Nothing made a guy feel conspicuous like walking down the hall of an office building in full turnout gear.
Or he would if anybody actually noticed him, Derek Gilman thought as he shifted to the right to avoid running into a woman looking down at her phone. How people navigated the hallways with their eyes glued to their screens was beyond him.
One guy actually looked up from his phone as he brushed by, and then did a startled double take. “Should I be evacuating?”
“You can evacuate if you want,” Derek said, “but there’s no reason to. We’re just doing some high-rise training.”
Which was a fact everybody in the building was supposed to have been made aware of before they arrived. They didn’t have much in the way of glass skyscrapers in their neighborhood, so the crews of Engine 59 and Ladder 37 had schlepped across Boston on what should have been a day off to hone their skills.
Remembering to bring everything they needed from the apparatus was apparently not one of their skills, however. Though he was over a decade past being a rookie, Derek was new to this Ladder 37 crew, so he’d been sent to retrieve the paperwork Rick Gullotti—their lieutenant and the guy in charge of paperwork—had forgotten.
A woman stepped out of an office ahead and turned, walking ahead of him in the same direction. She was notable for two reasons. One, she wasn’t looking at a cell phone. That in itself was enough to make her stand out in this crowd.
But it was her looks that captured Derek’s attention. He only got a glimpse of her profile before she turned, but she had delicate features and dark blond hair drawn up off her neck in a loose bun. Her navy suit looked as if it had been tailored specifically for her body, and the coat flared slightly, accenting the curve of her hips. Her legs were long, and his gaze lingered on her calves before sliding up to the soft spots behind her knees that were playing peekaboo with the hem of her skirt.
And he’d never realized how sexy the click of high heels on a marble tile floor could be. When he was a kid, he’d hated the sound because the high heels usually belonged to an angry teacher he was following down the hallway to the principal’s office. But following this woman as she walked down the hallway with long, confident strides was a hell of a lot more enjoyable.
Of course, she reached the elevator just as the door opened and a man stepped out. Because he’d slowed to leave enough space to appreciate the view, Derek knew there was a good chance the door would close before he reached it and there was no way in hell he was taking the stairs if he didn’t have to.
“Hold the door, please,” he called as the woman stepped in and pushed a button on the panel.
She looked up at him and he saw the hesitation in her body language. She didn’t want to, but he watched the fact he was a firefighter register, plus it would be rude to pretend she hadn’t heard him after making eye contact. He smiled as she hit the button to hold the doors.
“Thank you.” The button for the lobby was already lit, so he stepped back as the doors slid closed.
She only nodded and pulled her phone out of the back pocket of the leather journal she was holding, which was stuffed with notebooks and paper from the looks of it. But Derek could see her reflection in the highly polished metal door and she was looking at him. And not a quick glance to make sure the stranger was staying on his own side, but a lingering look.
He should say something, but he wasn’t sure what to say, since women wearing power suits in the Back Bay were way out of his league. The floors were ticking past like seconds on the clock, though, and he was running out of time.
She was taking a step forward, probably in anticipation of reaching the lobby level soon, when there was a grinding sound and the elevator lurched to a stop. Off-balance, she stumbled and—thanks to good reflexes and maybe some good luck—he ended up with an armful of beautiful woman.
Apparently he was getting an extension.
She tilted her face up to him, and he saw the distress in her pretty greenish-blue eyes. “What’s happening?”
“We stopped,” he said, hoping she’d find the obvious answer funny. In his experience, humor relaxed people. She didn’t even crack a smile, and he cleared his throat before continuing. “There are a few reasons it could happen, but the system probably has a problem or a malfunction somewhere and it shut the elevator down to be safe.”
“This is not safe.” She wasn’t in a full-blown panic, but her anxiety practically crackled around her, and she was clutching his arm so tightly he could feel her grip through the heavy bunker coat. “And what do you mean by a malfunction? So something could be more wrong than the fact we’re not moving anymore?”
“Everything’s fine.” He had to let his arms fall away from her as she backed away, wincing a little. “Are you hurt?”
“No.” He wasn’t reassured by the quick way she said it, as if it was a reflex and maybe not the truth.
He pulled out his phone to send a quick group text to Danny Walsh—Engine 59’s LT—and Rick Gullotti. Elevator’s stuck. Why? Then he peeled off the heavy coat and tossed it on the floor, dropping the helmet on top of it while she sent a text message of her own to somebody. “We’re okay in here. Just try to stay calm and we’ll be out in no time.”
“Stay calm,” she muttered as her phone vibrated and she sent another text. “That’s easy for you to say. Being brave in the face of death is part of your job.”
That was a little dramatic, but she wasn’t totally wrong. About his job, anyway. “You’re not facing death. I promise.”
His phone vibrated with a response from Walsh. Working on it. Stand by.
The woman’s face was slightly flushed. “Shouldn’t you…I don’t know. Go up through the ceiling hatch and climb up the cable or something?”
Derek managed—barely—not to laugh outright at her, but he couldn’t hold back a short chuckle. “I’m a firefighter, not John McClane.”
“Who’s John McClane?”
Oh, she did not just ask that. “The greatest action hero of all time? The guy from Die Hard?”
“I’ve heard of those movies, but I’ve never seen any of them.”
If he’d needed any more of a definitive sign this woman wasn’t his type, that was it. There were six movies, so she had to work at not seeing any of them. “You’re missing out. So, what’s your name?”
“Pretty name.” Classic and elegant, and it suited her. “I’m Derek.”
“Can you pry open the doors?” she asked, clearly not in a place to be distracted by small talk.
“With my bare hands?” He held them up, showing off his lack of tools. “I work out a little, but not that much.”
Her gaze flicked over his body, and he stood up straighter and sucked in his gut. Not that there was much to suck in, but he wasn’t in his twenties anymore. Hell, he was barely still in his thirties. “You work out more than a little.”
Her tone of voice made it sound like just an observation, but he didn’t miss her gaze lingering for a second on his chest or the way her eyebrow lifted as her mouth curved into a hint of a smile. She wasn’t flirting, but she liked what she saw and he’d take the win. He’d need all the ego boosting he could get once the other guys started giving him shit for having to rescue him from an elevator.
Then she shifted her weight and, when she winced again, Derek gave her a stern look. “You’re hurt.”
“No, I’m not. I twisted my ankle a little when the elevator stopped.”
“You need to get those shoes off and let me look at it.”
She laughed and shook her head. “I don’t care how nice this elevator is, I am not touching the floor with my bare feet.”
Derek picked up his coat, letting the helmet roll free, and—with a flourish—spread it over the floor in front of her. “Your carpet, milady.”
Olivia McGovern didn’t have time to be stuck in an elevator today. Her schedule was so tight the Lyft driver who was hopefully still waiting outside for her after her text would determine the fate of her punctuality streak, and she hadn’t been late to a meeting in the three years since she’d officially hung out her McGovern Consulting shingle.
But none of that seemed to matter when she looked into the warm blue eyes of the firefighter smiling at her right now. It had been the smile he gave her as he stepped onto the elevator that first caught her attention. That smile that was just a little friendlier than a polite thank-you and radiated warmth had been sexy, she had to admit. His helmet coming off to reveal tousled dark, dirty blond hair, along with the Boston Fire T-shirt showing off a very nicely built upper body, hadn’t hurt either.
But it was the boyish grin he gave her as he spread his coat out like a gentleman in a story that really kicked her heartbeat into high gear.
As did putting her hand on his arm to steady herself as she stepped out of the heels. The first time she’d clutched his arm—when she’d been thrown into his arms—he’d been wearing the coat she was standing on. But now she could feel the firm muscle and the warmth of his skin through the blue cotton.
“Thank you,” she said in a slightly choked voice. Her ankle really wasn’t that bad, but being out of the shoes for a few minutes would definitely help.
Then he dropped to his knees in front of her and she sucked in a sharp breath. His hands closed around her ankle and she pressed her lips together so she wouldn’t make any sort of a sound when he ran his hands up over her calf muscle and back to her ankles. He pressed gently with his thumbs, and maybe it was her imagination, but it sounded like the deep breath he took shuddered just a little.
“No swelling,” he said, pushing back to his feet. “It doesn’t look bad, but you should elevate it while we’re waiting. You can sit on the coat.”
Getting into a sitting position on the coat while wearing a skirt was a challenge, but Derek had turned away to retrieve his helmet so she did it as quickly and with as much modesty as she could. She assumed he was going to use the helmet to prop her ankle up, but he simply set it right side up and then sat down at her feet.
An unexpected rush of heat flooded her when he lifted her foot and shifted so he could rest it on his thigh, and she hoped it didn’t show on her face.
“It really should be elevated more, but we don’t have a lot of options,” he said. “Is this okay?”
His hand was massaging her ankle and she didn’t trust herself to speak, so she nodded. He had calluses and his hands weren’t abrasive, but just rough enough so a shiver went through her.
“Are you cold?” he asked, his thumb brushing over her ankle bone.
“I’m fine,” she forced herself to say, but she was struggling with the awareness that for the first time in her life, she was very tempted to make out with a total stranger in an elevator.
“So, Olivia,” he said in a low voice that turned her on almost as much as his hands on her ankle. “You know I’m a firefighter. What do you do for work? That’s quite a book you’ve got there.”
She looked down at the leather cover protecting a variety of notebooks and papers, then back at him. “I’m a productivity systems consultant.”
“Oh. Cool.” He obviously had no idea what that meant.
“I shadow a company’s employees and talk to them for several hours, trying to get a feel for their business flow. Then I present several productivity suites I think would help them work more efficiently—whether digital, paper or a combination. I help them set it up and train them on how to use it.”
“Huh.” He gave her a look she’d seen many times, as if he still wasn’t sure what she did. She was used to that.
Before she could say anything else, though, his phone chimed and he checked the message before sending back a brief reply. “They’re going to pry the door.”
It was utterly ridiculous that disappointment would be her first reaction to imminent rescue, but it was. Followed fairly quickly by the awareness of how much time had passed since she sent an update to her Lyft driver and her assistant, Kelsey Harris.
“Does that take long?”
“Shouldn’t. They’ve probably already cut the power to make sure it doesn’t start moving again at a bad time, so it won’t take long to bypass the door restrictors and get the doors open. How’s the ankle feeling?”
“Better, thanks.” The ankle was better, but now the rest of her body was a little hot and achy. “I think I can get up.”
He helped her, of course, taking her hands and pulling as she pulled her legs under so she was on her knees and then got to her feet. And he didn’t let them go once she was standing. They were close—so close she had to tilt her head back slightly to see his face—and for a few crazy seconds, she thought he was going to kiss her.
And she wanted him to.
“Can you put weight on it?”
This time she knew the blush was visible because she could feel it on her face. He was holding her hands because of her ankle. “It’s fine. It really wasn’t that bad and sitting for a few minutes helped.”
As did his hand massaging her ankle, though she didn’t say so. And she managed to stifle the sigh of regret when he released her hands. Then she heard sounds on the other side of the metal doors and realized they wouldn’t be in the elevator much longer.
She sent a quick text message to her Lyft driver. They’re getting ready to open the doors. It shouldn’t take long.
I can wait a few more minutes.
Olivia told herself she should be happy when the doors finally opened and another very attractive firefighter looked down at her from the opening. They could do a calendar, she thought, and was very thankful she hadn’t said it out loud.
“Hi there,” he said. “I’m Aidan Hunt, with Engine 59. We’re going to get you out now.”
“Took you guys long enough,” Derek told him, even as Olivia silently wished it could have taken just a little longer. Then he turned to her. “You ready to get out of here?”
She nodded, but didn’t move to the front. “I…they can’t line up the doors with the floor?”
“The elevator’s still stuck, so that would be a no. This is as good as it gets, but I’ll give you a boost up.”
A boost? Olivia wasn’t sure what that meant, but it implied him picking her up, and maybe having to hand her up to Aidan, which might involve Derek’s hands on her butt. Not that she’d mind that very much, but she was in a skirt.
“That doesn’t sound very graceful,” she pointed out. “Or modest.”
“I think we skimmed over being graceful at the fire academy. But, tell you what. To make it easier, I’ll get on the floor. If you step up onto my back and take Aidan’s hands for balance, I’ll get up on my hands and knees and you should be high enough so one of the guys can get you under the arms and lift you out with no problem.”
“You don’t mind?”
“Trust me. It won’t be the worst thing that’s happened to me on the job.”
Her gaze flicked to the scar that ran down his jaw, but she didn’t ask. Instead, she walked to the opening and handed her leather notebook up to Aidan. “Please don’t lose that or drop it down the elevator shaft or anything. It’s my entire life.”
“Don’t lose this, Scotty,” Aidan said, handing the book over to another firefighter. Then he took Olivia’s shoes from her and set them aside. “I’m going to lay on my stomach so I can reach out and give you something to hold on to while you step up on Derek. Then Chris here is going to get you under the arms and lift you so you can reach the lip. You ready?”
She nodded, and Derek got down on the floor as if he was going to do some push-ups. This still wasn’t going to be all that graceful, she realized as she stepped onto his back. “Am I hurting you?”
“Nope. You ready?”
She reached up and Aidan grasped her hands. “Okay. But no looking up.”
His chuckle vibrated through the bottoms of her feet. “I won’t. I promise.”
His back muscles flexed and she barely had time to register his strength as he lifted himself—and her—before somebody grabbed her under the arms and lifted her. She got her knees onto the lip, but they didn’t let her go until she was on her feet and several feet away from the elevator shaft.
“Lieutenant Rick Gullotti,” one of the older of the group said to her, and she shook his hand. “Are you injured at all? Do you need medical attention?”
She wouldn’t mind Derek’s hands on her some more, but she definitely didn’t need an ambulance. “I’m not injured. Thank you—all of you—for getting me out.”
He nodded and then turned back to the elevator. She stepped into her shoes, thankful her ankle didn’t offer up more than a slight twinge. And the firefighter who’d been called Scotty handed over her journal. “Thank you.”
Her phone chimed with a text from the driver. Two minutes and then I’m leaving.
Olivia hesitated. She wanted to stay and thank Derek. Maybe she’d work up the nerve to ask his last name or give him her business card.
But if she got in the car right now, she could still salvage her day. Rescheduling one appointment was bad enough. Depending on traffic, she could make the next one and maybe not even be late. And it was a big client she’d been trying to land for a while. Waiting for another Lyft could derail that.
Coming right now, she messaged back.
“I really have to run,” she said, “but thank you for everything.”
“All in a day’s work,” Scotty said.
She looked at the elevator, hoping Derek would be out already, but Aidan was in the process of pulling Derek’s coat and helmet out of the elevator. “Tell Derek I said thank you, too.”
“You sure you can’t wait a couple more minutes?”
She wanted to. She really did, but she shook her head. “I have a meeting. But tell him I said thank you.”
She walked toward the front door as fast as her sore ankle allowed, feeling a little like Cinderella fleeing the ball.
Once she was in the back seat of her ride, she knew she should check her email account and see if anything needed her attention as she always did while in transit from one appointment to the next.
Instead she leaned her head against the leather and closed her eyes, regretting her decision already. Not that leaving was the wrong decision. Success came from making a plan and executing it, and right now her focus was one hundred percent on her business. Dating was not part of her plan yet.
She opened her eyes as the car pulled away from the curb and she caught a glimpse of two fire trucks parked down a side street as they passed by. It would be a while before she forgot her firefighter, she knew. His laugh. His eyes. The feel of his hands on her skin.
And now she’d probably never see him again. Sometimes making the right decision really sucked.