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Light the Fire
|A choice, a tragedy, and life-altering consequences... When Rena Dunigan flees New York City and her dream of becoming a Broadway performer, she returns to her hometown harboring a life-altering secret and the shame of a shattered past. When her friend talks her into helping build a house through the local Shelter the Homeless program, Rena meets Cody and his mischievous Saint Bernard. Cody is dealing with a devastating loss of his own, yet his gentleness and patience melt Rena's resolve never to trust-or to love-again. But what will Cody think when he learns the consequences of Rena's past? Will he reject her, or can she trust that love will heal hurting hearts and forever bind them together?|
In Stock: 100
Author: ( Mary Manners )
â€śHurry, Rena. Weâ€™re going to be late.â€ť Kelsie tossed a tennis shoe across the room.
Rena caught it, but hesitated before slipping her foot in, halfheartedly tying the laces. â€śI-I think Iâ€™ve changed my mind.â€ť Renaâ€™s stomach turned over, the cereal sheâ€™d choked down for breakfast along with two cups of muddy-black coffee roiling unmercifully.
â€śYouÂ canâ€™t change your mind.â€ť Kelsieâ€™s tone left no room for argument. â€śWeâ€™ve already committed to helping. We canâ€™t let everybody down.â€ť Another shoe careened toward her head, and Rena ducked.
She sighed as she slid an arm into her baby blue windbreaker. Kelsie was right.
She reached for the second shoe. â€śRemind me again why you roped me into doing this.â€ť
Kelsieâ€™s perky blonde curls bobbed as she paced Renaâ€™s living room. â€śBecause the church needs help building this house. Theyâ€™re a good family, Rena. Their home burned to the ground and they didnâ€™t have insurance. Plus, youâ€™re good at slinging a hammer. In fact, you do it better than most guys I know.â€ť
Burned to the ground. The words startled Rena. Her heart went out to the family. How could she just sit here and refuse to help when she had the means and the knowledge needed? Guilt nudged her as she zipped her jacket, staring into the distance before turning back to her friend. â€śIt doesnâ€™t hurt to have a dad whoâ€™s a builder. Heâ€™s taught me a lot. I even have my own tool belt, a birthday gift when I turned sixteen.â€ť
â€śI remember. I was there.â€ť Kelsieâ€™s car keys jingled as she twirled them on a forefinger. â€śThatâ€™s one of the reasons we need you.â€ť
â€śWe? Whoâ€™sÂ we?â€ť
â€śNever mind.â€ť She handed Rena a sack lunch sheâ€™d prepared and nudged her toward the door. â€śGo to the car.â€ť
Kelsie plastered manicured hands over her ears. â€śI canâ€™tÂ hear you.â€ť
Rena groaned, but opened the front door and stepped onto the porch. â€śOK. Iâ€™m going.â€ť
The sunâ€™s wispy magenta arms embraced an awakening sky as they drove toward the building site. Despite her growing reservations about getting involved in this building project, Rena enjoyed the beautiful backdrop of the Smoky Mountains at dawn. Sheâ€™d always been an early riser and reveled in the solitude of daybreak while the rest of the world lay slumbering.
â€śKyle and I are going to the movies tonight.â€ť Kelsie yawned as she braked for a light. â€śHe has a friend heâ€™d like you to meet. I thought we could double date.â€ť
â€śNo!â€ť Sheâ€™d rather have a root canal without the anesthesia. No way was she going to get mixed up with another self-centered smooth-talker who thought he was the greatest thing since sliced bread. â€śI mean, thanks for the offer, but Iâ€™m not interested. You know my track record, Kel. Itâ€™s hopeless. Guys are off limitsâ€”for good.â€ť
â€śNonsense, Rena. You canâ€™t hide forever. Eventually youâ€™ll have to plunge into the dating world again.â€ť
Rena cringed at the thought. â€śPlunge? I prefer toâ€¦wade.â€ť
â€śNo, you prefer to sit on the beach with your nose in a book, oblivious to all the guys passing by. Just think about it, will you?â€ť
â€śI already have, and Iâ€™m just not interested. Thanks, but no thanks.â€ť
Kelsie frowned. â€śRena, the world is full of nice guys.â€ť
â€śSure it is. And maybe someday Iâ€™ll win the lottery and retire a multi-millionaire.â€ť
â€śBut you donâ€™t play the lottery.â€ť
â€śAnd I donâ€™t dateâ€”at least not anymore.â€ť
â€śWeâ€™ll see about that.â€ť
They turned into the work site and staccato hammering filled the air as Kelsie parked her Honda beside a mud-splattered black pick-up.
â€śLetâ€™s go.â€ť Kelsie unlatched her seat belt and grabbed the sack lunches. â€śDaylightâ€™s burning, and thereâ€™s a lot to do.â€ť
Rena sighed and drew in the musty-sweet scent of freshly sawn wood. She wished she shared Kelsieâ€™s enthusiasm. As she eased from the car, flakes of sawdust settled like new-fallen snow across the damp earth. They brought back fond childhood memories of the many times sheâ€™d accompanied her dad on building projects. Those had been good times, before heâ€™d become semi-retired and turned most of his days to leisurely games of golf with his grizzle-haired buddies.
â€śWhereâ€™s the party?â€ť Rena stepped over a bag of concrete mix. â€śThis place looks like a war zone with no survivors.â€ť Broken cinder blocks and torn nail boxes littered the ground.
â€śKyleâ€™s over there.â€ť
At the far side of the block foundation, Kyle lifted a two-by-four into place, but it was the guy hammering beside him that caused Renaâ€™s breath to catch. Dark, unruly hair kissed broad shoulders. The thin fabric of his navy T-shirt strained over a terrain of muscles as he struck each nail neatly into place with a single, confident blow.
His strength caused her heart to lurch and her pulse to quicken. Rena tore her gaze away. Sheâ€™d seen enough guys like him in New York Cityâ€”handsome guys convinced they were a gift to every woman within a five-hundred mile radiusâ€”when all they really excelled at was breaking hearts.
She tightened the tool belt around her hips and hop-skipped through an obstacle course of construction supplies toward the two-by-four frame, ready to drive a nail. The quicker she got to work, the quicker she could get out of here.
Suddenly the thunderous crash of a stampede filled the air. As she spun to look, Rena was tackled by what felt like a runaway freight train. The breath rushed out of her as she flew airborne, and then slammed to the ground. A finale of fireworks exploded in her head. She sputtered for air.
Footsteps pounded as someone sprinted over gravel and jumped pallets of brick. A deep male voice shouted, â€śSammy, no. Bad dog. Sit!â€ť
Stunned, Rena shook her head to clear the fireworks and came face to face with a massive, drooling dog. Jowls drawn to expose spiked teeth, he loomed as if he intended to devour her for breakfast. Her heart pounded and her cries ripped the air. â€śHelp! Kelsie!â€ť
â€śItâ€™s OK.â€ť The male voice slid over her like warm molasses as the guy whoâ€™d been helping Kyle set down the two-by-fours and then dropped to his knees beside her. â€śItâ€™s just Sammy. Heâ€™s harmless.â€ť
â€śYeah, right.â€ť She dipped her head and attempted to shield her face with the collar of her windbreaker as the dog buried his meaty snout in her tangled hair. â€śJust get him away from me.â€ť
He frowned and gave the dogâ€™s collar a yank. â€śSammy, no. Bad manners. Bad dog. Sit. Stay.â€ť
Rena gasped and fought to bring her breathing under control. She sputtered, â€śT-thatâ€™s not a dog. Itâ€™s-itâ€™s a bear.â€ť She scooted through damp grass to put distance between them. As if to mock her, Sammy followed. He sniffed her hair and then lazily licked her face, leaving a trail of warm, sloppy saliva across one cheek.
â€śYuck, Iâ€™ve been slimed.â€ť She swiped a forearm across the gooey moisture and tilted her head to stare into the most soulful pair of doggy eyes sheâ€™d ever seen. Now that she could breathe again, he didnâ€™t seem so menacing. â€śWhatâ€™s your name, big boy?â€ť
â€śMy nameâ€™s Cody.â€ť
A nervous giggle erupted, and she covered her mouth. â€śI meant the dog.â€ť
â€śOh, right. Meet Sammy.â€ť Cody offered a hand and she sat up cross-legged, brushing slobber-matted hair from her eyes while she waited for the dizziness to pass. â€śHeâ€™s a Saint Bernard who thinks heâ€™s a toy poodle. He forgets he weighs as much as a truck.â€ť
Calluses mingled with her clammy palm and reminded her he still held her hand. She quickly let go. â€śHavenâ€™t you heard of obedience school?â€ť
â€śFor me or the dog?â€ť
She wiped her hand on her jeans. â€śMaybe you should check into a buy-one-get-one-free program.â€ť
â€śPoint taken.â€ť He grazed fingertips over each of her arms, searching for cuts, and then brushed a smudge of slobber from her cheek with his knuckles. Rena shivered, and turned away. His voice gentled. â€śYou OK?â€ť
She shrugged and buried her hand in Sammyâ€™s thick fur. â€śIâ€™ll live. Are you sure he wonâ€™t bite?â€ť
â€śHeâ€™s toddler tough, I promise. The worst heâ€™ll do is drown you in slobber.â€ť
â€śBeen there, done that.â€ť Rena scratched behind Sammyâ€™s ears and his tail swept wildly across the ground. A cloud of sawdust erupted. Rena stroked the dogâ€™s fur and murmured, â€śHey, Sammy, youâ€™re just a big, playful baby, arenâ€™t you?â€ť
â€śHeâ€™s a stinker. Sorry he knocked you down. Heâ€™ll get a timeout when we get home.â€ť Cody shook a finger at the mutt. â€śItâ€™s the doghouse for you, buddy.â€ť
â€śYouâ€™ll do no such thing.â€ť Rena laid a protective hand on Sammyâ€™s massive back. â€śHe just scared me. Thereâ€™s no need to punish him. Iâ€™m OK now.â€ť
â€śAre you sure?â€ť Cody grasped Renaâ€™s hand again and helped her to her feet. The world swirled and turned gray for a moment before coming back to life.
â€śYes.â€ť She felt a bruise forming on her hip but dismissed the pain. Sheâ€™d had much worse while living in New York. The realization was sobering, and reminded her sheâ€™d sworn off men for nowâ€¦most likely for good. She tugged her hand from Codyâ€™s and brushed blades of grass from the seat of her jeans. â€śBesides, I like dogs...most of the time.â€ť
â€śGood thing, because Sammy likes to hang around the building site. Heâ€™s become a sort ofâ€¦mascot.â€ť Deep blue eyes studied her. Rena found herself dwarfed by his broad-shouldered, six-foot-something frame. She took a step back as he continued, â€śIâ€™m Cody Jamison. And youâ€™re...?â€ť
She hesitated, but his gaze pierced her. The rush of her pulse was irrational, she knew, yet she couldnâ€™t seem to bring it under control.
â€śRenaâ€¦â€ť she finally murmured, and turned from him to Kelsie, who had sidled up to her. â€śWeâ€™d better get to work. It looks like a storm might be rolling in.â€ť The breeze had picked up, and concrete dust swirled over the ground. Beyond the foundation, a row of willows danced.
â€śWell, OK...for now.â€ť Cody reached for Sammyâ€™s collar and grimaced as he jabbed a finger at the mutt. â€śCome on, you mangy beast. Go lay down. Youâ€™ve caused enough trouble for one day.â€ť
They sauntered across the yard and Rena watched as Sammy chased his tail in a trio of circles before settling beneath one of the willows with his massive head nestled on two meaty front paws. Cody turned back to grin at her, and shook his head as if to say the dog would cause no more trouble.
She nodded. The whine of a circular saw pierced the air and exhaust fumes drew her attention as other workers arrived in a variety of pick-ups and sedans. Rena shook wooziness from her head as she reached for the hammer hanging from her tool belt. She wondered if her dizziness was caused by Sammy, or if Codyâ€™s gentleness and humor had somehow dislodged a piece of the wall sheâ€™d so painstakingly erected to guard her heart.
She sighed as her gaze was drawn to Cody once more. Of course, it was the dog.
Cody aimed for the nail and missed. He stifled an oath as the hammer grazed his thumb.
â€śThatâ€™s gonna leave a mark.â€ť Kyle snorted. â€śBetter keep your eyes on your workâ€¦instead of Rena.â€ť
â€śYouâ€™re a real comedian.â€ť He reached for another nail, held it in place and sank it with a single blow. â€śBut she isâ€¦appealing.â€ť
Kyle laughed. â€śI thought you swore off women.â€ť
â€śI haveâ€¦but thereâ€™s always room for adjustments to the game plan.â€ť
â€śGame plan?â€ť Kyle quirked an eyebrow as he lifted another two-by-four into place. â€śThis isnâ€™t football, my friend.â€ť
â€śI know.â€ť He glanced away from the lumber long enough to find Rena once more. The baby-blue windbreaker stood out among hues of brown and gray building materials, and her long blonde hair lifted in the morning breeze as she and Kelsie worked together to lay two-by-fours along the foundation. â€śSheâ€™s a friend of Kelsieâ€™s?â€ť
Kyle nodded. â€śSince they were kids.â€ť
â€śWow, she swings that hammer like a guy.â€ť He whistled appreciatively. â€śWonder where she learned that.â€ť
â€śWhy donâ€™t you ask her?â€ť Kyle handed him a nail. â€śItâ€™s a good place to start.â€ť
â€śI donâ€™t knowâ€¦maybe.â€ť
â€śShe volunteers at the rec center, you know, on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Maybe you could come out and help with the basketball program. Who knows, you might run into each other there, too.â€ť
â€śSmooth way of roping me in to volunteer.â€ť
Kyle grinned. â€śIf it worksâ€¦â€ť
Codyâ€™s gaze locked with Renaâ€™s as she walked over to get another box of nails. She smiled slightly, and motioned to Sammy, who slept beneath a tree at the edge of the site. When she held up one hand and formed her index finger and thumb into the OK sign, he grinned and nodded back.
â€śThe rec centerâ€¦on Tuesdays, you said?â€ť He turned to Kyle.
â€śAnd Thursdays, like clockwork.â€ť
Mary Manners is an award-winning author of inspirational romance who lives in the beautiful foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains of East Tennessee with her husband and teen-aged daughter. She is a member of the Romance Writers of America and Smoky Mountain Romance Writers.
During the school year, she teaches middle-schoolers reading and Algebra. In her free time, she likes to garden, take long walks with her husband, and read romance novels in a hammock beneath century-old shade trees.
Visit Mary atÂ www.marymannersromance.com
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