Burning Skies

By: Jen Talty

Chapter 1



“You worry too much, Daddy.”

Out of the mouths of babes. Jaxson Stravos, senior firefighter for the Air Force, leaned against the railing of his porch, the weathered wood in desperate need of a paint job. Just one of the hundreds of things that needed work on his modest ranch-style home in Satellite Beach near Patrick Air Force Base.

“It’s my job to worry, Buttercup.”

Elle looked up at him from her perch on the steps and rolled her eyes. “I think now that I’m ten, I’m too old to be called buttercup.”

“Don’t roll your eyes at me, young lady,” he said with a smile as he sat down beside the little girl that had forever changed his life “I do really hate it when you do that.”

“I can’t help it. It’s what ten-year-olds do.” She tilted her head and batted her thick eyelashes, her soft-blue eyes catching a ray of sunshine. Damn girl better never grow up, or he was going to be chasing off every young man with a shotgun.

He cringed at the thought.

He looped his arm around her shoulder. Her mother had only been five five, but Elle was already five two, so he suspected she would take after him, only he hoped she stopped somewhere around five ten, not six three.

“I think I’ll call my boss and see if I can take a few vacation days.”

“Miss Mauve wouldn’t send someone she didn’t trust with her own children.” Elle scrunched her nose. “Besides, it’s not like I’m two and need constant attention and in a year, I can take the babysitting course and—”

“Stop trying to grow up on me,” he said as he smoothed down her shoulder-length brown hair. “And you won’t be babysitting until you’re at least sixteen.”

“I’ll be dating by then, Dad.”

He clutched his chest. “You’re going to give your old man a heart attack.”

She burst out laughing.

“I don’t see what’s so funny.”

He glanced at his watch, then down the street which was lined with houses much like his, in need of a little tender loving care. Most had big wheels or bicycles parked on the sidewalks. He’d picked the area because it was all he could afford, but it was a decent neighborhood, in a good school district, with lots of kids, and close to work.

“You’re like fifteen years younger than Heidi’s dad. I think you’re the youngest dad on the block.”

“Actually, eighteen, but who’s counting…” his words trailed off as a young woman he’d never seen before turned the corner, pushing a little boy in a stroller.

“Do you know that girl and her child?” he asked his daughter.

“No.”

“Did anyone move into the Riley’s place?” The house had been empty for the last three months. Unfortunately, the neighborhood did have a high turnover since these were considered starter homes, and there were a number of military families in the area.

“It looked empty when I walked by there the other day with Miss Mauve.”

“Maybe she just moved in,” he said, unable to tear his gaze from the beautiful creature strolling in his direction. No woman had ever stolen his breath before, and right now, his lungs burned for the oxygen he couldn’t suck in.

The woman tucked a piece of blond hair that had fallen out of her long ponytail behind her ear in such a seductive manor that it left him breathless. She held a piece of paper in her hand, and her gaze landed at the set of mailboxes as she padded by. The closer she got, the more his palms sweated, and his pulse raced. He’d seen beautiful women before, but no one looked like the angel walking down the sidewalk. Her long, bare legs striding behind the buggy. The way her muscles flexed every time her feet hit the pavement, told him she had to be a runner.

He was a runner.

Maybe they could run together.

Maybe he should toss his libido out with the trash.

He’d date when Elle was in college. That would make him just shy of forty. Hell, lots of men started having kids at forty. Not that he wanted to, but his life would be far from being on the downhill side of things.

“Look, Mommy! A butterfly,” the little boy squealed as they passed his neighbor’s driveway.