Hot as Sin Page 17

“He just got married.”

Again, she was surprised by Sam’s intensity. And the fact that there was no mistaking his meaning of, “Back off, he’s taken.”

Well, she wasn’t going to rise to the bait.

“I’ll make sure to send his new wife something pretty for the house.” Getting back to Connor, she asked, “So the three of you ran up the mountain? And then what?”

His eyes clouded over and she wondered if he was back there in Desolation Wilderness with Logan and Connor, breathing in hot, black smoke.

“Death was right there, right behind us. We were almost out, when the breeze kicked up and the flames sucked Connor down.”

She took a shaky breath. “It must have been horrible.”

She knew the Forest Service sent in psychiatrists whenever there was an accident. She also knew that hotshots rarely talked to the suits, that they weren’t willing to risk getting kicked off the crew later on because of a momentary weakness recorded in their official files.

“Have you talked about this with anyone?”

Sam shook his head once, firmly. The urge to take him in her arms and heal his bottled-up pain was so strong that she had her hand on his arm before she could corral her compulsion.

He stiffened and she immediately yanked her hand away. The skin on her palm and fingers felt like she’d grabbed on to a hot platter right out of the oven.

“I should have insisted on bringing up the rear,” Sam finally said in a hard voice.

Clearly, guilt still weighed him down. Even though he’d almost died saving his brother, he obviously wished he could have done more.

“It should have been me getting burned. Not my little brother.”

It was painful, this reminder of how much they both loved their siblings, an unbreakable bond that a part of her wished they didn’t have. Still, she needed him to know that he wasn’t to blame.

“He’s alive, Sam. You pulled him out of the fire. It must have been so hard on you, having to go back out there and fight wildfires without Connor. You two have worked together for so long. And he’s such an asset not only to you, but to the entire crew.”

When he remained silent, she asked, “What’s his prognosis? Will he fight fire again?”

“He’s doing everything in his power to convince the Forest Service that he belongs back on the crew. He’s gone through hell and back with skin grafts and physical therapy and never complained. Not once.”

She wasn’t surprised. The MacKenzie brothers had more than good genes in common. They were both strong.

Unbreakable.

“I’ll bet he’s still a swashbuckling ladies’ man through it all, isn’t he?” she said, forcing a smile.

But instead of smiling back, Sam turned the questions around on her.

“What about April? I’ve always wondered if you were able to pull her out of the foster system.”

Regardless of how things had gone wrong between them, Dianna had never forgotten Sam’s unwavering support during those first months when she was wading through paperwork and red tape.

“I got her, Sam.”

Finally, he smiled back and she lost her breath.

She fiddled with the blanket as she gathered her composure, knowing it was only fair to tell him as much about April as he’d told her about Connor, even though it wasn’t easy for her to talk about it.

“She’s lived with me for the past six years.”

He whistled softly. “It took you four years to get her back, huh?”

She’d never completely shaken off her frustration from those endless months of battling with the state.

“Every time I thought they were going to say yes, they found another reason to say no.”

“But you got them to change their mind.”

His clear admiration was surprising. She liked it far too much.

How could it still matter what he thought about her after all these years? After all her success?

“She must have been fourteen by the time she came to live with you,” he said, doing the math. “How was it, living with a teenager?”

It was tempting to let everything pour out, to pretend that the past ten years hadn’t happened, that they were sitting together in his apartment talking at the end of a long day.

Thankfully, she still had some sense of self-preservation, a little voice in the back of her head warning her not to say too much or let him in any closer.

“It was hard at first,” she said honestly. “I don’t think adolescence is easy for anyone. It certainly wasn’t for me. I’m sure she’ll find her way eventually.”

He raised an eyebrow as if to say he knew there was far more to the story than she was telling him, but fortunately, he let it go.

“I’m glad it worked out for you. For both of you.”

Despite her warnings to herself, Dianna couldn’t take her eyes off of his beautiful face. She wanted to stare at him for hours just to watch his expression change by degrees and admire the way his muscles flexed beneath his T-shirt.

Her feelings scared her. Really scared her.

All these years, she’d tried to convince herself that she’d fallen in love with a fantasy hero. That they were just kids fooling around. That the miscarriage had been a narrow escape.

She wanted to believe that there had been nothing real between them.

So then, why did it all feel so damn real?

———

Sam couldn’t believe how much he wanted to stay with Dianna. She’d barely touched on April, but he also knew that she was right in keeping the details to herself. They were treading dangerous waters. Instead of keeping to the surface, they were diving down far deeper than they should.

She’d barely had to push him for details about the Desolation Wilderness incident and he’d crumbled. And yet talking to her about it felt unbearably right, as did her touch, when she’d reached out in empathy and placed her hand on his arm.

He couldn’t believe how hard it had been to keep from reaching out and pulling her against him.

Hadn’t he learned a damn thing ten years ago?

During their conversation, his brain had been working overtime to try to get used to her glossy veneer, to her perfectly white teeth and much blonder hair, to her perfectly manicured nails and soft, expensive-looking clothing. Interestingly, what helped most was watching her pop and crack her knuckles. He was thankful that at least one thing about her had stayed the same.

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