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I looked for a variety of themes and voices for this book. Catherine’s story appealed because it told the story of a wife, coming to grips with her fears for her husband’s safety, who learns first-hand how important her husband’s job is, to him and to her. Enjoy! And yes, I cut off the scene way too early. 🙂
From “Her Hero” by Catherine Paulssen
With a soft swish, the papers blew off the wall and swooshed back again. Holly looked up from the fresh Batman sheets she was putting on her son’s bed. Above the nightstand, Patrick had pinned newspaper articles and photographs of his dad and his unit. Engine 29 of the Eighth Battalion. Holly let her eyes wander over the cutouts.
Captain Nathan Keenan and Men of Engine 29 Awarded Medal of Valor
Mayor: First Responders’ Actions Nothing Short of Heroic
Firemen’s Ball Raises $25,000
A picture of Nathan and the men from his company—Tommy, Michael, Dion…their closest friends. So close, in fact, that each one of them was playing a role in raising Patrick.
A painting Patrick had made of his father in front of a burning building, holding a hose, fighting the flames.
A picture of all of them on St. Patrick’s Day: Tommy and his wife Linda; their neighbors, the O’Connells; Nathan’s parents, Michael and Dion, with their families. Nathan was hugging her from behind. Both of their faces held happy, proud smiles. It seemed long ago that they had been that carefree.
Then a photo of the day when Nathan had brought old Mrs. O’Connell’s cat down from a big oak tree in front of the neighbor’s house—as well as her grandson, who had gone up after Mitzi and then, just like the cat, didn’t dare to climb down again.
And the biggest photo of them all: Patrick wearing his dad’s helmet, Nathan standing next to him, his arm around Patrick. How they looked alike—Patrick a tiny version of his father, flax-haired, freckled, his blue eyes blinking into the camera from underneath the helmet’s rim. She had taken that picture the day Nathan made captain, two years ago. They had celebrated the promotion with a big barbecue. Their friends had all told her how proud she must be, all the women how lucky she was. It had made her glow with pride to know how much the men admired Nathan and how much the women envied her. And how could they not? He was a dedicated firefighter, he had a beefcake-calendar body, and he was a doting father.
Was he a good husband, too?
Holly straightened the blanket. Yes, yes he was. Every marriage went through tough times, she kept telling herself. And lately, they had hit theirs. However, she wasn’t going to let a few arguments and an intense workload get the better of their marriage. Tonight, for their eighth anniversary, she would surprise Nathan with a three-course dinner and whatever he wanted to do afterwards. Patrick was spending the night at his grandparents’ house, there would be champagne, and she had a new dress that made her feel like they were going on their first date again.
A few hours later, Holly sat in front of a cold asparagus risotto and melting crème brûlée. She watched the candles burn for a while. Drops of condensation ran down the bottle of champagne. Eventually she got up and started to clear the table. On her way to the kitchen, she caught a look of herself in the mirror. The dress looked foolish now.
She was about to go upstairs to change when the front door opened. Halfway up the stairs, she turned.
Nathan gave her a once-over. “You look beautiful.”
He frowned, then his expression changed. “Today’s the nineteenth!” He dropped his keys on the table and walked over to her. “I’m so sorry. I tried to call but—”
“I put the phone on silent mode.”
“Look, there was an emergency at the firehouse, one of the rookies—”
She raised her hand. “There’s always something.”
He turned his eyes away.
“If you had taken that administrative job at the Commissioner’s off—”
“Holly, we discussed this.”
“No, you decided it wasn’t for you.”
“Because it isn’t!” He snorted. “I’m not one to sit behind a desk from nine to five.”
“You would’ve had more time for us. You’d be home in the evenings and on weekends.”
“You knew who I was before we married. I didn’t change.” She didn’t answer, and his voice was adamant when he added, “Don’t ask me to give up the job I love.”
“When did it become more important than us?”
“It’s not!” He took a step toward her, but stopped.
She could see she had hurt him, but she wasn’t willing to propitiate.
“You used to be proud of me.”
“I am,” she said.
He threw her a look.
He shook his head, then turned around, grabbing his keys. Holly winced when the door fell into the latch. She heard the car turn on and leave. She sat down on the stairs and cried.
When the hurt and anger had numbed a little, she walked upstairs and let herself fall into bed. She snuggled underneath the blanket and buried her face in his pillow, in his scent, and drifted away…
That’s when she heard his footsteps on the stairs, heard him entering the room. She felt his weight on the bed.
He pulled the sheets away and caressed her ankle. “I’m sorry,” he whispered.
She sat up. “I’m sorry too.”
His hand wandered up to the pit of her knee, and slowly, lovingly, he circled her skin with this thumb.
She pulled him close to her and pressed a kiss on his mouth. “Love me,” she said.
He undressed her except for her panties and laid her down. It had always been a turn-on for her to be naked in his arms while he was still dressed. She watched him watching her and rubbed her thigh against his denim pants. Nathan’s gaze wandered over the thin lace of her panties, then over her tummy to her breasts. He began to circle her navel with his fingers, tracing a line up her body. When he brushed her nipple with the sleeve of his woolen sweater, she shuddered. Satisfied with the reaction he evoked, he brushed her nipple again.
She made a little noise and he slid two of his fingers into her mouth. She obediently sucked at them and sighed when he pulled them away to swirl them on her nipple…