk chair known as “The Pleather Bomber,” she can be found practicing obscene amounts of yoga, whipping up anything from enchiladas to éclairs in her kitchen, or curled up with her nose in a book. Kimberly is a 2011 RWA Golden Heart® finalist who lives (and writes!) by the mantra that food is love. She resides in northern Virginia with her wildly patient husband and their three daughters.
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