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Hot Damn

By:Katherine Lace

Chapter 1


The theme song to the original series of Star Trek has words, and I’m singing them at the top of my lungs while I’m blasting the soundtrack in my bathroom. The acoustics in here are awesome, and why is it that all bathrooms are great places to sing? It’s a mystery of the universe.

The song ends, and there’s a moment of silence before the next one starts, broken only by the sound of the water pounding down on me. Then a full orchestra takes over, launching into the end-credit theme from Captain America: The Winter Soldier.

I’m a girl who knows how to live it the fuck up, I’ll tell you what.

It’s not often I get to blast music while I’m in the shower. I’m sure my neighbors are happy I don’t do it very often. On the other hand, the nights I can’t play music, they’re probably hearing Christopher cry, scream, or throw tantrums. He does that a lot. I know he’s just a stubborn toddler, but I’ve managed to convince myself on more than one occasion that he acts the way he does because he knows his mother is a failure at life.

He’s at my sister’s tonight, though, so I don’t have to worry about the things I’m doing wrong that will lead to him having to pursue very expensive therapy when he becomes an adult. Also? I get to take a shower. An actual shower, without a two-year-old banging on the door wanting to know if he can play with the paring knives. Which, by the way, he can’t reach, so at least I’ve got that going for me.

I also can’t do the “best of season two Original Series Star Trek” marathon I’ve been planning for weeks, because Christopher is inexplicably afraid of Mr. Spock. He’s going to have to get over that before long, or he and I are going to have major difficulties. Such a problem child, my son. But I love him.

Something about the bass line in the song sounds wrong, but it’s not until the pause before the next song that I realize there’s actually another pounding refrain going on. What the hell? Somebody’s banging on my door. Not my apartment door or the floor above me, either, which is what I would expect if one of the neighbors had gotten pissed at the noise. No—this is the bathroom door. Which means somebody’s inside my house.

Oh my God.

I turn the water off and hold very still. What the hell am I going to do? I’ve got a shampoo bottle—could I bludgeon somebody into unconsciousness with that? Finally I decide on the spray cleaner that’s supposed to keep mold from building up on the tile backdrop around the tub. That ought to sting if it gets into somebody’s eyes.

On the other hand, if the somebody is knocking, are they dangerous?

“You need to get the hell out, ma’am!” a voice calls from the other side of the door. “This is the fire department. It’s an emergency. You need to vacate the premises immediately!”

Fire department? Really? I don’t smell any smoke.

“Leave me alone or I’m going to call the police!” I yell back. I actually have my phone in the bathroom, though I can’t quite reach it from the shower. It’s there in case Mel needs to get ahold of me to tell her how to get Christopher to stop tying ribbons around her dog’s ears or whatever he’s gotten into his head this time around.

“They’re already on their way!” The voice is deep and masculine and has a nice timbre to it. I bet this guy would sound good singing in my shower.

Oh my God, what a stupid thought to have when a stranger is pounding on your bathroom door while you’re standing there buck naked with no weapon but a bottle of soap-scum remover.

“What do you want?”

“I need you…” WHAM. “…to get out…” SLAM. “…of the bathroom…” SMASH. “…right away…”

And then suddenly the door bursts open and there he is. A big guy, probably six two, wearing full fireman’s gear. Helmet, face mask—the whole nine yards. Even an axe, for God’s sake.

I stare at him. He sets the axe aside and takes one long stride across the tile to the tub and grabs at me.

Which is when I scream, because I’m naked, and he’s dragging me against him. I scrabble for the shower curtain and it tears down with a ripping sound accompanied by the metallic ting of the curtain holders.

“Let go of that!” he orders.

“No!” I scream into his face. “What the fuck is wrong with you? I’m naked!”

“There’s a fire,” he shouts back. “I’m saving your damn life. Or should I just toss you back in there?”

Before I can answer—assuming he actually wants an answer and it’s not just a rhetorical question—he’s yanked me halfway across the bathroom, dripping shower curtain and all. At this point I’ve gotten a good look at him, even through the mask. Black hair. Gray eyes. A face that should be looking out from a movie screen. Good God, this man is hot.

Hot. Fireman. I let out a noise that might be a laugh, but it sounds more like a hysterical half-scream. I jerk backward, trying to dislodge the hand he’s got locked around my arm.

“You seriously need to get out of here,” he says, clenching me tighter. “We’re evacuating the whole building.”

“Then why isn’t my alarm going off?”

“I don’t know. Everybody else’s is.” He glances at the iPod stand on the bathroom counter. “Not that you could hear it with all that noise.”

I grab at the towel I had ready for when I finished my shower and wrap it around myself, dropping the mostly transparent shower curtain. I give him another once-over. He’s got a name tag stitched on the outside of his fire gear: JESSE.

“That isn’t noise. It’s music.”

“It’s loud enough I’m surprised anybody else on this floor could hear their alarms, either. Now come on.”

“No. I’m going to grab something to put on—”

He picks me up. Just picks me up like I’m nothing, and after two years of single-mothering, I can guarantee you I weigh a lot more than nothing.

I don’t have much more than nothing on, though, and I try to jerk at my towel to cover as much as I can. He just shifts his arms, rolling me closer to his chest. I can’t tell if my bare ass is hanging out for the world to see or if it just feels like it is.

“What are you doing?” I scream at him.

“Saving you from a fiery death.” His voice is loud but matter-of-fact.

“Put me down!”

He ignores me as he carries me toward my own front door, which I now notice has been bashed in much like my bathroom door. Jesus, how did I miss that? Oh, right. I couldn’t hear it past the music.

I pound him on the shoulder, which doesn’t slow him down one bit. “Put me down! I’m going to sue the city for this!” Is that who you sue when you’re dragged naked out of your shower by a hot fireman? I don’t even know.

“This is my job, ma’am,” he replies, and turns sideways to head through the door.

“Your job is to drag naked women out of the shower?”

“When they’re not listening to my instructions, yes. Sometimes they even thank me.”

No way in hell.

But then I see the lights outside, through the windows along the hall. They’re flashing red. He heads for the stairwell and backs through that door, and as we hit the stairs, I start to smell smoke.

“Can you smell that?” he says.

“Yes,” I admit. My tone is pouty, but in truth my heart has started a shaky, panicked beat, and my fight-or-flight responses have kicked in in the form of a dizzying dose of adrenaline. It’s probably a good thing he’s carrying me, or I probably would just collapse on the concrete stairs and take a header right to the next landing.

I’m starting to notice how strong he is, how easily he’s carrying me, how hard the muscles of his chest feel through his fireman’s gear. This guy is stacked. He’s the kind of fireman you’d find in one of those steamy calendars they sell online for charity.

Shit. He’s still talking.

“This is standard procedure. The main alarms go off in this building, and everybody has to evacuate, regardless of the size of the fire or where it started.”

“So it’s not a big fire?”

“I didn’t say that. I won’t know until I get down to the trucks to talk to the other guys.” He shoulders through the door to the ground floor. “Judging by the amount of smoke, though, I’d say it’s probably fairly minor. Just situated so it triggered the main alarms.”

I realize he’s heading toward the glass doors that lead into the lobby. There are people out there. A lot of people. All my neighbors and tenants I’ve never met, who will now see far more of me than I ever wanted them to. Not to mention more firemen.

Fireman Jesse, though, rolls me toward his chest and tweaks my towel. When he moves through the glass doors he turns his body so I’m mostly sheltered from prying eyes, then he carries me to a bench under a tree that’s several yards from the front of the building.

“There,” he says, his arms loosening. “You can sit here. It’s dark, so nobody can really see you, and if you keep that towel just right, you should be okay.”

He’s being considerate. He’s being nice. But all I can think about is the fact that he barged into my bathroom, saw me completely naked, and then dragged me out without so much as a by-your-leave. And now he’s leaving me here in the dark with nothing but a towel, with all my neighbors and probably half the residents of the two adjacent buildings all lining the streets so they can see my hoo-haw if I move wrong.