Hook & Ladder 69, Burnt Sugar

hook-and-ladder-final-ebook-copy

Recently I participated in a collaborative project called Hook & Ladder 69. Many of you who subscribe to my newsletter may have heard of it. Well, it has been taken down from Amazon in Kindle format and now all authors who participated own their stories again (many of us want to turn our short story into full-length novels). My story was/is called Burnt Sugar, about a firefighter with a sweet tooth. His life changes after his shift ends and he walks into Les Petits Choux Pâtisserie. There he meets Aurélie Lambert (pronounced Lom-bair) American born French pastry chef. I’ve decided to put the story up here to give you a sample of my writing for free as well as to tout the talents of my collegues. The stories vary in style from sweet to sexy to fire-alarm hot. It’s a great way to meet some new authors. But don’t worry about the book no longer being available in Kindle, it’s still available in paperback and I have a few available for purchase.

So without further ado, please meet my sweet and sexy, Jesse “McKitty” McKinney.

♥BURNT SUGAR♥

I am a firefighter. It’s in my blood to walk into the belly of the beast and scream “game on.” The first whiff of smoke flicks a switch in my brain, and I’m wired to fight the angry monster and rescue those from its bite. Having it rage around me and know I’m going to be the man to tame it, pumps my blood. I love everything about it.

That wasn’t how today had gone, though.

The guys and I had returned from a standard run: cat rescue. Hold your snickering. It happens, and I’m sucker enough to climb up the ladder and get them down every time. I love all creatures furry and small. The guys have given me a colorful nickname because of it, but I don’t care, others have been called worse.

I peeled out of my gear, all forty-five pounds of it, thanks to a slight miscommunication from dispatch. Cat rescues don’t normally require fire retardant clothing. A sturdy pair of gloves, yes. Fire retardant clothes, no. But on a day like this, whether I wore full gear or the standard uniform, I would have been drenched in sweat within seconds of stepping into the heat anyway.

Ash Flaugherty, a third generation firefighter and my best friend, backed the truck into the garage, and the other guys went through the standard check list after returning from a run. I, however, was officially off duty after working a forty-eight hour shift. I was headed into the city to see what kind of trouble I could scare up, which knowing me, wouldn’t be much. I’m a low-key kind of a guy.

Oz came up behind me and slapped my shoulder. “Where you headed tonight, McKitty? Gonna see if any more pussies need to be rescued?”

Subtleties weren’t Oz’s thing. In fact, I’m not sure he knew the meaning of the word. He was rude and usually offensive, but for some unknown reason women lined up outside his door. All right, it might not be completely unknown. He has these deep dimples and electric blue eyes women bend over backwards for, and that isn’t a metaphor.

I stepped out of my pants and sat on the bench. “Come on, Oz, clean it up. We have a lady in the house.”

Kate “Legacy” Lewis was one of the brave female firefighters on our squad. She was tougher than most of the men at Station 69 and could hang with the best of them, but I didn’t see the need to be overtly gross around her because of it—it was disrespectful.

He flicked his hand and glanced over his shoulder. “Eh, she didn’t hear me anyway. Seriously, man, where you running off to? I could use a wingman tonight.”

I didn’t know what being Oz’s wingman would entail, but I’m pretty sure my morals would have been compromised. “No thanks, man. I’m gonna go into town. Probably grab a bite and read a book in Forest Park.”

“Christ man, you leave your balls up in that tree today? Reading a book in the park?” He shook his head. “You’re wasting this, man! Wasting it!” He squeezed my biceps and wiped my sweat on his slacks.

I shrugged. “We just have different definitions of fun.”

“I worry about you sometimes, McKitty.” He sighed. “All right, Ash and I are going to O’Connell’s later if you want to grab a beer when you’re finished.”

I’d gotten my hands on a new crime novel I’d been itching to read, and I could have tried to explain that to Oz, but there was no use. He’d probably only read naked lady mags in his life. Yet, the thought of a cold brew was appealing after a hot day like today. Summers can be brutal in this town. “I might catch up with you later. Save a spot for me at the bar.”

We bumped fists, and he walked off to stir up trouble with Legacy. Even though she was strictly off limits, the guy would never stop trying to get somewhere with her.

After showering and getting into street clothes, I slid into my Betty, a baby blue 1955 Chevy pickup. I rolled down my window and punched the horn a couple of times, waving to Ash.

“You coming to O’Connell’s later?” Ash called.

I threw my hands up in a maybe and heard his groan as I drove down the road.

The heart of St. Louis on a Saturday afternoon is always busy, and today was no exception. I parked my truck in the first open spot I found across the street from some new place called “Les Petits Choux Pâtisserie.” A blue, white, and red awning flapped in the breeze above the door, and a tiered wedding cake flanked by loaves of French bread were displayed in the window.

My sweet tooth started to tingle. Eating a pastry while reading my book could only make the day better. I strolled across the street and chirped the alarm on my truck. The bell above the door jingled when I walked in, yet no one greeted me. The smell of sugar and chocolate sent my salivary glands into overdrive.

As I perused the display case, waiting for someone to emerge, I read the handwritten cards in front of each dessert. Glazed strawberry tarts crusted in crystals of sparkling sugar, iced petit fours decorated like individually wrapped presents, chocolate brownies sprinkled with toasted pecans, mini cheesecakes, and croissants—my God, the croissants—were all arranged in neat rows. I looked around again for an employee and peeked through the small window in the door leading into the kitchen. Someone moved around back there. I figured they were finishing something. I’m a patient man, so I’d pick my desserts—because I couldn’t pick one—to take with me before retreating into the park.

I checked the bottom row, and a frantic shriek sliced through the candied air followed by a few choice words. Then I smelled it: smoke.

Autopilot kicked in, and I rushed through the swinging door into the kitchen. A small fire blazed on one of the stoves, and a leggy brunette in a flimsy, spaghetti strap dress smacked the fire with a towel, which consequently, ignited in her hand. The strings of her apron whipped against her most beautiful of backsides as she dropped the towel to the floor and stomped, each perfect mound shaking like the firmest bowl of Jell-O.

Concasse!”  she barked.

The fire on the stove grew. “Fire extinguisher! Where is it?” I asked.

She froze, and her full, heart-shaped lips formed into a perfect circle as she almost asked who I was, but instead she pointed across the room. I yanked the extinguisher off the wall and shot the powdery mist over the fire. Within seconds it was out, but her kitchen had seen better days.

“Well this is just great! Great! First my help quits this morning, and now I set my kitchen on fire.” She grabbed the sides of her head, and the mess of hair perched atop like a bird’s nest fell over her bare shoulders in a cascade of waves. I bet it smelled better than the air I’d breathed walking in the door. “Concasse,” she said again, this time whispering it under her breath.

Even though I didn’t know what the word meant, I bet she was berating herself. “It’s okay, the damage doesn’t look too bad. A little elbow grease and this can be cleaned up in no time.”

She tilted her head. “I’m sorry, who are you?”

“Jesse McKinney.” I wiped my hands and held one out. “It’s a pleasure to meet you, ma’am.”

“Ma’am? Please, call me Aurélie…Aurélie Lambert.” She took my hand. “Thanks for putting that out.”

“Just part of the job.” Her skin against my palm was some of the softest I’d ever felt. “Aurélie, that’s a pretty name.”

“Thanks. My parents are French. I really had nothing to do with it.” She let go of my hand and gave me a once over. “Part of the job? You’ve got this Clark Kent thing going on. Are you a superhero wandering the streets looking for women to rescue?” She laughed, and it held a cute, childlike innocence.

I couldn’t help but smile back. “Usually just cats, but sometimes people too.”

She squinted.

“I’m kidding…well, I am a little.” My voice trailed off. I glanced down and stroked the back of my neck now covered in a thin layer of fresh sweat. “I’m a firefighter.”

“Oh.” She perked up. “Then I’m one lucky girl to have had you stroll into my shop today, aren’t I?” She studied a brown substance coating her apron, untied it, and tossed it into a basket in the corner. “Ugh, I’m a mess.”

“If this is you a mess then I’d love to see you cleaned up.”

Her cheeks flushed a striking shade of rose, matching the loafers covering her tiny feet. “Um, well…why don’t I get you what you came in for, on the house of course, so I can start cleaning this up. I’ll give you extras to take to your fellow firefighters?”

“Actually, I’m just getting off work and wanted to pick up a little something for myself. But, you look like you could use a hand back here. I don’t mind helping you clean up.”

She shook her head. “Oh, I couldn’t ask you to do that.”

“You didn’t. I offered. And I won’t take no for an answer.” I grinned.

She chewed on one corner of her cherry lip. “Well, my help did quit, and now I’m behind because of this. Maybe I will let you help me, but I still insist on sending you out of here with some goodies.”

“Sounds like we have a deal.”

“All right then.” She twitched her brows and pointed to a corner closet. “All the cleaning supplies are in there.”

So, Aurélie and I cleaned her kitchen. I scrubbed the walls, and she swept the burnt towel off the floor. She wiped the stove, and I scoured the pot that had been the culprit of the fire.

“What was in here anyway?” I asked.

“Caramel sauce. I turned my back for one second and it bubbled over. I can’t believe I did that. I’m such an idiot.” She replaced the clean stove top grates.

“Hardly. You were busy trying to do it all on your own. Bet it tasted good before it was turned into charcoal.”

“It did, but I was only halfway there. It was going to be a caramel icing. I was trying to get ahead, for all the good it did me now.”

She spritzed the stove and gave it one final wipe down, and I dried the now shiny steel pot. I handed it back to her and she hung it over the stove. The frilly edge of her dress teased the back of her thighs.

“Aren’t you going to make your icing?” I would have given anything to stand in that kitchen with her a little longer.

“I think I’m going to close early for the day and wash off the burnt sugar. I’ll start fresh tomorrow. This has been a day and a half.”

The thought of saying goodbye to her was almost more than I could bear. “Can I give you a lift home?”

She twisted her hair back on top of her head again and grinned. Her neck was flawlessly smooth, the lines delicate and feminine, and her lips tipped in a half-smile. “I don’t normally get into cars with men I’ve just met, fireman or not.”

“That’s great, because I drive a truck.”

“A sweet offer, but I have a very short commute. I can walk.”

“The streets can be a dangerous place for a woman walking alone. I can keep you company?” An ache built inside my chest that would surely break my heart if she turned me down.

She shook her head and laughed. “You’re not going to take no for an answer, are you?”

“I warned you already, didn’t I?”

“Yes, you did.” She chewed the inside of her cheek.

“Please, let me take you home.” I buried my hands in my pockets.

She inhaled a deep breath and thought for a second. “All right. Help me lock up, and you can walk me home.”

“It’d be my pleasure.”

She pushed through the door out into the shop, and I followed, suddenly walking on air. She turned the lights off in her display case and flipped the sign on her shop door from “open” to “closed.”

“What can I do?”

“Behind the counter over there, grab one of the folded white boxes and fill it with whatever you’d like.”

“That hardly seems like helping.”

“You’ve helped enough already. It’s the least I can do.”

I looked everything over one last time before deciding and eventually chose a croissant dusted in powdered sugar with chunks of chocolate protruding from the ends, one of the little cakes decorated like a present, and an apple tart. I shut the lid as she walked over to me.

She looked through the clear window of the box and clicked her tongue against the roof of her mouth. “That’s it? Give me that.” She swiped the pastries from my fingers and filled the box with so many sweets she could barely shut it when she was through. “There, that’s better. Now, follow me.” She shut off the main lights, led me back through the kitchen, and over to the rear exit, but rather than walking outside, she locked us in.

“Shouldn’t we be going out that way?” Oz would have slapped me if he’d heard me say that, but I’m a gentleman down to my bones.

“No, my home is through there.” She pointed to a door behind me I hadn’t noticed.

I stepped to the side and let her lead the way up a narrow staircase. Her calves bobbed like ripe apples tempting me like a forbidden fruit, and her dress, covered in miniature roses, swished with each sway of her hips. She stopped at a door at the top of the stairs.

“Well, thank you for walking me home, Jesse.” She grasped her bottom lip between her teeth as she smiled.

The dim light shone on her pale green eyes, and I was certain if heaven had put an angel on earth, it was Aurélie. I got lost in a dream of kissing her. One step closer and I would have kissed her so hard I’m not sure I would have been able to stop.

“Would you like to come inside? I can make us coffee to go with one of those, if you don’t mind sharing?”

I cleared my throat in an attempt to empty the dirty thoughts littering my mind. “I’d love to.”

She turned the key in the lock and flipped the lights on to a quaint apartment. “It’s not much, but it’s home. Come in.” She waved her hand. “Have a seat on the couch. I don’t have a television, but there are some books on my coffee table to keep you company. I’m going to rinse off. Be right back.”

“Take your time,” I said, though I hoped she wouldn’t. I wanted to spend every second of this day with her.

She disappeared behind another door, and within moments, the spray of a shower sounded through the thin walls. And then she moaned, and a wildfire spread throughout my body. I closed my eyes and tried not to let it consume me. I imagined staring at the naked body of the woman I’d just met covered in the froth of sweetly scented soap. I would have gladly gotten drunk on the water pooling at her feet.

I was no gentleman.

Glancing around, I had to distract myself, or she’d come from behind her door, and I’d be faced with the embarrassing situation growing in my pants. The table in front of her couch, which was actually a charming loveseat, was littered with books. A Tale of Two Cities, Pride and Prejudice, Madame Bovary and many other classics were all precariously stacked and tattered. I picked up a copy of Wuthering Heights and open it. Notes were scribbled in the margins and large hearts circled certain passages.

I was never into romantic literature, but I stopped on a certain section and got lost in a verse, an obvious favorite from the excessive markings on the page. It went on about the characters’ souls being “frost from fire.” I tried to think of what it really meant. The language was beautiful, and I wondered why I’d never dared pick up a classic like this before. Well, probably because I’d never live it down if one of the guys found it.

Wuthering Heights, it’s one of my favorites, if you couldn’t tell.”

Aurélie stood behind me. Her hair was dry, but the tips were wet and stuck to her chest. She rounded the couch and sat next to me, her body radiating a cool heat that smelled better than anything I’d imagined. Her knee brushed mine, and the touch shot an electric current straight to my heart.

“I noticed. Do you do this to all your books?” I fanned the pages and let the stale air from within brush my nose in the hopes the intoxicating scent coming from Aurélie would be muted somehow. She was almost too much.

“I can’t help myself. Some of the words are just so pretty and perfect I try to memorize them.” She took the book from my hands, laying it down on the stack, and snickered. “Probably seems silly, huh?”

“It’s not silly at all. I’d much rather read a book than watch television any day.”

“Really?” She studied my face for a beat and seemed to be mulling something over in her mind. “Can I get you that coffee and maybe one of the pastries?”

“Yes, please.”

“Good.” As she walked into the kitchen, I noticed she’d changed into a pair of white linen shorts. They stopped just below her backside, which was exactly where my eyes were glued. “Come pick out which dessert you’d like to start with.” She retrieved a little silver kettle and unscrewed it, adding water into the bottom half.

I followed her, knowing exactly the dessert I’d prefer, but stopped at the box sitting on a little ledge separating her kitchen from the rest of the space. “Les Petits Choux Pâtisserie” was scrolled in cursive letters across the lid. “What’s the name of your shop mean?”

She scooped coffee into the top of the kettle and placed the two parts back together before setting it over the flame. “It’s a play on words. Choux is a French term of endearment, but choux paste is a type of dough used to make my signature pastry, choux à la crème.” The words rolled off her tongue like a cat’s purr.

“Is there one in here?”

“Of course. I had to give you one of those.” She peeled back the lid and took out a round dessert with caramel dripping down the sides. She placed it on a simple white plate. “It’s filled with Bavarian cream. Sometimes I top it with chocolate, but I think the caramel icing compliments the vanilla in the filling better. It’s my favorite.”

The kettle began to shoot steam out of its spout. “That’s not going to catch fire, is it?”

Her brows shot up. “Funny, no. I think your fire extinguishing needs have been met for the day.” She grabbed two small tea cups and placed them on matching saucers. After a couple more minutes of the pot shooting steam, she removed it from the heat and poured thick black coffee into each cup. “Cream or sugar?”

“Both please.”

“You have a sweet tooth, hmm?” I nodded, and she scooped a heaping teaspoon of sugar into my cup and added a splash of cream, leaving hers black. “Thanks for your help today. I’m glad you stumbled into my shop.”

“I’m glad I did too.”

“Eat.” She nudged her chin at my plate.

I picked up the cream puff and sank my teeth in. It was lighter than a cloud, but the flavor was incredible. The pastry shell was soft, yet slightly crunchy. The filling burst with the essence of a rich, fruity vanilla, and the caramel sauce was buttery and sweet. “Oh my God, I think this the best thing I’ve ever eaten.”

Her smile almost knocked me out of my seat. “You’re just saying that.”

“No, it’s delicious, but I can’t sit here and eat this all in front of you. Have a bite.” I leaned over the counter and lifted the pastry to her lips.

She took a dainty bite and covered her mouth as she chewed. “Ah, my favorite for a reason.” She dabbed her lips with a napkin and sipped her coffee. Placing the cup back on its saucer, she spun it slowly between her fingers, licking the smallest dot of sugar from her bottom lip. That little peek of her tongue nearly destroyed me. I left my seat and approached her as she turned and rested her hip against the counter.

“I need to ask you something.”

“Okay.” Her eyes slowly roamed up my body, and she looked at me through long lashes.

“How would you feel if I kissed you right now?”

She swallowed, and the smallest grin appeared on the corners of her mouth. “I think I’d feel pretty good about it.”

I took a step closer. “Pretty good or really good? Because I really want to kiss you right now.”

Very good.”

I took her head in my hands and tasted the only dessert I’d truly wanted since seeing her stomp that towel. It was a thousand times sweeter than anything she could have made with her hands. Her lips were soft and easy, and our tongues existed in a place that was neither hers nor mine, but ours. My hands trailed down to the swell of her hips, and I spun her against the counter, lifting her up and stepping between her thighs. Her feet hooked around me, and she wrapped her arms around my waist.

My pocket began to vibrate, but I ignored it. I kissed her deeper, harder, and then it vibrated again. I continued to ignore it and gathered her shirt between my fingers, squeezing her tightly. I didn’t want to let her go and have the moment end, not yet. But the vibrating from my pocket persisted.

She smiled against my lips. “Do you need to check that?”

I pulled my phone from my pocket. Ash was at O’Connell’s with Oz, and they wanted me down at the bar. I turned my phone off and laid it face down next to her.

She rested her weight on her hands. “Is it something important? I don’t want to keep you if you had plans.”

I put her hands back where they were. “Nothing could be better than this.”

“You sure?”

“Positive.” I reached into her hair. Strawberries and flowers, that’s what it smelled like. “I have another question for you.”

“Anything.”

“What are you doing for the rest of your life?”

Burnt Sugar will be turned into a full story.Eventually.

I hope you enjoyed it! I have to be honest, this is one of my favorite stories. It was my first time writing from a male point of view and there’s just something so sexy about getting inside a man’s head and getting him to do whatever I want. Oh, if real life could only be so easy…I kid, I kid.

If you’re interested in purchasing a signed copy, here’s the form to fill out.

Thank you!

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