CHAPTER 1: Shane
“So if a tree falls in Bluewater Bay and no one’s around to hear it, does it still make a fucking mess?”
Beside me, my coworker, Dan, whistled. “Yeah, I’d say it does.”
Standing there in the gravel parking lot with Jase, another grip, we surveyed the disastrous scene in front of us. Namely, what was left of Soundstage Two. Other buildings on the production studio property had been damaged as well: a branch had smashed through a wall, and one of the outbuildings had been squashed by another tree. My biggest concern was the soundstage, though, especially since I was pretty sure the water had made it past the sandbags that had been placed around the buildings before the storm came. We’d find out once Anna arrived and gave us permission to go in. She’d ordered everyone to stay out of the buildings for now.
The place was deserted anyway because all production had been canceled until tomorrow. The studio would probably have a conniption about it, but Anna had had the foresight to realize Bluewater Bay would be a mess after the storm, and she didn’t want people trying to make it in when the roads were a disaster. Plus people would have damage to their homes.
We didn’t have to go inside to see the soundstage was an unholy mess. It probably would’ve withstood the storm as well as the buildings next to it had, but it hadn’t been built to catch a hundred-foot cedar blown over by seventy-mile-an-hour winds.
Jase shifted his weight, gravel crunching under his boots. “So, what do we do?”
“Nothing until Anna gets here.” I tucked my hands into my coat pockets. “And, anyway, with all that water and electrical equipment in there, I don’t want to take a chance of the power coming back on.”
Dan grunted in agreement. “Isn’t like we need to rush inside. Anything that’s salvageable will still be there in an hour or two.”
Jase glared up at the sky. “Assuming it doesn’t rain again.”
I scowled at the thick gray clouds. They were swirling lazily and heading east; with any luck, they’d keep going and dump their cargo on Seattle. At least that would give us some time to get in and salvage what we could. Ideally before any electronics were fried or mold had a chance to set in.
But there was nothing we could do now except wait.
They’d called it a fifty-year storm. One of those massive almost-typhoons that whipped through the Pacific Northwest once or twice a century. And it might not have been so bad, or at least not done so much damage, if the Olympic Peninsula hadn’t been getting hammered by torrential rain for two solid weeks. With the ground saturated with water, this had been a disaster waiting to happen, and last night, it had.
That enormous tree had probably been there for a hundred years or more. Thanks to last night’s winds, coupled with waterlogged soil, it had uprooted and come crashing down through the roof. At least it had hit the soundstage and not one of the other buildings. A tree that big would have crushed anything smaller, like the production office, any of the storage sheds, or the houses on the lot that we used for certain scenes.
I’d gotten the call from Dan two hours ago. He’d come to the set to borrow a couple of tools to try to fix some minor damage to his house—not really something we were allowed to do, but nobody ever said anything when we did—and had discovered this mess. Right away, he’d notified me, Jase, and the higher-ups. Our key grip was stuck in his neighborhood thanks to another fallen tree, and that asshole producer Finn Larson couldn’t get out of his driveway, but Anna Maxwell was on her way. Jase and I both lived on streets that had been spared the brunt of it, so here we were.
Beside me, Dan and Jase started muttering about climate change, and I walked away. I wasn’t ignorant of the problem, but I wasn’t in the mood to hear about it this morning. It didn’t really matter right now if this was because of catastrophic global warming or if a butterfly had farted in the Amazon six months ago. The fact remained that a large tree was now reclining on the soundstage, and the mess inside . . . Well, we’d find out before too long.
While I waited for Anna to show up and call the shots, I took out my cell phone and speed-dialed my daughter.
“Hey.” Desiree sounded disinterested and barely awake. Typical fifteen-year-old.
“Hey,” I said. “Just wanted to check in with you guys. Is the power back on?”
“Figures. It might be a few hours—I didn’t see any utility trucks near the neighborhood when I left.”
“Your brothers awake yet?”
“Yeah. They’re outside playing in the mud.”
I laughed. That didn’t surprise me. “Keep an eye on them, okay?”
She clicked her tongue. “Dad, I’m—”
“All I’m asking is to check on them occasionally. There’s a lot of branches down in the backyard.”
“Thanks, kiddo. I gotta go. I’ll check in when I can.”
“You don’t need to. We’re just hanging out here.”
I suppressed a chuckle. I’d expected the teenage years to drive me crazy, but admittedly, her Dad, oh my God, stop being such a Dad tone amused me more than anything. “Okay. I’ll be home as soon as I can. Love you.”
“Love you too.”
After she’d hung up, I slid the phone in my back pocket. Over and over, I tried to remind myself the kids were fine on their own. It had only been a year since I’d started leaving them alone, and I was still kind of edgy about the whole thing. But she was old enough—hell, she’d been old enough—to supervise herself and the twins, and I’d get used to the idea sooner or later.
As I returned to where the guys were standing, I caught their conversation.
“When that chick said she was turned on by storms?” Dan grinned. “She was not kidding. She probably did more damage to my house than the wind.”
Jase high-fived him. “Nice, man. You gonna hook up with her again?”
“Eh.” Dan shrugged. “We’ll see. I’ve been messaging this other girl on Tinder, and she’s—”
I put some more space between us, pretending to be focused on my phone so they wouldn’t know I was trying not to focus on their conversation. Those two were always comparing notes on hookups or whatever they remembered from a night of partying.
And I . . . envied them. I wouldn’t trade my kids for anything, but sometimes I wished I could spend a weekend, or even a night, being like Jase and Dan. I’d missed out on being young and stupid. My very brief taste of youthful recklessness had made me an eighteen-year-old father, and I’d spent the last fifteen years being as close as possible to a responsible adult. What I wouldn’t have given to at least have some memories of sowing my wild oats, even if adulthood and responsibility meant I couldn’t keep sowing them.
Just once, can I go out and be stupid?
I’d been asking myself that for a decade and a half. And going out and being stupid totally sounded like the kind of thing a thirtysomething father of three with a damn mortgage would actually do. Yeah, right. Those wild oats were not going to get sown, and the sooner I made peace with that, the better.
A car pulled into the muddy parking lot and jarred me back into the present. The responsible, mature, doing-my-job present.
Anna got out and shut the door with her hip as she glared at the damaged soundstage. She didn’t have her bodyguard with her, which was unusual, but she’d sounded like she was in a hurry to get here. Maybe he was on his way. Or maybe she didn’t give a shit because a bodyguard wasn’t really necessary right now unless he wanted to help us move tree branches and wet equipment.
Hands in her jacket pockets, she glared at the scene as she walked toward us. “Well isn’t this nice?” Her lip curled. “So much for reshooting that interrogation tomorrow.”
I nodded mutely.
“What do you want us to do?” Jase asked. “I’ve got all day.”
“Me too,” Dan said.
“Same.” I glanced at the fallen tree. “What’s the plan?”
“Right now? We wait because the insurance company and the unions will have our heads if we touch anything.” She folded her arms across her chest and scowled. “The fire department is sending an engine and a crane when they can spare the bodies. The power’s out anyway, and I’ve got a call in to the utility company to keep it off until this is all cleaned up.”
“Good idea,” I said. “Is there anything we can do, though?”
Anna shook her head. “Not really, no.”
The guys and I exchanged uneasy glances.
“What’s the fire department going to do?” Dan asked.
“Anything they can.” She shifted her weight. “I called earlier to see if they can at least help us move the tree off the roof. With the power company as tied up as they are, the firehouse said they’re happy to help as long as they don’t get any actual emergency calls.” With a humorless laugh, she added, “Guess that’s one advantage to living in a small town.”
“Yeah. That means there’s no fires or anything in town, right?”
“Yep.” She nodded. “Sounds like it blew some trees down and fucked up some buildings, but there was only a small fire early this morning. No injuries that I heard about, either.”
“Nobody got hurt anywhere?”
Anna smirked, the first sign of humor since she’d arrived. “Well, not that I know of, but twenty bucks says one of the stunt guys did something stupid.”
I laughed. “I’m not betting against that. You know they did.”
“Mm-hmm. And they can answer to Natalya if they can’t work.”
I grimaced. “I think I’d rather be under the tree than piss her off.”
“Smart man. Smart man.” She let out a quiet laugh, then sighed. “Okay. I need to start making some calls. The insurance company is going to be thrilled.”
“Okay.” I motioned toward the other soundstage. “Should we check in there? See if anything’s damaged or wet?”
Anna pursed her lips.
“It looks safe,” I said. “We might as well at least see if there’s anything we can cover up to prevent more water damage.”
She blew out a breath and nodded. “All right. Take Dan and have a look, but if anything is damaged, don’t touch it unless you’re putting a tarp over it to keep it dry. You hear me?”
“I hear you.” I gave her a mock salute. While she walked away to make her calls, I gestured for Dan to follow me. We stopped by the tool shed to get an armload of plastic drop cloths from one of the set designers’ cabinets and took those, along with a couple of high-powered flashlights and some sturdy gloves.
Dan only had keys to one of the tool sheds, but I had soundstage keys, so I let us in. The instant the door opened, an “Oh, fuck my life” escaped my lips. The soundstages were usually alive with activity, even when someone gave the “Quiet on the set” order. The place was eerily still without the hum of machinery and constant activity, but it wasn’t completely silent—the distinct sound of dripping water turned my gut to lead. I shined my flashlight inside. From here, everything looked intact, but with an inch of standing water on the concrete floor and more dripping from somewhere, I had no doubt we’d find some damage.
“Glad I won’t be the one footing the bill for this shit,” Dan grumbled.
“Yeah. Me too.” I stepped carefully inside, thankful my boots were watertight.
He muttered something I didn’t understand. Cautiously, we picked our way across the wet floor toward the sets. The interior of Gabriel Hanford’s bedroom was currently set up, since a shoot had been scheduled here today before everything’d had to be canceled.
We checked the set, and aside from a few pine needles, it appeared to be unscathed. The wardrobes where the costumes were hung looked like they were fine too, but I didn’t have a key to be sure. All I could do was drape plastic drop cloths over the tops of the wardrobes. At least then if any more water leaked into the building, it wouldn’t seep through and ruin the costumes. Assuming it hadn’t already.
“Aw, shit!” Dan called out from twenty feet or so away.
My head snapped up. “What?” I started toward the sound of his voice.
“Found a branch.” He huffed sharply. “Lighting is gonna shit themselves.”
I came around a corner to where the jail set was ready to roll and grimaced. Didn’t need the flashlight here—the hole in the wall lit up the place well enough. The bedroom interior set was going to need some serious work too. Sections of Sheetrock that hadn’t melted in the rain like the Wicked Witch of the West would need to be patched where debris had punctured them. An armchair that was supposed to look stained and moldy was soaked and covered in pine needles.
The branch that had ripped through the wall was almost the size of a tree itself. It had to be at least six inches in diameter, and God only knew how fast it had been going.
And, like a well-aimed arrow, it hadn’t landed harmlessly on the floor. No, it had gone right through the glass and bulb of a floodlight, smashing through the middle like it was a bull’s-eye.
Dan cocked his head. “Just needs a little gaffer’s tape, right? Good as new?”
I laughed dryly. “Yeah. That’s it.” Gaffer’s tape was more magical than duct tape, but even it couldn’t put this mess back together.
Fortunately, I didn’t belong to the “all the king’s horses and all the king’s men” union, so putting it all back together wasn’t my job.
The rumble of a diesel engine caught my attention.
“That the fire department?” Dan asked.
I went to the door and craned my neck to peer outside. The distinctive red truck rolled across the parking lot. “Yep.”
“Good. Maybe they’ll get that tree out of there so we can salvage shit from Soundstage Two.”
We continued surveying the damage, covering what we could in case the rain started up again, then headed outside to report to Anna.
She was standing where I’d left her, arms folded as she watched the firefighters work. They were bracing the tree with cables and the good-sized crane that had arrived. Probably to keep it from collapsing completely and taking more of the roof down with it.
Anna turned to me, brow pinched. “How’s it look?”
“Well.” I tucked my gloves into my belt. “It’s not as bad inside as Two probably is.”
She groaned. “How bad?”
“At least one set’s going to need some serious rebuilding. The rest just have some pine needles and a little water damage.” I paused. “And a branch went through the wall and into a floodlight. I couldn’t see if any of the other lights were damaged, but that one is fucked.”
Anna buried her face in her hands and swore. “Oh, fuck my life. I do not need this.”
Her phone chirped to life, muffled by her pocket, and she cursed as she pulled it out. “I have to take this.”
“Sure, no problem.”
The other grips were standing near the fire truck, talking while they watched the firefighters working, so I headed their way.
I wasn’t ten feet away from my coworkers when two firefighters stepped around the end of the truck, and I halted so sharply I almost slipped on the wet ground.
Okay, so firefighters were gorgeous by nature—I was pretty sure it was a requirement, even for volunteers like these guys. And the one on the left was cute. A bit young, but cute.
He wasn’t the reason I’d stopped in my tracks, though.
The other guy . . . holy shit. He was easily forty, maybe a little older. Nobody in his twenties had that kind of faintly weathered look with salt-and-pepper hair. Only age sharpened somebody’s features like that. In his younger days, he’d probably been cute like the guy next to him, but now he was fucking hot.
And I . . . was . . . staring. Noticeably.
The younger one nudged the older guy. “I’m going to go see if they need any help.”
The older guy nodded. When we were alone, he extended his hand. “Aaron Tucker.”
“Shane Andrews.” I shook his hand, surprised I remembered my own name.
“You work here?” He had the voice of a smoker, not to mention the lines at the corners of his mouth.
And he’d asked a question. A simple one, right? Shit.
I cleared my throat. “Yeah. I, uh, work here. I’m a grip.”
He cocked his head. “A what now?”
“A grip. I, uh . . .” Know how to speak. Right? “I put up the rigging for cameras and lights. Stuff like that.”
His ears perked up a little. “Oh, so you know your way around the equipment inside, then.”
“Hmm.” He absently rubbed his scruffy chin with the backs of his fingers. “Now that the tree is stabilized, you might want to check inside to see if there’s any equipment we can move out of the way. There’s always a chance of branches snapping off, or the trunk breaking while we’re moving it.” He met my gaze. “Maybe you could come in with—”
“Oh, no,” Anna’s voice came out of nowhere, and I turned to see her approaching. “Nope. Can’t send any of my people in there.”
Aaron scowled but shrugged. “It’s your call.”
I cleared my throat. “Anna, he might be right.”
They both looked at me.
The double scrutiny was unsettling even though I normally wasn’t intimidated by her in the slightest, and I’d just met him. Ignoring both her gaze and the intensity of his—is it legal for a man to be that hot?—I motioned toward the soundstage. “Uh, it might not be a bad idea to go in there with him. If there’s any equipment that hasn’t been damaged yet, but could be when they go to move the tree, maybe we can still get it out of the way. Or at least away from the damaged wall in case more comes down.” I grimaced. “Some of that rigging is fragile as hell—even a piece of the roof or a small branch could mangle it.”
Aaron nodded. “The tree is stable, and the roof is only compromised on one side. It wouldn’t hurt to have one of them come in with us.”
Anna gnawed her lip. I knew exactly what she was thinking—my union and the insurance companies would hit the already damaged roof if they knew I’d gone into the building before it was deemed absolutely safe. As it was, going into the other soundstage could get us in trouble. But, at the same time, if that tree snapped and smashed another lighting rig or the camera cage, the bean counters would lose their minds. I wouldn’t put it past them to look the other way about putting people in danger if it meant salvaging valuable equipment. Given some of that expensive shit in there, it was probably worth putting a grip or two in some moderate danger.
“All right,” she said quietly. “Shane, go in with him and see what you can do. Don’t do anything stupid, okay?”
I nodded and didn’t try to make a joke about Who, me? Normally, I’d banter with her like she was another grip, but she was not in the mood today. And, besides, the only stupid thing I wanted to do right then had nothing to do with the soundstage and everything to do with the man I’d be following inside.
Holy fuck, Shane. What is wrong with you?
Cheeks burning, I cleared my throat and tried not to stare at the guy. Again. Still. Whatever.
“Let me grab a flashlight,” Aaron said. “Then we can go have a look.”
Anna made an unhappy noise. “I don’t like this at all.” She glared at the damaged building. To Aaron, she said, “At least get him a hard hat, would you?”
“Will do.” He disappeared around the side of the truck.
As soon as we were alone, she pointed sharply at me. “I’m not kidding, Shane. I shouldn’t even be letting you go in there, so if you get so much as a splinter—”
“I’ll be fine.” I put up my hands. “I’ll go in, give everything a quick look, and if we can move anything, I’ll tell him.”
She winced, probably envisioning all manner of catastrophes that could happen if the firefighters didn’t carefully handle some of that delicate gear.
Aaron reappeared and handed me a hard hat. “Let’s go.”
I hesitated, raising my eyebrows at Anna. You sure?
She pursed her lips, took a deep breath, and then nodded before turning to answer yet another call. I didn’t envy her the people she’d be dealing with today.
Gloves and hard hat on, I followed Aaron toward the soundstage. As I did, I reminded myself we had a job to do. That my place of work was a literal disaster, and Anna was counting on me to minimize the damage to expensive equipment before anyone tried to move that tree.
So stop drooling over the firefighter and get your head together.
As I fell into step beside him, I stared straight ahead. One thing was for sure—between envying my coworkers and ogling him, this was a clear sign it was time for me to get back into the dating game. Divorce number two had been final for six months, and he’d been gone for six months prior. That was to say nothing of the month or two we’d spent sleeping as far apart as our king-sized bed would allow. Which made it well over a year since I’d been laid.
It wasn’t that I hadn’t wanted to. There just never seemed to be time.
One look at Aaron, though, and I was already mentally shuffling my schedule around. Perhaps not the best timing in the world, given that there was a goddamned tree on top of my workplace, but terrible timing pretty much summed up my life, so why not?
Today, I told myself as I unlocked the door to the battered soundstage, I’d do as much as I could to help clean up this mess.
And tonight, the second I had a minute to myself, I was downloading whatever app everyone was using this week to get laid.
If a tree falls in Bluewater Bay . . . could it be fate?
A year after his divorce, Shane Andrews isn’t interested in dating—not that he has time, between three kids and a demanding job as a grip. When a windstorm knocks a tree onto one of the Wolf’s Landing soundstages, Shane’s there to help with the mess . . . and so is firefighter Aaron Tucker.
A former smoke jumper, Aaron’s an adrenaline junkie and way too restless and reckless to be relationship material. As far as he’s concerned, monogamy is for penguins, and he’d rather be alone than tied down. Signing up to be a stepparent? No, thank you.
But after a scorching-hot night together, they’re hooked. Aaron is a taste of the excitement Shane’s been lacking, and Shane’s pushing buttons Aaron didn’t know he had. The more they’re together, the less Aaron craves wild nights with other men . . . but the more Shane wants to play the field like he never got to in his twenties.
This could be the love neither man knew he needed, but only if Shane gets his feet back on the ground before Aaron walks away.