Dakota Heat ~ Book 3

Hotshot Sam McKinnon was always leaving town, chasing another fire until his own hometown became vulnerable during the fire season after a big flood left debris and devastation in its path.  He didn't expect out of town dispatcher, Summer Bigelow, to catch his eye or his heart.  

It hadn't been Summer's idea to move from Providence to South Dakota, but when a serial murderer suddenly turns his attention on Summer, her boss insists she leave town. She's dealt with high tension, life or death situations many times in her job.  It isn’t until she meets Sam McKinnon and falls for the sexy hotshot that she really begins to know fear.  The fear of losing someone she loves.




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Chapter One Excerpt:

“You’ve got to be kidding,” Summer Bigelow glared at the police chief of the Providence Police Department as she sat back against the chair.  She’d thought the parking ticket she’d found on her windshield this morning was a bad start of the day and it could only get better from there. 

She’d been wrong.

Matt Jorgensen looked at her with sympathy.  “You’re one of the best dispatchers I have, Summer.  I’m not disputing that.”

“Then why?” she said. 

Matt raised his voice over hers. “But I’m not going to risk your life to some crazy stalker who has already killed four women.”

Summer’s mouth dropped open.  She forced air into her lungs as she looked at the two detectives sitting in the office with them.  Jake Santos and Kevin Gordon had been working this case right from the beginning and had been doing drive-by checks on her ever since the killer had called into her line. 

“There was a fourth?”

The grim look they both offered was answer enough.

“Last time he called in, he reported there was a fourth,” Jake said.  “A kid discovered her taking a short cut through a parking lot on the way to school this morning.”

“But he called in last week.  He said...”  Summer fought to think through the chain of events that had transpired over the last two weeks.

Kevin Gordon got up from his seat and walked in front of her, sitting on the desk.  She knew his wife had been stalked by her ex-husband a few years ago and was nearly killed.

“You have to take this serious.  We are.  With Daria, we knew her ex-husband was after her and she didn’t leave town.  We were watching him and he still managed to slip through our fingers.  I thank God every day we found Daria in time.  We don’t know who this serial killer is or where he’ll be next.  All we know for sure is that based on his last phone call, he’s fixated on you.”

“Look at you,” Matt said, throwing his pen on the blotter on his desk.  “It’s been a week since that nutcase called in and I can already see the toll it’s taking on you.  You’ve got dark circles under your eyes and you look like you haven’t slept at all.  And don’t blame Bobbi’s lumpy couch, either.  You walk down the hall and I see you looking over your shoulder.  That’s no way to live, Summer.”

“He doesn’t know my name.  Bobbi said I could stay at her place as long as I need to while you watch my apartment.  How could he possibly find me?”

Jake handed her a folded newspaper.  “We found this on your doorstep this morning.  He could be anyone you talk to on the street, Summer.  Anyone.”

She opened the Providence Journal Bulletin. In red marker, the words YOU’RE NEXT were boldly scribbled on the page.  Taped to the top was a picture of Summer walking out of Bobbi’s apartment.  The picture had the mark of a bullseye over her face.

Summer swayed in her seat.  The serial killer had been stalking her and she’d never even known.  The growing ball of fear she’d walked around with for the past week burned in her stomach.
She thought to this morning when she’d found the parking ticket on her car in front of Bobbi’s apartment building.  A nice man had stopped his walk when she’d ranted in frustration over what was happening and told her the day would get better.  It could have been him.  It could be anyone.  How would she know?

“For your own safety,” Matt said.  “You are going to be leaving Providence today.  I’m not arguing the point.”

“But…  You’re sending me to the middle of no man’s land.”

“South Dakota isn’t exactly the South Pole.  You’ll be working fire dispatch.  It’s a good cover.  I’ve already briefed the superintendent in charge of the fire unit in the area.”

“Fire dispatch.”

Matt looked at her file.  “You’ve been trained in it.  It’s a perfect cover.  If the killer continues looking for you he won’t be looking for a fire dispatcher.”

“Why would he look for me in South Dakota?  What the hell is even in South Dakota?”

Kevin’s voice was sobering.  “Safety.”

* * *

“You’re an accident waiting to happen, Sam McKinnon!” Kate McKinnon grabbed the knife out of her son’s hand and scowled.

“What am I doing wrong?” Sam asked, chuckling.

Kate grunted with exaggeration.  “There are too many things for me to list.  Sit down and let me make you a meal, will you?  You’ve been gone for over a year.  Can I at least enjoy having you home for five minutes before you blow up my kitchen again?”

“Hey, I told you that was an accident.  What did Logan tell you?” Sam said, stepping back against the wall while his mom moved into his spot by the counter.

She waved him off.  “Yeah, yeah, never mind.  It wasn’t always Logan and Ethan creating all the trouble around here.  You and your cousin, Ian, were always an unpredictable pair, too.” Despite her irritation, Kate chuckled quietly, clearly thrilled to have Sam home after so long. 

“I don’t have time for one of your famous breakfasts, Ma. I have to meet the new fire crew in an hour.”

“You’ll be out the door in twenty minutes.  Geesh, I wish you’d been this eager to go to school when you were younger.” 

Kate busied herself whisking scrambled eggs in a cast iron fry pan with one hand while pulling a toasted bagel out of the toaster and dropping it on a clean white plate.  She glanced up at Sam with that look she always gave him when she wanted to ask something but wasn’t sure if she should.

“What?”

“Speaking of Ian, have you talked to him yet?”

His stomach dropped.  His cousin, a wounded military hero, had talked about becoming a Hotshot fireman once he was done with his military service.  But a mortar blast in Afghanistan had left him without a leg and struggling to find his way again back home.

“I just got home last night.  Haven’t had a chance.”

Kate smiled weakly.  “He’ll be happy to see you.  Just don’t avoid him because you think it’s too painful for him.  He’d hate that.”

Sam leaned back in his chair.  His brother Ethan had told him as much.  Ethan, a former Navy Seal, understood what Ian was going through more than any of them.

“I’ll make sure I stop by on my way home today.”

Smiling, Kate placed a full plate of food in front of Sam along with a full glass of orange juice.

“If you keep feeding me like this, Ma, I’ll be so fat I won’t be able to get any of my fire gear on by the end of the week.”

There was a twinkle of happiness in her eyes as his mother smiled down at him.  “If that’s what it takes to keep my boy home in Rudolph, I’m game.  If I can manage to find you a girl, even better.”

* * *

The girl was new.  Sam walked around the Interagency Fire Crew basecamp with familiarity.  He saw faces he recognized from working in different locations over the past few years.  But the girl…  Yeah, she was new.  He doubted he would forget the soft blond color of her hair or the slight tilt of her head as she read through paperwork, pretending she didn’t notice the people around her.

He grabbed two water bottles from the bucket full of ice in the back of the Quonset hut and walked toward her.  She didn’t look up until he held the water bottle in front of her.

Blue eyes met his with a mixture of irritation and surprise.

“You’re dropping ice pieces on my paperwork,” she said.

He noticed the smooth as silk sound of her voice before the water splatter on the top page of her paperwork.  He immediately pulled the water bottle back a few inches. 

“Sorry.  I thought you might like something to drink.”

Her face softened as quickly as it had shown irritation.  She reached her hand out and took the water bottle, and then placed it on the bench next to her before shaking her hand of the residual moisture the bottle left behind. “Thank you.”

“You’re new here,” he said as he sat down next to her.  

Not looking up, she said, “So are you.” 

She smelled like soap and lavender.  After breathing in smoke and dirt for so long, it was refreshing to breathe in the sweet scents of a woman.

“Not exactly.  I grew up in Rudolph.” 

That earned him a lingering second glance.  One that afforded him a few seconds to really look into her eyes, at her face.

“Really?”

“My whole life.”

She glanced around quickly.  “When I got in last night I was told the basecamp here was new this year.  I didn’t realize South Dakota had a dedicated fire basecamp.”

Sam had never worked fire duty in his home state before.  And he’d never come to a new location and been so familiar with faces as well as the location.  His reason for wanting to come back to South Dakota this year was personal. 

A lot of his friends who worked with the Interagency Fire Crew were still reeling after the deaths of nineteen Hotshot firemen in Arizona last summer.  Some had quit fighting fires altogether at the urging of their family.  Sam’s own mother had tried her best to do the same during many phone calls since the tragedy, but Kate McKinnon settled for having him come home to Rudolph to work. 

“This was just constructed this year.  The Black Hills are a hot spot this year because of all the flood and ice damage that occurred over the winter.  When I found out they were setting up a base here to do fire control for the season, I put in a request to work here.”

She nodded.  “Must be nice to be home.  At least for the season.”

She glanced down at her paperwork again.

He chuckled at how quickly she fell into her reading again.  “You’re looking at that like you’re cramming for a final exam.”

She shrugged.  “I feel I am.  This is my first season working fire dispatch anywhere.”

“Ah, then that explains it.”

“Must feel good to be home after—” 

“Summer?”

Both Sam and the girl looked up to see the chief calling out from across the tent.  The girl quickly collected her paperwork and stuffed it in a folder.

“Be right there,” she called out.  She turned to Sam, lifting the bottled water in her hand.  “Thanks for the water.”

“No problem.”

But she was already trotting over to the superintendent’s office.  He hadn’t even had a chance to get her name.  But he would before the day was done.  This was one woman he had a feeling he wanted to get to know.
* * *

Adam White sat down at his desk and glanced at the folder Summer had handed him.  She’d been given strict orders to report immediately to the superintendent of the Interagency Fire Crew she’d been assigned to on her first day on the job.

Summer hated first days on the job.  The butterflies that had been souring her stomach for the past two days as she drove from Providence to Rudolph were only getting worst.  She’d barely had enough time to get herself settled in the basecamp housing let alone look at the portfolio of information she’d been given when she’d been booted out of the police station. 

She’d left her meeting with the chief to find Bobbi had already packed her bags and loaded them in her car.  Matt had handed her an itinerary and a given her an envelope full of petty cash, courtesy of an officer collection at the precinct.  It didn’t take a genius to know Bobbi had been behind it.  Her friend had been worried sick about her ever since the call came in on her phone line from the serial killer, telling her he was watching her.

When she’d counted the money, she’d gasped, not knowing whether to be flattered that the officers in the department cared that much about her well-being, or be offended that they wanted her out of town so badly.  Since Bobbi had been on duty when she left, Summer hadn’t had time to thank her friend for all she’d done for her before Summer left the city.

Adam finally closed the folder and handed it to her.  “Did you find everything you need last night?”

“Uh, yeah.  I guess.”

“Good.  It’s the dormitory is rudimentary but has everything you’ll need for the time being.  I was told that some of the local rooms at the motel in town might open up soon now that some of the emergency crew that came into town over the winter will be leaving.  You might find it more comfortable there.”

“No, it’s fine.”

“We have briefings every day in the room you were in earlier.  Most of the fire crew is required to do an hour of physical training every day, but that’s not necessary for your job in dispatch.  But feel free to use to the equipment in the Quonset hut if you want.  I just ask that you wait until most of the crew has done their daily workout.”

“Sure.”

Adam stood up from his seat behind the desk and glanced quickly out the window at the crew of fire fighters who had already arrived.  The briefing room she’d sat in earlier would soon be full of Hotshot fire fighters.  

“Matt and I go way back to college.  I was glad to get his call about you doing dispatch for us this fire season.  Even though this is your first season in fire dispatch, Matt has high regard for your instinct and dedication.  I think you’ll do fine here.”

“Thank you.”

Despite being close to the same age as the police chief in Providence, Adam looked older, with salt and pepper hair and deep creases around his eyes.  She guessed him to be close to forty, or maybe a few years beyond.  As he looked at her, his forehead creased.

“What are you holding back?” she said.

He chuckled. “Matt warned me about you.  Very direct.  That’s good.  I just wanted to say that no one knows about what’s going on back in Providence but me.  Matt would like it to stay that way.  I’ll be checking in with him each week just for peace of mind.  He’ll keep me abreast of what is going on there if anything happens in the meantime.  All I want you to do is concentrate on settling in.  I see you’ve already met our squad leader, Sam McKinnon.”

“Excuse me?”

“The man you were talking to in the briefing room when I first arrived.”

How could she forget?  Summer forced herself to be as nonchalant as she could.  “Oh, him.”

Adam chuckled.

“What?”

“I’m not sure he’s used to that kind of brush off from women.  He’s got the reputation of being a bit of a charmer with the ladies.  Don’t say you didn’t notice.”

Her mouth dropped open.  “He only handed me a bottle of water.  We didn’t even have a chance to exchange names before you called me in here.”

Adam smiled knowingly.

“I’m sure that will change.  Sam likes to know the people he’s working with.  It doesn’t surprise me at all he sought you out before I had a chance to introduce you to the crew.  He is one of the best Hotshots I’ve worked with.  He doesn’t let anything get in the way of doing his job safely.”

She nodded.  “Then I guess we’ll get along fine.”
 
 
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