Home > Playing with Fire (Hometown Heat #3)

Playing with Fire (Hometown Heat #3)
Author: Lili Valente



Chapter One






“Crap on a cracker.” Those are my first words as I step out of my friend Piper’s van at the Southern Singles Seaside Camping Retreat.

But what I really want to say is—Fuck me.

Or better yet, fuuuuuuuuck me, with lots of extra “u” for how very undesirable and uncool it is to see Jamison Hansen emerging from the pickup truck in front of us.

Jamison Hansen—the last person I want hanging around, rolling his eyes at me while I’m trying to remember how to flirt.

But there he is, looking ridiculously handsome with the late-afternoon sunlight glinting off his sun-streaked brown hair. His muscled shoulders strain the fabric of his olive-green T-shirt, and his corded forearms exude pure manliness. Meanwhile, his sculpted backside practically compels me to drop to my knees and thank God for whoever invented blue jeans.

Argh! This is bad. So very bad.

I’ve been looking forward to this retreat for weeks.

I was so excited when I piled into the van with Piper, Shelley, and Dawn this morning I could barely contain myself. I talked their ears off all the way down to Myrtle Beach, promising to out-hike, out-swim, and out-drink all three of them, so long as they swear to lock me in the van if I let the whiskey get the better of me.

Most of the time I’m a level-headed person but get a little whiskey in me and I can become daring to the point of personal endangerment. But we’ve all been best friends since we met at Girl Scout camp in junior high. They won’t let me do anything life-threateningly stupid.

They actually encouraged me to let my hair down and to start my Month of Maddie—my annual month-long celebration of my May birthday—off with a bang. They know the past year has been an absolute shit show and agreed I’m overdue for a little footloose and fancy free.

Just over a year ago, my six-year marriage ended in disaster when my husband, Serge, left me for another man. I spent a good eight months grieving the loss of a friend and partner who loved me well—if not always with as much passion as I might have hoped for—and have only recently emerged from my despair pit.

I finally feel ready to enjoy being single, to flirt and banter and maybe kiss a sexy stranger on the beach after the bonfire burns low. This singles’ camping trip is going to be the start of a new me, one who isn’t afraid to reach out and touch someone, even if that someone isn’t going to end up being long-term relationship material.

I’m turning thirty in three weeks, for goodness’ sake. I can’t afford to let any more time slip through my fingers. It’s time to start enjoying myself and put my dreams of home and hearth on hold until I meet the right guy.

I was ready to kiss lips and take names.

But now, everything is ruined.

Jamison Hansen—childhood friend, womanizer, drop-dead delicious firefighter, and a man who smells so good he shouldn’t be allowed within fifty feet of the ocean for fear his yummy man-scent might attract sharks—is here.

Three months ago, that would have been bad news. Jamison’s always treated me like a little sister, someone he’s in charge of pestering to my wits’ end while keeping me safe from danger in all forms. In the old days, he would have cramped my style; now, he’s going to ensure I suffer three days of misery while being forced to watch him flirt the panties off of at least one, if not more, of the single women on this trip.

Knowing my luck, it will be one of my friends, and I’ll have to endure a play-by-play description of Jamison’s legendary lovemaking the entire drive back to Georgia.

Because Jamison will be getting action this weekend, there’s no doubt in my mind about that.

The man is the Casanova of Bliss River, Georgia, a professional smolder-wielder who’s bedded half the women in our hometown, leaving a string of broken hearts in his wake. He’s also the man who almost kissed me a few months ago, when an unexpected eruption of mutual attraction nearly led to a friendly hug becoming something more.

Which would have been disastrous.

His brother is marrying my sister. We’re going to be in each other’s lives for the long haul. The last thing we need is an awkward kiss—or something worse—lingering between us. And even if it wasn’t weird kissing an old friend I’ve known since we were infants, Jamison isn’t my type. I’m looking for someone less…smoldery. And with a heck of a lot more interest in long term commitment.

Since our near kiss, I’ve done my best to avoid him, but the fire station is right across the street from my bakery.

I can’t help running into him at least once or twice a week, often enough for his full lips, strong hands, and delicious man-scent to remain in my thoughts and continue to pop up in fantasies so naughty they make me blush just thinking about them.

It’s awful.

I was never attracted to Jamison before, and I certainly don’t want to be attracted to him now. Even if he weren’t the wrong kind of guy for me, he’s an unacceptable option. I don’t want a guy I used to bang and broke up with showing up at family Thanksgivings every year.

So, he’s off-limits. That’s it.

Nothing is ever going to happen between us. Ever.

My head knows that, but my libido does not, a point proven when Jamison turns, our eyes meet, and a shiver of awareness sweeps over my skin, raising goosebumps on my arms and legs despite the eighty-five-degree heat.

For his part, Jamison doesn’t look much happier to find his weekend of fun crashed by a childhood friend than I am, but his look of displeasure only lasts a moment before he smiles and hops down from the truck bed with the agility of a jungle cat and prowls across the pine-needle covered ground toward me.

“What are the chances, huh?” I ask, determined to have my first—and last—words with Jamison over as quickly as possible. “Guess we’ll just have to stay out of each other’s hair. Pretend we don’t know each other. Avert our eyes if we see anything we shouldn’t. Or just…anything at all.”

He crosses his arms, and his lips hook up on one side in a smirk. “Is that your subtle way of telling me not to interfere while you’re trying to hook up?”

“No.” I roll my eyes. “That’s my blunt way of saying I’m not here to cramp your style, and I’d be pleased if you’d extend me the same courtesy.”

He inclines his head before casting a glance behind me to where my friends are unloading the van. “I guess that means those three are off-limits?” he asks in a low voice.

“If you want to go home with all your man parts intact, yes,” I whisper back, flinching when he laughs.

Even his laugh is sexy, a sensual expression of mirth that showcases even, white teeth and that delicious neck I know smells better than fresh bread, lavender-scented candles, and a pan of recently fried bacon combined.

Though probably better to keep those smells separate.

While delicious alone, they definitely wouldn’t be great together.

“Got it.” He winks at me before lifting a hand to the women behind me and backing away with a husky, “Good day, ladies,” that triggers a sigh from one of the weaker members of our company.

I spin back around to find out which of my friends has become tangled in Jamison’s smolder-web to find Shelley and Dawn leaning against the van with slightly dazed expressions and Piper wiping drool from her chin.

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