Re-released 10 May
Rescuing a cop from a burning precinct is in Max’s job description;
falling in love was never part of the deal.
falling in love was never part of the deal.
Max Harrison moved from the city to take up a role as assistant to the mayor, while also a volunteer firefighter. When he meets Finn Ryan in Ellery, he falls in lust that burns as hot as the fires being set in town.
Finn Ryan is a cop, and somehow he’s attracted trouble. Going back into a fire to rescue the town drunk is just the start. Now he has to rely on the man he’s falling for to make sure it doesn’t end with him dying.
"...R.J. Scott has a fun, steamy little series started here that I, for one, am not going to miss. Although the story is quite short, this author does a super job of not only fleshing out the storyline and keeping it moving with just the right amount of steamy here and there. I didn't feel like anything was missing or left out like I do sometimes with a short read like this...."
"....R.J. Scott has penned a very exciting tale with The Fireman and the Cop. Hot love, exciting action with an intriguing plot all set in the beautiful Smoky Mountains makes The Fireman and the Cop by R.J. Scott a winner...."
Ellery Mountain Series
Book 1 - The Fireman and the Cop
Book 2 - The Teacher and the Soldier
Book 3 - The Carpenter and the Actor
Book 4 - The Doctor and the Bad Boy
Book 5 - The Paramedic and the Writer
Book 6 - The Barman and the SEAL
Book 7 - The Agent and the Model
Buy Links - eBook
Amazon (US) | Amazon (UK) | All Romance | Barnes & Noble | Kobo
Buy Links - Print Book
Volume 1 incorporating Books 1, 2 and 3 - Amazon (US) | Amazon (UK)
Buy Links - Print Book
Volume 1 incorporating Books 1, 2 and 3 - Amazon (US) | Amazon (UK)
Sinfully Sexy Book Reviews - 4/5 - "....The romance and the investigation I felt were perfectly woven together and RJ Scott had me engrossed and unable to put the book down until it was finished…"
Sensual Reads - 4/5 - "..... R.J. Scott has penned a very exciting tale with The Fireman and the Cop. Hot love, exciting action with an intriguing plot all set in the beautiful Smoky Mountains makes The Fireman and the Cop by R.J. Scott a winner...."
Paranormal Romance Guild - 5/5 - "...R.J. Scott has a fun, steamy little series started here that I, for one, am not going to miss. Although the story is quite short, this author does a super job of not only fleshing out the storyline and keeping it moving with just the right amount of steamy here and there. I didn't feel like anything was missing or left out like I do sometimes with a short read like this.
It also doesn't hurt that these stories are centered in the Smokey Mountains where I live. That is kind of fun, but I think that the best part is the fun personalities that Scott has created. I loved every one of them in the story and can't wait for more...."
Adrenaline pumped through Max’s body. The glow of a fully invested fire at the police precinct was obvious over downtown Ellery; the blaze well past being contained. Turning in a rough one-eighty, Max assessed the exposure factor, listening as the lieutenant issued orders.
The precinct was part of an older area of town. A jumble of empty gift shops, a couple of grocery stores, and the mayor’s building. Luckily, the precinct itself—a large two-story building—was separated from the other structures with fifty feet to spare. The only buildings in danger of the fire spreading to them were first on the list to be hosed down.
With well-oiled teamwork, the volunteer firefighters stood next to the full-timers and began their work.
“Do we have anyone inside?” Chief Quinn asked the gathered crowd. Max’s boss commanded respect. He was a lifer firefighter, and obviously, people listened to him. Max recognized a couple of people there but had no idea who might be left in the building.
A man fell out of the fire-ringed main door and onto his knees, disheveled and coughing.
Max was there in an instant, wrestling the guy away from danger and guiding him toward the paramedics who had arrived a few seconds after the engine.
“Finn…” A coughing fit overtook the man. “Inside,” he finished when he could catch his breath. He was pointing back the way he’d come.
Max stiffened. Was someone still inside? He focused on the chaos around him; on the shouting.
“Finn’s still in there,” someone yelled. A tall man was being held back by a group of onlookers as he struggled to get free, looking around him in horror, like he couldn’t believe this Finn guy was still inside.
Max didn’t even think before crossing to the struggling man.
“Where?” he snapped.
The guy blinked but didn’t falter. “Straight in. To the back and left rear. The lockup. He went in to get Fitz.”
“That’s Fitz?” Max asked, pointing at the old man who’d just walked out of the fire.
“Okay. Going in,” Max confirmed into his mic.
Chief Quinn spun on his heel at the words to face Max, his expression one of “what the fuck” coupled with resignation. With a quick nod and no thought other than focusing on the job, Max ensured his face mask was secure and ran straight into the red and orange, through the only suitable ingress—a space formed by an iron beam holding up the remains of the ceiling in what he assumed was the reception area.
The flames reached for Max as he forced his way into a wide corridor. Fire licked the ceilings and walls. This had been fast—material in the walls and ceilings had fed the monster, and piles of folders and paperwork had provided more fuel.
Straight along the corridor. His heavy boots weighed him down. Focus kicked him into high gear. He breathed heavily with a mix of fear and excitement that fed his veins and arteries—the normal-use sixty-minute SCBA was going to be empty in a third of that time. Didn’t matter, because the building was disintegrating around him in great big flaming chunks of hell.
Fire, that fucking mistress of his, was a killer, and he had every respect for her power. He reached a T-junction and took a left. The air thickened with smoke, and he prayed he wasn’t too late. Anyone trapped in this sort of environment would be overcome and close to being out of it. He needed to find out where the man was.
Finally, through the smoke and sparking flames, Max saw him trapped under a broken table. Max scrambled to him, dropping to his knees and heaved at the table without success. The guy was a cop, dressed in blues and semi-conscious. It looked like the table had been moved by the unseen force of an explosion and had pinned him to the wall by his arm and chest.
“Help me!” the cop shouted, although the words were slurred, and his eyes were slits against the smoke. Max wished unconsciousness could subdue the cop's fear.
Using the axe in his hand as a lever, Max forced it against the table where it was embedded in the wall. He turned his back against falling debris and sheltered the trapped guy as much as he could as the entire ceiling descended a few feet with a sickening noise. Glancing back the way he’d come, he saw their way out was becoming blocked. More disturbing was the dark, black smoke that collected at high points. That wasn’t good—in any way. The heat was intense and the dense, superheated cloud of fuel too rich to ignite. It was only a matter of time before flashover, and then it was game over for him and the cop.
Pushing and pulling as hard as he could, Max finally had enough leverage to allow the cop to slide down the wall into a heap on the floor. Not stopping for anything, he scooped the heavy man up and over his shoulder and, with staggering steps, turned to face his nemesis. His muscles strained with the weight, heat, and lack of breath, and he went with his gut instinct. They needed out, and this was a dead end. They only had one option—to go back the way they’d come.
There was no freaking finesse in this plan. Training kicked in, and Max did the only thing he knew would work. He ran. Stumbling through debris and wincing as fire flicked at him, he forced his way through the ruins of fallen ceiling and was back in the main corridor. A dreadful crash behind them left him very aware the building was disintegrating around him.
The doorway was lit up like a hoop of fire he had to leap through, and with the last push of energy, he was through the entrance and out onto the street.
Hands were there helping him, relieving him of his burden, and he could only watch as the whole building imploded and a huge explosion of dust and debris rose into the night.
There was screaming and shouting, but in Max’s head, there was only peace. He had done his job.
* * * * *
The paramedics insisted on checking him out and pulled him over to their rig with a determination Max couldn’t fight. The cop was there. Ready for transport to the hospital, an oxygen mask over his nose and mouth. His eyes were open, and for a second Max looked into the clearest green gaze, and his breath hitched. He hadn’t really looked at the guy he was rescuing. Yeah, he’d cursed that the man was over six foot and near to dying in there, but the eyes and strong features visible under the mask and the firm lips and jaw—he’d definitely missed those.
The cop lifted the mask with shaky fingers. “I like firefighters,” he whispered and coughed.
“Sorry?” Max leaned in to hear him over the noise and chaos outside the rig.
“Firefighters… I can never find a gay one.”
Well, I like cops, Max thought.
He’d had proposals of marriage before from grateful women he’d rescued, but of course, he was way too professional, and too gay, to take them up on their offers. Was this cop coming on to him?
The guy was clearly delirious or oxygen-deprived or something. Max was used to this kind of reaction, and he generally played along. The people he rescued being very thankful was a given, and Max always took their comments in good humor, as did any firefighter in his position.
“Your bodies are fiiiine,” the patient was slurring. His expression was less focused and tending more toward unconsciousness. “And your hoses. Never find a gay one, though.” Then he started mumbling and suddenly closed his eyes.
Max moved swiftly out of the way and found himself watching as the rig moved off with the cop inside—to St Martin’s Hospital, he guessed.
A gay cop had come on to him, and then slumped into unconsciousness. They’d meet again—this was a small town—but the chances that the cop, Finn, would recall anything of what had just happened were slim.
Max resolved to go and visit the guy in the hospital; only to check and see if everything was okay. That was all. Nothing to do with the whole men-in-uniform thing. Or the fact that the gay cop had the greenest eyes against the bloodshot red.
“Look lively, Max,” Chief Quinn instructed.
It was a long time until the all clear. Even longer back to his small rented house and to the shower. He’d fit in a visit before work tomorrow, which, according to the clock on the microwave, was less than three hours away. The downside of volunteering was showing up at work, as usual, the next day. He knew his new employer would allow him some leeway, but it was only his second day working for the mayor of Ellery, and he hoped to hell the newness of the position would keep his feet moving and his brain alert.
Otherwise, he was fucked.
He didn’t remember falling asleep, but a call woke him from dreams and he scrambled for the phone after a moment’s disorientation. The screen showed seven a.m. Yawning widely, he answered.
“Max Harrison,” he said, unable to hide the exhaustion in his voice
“We need you at the station and then on to the scene,” Chief Quinn said. His captain’s voice was tense, and Max woke up pretty quickly. “Also, best bring your big-city moves as well. The initial walkthrough shows evidence the fire was started deliberately; could do with your take on this before I send the report to get an investigative team out here.”
“Ten minutes, sir,” Max said.
“Quick as you can.” Quinn sounded pissed. “In Ellery, people don’t set fires, Max. Fires happen by accident. Fat fryers, electrics, camp fires and the like. Fires don’t start because some idiot decides they want to see something burn. This isn’t the city, you know.”
Max agreed. In the city, deliberately set fires occurred on a daily basis. Things were different in Ellery.
“I’m leaving as soon as I can,” Max said and hung up. He was already out of bed and into the bathroom. Another thing about living two minutes from the station was that he could actually fit in another shower without being horrendously late. He’d showered when he got home, but he still smelled smoke in his nostrils, and he needed that added shot of cold to his system.
Showered but not shaved, he was dressed and out of the door in five and at the station in another two.
Quinn looked exhausted, like he’d been up all night, and was hunched over fragments of something on the main desk. Max appraised it quickly. He didn’t have to be an expert to see what was there. Remnants of a glass bottle, melted and nearly destroyed, and next to it a brand-new bottle filled with liquid and with a rag sticking out of the end.
“Found this at the scene and this out the back. Clearly one did the damage and the second wasn’t needed.”
Max’s gut clenched. This kind of fire-starter device was child’s play. Gas in the bottle, rag in the end, light the rag and throw. The glass broke, the gas spread, and the flames dispersed over a large area.
“Deliberate,” Max said. He didn’t need to say it, but Quinn was looking at him expectantly, evidently waiting for Max’s initial reaction. “But I’d need to see the burn patterns to be sure.”
They made their way over to what was left of the building.
The meeting was far more interesting than Max had expected. He’d thought he’d left arson back in the city, imagined that Ellery would be a whole different kettle of fish. But no. The forensics, backed up by the fire pattern and spread, could only mean that the fire had been started deliberately using the gas-and-jar method.
He and Quinn were called to a meeting with Chief of Police Carter Mayfield and the mayor. It felt weird to have moved from a situation in which he was learning to support the mayor to one in which he was suddenly the experienced one.
“Did you manage to get any fingerprints from the glass?” Max asked the chief of police.
Mayfield shook his head. “Nothing that was usable. Whoever it was, took great pains to keep everything clean. But this is what I don’t understand. Why wipe prints and put an end to the forensic trail that way, then leave a fully set-up cocktail ready to throw at the scene?”
“Maybe whoever it was expected to need to use two,” Quinn pointed out. “Maybe they didn’t think the place was going to go up so quickly. The explosion burned up the grass outside the building and came close to where we think the perp was standing—maybe he or she just got scared and ran.”
Chief Quinn tapped his notes. “Max, have you come across anything like this before? A deliberate arson where the tools are left behind?”
Max paused for a moment. What he wanted to say would be nothing new to the chief, but maybe, just maybe, some of what he said would ring a bell with the cops. He was new to this town and didn’t have a handle on the general population yet. Settling his thoughts, he slid straight into where his experience and knowledge could help.
“Arsonists can be split into five categories. Most arsons are committed for either revenge or excitement. The remainder as acts of vandalism, or to conceal a crime, or for profit, including insurance fraud. Leaving evidence at the site implies the firebug is new to all this, but that doesn’t help us categorize him or her. I think we can rule out concealing crime or profit, given that this is a public building and there was no crime in there to hide. But that doesn’t tell us whether it was for revenge or excitement.”
“So in your opinion?”
“Revenge for a case? Vandalism against a cop, or cops in general. Nothing else was hit, so the precinct was clearly the only target. Do you have any ongoing cases, or anything outstanding you should be tracking back?”
“No one who has an arson MO,” Mayfield answered quickly. Frowning, he glanced down at the photos of the crime scene with the Fire Department markings. “This is a quiet place. Only one suspicious death in twenty years. Other than that, just your average kids’ stuff—nothing like attempted murder.”
No one mentioned the fact that Mayfield had labeled it an attempted murder, simply because it had been. Whoever had thrown the bottle must have known there were people inside.
Max left the meeting unsettled, and after he stepped out onto the sidewalk, he took a detour back to the destroyed police house. Something itched at the base of his skull—a similarity to a case back in Nashville. A disgruntled ex-employee of a chemical company. There had been no chance of causing damage to his employers, so he’d taken it out on the closest thing—pharmacies carrying the medications his ex-employers created. But the only similarity was that the same method had been used. Max recalled that, when questioned, the guy had said he’d researched how to set a fire on the internet. He sighed inwardly. He’d never quite got over the fact that people posted shit like that online—detailed instructions on how to burn a building to the ground in three easy stages, simply using a bottle and accelerant. He’d have to check what instructions were out there for people to follow now.
The whole area was cordoned off with tape, and contractors were setting up a ring of fencing around the whole site. The place was still a crime scene, and until the cops and the fire team signed off on the cause, it was likely to stay that way. Given the assumption that it was arson, Max just wanted to get one last look at what was left.
He ducked under the tape, then circled the structure. With the roof collapsed in, it was hard to make an assessment of what had been where. Two levels of the old building had been destroyed through a combination of fire and water, and Max didn’t need witness reports to locate the point of origin. The fire had spread outward, and tracing the widest part of destruction back to the narrowest; there was no question that whoever had thrown that first bottle had been standing on the slight hill to the rear of the building. Max climbed until he was at that vantage point and looked down at what would have been there.
Chief Quinn had already been out and done a review, but something about this didn’t sit right with Max. He’d spent his lunch hour flicking through the witness reports. There had been three staff members in the office. Kathy White, the dispatcher, who’d been leaving to go off shift, Drew Bryant, the officer with a few hours still left on his shift, and Corporal Finn Ryan. Of course, there had also been Mike Fitzgerald. From all he’d heard, the man was the ubiquitous town drunk, and records indicated that Corporal Ryan had brought him in after picking him up in Broadfields Park on the outskirts of town.
The dispatcher said a call had been made and Corporal Ryan had been asked to pick him up on the way back through town from wherever he was. He hadn’t even been on duty and had just been picking the guy up—as every cop at this small station had at some point or another—as a favor. Five minutes after making Fitzgerald comfortable in temporary holding, in Finn’s words, “Just to keep him safe,” the fire had started. Kathy and Drew had been downstairs. Finn had been upstairs, signing paperwork in the small area outside holding. Then the explosion. Drew reported it as like a firework that had kept on going—crackles and sparks and a great whoosh of sound. That was consistent with the use of an accelerant and the old construction style of the building.
Finn, on the other hand, said he’d been immediately overwhelmed by heat before he’d heard a thing. Which implied the entry had been on the upper floor. So whoever had been throwing had aimed up and away from them. They’d evidently had no clue how much damage the fire could cause. In a building that old, there would have been no need for a second attack, but whoever had stood there and thrown that first bottle had a second just in case. This had been focused and personal, and not at all a random thing.
Kathy and Drew had used the front door, and the fire had developed between Finn, who had been forced down the stairs, and Fitzgerald in holding. Yet, as soon as Finn had his wits about him, he’d gone back in. Risked himself for a guy who appeared to have little love from his fellow townspeople. The action had been pure bravery layered with stupidity.
Max could understand why he had done it.
“What do you think?”
Max looked up to see the chief staring down at him in his crouch. “I don’t think we can help anymore,” Max concluded. “Forensics on this won’t give us anything else. It’s a cop matter now.”
“I came to the same conclusion.” Quinn sounded tired, and Max stood with a stretch.
The expression on the other man’s face was one of confusion and defeat. “We can’t always have the answers,” Max offered.
Quinn nodded. “Twenty-four years I’ve been here, first as a lieutenant, now chief, running the place on a shoestring, and six months from retirement an arsonist falls on my lap. I wanted everything tied up before moving on. Let’s pray this is a one-off that can be dealt with.”
“I’ll start pulling the intel together for the cops,” Max said.
The job of the fire guys was to take the evidence to the cops, study burn patterns, work out possible areas where the firebug could have been. Added to that, after ten years of experience Max was able to work up a valid profile of who could have done this. Of course, his frame of reference was the city of Nashville, where the spectrum of reasons was huge. Ellery was smaller, and maybe his familiarity wasn’t so spot-on. Still, he could get something to the cops if it helped. As it was, the bottle would need to be fingerprinted by the cops. The rest of it was their responsibilty.
“I need you to liaise and do your thing. I cleared it with Mayor Dexter for you to be with us today.”
“Shit,” he muttered.
The chief glanced up at him and frowned.
Damn, he didn’t want to contradict the chief, but he’d known something like this would happen one day, just not on his second day in town. He wanted to present a reliable face to his new boss; didn’t want to give the mayor the impression that he was undependable. It was a problem faced by a huge number of firefighters who juggled a job and being a volunteer, but he wasn’t used to it, having moved from being a full-time firefighter.
“Son, you were taken on as an administrator with the express agreement that you’d be a firefighter as well.”
Max nodded. After what had happened to him back in Nashville, he was more than aware that he was stupid—waiting for the axe to fall.
“I need you to check in with Corporal Ryan. See if he witnessed anything. The mayor said he’s dividing off some office space for the cops until they get a new site up and running. As soon as the cops are set up at the mayor’s office, get on over and give them the heads-up on everything we know.”
“And good work last night, Harrison.”
Max thanked him and left, thoughts about what he had seen and been told still spinning in his head. Only one thing floated to the top, past the arson, past the exhaustion that made him long for bed. The cops were setting up at the mayor’s place. That was going to be cozy.
Finally out of the building, Max headed straight for his truck. Red, solid and rust-free, his old Ford had served him all through college and the city and lastly to here, slap-bang in the middle of the Smoky Mountains.
Climbing in, he patted the dash affectionately as he did every single time he sat in her. “Okay, girl,” he said, “looks like I brought the shit from the city.” He waited until the road was clear, then pulled out onto Main. “So much for a quiet life.”
At least he’d get to see Finn again, if only in a professional capacity. Then he could see how green was his gaze when his eyes weren’t bloodshot.