Through the Fire by Katie Ruggle
He’s brutally handsome…
And he may be her only hope.
Kit Jernigan despairs of ever fitting in with her new tight-knit K9 unit—they’ve been through too much to welcome a stranger. So when a killer strikes, it’s a fight to convince her fellow officers to trust her long enough to catch the woman she knows is responsible.
She can’t do it on her own. What she needs most is a partner: local fire spotter Wesley March.
Wes knows in his heart that Kit is right, and he’s willing to leave his lonely tower to help her prove it. But the more time they spend together, the hotter the fire smolders…and the more danger they’re in. A member of the K9 unit’s inner circle is determined to have her revenge—no matter who gets burned in the process.
This time, it’s personal.
Wes couldn’t sleep. It wasn’t uncommon for him to have insomnia, but it usually happened when he was working on a project or was trying to sort out an especially tricky problem. This time, it felt different. Excitement was running through him, making him feel like he’d downed a half-dozen espressos in the fifteen minutes before he’d gone to bed.
He couldn’t blame caffeine for his sleepless state, though. No, it was all the fault of a beautiful woman who’d almost gotten shot by Rufus. The memory made him frown, hating the idea that she’d been in danger. After seven years working in his tower and living year-round in the small, adjacent cabin, Wes had earned the wary respect of his neighbors. He wouldn’t call them friends, but he’d be able to knock on their doors without getting his head shot off.
Giving up on attempting sleep, Wes climbed out of bed and tossed his winter coat over his drawstring pants and T-shirt. Stuffing his feet into his boots, he clumped outside. He glanced at his watch. It was close to four, but the world was as dark as if it were the middle of the night. The stars were bright, though, giving the snow an eerie, blue-white glow. One of his favorite things about his home was how quiet it was, especially at night in the winter. In the small city where he’d grown up, there’d always been noise, sounds overlapping other sounds until it was impossible for him to concentrate on anything. Here, it was just the slight thud and brush of his boots connecting with the snowy ground, then the quiet beep and click of the tower door unlocking and opening.
Once upstairs, there were more distractions—the crackling of the fire in the woodstove and the whir and beep of various electronics he’d hooked to the motion sensor—but everything was familiar and expected. Usually, the sameness of his tower was comforting, but tonight he was restless. He’d gotten a taste of the heady excitement he’d felt in Kit’s company, and he wanted more. For the first time, the tower felt empty.
“Radio on,” he commanded, needing to hear human voices other than his own. After he heard the beep indicating that the digital radio had powered up, there was still silence, and he almost laughed. Why had he thought anyone would be communicating at this hour? It was tiny Monroe after all. “Radio scan.” Although he still didn’t have high hopes of hearing any communications, even with all the channels open, that at least increased the odds. Walking over to the bank of windows, Wes peered into the darkness, not seeing anything except his reflection.
“Dispatch, Unit 2242. I’m about to make a traffic stop on the 200 block of Main Street. Plates when you’re ready.”
The voice belonged to one of Wes’s more sane neighbors, Otto Gunnersen. The cop and his new wife, Sarah, lived a few miles away.
“2242, go ahead.” The dispatcher sounded sleepy. As Otto rattled off the license plate number, Wes wondered if Otto’s transmission had woken her up.
It wasn’t long before the dispatcher spoke again, sounding wide awake this time. “That plate comes back to a blue Honda Accord, registered to a William Kyle Yarden. He has a warrant.”
“Copy.” Otto didn’t sound fazed by the information, which wasn’t surprising. Although Wes didn’t know Otto well, he got the impression that it took a lot to rattle the big cop.
“2268.” Wes’s stomach jumped with excitement when he recognized Kit’s voice. “Need some help, Otto?”
“I’ve got this, thanks,” Otto answered. “Bill never gives us any trouble.”
“Copy. Let me know if you can use a hand. I’m just around the corner, so I could be there in five minutes.” Kit sounded a little disappointed, and Wes wondered if she was having just as much trouble sleeping as he was. He liked that idea. It made the early-morning hours seem less lonely when he knew that she was awake as well.
On impulse, he switched the radio to a seldom-used channel and picked up the wireless mic. “3537 to 2268 on eighteen.”
There was a pause long enough to make Wes wonder if she was scanning channel eighteen or if his attempt to reach out had been lost to empty air. “2268 to 3537. Wes, is that you?”
He smiled. “Yes, it’s me.”
“What are you doing up so late?” she asked. Her voice was warm, and it made his blood feel carbonated again, all those fizzy bubbles swirling through him. He couldn’t stay still, so he paced over to the windows, peering through the glass even though he knew he couldn’t see her house without the binoculars.
“I couldn’t sleep. How about you? Are you working nights now?” He hoped not. There would be fewer chances to see her if their sleep schedules were reversed.
“Nope to both. Can’t sleep, but I’m not on nights. Too bad. At least then I’d be paid for staying up.”
He moved from Window 1 to Window 12 and then back again, needing to move so his brain didn’t freeze with the pressure of talking to Kit. “Why can’t you sleep?”
Although he’d only met her a few times, the sound she made was already familiar, and he could picture her doing a half shrug as she made it. “I’m not sure. New place or too much excitement yesterday or something. Who knows. My brain does what it does, giving no explanations.”
“Yes.” Her words resonated inside him. “Mine, too. Our brains match in that way.”
“Please.” Amusement filled her voice, and it made his throat tighten with anxiety at the thought of her laughing at him. “As if my brain could even hope to match yours. I’ve seen your tower. You’re a stinking genius.”
The words ran through his mind a few times before he was reassured that she was complimenting him, and he ducked his chin, his face heating from pleasure and relief. As he lifted his head, his reflection in the window caught his attention, and he was glad Kit couldn’t see his flushed cheeks. Realizing that his pause had probably stretched too long, he scrambled to come up with an answer. “You’re just as smart. I think your brain could hold its own.”
“Now I’m picturing our brains battling it out.” Her words were filled with laughter, and he was pleased that he was actually managing to banter with her.
At least, he was pretty sure that they were bantering. He made a mental note to call his sister, Leila, later and ask.
“Are they using swords or light sabers?”
“Neither. They’re bouncing off each other like lumpy, armless sumo wrestlers.”
His own laughter took him by surprise, and he felt a rush of affection for Kit. It had been a long time since he’d been able to talk to anyone so easily. “Of course. That’s the only battle that makes sense.”
About the Author:
A fan of the old adage “write what you know”, Katie Ruggle lived in an off-grid, solar- and wind-powered house in the Rocky Mountains until her family lured her back to Minnesota. When she’s not writing, Katie rides horses, shoots guns (not while riding, although that would be awesome), cross-country skis (badly) and travels to warm places where she can scuba dive. A graduate of the Police Academy, Katie received her ice-rescue certification and can attest that the reservoirs in the Colorado mountains really are that cold. A fan of anything that makes her feel like a bad-ass, she has trained in Krav Maga, boxing and gymnastics.