Duty to Protect
For years, counselor Ginny
West has been helping abused women build a
better life for themselves. Then a client's
husband turns his violence against Ginny, and
she finds herself not only trying to protect the
woman and her children but also fighting for her
Responding to a call at the local
women's center, firefighter Riley Sinclair saves Ginny
from a burning office and resuscitates her when she
stops breathing. Having already faced one tragic loss in
his life, Riley vows the dangerous man threatening Ginny
won't get a second chance to hurt her.
Although Ginny resists Riley's
guard duty, she can't deny the sizzling attraction she
shares with her fireman protector. But Riley has secrets
he can't share with Ginny, and she's afraid to give
Riley her love until she knows what he is hiding. While
Ginny learns to trust Riley and her heart, her client's
scorned husband is drawing closer... and his plans for
vengeance are growing more deadly!
Another curtain of water doused Riley. For a
few seconds, the smoke cleared enough for him to assess
The woman's arm was pinned by the file
cabinet. And she wasn't moving.
His gut tightened.
"Ginny? Ginny West?"
He pressed his fingers to her throat,
feeling her carotid artery for a pulse. A gentle
throbbing met his fingers, and relief swelled in his
"Cal, she's alive, but she's pinned down!"
Riley shoved his shoulder into the file cabinet. The
But not enough.
Cal appeared through the smoke. "Right
Another fire-weakened beam collapsed near
them. Riley averted his face from the blast of heat and
sparks. Glancing up, he found the beams overhead equally
eaten by the fire. They could come down any second. They
were working on borrowed time.
"She's under here!" Riley plowed his
shoulder into the cabinet again, and Cal pulled from the
other side. This time the file cabinet toppled aside.
The woman's arm, though free now of the
cabinet, was bent at an unnatural angle. Riley's gut
"Help me get her up. Watch that arm!"
He climbed over the woman's still form while
Cal positioned himself to help lift her carefully over
After draping her limp form over his
shoulder, being as gentle with the woman's injured arm
as time would allow, Riley headed out. "Let's go!"
As they picked their way through the rubble,
a loud creak rent the air above them.
"It's coming down! Go! Go! Go!" Cal shouted.
Riley staggered out of the building, the
woman over his shoulder, just before the roof collapsed.
Flames ravaged the corner by the fallen cabinet.
Captain Shaw rushed toward them. "That was a
little too close for comfort, Sinclair."
Riley didn't spare his captain so much as a
glance. "But we got her out."
Now a safe distance from the fire, he eased
the woman onto the grassy lawn, protecting her head as
he laid her down.
Dusk cast the outdoors in long purple
shadows, and billowing smoke contributed to the dark
Kneeling beside the woman, Riley ripped off
his oxygen mask and helmet.
"I need help over here!" He waved toward the
EMTs hovering by a waiting ambulance.
He confirmed she still had a thready pulse
then gently brushed the tangle of pale blonde hair from
the woman's cheeks. And Riley's heart lurched.
He knew this pretty face.
The woman he'd just pulled from the fire was
his neighbor in 3C.
And she wasn't breathing.
Riley's chest seized.
He battled down haunting images of his
sister's lifeless body, her bloodless lips and pale
You failed her.
Grief and guilt tangled with an iron
determination not to let 3C die on his watch.
Tipping 3C's head back, he pinched her nose
closed and sealed his mouth over hers. He blew his
breath into her lungs, willing her to take in air on her
Another puff of air.
He tasted the smoke that seeped up from her
throat. And strawberry. She wore strawberry lip balm.
The sweet fruity flavor stood in stark contrast to the
dark, life-stealing smoke and the bitter taste of
desperation that rose in his throat. A fresh twist of
pain wrenched his chest.
He remembered her lips curved in an enticing
smile as she flirted with him in the apartment lobby.
Vibrant, alluring, alive.
He forcefully swallowed the bile, the fear
rising inside him as he leaned his ear near her mouth,
listening, feeling, watching for signs of life.
"C'mon, 3C. C'mon! Breathe, damn it!" he
muttered through clenched teeth.
An EMT arrived and tried to shoulder him out
of the way. "I'll take over."
Riley refused to budge. Instead, he bent to
give her another puff of air. And another. He counted
the interval between breaths with his heartbeat thudding
in his ears. In his head, Riley knew only a few seconds
had passed without 3C breathing on her own, but those
seconds felt more like hours, years... sixteen years.
Sixteen years had passed since Jodi died.
Finally, 3C coughed, wheezed. Black smoke
curled from her mouth before she dragged in a ragged
breath on her own.
The relief that spun through Riley brought
moisture to his eyes and left his hands shaking.
3C's eyes fluttered open as she gasped for
more air. Her light blue gaze darted from one face
hovering over her to another. Until it landed on
Her eyes zeroed in on his. Widened.
Across from him, an EMT had an oxygen mask
ready and slipped it into place over her nose and mouth.
But her gaze clung to Riley's, recognition
softening the panic and pain in her expression as she
fought for each breath.
Again an EMT tried to shoulder Riley out of
the way. He moved, letting the medic work, but he didn't
leave 3C's side. He couldn't. Something in her steady
blue gaze reached out to him and held him fast.
When he stroked her sooty cheek, she lifted
her uninjured arm, covered his hand, and linking her
trembling fingers with his. As with her gaze, he sensed
in her touch a connection that went beyond the mere
joining of hands.
Tears puddled in her eyes, kicking him in
the gut and yanking a tighter knot in his chest.
He may have failed Jodi, but he wouldn't, couldn't let this woman down.
Leaning closer, he whispered, "You're going
to be okay now, 3C. I'm gonna take care of you."