Chapter 1


DIRK checked the clock in the station for what had to be the millionth time today. Just four hours to go and his shift would be over, without another one for nine whole days. It had been slow, with no calls, and combined with the cold outside, they were left with limited things to do. Dirk had been manufacturing chores for himself for the past two hours. All he had to do was get through the rest of the day and he was home free. Dirk moved back so he could inspect the chrome on the engine he’d been polishing. It looked fine. In fact, it had looked fine when Dirk started, but he’d needed something to do.

“Hey, just a few more hours,” Lee practically sang from behind him, and Dirk grinned. They had both been acting like schoolkids for the past two days.

The alarm sounded, and Dirk threw his rag aside, hurrying to where his gear stood ready. Within seconds, both he and Lee were suited up and on the truck as it pulled out of the station. “Business fire downtown,” one of the guys said as he spread the word. That meant one thing: an old building that would burn quickly, probably with apartments on the upper floors. If it wasn’t a false alarm, this could be a bad one. Dirk looked over to where Lee sat and saw the same realization on his lover’s face.

The drive wasn’t long. Traffic through town was already being diverted. Dirk jumped off the truck, looking up as smoke poured out of second- and third-story windows. Dirk groaned as he put on his breathing equipment and communications gear, ready to receive instructions. When he was done, Dirk saw that Lee was doing the same. “Not sure how involved the building is,” the captain said through their earpieces. “Seems like mostly smoke, but there are probably people trapped in the upper floors. Go up the side stairs and carefully check around. The building is wood frame and old, so for God’s sake, don’t take any chances.” Dirk acknowledged the captain’s instructions as he started climbing the stairs. Lee pointed, motioning that he’d continue up, and Dirk nodded, entering the second floor.

Dense smoke packed the air, and Dirk used his heat-sensitive glasses to see through the murkiness. They showed something glowing hot at the far end of the hall, and he began pushing open doors, making quick sweeps of rooms before continuing on. The apartments were small, and Dirk searched two quickly. In the third, the door didn’t want to open, so Dirk kicked it in. The rooms were filled with smoke, and Dirk went carefully, searching for any residents.

“Dirk, have you found anything?” Lee asked through the radio.

“No,” he answered before pushing open the bedroom door. “You?”

“No. I’m almost done here.”

Dirk saw no one in the room and left, then went to open the next door. “Lee, get down here. Three young children, second apartment on the left,” he called through the radio, knowing the team on the outside would already be arranging for medical support. A man, presumably the father, was trying to help them, but he was coughing and no use at all. Dirk told him to get out and pointed toward the door. “We have them. Go!” he yelled when the man hesitated. The kids couldn’t be any older than four or five. Dirk scooped up the youngest of the three and began carrying her out. He met Lee coming down the hall and transferred the girl to him before returning to the apartment. “Make sure the father gets out too.” The heat at the end of the hall was growing more intense, and just before he entered the apartment again, he saw open flames. They looked to be spreading fast.

Dirk rushed back into the bedroom and lifted both remaining children. He had no idea if they were breathing, but he tucked each one under an arm and hurried out into the hall. The flames were already licking down the walls, and Dirk could feel the heat building inside his suit. Lee came over to him, and Dirk handed him one of the kids. “Get the hell out of here. The place is going to go up,” Dirk warned, staying behind Lee as they made their way toward the stairwell. As they were descending the stairs, they were met by other men who took the kids from them. Dirk could hear breaking glass. Turning around, he saw flames shoot out of the doorway they’d left seconds before.

Dirk raced for the ground floor behind Lee with the roar of flames right behind them. As they moved, the sound dissipated slightly, and once they reached the outside, they continued moving away as glass blew out of windows, with flames following right behind. The crews were already spraying water, but it seemed to be having little effect. The building was made almost entirely of old, dry wood, and it was set to burn fast and hot. Crews were dousing the neighboring buildings to keep the fire from spreading, and Dirk followed Lee to where the rescue crews were working on the children. Now away from the fire, Dirk pulled off his helmet and breathing gear.

“How are you? Any breathing issues?” one of the paramedics asked as he rushed over.

“No, John, I’m fine. The mask worked like a charm. How are the kids?” Dirk took a deep breath of fresh air as he waited for the answer.

“All three were alive when you and Lee got them out. We’re transporting them to the hospital. It’s too soon to tell for sure, but they looked okay. You and Lee did great.”

“There was still an apartment I didn’t get into. Is there anyone else missing?” Dirk asked, turning to one of the police officers.

“We don’t know. No one seems to really know anyone else. We’re still trying to get in touch with everyone,” he answered, and Dirk nodded his understanding before looking to Lee, who was doing the same thing. They’d both heard that story before. Eventually they would know if they’d missed anyone, and then they both would have to deal with it. Dirk simply hoped today was not one of those days. After thanking the officer and paramedic, Dirk walked to where the captain was directing operations.

“You two head for the truck. You did good work,” he said, and they followed his instructions. He and Lee had become the men who most often went into the burning buildings. They both seemed to have developed, probably out of necessity, a way of instinctively reading what a burning building was going to do.

It took a while, but the crew got the fire under control. The flames diminished and then went out, leaving the building a soggy, dripping mess. Word came down that there were three people unaccounted for, and Lee volunteered to take a look inside. Dirk watched as his lover entered the charred shell and then watched the door until he came out again a half hour later, pointing and explaining what he’d found.

Dirk hung his head. It was obvious he hadn’t gotten to someone in time. Once Lee was done, he walked over to where Dirk waited and sat down next to him. “There was nothing you could have done. They were in the apartment closest to where the fire seems to have started.”

“I could have gone there first,” Dirk protested, but Lee shook his head.

“If you had, they would probably still be dead and so would those kids, as well. They have a chance because you got to them in time. Think about that instead. I know it’s hard, but it’s what we have to do.”

“Was it bad?” Dirk asked.

“There wasn’t much left of the apartment or the bodies. The fire was so fast and hot, I doubt they had any chance at all. Poor fuckers.” Lee sighed, and they sat quietly until the captain came to get them.

“Let’s pack up and head home. The fire marshal will investigate the cause, but we pretty much know where it started.” He patted them both on the shoulder. “Don’t beat yourselves up. You did great work, and three children are alive because of you.”

Dirk stood up and walked toward the engine. No matter how many times people told him it was okay, he still always wondered about the ones he hadn’t gotten to. He knew Lee was thinking the same thing, but it was too late now. They didn’t save everyone, they never could, and this was simply one of those times. He’d experienced this before and he would again. But that didn’t make it any easier.

“Come on. Let’s get back and we can commiserate over ice cream—the cure for everything,” Lee said, and Dirk nodded. They’d been seeing each other for almost eighteen months now, and it still surprised him how much Lee knew about him, not that he didn’t know just as much about Lee. What he found hard to believe was that he was interesting enough for anyone to want to know that much about him. “Captain says as soon as we have our cleanup done, we can clock out and start our vacation.” Now that was a bit of good news.

The ride back to the station was quiet. It always was when they lost someone. Everyone took it hard. They celebrated when they saved people, and commiserated when they couldn’t, but today, because there had been both, they simply kept quiet.

At the station, after the short ride, Dirk climbed off the truck and stripped off his gear. He cleaned it and made sure it was ready for use again before heading upstairs for a quick shower and the obligatory paperwork. He wanted to get this over and done so he could put it behind him and maybe have a chance to relax with Lee.

The shower and paperwork went faster than he expected, and Lee was waiting for him when he was done with both. He’d driven them in at the start of the shift, but Lee drove them home. Dirk didn’t feel much like talking, and Lee knew him well enough to let him have his peace, at least for a while.

“You know that I’ll let you brood until we get home and then I’m going to slap you out of it,” Lee told him, and Dirk growled from deep in his throat before turning to look out his window again. There were times when Lee drove him crazy. He also knew Lee was right—if you took things to heart, you became ineffective. “Besides, we’re on vacation. It may be cold here, but when we get to Florida, it’s going to be warm, and once we get on that ship, we’ll be sailing to even warmer places.” They pulled up in front of the house, and Lee cut the engine before leaning over to him. “I packed the small bathing suit you like so much.”

Dirk growled again as he turned toward Lee. He knew he was being baited, and damned if he wasn’t rising to it, in many different ways. “Damn you,” Dirk swore before grabbing Lee’s cheeks, kissing him hard. Lee gave as good as Dirk did. He always had. That was one of the things Dirk loved about the man. He was as strong as Dirk and could take and give what Dirk needed. Dirk felt Lee’s tongue duel with his until the car filled with moans that got louder and louder.

“If you want to take this inside, I can do my best to make you forget everything, including your name,” Lee told him, and Dirk nodded before opening the door. They both retrieved their bags from the trunk and carried them inside before placing them in the laundry room, where they would stay until they got back. Dirk then climbed the stairs with Lee on his heels, and somehow he managed to make it to the bedroom before he was tackled. They bounced on the bed, with Lee landing on top. “I promised you forgetting,” Lee told him before yanking up Dirk’s shirt and clamping his lips around a nipple.

Dirk squirmed and hissed at Lee’s perfectly rough play. That was how he liked it: hard, rough, and with as much intensity as he could get. “Lee,” Dirk growled.

“You keep those hands behind your head, and I’m going to blow your mind,” Lee told him as he worked open the belt of Dirk’s jeans, pushing his underwear out of the way before fishing out Dirk’s cock. The cool air felt good on him, but he didn’t have much time to think about it because Lee swallowed him whole, sucking like his life depended upon it.

Dirk’s consciousness narrowed to where Lee’s lips wrapped around his cock and Lee plucked and pinched his nipples, driving him wild. He closed his eyes, thrusting his hips forward, the temptation to hold Lee’s head almost overwhelming, but he kept his hands where they were. “Damn, Lee, I love your mouth,” Dirk groaned, and he heard Lee hum his response before sucking still harder.

Lee stroked down his stomach and then along his thighs. Dirk spread his legs and thrust upward. Lee must have been waiting because Dirk felt Lee slide his hands under him, his fingers ghosting over his hole. As he settled back onto the bed, one of Lee’s fingers breached his body, and Dirk cried out, thrusting again. Lee plunged his digit deeper, locating the spot inside him and making his head spin. Dirk was so far gone by this point, he could barely think of anything other than what Lee was doing to his body. He grunted and groaned, and Lee sucked him halfway to heaven.

Lee let his lips slip from Dirk’s cock, and Dirk groaned loudly even as Lee stroked him hard.

“Let it go, Dirk. Give me what you got,” he coaxed before sucking him deep once again.

Dirk couldn’t take much more, and he thrust with complete abandon as he gave himself over to the pleasure Lee offered and let go of the doubt and self-recrimination that had been running through his head since they’d returned from the fire. Everything was silent in his head except for how Lee was making him feel. Dirk groaned and whimpered under Lee’s ministrations, already going out of his mind with desire. He felt Lee curl his finger, repeatedly massaging the spot inside him, and Dirk howled as he came hard, shooting down Lee’s throat, his back arching on the bed.

Dirk could barely breathe or think as the tension left his body. Slowly, he opened his eyes to a smiling Lee, who crawled up his body and then kissed him hard. Dirk hugged Lee close, returning his lover’s kisses. “What about you?”

Lee shook his head. “I’ll let you make it up to me tonight once we’re at the hotel.” Lee nuzzled Dirk’s neck and began sucking up a mark.

“What’s that for?” Dirk asked, but the only answer he got was a soft, slurpy kiss on his neck followed by a sly, smirky smile.

“Now that you’re feeling better, I hate to remind you,” Lee winked playfully, “but we have a reservation at a hotel in Baltimore, so get your last things packed because in half an hour, we’re leaving for a fabulous vacation of sun, sand, sex, surf, sex, lounging on the deck, and sex.” Lee climbed off the bed. “So I suggest you get ready, hot stuff.”

Dirk got himself together and began putting the last of his things in his bags before closing them and carrying them downstairs, where he set them by the door next to Lee’s. “So what’s the plan?” Dirk asked as he wandered into the living room, where Lee was looking through a set of papers.

“You have your passport and all your things, including your kit?”

“Yes,” Dirk answered, rolling his eyes. “What’s the plan?” he repeated.

“We’re at the hotel tonight, and our plane leaves at eight tomorrow morning from Baltimore. We fly to Orlando, and the cruise company will transport us to Port Canaveral, where we’ll board the ship and our fun begins.”

“I can’t believe we’re actually doing this,” Dirk said as he sat next to Lee on the sofa. “I never would have thought of a cruise.”

“I wouldn’t, either, but Marshall had a package deal and he was able to get us in the group, so we’ll even get a hundred dollars in onboard credit, which will probably pay for a few drinks,” Lee said as he leaned against him. Dirk kissed Lee gently. “I think we’d better get the car packed so we can get this party started.”

Dirk nodded, taking one more kiss before putting on his coat and braving the wintry evening. He got the bags loaded while Lee closed up the house and made sure he had all the tickets and paperwork. Once Dirk was done and the car loaded, he made a trip around back to check that everything was locked up and secure. By the time he was done, Lee was getting into the car. “Ready?” Dirk asked as he slid the key into the ignition.

“You bet,” Lee said with a grin.

Dirk put the car into gear and pulled away from the house, heading toward the highway. Tonight they were going to be in a hotel with a hot tub, pool, sauna, steam room—the works.

“Does your father know we’re going to be gone?” Lee asked.

Dirk felt the pressure inside shoot skyward. “God, no. He still hasn’t stopped pestering me about you moving in, and that was months ago. The last thing I want to do is actually talk to him about anything unless I have to.”

“I really thought, given time, he’d start to come around,” Lee said softly, and Dirk squeezed Lee’s thigh as he stopped at the light, waiting to make the turn onto the freeway.

“I know. I did too. But he’s being a stubborn ass, and the last time he called, he was still singing the same old song.” The light changed and Dirk made the turn, accelerating up the ramp. “Let’s not talk about my father, work, or anything un-fun for the next week, okay?”

“You got it!” Lee said with a grin as Dirk merged into traffic.