Heat of the Moment


Cameron O’Leary knew with an absolute certainty that the woman at his door was worthy of a centerfold. It didn’t matter that she was covered from nose to mid-thigh or that she wore a funky knit scarf and matching cap that covered her hair.

He owed this knowledge and its accompanied instant adrenalin rush to the sixth sense he had about women and danger.

In his experience, the two were usually synonymous.

This gift had saved his ass on a fairly regular basis when he’d fought fires because he’d always listened to it.

With women, not so much.

When the woman had expressive green eyes so large they were manga-size and legs so long her feet and head were in different zip codes, he had an even more difficult time heeding the warning.

He didn’t know who this woman was or why she had knocked on his door, but he wasn’t about to complain. It wouldn’t be the first time he’d gotten too close to the fire and singed his eyebrows. At the moment, his intuition was as useless as a dead battery in a smoke detector.

She pulled the scarf down under her chin to reveal full lips, straight white teeth, and a nervous smile. “I’m late.”

He took a step back and ran his fingers over his eyebrows to see if he had any left. “Six months after the last time a beautiful woman told me that, she walked away from me and our newborn six pound, nine ounce daughter, Janie.”

Cam shook his head. It had been over eight years since Liz had told him she was having an abortion. It ranked at the top of his list of the worst days of his life, even though he had eventually changed her mind—not about leaving him or being a parent, just about having Janie. Six years later, Janie’s diagnosis with a brain tumor blew that day out of worst day ever contention.

He reminded himself to breathe. It had been so long since he’d had sex, if he’d fathered another child, the kid would be walking by now. “Since I don’t think we’ve met, I take it this is a different kind of late.”

He didn’t think her eyes could get any bigger but they did, her face turned an alarming shade of red, and her smile melted like a crayon under a blowtorch.

The woman cleared her throat. “Kendall Watkins scheduled an interview for a home health care worker. That’s me—Erin Crosby.” She pushed up the overly-long sleeve of her bulky, knit sweater that hid everything north of a set of world-class legs encased in tight black leggings, and checked her watch. “The appointment was for eleven-thirty. I’m late.” She pulled off her scarf, tugged on the bill of the cap, and an unbelievable amount of shoulder length hair spilled out.

He’d heard of thick hair being referred to as a mane, but he’d never seen anything like this. Hers was so thick, shiny, and perfect in the way it fell, it seemed almost unnatural or something that should be part of a shampoo commercial. He tried to settle on a color, but all he could tell was what color it wasn’t. It wasn’t red or brown or blonde but a combination of all three.

She blinked and stepped back to look above the door. “I am at the right address, aren’t I?”

“Yes.” Cam held the door open wider and let in the late October bluster. “I’m sorry, Kendall said she would set up interviews but didn’t say they’d be today. In any case, I think there’s been a mistake. I asked her to help me find someone with medical experience.” Erin looked more like a cheerleader than a nurse.

“No, no mistake other than my tardiness.” She shook out her hair and set a bag on the table by the door before dropping her hat onto it. “I’m an RN.” She walked past him into the living room. “Nice place.”

“Thanks, but Ms. Crosby, I’m looking for someone with experience.”

She did a slow pirouette, stopped, and hit him with those eyes again. “I have experience. I worked in the Pediatrics Unit at the hospital for three years before going for my masters. Since then, I’ve worked temporary assignments whenever possible.”

“Not to be rude,” or any ruder than he already had been, “but are you the nursing equivalent of Doogie Howser?” 


He didn’t fight the chuckle as he waved her over to the couch. He waited for her to sit and then chose the leather club chair—it was big and comfortable and far enough away from her to be safe.

Erin perched on the edge of her seat and let out a breath as if she were attempting to rein in her temper. He deserved it. “Mr. O’Leary, I was at the yarn shop when Kendall called me about the position. She made it sound as if you needed someone yesterday—”

“Not yesterday, but Janie will be released from the hospital in the next few days. I need someone to start Monday.”

“I’m writing my master’s thesis and don’t have classes to attend, so I’m available on short notice. Because of the timing of the situation, I dropped everything and ran right over not bothering to go home and change into business clothes.” She stood and he, like the gentleman he was purported to be, rose too. “I see now that was a mistake. I’ll tell Kendall to send someone else.”

What in the hell was he doing? Okay, so she freaked him out when she showed up at his door claiming to be late. For anyone else, her choice of words would seem innocuous. “Wait, I’m sorry.” He reached for her arm, but the narrowing of her eyes and the way her full lips pressed together stopped him. “You worked as an RN in Pediatrics for three years?”

“Yes.” She didn’t look as if she was any more pleased with his behavior than he was.

His hunch that she was a knockout had been dead on. She was naturally beautiful—even wearing that bulky, slightly misshapen sweater and no makeup that he could see. She had the kind of looks that put thoughts into a guy’s head—a shock for a man who hadn’t thought about sex for almost two years except to notice his complete lack of interest. When the first woman who shot a spark of attraction through him that could cause third-degree burns was interviewing to be a live-in caretaker for his daughter and would be sleeping down the hall from him—it was a five-alarm brow burner. “Why did you leave nursing?”

“I went back to school.” She sank onto the couch, like a week-old helium balloon.

“Most people who get their degree in nursing don’t work for a few years and leave. Why did you?” He stilled and waited for her to answer the question. Silence was a pretty good motivator.

“I want to continue to help children.”

He returned to his chair and watched her wrestle with what looked like her need for employment and her desire for privacy.

“I love kids,” she started, drew in a breath and starred at her ringless, tightly clasped hands. “Unfortunately, no matter how great a nurse I was, I couldn’t save all my patients, and although there’s some satisfaction in making someone’s passing beautiful—” Her eyes, like a rain-streaked window after a wild storm, allowed him a peak at the despondency and loss beyond them.

How many times had he wondered how the nurses dealt with all the pain and death that was part of their daily work? It was one thing to run into a burning building wearing protective gear, it was another to hold a dying child’s hand with nothing to shield you from their pain and fear; or have to deal with the parents who were losing the child they loved more than their own life.

“I wasn’t prepared for all the loss. I just don’t have the ability to compartmentalize it, or not get emotionally involved.” Erin took a deep breath and seemed to center herself. “I’m a great nurse, Mr. O’Leary, but I didn’t think I could do that for the rest of my working life—at least not in a hospital setting. With an MSW and my RN, I’ll be able to continue to help children without it taking such a personal toll.” She unclasped her hands, placed them on the couch cushions and looked ready to bolt

“Fair enough.”

She stilled, then drew her brows together in question before they rose in surprise.

He shrugged. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to pry, but I needed to know why you left. Janie’s prognosis is excellent—thank God. She just needs to regain her strength and let her immune system rebound before going back to school. Mrs. Truman, Janie’s nanny, is visiting her mother in Florida for the next month, so I thought having someone with medical experience in the interim would be helpful.” He rubbed his neck trying to either crack it or release the tension he’d carried there for the last two years. “I’m told I need it more than Janie does. I might be a tad overprotective.”

“That’s understandable.” She smiled then and damned if he didn’t smell smoke. “So it will be a month-long assignment?”

“Yes, and it’s live in. I’m an arson investigator so my hours, while not as crazy as they were when I was a firefighter, are still unpredictable.”

“Kendall said the position involved cooking, light housekeeping, and helping Janie with her homework.”

He pictured Janie with her bed covered in books, excitement sparkling brighter than the glitter she glued to every piece of her artwork. “Yes, Janie missed most of second grade but we worked with a tutor to make sure she’s ready for third. The tutor will visit weekly with her assignments, you’ll just need to make sure she does them and be there to answer questions if any should come up.”

“Does Janie like school?”

“She doesn’t just like school, she loves it. She can’t wait to go back. She’s done so well, I don’t want to rush it and take the chance of her catching something and-” He stopped—he couldn’t go there.

Erin let out a breath and her shoulders, which had looked as if they were attached to her ears, lowered to a more natural position. “I completely understand.”

“So, are you interested? In the job, I mean. You’ll have the master bedroom with its own bathroom and sitting area, so you’ll have a modicum of privacy—although with a seven year old, there never seems to be enough of that.”

And when it came to Erin Crosby sleeping just down the hall, he’d make sure he listened to his sixth sense. He needed to get Janie back to normal. This was not the time to re-enter the dating pool. Nor was it the time to put himself in a position to be brought up on charges of sexual harassment. Erin would be an employee so, no matter how long her legs were, how soft and shiny her hair looked, or how her huge green eyes—the color of sea glass—flashed when she was pissed, Erin Crosby was hands-off.