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Author Lorana Hoopes

Men of Fire Beach bundle Signed Paperbacks

Men of Fire Beach bundle Signed Paperbacks

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Cara Hunter let the warm wind blow in the open window as she drove down the interstate in her red Ford Mustang. Her left hand drifted up to adjust her sunglasses, as her right tapped on the steering wheel, the rhythm close to the one blaring out of her radio. A smile played across her lips as she thought of seeing Steve again. She only came this way once a month, but it was her favorite day each month. Though she enjoyed running the bed and breakfast in Fire Beach, she missed working closely with Steve. 

Perhaps it was the military regimen or the added sense of security that she missed the most, but Steve’s dry sense of humor topped the list as well. Besides, doing the research on her own was not only lonely, but living the double life was beginning to take its toll on her. She’d noticed that in the mirror this morning as she got dressed. There were definitely more wrinkles around her eyes and a deeper crease in her forehead than there had been a year ago when she’d been forced to leave the base and create a secret identity in Fire Beach.

At first, she hadn’t minded. It had been good to see Jordan again, and the bed and breakfast provided some relief from her other work. The work that consumed her nights and invaded her dreams. Even during the day, it kept her on edge. She had been forced to keep a tight circle of friends for fear of never knowing who she could trust, but she knew she could trust Steve. She could relax and be herself around him. These once a month visits were the only times she felt like she wasn’t lying to everyone around her. The only time the tension truly melted from her shoulders even as they discussed mortality rates and vaccine issues. She just hoped he had found more than she had.

The last few weeks had been one setback after another. Of course, she wasn’t dealing with the live virus strands or the rats - Steve had taken that on - but mapping the epitopes was no walk in the park either. It was just a little safer.

She slowed the car as she reached the turnoff for his street. Smiling, she wondered if he would have dressed today. He hadn’t the last time she’d come, and she’d been shocked when he opened the door wearing SpongeBob pajama pants and an old Army shirt. He’d explained that since he’d left the base and rarely seemed to leave his house, he’d taken to only changing out of his pajamas for showers which she was almost certain had become fewer and farther between. He had always been eccentric, but the loneliness and stress had certainly taken a strange toll on him. She wondered what his neighbors thought of him.

As she parked the car a few spots from his door, a weird tingling sensation shot down her spine. On instinct, she turned the engine off and scanned the area looking for anything out of place and listening for any noise that didn’t belong. Other than the silence that seemed thicker today than normal, nothing appeared contrary to how it usually was. Perhaps the stress was getting to her too.

She grabbed her laptop bag and headed toward his house. He’d picked a nondescript rambler in the middle of a residential neighborhood. “To blend in better,” he’d said. She supposed it worked. Sometimes hiding in plain sight was better than hiding anywhere else.

After a final scan of the surrounding area, she knocked softly on Steve’s door. “Steve, are you in here?” A feeling of unease washed over her as it creaked open. Steve never left his door unlocked. Like her, he was paranoid of being caught doing his research. Even though they’d been sanctioned by the military, what they were doing could be dangerous if it fell into the wrong hands. It was something she worried about every day, and she’d had enough conversations with Steve to know the fear had taken residence in his mind too.

She should turn around right now. Or call Jordan. At least if she had a detective with her, she wouldn’t be blamed for whatever she might find inside, but she had to know. Careful not to touch anything more, she nudged the door open a little farther with her elbow.

The unease burgeoned into terror as she took in the room. Or what was left of it. Furniture had been shredded and lay upended across the room. Drawers hung like broken arms from the desk. Books and papers littered the floor, and an eerie silence filled the room. How she wished she had more than the small knife concealed in her boot. 

The desire to call Steve’s name again burned in her throat, but she clamped her jaws shut. Though it felt as if whoever had done this was gone, alerting them to her presence would be reckless if they were still in the house. 

Instead, she took cautious steps around the mess, careful not to step on anything and leave footprints. As she did, she looked for any prints that might have been left by the perpetrator. It hadn’t rained lately, so the chances were slim but even an indention on a piece of paper would help. 

The living room opened to a kitchen which was equally messy. All the drawers had been emptied on the floor and the cabinet doors gaped open like hungry mouths. Someone had obviously been looking for something, and Cara knew they had probably found it. 

Steve kept most of his research in a hidden closet in his bedroom, but if whoever had done this was this thorough, it was unlikely they hadn’t found the room. She just hoped Steve hadn’t been home when they had.

Exiting the kitchen, she proceeded carefully down the hallway. Steve’s house was small - just a single bedroom after he and his wife had split up. That left only two more doors - the bathroom and the bedroom. Both doors were open, and Cara glanced quickly in the sparse bathroom before continuing to the bedroom.

Fear, rage, and disgust battled for her dominant emotion as she nudged the bedroom door open further and saw Steve lying face down on the bed. The puddle of brick-colored liquid surrounding him left no doubt that he was dead, and the open door to his secret closet at the other end of the room confirmed her suspicion that his research was gone.

There was no reason to stay any longer. She needed to get out of there before any of the neighbors saw her and tried to pin this murder on her. 

Retracing her steps, Cara exited the house and climbed back in her car. The composure she had worked so hard to contain while in the house crumbled as her door shut. Tremors took over her body as she grappled with the knowledge. Someone had killed Steve. Was she next?

Her hand shook as she fumbled to get the key in the ignition. She needed to call Jordan and have him send someone to the scene, but first she needed to call Malone. She had to know if he knew and what he was going to do to protect her.

She punched in his personal number before throwing the car into reverse and backing away from the crime scene. Every nerve in her body wanted her to flee, press the gas and roar out of the area, but that would only draw unwanted attention. Attention she didn’t need.

“Cara? What’s going on?” The concern in Malone’s deep voice resonated through her car, but it did nothing to calm her racing heart.

“Steve’s dead.” Choked with emotion, the strangled words hardly sounded like her voice.


“He’s dead. I stopped in for our monthly meetup, but I was too late. Someone beat me there. They trashed the place, killed Steve, and stole the research.” Her hands gripped the steering wheel, the color in her knuckles fading to a dull white.

“Are you sure they got the research?”

Cara glanced down at her phone briefly as if glaring at it could send her ire to Malone. How could he sound so calm when she had just told him a member of their team was dead? And why did he appear more interested in the research than the man’s life? 

“Well, I didn’t paw through everything and leave my fingerprints all over the place, but the house was trashed. His secret room was open. I have no doubt they found everything they were looking for. Do you even care about Steve?”

Malone’s sigh echoed through her speakers. “Of course I do, but I don’t have to remind you Cara that our work is important. We’re talking about saving lives.”

“Right now we ought to be thinking about endangering lives. Steve had samples of the virus and mice that may or may not have been infected which means someone else now has them, and we have no idea what they plan to do with them. What if they come after me? Geez, Malone, how did they even know to come after Steve?” The questions tumbled out of her mouth like drips from a leaky faucet, but for each one she voiced, a dozen more scrambled for space in her brain.

“I don’t know, Cara. I will look into it. For now, stay safe and see if you can get a breakthrough on that vaccine.”

She wanted to ask him how exactly she was supposed to do that, but before she could say anything more, the click of him hanging up the phone reverberated through the car. She was on her own. 

Well, not entirely on her own. She had Jordan and the rest of her friends in Fire Beach. They didn’t know about her secret life, but she had no doubt they would help her out when she told them. She just had to make it back home.

First Chapter

Cassidy Marcel gazed at the firehouse with trepidation. She loved her job, but she also knew firefighters. They loved to razz each other over everything, and her appearance on the reality dating show, Who Wants to Marry a Cowboy, would be no exception. 

She’d gone on the show at the urging of her mother who was begging for grandkids, but Cassidy couldn’t deny her biological clock was ticking as well. And it had come on suddenly. One day, she’d been content to be a single woman focusing on her career as a firefighter and the next, a desperate need to start a family had erupted within her. She’d begun dating again, but none of the men she had been out with fit the bill of what she was looking for – stable, self-sufficient, and a man of God. 

So, when she’d seen that Tyler, the cowboy bachelor for this episode, was one, she’d re-considered her initial refusal and asked God for clarity. While she hadn’t heard a loud voice in her head, she’d felt a sense of peace about it, and so she’d done the audition. And been chosen. And even felt a connection with Tyler. Until it became obvious that he had eyes for someone else. Now, she was back with a wounded ego, a bruised heart, and a feeling of confusion as she wondered if she’d been following her own will instead of God’s. And she knew there would be teasing from her fellow firefighters. 

Plus, she wondered how Captain Fitzgerald was going to react. The stony-faced Captain hadn’t been her biggest fan before she took three weeks off; she assumed she would be even lower on his list now.

Inhaling deeply, she pulled her shoulders back hoping she appeared more confident than she felt. Then she opened her car door, tucked her dark hair behind her ears, and walked into the lion’s den.

“Marcel, so glad you could grace us with your presence again.” Billy Campbell, or Bubba, as everyone called him stood before her, a giant smile on his face. He was one of her favorite people in the firehouse. Originally from Texas, he had a heart bigger than his smile and was more like an older brother than a co-worker. “I didn’t want you to feel like we didn’t want you, so I thought this might help.” From behind his back, he brandished a miniature black cowboy hat and held it out to her. Though small, it somehow sported sequins that caught and shimmered in the light.

Cassidy rolled her eyes good naturedly as she shook her head. She should have expected something like this, especially after the sugar incident last year. When Cassidy first joined the firehouse, they had celebrated by taking her out to a local dive that served decent food and boasted a karaoke night. None of her favorites had been available though, and Cassidy ended up singing Def Leppard's “Pour Some Sugar on Me.” The next day, the guys had all presented her with bags of sugar throughout the day. Sugar wouldn’t have to grace her grocery list for another six months at least. 

“Haha, thanks, Bubba. I missed you too.” She grabbed the hat knowing several more of these would be in store before the day was through. “Did I miss any excitement while I was gone?”

Bubba pushed open the door to the common room that doubled as a living room and the kitchen area. “Only if you count Luca’s boycott of Deacon’s Paleo meal plan.”

“It’s not a meal if there are no potatoes in it,” Luca said, speaking up from the couch. Luca was a Southern boy as well, and he believed every meal should include meat and potatoes. And chocolate. The man insisted that every meal come with a dessert which explained the extra twenty pounds he carried on his frame. Somehow though it didn’t hinder him in his job. He was strong and agile and quicker than almost all of them. His eyes flicked up briefly from the television he was watching. “Oh, hey, Marcel, welcome back.” He launched something at her without ever taking his eyes off the screen. 

She knew what it was before it landed a few inches from her. Another miniature cowboy hat. This one was brown and had a tiny feather. Cassidy picked it up and flashed Luca a crooked grin. “Thanks, Luca. I missed you too.” 

“Forgive him. He didn’t like the brownies I gave him with dinner last night, and he’s still sour about it,” Deacon said as he stepped around the island in the kitchen and toward her and Bubba. Strong and dark skinned, Deacon was the epitome of an oxymoron. His bulging muscles gave him an intimidating presence, but inside he was the biggest teddy bear. He pulled her in for a hug before brandishing his own miniature hat.

Cassidy chuckled as she took the hat though she had no idea what she was going to do with all of these. Though she had received a hat every time Tyler chose her to stay, the producer’s took them back afterwards to have for the next show. They had allowed her to keep the final hat as a souvenir, and though Cassidy wasn’t sure she wanted to remember the show, she kept it as a reminder to never do something like that again.

“Brownies don’t have prunes in them,” Luca spoke up from the couch.

Cassidy lifted a brow at Deacon. “You made brownies with prunes? Things really have changed in a month.” It wasn’t that prunes were completely out of the norm for Deacon. He regarded his body as a temple and rarely put anything processed in it, but he also wasn’t one for sweets generally. He focused more on macronutrients and desserts rarely fit in his plan.

Deacon shrugged. “I thought I could slip some healthy desserts in on these guys. Keep them a little trimmer in the middle if you know what I mean.” He patted his rock-hard abs. 

“Might have worked too, if you hadn’t eaten them as well,” Bubba said with a deep laugh. “That was clue number one they had to be healthy. You really couldn’t taste the prunes though, but man did they wreak havoc on my insides later.”

“Okay, enough of that,” Cassidy said, shaking her head and squeezing her eyes shut. The image of a run on the bathroom was not the visual she wanted to have of her fellow firemen.

“Cassidy, oh my gosh, I’m so glad you’re back.” 

Cassidy would have recognized Ivy’s voice anywhere. Not only was she the only other woman in the firehouse, but her voice held just the slightest valley girl twang. On anyone else it might have been annoying, but Ivy was wholesomely sweet, down to earth, and as cute as a button. Her blond hair perfectly framed her heart-shaped face, and big blue eyes sat above a perfectly-shaped nose that contained no trace of freckles, unlike Cassidy’s. 

Because Fire Beach wasn’t a huge city, it made more sense to have the paramedics and the firefighters housed in the same place, so Ivy was often at the firehouse when Cassidy was. Dispatch usually sent both a firetruck and an ambulance to most calls though medical only calls were increasing which sent Ivy and the other paramedic out at other times as well. 

Ivy attacked her with a hug before Cassidy was ready and the gesture jostled her full arms sending the tiny hats flying to the floor. Ivy’s eyes widened as she released Cassidy and her petite hand flew to her mouth. “I’m so sorry. I was just so excited to see you. You don’t know how awful it’s been being the only woman here for the last month.” She dropped to the floor to help Cassidy pick up the hats.

Ivy was teasing. Mostly. But Cassidy had been at the firehouse before Ivy arrived, and she remembered how hard it was being the only female. The guys didn’t try to make her feel uncomfortable, but men and women were different. She’d been glad when Ivy joined to have another woman to talk to. “Don’t worry about it. They’re just silly hats, and I’m sorry I left you high and dry.”

“Marcel? Is that you?”

Cassidy froze at the stern sound of her captain’s voice. Having been recently promoted, Captain Darryl Fitzgerald was now all business. Every rule needed to be followed to the letter and the teasing shut down when he was around. She snatched the hat and stood. “Good morning, Captain, what can I do for you?”

“You can follow me to my office. We need to have a chat.”

“Of course, sir.” Cassidy fought the anxiety clawing at her throat. Captain Fitzgerald was intimidating, but she had just returned. She couldn’t have done anything too bad. Maybe it was about the hats. She would explain that the guys were just razzing her a little and then take them to her car so they were out of sight.

Cassidy’s anxiety increased when Captain Fitzgerald shut the door to his office behind her. Closed door meetings rarely held a good outcome. Her hand rubbed the back of her neck. “Have I done something, sir?” She hated the slight tremble in her voice, but he controlled her future, and she loved her job.

“Sit.” He pointed at one of the chairs opposite his desk and then walked to his own chair and sat down. Cassidy sat in the indicated chair and crossed her legs, then uncrossed them and sat straighter.

“I know that you had time saved up for this trip, but I need someone I can rely on in this firehouse.” His steely eyes held hers as if daring her to challenge him.

Cassidy swallowed the knot in her throat and lifted her chin, hoping it came across as confidence and not sass. “I understand, sir, and I have no intention of going anywhere else anytime soon.”

He leaned back in his chair and folded his arms across his chest. “That is good to hear, but to be sure, I am giving you some extra cleaning duties. You’ll be in charge of cleaning the truck for the next month, and I want it sparkling at the end of every shift. Is that clear?”

Cassidy’s mouth fell open, and she hurried to close it. She had no idea if he had the power to do that since she technically had done nothing wrong, but she wasn’t going to argue with him. She loved this job and this house. No way did she want to go back to being a floater, so if he wanted her to wash the truck every day, she would do it. If he wanted to put her on kitchen duty, she would do that too even though her cooking left a lot to be desired. “Crystal clear, sir. I promise I am committed to this job and will do whatever it takes to prove it to you.”

“Perfect, now we should discuss the mail situation.” He steepled his fingers and regarded her with another cool stare. She was definitely on his list.

She furrowed her brow, confused as to what he could mean. “I’m sorry, the what?”

His eyebrow inched up his forehead. “You don’t know?” Cassidy shook her head. “It appears you garnered a few fans while you were gallivanting on your show, and as they didn’t know where you lived, they dropped your mail here.”

Cassidy winced and bit the inside of her lip. No wonder he was angry. Captain Ferguson hated it when anything from the outside encroached on the sanctity of the fire house. “I had no idea, sir. I’m so sorry.”

He waved a hand dismissing her. “It is what it is, but I want them gone from the firehouse at the end of your shift.”

“Of course, sir. Um, where are they?”

He nodded to the corner of the room, and Cassidy turned, spying a large brown bag that she hadn’t noticed when they entered. Roughly the size of a burlap sack, it bulged and protruded as wide as appeared possible. “All of that is for me?”

“Yep, letters, gifts, you name it. I suggest you find a better place for it.”

“Yes, sir.” Cassidy pulled her shoulders back as she faced the mountainous bag. Since shift had just started, she might as well take it to the bunk room and go through it while there was time. She didn’t need all of this cluttering her small apartment either.

The bag proved unwieldy but thankfully just enough extra sack remained at the top that she was able to drag it down the hallway and into the bunk room. Meant generally for sleeping when they worked long shifts, the bunk room held rows of two beds separated by half walls. A small table that contained only a lamp sat between each two-bed section.

She and Ivy shared the section at the very back of the room, and sweat rolled down Cassidy’s spine as she pulled the bag to the bunk she normally slept in. With a sigh, she plopped down on the bunk and opened the bag. If Santa had been real, she would know exactly how he felt. She grabbed one of the envelopes and opened it.

“Dear Cassidy, I saw you on the show, and I think we’d make a great couple. I love horses and roller skating. You can call me at 555-1324. Signed, David. P.S. If a woman answers, it’s just my mom.”

Cassidy wrinkled her nose, shook her head, and laid the letter to the side. No need to keep that one. She wanted a man established enough that he lived on his own or maybe with a roommate. Rent wasn’t cheap in the city, but moms were a no go. She wanted a man who had a good relationship with his mother but who didn’t still live with his mother. She reached into the bag again. One down and only a few hundred to go. It was going to be a long afternoon.

* * *

Jordan issued his apology as he hurried into the office. “Sorry I’m late. We were helping with a drug bust.”

“Of course you were,” Graham said with a roll of his eyes. 

“It’s no problem, Jordan, we were just getting started.” Mr. Keyes, their father’s attorney adjusted his tie before placing his hands on either side of a stack of papers. “I’m sure you know that I called you in today for a reading of your father’s will. Most of it is rather straightforward, but there is something I wasn’t sure you were aware of.” He picked up the top sheet of paper and scanned it before flipping it around to them. “Did you know your father owned a bar?”

“A bar?” Graham asked, leaning forward.

“That’s not possible. Dad was an alcoholic. Why would he own a bar?” Jordan asked.

“It hasn’t been a bar in a long time. In fact, it hasn’t been anything for a long time. I drove by the other day, so I would have current information for you both. It appears to be boarded up currently.” He pulled a picture from the stack and slid it across the table to Graham who glanced at it before handing it to Jordan.

“So, we should try and sell it, right?” Jordan asked. He had no use for a bar or the rundown building in the picture.

“No, we can’t sell it,” Graham said, shooting him an incredulous look. “Dad obviously kept the bar for a reason.”

A reason? Jordan doubted it. Their father had spent most of his life so drunk that he rarely had a reason for anything. “He probably forgot he owned it and therefore had no presence of mind to sell it. What would we do with an old building?”

Mr. Keyes said nothing but shifted his gaze from one brother to the next as they argued.

“What would we do?” Graham turned in his chair to face Jordan, his face a picture of contempt. “We fix it up, give it new life, take it back to how it once was.”

Jordan shook his head. Obsessed with focusing on the positive, Graham always wanted to fix things, even when the better option would be to stay out of it. “No way, I’m not opening a bar. I won’t encourage drinking and enable the same behavior that claimed Dad.”

“Fine, we’ll turn it into a family restaurant then. A place where cops can hang out and have a sense of community.” Graham had added that last part to try and persuade Jordan but he wasn’t biting. 

“I have no time to fix up a restaurant. Nor do I know anything about running a restaurant. And what about the money? Did Dad leave any money to fix this place?”

“Your father left you the proceeds from the sale of the house and he had a few stocks and bonds, but it isn’t much.”

And there it was. Their father hadn’t kept the house in good enough condition to turn a profit and he hadn’t thought about his sons’ future either. He’d only thought about his next drink. “See? It isn’t much. Probably not enough to renovate an old bar and turn it into a restaurant.”

Graham folded his arms across his chest and turned away from Jordan. “I’m not selling. Dad could have sold the building years ago, and he didn’t. That tells me it meant something to him, so I’m going to restore it with or without you.”

Jordan turned fierce eyes on the lawyer. “Can he do that? Can he make me keep it?”

Mr. Keyes shrugged and offered an apologetic half smile. “He could offer to buy you out, but there is no stipulation that he has to sell.”

Before he could say anything else, Jordan’s phone buzzed. He swiped the screen, shook his head, and stood. “I have to go, but this isn’t over. We are going to discuss this, Graham.”

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Lorana Hoopes

Lorana Hoopes is a USA Today Best Selling Author and now an Award Winning Author as well. She's had two books earn a Page Turner Award Finalist badge and she recently won the Reader's Favorite Book Award for Romantic Suspense.