One of the things that I really love about being a storyteller in the modern world is a chance to find a little love on the side. As recently as five years ago, the only stories that made it into the public were the ones that a publisher was willing to bring to light.
I loved writing Pure Heat my recent series launch for Sourcebooks about my "Firehawks" helicopter wildland firefighters. And there are more to come: Full Blaze (coming December 2014) and its untitled sequel are complete and ready. But those are all the Main stories.
Traditional publishing left no room for the side characters, the ones who come to light and are just begging to have a story of their own. When began writing Pure Heat I had no idea about Akbar the Great, the lead smokejumper for Mount Hood Aviation. But he did. He took over the jump crew when TJ was injured, helped beat fires, and joined in a little heli-fishing. It was clear to me he was bucking for his own story.
So, I'm thrilled to be able to present Johnny Akbar "The Great"'s story. Now that it's written, I see why he wanted it told. He was a blast to write!
WILDFIRE AT DAWN
Johnny Akbar Jepps, lead smokejumper for Mount Hood Aviation, is always first out of the plane, first into the fire, and first with the ladies. But the last thing he ever puts on the line? His heart. Until he meets a woman who simply rides away with it.
Laura Jenson, wilderness guide and expert horsewoman, leads tourists from the Mount Hood Timberline Lodge into the wilds of Oregon. She knows the game and has no interest in some lady-killing, full-of-himself smokejumper. Not until Johnny lights her heart on fire.
They both must take care not to get burned by the Wildfire at Dawn.
Here's a little peak at their first meeting:
The guy with the big, deep voice finally faded away, one less guy to worry about hitting on her. But out of her peripheral vision, Laura could still see the other guy, the short one with the tan-dark skin, tight curly black hair, and shoulders like Atlas.
He’d teased the tall guy as they sat down and then gone silent. Not quite watching her; the same way she was not quite watching him.
Her dad missed what was going on, but her mom’s smile was definitely giving her shit about it.
# # #
Akbar told himself he was being an idiot. He’d caught that the hot brunette was working up at Timberline Lodge leading the tourists on “activities.” She’d have the pick of a very affluent crop. Tim and Vern were already double-teaming a group of windsurfers at a table closer to Tim, too far away for him to join in unless he wholly abandoned the brunette. But he wasn’t willing to do that yet.
Instead, he flashed five fingers at Jeannie; she flashed back ten. They’d just bet who bought the next round, on how many minutes before Tim and Vern got the two women at the next table to join them, despite the three windsurfer guys they were already sitting with.
They pulled it off in four and he patted Jeannie in sympathy as she went to the busy bar to get a fresh round, though he opted for a lemonade so it wasn’t that big a loss. Her calibration for timing the effectiveness of a pick-up line was for what she did: “flying helicopters to fire,” not what he did: “jumping down into fire.” Of course the way Jeannie looked, she didn’t have to say anything to gather whoever she wanted, but she was a choosy gal. And while he admired her long form and the fire-red streak in her shoulder-long dark hair, she’d never rung his bells or vice versa. So they’d become friends instead.
The noise level was pretty high. Outside the sun was bright and the wind fresh. That meant that three blocks away, down on the Columbia River, the wind would be snapping. And it was out of the west, so it would peel sharp, challenging waves off the river’s surface because the water flow was in the other direction. With the conditions so ideal, it meant that the visitors had worked up large appetites and poured into every restaurant in town.
Again, he let his attention drift back to the conversation at the next table. Not windsurfer types. Locals. He never messed with locals because they made for tougher challenge on the female uptake and the downdraft afterwards could be awkward as hell. Your average windsurfer had two or three weeks vacation, on rare occasions a whole summer, and then they were safely back to wherever they’d come from.
“Activities Director at the Lodge,” she’d said. Well, she sure didn’t look like the type to be leading Bingo night. But he could see her walking through the woods. Her snug jeans revealed long, well-muscled legs. Her worn hiking boots said they were well used. Her tight figure boasted that she did a five-K trail run before Joe-tourist even rolled out for breakfast. He could picture the wind blowing that long curling hair back off her shoulders as she ran.
Akbar could get to like that mental picture of her. A lot.
“What?” She’d turned to glare right at him. He’d been staring as his mind wandered, which was always a bad tactic. He could feel Tim smirking at him for getting caught.
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