When hearts meet, magic happens.
Single father and firefighter, Steve Rankin has every reason to distrust flighty people, given the way his former girlfriend dropped their infant daughter on his doorstep six years ago then left to ‘find herself.’ When the fortune-teller at the Renaissance fair tells him there’s a woman who needs him, he rejects the prediction as so much idiocy from a fraud who couldn’t even predict a fire in time to save her booth from burning to the ground.
Shannon Perry isn’t looking for love, despite her friend Nadya’s prediction that a man with broad shoulders is in her future. It’s been years since Shannon has felt anything except numb, so when desire stirs in her body for the sexy firefighter with the adorable sprite of a daughter, stepping closer to the flames is too tempting to resist. From the sparks of desire, the fire burns hot and fast for both of them, but lessons learned the hard way could stand between them and a future together.
He located the fortune teller’s booth easily enough. Pending a determination of the cause of the fire, the charred remains were untouched. As he stood there assessing the damage, the older woman he recognized from the day before approached.
“Such a tragedy.” Her thick accent sounded as fake as her fortune-telling skills. “I’ve lost everything.” She shook her head in dismay, her springy black hair swinging from side to side like a cloud of smoke.
“Not everything,” he said, pointing to the one object still recognizable in the rubble. “Looks like your crystal ball survived.”
“Oh! I see it!”
Steve grabbed her arm, stopping her from wading into the ashes. “Wait! You can’t go in there dressed like that.” He waved a hand at her velvet slippers embroidered with gold thread.
“But I must have my crystal ball,” she cried.
He’d read the report this morning. There would be no more inquiry into the cause. The old woman admitted to leaving an illegal candle burning inside the tent while she went to a nearby bank of portable toilets. The official cause was negligence, which in his mind proved the booth owner a fraud. If she could tell fortunes, wouldn’t she have foreseen the tragedy and done something, like extinguish the candle, to prevent the fire?
“Stay here,” he admonished. “I’ll get it for you.”
The glass orb was covered in soot, but otherwise appeared untouched by the flames. Using a rag from his backpack, he cleaned the object as best he could before handing it to the owner.
“Thank you, sir.” She held the heavy piece of glass in the palm of one hand while rubbing it reverently with the other. “You are the young man who came to help yesterday.”
“Yes, ma’am. I’m sorry I couldn’t do more.”
“You tried, and for that, I am extremely grateful. It could have been much worse.”
“You’re right. You shouldn’t have had a real candle burning, and you really shouldn’t have gone off and left it unattended. The whole faire could have burned to the ground.”
She had the good sense to appear contrite. “I know, but those flameless candles don’t provide the same atmosphere as real ones. It’s hard enough getting people to believe. Providing the right ambience makes people more receptive.”
“I just bet it does,” he muttered. What little tolerance he had for the charlatan wore thinner by the minute. He turned, intending to escape before he said something that might get him in trouble if it got back to the department.
“Wait!” A wrinkled hand on his arm stopped him. “Don’t go. Let me read your fortune—as a way to thank you for what you did yesterday. You weren’t able to save my booth, but you kept the fire from spreading. I owe you a great debt.”
Silently praying for patience, he faced her again, hoping he would find some polite words to replace the ones running through his head. The pleading expression on the woman’s face made him feel like a jerk for thinking bad thoughts about her. Hell, she was probably someone’s grandmother, looking for a way to supplement her Social Security check. He could afford a few extra minutes to humor her.
“Okay. You tell me what your crystal ball says about my future, and we’ll call it even.”
He followed her to a sprawling oak tree behind the row of vendor booths where she’d spread a rug that looked to have been around longer than the century-old tree shading it. She sat, motioning him to join her. When he did, sitting cross-legged in front of her, she placed the glass orb between them.
“Concentrate. Focus on the center of the crystal ball.” She demonstrated, bending over to peer directly at the heavy object.
“Don’t you need to know my name or something?”
“No. You’ve touched the ball. It knows all there is to know about you.”
“Too bad it didn’t know your tent was going to burn down.”
“Perhaps it did, sir. Everything happens for a reason.”
“What’s the reason for a fire that could have caused massive damage and loss of life?”
“Ahh, but the only damage occurred to my tent,” she reasoned. “Perhaps the fire was necessary to bring you to me. You wouldn’t have come otherwise, would you?”
And expose Megan to a transient liar and cheat? Hell, no. “No, I wouldn’t have stopped at your tent.”
“There’s your answer. The message the crystal ball holds for you must be very important.” She took a deep breath before placing her hands on the ball. “Focus on the crystal, sir. Open your mind to possibilities.”
Steve glared at the fortune-teller. Her eyes were closed while she made woo-woo sounds and waved her hands around. He barely contained his laughter. Absolutely ridiculous, but entertaining. He could see why people paid for a reading. The spectacle was worth a few bucks.
“You aren’t concentrating.”
“I am,” he lied. Tearing his gaze from the show, he leaned down and stared into the ball.
“Yes,” she whispered. Her hands stilled in midair. “Do you see it?”
“Your future.” Suddenly, she bent over, cradled the ball in her hands, and stared at it as if it were the most interesting snow globe ever. “There’s a woman—”
“Oh, no, there’s not.” He had a few female friends he thought of as fuck buddies, but there was no woman, and there never would be. Been there, done that, have the daughter to prove it.
The charlatan continued as if he hadn’t spoken. “She needs you. She’s been wandering for a long time, but she wants to come home. She desires you, but she isn’t sure she can settle. The freedom of the road comforts her.”
“You must convince her to stay, to put down roots again, to trust, to love.”
No way in hell.
“You need someone to love you, to make a home with you and your daughter. You desire this woman. Open your heart to her, and you will see she is everything you want and need.”
“Wait.” Steve snapped out of whatever spell she’d woven over him. “How did you know about my daughter?” He had buddies on the police force. If this crazy woman had been anywhere near his family, he would have her locked up for good.
“The crystal showed her to me.”
“Like it showed you my ex?” He stood, not caring who witnessed his angry outburst. “Stay away from me, and stay away from my daughter!”
The old woman struggled to her feet. “The woman…she is not your former girlfriend. I know nothing about this person you speak of. This woman is in your future. She is very important in your life. You must not let her get away.”
“Lady, I don’t know what you’re trying to pull, but the last thing I need or want in my life is a woman.” He towered over her, his patience and goodwill dissipating like summer rain on hot concrete. “Did Theresa put you up to this? Is she here?”
As the idea occurred to him, he looked around, expecting to see Megan’s mother stroll out from behind a tree.
“I do not know this Theresa you speak of.”
“You described her—flighty, wanderer, can’t settle. That’s Theresa.”
“This Theresa…she needs you?”
“Hell, no. Theresa never needed anyone but herself.” Not even her daughter.
“Then she is not the woman the crystal showed me. The woman in your future needs you. She has traveled many miles, searching for love. You must find her before she is lost to you.”
Steve rubbed a hand over his face. She’s nuttier than a fruitcake. And you’re crazy to be listening to her. He swung his backpack off his shoulder, digging until he found the paper he wanted.
“Here.” He handed her the citation for violating city code by having an open flame in her booth. “Pay the fine at City Hall before you leave town.”
“I will, but you must listen—”
“Save your show for someone who cares,” he said, walking away.
Reaching the interior of the faire once again, Steve paused with his hands on his hips. Since the event wouldn’t open until later in the afternoon on this weekday, only a few people milled about. At the far end of the mock medieval village, a man dressed in jeans and a cowboy hat groomed one of several horses tethered to a makeshift hitching rail. A few craftspeople arranged their stock while food vendors opened their carts in preparation for the tourists expected later.
He nodded at a guy pushing a cart loaded with boxes of frozen french fries—anything to avoid looking toward the one place he didn’t want to see.
He sensed her presence, and it was darned annoying the way he couldn’t stop thinking about her. Volunteering to deliver the citation had been a convenient justification for doing what he really wanted to do. See Shannon Perry again.
* Hearts on Fire first appeared in the multi-author anthology, Seduction - One Fortune at a Time (Cupid Publishing, Sept., 2014)
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