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Jill Shalvis

Storm Watch

The eighth book in the Uniformly Hot! series, 2009

Dear Reader,

When I wrote three connected firefighter books last summer (Flashpoint, Flashback and Heating Up the Holidays), I had a niggling feeling I wasn’t ready to be finished with these guys. So I gave my hero in Heating Up the Holidays a brother-a military guy, dark and edgy and just a little bit tortured-just in case.

Thankfully my editor had the same thought. So I’d like to introduce you to Jason. He’s home after giving eight years to good old Uncle Sam, and he’s not sure how he feels about that. Should he reenlist? Stick with his hometown and try to reconnect? He just doesn’t know, and after losing his best friend in a rescue operation, he’s not sure he even cares.

Until he runs into a blast from his past. Lizzy. The girl who’d once haunted him with nothing but her pretty eyes. She’s all grown up now. Grown up and developed a bit of a ‘tude. But hey, since he’s got one himself, he can appreciate that. Pitching these two against each other was great fun. I’m only sorry it’s over.

Happy reading! I’ll see you next summer when I revisit Santa Rey. Only this time I’ve got a few sexy cops lined up to heat up your nights.

Enjoy,

Jill Shalvis

To Brenda Chin, for letting me write all these

sexy firefighters and military heroes my way.

Okay, it’s your way, but you let me think it’s my

way. The mark of a great editor…

1

JASON MAUER STAGGERED through the fifty-mile-an-hour winds and into the house with three things on his mind-food, sleep and sex.

Thanks to Uncle Sam and the National Guard, he hadn’t been home for any real length of time in years, home being the small California beach town of Santa Rey. When he was in town, he shared a house with his brother, Dustin, and hoped to find the fridge stocked with at least sandwich makings and, please God, a beer or two.

As for the sleep…well, he had a bedroom. The question was could he shut down enough, push away the haunting memories long enough to actually get some shut-eye.

The jury was still out on that one.

Which left sex.

He needed a woman for that, at least the way he liked it, and seeing as he’d been working his ass off on his last military stint, spending some special quality time at every national disaster that had hit the news, plus a bunch that hadn’t, he was fairly certain he was lucky just to be alive, much less naked with a woman.

With a bone-weary sigh, he dropped his gear and headed directly toward the refrigerator. He should call his brother, his sister and his mom, and let them know he was back a few days early…but they’d be all over him, wondering if he was really okay, if he’d recovered from his loss.

He hadn’t.

So he didn’t call, not yet. Instead, he looked out the windows into the growing dark, even though it was barely five o’clock in the afternoon in June. From the kitchen window, he watched the ocean pound the shore, the waves pushing fifteen feet minimum. The winds had stirred up some seriously ominous clouds, and he was surprised to see trees doubled over from the gusts.

He’d seen bad weather in his time-hello, hurricanes Rita and Katrina-but nothing here on the supposedly mild Central California coast.

His stomach growled, reminding him that it’d taken him all day and three flights to get here, bad storm or not, and he couldn’t remember the last thing he’d eaten. Peanuts, given to him by a cute flight attendant? No, a candy bar grabbed at the airport.

And the damn fridge was empty.

Yeah. Pretty much how his life felt at the moment. Empty as hell. Matt would laugh at that and tell him to get over himself.

But Matt was dead, six weeks now.

Still shell-shocked, Jason’s gut clenched hard at the thought of his best friend lying six feet under, and suddenly he was no longer hungry. Fuck it, he thought. Fuck thinking, he was going directly to bed, no passing Go. He kicked off his shoes, and so damn tired he practically staggered like a drunk, moved down the hallway. He was “in the tween” as his sister, Shelly, would say. In between military life, which was all he’d known since high school, and his old life, which no longer even seemed real.

Which world did he want?

The government wanted him back, of course. He was highly trained and valuable. That wasn’t ego, but fact. He was a rescue expert who worked with nerves of steel. Or he had…

His family was hoping he’d stick here. His mother, living twenty miles north of Santa Rey in San Luis Obispo, wanted him to be safe and sound. His sister, who lived with her while going to Cal Poly, wanted him to date her friends. Dustin-here in Santa Rey-was his partner in their on-the-side renovation business, and wanted him home to be a more active presence.

As for what Jason wanted? No clue. None. Zero.

Zip.

But he had a few weeks to figure it out. With a sigh, he looked around the empty house. Dustin lived with his fiance, Cristina, most of the time these days, which left the place looking a bit neglected. It’d been just waiting for him to come back to help Dustin finish the upgrades, so they could sell it and move on to the next project. Dustin had redone the kitchen and both bathrooms. He’d pulled the carpet and refinished the original hardwood floors. And he’d done a good job, too. All that was left was a couple coats of paint and some tile in the entry, and this house could be flipped, something Dustin was eager to do.

As for himself, he was having a hard time caring. About anything-except his three simple needs.

Since there was no food and no willing woman, he’d get right to the sleeping portion of the evening. The room was furnished-as opposed to the last time he’d seen it, when it’d just had a mattress on the unfinished floor. Now there was oversize knotty pine furniture, complete with a king-size bed. It seemed hugely luxurious compared to what he was used to, and it hit him.

He really was back in the real world.

Physically, anyway. Mentally? Not yet. Not even close. He didn’t even know if he could come back to his world and not be ready to protect and serve twenty-four/seven. Not be hard and cold and willing to do whatever it took…

Be normal.

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