By: Cat Walker
“My Daughter! Please, someone help me!”
The house was going up in flames, fast.
Tara ran up to the woman. “Where is your daughter?”
“In there! My Lizzy is in there!” the woman pointed toward the house. “On the second floor.” She cried. “Tell the firemen when they get here.” Tara replied as she pulled her tank top off over sports bra and dumped her water bottle over it. Then she ran into the burning building.
The heat knocked her back a step, but she scanned the area and located the stairway. Running up, she called out the girl’s name. She finally located the young girl huddling in the back bedroom. “Come on honey, let’s get out of here.” Taking the wet top, she tied it around the girls face and said, “This will help, hold on!” Picking her up, she started out of the building.
They were nearly out when Tara’s leg broke thru the floor. The pain was instant and it took her breath away. Setting Lizzy down, she yelled, “Run! Out the door!” She pointed toward the front door. “GO!” She added as she pushed her forward. Pulling at her leg she watched the girl run out of the house, then she concentrated on the floor. ‘Damn’ she thought as she saw that she was really wedged in. Looking around, she tried to find something to help break the timber. The smoke was burning her eyes and her lungs as she fought to stay alert. Using her other foot, she began kicking at the wood, praying that both feet wouldn’t end up stuck. Coughing, she felt her lungs burning and she knew that if she didn’t get out soon, smoke inhalation would get her before the flames did. ‘Damn it’ she thought as she kicked. Feeling the lumber give way, she collapsed forward and started to crawl out of hole. She felt herself starting to pass out but she told herself that she won’t give up. She didn’t plan on dieing in a damn fire on her vacation. But the blackness was winning.
Feeling strong hands grabbing her arms and pulling her into a sitting position, Tara tried to swim out of the darkness. Flung over a shoulder she knew that she was going to be ok…assuming they got out of the building before it collapsed around them.
The bright light told her when they had finally emerged from the house, and as she was lowered onto a stretcher, she grabbed for the fireman’s arm. Opening her eyes, she found herself staring at the darkest eyes she had ever seen. “Thank you.” She whispered as an oxygen mask was slipped over her face. Then she allowed herself to drift back into the blackness.
Shane looked up at one of his men and nodded. Then turning to the ambulance attendant he said, “Get going.”
When they had come upon the scene, the mother had been frantic; claiming that a young woman had ran in the burning house after her little girl. As they headed in, the little girl had suddenly emerged, wearing a wet shirt over her mouth and crying that the lady had fallen in.
He had found the woman dragging herself out of the hole. He had picked her up and carried her out. He hadn’t gotten much of a look at her, until she had grabbed his arm. The green eyes had arrested his breath.
Two hours later, the fire was contained and clean up had begun. The press had been there, drinking up the drama of the brave woman who had saved the little Hispanic girl.
As Shane walked thru the emergency room, he was once again accosted for information about the woman. Declining comment, he went in search of the mystery woman.
“Hello Captain. How can I help you?” Shane smiled at Martha Smith, the woman who ran the emergency room. “Just looking for our little hero.” He smiled at her. “Well, good luck.” Frowning, Shane asked for an explanation. “She checked herself out.” “What? No way. Not with the amount of smoke she swallowed.” “Sprained ankle and all.” Martha nodded. “And stubborn! If she hadn’t saved that little girl’s life I would have guessed she was a fugitive from justice. Wouldn’t tell us her name, nothing. She just took some O2 and a couple of stitches and hobbled out of here.”
That had been two weeks ago, and he still couldn’t get her eyes out of his mind. Damn. How the hell could he be so hung up on a gorgeous pair of eyes? Maybe he just needed to get laid? He thought. Maybe then, those misty green eyes would stop haunting him.
Walking into the station, Shane looked around and found that his crew had their noses pushed up to the bulletin board. “What’s so interesting?” He asked as he filled a cup of coffee. “The new guy’s stats.” Jimmy Thompson piped up. “Chief’s in with him now.”
Shane studied the brief resume and photo that had been posted. T. O’Brien. The photo showed a short firefight in full gear. Mask down, holding the active end of a hose. The resume looked impressive. Seven years as a firefighter out of Chicago, and a forest fire fighter for the four years he went to college. Earned a undergraduate degree in Biology. Passed all the department tests with flying colors. Short, only 5’6” and weighed in at only 140 pounds. But there was power behind the small frame, it was noted that the fireman had carried a 180 lb man out of a burning building. 180 lbs dead weight. Sounded like the kind of man he would want on his team.
“So why’d he leave Chicago?” Sam Beckman asked from behind him.
“You’ll have to ask her that question?” Came the answer from behind them.
“Her?” came a choris of voices.
Tara was standing next to the Chief taking in the casual banter about her resume; the gender assumption hadn’t surprised her. She had expected it. But as the men turned and saw her, it was the Captain that had her cursing.
Shane felt locked into those green eyes.
Chief McCaffray looked from his Captain and back to the new ‘man’. “You two know each other?”
Tara pulled her eyes from the handsome captain and addressed the chief. “We met briefly.” Shane had recovered from his shock and now his anger warmed up. “Very briefly. You left the hospital.”
Tara really didn’t want to get into all of this right here, and as she started to suggest that they go somewhere more private to discuss it, the alarms went off.
‘Saved by the bell’ she thought as she waited for her instructions. “O’Brien, you go with the Captain. He’ll take care of you.”
Tara nodded and headed toward the engine room. Dropping her bag, she quickly took out her helmet, jacket and stepped into her pants and boots. Dressed in a matter of seconds, she ran up to the engine and got in as the other men joined her. Slamming the door behind her, she started to button up her coat as the men introduced themselves.
The squad was made up six fire fighters - Jimmy Thompson, Sam Beckman, Terry Judd, Hecter Ramirez and Rocko Ginnelli. Tara would be the sixth man on the team. Captain Shane Cavanaugh was sitting in the front seat with Clyde Jackson, the engine man, who was concentrating driving the rig.
As she shook each of their hands, she caught the Captains eyes as he stared back at her. Nodding at him, she turned her head and looked out the window and said her usual prayer for safety.
Shane studied her for a moment and wondered if she would be nervous now that she had had a close call. He expected that she would.
As they pulled up to the apartment fire, she was out the door and grabbing the hoses before he got out of the vehicle. “O’Brien, you’re with me.” Nodding, she handed over the task to Hector and walked over to where the Captain was getting the load down. Calling out some orders, Shane had his men briefed and in the building minutes after they had arrived. “Sir, “ Tara spoke up, “Where would you like me?” Shane looked down at her, “You’ll be observing on this one.”
Tara had expected as much, so she wasn’t too upset by it. She knew that as the new-be that there would be a probation period. She also knew that as a woman, she was going to have to prove herself – despite her experience. Nodding, she accepted the fate and studied how the men worked together. Good teamwork was vital in a fire and she would have to know how each of these men worked together.
Half an hour later, the fire was contained, and the Captain allowed her to assist with the clean up. Clean up was just as important as the fire fighting. If a spark was left to fester, the blaze could start again and the danger of the fire spreading to the other buildings would be great.
Now, two hours later, Tara was dirty and tired, and loving every minute of it. Climbing back into the rig, she smiled as she heard the men speculating whose turn it would be to cook dinner. All eyes turned to her, and she laughed. “Any allergies or special dietary conditions I need to be aware of?”
As the men headed off for the showers, Tara headed for the kitchen. She had been prepared for this and turning on the oven, she took out the spinach lasagna she had brought to work that morning. Cutting up some garlic to make some garlic bread and throwing a salad together would complete the meal.
As the men started to file into the dining room, Tara brought out the bread and the salad, and then carted out the lasagna. She didn’t have to worry if they guys would like it; she knew that it was always a hit at her last station.
“Hey, O’Brien. You got a delivery.”
Tara looked up from the lasagna she was slicing as Beckman walked in carrying a large bouquet of roses. Smiling, she shook her head and said, “You can put that on the table if you’d like.”
“Want me to read the card, or will it be too personal?” Tara shook her head “Go ahead. I probably already know what it says.”
Reading the card, he laughed and then he read it out loud, “Don’t burn the toast. Love Danny.” Beckman smiled, “Your husband?”
“God no.” Tara laughed. “My brother. One mistake when I was four years old and he’s still holding it over me.”
The phone rang, and Terry got up to answer it. “O’Brien. You got a phone call.” he said, holding the phone out for her.
“And that will be Kevin.”
Shane watched as she took the phone.
“Hi Honey. Yes, of course I knew it would be you. “
Frowning, he stabbed another mouthful of lasagna and tried to squash the hot jealousy he felt rise up in him.
“How’s the new job going little sister?” Kevin listened closely to what wasn’t being said. “Fine.” “I heard you already had your first fire.”
“Checking up on me?” Tara laughed. “Yes, we had a two alarm this afternoon.”
“And, it was a good learning experience.” She replied.
“The boys aren’t letting you see any action.”
“Kevin, I’m the new kid on the block.” she explained. “Huh, huh?” was his reply.
Shaking her head she decided that this conversation was going nowhere fast. “Listen, I had kitchen detail and if I don’t get back in there I won’t get any of my lasagna. “
“You made your lasagna?” Kevin was suddenly interesting in another line of questioning. Laughing, “Yes, so I really should go. Say hello to Mom for me and please tell Danny that I got the roses. I’ll see you all in a few weeks.” She said as she hung up.
Glancing down at her watch she made a note of the time and decided she had just enough time to grab the second loaf of garlic bread. Walking back into the dining room, she sat the bread down and walked over to the phone just as it started to ring.
“Station 18, how may I help you?”
“Darn it Tara! Do they have you answering the damn phone?”
Tara laughed, and said, “ It’s worse than that David, they made me cook!”
David laughed, “Hey, how did you know it would be me?” Smiling she said, “Who else would it have been?” David nodded, “So, I heard the actions been a little slow.”
Tara laughed. “Well, you know.”
“No I don’t. They have your resume, and I assume they have all seen your credentials. Do you need me to make a few phone calls?”
“No!” Tara ducked around the corner. “The last thing I need is for my big brother to make some calls… but you know how it is” Taking a deep breath she added, “It’s just a little complicated.”
“Go on.” David could sense that there was something else on her mind.
“Remember that little incident two weeks ago?”
“You mean the little fire and the incredible brown eyes?” David teased her.
“Bingo.” She said and then added, “As in ‘Captain’ Bingo.” Tara stressed the ‘Captain’ part. “Oh!’ David got the picture. Tara had told the family about the fire and about the handsome firefighter who had saved her life. David had encouraged her to make inquires and she had declined, stating that it was still a little early for her to start dating.
Smiling she nodded, “Exactly. It’s OK though.” Looking around the corner, she saw Shane sitting with his back toward her, “We just haven’t had our little ‘come to Jesus’ talk about it all yet, but I’m sure everything’s going to be ok.” Then she turned away and
added, “I just have to do a little personal adjusting if you know what I mean.”
“Still attracted to him?” David smiled into the phone.
“Not for long.” Was her answer, and David nodded. “I know.”
“But hey, thanks for the call. I do appreciate it, but I better get going before they start thinking I always take personal calls on the job.” Walking back into the dinning room, she glanced at the now empty plate of lasagna. “And my lasagna’s gone. See you and Mom in a couple of weeks. Love you!”
“Love you Tara.”
Hanging up she laughed as Sam’s eyes dropped down at the last slice of pasta sitting on his plate.
“My brothers always seem to call during dinner time.” she laughed as she headed back into the kitchen and reached into the oven to take out the plate she had prepared earlier. Taking the plate into the dining room, she slid into the empty seat. “Thank God I was prepared.” She winked at Sam.
“That was another brother?” She nodded yes to Terry’s question. “How many brother’s do you have?”
Holding up three fingers, she took a drink of water before saying, “That was all of them. They tend to be a little over protective.”
“What do they do?”
Finishing another bite she answered Kevin’s question. “Same as you. They’re firemen.”
“Which one did you carry out of that building?”
Tara looked over and found the Chief leaning against the door jam. “That was Kevin.”
“What happened?” Terry inquired.
“You worked together?” Shane was watching her.
“No, we all worked at different stations. It was something we promised Mom. No, it was a pretty large fire and a couple of units had been called in. There was an explosion. Kevin ended up doing a summersault from the blast. It knocked him out cold. Jimmy, that’s Kevin’s partner, grabbed the hose and I grabbed Kevin.”
“You’re telling me you carried your brother, a 180 lb man out of that building?” Rocko questioned her.
Tara nodded at the skeptic. “I guess the adrenalin was working.” She tried to make light of it. Standing up she took her plate and said, “Well, gentlemen, I hope my little meal passed mustard, but now I’m going to go get cleaned up and you guys get KP duty.” She said as she left the room.
Tara turned and found the Captain standing in the doorway. “I’d like to talk to you when you’re finished.” Tara nodded, “Give me 20 minutes.”
Shane watched her head for the showers. Turning back into the dining room, he studied his men, now deep in discussion.
“I tell you, no way did she carry 180lbs of dead weight.” Rocko was saying.
“You’re right. She didn’t.” Shane spoke up. Rocko nodded in agreement. “It was more like 220 lbs. Her brother was carrying a full tank of O2.”
Tara had expected this talk and hurried thru her shower. Now dressed in a clean uniform, she headed for the Captain’s office.
Knocking, she waited for the Captain to invite her in.
“Close the door and sit down O’Brien.”
Doing as requested. Tara placed an envelope down on his desk before she sat down.
“What’s this?” he looked up at her.
“That would be my medical release. I went and saw my personal doctor after the incident and I figured you would want a copy.”
Shane frowned down at the envelope. “You are required to see our doctors for this kind of thing.”
Nodding, she said, “If I had been working at the time I would have, but since I was on vacation and between jobs, I took care of it on my own.”
Sitting back, Shane studied her. ‘There are a lot of people who have been wondering who you were.”
Tara kept her face blank. “So I’ve read.”
“Well, now their curiosity can be satisfied. But why you didn’t just come forward before…” Tara interrupted, “They’re going to have to keep wondering sir. I’m still not going public about that and I would appreciate if you would keep it between the two of us.”
“It’s personal. Suffice to say that I don’t want the press to know my name.”
Shane frowned, “O’Brien…” The alarms were going off again.
Standing, she headed for the door as Shane grabbed his bag, “O’Brien, we aren’t done with this.”
“Yes we are.” She said as she left the room.
“O’Brien, you’re with me.”
Tara bit back a retort, as once again she was told to sit on the sidelines.
It had been nearly two weeks and she had yet to see the wet end of a hose. While she agreed that the clean up was just as vital to correctly extinguish a fire, she had worked far too hard to play clean up man. She wasn’t a rookie.
As the men started to file back to the engine, she picked up her bag and sat it on the seat.
“Hey O’Brien.” Sam winked at her. “You ever going to fight a real fire?”
“Very funny Beckman” Glancing over at the Captain, she decided that she needed to cool off. Throwing her helmet into her bag, she stripped out of her gear and slipping into the running shoes she always carried with her. Nodded to Sam, she said, “I’ll meet you all back at the station. I need to get some air.” Turning, she jogged off down the street.
“Hey, where the hell is O’Brien going?” Shane saw Tara jogging around the corner. Sam chuckled, “Lady said she needed some air. I believe she was going to run back to the station.”
“Damn” Shane said under his breath.
By the time Tara ran the three miles back to the station, the crew was already in the showers, but her temper hadn’t abated. Stepping into the workout room, she slipped on the boxing gloves and worked some of her frustrations out on the bag. Twenty minutes later she felt tired and sore but a little satisfied that she had managed to work out some of her tension.
Shane was standing outside his door when she came up from the basement workout room. “O’Brien, in my office. Now!”
Tara sighed, “Come on Cap, I just spent the last hour trying to get you out of my system. Now I just want to clean up and go home.”
”Now.” He press and walked into his office. She let her anger boil over. “Fine!”
Slamming the door behind her she decided that she had had enough. “If you’re going to crawl up my butt because I decided to work off some off some steam, fine. But listen here buddy. This is about trust. Those men out there need to be able to trust my abilities and if you keep me on the sidelines much longer I’m never going to gain their trust, or their respect to be able to do my job. “
Shane leaned back against his desk and folded his arms in front of his chest. “You’re absolutely right. It is about trust.” She frowned at him, “I need to know whom I’m working with O’Brien. Up until now you haven’t been completely forthcoming about some things.”
Tara closed her eyes in disbelief. “If all of this is because of the incident…”
Shane nodded, “I just don’t understand why you won’t let us notify the press. It would be good for the department.”
“Not won’t, can’t!” She retorted.
“What does that mean?” Shane stood up.
“Captain, please. Just trust me when I tell you that it’s for the best …” she tried to reason with him.
”No, I don’t think it is…”
“Damn it Cavanaugh.” She rubbed her hands over her face. “Fine!” She threw her hands down to her sides, her fists balled in anger, “Go to the damn press. But when you do, I’ll be gone.” Turning, she reached for the door. “Tara, what the hell is this about? It can’t be that bad…”
Turning back toward him she shook her head. “It’s worse. You tell the press, you tell my ex-husband – and that would be very bad.”
She ignored him as he called her back. Walking from the station, she got into her car and drove off.
“I’ll get it!” Martha O’Brien yelled over her shoulder as she headed for the door. ‘Thanks Mom’ Tara yelled after her from the kitchen where she and David were grabbing the last of the dishes for their Sunday afternoon dinner.
Opening the door, she knew at once that this was the man who had first interested her daughter and who now was frustrating the hell out of her. “Captain Cavanaugh, to what do we owe for this pleasant surprise.”
Shane was taken back from the greeting. He wasn’t sure whom the woman in front of him was, but he was pretty sure they had never met before.
“I’m sorry, where are my manners? I’m Martha O’Brien, Tara’s mother. I’ve heard so much about you that I feel like I already know you. Won’t you please come in. We’re just sitting down for dinner. You’re welcome to join us of course. We always have plenty.” Shane found himself following the woman as she rambled on and he couldn’t help but smile at her obvious Irish accent.
“You wish you could cook as well as me!” Tara laughed at David as she carried her seafood salad out onto the porch. Her next words died in her throat when she found herself staring at Shane. “Captain, what are you doing here?”
“Tara, where are your manners?” Martha took the salad from Tara’s hands. “I have just invited the good Captain to join us for dinner.”
‘You did what?” Tara frowned at her mother. David’s chuckle behind her got him a jab in the ribs. “I’m sorry, Captain. Of course you’re welcome to join us, but I’m sure you have other plans.”
“I’d be delighted to join you.” Shane smiled at her.
David cleared his throat, telling Tara that her mouth was still open in surprise. “I’m sorry, allow me to introduce my family. My mother, whom you have already met, is Martha O’Brien. The man behind me, with the frog in his throat,“ She turned and glared at him. “is my brother David.” Then she turned back and nodded, “The guy behind the grill is my brother Kevin, and the one about to offer you a beer is Danny. Please, have a seat. I’ll just get another place setting.”
David shook Shane’s hand. “Cavanaugh, I’ve heard a lot about you.”
Tara reappeared with another plate and silverware, “No interrogating the guest before he eats. It’s bad for the digestion.”
Laughing, David nodded in agreement and they sat down to eat.
“You want to tell me why you haven’t put my little sister to work yet?” Daniel piped up. Tara groaned. “Danny, no shop talk at the dinner table.”
Martha stepped in, “Are you originally from Minnesota Captain Cavanaugh?” Tara smiled at her mother and relaxed.
“Please call me Shane. Yes, born and raised.” He smiled back at Martha. “Do I detect an Irish accent?” he inquired.
While Martha explained that she had come over when she was just a child and had been raised in Illinois, Shane glanced over at Tara. He wondered what she had been telling the family about him. Focusing back onto what Martha was saying, he decided that he would have to learn a little more about his new fireman.
Thanks to her mother, the rest of the dinner went off without any more inquiries from her brothers. When a game of volleyball was suggested, Tara begged off and suggested Shane take her place. Picking up the rest of the dishes, Martha joined her daughter in the kitchen. “Seems like a very nice man.”
Tara smiled. “I’m sure he is Mother. But he’s also my boss and ..”
“And you don’t think you’re ready yet.” Martha laid her hand over her daughter’s hand. “You will be.”
Tara looked into her Mother’s eyes and they seemed to understand each other. “Someday.” She conceded.
Sitting back outside, watching the game in action, Tara let her eyes drift to study each of her brothers. David, the oldest, was six years older than she was and very protective. She had always had a strong bond with him, always being able to tell him just about anything. Daniel, who was only two years older than her, was teamed up with David. Danny was the sensitive one of the group. Thoughtful. That was why he had sent the flowers her first day. He had a good sense of humor and a romantic side as well.
Kevin had been paired up with Shane and as usual was keeping the conversation to a minimum. Four years her senior, Kevin was the intellectual one of the group. Quiet, but very loving. He was working to become an investigator and would be taking his last test at the end of the month. He loved his job just like his brothers and his sister, but the mystery behind the fire was what really called to him.
Tara let her eyes drift over to Shane. He had taken his shirt off and she couldn’t help but appreciate the build. It was obvious that he spent time at the gym. Scanning up his torso, she felt her breath catch as their eyes locked.
Swallowing, she looked down and leaning toward her mom, said that she would be right back.
‘Ok, that was a mistake.’ She scolded herself as the grabbed a couple of more beers from the fridge. ‘What the hell was she thinking?’ Oh, she knew exactly what she had been thinking, and they weren’t thoughts that should have been crossing her mind. He was her boss for God’s sake. ‘OK, no harm, no foul.’ She would just act casually and hopefully, Shane hadn’t felt the same jolt she had when their eyes had locked. But no more beer for her, she told herself. God knew she didn’t need any more encouragement to make a fool of herself.
Walking back outside, she set the beers down and began picking up the empty ones.
‘Hey, Tara, you up for a game now?’ Kevin called out to her.
“I can sit this one out.” Shane said as he reached for a fresh beer.
“You go play,” Martha said to Tara as she patted the chair next to her for Shane to sit in. “Show your brothers the correct way to play the game.”
Tara laughed and took up the challenge.
Shane sat down next to Martha and took a slow sip of his beer as he watched Tara get in position and set up for the first serve. Martha glanced over at him. “What do you want to know?” She asked quietly. Shane turned and studied the older woman next to him. “Who says I want to know anything.” Martha chuckled. “I do. Now spill it. You didn’t come over here tonight for nothing.” Shane looked over and watched Tara dive and miss a ball. Laughing she popped up and shrug her shoulders. “Why does she want to be secretive about the fire?” He finally asked. “It’s for her protection.” Martha replied. The sadness in her voice had him turning back to look at her. “Her protection? From her ex-husband?” Martha looked at her daughter before turning to focus on Shane’s face. “The man hurt her and he got away with it. He’ll try again. That was why she moved out here.”
“How did he hurt her?” Shane asked feeling his gut tighten in response.
“That’s for her to tell, if she wants. Suffice to say that things started to get out of hand and she decided that it would be safest to leave.”
Then Martha turned and watched her family play. “So, why haven’t you put her to work yet?”
Shane smiled. He wondered when one of the clan would ask him that again. “Some things take time.” He said simply.
“Not if you trust her.” Martha said and then excusing herself got up and walked back into the house.
Shane turned and watched Tara serve the ball. Trust. Wasn’t that what she had said. Perhaps it was time. He knew that he had been over protective of her because of the fire he had dragged her from.
Looking around at her family, he thought, ‘They all know what she had gone thru and they trusted her to be back in the field.” Then watching her again, he thought that maybe it was time for him to trust her abilities.
“Mom! Did you see that?” Kevin glanced over and saw that Shane was watching his sister.
“Hey, where did Mom go?”
Shane nodded toward the house. “I believe she said something about dessert.”
“I’ll help her.” Tara said and jogged into the house.
Kevin walked up, grabbed another beer and sat down in the chair his mother had vacated. Glancing over at Shane, he tried to figure out how he felt about him. He knew that the man was interested in his sister. He seemed like a good man, but then again Scott had seemed like a good man at one time and look what a bastard he turned out to be.
Tara wasn’t ready for a relationship. She had told him that. So he knew he had time to suspend his judgment. But living six hours drive away wasn’t what he would call a comfort.
Shane turned and looked at the man who was studying him. “Something on your mind?” he asked.
Kevin took another swig of his beer. “Just wondering if I’d like you next to me in a fire.”
Shane knew there was more there - nodding, he said, “You could count on me.”
As Tara and Martha came out with pie and coffee, Kevin smiled, “That’s what I was thinking.”
Tara couldn’t help but wonder what the two men had been discussing. But knowing her brother, she knew that the conversation had been short.
The following Monday, when Tara got to work , she found the Captain in a pleasant mood. Holding an imprompt meeting, Shane informed the group that they had been asked to help out at a local charity event that coming Saturday. “Habitat for Humanity needs some volunteers to help build a garage, and I thought that instead of tearing down a building, you might enjoy erecting one instead. Besides, Station number four has challenged us to a contest. It seems that they have been asked to help out about a block away and their captain thinks that they can do it better then we can. Can I count you all in?” The hoots and howlers that followed told the Captain that he would have a full team. “Tara, can I assume that you will also be available to help out.” Laughing, she said, “Of course. I’ll even bring my own tools.” “Her own tools.” Hector winked, “Gentemen, I believe we have a ringer in our mist.”
Two days later, when they were sent off on their first fire for the week, she was happy to hear the Captain pair her up with Rocko. Finally, it seemed, the Captain would let her do what she was trained to do.
A one story structure had caught fire after someone had carelessly thown a cigarette into a garbage bin. The garbage bin had caught fire and the fire had quickly spread to the neighboring building. The danger was that the building was next to a paint supply store. If the fire spread, an explosion would be eminnent, and then they would really have a fight on their hands.
Rocko and herself were in charge of the lead hose. While Hector and Sam covered the flames from the outside, Jimmy would work his way up to the roof to ventilate the smoke. Mean while, Rocko and Tara would make their way into the building, estinguishing the flames and looking for anyone who may still be trapped in the building.
Luckily, the fire was quickly contained, but Tara felt that a page had been turned, and that finally, Shane was beginning to trust her.
Over the next few calls, Shane paired her up with each member of the team to determine which firefighter would work best with her. They were all seasoned firefighters and it was simply finding the best partners. At the end of the week it looked like he had found his teams. Jimmy had indicated a desire to work the ladder, so that left Hector and Rocko to form one team, while Sam and Tara would make up the other team. As the new man on the team, ordinarily Shane would have been paired up with Tara, but he didn’t quite trust himself where she was concerned. Teaming her up with Sam seemed a wiser choice. That left Clyde, the veteran of the crew, to man the hoses from the rig, and to provide back up support if need be. It was Shane’s hope that eventually, two more firefighters would be hired, and then he would have a full team for the big jobs. As it was, if they had a large structure fire, he would have to call in another department for backup, and worst case senerio, he’d have to call the men on the other shifts for assistance. With an eight man crew, he would be able to rotate his men in without much difficulty.
For Tara, the week went by fast and by the weekend, she felt that her team mates trusted her abilities and she was glad that Shane had finally let go of his misgivings and had teamed her up with Sam. Sam and she worked well together, and while she felt that she could have worked easily with any of the other firemen, she and Sam seemed to click. Finally, she felt that she was once again back on track with her career.
On Saturday morning, despite an exhausting week, Tara woke early. The crew was expected at the Habitat for Humanity job site by 8:00 am but she intended to get there early. She knew the address by heart and she wanted to make sure she got there in time to talk with the tenants.
Arriving at 7:30 am, Marie Hernandez was surprised to see Tara standing at her door with a box of donuts. “Tara, what a pleasant surprise. I wasn’t expecting to see you today.”
“Good Morning Marie, do you mind if I come in? I need to talk with you before the rest of the crew arrive.”
“Of course.” Marie said as she opened the screen door.
When the rig pulled up, Shane was surprised to see Tara grabbing her gear out of her car. “Hey Tara!” Jimmy called out the window and got a wave in return.
Walking up to the gang, Tara finished fastening her tool belt around her waist and nodded toward a table that was sitting in the porch. “I brought some coffee and donuts if anyone’s hungry.”
Rocko smiled and headed toward the table with out a word of greeting, and Hector gave her a quick hug. “A woman after my own heart.” he replied as he also headed toward the porch. “Yeh, tell that to your wife.” Tara laughed.
Shane turned to greet the man incharge of the Habitat for Humanity project and was shocked when he was introducted to the homeowner. Standing before him was the young mother who had lost her home to a fire three months earlier. The fire that he had dragged Tara from. Turning, he glanced at Tara, curious to see her reaction. But instead of being shocked, Tara just nodded and then smiled at the young hispanic mother. It was ovious that they knew each other.
Shane wanted to talk to Tara, but they had a job to do. It would have to wait.
The day passed quickly. The team work the group had been building upon during the week paid off and they had the framing up well before noon. By dinner the garage was completed. The electrical work was scheduled to be completed on Sunday by another company who had volunteered their services for the charity.
At five o’clock, Shane disappeared and soon returned with the Captain from Station #4, who agreed that Station 18 was the winner. The celebration would begin later that evening at O’Gara’s Pub, with Station #4 picking up the tab. Everyone agreed to meet up at 8:00pm, which would give everyone time to go home and get cleaned up before hooking up again at the Pub.
Picking up the last of her tools, Tara turned to find Shane standing close behind her.
“We need to talk” he said as he walked her to her car.
“I suppose we do. I need to get cleaned up first. I have a roast that’s been cooking all day if you’re hungry. And you are welcome to a shower if you have a change of clothes with you.”
Shane nodded, “I’ll follow you to your house, if that’s ok with you.”
Letting him in the front door, Tara pointed him toward the spare bathroom and handed him a towel. ”Help yourself to a soda or a beer when you’re finished. I’ll be back down in 20 minutes.”
Showered and changed, she joined him in the kitchen and as she fixed him a plate she says, “OK, let’s get this out of the way so we don’t spoil our meal. I’ve been in contact with the family since the fire. They have agreed to keep quiet about my involvement. Mrs. Hernadez has had a similar relationship problem and can relate.”
“She said that you helped them get the house.” Nodding, Tara said, “I work with an organization called Simpson Shelter. I presented their case and the board agreed that they were definitely in need of shelter. Now, I visit them and help out when I can because I like the family. Does that answer all of your questions?”
“For now.” Shane replied honestly.
They fell into silence as they ate their meal. “This is delicious Tara.” Shane complimented her as he helped himself to a second helping. “Thanks. I enjoy cooking, and try to do as much of it when I can on the weekends that I’m not working.”
Finishing his last bite, and noting that Tara was also done with her meal, Shane looked up and caught her eye. “Tara, tell me about your husband.”
Tara studied his face for a moment before nodding in agreement.
“I met my ex-husband shortly after my Father passed away. Scott seemed charming, caring. The kind of man my Father might have liked. But it all had been just an act.” Tara took a sip of her water before continuing. “We had a short courtship. Scott said that he knew that I was ‘the one’ and we got married nine months after we met. Nothing big, just went and saw the Justice of Peace. In hindsight it should have been the first sign. But my family was still recovering from the lost of my Father. He was a fireman too. I guess you could say, we all followed in his footsteps.”
“How did you Father die?” Shane gently asked.
“Heart attack. He had been on medication, but… the Doctors told us that he had 95% blockage. It had only been a matter of time.”
Shane nodded, then he quietly asked, “What did you mean by the first sign?”
“Scott insisted that we should keep our wedding low key, that the stress of a big wedding would be too much for the family. Oh, and he never failed to mention that now that my Father couldn’t walk me down the aisle that a big wedding would be a disappointment.”
“Jerk!” Shane winced. “Sorry, that kind of slipped.”
“That’s alright. Scott is a jerk.“
“Your Mother mentioned that he hurt you. Is that what she meant?”
Tara shook her head. “No. Scott isn’t a good person. It just took me too long to see that.” Tara picked up their plates and put them in the sink. Turning, she studied Shane for a moment and then she decided that she would tell him everything.
“The abuse started shortly after we were married.” She said matter-of-factly. “It was subtle at first, comments that stung. But after awhile it seemed that I couldn’t say or do anything right. I was brought up to believe that once you said “I Do” – it meant forever. I didn’t say ‘I might’. I tried to make adjustments. Tried to be the kind of wife I thought he wanted me to be. But nothing seemed to make him happy. And just like every other abused spouse I hid it from my family.” “My biggest mistake.” she added with conviction. “When I couldn’t make things right, I started to work more shifts. I thought that maybe if we spent less time together that he would appreciate me more for the time we could spend together. Instead, he started to accuse me of having affairs. And then he started to get… physical.” Tara swallowed back the bitter taste the memory brought. “Scott is a big guy. He’s a construction foreman. At first he would just use his physical strength to pin me down so he could yell at me. But when that didn’t seem to satisfy him, he started to make more serious threats. The last night I was at the house he held me down and put his hand around my throat. A couple of times he squeezed just enough so I couldn’t breathe. It did the trick. It scared the hell out of me. I apologized for my behavior, although I didn’t even know what I had done to get him so angry. He left to have a beer with his buddies and I packed a bag and left.” Taking another drink of her water, she continued. “I went to the hospital and reported the incident. But he had been careful and there wasn’t any physical evidence. I checked into a shelter and started the divorce proceedings.” Tara looked out the window, “The day the papers were served I had gone over to my mother’s house. She had gone to visit my aunt in South Carolina and I had stopped over to check her mail.” Looking back at Shane, she hurred to finish her story. “I saw Scott drive up and I knew he had gotten the papers. I called the police. He didn’t even bother to knock on the door, he just kicked it in and then he started swinging. By the time the cops go there, he had me on the ground and he was kicking me. He was arrested and charged with assault and battery. The Judge ordered a restraining order and for a while it looked like he would comply with it. When the divorce was final I thought that he would finally be out of my life. I didn’t ask for anything from him. My attorney said I was throwing away a lot of money. But I didn’t want to have to keep in contact with him for any reason. I got my personal belongings and that was all I wanted.” Looking down she admittted, “But I was wrong. Over the next year and a half he broke the order three times. The last time being the breaking point. That was when I decided that I had to move. To go where he would never be able to find me.”
Gently lifting her chin with his hand, Shane looked into her eyes. “What happened Tara?”
Tara took a deep breath. “I had rented a small cottage not too far from my work. I had had a security system installed. Scott knew about it. The second time he broke the restraining order he had triggered it. This time he wasn’t going to give me any warning. It was two o’clock in the morning when he pulled up to the house. He had brought one of the cranes from work. He didn’t wait long before he started to demolish the house. He knew where my bedroom was and he began there. “
“Shit” Shane reached out and covered her hand with his. Tara smiled at him. “I wasn’t there. I had fallen asleep in the livingroom. I woke up as he took a second swipe at the house. My bedroom was gone and he was working his way toward me. I think he thought I was already dead. The first sweep had complete destroyed my bedroom.” She shuttered. “I ran. Well, crawled really. I was terrified. All I could think was that I had to sneak out but my legs didn’t want to cooperate. If he had seen me, I knew he would get me. I got out. The police were there by then. They arrested him. He thought he had killed me. The look on his face. God. He seemed elated. That was until one of the officers found me.” Tara stood up again and grabbed them each a beer. “He got a year in jail.”
“Yeh, that’s what I said. Scott isn’t stupid. He had drawn up a demolishing contract for the property. He claimed that he had orders and that he had been following them. The fact that his ex-wife had lived there made him happy. But he claimed that he thought I had been evicted.” Shrugging she added, “Long and the short of it, he had a good attorney. That was when I decided to disappear. I moved here, laid low for about six months, and then I started my job search. I guess you know the rest. That was why I can’t come forward about the fire. Do you understand?”
Shane nodded. “I do now. I’m sorry that I’ve ridden you hard about it.”
“I know.” She smiled back at him. “ I wasn’t ready to tell you my story.”
“Why now?” Shane asked.
Tara decided that she couldn’t come completely clean with that right now. She couldn’t tell him that she was attracted to him. Instead she simply said, “I guess it was just time.”
Feeling alittle uncomfortable about all that she had just revealed about herself, Tara, glaned at the clock on the wall, and seeing that it was nearly 8:00 pm. “I think we should think about going to that party. We did earn it after all.” She smiled back at Shane.
Standing, Shane nodded in agreement. He wanted nothing more than to give her a hug, and to tell her that he was sorry about all that she had gone through, but she could tell that right now she needed some time. “I’d be happy to give you a lift to O’Gara’s if you’d like.” he offered.
Tara considered the offer. “Thanks, I was planning on taking a taxi, but since you’ve offered. But I will be taking a taxi home, so you won’t have to worry about that.”
“That’s a good idea. I know a place I can leave my car about a block from O’Gara’s, if you don’t mind the walk.”
“Of course not.” She replied as she picked up her purse.
Locking the door behind them, Shane ushered her to his truck . O’Gara’s was only a few miles from her house and they were there with in minutes. Parking the car, Shane turned toward her. “Tara, I just want to say that I’m sorry that you went thru all of that. And, that if you ever need to talk, or anything, I hope that you will consider me a friend that you can confide in.”
Tara studied his face and then leaned over and kissed him gently on the cheek. “Thank you Shane. I appreciate that.” Then she turned and got out of the truck.
The topic was not raised again, and the rest of the evening was filled with nothing but laughter and good times. The crew, it seemed, were in the mood for a good party. Pitcher of beer, shots of tequila and various other alcoholic beverages were consumed in large quantities. No one would be driving home, and so everyone let their guards down and enjoyed the free drinks. Somewhere around midnight, Hector persuaded the owner to start up the karaoke machine, and soon the two Stations were locked in a fierce karaoke competition. Tara laughed when her coworkers tried to persuade her to get up and sing; and she only agreed after she was promised that their Captain would also get up to sing. Shane agreed, reluctantly, but only with the group. Tara insisted that they all sing “King of the Road”, which they all did good naturedly. When it was Tara’s turn, she scanned the play list and found a song that she knew well. Keeping the title a secret, she climbed the stage and sang a hardy rendition of Patsy Cline’s “Crazy.
At the end of the song, she was greeted by a standing ovation from both stations. Laughing, Tara bowed, and accepted Shane’s offer for help off the stage.
Clinking beers with her fellow team mates, she accepted their congratulations and then slipped away to the ladies room. She knew that she was beginning to feel the effects of all the alcohol she had consumed. She also knew that despite her best efforts, while she had been singing, she had focused her attention on one man in particular. Shaking her head, she scolded her image in the mirror. “You’re playing a dangerous game deary” she whispered to herself. Washing her hands, and applying a fresh coat of lipstick, she straightened her shoulders and told herself that she would not slip again. Then she rejoined her comrades and spent the rest of the night trying not to watch the man whom she was still dangerously attracted to.
Monday morning, Tara opened her morning paper and found her image splashed across the front page. “Mystery Woman Found!” The caption read, “After months of searching, the woman who risked her life to save young Lizzy Hernandez has finally been found, once again helping the little girl she saved.” The article went on to state her name and the fact that she was working as a fire fighter for Station 18, who had volunteer to help the Habitat for Humanity, who had built a garage for the Hernandez family.
Sitting down, Tara pushed away her uneaten breakfast and buried her head in her arms. ‘What the hell was she going to do now?’. Her next thought was, who the hell had talked to the press? Shane? He wouldn’t have. Would he? Her blood started to boil. Grabbing her bag, she stormed out of her house. Intent on getting some answers.
“Damn it Shane!” Tara stormed into his office and threw the paper down on his desk. “I thought you understood.” Shane glanced down at the paper. He had seen the article himself that morning. “I didn’t leak it Tara.” She stared at him and then collapsed into the chair. Her hands on her face. “I know. I know. I’m sorry.” Looking back up at him. “Damn it.”
“Maybe nothing will come of it.” He tried to offer her some hope. “Maybe.” She nodded. She could hope. Standing up she started to leave, “Umm. Tara, if you have another minute….”
Tara turned back around and waited. Standing up from his desk, he threw the paper in the wastebasket and then shoved his hands in his pockets. “I realize that this is really short notice, but I’ve got a dinner with the Chief tonight. It’s a benefit dinner for the new Children’s wing at the hospital.”
Seeing that he seemed uncertain, perhaps even nervous, Tara couldn’t help the smile that slipped on to her lips. “And…” She promted him.
Shane looked up and wanted kick himself. Why the hell was this so hard? “and, I was wondering if you would like to join me.” Looking back down at his desk, “I realize that it’s pretty short notice.”
“What time is the dinner?”
“That’s the thing, it’s at 7:00 pm.”
“I realize that it really doesn’t give you much time, what with work and all. I’d have to pick you up at 6:30pm, and it’s a damn black tie event….” Shane looked up, “What?”
Tara smiled at him, “OK. I’ll see you at 6:30 pm.” Turning she walked from the room.
Shane stared after her. Had he just asked her out on a date, and had she just accepted?
Slipping into her black halter dress, Tara asked herself again what the hell she was doing? This was not a date. She told herself again. Shane had asked her, last minute, to attend a benefit with him, and the Chief. His date had probably cancelled out on him and she had just been handy.
So why had she taken extra care in fixing her hair, and why the hell had she picked this dress to wear tonight? It wasn’t very glitzy. Just a plain jersey material… unless you counted the rhinestone broach she had pinned into the front vee of the dress. Add the rhinestone earrings and bracelet, and it looked pretty good. Pretty damn good she told herself. ‘Hell, the man would have to be dead if he didn’t notice her in this outfit.’ Frowning. She didn’t want him to notice her. Right? This was her boss. What the hell was she doing? She asked herself again as the doorbell rang. Picking up the second earring, she was putting it in her ear as she opened the door. “Hi! Come on in. I’ll be just a minute.” She said as she tried not to stare at him. God the man could fill out a suit! She started to work the clasp of her bracelet but having troubles, she looked up at him for help. “Would you mind…”
Shane tried to catch his breath. She was beautiful. “Not at all.” He replied and taking the delicate piece of jewelry from her, he stood close to her and slipped it around her wrist. Then he tried to concentrate on working the clasp.
Tara took a deep breath and told herself to relax. Focusing on what he was doing, she tried to ignore the soft touch of his hands. Tried to tell herself not to think about how those hands would feel on her body. ‘Stop it’ she scolded herself and shifted her eyes up to his face. His head was bend down, concentrating on the task, and she looked at his mouth. What would those lips feel like? What would he taste like if they kissed? She could smell him. Pure male.
“There.” He finally had the clasp done and he looked up into her eyes. If he thought that he had been having trouble concentrating, now he had trouble thinking at all. Taking a deep breath he stepped back, “You look beautiful” he whispered. “Thank you” she whispered back.
Smiling, she turned to pick up her handbag and he was awarded with the sight of her bare back, as the dress draped low in the back . Shaking his head, he tried to remind himself that he had to get thru dinner with the Chief, and not let on that all he wanted to do was to get his hands on this lovely lady. “Ready?” He heard himself ask.
“Yes.” She smiled back at him and turning her head she studied him. She thought she could read something in his eyes. A look that she hadn’t seen in a man’s eyes in a long time. But she had to be sure. “Shane?” She whispered. “Is this a date?” Shane looked into her eyes. Smiling, he decided to take a chance. “If I kiss you, it’s definitely a date. And lady, right now I definitely want to kiss you.” Tara smiled and took a step forward. Looking into his eyes she whispered, “Good” before reaching her hand up to bring his head down to hers. It was a gentle kiss. But the passion was definitely there. Smoldering behind it. Lifting his head, he smiled, “That was nice.” Laughing she nodded and stepped back. “Shall we go?” he asked as he held out his hand. “I think that would be best.” She said as she took his hand.
They located the Chief and his wife and after a brief introduction, they were seated and offered drinks. Tara decided that tonight she would go easy on the alcoholic beverages and opted for a single glass of chardonnay. She needed to keep her wits about her.
The dinner conversation was pleasant and Shane did his best not to act differently toward Tara. When the band started to play, the Chief suggested that Shane take Tara out dancing. It was a fast song and she laughed as he led her in several spins. “You’re good Cavanaugh.” She smiled at him and he winked. “Bet you didn’t think I knew how to dance.” Laughing she said, “You are full of surprises.”
As the music slowed, he brought her closer and started to guide her in a waltz. With his face close to her ear, he whispered, “This feels good.”
Tara allowed her eyes to drift closed as she melted into his embrace. “MmM MmM” she murmured. Then tilting her head back she looked into his eyes. “This could get dangerous Cavanaugh.”
“It already has.” He smiled at her.
“Mind if I cut in?” Chief McCaffray tapped Shane on the shoulder. ‘Of course not sir.” Stepping back, he gave Tara’s hand to the Chief. “I’m not one to dance the fast ones, but the slow stuff... “ Tara smiled at him as he guided her into the box step.
The Chief had been watching the two dancing. He liked this girl. He had been surprised when Shane had said she would be accompanying him. What bothered him was where this dance seemed to be taking them. He knew about the girl’s previous problems and he felt himself wanting to act as a father for her. He liked Shane, but he knew that she would be vulnerable right now. And as for being her Captain, while it wasn’t strickly against regulations, the Chief wasn’t sure a romance between the two would be a wise decision.
When the dance ended, he escorted Tara back to the table, where Mrs. McCaffray was starting to stand. “I think that’s about all the fun I can handle for one evening.”
Saying their goodbyes, Shane took her arm and led them to his car. Opening her door for her, Shane took her hand into his, and kissed the back of her hand as he handed her into her seat. After he got into the driver’s seat, he took her hand in his and held it as he drove her home.
Parking in her driveway, he got out and opened her door for her. Linking fingers, he walked her up to her door. Tara felt a little lightheaded – not from the wine, but from the anticipation of the kiss she felt sure Shane would be giving her. Reaching for her keys, she started to put them in the lock when something caught her eye. “How did that fall down?” she said as she started to bend to pick up a ceramic sign she had hung above the doorway.
Shane had been looking into the house and he thought he saw smoke hanging by the light. He was about to say something when she froze. “Oh my God.” She whispered as she saw the wind suck in under her door. “Backdraft” she yelled. He grabbed her arm and started running with her when the house blew up behind them, sending them flying onto the front lawn. Rolling over, Shane reached for her. “Are you alright?” Sitting up, she stared in horror at the fiery remains of her house. “Damn you Scott” she said and then buried her face in her hands and choked back a cry. Taking her in his arms, he held her as she let go of her emotions.
Shane had given her his coat, but she was still shaking when the fire department and the police arrived. They both knew that nothing could be done to save her house, and as they answered the questions the police asked, Shane kept an eye on her. She seemed to be shaking herself out of her shock.
Turning to him, she reached for his hand and held it. “I need to call my family.” She said. “I can.” He offered. Shaking her head, she said, “No, I need to do it. If you call, they’ll think the worse.” He sat her in his truck, letting her have her privacy.
Tara decided that the first call she should make would be to her brother David. He lived the closes to their mother, and Tara would need him to be there when she heard the news. While Martha O’Brien was a strong woman, she was in her late seventies and news like this would not be easy for her to handle.
David answered his phone by the third ring. “Hello.” he seemed distracted. It was Monday night, and she guessed that he would be watching the Bears game. “Hi David, it’s Tara.”
“Hey! How’s it going? Damn it! What kind of play do call that?” Despite her situation, Tara couldn’t help but smile at her brother yelling at the television. “You tell them big bro.”
“Sorry about that Tara.”
“Listen David, I hate to bother you, but…” Tara wasn’t exactly sure how she was going to tell her brother that her house had just been blown up.
David noted Tara’s hesitation and promptly turned off his television. “Tara, what’s wrong?”
Taking a deep breath, she plunged into her explanation. David, for his part, kept quiet until Tara was finished, and then he asked, “Are you alright? Any injuries?” When he got a negative from her he asked her to hold on a second, then setting the phone down, he letting go of a string of curses that would make a trucker blush. Picking up the phone again, he apologized and then said, “Have you called Mom yet?”
Shaking her head, “No, not yet. I kind of thought you should be there when I do. If that’s ok with you.”
“Why don’t you let me tell her and the other fellas as well. I’m sure they will want to talk to you, but at least you won’t have to go over it four times. I’m sure you’ve already told the story more times then you cared to. I’m assuming the police are there, and that they have gotten your statement.”
“Yes. The fire investigator is already working the case as well. Hopefully Scott got careless and left a fingerprint or something else that will help us nail him for this.”
“He will Tara.” David tried to give her hope. “Where are you staying tonight?”
“I’m not sure just yet. But I’ll text you when I know.”
“OK, get some rest honey. Don’t worry about Mom, I’ll tell her. She’ll probably want to fly you home, but I’ll try and keep her maternal instincts unwraps.”
Tara smiled at the comment. “Thanks David.”
When Shane saw her put her phone on the dash, he knew that she was done. Getting into his truck he looked over at her before starting the engine and pulling away from the curb.
They didn’t talk as he drove her to his house, nor when he led her into the house. His Golden Retriever, Flame, met them at the door and after a brief introduction; Shane let him out of the house to do his duty. While he was gone, she texted David, stating briefly that she would be at the Captain’s house.
When he returned, he found her standing in front of his fireplace, looking at his photos. She had removed his coat and her shoes. He pushed down the desire he felt rising within him. Turning, she looked at him. “I like your dog.” She said quietly. “He likes you too” he replied.
Studying her for a moment he said, “Tara, I have a guest room. I want you to know that you’ll be safe here.” She tilted her head and waited for him to continue. “I won’t touch you tonight. I just wanted you to know that you don’t have to worry about that.”
Tara closed her eyes briefly and then walked slowly up to him. Looking into his eyes, she reached up and played with his shirt buttons. “That’s too bad. Because I really wanted you to touch me tonight.” Shane closed his eyes and took a deep breath trying to remember why he had to be a gentleman tonight. “Shane?” She waited for him to open his eyes again. “We both know where we were heading tonight.” She touched his face, “Don’t let him take that way from me too.” And as she drew her thumb over his lips she said, “I want to forget everything but you tonight. Is that alright?”
With a soft moan, he took her into his arms and took her lips with his.
Tara melted into his kiss. She wanted to leave the last few hours behind her and only think about the passion that had been evident earlier in the evening.
Leaving her mouth, Shane drew a trail of kisses along her delicate jaw bone and then down her slender neck. He could feel her pulse jump in response when he kissed the hollow of her neck.
Reaching down and lifted her into his arms, and carried her up to his bedroom. Setting her down next to the bed, he caught her gaze as he slowly untied the fabric of her halter dress, leaving her naked from the waist up. Holding her gaze, he slipped his hand down her back and released the zipper that held the gown around her waist. Only now did he step back and allow his eyes to travel down her lovely body. “Your beautiful.” he whispered.
Tara could easily read the desire in his eyes, and she felt herself warming to thoughts of what was to come.
“My turn.” she whispered in return and then she reached up and slowly unbuttoned his shirt. She allowed her fingers to linger on his broad chest before she slipped the shirt from his shoulders and hung it on the corner of the bed. Then she reached down to loosen his trousers. Unable to help herself, she leaned toward him to capture his mouth with hers as his pants dropped from his hips.
Stepping out of the rest of his clothes, Shane guided her down onto his bed, covering her with his body. Kissing her soundly on the lips, Shane rolled off of her and proping his head up with his hand, he gazed down into her lovely face. “Lady, you sure do know how to kiss.”
Tara couldn’t help but laugh. She didn’t know whether she could kiss well or not, but she did know that the man next to her was sending her emotions into overdrive. Reaching up, she gently touched his lips. “Mister, you have no idea what your kisses do to me.” she admitted honestly.
Smiling slyly, he winked at her and then leaned over and captured one of her breasts in his mouth. Her breath caught in her throat, as she laced her fingers in his hair, urging him on. Her body felt on fire, and she knew that the sweet pull of his lips were gently teasing her to surrender completely to him. Pulling his head up, she kissed him deeply. Wrapping her slender legs around his waist, she guided him into her.
Their passion ignited.
Shane had never felt anything so lovely, and despite his wish to prolong the beautiful feeling he felt being inside her, he could knew that his body had other ideas and he joined her in a race to reach the top. Shouting out, he knew when he had reached her peak, and he joined her at the top moments later.
Tara melted against him. They had come together quickly, and yet her body had responded as it had never done before. Never before had she heated to a man so quickly, and she smiled at the thought of it. Opening her eyes, she found Shane studying her. “What?” she asked quietly.
Shaking his head, he smiled devilishly. Kissing her gently, he slowly made is way down to her breasts again. Taking a bud into his mouth, he heard her sigh and knew that she was already warming up again. He wanted to take her to the top again, and while his body may not be quite ready, he knew that her’s was already warming up to the idea. Gently guiding his fingers deep into her, he felt a heady sense of power as her hips raised up to meet him. Leaving her breast, he made his way down to her core and began to lick and suck her. He could hear her moans of pleasure and knew that he was on the right track. Increasing the tempo, he felt her shake as she rolled over the edge once again.
Pulling his head up to hers, she softly begged him to make love to her, and he found that he was quite ready to comply with her request. Entering her slowly, he couldn’t believe how intoxicating her warm felt. Wrapping her arms around him, she reached down and grasped his taunt bum and set the pace of their lovemaking. Leading him on the path that brought them once again the peak.
Content, they laid wrapped in each others arm. Neither spoke a word, and soon they drifted off to sleep.
Tara felt something warm and wet bump into her hand and then that something nudged her hand up over its head. Opening her eyes, she smiled at Flame. “Hi Sweetheart.”
“Good Morning.” she heard a muffled voice behind her as Shane pulled her closer. Laughing she said, “I was saying hello to Flame.” Who, upon hearing his name promptly set his front paws up on the bed and licked her face.
“Hey Buddy!” Shane rolled her over onto her back and told Flame ‘Down’. “You know the rules. I get to kiss the pretty lady first.” Then he looked down into her eyes and as he lowered his head said, “Good Morning” again.
It was another ‘knock your socks off’ kind of kiss that left her feeling warm and bubbly inside. When he lifted his mouth from hers, he kissed the tip of her nose, then her closed eyelids and finally her forehead before taking her into his arms and hugging her.
Tara smiled into his chest. She felt the words bubble to the surface before she had time to check them. “I love you.”
His arms tightened around her. Oh God, what had had she just said? “I mean, I love that.”
Shane pulled back and smiled down at her. “Yah? I love that too.” Tara breathed a sigh of relief. ‘She hadn’t blown it after all.’
Shane kissed her again and then caught her eyes with his. “I love you too Tara.” he said before he swallowed her shocked reply with a passionate kiss.
Opening her eyes, Tara looking up at Shane, unable and unwilling to hide the love she felt for him. Shane smiled, “Happy?” he asked.
Tara smiled and nodded. “Very.” she whispered.
“Then it’s ok that I love you too?” Nodding again, she felt her heart swell. “More than ok.” Rolling over, he pulled her next to him. “I’m glad.” he said.
Flame jumped up on the bed and looked down at them. “OK, you can kiss the lady now.”
Shane laughed as he got a thorough face wash. “The girl, the girl. I said you could kiss the girl!”
Laughing, Tara sat up and grabbed his shirt, which was hanging from the corner of the bed. “I’ll let you out Flame.” She said as she stood up and headed for the door. Flame bounded after her and Shane smiled. He knew that this would probably complicate things between them at work, but he really didn’t care. He had known he was falling in love with her for weeks and it felt good to be able to finally tell her.
Sitting up he grabbed his boxers and slipped them on and then reached down and picked up her dress. The burn marks on the side of the dress brought back the reality of the night before.
“Damn” she said from the doorway. He saw that she was looking down at the dress he held in his hands. Looking up she held his gaze. “We’re going to get him Tara.” Throwing the dress down, he stood up, he walked to her. Taking her into his arms. “I promise you, he’s not going to hurt you ever again.”
Despite Tara’s arguments, Shane encouraged her to tell the rest of the crew about what she was up against. “That way,” he argued “all of us can be on the look out for this lunatic.”
Calling everyone into the dining room, Shane nodded to Tara and then began. “I’m sure most of you have heard about the explosion that leveled Tara’s house last night.” Holding his hand up to quiet his men, he continued. “What you should know is that it was not caused by a gas leak as the press has indicated.” Looking back over at Tara he waited for her nod of approval. “You all should know that Tara’s life was targeted.” “What?” every man in the room shouted in astonishment. Once again holding his hand up to quiet the group Shane continued. “We believe that Tara’s ex-husband set up a backdraft explosion.”
Tara knew that it was her turn to speak up. “I’m sorry about this guys. I moved here from Chicago in the hope that Scott wouldn’t find me. Unfortunately, Monday’s headlines seem to have tiped him off on my location.”
“God, I’m sorry Tara.” Rocko spoke up. “I had no idea that reporter would cause you any trouble.”
Tara shook her head, “How could you? Don’t worry about it. Maybe I should have told you about Scott before any of this happened, but… anyway, the police are on the look out for him and with luck they will catch him before he can try anything else.”
“And that’s why we are telling you all about it.” Shane took the lead again. “Until this lunatic is caught, we all have to be on the look out. This guy oviously knows something about starting a fire, and we can’t put it past him that he won’t try and set something up to get to Tara while she’s on the job. Tara has volunteered to take a leave of absence, but the Chief and the police agree that the quickest way to flush this guy out is to keep her in the open. Unless you guys have some reservations, they’d like to keep her in the field.”
Standing up, Clyde looked around and receiving a nod from his fellow fire fighters he said, “Cap, I believe I speak for everyone here when I say that we are definitively on board.” Then turning toward Tara, he added, “You’re one of us Tara, and we watch out for our own. We’ll watch your back.” Tara swallowed back the tears she felt building and she quietly said “Thank you.”
“So what do we watch for?” Rocco spoke up.
While Shane handed out the copies of the report the police had given him that morning, Tara took her cue and left the room.
She felt exhausted. She wanted all of this to be over. When she had moved to Minnesota, she had hoped that the horrors of the past were behind her.
Stepping out the side door, she leaned back against the building. Turning her face up to the warm of the sun, she closed her eyes and wished herself away from her current circumstances. A soft sand beach, waves lapping on the shore. It sounded heavenly to her. But as a cloud passed over head, blocking the suns warmth, she couldn’t help but think that until they caught Scott, not even her island fantasy would be peaceful. If Scott had found her in Minnesota, then there was always the possibility that he would find her anywhere she went to get away. She realized that until they caught Scott red handed that the threat would always be there, haunting her.
“Tara?” Turning her head, she found Shane standing in the doorway. “Are you alright?”
Tara looked down briefly, considering his question. “I will be. I’m just realizing that until we catch Scott, my life won’t really be mine.” Holding her hand up to his advance, she smiled. “As much as I’d love a hug right now, I think I need to try and hold on to what little backbone I still have left.” Shane halted his movement, but reached out to grab her hand and gave it a squeeze. “Lady, you have more backbone than most men I know. We’ll get thru this. Together.” He added with conviction. “That bastard of an ex-husband of yours will make a mistake soon and then you can get on with your life.”
“Captain, you’ve got a phone call.” Jimmy called from the office.
“I’ll be right there.” he replied before turning back to Tara. “In the mean time, I think it might be a good idea that you keep close by. I don’t want that bastard getting in a cheap shot, and the side of this building isn’t exactly what I would call the most secure of places for you to hang out alone.”
Tara nodded in agreement and followed Shane back into the building.
Stepping into his office, Shane picked up the phone, and then motioned for Tara to have a seat.
“I’m sorry Lieutenant, can you repeat that?” Tara leaned forward in her seat, now realizing that Shane was speaking with the police Lieutenant in charge of her case. “Huh huh.” Shane nodded into the phone. Then he looked at Tara, “Ok Lieutenant, I’ll see to that. Thanks for the call. Goodbye Lieutenant.”
Tara couldn’t help herself. “What will you see to?”
Smiling Shane winked, “Keeping you in my sights.”
Tara raised her eyes at him. “Really. Ok Cavanaugh, spill the beans. What else did the Lieutenant have to say?”
“It seems that your ex has finally made a mistake.” Pulling a chair up next to hers he sat down. “They found Scott Chamberlain’s fingerprints on the welcome sign and…” Tara interrupted him, “Scott will have an excuse for that.” Shane took her hands into his, “Honey, let me finish. They also found Chamberlain’s fingerprints on your bell box.” “What?”
“It seems that the bastard took a ladder up to your outside alarm box and tampered with it. That was how he got into your house with out your alarm going off. Somehow he must have figured out how to disable your alarm.”
“Not somehow, he would have known exactly how to do it. Before Scott got into construction he worked for a security company installing house alarms. This was years ago, and I thought I had bought a system that he wouldn’t have any knowledge of. Obviously he did his homework.”
“Well, the Lieutenant says we have him. They’ve already got a warrant for his arrest, and from what the DA tells him, the case they have against your ex should put him away for a very long time.”
“OK, what’s the catch?” Tara asked, not daring to hope that her nightmare was nearly over.
“The catch, is that they still have to find him. His photograph has been given to all areas of law enforcement, and they will be making a public announcement shortly. By tonight, everyone in the country will know what he looks like and what he did.”
“In the meantime, we need to make sure that you are safe, so the Leutenent is sending over a couple of officers to guard you. They are going to take you to a safe house to wait it out. Your family have already been put under guard just in case he decides to take out his frustration on them…. amazingly they have all agreed to cooperate. I guess they realize that the best way they can help you is to keep safe themselves.”
Tara sat back. She felt numb. She wanted to believe that her nightmare was nearly over, but part of her wouldn’t allow it. She had gotten this close before only to have Scott beat the system, finding a loop hole to slither through.
Shane studied her for a moment. He could see that something wasn’t quite right with her. He had thought that his news would make her happy. Instead she seemed withdrawn. “Tara? We’ll get him honey. You have to believe that.”
Tara looked up and shook her head. “I haven’t given up hope Shane. Not yet anyway. But it’s not over yet, and I’m not going to celebrate until Scott is behind bars for good.”
“I understand.” Standing up, Shane took her hand and helped her to her feet. “Tara, I’m not going to let anything happen to you. I promise you that.” Then taking her into his arms he added, “I love you, and now that I’ve got you in my life, I’m not going to let anything get in the way of that.”
Tara closed her eyes and allowed herself to melt into his embrace.
Hearing a knock on the door, Tara slowly stepped from his embrace. “Come in” Shane replied. “Cap, there are some cops here for you.”
Nodding, he turned back to Tara. “Looks like the Calvary has arrived.” He tried to make light of it. Nodding, Tara straightened her shoulders, took a deep breath and replied, “Then we better go meet them.”
It didn’t take long for the police to find Chamberlain. He had been so sure that his bobby trap would work that he hadn’t even thought about covering his tracks. They found him waiting at the airport for a flight back to Chicago.
At the arraignment, the Judge set a four million dollar bond, knowing full well that there would be no way for Chamberlain to post that kind of bail. The trial date was set for the following Monday, despite strong objections from Scotts defense attorney. The DA had an airtight case, and the defense knew it.
Tara went back to work. Now that Scott was behind bars, at least temporarily, she felt safe to go about her business.
Walking into the dining room, Tara was about to join the others for lunch when the phone rang. “Station 18”
The voice on the other end stopped her in her tracks. “You Bitch!”
Shane saw the color drain from her face and switched on the speaker phone.
“I’m going to get you, Tara. You’re going to be sorry you ever crossed me. When I’m finished with you, that boyfriend of yours won’t even recognize you.”
“Stop!” she screamed into the phone, but he continued. “You won’t even know when I’ll get you. It could be at a fire, at your house. Who knows, maybe I’ll get your family first.” “NO!” she screamed into the phone. She was shaking, and her knees buckled. Sliding down onto the floor she began to hit the phone on the wall, breaking it. Throwing it down, she crumbled.
Shane gathered her up into her arms and held her while she sobbed uncontrollably. Lifting her, he took her into his office and laid her on the sofa.
Clyde stuck his head in the door and told them that he had called the police and that a copy of the conversion was being copied and sent to the DA.
Shane nodded and looked back down at Tara. “That was his final mistake honey.” He whispered as he drew her up tighter into his arms.
Tara’s nerves were shattered and it took a while for her to calm down. When Shane suggested they call a doctor and get her a sedative, she declined, but she did agree to take a rest, and after being covered with a blanket, she feel asleep under Shane’s watchful eye.
Over the next couple of days, the Feds conducted several searches of Chamberlain’s home and his work place. They found the supplies and equipment for making bombs. Two completed bombs were also discovered, which prompted a through search of each of the O’Brien’s homes, cars and places of business. Two bombs were found, both set to detonate within days of each other. The bombs were defused and then dusted for fingerprints. Once again they found that Chamberlain had been careless. His fingerprints were found on the tailpipe of David car next to a bomb that was set to detonate when the car was in motion. Luckily, David had been using his motorcycle the last few weeks and it was determined that Chamberlain had placed the bomb sometime during the past week. The other bomb was found at Danny’s fire station under the extra hoses. Once again, Chamberlain had been careless. A review of the Station’s security cameras showed a hooded man placing the bomb when the crew was out at a three alarm fire. A second camera showed the hooded man exiting the building and entering a dark blue Chevy truck. The license plate number was easily read, and the vehicle was registered to Scott Chamberlain.
A traffic meter camera caught a clear view of Scott driving a block away from the Station. The shot showed that he was wearing a dark hooded sweatshirt, this time with the hood removed from his head. The timing proved that it had to be Scott who had planted the bomb. Further investigation revealed that the fire call had been arson, and the FBI believed that Scott was responsible for this as well. The fire had been set in an abandoned warehouse close to Scotts current job site. It had already been determined that a bomb had caused the fire. The bomb fragments were compared to those found in Chamberlain’s home, as well as the bombs found attached to David’s car and the bomb found at the fire station. The materials were identical, as was the basic design of the bomb. The charge of committing arson to commit another felony carries a mandatory 10-year term of imprisonment, to run consecutive to any other sentence, and a $250,000 fine. Add to the fact that at least one of the bombs were placed in a government facility, and the DA had enough evidence to put Scott away for at least 20 years.
On Monday, the courtroom was crowded with fire fighters from Minneapolis and Chicago alike. Tara sat in the front row, but as far from Scott as was possible. She was flanked by her mother, her bothers and Shane. Standing near by, two burly guards stood at attention, ready to act should Scott try anything stupid.
When the charges were read, Scott scoffed at the DA. “You’ll never prove it.” he boasted. But as the evidence was laid out before the court, it was ovious to everyone, even Scott that he would be convicted. When he tried to make a move toward Tara, the Judge ordered him shackled. At the end of the day, the Judge made his decision within minutes of the closing statements.
“Scott Chamberlain. On the three charges of attempted murder in the first degree, I find you guilty as charged. On the charge of committing arson to commit another felony, I find you guilty as charged. On the charge of committing an act of terrorism against the state, I find you guilty as charged.
Mr. Chamberlain, the evidence brought before this court proves beyond a shadow of doubt that you are indeed guilty of these crimes. The heinous nature of the crimes and the history of your violent actions against your ex-wife leave me no doubt that should you be offered the chance, you would attempt to commit murder again. It is therefore the decision of this court to sentence you to three life sentences, or a hundred and fifty years with out possibility of parole in a maximum security prison in the state of Illinois. Furthermore, it is the decision of this court that should you attempt to contact any member of the O’Brien family, or any of their acquaintances, that all privileges will be immediate revoked and you will waive your rights to any contact with the outside world.”
Shocked, Scott sank down in his chair. The look of disbelief was evident.
It wasn’t until after Scott was taken from the courtroom that Tara finally accepted her families hugs and words of congratulations.
Shane planned on getting to the office early but he was running late. Today was the day Tara would be returning to work.
It had been two months since Scott had been convicted of attempted first degree murder. He would be spending the rest of his life at Pontiac Correctional Center, in Pontiac Illinois.
Tara had taken an immediate leave of absence, needing to spend some time with her family. Since two of her brothers had also been targeted by Scott, the family had decided to take an extended vacation to Ireland. Martha O’Brien still had close relatives who lived near Ennis, Ireland and they had invited the family to spend time with them.
Shane had spoken with Tara nearly every day that she had been abroad, and he had missed her terribly. While their time together had been brief, Shane knew that he had fallen in love with her. What he didn’t know, was whether Tara’s feelings for him had cooled during her absence.
Tara had flown back to Minnesota on Friday and had spent the weekend moving into her new apartment. She had lost nearly all her belongings when her house was destroyed by the fire that followed the blast, and she said that she needed to shop for everything she would need to start over. Shane had volunteered to help her, but she had said that she needed time to herself. He had respected her decision and had let her be. But he couldn’t help but wonder if she was taking the first steps to break it off with him. Hell, since Scott wasn’t a threat any longer, Shane couldn’t help but wonder if she wouldn’t just pack up and move back to Chicago. For all he knew, she could show up at the Station and simply hand in her resignation.
But instead of waking up early, as he had intended, he had forgotten to set his alarm or had turned it off in his sleep. All he knew was that it was already 9:00 am and he was still in the shower. Hearing the doorbell, he cursed, “I don’t have time for this.” he said to himself, before stepping out of the shower. Grabbing a towel, he wrapped it around his waist and headed for the door, calling out as the bell rang again. “I’m coming, I’m coming!”
Flame was barking at the door, the bell obviously having waked him from his morning snooze. “Flame! Quiet!” Shane commanded, and the Retriever obeyed immediately.
Shane unlocked and opened door, “What can I help you with?” he said before he even saw who was at the door.
“Do you always answer you door wearing nothing but a towel?”
Shane reached for Tara, pulled her into the house, closed the door behind her and engulfed her in his arms. “God I missed you!” he whispered before devouring her mouth with a passionate kiss.
Tara hugged him close to her, and returned his passionate kiss. If she had had any doubts about her life, they were gone now.
Lifting his head, Shane gazed into her beautiful eyes. “Before you say anything Tara, I need you to know that I love you more than ever and I am not going to let you get away from me ever again.” “That isn’t a creepy threat or anything.” He hurried to clarify, “I love you, and plan on spending the rest of my life showing you how special you are to me.”
Tara smiled, “The rest of your life huh? I don’t know….” She began to tease him. “Life seems like a pretty short sentence.”
Shane smiled back and reached up and touched her cheek. “You’re right. It isn’t long enough.” Then he took her hand and kneeled down on one knee. “Tara, will you be my wife? I promise to spend the rest of eternity loving you and showing you how much you mean to me.”
Tara knelt down next to him and with tears of joy, smiled “Yes, Shane. I love you so much. And it’s going to take an eternity to show you how much.”
As their lips met to seal their pledge, Flame joined in and licked them both on the face. But they didn’t seem to notice. They had found love. They had found each other.