Chapter One

Virginia “Gin” Ward growled at the computer screen while an impact wrench whined in the background. Normally, that sound helped her focus on edits, helped her turn a bad ending into comic relief. Today, not so much.

Forming sentences for the new article about her latest date was driving her insane. She wasn’t a writer, dammit. She just wanted to get to the point about how her date night had been an endless waste of time, how she knew immediately that the woman was a waste of space, how the air she breathed would be better spent on a slug, and how to provide her readers with the insight to spot the identical traits in their own encounters. And she didn’t want to be nice about it.

The fucking douchebag showed up twenty minutes late and eased into her chair across from me without a hint of an excuse for her tardiness, like I should be waiting with bated breath for her arrival, late or not. She ordered herself a drink by hailing the waitress with a whistle, without bothering to ask if I needed a refill, which was apparent by my empty glass that I did, and then she spent the next thirty minutes boring me with details of her life, her career, and her silver spoon childhood. I toyed with the idea of ordering my own damned drink, then decided against prolonging the agony. Time to call in the troops who, as usual, were only a few booths away watching the slowly sinking ship. Without hesitation, I flipped my hair over my shoulder, which sent the troops into full-blown invade mode.

Why couldn’t she say that? Exactly like that? Why did she have to be politically correct without an f-bomb? When she’d agreed to write about her dates in the newspaper column, The Buddy System,she’d been duped into thinking she’d have freedom of speech. In her own voice. To show the readers how to use their friends to escape horrible dates.

That obviously wasn’t the case. Now she was forced to tone down her anger and disappointment, cut out the sailor tongue, and trim down the past personal experiences that always played into every new date. Wasn’t that what this was all about? To help other women, who were also looking for that white picket fence, to stay clear of the assholes, who, unfortunately, sometimes posed as heroes, and who wouldn’t help them build that dream?

Yes. That was exactly what Cynthia had said she wanted from Gin. She’d wanted something fresh. Something out of character for a dying column. Yet, every word, every sentence, and every paragraph had been ripped to shreds by the editor and sent back to Gin with blood splatter along with a polite, This is shit, message.

“No, ma’am. You cannot use the f-word, or any other clever little wordy dird you seem so fond of. You cannot call people losers because our readers won’t relate to the writer’s immaturity. Talking about people’s wealth, or lack thereof, could turn some readers away. What good would this column or your dating indulgences be if we upset our subscribers? Please revise and send back at your earliest convenience. Sincerely, Patricia.”

Gin had resisted driving to the newspaper headquarters to tell Patricia where she could shove the f-bomb. She envisioned a silver-haired woman, plump but not fat, with designer reading glasses with one of those little chain attachments, perched on the end of her nose, wearing a loud flower print dress and flats. Faced with Gin’s outburst, her mouth might drop open, and her cheeks would turn a pale pink. The woman probably had never had a lovers’ quarrel, let alone indulged in one-night stands. What the fuck did she know about pent-up anger and cheating lovers? If she did, she’d understand and probably snicker at the hostility or overlook a curse word accidentally on purpose dropped into every paragraph.

Patricia’s comments and the bloody edits were completely off the mark from what Cynthia had expressed she wanted from Gin.

“I want a little fun set of comical pieces on your dates, the ones that will never amount to anything. Tell the reader how you knew you wouldn’t reach second base, why you never wanted to. How you knew this person wasn’t the one and why. In other words, how did you conclude that your date was a piece of shit? I want the dirty details. Especially the ones that included your buddies coming to the rescue. I want the reader to relate to every word and wish they had best friends just like yours. Make them jealous of your buddy system.”

Maybe Cynthia needed to touch base with her column editor. Clearly, they weren’t on the same page.

Gin glanced at the stack of bills just beyond the laptop. Her heart missed a beat. Her desire to keep her grandfather’s dream alive—this gas station—was the only reason she’d accepted the offer to write these articles in the first place. Six months. One gig a week. Twenty-six dates total. It seemed a fair amount of attempts to shed some light for others just like herself. Truthfully, some women would always be repeat offenders in their quest for love because they were gluttons for punishment. Or worse, they thought they could tame the tiger. But change them? No way. No matter what she wrote, no matter how detailed she became about spotting the wrong ones, they would never take the advice.

Good thing she couldn’t give two shits about them. The little paycheck she got from each article was the only thing that mattered. They were helping her keep the station afloat, although soon, very soon, she was going to sink.

She knew this. Hell! She had tightened her heart around that fact. There was only one way out of this sinkhole. She would have to sell something priceless to save something else just as priceless. She had to sell her grandmother’s prized baby. Her beloved Porsche. The very one sitting in her garage that hadn’t purred to life in over six months, the very one a collector was itching, begging, patiently waiting, to get his hands on. She’d tinkered, adjusted, replaced parts, but the beautiful beast was just as stubborn as her grandmother had been. And without an engine that would run, that offer would surely be pulled from the table. Soon, she was going to have to bite the bullet and call in the professionals to finish the job. That would cost money she didn’t have. Until then, she was going to hold on to her faith that the economy would turn around, that the customers would come back in droves, and she could pull this gas station back to life without selling that beautiful ride. Sad fact was she had a better chance of hitting the lottery and putting an end to her own misery.

The bell chimed, and she glanced out the window to see a brand new powder blue Mazda Miata MX-5 at the gas pump. A young man no older than twenty-five was behind the wheel. An expensive ride for one so young. Probably a gift from Mommy and Daddy for no particular reason at all. Gin could see that the passenger was female and had blond hair.

“Matt! Customer!” Gin yelled for her attendant then realized the sound of the impact wrench had stopped. She hoped he was headed to the pumps.

She glanced back at the words on the screen and tried to find a polite way to restructure them so Patricia wouldn’t have to use her bloody ax to shred her voice. There simply wasn’t one. The bitch had been disrespectful because that’s probably how she’d been raised. A nanny had been her mother figure, the gardener her only true friend, and the chef likely the only person to bake her cookies in the kitchen. Women like her were all the same. Their money, or rather Mommy and Daddy’s wallet, was the only backbone they possessed.

A horn blew. Gin glanced out to see a guy with sandy brown hair standing beside his sleek ride. An expectant expression rested on his tanned face.

“Fuck.” Gin shoved out of the chair and poked her head in the mechanic bay. The car was still on the lift, and the tires had been changed. “Matt!” When he didn’t answer, she huffed and headed for the gas pumps.

No doubt he was behind the station working on that damn flower garden he insisted they needed to liven up the place. No matter how many times he told her he didn’t want to run a nursery like his father or take over the family business one day, the more he proved that was exactly what he was destined to do.

Gin pushed out into the sunshine.

The guy quirked an approving brow as she made her way across the asphalt. “Well, hello, beautiful,” he cooed.

The passenger turned and focused pale blue eyes on Gin. She rolled her eyes and turned her attention to the radio.

“Fill up?” Gin asked as she moved around the guy and reached for the pump handle.

“Yes, ma’am. I believe all things should be filled up. Filled up tight.” He moved beside her as she shoved the nozzle into the tank. He stepped closer. “I could drop the bitch off and come back to show you how full you could get.”

She squeezed the handle, popped the lock into place, and turned to face him. Players, two-timing cheaters, plain ole assholes, were the epitome of everything wrong in this world. No one respected love anymore. Hell, no one respected each other.

“Would you like me to clean your windshield?” Gin barked.

“As long as I get to watch.” He attempted a sultry wink that resembled a child getting their first taste of a lemon.

With her teeth clenched tight, Gin yanked the squeegee from the soap tray, snapped out a napkin from the holder, and moved to the windshield. His cute date was busy applying a fresh coat of gloss to her lips, focused on her reflection in the side mirror. Ten, twenty years from now, she’d still be with self-centered pricks just like this one. Maybe worse, married to one, stuck at home with two or three kids who were accustomed to Mommy crying in her wine glass and a dad they saw a few hours a week because he was never home before bedtime.

The jerk followed Gin and made a ridiculous lion roar as she stretched out across the hood. “That’s it, baby. Make it squeaky clean.”

Blondie finally turned her attention to the windshield. She gave a bored smirk. “Are you flirting with a freakin’ gas station nobody? She’s like, ancient, Thomas.”

Thomas belted out an immature cackle.

Gin pushed the pad against the window until trails of water and soap cascaded down the glass then moved back, leaving suds to block the bitch’s view. She slowly moved to the side window and leaned down. “Sweetheart, I’ve been called a lot of things in my lifetime. Ancient isn’t among them. Usually, it’s God, twisted among the incoherent mumbled erotic cries of women flat on their backs, nipples hard, bodies arched against my face, my tongue dancing—” She abruptly stopped and licked her lips. “Sorry, you’re far too young and, without a shadow of a doubt if you date assholes like him, deprived of enough experience to hear the climatic ending to those stories.”

The pump popped off, and the girl blinked. She opened her mouth to respond, glanced down at Gin’s lips, then moved her attention back to the purse in her lap.

Gin moved away from the window while the jerk began a nerve-splitting laugh, obviously too dumb to realize the joke was on him. She pulled the nozzle free and shoved it back into the pump.

When she turned around, he was standing behind her waving a fifty-dollar bill, no doubt part of his fat weekly allowance, still mentally damaging her with that pathetic smile. She plucked the cash from his grasp and looked down the length of him. “As for your sinfully wicked invitation to be filled up tight, I find that size truly does matter, and according to the flat, practically nonexistent crotch of your chinos, I’d find more pleasure climbing onto the hood of this little boy toy and fucking myself on the hood ornament.”

That torturous smile faded from his face.

“Get in the car, Thomas.” Blondie popped her head out the window. “We’re running late. Your mother will be furious if you miss the golf game again.”

Gin winked at her. “Look me up when you get tired of things…” She cut her gaze down to his crotch. “…that can’t possibly fill you up.”

He narrowed his eyes, then yanked the car door open. He dropped into the seat, revved the engine once, twice, three times, then shoved the shifter into drive. The car lunged forward, then died.

Gin resisted offering her own hysterical laugh as he cranked the engine again and peeled forward, cutting off a minivan on Main Street. The driver promptly laid on the horn.

Her phone rang while she watched the little sports car fade down the street. She glanced at the caller ID before she answered. “Hi, Patrick.”

“Hey, doll. Come join me and Steph at the Irish Pub by the interstate in an hour.”

Patrick and Steph were her best friends. Her only friends, actually. She’d met them while on a weekend getaway to a gay and lesbian resort and was shocked to learn that they lived less than an hour from each other. Small world, it was. And that they all shared one common factor. They hated boring dates, having to come up with excuses to end a train wreck. So they’d concocted what they called the buddy system over time. They shared each date, even if from afar, and then came to the rescue if the other threw the signal.

At first, it had been rather boring having to suffer through someone else’s tedious, going nowhere dates, but as time went on, they created signals and came up with comical ways to end those dead-end dates. Then, the fun had begun.

Gin started walking toward the station. “The one you swore you’d never go back to because there was too much male testosterone and everyone was eyeing the new pretty boy fresh meat because they secretly wanted you?”

“Damn. Did I say that?” He snorted.

“Exactly like that.”

“You take everything I say literally, don’t you?” He giggled.

“Only so I can use it against you later.”

“Well, stop believing everything I say and get your ass over there. I owe you a very belated birthday shot.”

“The last time you bought me a birthday drink it came with an escort.” Gin walked back inside, saw Matt wasn’t in the bay, then turned toward the rear of the building.

“Sweetheart, we did that for your own good. Best friends are obligated to look out for their sexually deprived friends. It’s a thing and we must obey the rules of friendship.”

Gin rounded the corner and found Matt on his knees, fingers knuckle deep in fertilizer, dark hair splayed against his forehead. She pulled the phone away from her mouth. “Matt, we’re closing in ten. Flowers look great. You missed a tip at the pump.”

He looked up at her, a puzzled expression washing over his dirt-stained cheeks. “We had a customer?”

“Can you believe it? It’s a miracle on Main Street.” She rolled her eyes and headed for the office. “As for you, Mr. Patrick, I’ll be more than happy to come meet you and Steph for a shot or twelve, but if I so much as sniff your naughty intentions of trying to solve my sexual deprivation problem with yet another hooker, I’m going to seek revenge in the most delicious, wicked way possible.”

“Yes, I know, you’ll hunt me down and force me to wear that ugly orange garb you call a uniform.” He added a “pfft” for good measure.

“No. That’s far too easy. I’d prefer to visit that sexy mother of yours the next time your daddy is on a fishing trip. It would be my ultimate honor to teach her how to solve all of my sexual problems. In multiple positions.”

Patrick sucked in a dramatic breath. “You would not!”

“If you believe that, then you’ve never met me. See you in an hour.” Gin hung up and plopped down in the chair to stare over the paragraphs one more time.

She was already twelve dates into her twenty-six-date contract, of which only six were due. She was far ahead of the game. But she wanted this particular one off her desktop and winging through cyberspace. That silver-spoon fed twat had been utterly disrespectful. So self-absorbed she had no clue she was doing it. Her kind never had to work for a dollar and never had to earn that respect.

That woman was the total opposite of Gin. She was standing in the very place that had taught her the value of both working for an honest living and earning that respect. From the time she was a tot, she had helped her granddaddy sell bait and tackle to the local fishermen, pumped gas for customers, and used a stepladder to clean the high windows. She’d sat around with the locals and listened to their childhood stories about how curfews were always timed with the streetlights and no one had ever known a spanking quite the likes of a hickory switch. Real life stories that Gin knew nothing about. She’d never had to pick out a switch and she was rarely outside when the streetlights hummed to life because she could normally be found in the gas station.

She could remember their stories vividly, all of them sitting on the porch of the station, spitting their tobacco, retelling the grand ole stories of life.

God, how she missed those guys. Especially her grandparents. They had stepped in without hesitation when her parents were killed in a plane crash on a ten-year anniversary trip to Cancun. They had filled the void and brushed away her tears with loving hugs. They were the root of every loving memory Gin held. Now they were gone. For years, she’d struggled to keep this place afloat in their honor. But the world around her had changed. Malls had been built, chain stores had been erected selling everything, including discounted gas, and the little stores on the outskirts of town were all suffering. Some had already thrown in the towel and sold out to the business moguls steadily making plans to erect industrial complexes.

Gin refused to sell out. Until the county tax assessor slapped a failure to pay property taxes on the front door, until she was legally evicted from the grounds, she’d fight for every single brick. Her granddaddy’s sweat and blood were embedded into each layer. Her grandmother’s loving hand was in every inch of the layout as well as the antique decorations. She didn’t have a choice. She had to fight. For them. For all they had sacrificed to raise her. For them, she had to give it all she had left.

The cursor blinked in the center of the page, silently beckoning her to choose her words wisely. She read the lines once again, editing only a few sentences, which included plucking out the curse words, and before she could change her mind, Gin hit the send button.

“Suck that, Patricia!”

 

Chapter Two

Carmen Johnson nursed a bottle of beer while Phil yelled at the football game from his stool beside her.

“Another season headed for the shitter. The defense is playing like a bunch of pansies. And that offense? Really? A pack of Little Leaguers could outplay them. How could they expect to make it to the playoffs acting like the Bad News Bears?” Phil jabbed a finger toward the TV on the wall. “Same shit as last year.”

Carmen nodded as if she agreed. Phil knew she wasn’t into football, although she could throw a mean spiral. Lifting weights, jogging, or long hikes through the woods were more her style. Sweating was her unwinding mechanism. Where the quiet was her only companion. No terrified screams of a child trapped in the back seat of a crushed car. No pleading cries from a mother who couldn’t find her child during a fire. No praying that her firemen brothers and sisters would live through the night. No hoping that she would survive her shift.

“Does this mean there won’t be any football on Daniel’s new big screen for the cookout?” Carmen tossed him a pleading expression.

“Where the hell did you come from?” Phil scoffed. “I’ve never met a dyke who didn’t love football. Someone is going to revoke your card one day. Bet your sweet ass on that.”

Carmen shrugged while the front door opened, casting a glow of the streetlights across the room. She turned to see who was entering, hoping, praying, it would be someone who fit the bill for tonight’s tasty treat. Sex. She needed sex tonight.

A woman wearing an orange coverall stepped inside. A greasy white ball cap was turned backward on her head hiding the color of her hair. She glanced around the room, gave a quick, uncaring inspection of Carmen, then continued until she found what she was looking for at the pool table and headed in their direction.

Carmen had seen a lot of weirdos come in and out of this bar, but none dressed quite as eccentrically as this one. But curiosity, and the fact that the woman hadn’t even so much as checked her out, made her look over her shoulder to follow the woman.

She didn’t consider herself hot by any means, but facts were facts. Most women at least gave her a second glance.

The woman joined her friends, a man and a woman, and gave the female an extra long hug. Damn. Taken. Not that she was terribly interested in such bold attire, but it was cool to see the woman didn’t care what other people thought of her or their opinion of what she chose to wear.

Clearly, the woman was not the piece of ass Carmen was hoping for because she wasn’t a home wrecker, so she turned back to the TV and tried to focus on the radar tucked in the bottom left corner of the screen. Rain was expected for the next few days. Good for her. She was off work and needed to re-energize with some good sleep. Maybe she’d get lucky and find a female to spend a few of those dreary hours with.

Bad for her fellow firefighters, though. Wrecks doubled during heavy rain. Drivers never heeded the “under conditions” change of speed that almost always concluded with a pileup on the freeway.

Someone shrieked behind them.

Carmen and Phil turned to see the guy from the group at the pool table, his mouth agape, and a hand dramatically covering 
his heart. “You take that shit off your body right this second, 
missy. I will not stand for this horrendous fashion disaster under my nose.”

The woman wearing said getup, the very one who had stepped past Carmen like an afterthought, only offered him a wicked smile. Straight white teeth centered that teasing grin. “This is my ‘just in case you decided to add a little extra something-something with my drink’ wardrobe. Speaking of which, where is she?” The woman’s gaze swept around the room. “I know she’s here or you wouldn’t have invited me out of the clear blue after ignoring me for weeks now. Someone sexy. Definitely fit. Looking out of place while trying to look like she belongs. Where, oh where, is she?”

The woman continued to look around the room, stalling over each person, until beautiful dark green eyes landed on Carmen once again. This time, her inspection was serious, approving, yet almost comical. That evil smile washed over her lips once again. “Tsk-tsk, Patrick. I warned you. Your mother is going to taste delicious.”

She pushed away from the pool table while Patrick yelled after her. “No, Gin. Don’t do it!”

Carmen sat frozen in place as the woman walked across the distance, her orange jumpsuit a little too baggy and bunching in all the wrong places, and stepped in between her and Phil. She propped her elbow on the counter and turned her whole body to face Carmen. She smelled like grease and gasoline. Crazy how much she suddenly liked that scent. “Look, sexy, my best friends over there are certifiably insane. I only sign them out of the nuthouse a few hours a week. They’re usually harmless, but they tend to have a wicked obsession with my sex life. So, with that said, I’ll have to politely decline your sexual services tonight, no matter how tempted I am.” She turned her head sideways and casually inspected Carmen. “But I must say, Patrick sure knew what he was doing when he picked you. Kudos to him for knowing my taste in women. I might not make a feast out of his mother, after all.”

“Excuse me?” Carmen arched a brow while Phil snickered from behind the woman.

“Don’t get me wrong.” The woman pushed on. “I’m totally not judging your line of work. To each his own. That’s my motto. But it’s not for me. Contaminated things tend to gross me out. It’s a hereditary germaphobe thing, you see, handed down for generations. I’m not to be blamed for my DNA. Not to mention, I don’t share my toys. Never have. I guess I’m still stuck in my terrible twos, never playing nice on the playground, if you know what I mean. With that said, you sharing your, shall we say, dates, with me just won’t do.”

Carmen couldn’t believe what she was hearing. She should correct the woman on her blatant insinuation, all one hundred miles an hour of her, but damn if she wasn’t cute trying to explain her way out of a free fuck, paid for kindly by her posse, obviously, who thought this beauty needed a sexual high.

The woman waved her hand in dismissal. “Anyway, I’m sure they rambled on and on, cause they do that sometimes, just ramble on about me being sexually deprived. I’m not. A girl can never be sexually deprived with Debbie Does Debraon her laptop and a good vibrator in her nightstand. They mean well, my friends. I love them for their concern. But I must apologize for them having wasted your time. No hard feelings. Good luck with your next customer.”

She turned and headed back to her group of friends as Carmen sat dumbfounded by what had just happened. By what she’d just heard. She’d never been mistaken for a hooker before, but suddenly, she would gladly be one for tonight if that’s what it took to get that spitfire in her bed.

 

v

 

Steph seized Gin by the arm while Patrick attempted to press himself through the wall, his hand in prayer form against his mouth, making dramatic whimpering sounds. “Tell me you didn’t just ask that woman if she was a hooker.”

“Of course I didn’t.”

Patrick let out a breath. “Oh thank you, God!”

Gin smirked. “There was no need to ask. She was shining bright like a diamond. I could have picked her out of a crowd of a thousand looking all suave and in charge on her stool, nursing the same beer from the minute I walked in, sexy as sin in her fake fireman T-shirt. Good try, you two. Good try, indeed.” She blew a kiss toward Patrick who looked nauseated.

“I’m utterly mortified,” he mumbled. “She isa fireman, you ding-a-ling!”

Steph crossed her arms with a nod. “Yes, dumbass. She’s a real fireman.”

Gin looked between Steph and Patrick and saw the truth in their eyes.

Fuck!

She slowly turned back to the woman and found her watching, a grin on her face. The cutie held up her beer and cheered the air before turning her attention back to the game on the TV.

A dyke, perched on a stool, in a bar, right in view of the front door so she could snatch the best options, glued to football. What were the odds? Like one out of one! Duh. Could these sexy butches be any more original? They were all the same. Right down to needing those notches on their bedposts.

Nothing aggravated Gin more than watching a woman wait for a piece of ass to jump in her lap. Even worse, the woman was a fucking hero. Those were the absolute worst.

“Even better!” Gin sighed. “You know my stance on women in uniform.”

“Okay, take a breath, everyone. Let’s be calm about this.” Patrick moved to the pool table. “Breathe, Patrick. Breathe. Let’s just act normal. Like we have the good sense God gave us.” He leaned awkwardly against the table and crossed his ankles, a poor attempt to appear casual. The action twisted his balance, and he slid sideways for a second before he stumbled and caught himself. “Shit!”

“Calm down, spazoid. She’s a fireman, not an assassin.” Gin moved to the pool table. “Let’s play. And where’s my drink you promised?”

“Not until you remove this disgrace for clothing.” Patrick swung his fist on his hip and stared her down, forgetting he was mortified only seconds before.

“Fine.” Gin snagged the cap off her head and let her hair spill out from beneath.

She couldn’t help but glance toward the hottie she’d just called a whore. The woman was watching. Her eyes admiring and curious.

Gin despised the heated expression on the fireman’s face. She was cute, yet expectant from the way she’d just turned her attention on Gin. That’s the way they worked. The heroes. A move, a wink, a mastered expression. They were good at it. It sucked that the woman wore a uniform for a living. Not just any uniform. One that screamed she was a hero.

Gin had been played far too hard by a hero. Women who were supposed to be protectors, who used their skills for their own wicked benefits. They were disgusting.

Teresa had been the worst of them all. A cop. A good cop. Tall, fit, and all gentleman. Gin had seen her future in those blue eyes. Saw them living a happy, simple life. A home they could be proud of. Until she’d caught her, in uniform, fucking one of the tellers from the local bank on her lunch break, in her patrol car, in the back of a twenty-four-hour burger joint parking lot.

A woman who was supposed to protect her had broken her. The person who had sworn she would always be loyal took unloyalty to epic proportions. The woman who had promised her forever had called time’s up. And the woman who had vowed that Gin held her heart, had ripped hers right down the center.

Years had now passed, but Gin would always remember how dirty she felt while she stood beside the car. Questions had rung through her mind as she stepped to the driver’s door, calculating the dramatic bloodshed outcome of the moment. How long had the affair been going on? Was it an affair? Or was she one of many? Was this the first time? Would it ever happen again? Did it matter?

No. It didn’t matter. Nothing the classless hero could have said or done or begged her way out of would have changed a damn thing. And it sure as hell wouldn’t change the pain the vision of her lips locked on another female had already caused. The damage had been done. Could never be undone.

Anger had bubbled hard and fast as she took several steps back away from the cruiser. Then she took another step, swallowing down the lump threatening to dislodge itself and send tears streaming down her face. She did not cry. Not then. Not the next day. Not ever. The image before her, her lover’s hands, her fiancée’s fingers, playing down the pants of the bank teller’s, ensured she had been saved from a life of cheating habits. If she could have found her breath, she would have thanked her.

As quickly as she could, she’d darted inside the restaurant, ordered a black coffee, which Teresa didn’t drink, and asked the cashier to deliver it to the patrol car. The girl even smiled at the opportunity to serve a cop. The embarrassment Teresa and her fuck partner would be faced with was enough to make Gin smile as she turned back toward the exit door.

When she walked out, she knew she’d never look back. Never again. She didn’t care if a woman drove a trash truck or milked cows on a farm or even flipped burgers to pay the rent, she’d fall for anyone, but never again would it be for someone in hero’s attire.

Not even if they looked quite as delicious as this one.

To give this hottie a taste of what she would never have, Gin slowly unzipped the coverall and pushed it off her shoulders. She held that smoldering stare and pushed the material down her torso, over her hips, and down her legs.

The woman never looked away.

Gin kicked out of the coverall and moved her attention back to the pool table. Enough. She was here to enjoy a beer with her friends, not toy with a player.

Twenty minutes later, they were well into a conversation about financial woes, her grandmother’s car, and the possibility of losing her business. Or rather, being forced to sell it to save her own ass.

“I’ve told you over and over to call my brother to help you fix the car,” Steph said as she shot a solid ball into the corner pocket.

“The same brother that poured two quarts of water into his motor a month ago?” Gin moved to the opposite side of the table when Steph missed her next shot.

“Hey, how was he supposed to know those precious nephews of mine had taken the bottles from the trash and refilled them with water?” Steph protested.

“Did the clear liquid not give him a clue?” Gin giggled. “But on a more serious note, I need a specialist. Someone who deals with classics.”

“It’s a car, Gin. Don’t they all operate the same?”

“Heads up, ladies. We have company approaching,” Patrick announced.

Gin glanced up over her stick to see the hottie from the stool and her sidekick coming to a stop near the table. She took her shot and watched a stripe drop into the side pocket before she stood to face them.

“I heard you guys talking about cars, one of my favorite subjects, and couldn’t resist being nosy. I’m Phil.” He glanced at Steph and offered a sweet smile. “My non-talking, non-escort friend here is Carmen. We’re just plain ole firemen.” He nodded toward Gin as if that cleared up her confusion. It definitely did. His buddy was a tool. Not just a possibility of being a tool.

Carmen tipped her head. “Sorry to disappoint you.”

“Me, too. I liked you better as a hooker.” Gin turned back to the game, found her shot, and bent over the table. “I absolutely despise firemen.”