Wrapped Up in Christmas Hope by Janice Lynn

Chapter One

AAndrew Scott watched with a grin as his good friend and fellow firefighter, Cole Aaron, raced down the school hallway toward him, both hands clutching at his oversized red velvet shirt. The wide black belt flapped loose on his friend’s waist, and his fake jolly ol’ belly sagged beneath it.

It was an entertaining sight, but not a particularly surprising one. In Pine Hill, Kentucky, Christmas was a three-hundred-and-sixty-five-days-a-year event. As soon as one December twenty-fifth came and went, the town started preparing for the next time Saint Nick made his appearance.

Which was today at Pine Hill Elementary. That was why his buddy was wearing the red suit, the wig, and all the other Santafication accessories. Cole’s girlfriend Sophie had done up his face with leftover Halloween makeup so he appeared to be a rosy-cheeked old man, but it had been up to Cole to get his Santa suit on. A task that had, apparently, been a bit too much for him.

“Sorry,” his friend called out. “Wardrobe issues.” Cole had stopped by the bathroom for another belly adjustment, but it didn’t seem to have worked very well. Andrew and Ben, another firefighter, exchanged an amused glance.

“Best slow it down,” Andrew said. “How would it look to the kids if Santa got sent to detention for running in the halls?”

“It wouldn’t be the first time I got sent to detention,” Cole muttered. “But we’ll keep that between us. I wouldn’t want the kids knowing Santa ever had to put himself on the naughty list.”

“Unlike you two, I was a good kid,” Ben said. He wore regular uniform pants and shirt topped by a baseball cap emblazoned with the fire hall’s emblem. Andrew had decked himself out in full firefighting gear. It wasn’t the most comfortable outfit to hang around in for hours, but kids liked that kind of thing. Firefighters and Santa. They couldn’t go wrong.

“Yeah? Look where all that goodness got you,” Andrew said. “Same place as us, only we had some fun along the way.”

Chuckling, Cole lifted his gloved hand and Andrew high-fived with his pal.

“I had fun,” Ben defended, adjusting the bag of fire safety goodies in his arms. “Just because I don’t rocket across town on Big Bertha like some motorcycle daredevil doesn’t mean I don’t have a good time.” He puffed out his chest beneath his uniform shirt. “After all, it was this great-looking Kentucky boy who had a fantastic date Saturday night.”

Andrew and Cole snorted at his boasting. But Andrew saw no need to mention that he’d spent his Saturday helping his grandparents put up outdoor Christmas lights, and had then stayed for dinner. Not exactly the kind of Saturday night that would win him bragging points with the guys. “For the record, you haven’t really lived until you’ve experienced the thrill of taking Big Bertha for a spin.”

“You and that motorcycle,” Ben accused, shaking his head. “No wonder you didn’t have a date this past weekend.”

“Or any other weekend,” Cole added, gaining a grin from Ben.

“What can I say? I don’t think a woman exists who could ever compete with Big Bertha,” Andrew said. So what if it had been a long time since he’d gone on a date? “She’s a beauty, dependable, gets me where I need to be. Dating is not a priority in this dude’s life.”

Fighting fires to save lives and property was. That and taking care of his grandparents. Ever since his grandfather had taken a tumble at the Christmas festival last year, he’d felt the need to keep a closer eye on them.

Andrew pointed toward the door, decorated with a Christmas tree covered in student-created ornaments. “Well, guys, this is our stop.”

He knocked on the classroom door, then entered the room crammed with all three kindergarten classes—about sixty kids and five adults. Andrew recognized one of the teachers as Suzie Winters, who had stopped by the station to talk to Chief about sending some of his crew to speak with the students. He vaguely recognized all the others except one, a petite blond.

She glanced up and their gazes didn’t just meet. They collided, held, left him struck with the sensation of deep recognition. He felt as if he should know her...but that was impossible. He wouldn’t have forgotten those big, Christmas- tree green eyes.

Those amazing eyes took on a leery expression, as if she didn’t trust him. That made no sense. Who was more trustworthy than a firefighter? Especially when that firefighter was delivering Santa Claus to a bunch of excited kids?

“Santa! Firefighters!” A posse of kids launched their little bodies toward them and wrapped their arms around his and his friends’ legs like stripes on a candy cane.

But it wasn’t the kids clinging to his legs that had his attention. It was the mysterious blonde who filled his belly with the same thrill he got when gearing up to go fight a fire. A feeling of adrenaline, anticipation, and extreme caution for the ever-present danger. But why would she trigger any of that? She stood at no more than five-two or three, and she looked harmless enough. Curious and unable to resist, he winked.

Shock registered on her face. She parted her lips as if to say something but instead she gave a little shake of her head and looked away, leaving Andrew feeling as if someone had just snatched away his favorite present on Christmas morning. Her attention focused on a boy standing near her.

“Okay, kids,” Suzie called out to the class. “It’s time for Santa and his firefighter friends to tell us about the Christmas coloring contest the fire department is hosting this year. They’re also going to talk to us about how to stay safe in case of a fire. My classroom, return to your seats. Miss Stevens and Miss Wilson’s classes, find a seat on the reading rug, please, and keep your hands to yourselves.”

The kids reluctantly released Andrew’s legs. He glanced again at the blonde, now crouching down and talking to the boy. No wedding ring on her left hand, he couldn’t help but notice. Andrew made his way up to join Suzie at the front of the room.

Was the blonde a teacher’s assistant or a parent volunteer? Andrew didn’t date single moms. It wouldn’t be fair to let a child get attached, since he planned to leave Pine Hill to follow his dream of becoming a smokejumper—a firefighter that parachuted in to combat wildfires. That was way too dangerous a profession for him to ever consider a serious relationship with any woman, much less one with kids.

“I’m so glad you wore your fire gear,” Suzie praised in her kindergarten-teacher voice. “The kids are so excited.”

Glancing toward the teacher, Andrew nodded. He needed to get his mind on fire safety and off the blonde.

“Aw look, she has a statue of you on the corner of her desk,” Andrew teased Cole as they passed by the Jolly Old St. Nick figurine. The whole room was already fully decked out for Christmas. Cut-out snowflakes, decorated Rudolph faces, tinsel over the dry erase boards. Pretty much the holiday works. “Looks as if you might have gained a little weight since that was made, though.”

Physically fit beneath his costume, Cole rolled his pale blue eyes, and then, smiling, waved at the class, and tossed out a few ho ho hos, doing a great imitation of the old guy himself.

“Who’s been good this year?” Santa Cole bellowed.

“Me. Me,” the kids chanted, their hands in the air as they bounced in their seats. The boy who’d remained in the back of the classroom raised his hand and motioned for the blonde to put up her hand as well, which she immediately did, smiling down at him.

Andrew wasn’t surprised she raised her hand. She looked like the kind of “good girl” his Grandma Ruby wanted him to meet and settle down with. He kept telling his grandma that he wasn’t ever doing that, but she would just smile as if she knew something he didn’t. Grandmas.

While Cole was telling the kids about the contest that would benefit the town’s Annual Christmas Toy Drive, Andrew and Ben headed to the back of the room. The blonde and the boy still stood there, and after flashing a smile at the woman, he knelt to speak to the kid.

“Hey, there, bud. How’s it going?” he asked, keeping his voice low so as not to interfere with Cole’s talk.

The shy little boy’s eyes grew big. “Good.”

“That’s awesome.” Andrew held up his hand. “Give me five.”

Morgan Morris’s pulse was suddenly pounding as if she’d run to the North Pole and back. She gulped back the knot in her throat. Her instant awareness of this handsome firefighter disconcerted her, making her feel as if she needed to shield herself from the rush of unexpected emotions.

It had been almost two years since her husband Trey had died—her soul mate, who she’d met at nineteen. It had been a great love story. She just hadn’t expected it to end so soon.

But she tried not to give in to bitterness. A while back she’d made a promise to herself to count her blessings and be grateful for the time she’d had with him. Time that had given her Greyson, the most beautiful little boy to ever exist.

For the most part, she kept that promise, but there were days when the whys took over. Why had Trey been taken so young? Why had her son been left without a father? Why had she been given a taste of what true happiness was only to be left to spend the rest of her life with a heart only half full?

She never got any answers, but those days would pass, and she’d settle back into accepting her new normal. She’d not vowed to remain single but had no interest in becoming involved with another man. What was the point when she’d already given her heart away and had nothing left to give?

Yet, when, with a grin on his handsome face, the firefighter had winked at her, it had been as if someone flipped a switch, lighting up her nervous system with millions of twinkling lights that cast a dazzling glow.

Seeming to be tongue-tied, Greyson smacked his hand against the firefighter’s.

“Good job,” the man praised him. He straightened and turned toward her. His gaze danced with interest, and no doubt hers shone with fear. Not for herself, but for the way her son was staring up at him with wide little eyes filled with adoration.

The life Greyson dreamed of was standing right there in front of him in full gear, and it was all she could do to not wrap her arms around her little boy and beg him to dream a different dream. One that didn’t involve running into burning buildings.

“Ahem.” The other firefighter cleared his throat, motioning for the man standing in front of her to join him.

He gave her a crooked little smile, then shrugged. “Duty calls.”

She and Greyson watched as the firefighters spoke to each other, then opened a bag to pull out plastic helmets and fire safety goodies to give the kids.

“Did you see that?” Greyson asked, looking up at her in awe.

Placing her hand on her son’s shoulder she smiled. “I sure did. You got to be the first one to meet one of the firefighters. He must have sensed that you want to be a firefighter, too.”

“You think so?” Greyson’s eyes were huge.

“It’s just a guess, but it would seem so since he came over to talk to you. That makes you special.” While she didn’t want to encourage firefighting dreams, she did want her son to feel appreciated and seen.

She’d been worried when he’d not rushed over to the firefighters along with the other kids. Was it because he still felt like an outsider to his new classmates and was struggling to fit in? He’d been through so much in his five years. She hadn’t wanted to uproot him from his home and bring him here, but when she’d lost her nursing job due to hospital budget cuts, she hadn’t had much choice. She’d hoped that a fresh start would be good for both of them—and in truth, she’d been feeling much better since leaving Georgia and their former life behind.

Her son’s gaze didn’t leave the firefighters, particularly the unsettling one in full firefighting gear, as he nodded.

“It’s awesome that our cousin Sophie’s firefighter friends are talking to your class today. And I know that her other firefighter friend, Cole, really liked meeting you at Grammy Claudia’s after church that Sunday afternoon.” She kept her voice chipper. “We’ll have to take him up on his offer to give us a tour of the fire hall.”

Greyson nodded. “We need to go.”

“I’m sorry we didn’t get to this past weekend, but my days off didn’t match up with when Cole would be there.” She didn’t have much control over her work schedule at the assisted living center. At her son’s disappointed nod, Morgan’s heart squeezed. “Maybe one of the firefighters here will know if Cole’s working this Saturday. If so, we can go by then.”

Although she was anti-anything that might someday put her son in a dangerous situation, currently, she’d encourage most anything that put a sparkle into her son’s eyes.

Besides, kids usually changed what they wanted to be when they grew up many times over the years. Hopefully, Greyson would settle on something Mom-approved. She couldn’t deal with living in constant fear due to a loved one’s reckless choices. Never again.

“That would be good. If the firemen don’t know, we could ask Santa,” Greyson suggested, staring up at her with big eyes that held her heart. “Santa knows everything, right?”

“Right, especially who’s been naughty or nice.” She bet this Santa really did know Cole’s schedule. Hopefully, Greyson wouldn’t recognize Sophie’s boyfriend in the Santa suit. After all, he’d only met Cole once at Grammy Claudia’s, just over a week ago. Morgan herself had barely recognized the fit former Marine beneath the padded red suit, white wig, mustache, beard, and makeup. If not for his pale blue eyes, she might not have figured it out. “Plus, you can let Santa know what you’d like for Christmas this year.”

“I’d like to meet the firefighters first, though.” Greyson looked toward the firefighter in full gear, the one who’d winked and completely discombobulated her. “Then I can ask Santa.”

Morgan’s chest tightened. Of course, Greyson would want to meet the firefighters first. She took his small hand into hers and gave a reassuring squeeze.

“Absolutely. Come on, let’s get you back at your desk so Mrs. Winters can get you assigned to a group to meet them.”

Maybe, if she was lucky, she could avoid meeting them.

Well, at least the winking one.

Because she suspected that firefighter started more fires than he put out, and everything in her warned that if she didn’t stay away, she’d get burned.

“I’m going to be a firefighter when I grow up.” The towheaded boy eyed Andrew’s helmet with longing as he took the inexpensive plastic imitation they were giving to each student. Whereas the other kids had been animated, the boy chewed on his lower lip as he put the red hat on his head, then looked to Andrew as if for approval. Something in the kid’s eyes tugged at his chest, making him wonder what the kid’s story was.

“That’s great.” He fist-bumped with the boy. He had no doubt now that the kid was her son. Same big Christmas tree green eyes. Cute kid. But that meant the blonde was definitely a mother. Disappointment hit, though he tried to hide it.

“We need more good men on the crew,” he said, loud enough that Ben and Cole both cut their gazes toward him and rolled their eyes. “We’d love to have you join us after you complete your training.”

The kid’s face lit up. “Really?”

“Absolutely. Fighting fires is important work. Families count on firefighters to keep them and their homes safe. Plus, it may not seem like much, but this,” he gestured to the classroom, “is important firefighter work, too.”

The boy didn’t look convinced. “Talking to kids?”

“You bet. Teaching people of all ages what to do if they encounter a fire is very important. If you know what to do in the case of an emergency, especially fires, you could save your entire family before us guys even show up. That’s huge.”

The kid’s expression turned pensive. “You mean how you stop, drop, and roll if you catch fire, or you crawl to get away from smoke?”

Impressed that the boy had been paying attention when he and Ben had talked to them about fire safety, Andrew nodded. “Exactly. It’s vital that everyone, regardless of age, knows what to do in case of a fire. That way, we keep our community safe.”

“I’ll be the safest firefighter ever,” the boy assured Andrew, keeping his voice low. “But my mom won’t like it. She’ll still think I’ll get hurt.”

Andrew looked over and saw that the blonde was snapping a photo of each student sitting in Santa Cole’s lap. But she kept sending worried looks in her son’s direction. “I understand,” Andrew said with a nod. “My family worries about me, too.” Not that his family wasn’t proud that he was a firefighter. They were, but they still worried, especially his Grandma Ruby. Growing more and more curious about the kid’s history, he asked, “How did you decide you want to be a firefighter?”

“I want to save people.”

“Good answer, kid.” Suspecting the boy would appreciate the gesture, Andrew took off his helmet and handed it over so the kid could hold it for a while. Eyes wide, the kid took it as if Andrew was passing over the holy grail. He liked this kid in ways that had nothing to do with his fascinating mother.

“Since you told me your future career goals, want to know mine?” A goal that he’d only ever told Cole and Ben. Why did he want to tell this five-year-old? No doubt Cole and Ben would say it was because Andrew was as mature as a kindergartner. But as crazy as it was, he felt like the boy was a kindred spirit.

Glancing up from the helmet, the boy nodded.

“When I was your age, I went with my grandma to bring supplies to a family who’d lost everything in a fire, ever since then I wanted to be a firefighter. I love being a firefighter. But a few years ago I volunteered to help fight a wildland fire in East Tennessee, and now I’ve decided that I want to be a smokejumper. That’s a firefighter who fights forest fires that the fire trucks can’t reach.”

Just the thought of smokejumping and possibly helping to save entire towns had adrenaline rushing through him.

Confused green eyes stared at him. “Then why aren’t you a smokejumper already?”

The green gaze so similar to his mother’s burned into Andrew with the intensity of the hottest fire, making sweat pop out beneath his uniform. What could he say that this child would understand? No matter how much the desire burned within him, he had reasons why he couldn’t just take off and leave Pine Hill. Promises he’d made long ago that he’d always be there for certain people, just as they’d always been there for him.

“Adulthood isn’t that simple.”

“My mom says that a lot. She doesn’t want me to be a firefighter because she thinks it’s too dangerous.” The kid’s face took on a thoughtful expression. “Maybe by the time I’m old enough, she won’t worry so much.”

“Moms worry.” And grandmas, he mentally added. “It’s in their job description. Still, it’s good that they care so much, so we’ll consider ourselves lucky that we have people who love us.”

The boy nodded. “My mom loves me a lot. She moved here to give me a big Christmas.”

Again, Andrew found himself wondering what the kid’s story was. “Nothing wrong with having a big Christmas. Pine Hill is definitely the place for it. The holidays are everyone’s favorite time of year.”

“Greyson.” The blonde gave a nervous-sounding laugh as she stepped up to them. “You’re the only student who hasn’t had your photo taken with Santa.”

The kid gave her a pretty please don’t make me leave yet look.

“You need to thank the fireman for his time and let someone else take a turn talking to him.” She placed her hands on the child’s shoulders.

“No worries, Ma’am. Greyson and I were just swapping firefighter stories. I was telling him how our crew could use a good, safety-conscious firefighter like I know he’ll be. I’ve no doubt that he’ll work hard and make his dreams come true—in the safest way possible.”

Andrew met the boy’s gaze and winked conspiratorially. As he’d hoped, Greyson’s face lit up and he winked back. Andrew grinned at the exaggerated wink. Yeah, he liked this kid.

The boy handed his helmet back to Andrew. “Thank you and sorry I held up your line.”

Andrew reached out and patted the boy’s shoulder. “Are you kidding me? I’m the one who held up my line because you’re an awesome dude. I enjoyed our man-to-man talk.”

“Me, too.” The boy eyed him as if he’d just promised him the moon.

It made him feel a little guilty—and maybe a bit undeserving. Andrew was proud of the work he did. But he didn’t want the kid idolizing him. He was just doing his job and being friendly to a kid who reminded him of himself as a child.

“Good luck with the contest and on becoming a firefighter. You’re going to make a great one.”

Digging in his heels as his mother tried to nudge him along, Greyson continued to look up at Andrew. Then, he smiled. Andrew got the impression this happy, full-on smile didn’t happen to Greyson nearly often enough. The reaction from the boy’s mother seemed to confirm that. Her hand fell to her side and her conflicted gaze went back and forth between him and the kid. Kids deserved to smile—lots. That this kid obviously didn’t was a problem. One that made him want to be a problem solver.

“Thank you, sir, and good luck to you, too,” Greyson said, and then to Andrew’s surprise, the boy hugged him. His little arms felt warm and tight as they wrapped around Andrew’s thighs. “Your secret is safe with me. Pinky promise forever.”

The stunned blonde’s eyes widened even further at the last comment. Andrew was fairly stunned himself. He and the blond watched the kid skip over to where Santa Cole had finished up with his last kid.

“What kind of secret?” she asked the second Greyson was out of hearing range, looking very much the mother hen who might attack at any moment.

“It was a comment I made about firefighting, nothing more,” he said, putting his hands up defensively.

“Okay. I...well, I,” she shook her head a little, then gave a forced smile. “Thank you for your kindness. You made Greyson’s day. But he shouldn’t have occupied so much of your time. Your line is backed up and the other children are waiting to get their firefighter helmets.”

“No problem,” he assured her. “It was my pleasure. Great kid you have there.”

Something flickered in her green gaze, then she nodded and motioned for the next kid in his line to step up. “Jace, thanks for being so patient while waiting for your turn.”

Then, without meeting his gaze, she headed toward Cole’s line where Greyson was now talking to Santa.

“Hi,” he greeted the kid who’d stepped up to him and handed the boy a plastic helmet while answering the kid’s questions. Laughter from across the room caught his attention, and when he looked up, the woman was smiling at Santa Cole.

What would it be like to have that smile aimed at him?

For the remainder of his time in the classroom, Andrew’s gaze kept bouncing between Greyson and his mother. Which wasn’t difficult as, although she helped with multiple students, she was never far from the future firefighter.

Greyson had gone to his seat, taken out a box of crayons and started coloring one of the pictures in the fire safety booklet. Most of the kids were paired off or in small groups, but Andrew hadn’t seen Greyson speak with or interact with any of the other children. No chattering or smiles or laughter. Wearing the plastic helmet Andrew had given him, along with one of the badge stickers Ben had given him, Greyson looked totally absorbed in the coloring book while around him noise and chaos abounded.

His aloneness tugged at Andrew’s heart and sucked him in further. It couldn’t be easy being the new kid in town.

Cole and Ben joined him, finished with their groups of kids while he still had a handful left to talk to. Great. He was never last except when it came to leaving a burning structure. Then, he always made sure all his crew was out safely before he himself got out.

“Miss Hilton was wondering if you would have time to talk to her first-grade class, too?” Suzie asked, smiling at them all. “I think the other teachers were a bit envious when they found out I’d made arrangements for you to talk to all of the kindergartners about the Christmas Coloring contest.”

“Yeah, sure,” Cole agreed in his regular voice, then corrected himself. “Ho. Ho. Ho. Of course, Santa has time to talk to the other good boys and girls.”

“So long as no calls come in.” Ben patted the two-way radio at his waist. “We’ve got more coloring books, stickers, and helmets in the truck.”

“Thanks so much, that would be wonderful,” Suzie told them, clapping her hands together.

“Santa and I will grab the materials from the truck,” Ben said. “And if Miss Hilton is ready, we’ll talk to her kids while the Pokey Little Firefighter here finishes up.”

Andrew rolled his eyes at his buddy, then smiled at the kindergartner who he was handing a red helmet to. “Choose your friends wisely, kid.”

“You’re lucky you have friends at all,” Cole said for Andrew’s ears only as he walked by on his way out of the classroom.

Andrew snorted, but refrained from saying anything back. He wouldn’t want the kids to think he was insulting Santa. Instead, he turned to the next kid in line. Although his friend had been ragging him, truth was, Andrew knew how lucky he was to have Cole and Ben. He and Ben were lifelong friends, and Cole had just clicked with them as soon as he’d moved to Pine Hill a year or two back. There was no greater friend than one willing to lay his life down for the other. They were those kind of friends. He knew they would literally walk through fire for him, and he’d do the same for them.

Andrew gave the last kid a plastic helmet and thought he was finished when he realized the cute want-to-be-a-firefighter with the pretty mom had gotten back in line.

Andrew grinned at Greyson and said, “Hey, I’m glad you’re here. With Firefighter Ben with Santa, I need a helper. Do you know of anyone who would want to help a firefighter out?”

“Me,” the boy immediately responded.

“Great. I hoped that’s what you’d say.” Andrew smiled at the kid. “Let’s see if your teacher is okay with you being my assistant when the class goes outside to look at the fire truck. I need someone to sit in the truck cab and keep an eye on things for me.”

“Don’t think I haven’t noticed you looking at Andrew Scott every time one of the kids isn’t demanding your attention.”

Morgan’s cheeks burned Rudolph-nose red. She’d tried to keep her mind on taking photos of the kids with Santa, but Suzie was right. Unfortunately.

Suzie’s lips twitched. “Is it because firefighting fascinates you?”

Terrified her, was more like it. She couldn’t imagine running into a burning building rather than out...and she couldn’t bear to think of Greyson doing that someday. Still, she gave her son’s schoolteacher a tight smile.

“Something like that.”

“Right.” Suzie laughed, glancing toward where Andrew was chuckling at something Greyson was saying. “Looks as if you’re not the only one in your family who’s captivated. For whatever it’s worth, Andrew’s a great guy. Born and raised in Pine Hill. His parents had to travel a lot with work so they built next door to his grandparents. He practically lived at their house. He played football with Marty, was the team’s star quarterback, actually,” Suzie added as if that should impress Morgan. “He was valedictorian of their class. And if someone needs helps, he’s one of the first people to show up. Like I said, a great guy.”

Why was Suzie telling her Andrew’s life story? She wasn’t interested.

“Oh, and did I mention that he’s single?” Suzie teased.

Morgan didn’t want to know his relationship status. Okay, so she had looked at his left hand and noted that he didn’t wear a wedding band. It didn’t mean anything. And she definitely didn’t want the shaken-up-snow-globe flutters in her belly that knowing he was single had triggered.

“Not that it matters,” Suzie continued, eyeing where Andrew still talked with Greyson. “He’s a self-professed lifelong bachelor.”

“He doesn’t date?” Why was she asking that? She didn’t date.

“He dates, but never seriously. The moment he thinks a woman is getting attached, he calls it quits. Mostly, he just casually dates. My sister, Betsy, went out with him for a short while. He told her upfront that he’d never marry or have kids.”

“Why?”

Suzie shrugged. “He told her his life wasn’t ‘conducive to a serious relationship.’”

Morgan wished that didn’t intrigue her. It couldn’t be because of his job. Cole was a firefighter and seemed happy dating Morgan’s cousin, Sophie.

“He’s a bit of an adrenaline junkie,” Suzie added. “Rides a motorcycle and jumps out of planes. That kind of thing.”

Morgan’s stomach plummeted. Of course, he was an adrenaline junkie.

There must’ve been some DNA sequence malfunction that alerted her whenever a thrill seeker was in the vicinity. Maybe that’s why she’d kept looking toward him. Because on some level she’d recognized that within him, and it had reminded her of Trey.

“Everyone thinks he’ll take over if and when Chief retires.” Which meant he’d be a lifelong firefighter. “But it’s going to be a lonely life for him if he sticks to that pledge to never settle down.”

“Interesting,” Morgan mused, still mulling over the possibility of whether her rattled response to him was because he was similar to Trey’s love of danger. “I’m sorry if your sister got hurt when he wasn’t willing to commit. But at least he was upfront with her. And honestly, good for him for meaning what he said. We have that in common. Although, I don’t plan to date at all—seriously or casually.” Especially not a firefighter who unnerved her. “Maybe I’ll reconsider after Greyson is older, but for now, he’s my priority.”

Morgan’s gaze went to where Andrew listened intently to whatever Greyson was saying. Were they talking about Greyson’s dream to be a firefighter again and swapping stories? She knew that she should direct her son back to his seat, , ,but she didn’t have the heart to interrupt. Not when today was the most excited she’d seen him in a long time. They had fun together with just the two of them, and he’d warmed up to Grampy George and Grammy Claudia, but the move hadn’t been easy on him.

“Admit it. He’s great with Greyson and, as a bonus, is super cute.”

Morgan cut her eyes toward her friend and frowned. “His being cute has nothing to do with anything.”

Suzie laughed. “Sure, it doesn’t. A cute firefighter is talking to your kid and promoting a charity contest that’s raising money to buy Christmas toys for needy kids. What’s to like about that?”

Knowing that no matter what she said Suzie wouldn’t let up, Morgan sighed. “Yes, Greyson seems to like him very much.” She didn’t bother saying whether or not she agreed. Suzie would draw her own conclusions.

Suzie’s hands clapped together softly. “So, you’re going to talk to him?”

“What would be the point? You know Greyson and I are still struggling to find our way. We’ve got enough going on without throwing in a good-looking firefighter.” It was good seeing the animated way Greyson chatted with him, though. Which must be why her heart still raced.

An adrenaline junkie firefighter. That alone should turn her off completely. You’d think I would’ve learned my lesson.

“Besides,” Morgan continued. “You’ve already said he’s a confirmed bachelor, and I’m not interested in dating, either, so what would be the point?” In all these months since being thrust back into single life, dating hadn’t entered her mind until today. She hadn’t been prepared for someone waking her insides. “That’s why I don’t plan to talk to him.”

She’d never let another adrenaline junkie get close to her. Not ever.

“If you say so.” Suzie didn’t sound convinced. “But you may not have a choice.”

“What do you mean? Of course, I have a choice. There’s no rule that says I have to date again.”

Suzie laughed. “I meant about talking to him. Because, don’t look now, but your son has a firefighter by the hand and is bringing you a six-foot Christmas present worth writing Santa a thank you note for.”