As you might already know, I have TWO Christmas romances coming out this November. Yay! Today, I’m sharing an excerpt from Her Festive Flirtation, the book that releases first (1 November). It’s just your average story about a volunteer firefighter who saves a woman’s cat, only to discover she’s his best friend’s baby sister…. Who he kissed before leaving town… Who he might still have feelings for… And who he’s forced to celebrate a wedding and Christmas with! See, nice and average 😉 I hope you enjoy the first chapter:
Her Festive Flirtation
‘MA’AM, I CAN’T let you go in there.’
‘No “buts”.’ The man turned back to where smoke obscured the eco-estate where Ava Keller’s home was. ‘There’s no way you’re going into that.’
Ava gritted her teeth. She hated him. Though she’d never met the man before, she hated him.
The rational voice in her head told her she was projecting. That coming home from work to find her home covered in smoke had upset her. That being upset had manifested itself in her short tone and strong emotions. Like hatred.
Yes, the rational voice said. She was definitely projecting. But then, she’d never prized rationality in stressful situations. That was why, when she’d been left at the altar a year before, she’d attended the wedding reception. She’d eaten the cake. She’d gone on her honeymoon.
Rationality wouldn’t make her feel less stressed. Nor would it make her less emotional. And rationality wasn’t going to save one of the only things in her life that was still important to her.
So when an idea occurred to her and the rational voice warned against it, she knew she was going to do it. And though it was a bad idea—a terrible one—she would do it anyway.
Heaven help her.
She turned, walked a few steps away from the wall of men blocking the path to her house, and let out a bloodcurdling scream.
They hurried towards her, and later she would think that they must have made quite a picture. Those huge, muscular men in their official uniforms—some firefighters, some police—hurrying over to her as if they were lions and she were fresh meat.
She would also later think that at least ten men hurrying over to her had been overkill. But right now she was pretending to be a damsel in distress, and she was certain that merely the idea of that caused men to flock.
Really, her duping them was their own fault.
And that of her excellent acting skills.
Unfortunately, being a copywriter for a cybersecurity company didn’t often allow her to illustrate how dramatic she could be.
‘I think… I think I just saw a person.’ She gripped the shirt of the man closest to her. ‘Right there—down the path at that bush.’ Now she injected a layer of panic into her voice. ‘It’s so close to the fire, Sergeant. And it looked like my neighbour. An old man with no teeth.’
There was a beat when she wondered whether she’d gone too far. She had laid it on a little thick. Mr Kinney was barely fifty. He had all his teeth and he wasn’t in danger.
To make it more believable, she let out another tiny little screech. And when the man who’d blocked her from getting near her house moved forward to comfort her she cried, ‘No, no, not me. Help him. Help him!’
If the fire didn’t do the job first, Ava knew she was going to burn in hell.
But it worked, and three of the men ran down the pathway while the others moved forward, bodies tensed, ready to help if necessary.
It was all she needed. Without a second thought for how irrational she was acting, Ava bolted up the incline of the road she’d been blocked from earlier, and didn’t stop until she was so far from the men she’d left behind she could barely see them.
Nor could she see in front of her.
When panic crept up her throat, she ignored it. Told herself to remember all those nights she’d spent unable to sleep and Zorro had comforted her. To remember that it was only when she was looking after him that she felt capable. Able. And not as if some of her personality traits—her honesty, her bluntness—meant she somehow couldn’t be a partner. A wife.
But all thought fled from her mind as her body adjusted to its new environment. The smoke seemed to be stuck in her mouth. Clogging her lungs. Burning her eyes. She pulled off her shirt and tied it around her nose and mouth, trying to keep her eyes open.
It didn’t make much difference. The smoke was so thick she could barely see her hands in front of her. And the more she tried, the more her eyes burned.
So she wasn’t entirely surprised when she walked right into a wall.
The force of it stunned her. But after a moment she realised it wasn’t a wall. Not unless this wall had suddenly grown hands and gripped her arms to keep her from falling.
he was pretty sure she’d walked into a human. A human man.
As opposed to an alien man?
Clearly the smoke was doing more damage than she’d thought.
She heard a muffled sound coming from the man. He was obviously trying to tell her something, but he was wearing a firefighter’s mask and she couldn’t make out a single word. She shook her head and then, deciding that this interaction was taking precious time from her rescue mission, she pushed past him.
But she’d forgotten he had his hands on her arms, and they tightened on her before she could move.
‘What are you doing?’ the man asked now, wrenching off his mask.
She still couldn’t see him. Which, she thought, was probably a good thing, since his voice didn’t indicate that he felt any positive emotion towards her.
‘I have to get to my house.’
‘Ma’am, this area has been evacuated. The fire could reach us at any moment.’
‘So why aren’t you out there, making sure that it doesn’t?’
‘Are you serious?’ The disbelief in his tone made his voice sound familiar. ‘You have to leave, ma’am. Your property is not as important as your life. Or mine.’
‘It isn’t about my property,’ she said, her voice hoarse from smoke and desperation. ‘My cat is in there. I have to… I have to save him.’
Something pulsed in the air after she’d finished talking, and she could have sworn she’d heard him curse.
‘Where’s your house?’
Stunned, she took a moment to respond. ‘It’s not far from here. I can show you.’
‘No. Just tell me the number and I’ll make sure I find the damn cat.’
‘Seventeen.’ She hesitated when he handed her his mask and turned away. ‘Wait! Don’t you need this?’
‘Yes,’ he ground out. ‘But you’re going to need it more. Just put it on and go back to where you came from. I’ll find you.’
It was a few seconds before she realised he wasn’t there any more.
‘Check under the bed!’ she shouted at her loudest, and then she put the mask on and retraced her steps back towards the men—no easy feat with the smoke even thicker now.
She was immediately swarmed, but she ignored them—ignored the complaints and chastisement—and kept her eyes on the clouds of smoke in front of her.
She only realised she hadn’t taken off the mask when someone gently removed it from her. A paramedic, she thought, as it was replaced by an oxygen mask and she was asked to breathe in and out as the woman listened to her heartbeat before gently checking her body for burns.
Rationality won out now. It reminded Ava that she’d put her life in danger. That she’d put someone else’s life in danger, too. And, even though the thought of losing Zorro sent pangs of pain through her body, she couldn’t justify that.
So when the paramedic told her she needed to sit down, to drink some water, to get her heart-rate down, she obeyed, not voicing any of the protests screaming through her head.
A cat. A freaking cat.
That was what he was risking his life for. That was what he was abandoning all the rules of his training for. He could see the headlines now: Volunteer firefighter Noah Giles dies trying to save a cat. Smoke blurred his eyes, grated in his throat, his lungs, but somehow he made it to number seventeen. Smoke shrouded it, much as it did the other houses on the estate. When he’d been making his final rounds, checking that humans and pets had been evacuated, he hadn’t expected to find anyone.
They’d had the entire day to evacuate the area, and it had been erring on the side of caution, really, just in case the veld fire should spread.
Except now he wasn’t being cautious, he thought, coughing as he pushed open the door—in any other circumstance, he’d probably be annoyed that it had been left unlocked—and leaned against the wall. His head felt light, and it was pure determination that pushed him forward.
Determination spurred on by the emotion in the woman’s voice when she’d told him about the cat. It had been familiar, somehow, and had hit him in a place he hadn’t known existed. As if he cared that someone loved a cat as much as this woman loved hers.
And since he was risking his life for this cat, clearly he did care.
The damn cat had better be the most intelligent cat in the entire world, he thought. He’d be pretty annoyed if he died for any other kind. Just before Christmas, too, when he was planning to tell his father that after seven years of restlessness he was finally ready to put down some roots.
But only in terms of where you live.
He grunted. Then chose to ignore the unhelpful voice in his head and focused on checking the entire house systematically. Being inside protected him from the smoke somewhat, but he knew he couldn’t stick around for long.
When he got to the bedroom, something told him to look under the bed. Beady eyes stared back at him when he did so, and air gushed from his lungs. How could he be this relieved at finding a pet that wasn’t even his own? He shook his head, refusing to think about it, and then belly-crawled under the bed and gently pulled the cat into his arms.
It gave a low meow—a warning, he thought—but he didn’t pay much attention to it. His goal now was to get back to safety.
He was already back at the front door before he realised he couldn’t let the cat go out into the smoke. And shortly afterwards he realised the same thing about himself.
He knew that the cat—which was already wriggling in his arms—would run away the second he put him down. And so, taking a deep breath—and once again rethinking all his decisions in life—Noah stuffed the cat inside his open jacket before buttoning it up.
There was some struggling—and a sharp pain as the cat’s claws stuck into his belly—but eventually the cat stilled. He looked around for something he could use to cover his face before he braved the smoke again, but instead his eyes rested on a picture that stood on the mantelpiece. A picture of all the people he’d cared about growing up.
And among all their faces, his own.
If she’d ever wanted to discover how to upset a paramedic, she’d found out that evening.
‘You have to go to the hospital.’
‘Ma’am—’ The woman cut herself off and hissed out a breath. ‘Look, your heart rate is still high, and one of the things that can happen with smoke inhalation is—’
‘Cardiac arrest. Yeah, I know. I watched that TV show, too.’
‘It’s not from a show.’ The paramedic wasn’t even trying to hide her annoyance now. ‘I’m a medical professional and I know that—’
Ava didn’t hear the rest of the woman’s speech. She’d stopped listening the moment she saw a man emerge from the smoke. Ignoring the now protesting woman, she stood and pushed forward.
And then stopped when she saw who the man was.
She watched as he tossed aside a cloth—no, not a cloth; the throw that had once been over her couch—and then bend over and brace himself on his knees.
‘Hey, paramedic lady!’ Ava said, turning around in panic. But the woman was way ahead of her, and brushed past Ava with the oxygen mask and tank Ava had been using minutes before.
Just as they had with her, the men rallied around Noah. Though this time, of course, it was because Noah was their colleague, and not some foolish woman who’d run into the line of fire—literally—to save a cat.
She watched helplessly as they guided Noah towards the ambulance, and then, when they were there, tried to get him out of his suit. But he shook his head and made eye contact with her.
It jolted her heart. Had the poor thing sprinting as if it were in a life-and-death race it had to win.
So, nothing’s changed in the seven years since you’ve seen him, then?
Clearing her throat—her mind—she took a step forward, her legs shaking though her strides were steady.
When she reached him, he pulled the oxygen mask from his face, coughed, and then said, ‘Are we going to have to talk about why you decided to run into a fire to rescue a cat, Avalanche?’
His words were said with a crooked half-smile, and then he began to unbutton the jacket she’d only just noticed was moving to reveal a squirming Zorro.
There had been a pause before she’d even realised it was her cat. And that pause came because she’d been distracted by the muscular chest under the white vest Noah had just uncovered.
No, she thought. It had been years since she’d seen Noah. Years since she’d even thought about the silly crush she’d had on her brother’s best friend. Or about the kisses they’d once shared.
There was no way any remnants of that crush were still there. She’d been in a five-year relationship since then. She’d almost got married.
But you didn’t get married, a voice in her head said enticingly.
So clearly, there was a way.