Book 1 in the St. Martin Family Saga: Emergency Responders
A Louisiana fireman, Clay St. Martin liked his hoses bound tight and his women bound tighter. He’d not had a traditional relationship in years and was positive he’d found the answer to all his needs and desires: The Hoodoo Pot—Baton Rouge’s elite members only sex and bondage club.
Eve Ivey had escaped the clutches of her evil ex, but still she constantly looked over her shoulder. That is, until she met Clay. At six feet five, he was a king among men. She’d certainly like to be his queen.
He’d rescued her from a hurricane’s lashing winds and rising water, but his first mistake was in bringing her home. Yet she’d had nowhere to go. A bigger mistake would have been not going back for her.
And now neither of them wanted her to leave. The only thing to do was let the storm rage outside while they focused on the personal storm raging between their bodies.
A storm that was advancing on their hearts.
Book 1 in the St. Martin Family Saga: Emergency Responders
When they pulled in to the high school shelter, Clay exhaled the breath he’d been holding for what seemed like miles. He’d saved them; they’d survive now.
Jack had the medics bring a gurney out for Ruth, which was quite a production in the rain and wind. Eve stood waiting by the truck. He watched her, unable to turn away, noting that she was barefoot and still wore the leisurely attire from earlier. Except now she was soaked and he was able to confirm that she was definitely not wearing a bra. That wouldn’t do. She couldn’t go into the school looking the way she did. He jogged to the back of the engine and rummaged around until he found a BRFD T-shirt and sweat suit. The suit was large, but she could draw the string. He walked around to her.
“Here, put this on.”
She took the shirt and put her arms through the holes, pulling it over her head before he handed her the pants. She pulled those on and cinched the waist tight. He passed her the sweat shirt, saying, “In case you need it.”
Her gray eyes held a solemnity that froze him in place. She touched his bare arm, laying her whole hand against his skin, and heat sizzled beneath her palm.
“Thank you for what you did, Clay St. Martin. I owe you my life.”
Clay shrugged. “It’s what I do.” He argued silently with his soul, the deep part of him that was currently shouting that what was between them was so much more than just his job.
“You went beyond your job. When I called 911 a second time, I got a recorded message stating all emergency services had been temporarily disabled. You risked you job and life. You didn’t have to come for us.”
He nodded because he couldn’t speak as he thought about what would have become of her had he not gone back. They walked toward the designated evacuee area. As he surveyed the space in the gym, he saw children running wild, without discipline, and women and men crammed into a room much too small for so many.
His work was done, and he had no reason to linger. He passed Eve over to a volunteer and turned away, feeling let down. He told himself his unease was from the drop in adrenaline, but he knew a lie when he heard it.
He was moving toward the door when Jack hurried over and whispered, “Augie said they’re running low on food and water. Supplies won’t be able to get in for hours. Or it could be a few days, God forbid, or even weeks before they get everything they need.”
Clay searched across the gymnasium until his eyes landed on her yellow curls. She was already rolled into a ball on one of the cots, using the sweatshirt he gave her as a pillow. The man in the cot next to her reached out to rub her back, and instantly Clay stiffened. The hair on the back of his neck rose as he strode across the room to check on her. His anger was starting to build, and he’d need to focus to keep it in check. He stood at the edge of her cot, listening as she softly cried and curled her body away from the man’s touch.
Of course anybody would notice her beauty. He had. Men were like piranhas, and she was blood in the water. As he stood there, he thought he might have saved her from one dire situation only to dump her into another. He looked around. Men were taking notice of her even in the baggy clothes. The shelter was good cover from the storm but the things that went on inside could be worse than fighting the elements outside. He’d seen this before during other storms. There were just too many displaced people in one location.
“Get your fucking hands off her.” His voice was louder than he’d expected and, laced with anger, it was edgy. The man looked up and cringed when he saw Clay hovering over him. He retreated.
Eve opened her eyes. When she saw Clay, she sat up and smiled.
“Thanks again.” She wiped at her face. “Are you going out on another rescue?”
Her eyes were large and bright and she seemed to be doing everything she could to remain positive, even though she’d been crying. He was sure she was dealing with a touch of post-traumatic stress. His brain was working out a way to tell her goodbye again, but his body wouldn’t move, and his lips were paralyzed.
Bombarded with facts, he stood unmoving. The supplies here were running low. He had a cozy home right across the street from the department, outfitted with all the provisions she could need: generator, potable water, and food. He was going back toward that well-provisioned home right now. And nobody would be using it since he was on duty until they’d cleaned up after the hurricane.
Shit, he was about to do something well out of his comfort zone, an act that just might change his life, but his frontal cortex had shut down, and with it went all reasoning. His emotions took hold of him like an iron fist around his throat, not only leading him but threatening him with harm if he didn’t listen. He wouldn’t leave her. Couldn’t leave her.
He crouched down to her level, until they were knee to knee. “Eve, you’re coming home with me.”
Her smile was wildly electric as she jumped at him aggressively and locked her arms around his neck.
“Thank you, thank you, thank you. You can’t know how much this means. Thank you, Clay.”
Her lips pressed against his temple and zapped his skin with an electric charge. He felt something stir in his soul.
He felt something equally strong stir in his cock.
He knew it. He knew it would come to this.
Now that he’d committed himself and his home, he needed to figure out a way to keep his hands off of her.
Eve could only remember once feeling more relieved than she did now. It was when she fell asleep on the bus that put the first miles between her and her husband. When she woke up, she’d been in Missouri.
She’d been uncomfortable with the setup at the shelter, but she knew she’d survive. Still, when the man next to her started to speak to her, alcohol heavy on his breath, and then continued to touch her after she’d asked him to stop, she’d been alarmed. Alarmed and almost sickened until she heard it—the voice that was fast becoming her security blanket. She’d been relieved because she knew the other man would never bother her again. No one would after experiencing Clay’s wrath.
As the three of them drove to the fire station, she observed the interaction between Clay and his partner. She sat in the back with Jack, who was texting but becoming increasingly frustrated. Clay’s focus was keen as he moved the huge ladder truck through the war zone that was once Baton Rouge. Beside her, Jack’s exasperation intensified until finally he jammed the phone into his pocket.
“Jack, a little help up here, please.”
Jack crawled over the seat and through the cab like he’d done it a thousand times.
“Control those spots; I’m having a hell of a time keeping this wheel straight.”
Jack grabbed a black handle and light washed over the path before them. Eve leaned forward to look. Water and downed power poles criss-crossed the road as far as the eye could see. A few times the men got out and used a power saw to cut through poles and trees, and Eve realized her rescue had been a huge undertaking.
More than two hours later, finally at the station, Clay expertly backed the engine into the garage. He turned to her and said, “Wait here.” His voice was gruff, and she felt even more like an obligation. She’d sensed his body stiffen when she’d hugged him at the school shelter. She wondered if she’d made a mistake, wondered if she should have stayed at the gymnasium after all. There had been many displaced families with young children camped out on cots.
They’d taken Ruth behind a curtain bearing a red cross. Jack had told her the nurses and doctors were tending to her. Before Clay had returned to the truck, he’d also told her she’d be in good hands with him because he was as good as gold. She hugged the soft material of her sweatshirt to her chest, hoping he was right. Praying that he was right.
She kicked off the sweat pants because with their saturation they were dead weight and even wet, her shorts were light. When the door on her side of the truck opened, she leaned forward. Clay stood at the door with a large pair of rubber boots.
“These are the smallest we have, but they’ll serve to get you across the street.”
He motioned with his hand for her legs, then secured the boots to her feet. When he was done, he grasped her around the waist, “Down you go. I’ll lead. You follow directly behind me, okay?”
“Okay.” She didn’t know what he’d meant about across the street, but what could she do but put her trust in him?
She shook her head when she started to walk, having to fight to keep the boots on. But then she smiled. She must look a fright with her hair pasted to her head and boots that reached higher up her legs than her shorts reached down.
But she was safe, and in a few minutes she was going to be dry again.
The water in the street came to her knees, but didn’t get into her boots except when the rain and Clay’s splashes reached her. She followed close behind him as he directed the light ahead of them.
Hard rain stung her face as they walked, and after a few yards, the ground seemed to get higher. To her relief, the water got lower and lower until she walked on solid, albeit soggy, ground.
Clay stopped and turned to her. “Coming?”
“The water’s receding.”
“Unfortunately no. We’re walking on an incline. My house is just right over there.” He indicated the direction with a pass of the spotlight. It was about fifty yards away, maybe a little more. “There’s no flooding on this side of Main Street. Your home is located in a flood plain. Were you even able to get flood insurance?”
Eve looked down at her hands. “It’s a rental, but the rent pays for the owner’s assisted living.”
“No worries. They’ll qualify for federal disaster relief.”
She wondered how he knew that. “They will?”
“We all will. People who need it, that is.”
That thought comforted her as she thought about Ruth Howard and the woman who rented her house to her, Miss Jackie, who currently lived in a convalescent center. Eve herself had money set aside from her blogging, so she could find a new place to live as soon as circumstances permitted. Given her situation, she couldn’t afford not to have money stashed away. At any moment Nicolas could come after her, and she’d need to be able to get out of Dodge without delay.
Eve wrapped her arms around herself as they walked, squishing their way down the street. Thinking of Nicolas gave her chills. And a stomachache. And sometimes nightmares.
She’d managed to hide from her husband for six months, had created the alias Eve Ivey to hide behind. In her heart she hoped he would never find her, but her mind wouldn’t get on board. Some nights her nightmares detailed how events would play out when he found her, when he actually laid his hands on her. She’d wake up gasping for the breath that in her dream was being cut off by his hands around her throat.
The winds gusted and the trees blew, but she continued to follow Clay. She wasn’t a quitter, and she refused to live out her life in fear of another, and yet she had regrets. Not of leaving Nicolas, never that, but of leaving her family. She and her sister had been close, but to stay would have been risking her own life and the lives of her mother and sister. A chill so potent it made her teeth rattle shivered up her spine.
Clay held his arm out, stopping her.
“There’s some debris here. Watch your step.”
She carefully maneuvered around what seemed to be wood fencing. Her boots were now full of water and with every step she heard—she felt—the squish squish squish from the suction of her feet against the rubber.
Once clear of the debris, she let her mind wander back to home. Back to Nicolas, her reason for leaving.
She’d left home at eighteen to attend the University of Toronto on full scholarship. She met Nicolas at the filling station where she worked nights. He’d started coming in every night she worked.
Eventually his confidence, good looks, and interest in her convinced her to go on a date. Though he was older than she was, he’d made a nice life for himself working in real estate investments, and she’d thought he could provide for her, so she’d married him when he asked. All Eve ever wanted was a man with whom she could share love, laughs, and experiences. Someone who made her feel safe and comforted. Someone who didn’t scare her and force her to do things she didn’t want to do. Someone gentle. Nicolas had been all that and more when they were dating.
After they married he’d turned on her, becoming aggressive and controlling. He was obsessive, so very obsessive. He’d made her conform to his wants and desires, even when she was uncomfortable with them. She never knew what mood he would be in when he walked through the door from work. She’d calculated it to be a fifty-fifty chance that by the night’s end, she’d be beaten black and blue and on top of that humiliated. The next day to apologize he’d always bring her expensive gadgets like iPods and computers or fancy clothes and jewelry, even perfume. The worst thing was, he would expect to take her slowly and sensually after giving her the gifts. Rape wasn’t a strong enough word to describe what he did to her.
He terrorized her mind and abused her body. He was an evil monster in private masquerading as a loving husband in public.
She cringed at the memories.
They arrived at the front door of Clay’s home. They climbed steps to a small landing with a porch. It was too dark and rainy to make out much of anything else. Clay handed her the light to hold while he retrieved his keys and unlocked the door.
“Make yourself at home. I’ll go switch on the generator.”
Eve stepped inside the home and was immediately plunged into total blackness. She took comfort in Clay’s retreating steps. For a few seconds, the absence of sound was so absolute she imagined she could hear the blood running through her veins. She gasped when suddenly she was awash in the comforting glow and hum of soft light. She lifted her face to the ceiling and giggled. Funny the things one took for granted until they were gone. The lights flickered, but then stayed steady. From where she stood in the living room, Eve could see into the dining room and kitchen. The colors were earthy and warm, and she nodded. They were just what a kitchen should have to make it the comfortable heart of the home. The house was masculine but neat and meticulously cared for. She saw a fireplace stacked with wood ready to be used and chairs surrounding what would be a cozy nook once the fire was lit. The floors were wood and stained a medium brown. Clay, or someone, had even hung curtains.
Maybe he was involved with a woman. The thought left her disappointed.
Clay walked in from the kitchen and met her in the living room.
“I’ll get you some dry clothes.”
He walked down a hallway, leaving her to stand in the entry, wet and apprehensive. He’d said to make herself at home, but it wasn’t like she’d be able to do that. She didn’t even know him.
He returned with a pair of women’s pastel-pink knit shorts and a sleeveless cream top. He even carried a pair of white flip-flops. That confirmed the presence of a significant-other. Disheartened, Eve accepted the clothes.
“Would you like a shower? Probably be a good idea. No telling what was in that water.”
She shivered. She’d seen what was in that water. “A shower would be wonderful.”
Clay motioned for her to follow him. “Come on.”
The decorations in the bathroom were colorful. The walls were light gray. Fancy towels hung on hooks, and a yellow and cream shower curtain was pulled along the tub. In one corner was a princess vanity with make-up mirror.
Clay walked into the bathroom and began digging around under the sink. “Here are some girly products. Clara leaves her mark wherever she goes.” He pointed to the vanity. “Hence the fancy table. That’s not for me to put on my make-up.”
Eve nodded, wondering who Clara was.
“Okay . . . well, I’ll leave you to it.” He avoided her eyes and walked out, turning back with his hand on his chest to ask, “Are you hungry? I was going to have a sandwich.”
She held the clothes close to her own chest and said, “A sandwich sounds good.” A sandwich sounded heavenly. She was starving and the events of the last few hours had her wired, anxious, and hungry.
She closed the door and turned on the shower so the water would warm. She peeled the still damp and soiled clothing from her skin. Thinking of Clay, she stepped into the hot cleansing water and washed away the events of the evening.
When she emerged from the bathroom, Clay was standing at the kitchen counter preparing subs. He slathered French bread with Tabasco mayonnaise and layered the sandwiches with various cheeses and cold cuts, no greens. He cut the large sandwich into four pieces and placed half on each of two plates. He then fished pork crackling and Zapp’s potato chips out of the pantry. He walked to the fridge and returned with a six-pack of root beer. He set it on the table and grabbed the sandwiches as he motioned for her to take a chair. She sat and self-consciously wrapped her arms around herself.
“Here you go.”
He’d given her the same amount of sandwich that he took for himself—way too much for her to eat. Looking at the huge sandwich and even bigger man, she took one quarter of the sandwich and placed it on his plate.
They ate in silence. Eve thought he was a tight fit in his small-for-a-giant home and his normal-sized furniture, but even as large as he was, Clay moved with grace and ate with the manners of a prince. In contrast, she had her foot up on her chair with her arm resting on her knee. Aware of her bad habits, she put her leg on the floor and sat up straighter. She heard the wind and rain pick again, but this time she felt safe.
Being in his little cottage, with him, was far different from what she’d experienced earlier when she’d been alone in the dark with Ruth. She’d felt the fingers of fear clutching at her then, trying to drag her down. Had actually feared for her life. Now she felt nothing worse than exhaustion.
When she finished her sandwich, she walked her plate to the sink and washed and dried it. She laid it on the counter and began to tremble as her tears fell silently. She hurriedly swiped the moisture away so Clay wouldn’t see. The events of the last twenty-four hours were catching up to her, and she was more than tired. If she could just get to a nice soft pillow, she’d fall right asleep.
She’d been so quiet while they ate, Clay wondered if she was in shock or just exhausted. He cleared his throat. “I have to go back to the firehouse.”
No response. He wished Clara were here to stay with her. He didn’t know the first thing about her needs—or any woman’s, for that matter—and he hoped she wasn’t the needy or noisy type.
When he’d taken the clothes to her in the bathroom, it was all he could do to keep his mind from drifting to an image of her naked skin slippery with suds. Shit. This was proving to be more difficult than he’d expected.
He stood and crossed to the sink. He used his finger under her chin to raise her head so he could see her. He was surprised to find tears in her eyes. She’d kept it together through the worst of it, including the unmentioned-between-them encounter with the gator.
“Hey, what’s all this?”
Eve shook her head. “I don’t know. I think I just realized how close I came to death.”
He set his bottle on the counter and pulled her close. She was an entire foot shorter than he, and the top of her head rested at his chest.
“You’re trembling.” He scooped her up and carried her to the couch.
She positioned her head under his chin and rubbed against his neck. As she cried, hot tears fell on his chest. When she pulled back and saw she’d gotten him wet, she wiped at his neck and shirt with her hand. “I’m sorry.”
He stared into her eyes. “Don’t be. You’ve been through a lot today.”
When she’d been apprehensively peering into the kitchen earlier, wet and bedraggled in fire department boots nearly as tall as she was, he’d gone instantly hard. And now? Now her skin was pink from the shower, and the skimpy clothing revealed her curves. And he was even harder than before.
Damn Clara and her barely there clothing. He and his sister had argued about her clothing since she’d turned ten. His plans were to take Clara to the outlet mall and buy her some new clothes the next time she came for a visit.
Those were his plans every time she came for a visit. Problem was, her new clothes were always as revealing as her old ones.
And on Eve they were as seductive as hell.
He sat on the couch with Eve in his arms, his mind not operating properly. With her on his lap, he was hopeless to deny the attraction. She smelled like coconut. Her soft mewls were so sweet, he wondered if that was what she’d sound like underneath him as she adjusted to his size. As she took him deep. As she . . .
He shook his head, clearing the images. But the real thing was right in front of him, pressed up against his eager body.
Their focused gazes held for several long seconds before their mouths were drawn slowly together, polar opposites being pulled close by an unfamiliar force they were powerless to fight. When their lips met, an electric current hummed between them. There was no way to deny it.
He didn’t even try.
God, to taste her—she tasted like pickles and peppers from the sandwich and strawberry lip gloss. His hands went to either side of her jaw. He used his tongue to explore her shy, timid sweetness. While one of his hands fisted her hair, her fingers kneaded his chest. She alternately flexed and curled her hands, like a satisfied kitten. He wondered if she was aware she was doing it.
His hands went to her shoulders. The skin-on-skin contact drove him to the brink of his willpower. Her breasts—those full, bouncing breasts—were drawing him in like a moth to a flame. He wanted one touch, one squeeze, then he’d be satisfied. He knew he shouldn’t reach out, shouldn’t touch, but he lost the battle and his large hands cupped her fullness, gingerly at first. But then he squeezed. Damn, she was just as he knew she would be—soft and pliable, taut and natural. Deliciously pear shaped, just waiting to be tasted.
Her hands moved over each of his pecs, mimicking his touch to her breasts. He slid the loose strap of the tank top down her arm, gasping when her breast came into view. She was mouth-watering. He traced lightly with his fingertips from the top, over the outer swell and down to the underside, and cupped her there.