Dragon shifter Chloe Arish is hell-bent on becoming a Boston firefighter. She uses her Irish charm and fake documents to score an interview, knowing she has to work every bit as hard as a man—harder if she wants their respect.
Born into a legendary Boston firefighting family, phoenix shifter Ryan Fierro can’t possibly let someone best him on the training course or the job. He’d never hear the end of it. When a feisty new recruit comes along who’s determined to do just that, Ryan plots to kick her out—until their sizzling chemistry turns explosive…
“Are you sure you’re up for this?” Ryan asked.
Chloe had her gym bag over her shoulder and laughed. “Why? Did that little hotel fire yesterday tucker you out?”
He grinned. “What fire?”
“Exactly. I thought a big city like this would be a lot busier.”
“I know from listening to family members that it can be crazy busy. Sitting around and waiting for something to happen was the hardest thing about yesterday.”
“I’m looking forward to the physical exercise,” Chloe said.
“Me too.” He held open the door for her.
She had almost given up on trying to change his “ladies first” mentality. It seemed as if that was ingrained in his makeup. Obviously he’d had no sisters who were willing to run up and over his back to be first.
“So, what do you think of this twenty-four hours on and four days off schedule?” he asked as they waited for the elevator.
She laughed. “Yeah, the schedule is feckin’ crazy. But I guess we hit it right. It could just as easily have been three or four days round the clock, and then a day off.”
“That would have been fine by me. I get bored easily.”
The elevator arrived and they stepped inside. Chloe didn’t address his comment. It was hard to tell if it was his competitive nature again, or if he just meant it as an innocent comment.
She would see if his competitive streak showed itself again soon enough. They changed in their respective locker rooms and met at the weightlifting equipment.
As she spotted him, he lifted more weight than she thought the average man could manage. But Ryan was proving he was anything but average.
The weight he kept adding to the barbells was bordering on ridiculous. His skin glistened with a fine sheen of sweat, and she couldn’t help noticing his muscles. Damn it all, her mouth watered. Don’t drool, Chloe. He has enough of an ego without you feeding it.
At last it was her turn. He started removing the weights, and she said, “Leave ’em.”
He cocked a brow. “Seriously? You think you can lift this?”
He smirked. “All right, princess. I’ll let you try…but just so you know, I’m going to hover. You don’t need an injury before your next shift.”
She rolled her eyes. “Fine. Hover all you want. I’m tellin’ you, I can do this.”
As he stood behind her and she lay on the bench below the barbell, he chewed his lower lip. Ah, a tell. Now she knew when he was nervous.
Her toned arms looked even leaner as she reached for the barbell.
“Don’t,” he said and clamped his hand over the middle of the bar.
“Excuse me? It’s my turn.”
“I know, but I can’t let you do this. Even if you did manage to lift it, the strain isn’t worth it. You need your arm strength for the job.”
At that moment a woman appeared dressed as if she were auditioning for a remake of the ’80s movie Flashdance—complete with leg warmers and a poofy perm.
“I need to speak with you, miss,” she said.
“I’m in the middle of—”
“Now!” The woman grabbed her hand and all but yanked her off the bench, then marched her to the ladies locker room. When they saw a couple of women chatting, the staff member barked, “Leave!” They immediately scurried out.
“Jaysus, there’s no need to be—”
Suddenly the woman transformed into none other than Mother Nature herself. Her hair turned white, long, and loose, and she wore her signature ivory robe, belted with a vine.
Chloe gasped. She had only met the deity once, but it was a meeting she’d never forget. One isn’t often lectured by the Goddess of all. And here she was, almost breaking the rule she’d been lectured about.
“What do you think you’re doing?”
When she recovered her decorum, Chloe answered, “Defending the right of women to be as strong as a man.”
Mother Nature paced, staring at her with narrowed eyes. “Are you an ‘idjit,’ as your people would say?”
Chloe folded her arms. “Not a’tall.”
“I beg to differ. What if I had been a real staff member? Without the muscle to back up your ability, you’d reveal that you’re supernatural. You know that’s not allowed.”
“Yeah. I-yi-I! Not. Good. Downright stupid.”
“I get it! You don’t have to insult me intelligence.”
“Oh, I think I do. If I were sweet about it, would you listen?” She mockingly said in a meek voice, “If it’s not too much trouble…that is, if you wouldn’t mind…would you kindly refrain from trying to show your strength?”
Chloe had to agree. She’d steamroll a request like that and do whatever she wanted. And she wanted to show Ryan she was his equal.
“I understand your competitive nature. Hell, I gave it to you! I thought women might need it, being the smaller, gentler sex.”
“So you knew we’d have to prove we’re equal?”
Mother Nature rolled her eyes. “Again. Just who do you think you’re talking to?”
“Now, go out there and take at least half the weight off that barbell. If you can’t do that, make up an excuse to leave.”
Chloe sighed. “Yes, ma’am. I’ll make up an excuse and go home.”
Mother Nature’s eyes widened and she rose about a foot off the floor. “I hate being called ma’am! It’s Goddess, or Gaia, or Mother Nature. Understand?”
“I do. My apologies, Goddess.”
She nodded and floated to the floor again. “That’s better.” She patted Chloe on the head. “Now be a good little dragon and pretend to be normal.”
Oh, that rankled. But when dealing with the Goddess of all, the least of her problems was a little patronizing behavior—or would it be matronizing? Whatever. The woman could reduce her to ash if she wanted to. Her fireproof gift could be removed in the blink of an eye, and then where would she be? Reduced to competing with the others on a human basis. Ugh.
Chloe changed into her street clothes and found Ryan. She waved her cell phone. “Sorry. I got a call from my brother. Apparently he needs me right away.”
“Oh. Sure,” Ryan said as he put the free weights back in the rack. “Just give me a minute to change and I’ll drive you home.”
“Not necessary. I can find my way.”
“Are you sure? I don’t mind leaving early. Maybe I can help.”
“Ah, no. It’s a family matter. I’ll see you at work in a few days.”
When she saw the disappointed look on his face, she impulsively invited him to their session at the Boston Uncommon Tea Room the following night. During training she had told him that her family formed a small Irish folk band and he’d said he liked that kind of music.
Now she had to think up a plausible family emergency and ask Rory and Shannon to play along.
About the author
ASHLYN CHASE specializes in characters that reinvent themselves, having reinvented herself numerous times. She has a degree in behavioral sciences and has worked as a psychiatric and a Red Cross nurse for several years. She lives with her real-life hero husband in New Hampshire.