Love Unleashed

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Chapter One

Hot and Bothered

Jessica Bellingham



Without opening my eyes, I reached out and hit the snooze button on my alarm clock to steal a few more minutes of sleep. I was halfway back to dreamland when my Persian-mix cat jumped up onto the bed, strolled over, and poked me in the face with his paw, his way of telling me he wanted his breakfast and he wanted it now.

I opened my bleary eyes and glared at Shirazi. “Too bad you don’t have a snooze button.”

He twitched his tail in warning. You’ve got three more seconds to get out of bed or I’m bringing out the claws.

Rather than risk a scratch, I dragged myself out of bed, fed the cat, and took a shower. After tugging on a pair of stretchy leggings and tennis shoes, I slipped into the top I’d chosen for today, a T-shirt featuring Sesame Street’s Oscar the Grouch. Okay, so it wasn’t the most fashionable attire a twenty-seven-year-old woman could wear, but it was the perfect top for teaching the letter G. It was green and featured a grouch. Besides, given that elementary school teachers spent a lot of time chasing children around and sitting on the floor for story time, we dressed for comfort rather than style.

“Be a good boy, Shirazi,” I told my cat as I gave him a good-bye scratch under the chin. I lifted his chin and looked him in the eye. “No chewing on Mommy’s plants. And don’t just lie in the sunny spot all day. Get some exercise. Maybe chase a ball. Okay?”

The tuna-scented yawn he offered in reply told me he understood but had no intention of obeying me. That’s a cat for you. If you entered into a relationship with one, you had to accept it would mostly be one-sided.

After grabbing my striped tote bag, I headed out to the parking lot of my apartment complex, the mid-September morning already warming up. I hopped into my blue Ford Fiesta. Just forty-seven more payments and the car would be mine. Yippee! Yeah, no one gets rich teaching kindergarten. But the job offered many other, intangible rewards.

While many people hated going back to work on Mondays, I wasn’t among them. I loved my job. The kiddos in my class meant everything to me, and I loved the opportunity to use my creativity and to influence impressionable little minds. Plus, Monday was the one day of the week I allowed myself to splurge on a gourmet coffee. A warm, yummy latte served as a great incentive and allowed me to start the week on a good note.

I pulled out of the complex and aimed for the coffee shop. Looked like I wasn’t the only one who’d decided to start their workweek with a fancy coffee. The line for the drive-thru spilled out onto the main road, at least a dozen cars idling bumper to bumper. It would be faster to go inside, wouldn’t it?

I zipped into the lot and took a spot next to a red Jeep Wrangler. The enticing aroma of roasted coffee beans greeted me as I climbed out of my car and headed inside. I stepped into line behind a mountain of a man with dark hair, olive skin, and strong, broad shoulders. He stood well over six feet tall, and his biceps strained the sleeves of his gray golf shirt.

Unlike the many people who ordered the exact same concoction on every visit to a coffee house, I liked to mix things up a bit, try a different drink each time. But with this beefcake in front of me, I couldn’t see the menu board, despite rising up on tiptoe. But you wouldn’t get a complaint from me. I was enjoying the view of those manly muscles, thank you very much.

We inched forward over the next minute or two. When he reached the counter and placed his order, I heard his voice for the first time. It was a deep, masculine rumble, the kind of voice a woman wants to hear whispering sweet nothings—or sensual somethings—in her ear.

He ordered seven drinks, probably picking them up for others at his job. When he received his change, his slid a ten-dollar bill into the tip jar. A hot bod, a sexy voice, and generous, too? Surely he must have the face of an ogre.

I couldn’t have been more wrong.

When the barista handed him the drinks, the guy said, “Thanks,” picked up the cardboard cup carriers, and turned around, fixing the most gorgeous set of brown eyes in existence on me.

Good lord almighty!  

All the air seemed to have escaped my lungs. My body began to self-combust, starting in my nether regions and zooming both north and south, making my cheeks flame and my feet feel as if I were walking on hot coals. Someone hose me down! Quick!

Unlike me, who somehow felt both on fire and frozen in place at the same time, this guy maintained his cool. He cocked his head ever so slightly as his gaze roamed my face and took in my light brown curls. He offered me a soft smile. “’Scuse me.”

Sheesh! I was standing right in his path and had made no effort to move aside. I must look like an idiot. My Oscar the Grouch top would do nothing to contradict that conclusion. Luckily for me, while my conscious brain was in duh mode, my subconscious mind processed the embroidered logo lying atop his firm left pec. Forth Worth Fire Department.

I hiked a thumb in the general direction of the fire station. “Are you from the station down the street?” I hoped he wouldn’t notice how breathless I sounded.

He dipped his head in acknowledgment. “I am.”

“A group from your station is coming to our school on Wednesday for an assembly on fire safety.” I’d arranged the presentation myself. I didn’t want any of the children to go through the same ordeal I’d endured at their age. The mere thought made my already pounding heart beat even faster. Be strong, Jessica. “The kids are really excited.”

“Great. Fire safety’s an important topic.”

I couldn’t agree more. “Will you be there?” I mentally crossed my fingers. I wouldn’t mind the chance to get another look at these ridiculously broad shoulders and dark chocolate eyes.

“No,” the guy replied. “I’m off Wednesday.”


Before I could respond, the barista interrupted our exchange. “Are you ready to order, ma’am?”

I couldn’t blame the barista for wanting to keep the line moving, but can’t a single woman take a few seconds to flirt?

The firefighter gave me a nod in goodbye and went on his way, leaving the aroma of espresso and my melted knees behind.