Texas Blaze: The Gallaghers of Sweetgrass Springs

Sweetgrass Springs Book 5
texas blaze sweetgrass springs texas heroes firefighter romance jean brashear

The story of Jackson’s twin sister Penelope

Stilettos and pencil skirts are more successful, ambitious Pen Gallagher’s style than the jeans and boots of the ranch where she was raised. She’s fought hard for her success and spared no time for love, certain that marriage and family are not her lot. Now everything she’s worked for is jeopardized as scandal brews around her after she fell for a man who prized his own ambitions more. Forced to flee D.C. before her identity is revealed and she can never regain the life she battled to build, she reluctantly returns to Sweetgrass Springs.

Former SEAL turned firefighter Bridger Calhoun, on the other hand, visits Sweetgrass every chance he gets. After a recent tragic fire in which he nearly sacrificed his own life, he is ordered to take time off—and Sweetgrass calls to him. After a lifetime spent rootless and fueled by adrenaline, Bridger wants a quiet life, a home and family of his own with a sweet, soft woman as eager for children as he is.

Then a long-legged, sharp-tongued lawyer crosses his path—and flames ignite. While he’s waiting to find Ms. Right and she’s waiting for the coast to clear…what’s the harm in a little fun? It’s only temporary, both agree—they have nothing in common except the heat that blazes high between them, and their goals could not be more opposed. Soon the fire will burn down to embers, and they’ll go on with their lives. Easy-peasy, right?

Riiiiiiiight…

Excerpt: Texas Blaze

Washington, D.C.

Penelope Gallagher strode out of her office near the nation’s Capitol, her stilettos striking crisp taps on the tile floor, her pencil skirt perfectly tailored for her lean frame. Life was good—couldn’t be better, in fact. She had a career that was arcing ever higher, a star rising into the heavens, thanks to a mind as sharp as her twin’s, if not with Jackson’s streaks of sheer brilliance. What her brother could do with math was little short of a miracle, but she had her own skill set, mining the intricacies of language. She could arrow in on the subtleties of legal nuance, the tiny nuggets of strategy contained within a combination of letters and punctuation impenetrable to most.

Her specialty in land use law had made her exceedingly valuable as an expert witness in many a congressional hearing.

She was smart and sharp…and okay, she had to admit it: being beautiful didn’t hurt.

Pen, as she was known professionally, didn’t think she was better because she had a lucky arrangement of facial features or long legs that seemed to lock up a man’s mind.

She already knew she could outthink most men she met, even before the looks she displayed to maximum advantage befuddled their brains.

Princess, her father had called her all her life. She had been his favorite, and he’d put her on a pedestal she’d enjoyed.

Penny, her warm, loving mother had dubbed her, expecting her to be real and down to earth.

Her father had pampered her, her mother had cherished her, and her twin had kept her grounded. Her younger sister, Clary, had been just…a kid. Too much younger to be competition or annoying, too star-struck by her elder sister to compete.

Pen had swanned along in high school, everyone clear that she would never settle in Sweetgrass Springs, that the town was too small for her. She was meant for more.

Then her family had imploded, her mother dead, her twin—the other half of her—vanished, her father gone cold and mean with grief. She’d done her best by Clary that final horrible year, but then it had been time to leave for college.

She’d been so grateful. Home was no longer home. She’d arrived at Brown and wrapped the mantle of her beauty and brains around her shattered heart. She’d moved on. She excelled at everything she tackled. She built a new life, a solid one where she was respected and admired, where she was untouchable. She’d shed her virginity in college, had chosen her lovers carefully out in the business world. Liaisons to further her ambition, they were.

If Princess had become Ice Princess, well, that was what she’d wanted. That was by design. Ice kept her safe.

Power kept her safe.

Then she’d gone and lost her mind. She still couldn’t believe she’d even been tempted by a married man. She’d fought hard against it—Sweetgrass Springs and her rearing had made their mark on her. Sweetgrass was all about family and honor and doing the right thing.

She was not and would never be a cliche in this town where power was a drug and women were too often commodities powerful men consumed like so many potato chips.

But Hugh Rutherford was intense in his pursuit.

And he wouldn’t be married for long.

Besides, she was a sophisticate. She had never belonged in the tiny town, that barely-there burg of fifteen hundred souls. She was meant for more, always had been, just as—

A pang invaded her heart. Would she ever get over the loss of her twin?

She exhaled deeply. Tried to settle. Jackson was gone—not dead, she had to believe, because his absence was only an ache, not the black terror she was positive she’d experience if the twin bond was permanently severed. Jackson still lived, or she wouldn’t be able to breathe, but he had been gone for seventeen years, the other half of her, and he hadn’t cared enough to let her know he was safe.

She’d been alone a long time—no home, no husband, no children.

Soon that would change.  Hugh would be her family, once he was rid of that bad marriage. Yes, as a name often mentioned for a future Presidential run, he had to be careful, and the timing must be right. He would be an excellent leader for the country, and she was behind him one hundred per cent.

First Lady. Her lips curved slightly at the notion. She was not hardwired to be a helpmeet—she took care of herself. Even as her father’s Princess or the queen bee of her high school, she’d been bent on controlling her future. Back then she’d been determined to escape Texas and carve out a name for herself. She’d be in charge of her life and never, ever accept the powerlessness and vulnerability with which love shackled you.

Ambition was good. Working hard. Controlling her destiny.

Then she had testified before that Senate subcommittee in her capacity as a land use expert witness. Met the Senator from Georgia, who’d asked for a meeting.

They’d danced around the attraction for months because she’d been so determined, so focused, so driven to succeed, to not be foolish, however breathtakingly attractive she’d found him. The attraction was clearly two-way, and Hugh had refused to take no for an answer.

Now here she was, head over heels, despite her best intentions. Yes, she still lived and breathed ambition, but with Hugh, she felt…treasured. Special.

Pen dismissed all the ways in which this wasn’t ideal that she’d yielded her heart to a man she couldn’t claim publicly. She had his heart, as well, and that was what mattered. This state of transition wouldn’t last long.

One day soon, they’d have it all.

She stopped at the reception desk and flipped through her messages as she proceeded down the hall to her office. Once inside, her assistant Priscilla glanced up, her face white.

“You okay?”

“I, uh…” Priscilla pressed her lips together, a frown appearing between her brows.

“What?” Priscilla was always unflappable.

“It’s only…”” Her assistant’s gaze flicked to her computer screen.

Priscilla rounded the desk and stood behind her.

The Daily Intelligence. A total misnomer, but it was the most powerful political blog in the country. For a second, Pen was confused.

Then she spotted the item where her assistant’s cursor had landed.

What Peach State presidential prospect is rumored to be having a romance that could render his White House ambitions DOA?

Pen only barely stemmed the gasp. Quickly she gathered herself and stopped into the murky waters of denial. “Reading the rags, Priscilla?” She carefully kept her tone disdainful.

“No, but I—” Her assistant’s glance flicked to hers, scanning for a hint of vulnerability.

She would not find it here. Pen hadn’t made it through Brown and Harvard Law only to give away the terror and dread that invaded her. “But?” She arched a brow. “Nothing better to do?”

Just then Pen’s cell chimed with a text tone.

From Hugh.

Instantly she clicked.

Family emergency. Meeting canceled.

No I love you. No I can’t wait, as he so often said.

With care she composed her features while her heart sank like a stone.

But no one would see that. She smiled at Priscilla. “I’ll need the Mixson file before you head for lunch.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

Pen turned and somehow managed to make it to her office door, closing it behind her. Then leaned her head back against it, her stomach a mess, her knees shaky.

She clicked on Hugh’s number and called. Needed to hear his voice. They were careful. They were in love. The blog post could be about anyone.

The call went to voicemail.

She started to leave a message, but who might hear it? Might intercept it? Self-preservation reared its head.

She switched to a text window. Tomorrow night?

No answer.

She waited. He was a busy man.

But he always answered her texts. Immediately.

She flicked on the television in her office.

On the screen was a Breaking News banner.

Then there he was.

With his wife. Nearly ex-wife.

She bit her lip. They were holding hands, and he was stepping up to the microphones arrayed in front of their house.

His wife spoke first. “Despite the absurd rumors, my husband and I are very much in love.” She pressed a hand to her belly. “In fact—” She cast a glance at him, and he smiled down at her “—We weren’t ready to announce this yet, but we’re expecting another child.” She gestured into the camera lens as if speaking directly to Pen. “Our fourth baby and so very precious to us.” Triumph bled into her tone. “We are just thrilled, aren’t we, my love?”

Hugh bent and kissed her, then faced the cameras. “I couldn’t be a happier man than I am now.”

Then he placed his own hand over her belly and cradled his child softly.

Pen remained standing, but she wasn’t sure how.

***

A few minutes later, her cell phone rang, and Hugh’s name popped on the screen. She snatched it to her ear. “Hugh, are you all right?”

But it was not Hugh’s voice she heard. “You will leave town immediately, you slut,” said the mother-to-be whose voice had been cooing pure sugar earlier, pure vitriol now. “Or I promise you I will ruin you. If you ever contact my husband again, if the press ever figures out who you are, you will have a difficult time getting a job as a waitress. Do I make myself perfectly clear?”

Before Pen could summon a response, the future First Lady disconnected.

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