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Hot Shot (North Ridge #3)
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Delilah Gordon has a secret.
She’s been in love with her best friend and the boy next door, Fox Nelson, since she was six years old.
And while most of her friends and family know about her unrequited crush, the one person who remains oblivious is Fox himself. To Delilah, it’s better this way. She’d rather pretend that they’re just friends, even though her feelings for the moody, rugged mountain man are anything but tame.
Fox Nelson has a secret too. As a wildland firefighter or “hot shot,” Fox parachutes into danger every day he’s on the job, risking all to fight wildfires that threaten ranches, forests and thousands of lives. But while Fox’s job is only for the brave, inside he feels anything but. The more he grapples with his raging demons, the more he realizes Delilah is the only one who can put out the flames.
As the two friends grow closer – and more intimate – than ever before, the more complicated their relationship becomes.
And Delilah has one more secret to reveal.
A secret that will change both their lives… forever.
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The smell of waffles was by far and large the best part of weekend mornings for Fox Nelson, especially now that weekdays had changed for him.
This year, Fox started attending Kindergarten, which was actually something he enjoyed and looked forward to. What he didn’t like was how early he had to get up. Maybe it had to do with the fact that his family lived on a ranch far outside of town and he had to catch a bus at a certain time. North Ridge was a small place, but it was rural and mountainous. A lot of kids lived on the ranches, farms and cabins on the outskirts and they all took the school bus, even in Kindergarten.
Mornings at home were cold, especially by October when the sun started spending less time in the sky. His father was always complaining about bills and electricity, so they heated most of their house with the wood stove and even though his mother was always up way before him to stoke the coals from the night before to get the fire roaring again, Fox’s bedroom was freezing.
Those mornings he’d slip on his biggest sweater and his fluffy slippers and shiver his way downstairs where he’d eat cold, mushy cereal (the boring kind, his mother never let him have the ones with tons of sugar) and drink orange juice while his younger brothers John and Shane were still sleeping. Sometimes John would be up too, just wanting to tag around his mother and Fox, but Shane, being a baby, would be definitely sleeping.
His mother seemed to prefer it that way. She often talked about Shane sleeping like it was best thing in the world. Sometimes Fox wondered if she even liked Shane since every time the baby was awake, he was crying or wanting their mother and it always seemed like a huge weight on her shoulders.
On cold dark mornings, that weight seemed heavier than normal. Fox had a feeling that after she walked him to the bus stop down the road on the other side of the river, that she’d go back to bed. Maybe even cry. Sometimes Fox would glance at her as the bus pulled away and she’d still be standing on the bridge, staring down at the water below.
Sad. She seemed impossibly sad, which made Fox want to be a better son, to do what he could to cheer her up. His father and grandfather were like that too, always being extra kind and understanding to her, but they operated the ranch and were almost always busy.
But weekends, on weekends that sadness seemed to lift just a bit. Fox liked to think it was because he was at home with her and not at school and so she now had a helping hand with Shane and around the house. Fox liked feeling needed, feeling special. He liked the responsibilities of being the oldest.
On this particular morning though, on a sunny, cold Saturday in late October, his mother could barely get out of bed. In fact, she didn’t even wake him up like she usually did.
He went down the hall to her bedroom and found her sitting in the rocking chair by the window, staring at nothing.
“You didn’t wake me up,” he said.
But she said nothing. She didn’t even look at him.
“It’s Saturday,” Fox went on and for some reason this morning, the fact that she didn’t wake him up, the fact that he should be smelling waffles right now, it bothered him. “Where are the waffles?”
“You make your own waffles, Fox, I’m sick and tired of it,” she said in a dull voice. She wouldn’t look at him.
“I don’t know how, I can’t even reach the cupboards,” he whined, feeling this was completely unfair. She knows he can’t do it.
“I can’t do everything!” she snapped at him. “You make your own waffles, you take care of Shane, you take care of everyone. You’re the oldest, it’s your responsibility now.”
And even though she broke down and started crying, Fox was upset too. She took something he was looking forward to and she ruined it.
“I hate you,” he said to her and then stormed out of the room and down the stairs.
The fire wasn’t even on this morning and it was cold as hell. He flicked on the TV for a few minutes and tried to watch his favorite cartoons until the guilt started to get the best of him.
Maybe his mother was sick. Maybe he really was old enough to do everything now.
So Fox got up and went into the kitchen and tried to figure out how to make waffles on his own. He brought out the buttermilk she used for it, the eggs, the butter. The waffle mix itself was high up in a box so he brought a chair from the kitchen table over to the counter and climbed up on it.