When tenacious writer Laney Stonewater ropes firefighter Lucas Moore into staying overnight at the supposedly haunted Cattleman’s Crossing Inn, both of them will get more than they bargained for. The inn was the site of a blaze that killed a man 20 years ago and left Lucas with a strange burn mark on his arm and memories he’d rather forget. Along with a psychic, the victim’s widow, and an amateur ghost hunter, Laney and Lucas set out to learn if Cattleman’s Crossing went up in flames due to a simple mistake…or something much more sinister.
As the night grows darker–and the inn grows warmer, stranger, and more surreal–Laney and Lucas discover they’ve got a connection that burns as hot as any blaze and could have staying power beyond the haunted walls of the inn.
But first they must survive the night…
Laney smoothed down her auburn curls and walked into Station 58, Dallas Fire and Rescue.
It was a hot day for Texas in early October, but Laney guessed nothing was on fire because when she entered the station, nobody was running around and all eyes were instantly on her.
“Hi,” she said. “Is Lucas Moore on duty today?”
Three firefighters were stretched out on benches, their bodies slack with heat. Their shirtsleeves were rolled up and their big palms cupped water bottles or sodas.
The blond man closest to her blinked once, twice. “You’re sure you’re here for Lucas?” he finally asked.
“Yes.” She paused. “He works here, right?”
“Yeah, he works here,” another man said, his feet propped up on the bench. He shouted deeper into the station. “Hey, Lucas! Someone’s here to see you.” He squinted at her. “You his cousin or something?”
“No.” Laney shook her head. Maybe smoke inhalation had gone to these guys’ heads, because of all the visits she’d had with survivors of the 1997 Cattleman’s Crossing Inn Fire, this was one of the weirder welcomes. And that was saying something, because one of the survivors had not only claimed to have seen an apparition that night, but the ghost of her dead iguana, too.
“Lucas doesn’t get many visitors,” the first man said, “of the female persuasion.”
Laney said, “It’s a—a personal matter. Don’t worry, it won’t take long.”
Before she could rephrase that, one of the men guffawed, and another, the big one with his feet up, bit back a grin. Laney was about to tell them where to stick their fire hoses when a dark-haired man walked up from the back.
“Hey,” he said. “Do I…”
Laney had never met Lucas before, so she hadn’t known what to expect. He wasn’t the sort of handsome that sparkled in a suit, nor the red-carpet level of charismatic that would make most women unable to form complete sentences. Instead Lucas Moore, dressed in a plain gray t-shirt and pants, had a quiet kind of attractiveness: a strong build, dark eyes, and a kind face. It might not have made most women swoon, but already Laney sensed that if she were stuck in burning building, Lucas’s eyes were the ones she’d rather see before any celebrity’s or tycoon’s.
“Hello,” she said softly. Then, remembering herself, she walked toward him, thrust out her hand, and raised her voice. “I’m Laney Stonewater.”
He put out his own hand, confusion knitting his brows together. “Hello, Laney Stonewater.”
As they shook hands, something sparked between them. It wasn’t the kind of fire Lucas and his buddies put out, but something made Laney’s skin feel tingly and warm nonetheless. She removed her hand from his strong grip.
After an awkward turn of silence, Laney remembered there was a point to this. “I’m here with a few questions. And a strange request.”
“Do you remember the Cattleman’s Crossing Inn?”
Lucas’s gaze—which only moments before had been interested, almost dancing—darkened. “Not often.”
“I’d love to talk to you about your experience there as a child,” Laney continued.
He glanced back at his fellow firefighters, who were ogling them both, and gestured with his head. “Outside.”
She reluctantly followed the man out the door, to where the sweltering heat made the horizon of the city hazy.
Lucas turned to her and crossed his arms. “Talk,” he said—but he seemed like he wanted to do anything but.
“I’m writing an article about the Cattleman’s Crossing Fire,” she said. “In particular, I’m connecting with people who’ve claimed to have experienced something unusual that night.”
He shifted his weight. “You some kind of ghost hunter?”
Laney laughed. “God, no.” To cover up that bit of honesty that’d shined through, she wiped the smirk off her face and continued. “How much do you remember about that night?”
“Not much,” he said. “And there’s a lot less that I’m willing to share.”
Far from the interest he’d shown when they first met, Lucas’s expression was now shuttered, his body defensive. Unlike Adele and the other people she’d interviewed from that night, he was unwilling to share what he’d experienced when the fire had ravaged Cattleman’s Crossing from the inside out—an inferno that some thought utterly unnatural, and one that claimed the life of a man that night. Or so it seemed.
Laney softened her voice and stepped closer to him, trying to get the firefighter to open up. “Of course, you were only a kid,” she said. “It must’ve been a pretty scary experience. I understand if it’s hard to talk about.”
Of all the supposedly haunted places there in Texas, Cattleman’s Crossing was one of the most famous. Of course, what happened at the inn was probably just some bizarre fire caused by faulty wiring, but the strangeness of the story would get clicks on the article she was writing, for sure. Laney needed clicks, not to mention the dollar-and-a-half-a-word rate the magazine was offering her.
So what if ghosts were bullshit? If the magazine had suggested she write a firsthand account of an alien abduction, she’d be signing herself up for the next probe.
As if sensing her thoughts, Lucas’s eyes narrowed. “What do you want from me?”
“Just to hear your perspective,” Laney said. “And…”
“I want you to spend the night with me,” she finished.
Lucas’s eyebrows shot up. His gaze dropped to her mouth for one fleeting second that made her toes curl.
“I mean, at the inn,” she said. She was flushing, and it wasn’t just the Texas heat. “To provide some color to the article. Like a twenty-years-ago retrospective thing. You do know that tomorrow it’ll have been twenty years to the night, right?”
His eyes cut to the side, and Laney could tell he damn well was aware of the date.
But he didn’t even meet her eyes when he turned around to walk back inside, leaving her sweaty and disappointed, her mouth agape.
“The answer is no,” he called over his shoulder.
It figured that the most attractive woman Lucas had seen in years would turn out to just want a guy for his ghost stories.
When he strode back into the station, he was almost relieved to hear the siren go off. He didn’t care if it was some damn cat stuck in a tree, it was better than being asked to relive memories he’d rather forget.
“Who was that?” Jake called over the siren as he pulled on his turnout gear.
Tory and Jax looked over curiously, and Lucas pretended not to notice.
“Somebody wanting something I wasn’t about to give.”
Jax cocked his head. “You sure about that, man? She was pretty hot.”
Lucas shook his head and swung his gear on. Since Jax had married his wife Skye, he’d been keen to play Cupid with the single guys at the station. He’d even invited Lucas over to dinner a couple times when a single friend of Skye’s was there. But, like so many of his other relationships, it had fizzled out.
As the firefighters moved quickly to gather the rest of their gear and race toward the fire truck, Lucas shifted into emergency mode and tried to turn his thoughts away from Cattleman’s Crossing and that damn anniversary.
Twenty years later, and he was still trying to forget it.
How had she gotten his name? His place of work?
She must be some kind of journalist. She had that sort of stubbornness. She was hot in the best ways—a curvy body, wavy reddish brown hair that Lucas could almost imagine sliding his fingers through—but the way she held herself told the world she didn’t take no for an answer.
She didn’t seem to believe in ghosts, but Lucas knew she’d be back. He was already regretting it at the same time his heart thudded with the thought of seeing her again…
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