Author Suzanne Winslow
Genre Contemporary Romance
Where there’s smoke there’s fire…
Third grade teacher Jenifer Nichols is getting her life back on track. The widowed single mother has worked hard to regain her pride and independence while carrying the guilt of her estranged husband’s death. Her new home in Grand Rapids provides a fresh start for her and her six-year-old son. Jenifer no longer believes in happy endings, but sparks ignite when the handsome firefighter across the street saves her son from a terrible accident.
Career firefighter Matthew Barnes missed the kind of childhood other kids had. Proud of his job protecting others, he longs to have a family, but a childhood accident means he can't have kids of his own. Then, just as sparks are turning into flames with Jenifer, his past suddenly threatens to turn his dreams of a bright future into ashes.
Defining what it means to be a family can be complicated. Jenifer and Matt have both been burned by love before. Taking a second chance will take courage and commitment. But their happily ever after could go up in smoke before it has the chance to catch fire.
When they got home, Robbie was still sound asleep. They got out of the car and Matt went to open the back door.
“You don’t have to carry him again.” Jenifer looked over his shoulder into the back seat. She hated to wake Robbie, but she couldn’t carry him herself, and she didn’t want to ask Matt to do it again. “He’ll go right back to sleep this time.”
“I got him.” Matt lifted Robbie out of the car and carried him behind Jenifer into the house. She led him upstairs where he laid Robbie carefully onto his bed without waking him. He nodded toward the door. “I’ll wait for you outside.”
The nightlight at the top of the stairs cast a shadow across the doorway, leaving the rest of the room dark as Matt went downstairs. Her heart beat faster as she thought about whether or not it had been wise to go out with him tonight. Her attraction to him was strong. It made her uneasy. Wishing her life was different only made it harder.
After she tucked Robbie into bed, she went to find Matt sitting in a rocking chair under the porch light. A full moon brightened the sky. Next door, kids dribbled a basketball in the driveway and laughter followed a hard slam against the backboard. She sat in the chair beside him and said, tentatively, “I bet we were more than you bargained for tonight.”
“Not at all.” His bright-blue eyes turned serious. “Can I ask you a personal question?”
Jenifer leaned back into her chair and nodded.
“Where’s Robbie’s father?”
She took a deep breath and let it out slowly. It was harder to talk to him about her husband than she had expected. Especially when she was starting to have feelings for him. “Patrick was killed in a car accident two years ago.”
Matt lowered his head and his voice softened. “I’m sorry.”
“We were married for three years.” She looked down at her hands folded on her lap. The night had fallen quiet after the basketball game next door ended. “We met in college.”
“Are you from Michigan?”
“No, I grew up in Chicago. Patrick was from Grand Rapids. His parents still live in Forest Hills.” Not far from the home she’d lived in when she was married and then sold after Patrick’s death. The house had been all Patrick—much too large and extravagant for her taste. She’d meant for him to live there after the divorce, and she had no desire to keep it after his death.
“Are you close to his parents?”
“No.” A heavy weight settled deep in her chest. An old wound she thought might never go away. “We had a falling out after Patrick died. Robbie still sees them sometimes.” Rather than explain, she said, “Tell me about your family.”
“There’s not much to tell. My mother remarried a few years ago and moved to California with her husband. We’re close. Her husband, Ben, is a good guy. They just live far away.”
“What about your dad? Do you have any brothers or sisters?”
He shook his head. “I never met my father.” He sat forward and shifted in his chair. “My parents divorced before I was born. I don’t have any other family.”
“Have you ever been married?”
Her mind drifted to thoughts of Jessie. The night she met Matt, he’d told her there was nothing between them. He’d also mentioned Jessie had a problem with him, and she wondered again what he had meant.
He reached over and covered her hand with his. “What are you thinking about?”
She looked down at his warm fingers engulfing hers in a gesture that felt both tender and protective. “Nothing. It’s none of my business.”
“Whatever it is, I’m pretty sure I want it to be your business.”
A little more confident now that she wasn’t crossing any lines, she asked, “Will you tell me about Jessie?”
He rubbed a hand over his mouth, failing to hide the corners that had turned down. “Jessie and I dated in high school. She moved to Florida after graduation. I never saw her again until the night you and I met.”
And she still had a problem with him? “Are you still friends?”
“No,” Matt said with a quick shake of his head.
Jenifer got the vague impression Jessie wasn’t that simple. But it still didn’t matter. It was Jenifer’s past holding her back, not Matt’s.
Matt gave her hand a squeeze and waited for her to look at him. “Will you have dinner with me next Saturday?”
Her stomach sank. “I’m not sure that’s such a great idea.”
“Because I don’t know if I’m ready to do this.”
“Consider this a test then.” The corner of his mouth lifted when she hesitated, and it seemed she might be wavering. “Please?”
He squeezed her hand again. This time sliding his fingers between hers until she found she didn’t have the willpower to tell him no. “Okay. All right. I’ll go to dinner with you.”
He grinned at her like one of her third-grade students. “I wore you down, didn’t I?”
“I have a feeling you’re good at that.”
His grin turned into a warm, sweet smile as he brushed his thumb over her wrist. “I have a feeling I’ll have to be."
Jenifer sighed. The poor man, he was probably right.
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Suzanne Winslow writes the kind of stories she loves to read—contemporary romance with relatable characters, unsung heroes and heroines, and true-to-life stories. Nurses, teachers, firefighters, and Marines top her list of champions. Give her a book about strong, brave characters with hidden vulnerabilities and a secret passion, and she’ll binge read to the end!
Suzanne and her husband call Upstate New York home. When she’s not reading or writing, she’s often planning a road trip, or if it’s summertime, hanging out at the lake. Connecting with readers through Instagram, Facebook, and newsletters is a favorite pastime.
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