Hearts Afire: September
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by Philippa Grey-Gerou, Michael Barnette
Category: Erotica/Erotic Romance/Romance
Description: High Heat--Philippa Grey-Gerou--With a flourishing catering business and an acclaimed restaurant to his name, chef Roman Geary had finally made it. Until his dreams go up in smoke, literally, when a fire devastates his kitchen. He finds a temporary home at the catering hall of the local fire company, putting him in close quarters with the attractive firefighter Jacob Niemczyk, who proves himself as adept in the kitchen as he is at fighting fires. While Roman is skilled in the kitchen, he finds romance a bit trickier, but the two find their way into each other's arms despite missteps and inconvenient interruptions. Their relationship looks to be off to a smoking start until a massive fire makes Roman question how willing he is to risk his heart to a man who constantly risks his life. They say that if you can't stand the heat, you should stay out of the kitchen. But when food is your life and your heart is on the line, sometimes it's the safest place to be. Five-Alarm Lover--Michael Barnette--On Rowland Mining colony Moon Three Delmar 'Del' Preston responds to a mine fire. What he doesn't realize is the fire will lead to the one thing he needs most in his life... love. Rowland mining executive, Aaron Halford has been called a freak--and worse--his entire life. Born with psi-talent Aaron doesn't need any added trouble in his life. But he finds trouble in the form of a mysterious man made of flames and a hot firefighter he wants worse than he's ever wanted anyone. The fire isn't the only heat these two men experience. Sparks of lust ignite and burn hot for them both, but the risk of a 'suit' and 'grunt' having a relationship has consequences, consequences more dangerous than either of them realize.
eBook Publisher: Atlantic Bridge/Liquid Silver Books, 2009
eBookwise Release Date: November 2009
36 Reader Ratings:
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [219 KB]
Reading time: 138-193 min.
High Heat Philippa Grey-Gerou * * * *
Roman Geary didn't notice the first time the traffic light at the busy intersection of Arthur and Montgomery cycled through without ever giving him a left turn arrow. He had too much on his mind. Summer in Pennsylvania was winding down, and even though he still had the top down on his Lexus, he was already thinking about swapping out the frise salads and fresh gazpacho for something more substantial on the menu for his restaurant. Maybe a warm pear salad on romaine with walnuts and feta. The lamb stew, his bestseller last fall when he'd opened the place, was a no brainer. He also had to finalize the last preparations for the Gulbransen wedding. It was still two weeks away, but he needed to start the stocks and get the last orders handled before they had to start advance cooking next week, assuming the bride didn't change her mind on the entrees again. Of all the catering work he did, weddings were the worst. But they paid the best, so he soldiered on.
The second time the lights cycled through without letting him go, he started to notice.
No one was moving, and when he leaned out, he saw all the lights were stuck on red.
"Oh, come on!" He threw a hand up in disgust. A horn honked behind him, its owner equally frustrated.
Roman was just about to risk a ticket and an accident, his foot already coming off the brake to run the light, when the sirens started, a low alto wail that quickly escalated to a screaming coloratura. A minute later, the first fire engine appeared up the street opposite, barreling its way towards him, its revolving lights nearly lost in the afternoon brilliance, before throwing itself into a screaming right turn at the intersection and tearing away down Montgomery, another truck and the marshal's car following close on its bumper.
Just as the cross traffic light turned green, Roman's cell phone rang.
He tapped his Bluetooth. "This is Roman."
"Roman, it's Tobie." His normally unflappable house manager sounded tense. "Where are you?"
"I'm on my way in. I got stuck at a traffic light. Why, what's wrong?"
"Honey, the restaurant's on fire."
The light changed and Roman peeled out in front of the oncoming traffic to slew into the turn, ignoring all speed limits as he raced in the direction the engines had gone.
The scene at the restaurant was a nightmare. Firemen and hoses overran the converted Victorian that housed Geary's. The windows had blown out and flames licked past the sills, turning the white trim a sickening black. Tables and chairs had been tossed out through the doors and windows onto the porch and lawn and the front door had been kicked in. Even the careful landscaping had been crushed beneath heavy boots and dragged hoses. Everything he had built over the last year and a half was literally going up in smoke.
There was an ambulance parked on the side street across from the chaos with a small knot of people clustered around it. Roman pulled up behind it and clambered out of the car. "I'm here," he announced, swinging around the ambulance. "Is everyone accounted for? Who's hurt?"
The second question was redundant. Jamie, his pastry chef, was sitting in the back of the ambulance, his right arm immobilized, his normally pale face a deep scarlet, his eyebrows and the long bangs he always spiked up gone. "Hey, boss," he said sheepishly without opening his mouth far as the EMS tech gingerly applied salve to his burns.
"Jesus, Jamie. Are you okay?"
"Yeah, I'm good." He winced.
Tobie got Roman's attention, setting her hand on his shoulder. "I'm just glad this didn't happen while you were home. If it had happened in the middle of the night while you were asleep upstairs..."
He pulled her into a quick embrace. "What about the others?"
Tobie shook her head. "It was just me and Jamie. I was going over the bookings while he was starting on tonight's baking. The oven just kind of gulped twice and then exploded in back. A second later, the door of the other oven blew off and Jamie got caught in the explosion. I don't know what the hell happened. I just got him out as quick as I could. The girls started showing up just a couple of minutes ago."
Lisa and Ami, his two servers, were standing by anxiously. "Thanks for coming, ladies, but I doubt we're going to have service tonight. You can take off."
"No way," Ami insisted as Lisa shook her head. "You might need us to help clean up."
Roman looked back at the disaster that had been his home and livelihood. "I don't think cleaning up is going to cover it."
With a nod to Tobie, he headed back across the street.
One of the firemen at the front walk stopped him. "I'm sorry, sir, you can't go any closer."
"I'm Roman Geary. This is my business. How bad is it?"
The man pulled his helmet off and ran his hand through shaggy, blond hair. "I'm sorry, Mr. Geary, it's still going to be a little while before we get this fully contained."
"Contained." Now that the initial concern for his staff had passed, panic was starting to set in. "Is that a fireman code word for 'finished burning down'?"
"I'm sorry, Mr. Geary." Roman was surprised to see real compassion in the other man's eyes. "We got here in time to save the house, but the addition on the back went too fast for us to save."
"The kitchen. My staff say that's where it started."
"I'm sure the investigator will want to talk to them. I'm sorry for your loss."
"Thank you, Officer..."
"Niemczyk." He pronounced it "Nem-zik" in a way that implied it was spelled harder than it sounded. "Jacob Niemczyk. And it's not officer, that's for policemen. People just call me Jake."
"Well, thank you, Mr. Niemczyk. Do you know when I might be able to get in to look at the damage?"
Jacob checked his watch. "I doubt it will be today. It will take a while to cool down enough for the investigator to take a look. He can call you at home when he's done."
"No, he really can't." Roman gestured to the smoking building.
"Shit. I'm really sorry. Do you have a place to stay? We can work with Red Cross to get you set up if you need--"
"No, I can probably crash with my front of house manager until we get things worked out with the insurance company." He knew for a fact Tobie would kick his ass if he tried to stay anywhere else.
"Okay then. I should get back. Good luck, Mr. Geary."
Roman suspected his luck had run out. * * * *
Tobie brought Roman a mug of tea as he sat at her dining room table checking his email on her laptop. Tobie's house was always comfortable, and her husband Ty was always glad to see him, but even so, Roman felt uncomfortable imposing on them. Hell, he didn't even have any clothes of his own anymore.
"At least the insurance will cover it," Tobie said encouragingly, sitting down beside him.
"That doesn't get the restaurant open any faster. You remember how long it took to build that addition in the first place. If we're open again in six months, we'll be lucky. We're going to miss Christmas, New Year's, and Valentine's. That's half of our big take nights. Not to mention the attrition of our reputation when there's no word of mouth." Sighing, he shoved the laptop aside. "We'll be starting from scratch when we do open."
"So we start from scratch. You're young, Roman, you've got the time."
"I was so close, Tobie. That review in last month's Philadelphia Magazine had started to get us some real attention."
"And you'll get there again, sweetie. You've just gotta believe."
Roman didn't want to. Right now, after all the work he'd put into building his business, he just wanted to wallow in self-pity.
Tobie wasn't one to allow that. "What about the catering business?"
"Shit." He pulled the laptop back and called up their event schedule. "We're going to have to start making calls. If we can at least find some decent substitutes for people, maybe we can preserve at least some of our reputation."
"What about doing it ourselves?"
"Tobie, we don't have a kitchen. We can't make a grilled cheese sandwich right now, let alone cater for a hundred or more."
She rolled her eyes. "So get a kitchen, Roman. Don't be obtuse. The insurance covers temporary facilities while the restaurant is being rebuilt."
"It would take a month to get something like that operational. I'd have to find a space, order the equipment, get it installed and inspected--"
"So do it already! What are you planning to do for the next six months, sit around and feel sorry for yourself?"
Her outburst pulled him up short. "Well, no, but..."
"No buts, Roman. You're really good at seeing the glass half empty. If you're serious about keeping this business afloat, you don't have time for that. We can get the word out, contact all the local vendors, make the connections we need to make the catering the primary focus of the business and keep your name out there, but you have to make the decision to do it."
She was right and he knew it. He'd been letting self-pity cloud his judgment and he told her as much. "I'll call the realtor in the morning. And I'll ask Jamie and Mo to stay on, but tell the girls they're free to move on if they need to. We'll give them good references, but maybe they'll still do service at the events for us."
Tobie relaxed back into her chair, cradling her tea. "There. Doesn't that feel better?"
"Not really. We're still going to take a hit on the Gulbransen wedding. The food's already ordered and there's no way we can be ready in two weeks."
"So we need to find another kitchen."
"Where are we going to find a restaurant-grade kitchen on that kind of short notice?"
"There are kitchens all over the place standing empty more often than not. My church has almost as good a set-up as Geary's did."
Roman shook his head. "No way the health inspector would buy that. Besides, the wedding's on a Sunday afternoon."
"Well, what about a fire hall? Those are inspected and approved."
"They're not going to loan out their facilities to a private business."
"Roman, you're throwing up roadblocks again. You don't know what they will or won't do until you ask. Besides," she took a sip of her tea, looking innocent, "it would give you another chance to talk to that cute fireman who was flirting with you."
"What? What fireman?"
"The blond one I saw you talking to."
"He wasn't flirting with me, Tobie. He was just telling me the status of the fire."
She sighed. "Roman, you are a handsome, intelligent man and a talented chef, but your social skills are laughable. That boy was hitting on you."
"No? Prove it. Go talk to him about renting their kitchen."
"Fine, I will. But you'll see. You're imagining things."
"Oh, I'm imagining things alright." Her leer was positively wicked.