Final Score (Harlequin Blaze\Last Bachelor Standing)

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9780373798063: Final Score (Harlequin Blaze\Last Bachelor Standing)

Welcome to Last Bachelor Standing! 

How long can three sexy single men hold out? 

The last man holding out is firefighter Dylan Cross—strong, tantalizingly hot, with a reckless streak a mile long. He's also Mr. June in the firefighter calendar. But while Dylan will risk his life without a moment's thought, he would never risk his bachelorhood.... 

Dylan made a deal to help Cassie Price renovate her new home. But having a mouthwatering Mr. June fixing up her place is more temptation than Cassie can resist. And really, doesn't she deserve a little fiery fun now and then? But keeping her cool with this sexy confirmed bachelor is almost impossible...and if she's not careful, she'll find herself playing for keeps!

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About the Author:

USA TODAY bestselling author Nancy Warren lives in the Pacific Northwest where her hobbies include skiing, hiking and snow shoeing. She's an author of more than thirty novels and novellas for Harlequin and has won numerous awards. Visit her website at www.nancywarren.net.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Even inside his bunker gear, firefighter Dylan Cross could feel the heat from the burning house. Water cannoning from the big hoses made almost as much noise as the angry growl of the flames eating at the bungalow in a poorer section of Hunter, Washington.

There'd be a lot of mopping up to do, and not much of this old place would be saved, but the neighboring houses were unscathed, so that was something.

Even after ten years as a firefighter Dylan was still amazed at how alive each fire was, how a blaze had its own personality. Some were unpredictable drama queens, others quiet and stealthy as they ate through property, their smoky breath silently killing anyone unlucky enough to be sleeping without a smoke detector in the house.

It was getting on to 1:00 a.m. A few civilians in bathrobes and hastily donned clothes stood in clusters watching the fire. A dog nosed forward to sniff and quickly pulled back when a blast of flame shot out a window.

An ancient Ford screeched to a halt at the curb beside where Dylan stood and a young woman got out.

She had a six-pack of beer under her arm, and from the glazed eyes she was already under the influence of something. She stood and stared at the burning building, then started to glance around, increasingly agitated. "Terry? Terry!" She screamed the name over and over. Then she grabbed Dylan's arm. "He's in there. Terry's still in there."

Shit. "Where?" He tried to steady her. "Where is Terry?"

She pointed at the lower windows as though he were stupid. "In there. In the basement apartment."

He glanced up to find his captain, Len Butcher, striding over, shaking his head. But Dylan was already on the move. He grabbed an ax, ran around to the back of the house and found the door to the basement none of them had known existed. Damn it, the neighbors had said that the owners were away. Nobody had mentioned an apartment.

He didn't need the ax. He found that the door opened when he turned the knob. He did and was about to enter when his captain yelled. "Pull back! Damn it, Cross. Too dangerous. Pull back."

He registered the words, but only through the buzzing of adrenaline. Somebody inside. Had to get them out.

Dylan pushed in. Where the smoke was thick and the growl of the fire was much louder. To his left, a kitchen, on the right, squalid living quarters with the remains of a collection of plants. The bedroom was behind the living area, thick with smoke, and he could barely make out the hump in the bed. He ran forward, knowing time was running out. He could feel the tremble as the house succumbed. Inside his suit, sweat pooled.

He shook the limp man. No response. He reached into the bed, hauled the guy up. Luckily, he was skin and bones and didn't weigh much. Dylan humped him over his shoulder and staggered back the way he'd come. He almost made it.

He could make out the doorway, the way he'd come in, but as he ran for it, the ceiling caved in on them. It was like a fireworks display, all spark and sizzle. As he fell, he pitched forward, trying to throw the unconscious man out the door.

Then something hit him and he blacked out.

"You went against my direct order," Len Butcher yelled at him a week later when the doctor said he could return to work. Len had an unfortunate face. It was as if someone had crossed a bulldog with a baked potato. The result wasn't happy. His face was broad and dark-skinned, with that mash of nose in the middle just begging for a pat of butter and sour cream. "I had to risk two other firefighters to go in after you. You could have all been killed."

Dylan didn't bother defending himself. Terry was alive. Okay, he was a drug user and small-time dealer whose illegal power-sucking grow op had caused the fire, but Dylan felt that he should get some credit for saving the guy's life.

Len obviously didn't agree. "I don't have any room on my team for a hero with a death wish," he stormed, so red in the face he looked in danger of spontaneous combustion. "Do you understand me?"

"Yes, sir."

"You damn near were killed." Dylan understood that part of his anger was worry. "You're rash, a daredevil. You got away with a concussion and some bruises this time. It's a warning. And if that's not enough of one, I'm giving you another." He raised his thick forefinger and shook it in Dylan's face. "I want you to take a couple of months and think about your future."

At this point Dylan dropped the hangdog act and glared at his captain. "A couple of months? I'm fine. Ready to go back to work."

"You had a concussion. You don't come back until I say you do. And I say you're on leave until further notice."

"But—"

"I mean it, Cross. Take some time. Figure out why you disobeyed my orders and how you'd feel if the two guys who went in to haul your ass out of there were in the morgue right now." He put up a hand before Dylan could protest. "Could have ended that way and you know it."

"But what the hell am I supposed to do for two months?"

"I don't know. And I don't care. Take up yoga, basket weaving, something quiet that won't get you killed. But stay out of trouble."

"But—"

"I swear, I hear one sniff about you doing some crazy-ass stunt and risking your life and you're off my team." He jerked a thumb toward the door. "Out."

Cassie Price was in way over her head. Way, way, way over, she realized ruefully as she walked through the empty rooms of her new home.

Between them, her financial advisor, her parents and her real-estate agent had convinced her that buying a house in Hunter, Washington, was a great investment. The houses in her price range varied from tiny, boring new builds to older fixer-uppers with good bones. She'd bought the latter, although now, as she walked over brown shag carpet and peered at the harvest-gold appliances in the kitchen, she wondered about those bones, and if she hadn't in fact bought herself a hopeless dump.

The neighborhood was old and established and the homes in it were solidly built, she'd been told. And she could read decorating magazines and watch home-improvement shows like everybody else and see the potential in the hardwood f loors hidden under the awful rugs, and sure, the kitchen would be fantastic with new appliances, cabinets, flooring and lighting.

Even the main bathroom would be a showpiece once she replaced the turquoise bathtub and sink and the vinyl flooring.

Her trouble was that she wasn't one of those handy types who could whip an old home into a showplace in a half-hour show, with plenty of time to spare for commercial breaks. She was a busy professional with zero skills and a limited budget. She couldn't afford a fancy home renovator.

As she walked from room to room, her distress grew.

Buyer's remorse? There had to be a stronger term for what she was suffering. Buyer's panic might be closer.

What had she done?

"What have I done?" She echoed the words when she joined her good friend and positive-thinking guru, Serena Long, and Serena's fiancé, Adam Shawnigan, for dinner at a local Greek restaurant, after touring the pair around her new-to-her house.

She speared a chunk of feta cheese and a tomato wedge from her salad.

Serena was a well-known performance coach. She and Cassie had first met a couple of years ago when Serena gave a workshop at the aquarium where Cassie worked as director of community outreach. Cassie had facilitated the workshop and they'd become friends almost immediately. Now Serena smiled that radiant smile of hers and said, "You bought a house. When it's renovated it will be a wonderful home. And a good investment."

"It's getting from here to renovated that seems to be the issue," Cassie said, shoving the food in her mouth and crunching down fiercely. "I need a miracle."

Adam chuckled. "You don't need a miracle. All you need is a decent handyman. A lot of the work in your home is cosmetic and grunt labor. You get a professional plumber and electrician for the tricky stuff, and then somebody like me who is handy and likes renovation projects can do the rest."

"Are you available?" she asked Adam sweetly.

Even though she'd said the words sarcastically, she knew he'd have helped her if he could. Adam was renovating his own house, the old cottage that he and Serena planned to live in when they got married in a few weeks.

"You know I would if I had the time," he said. Then she watched as he paused in the act of raising his water glass to his mouth. He put the glass back down and said, "But I think I know somebody who might be available."

She knew Adam was a perfectionist. He wouldn't recommend anyone who didn't meet his own rigorous standards, so a feeling of hope began to bloom. "Are you serious? Who?"

Serena turned to Adam. "Are you thinking what I'm thinking?"

"I usually am."

Cassie had found that this happened a lot with Serena and Adam. They had the whole married-speak thing going and they weren't even married yet. She waited, knowing they'd fill her in when they'd finished tele-pathically communing with each other.

Sure enough, Serena sat for a moment and then nodded. "I agree. It's a very good idea. Solves both their problems."

Adam turned back to Cassie. "I happen to know a very handy guy who suddenly has a couple of months of free time and really, really needs a project. Let me tell you about my good friend Dylan Cross."

She listened as Adam described his firefighter friend Dylan, who'd apparently dragged the operator of an illegal grow op from a burning house, almost getting himself killed in the process, and then was put on suspension for ignoring his captain's orders. She could see how it might be aggravating to have a heroic deed like that go unappreciated. She could also see that he might be a problem.

"This Dylan Cross is in trouble because he ignored his boss's orders." She looked from Adam to Serena. "How do I know he won't ignore my orders when he's working on my house?"

"It's simple," Adam said, leaning forward and lowering his voice. "We need Dylan at the upcoming championship hockey game for Badges on Ice. If he loses his job, we lose a valuable right wing. So if you have any problem with Dylan, even the tiniest hint of trouble, you will call me, and I and our teammate Max will be all over him." She'd met Max Varo a couple of times and the billionaire entrepreneur always intimidated her a little.

Cassie leaned back and crossed her arms over her chest. "So basically what you're saying is you want me to babysit a guy who has problems with impulse control?"

"He's a good guy, honestly. Dylan, Max and me, we go way back. Our moms were all friends and we played together as little kids, went through school, joined all the same teams. I know Dylan Cross through and through. Yes, he's a little rash, but if I was in any kind of trouble I'd want him to have my back."

She knew Adam wouldn't use words like that lightly. An outstanding police officer himself, Adam mostly associated with law-andorder types. People of integrity. If he vouched for this Dylan Cross, then she was willing to take a chance.

Besides, she did really, really need a handyman.

But she wasn't going to be a pushover, either. She gave Adam the steely-eyed gaze that she used if a school kid wasn't behaving during a visit to the aquarium. "I'll make a deal with you. I will babysit your boy. But you are personally in charge of making sure he does an excellent job, and that he sticks to a tight budget."

Adam grinned at her. "You two are going to get on like a house on fire. So to speak."

She smacked his hand. "Is there anything else I need to know?"

It was Serena who spoke. "One thing that might be good to know." She sent Cassie a woman-to-woman look. "He's Mr. June. In the charity firefighter calendar." She waved a hand in front of her face as though she were perspiring. "You have to check him out."

* * *

Saturday mornings used to be Cassie's favorite time of the entire week. Ahh, those lazy Saturday mornings when she could take a cup of tea back to bed with her, download something new on her e-reader or pick an old favorite from her crowded bookshelves. Then she'd settle back against the pillows and read. She'd get up when she felt like it and then worry about organizing her day.

Those Saturday mornings were over.

Now when she opened her eyes on the first weekend in her new home, she didn't see the familiar walls of her rental-apartment bedroom, with her art hanging and bookcases begging to be raided. Instead she saw ugly pink walls and packing boxes that she wouldn't unpack until the room was painted. Her head vibrated with the mental to-do list that seemed longer than her future. And a lot more frightening.

But at least Adam's friend Dylan was coming by today to take a look at the place and give her an estimate on what he could do for her and how much it would cost.

She really hoped that Adam was right and his buddy, the temporarily unemployed firefighter, would be both competent and reasonably priced.

And how did she feel about a man who was suspended from his regular job because he'd ignored his boss's orders? She wondered as she brewed tea and made toast, trying to ignore the harvest-gold appliances and chipped mint-green countertops as she did so. What if he ignored her instructions?

Adam maintained that Dylan had put saving a life ahead of bureaucracy, but still, you had to wonder.

While she ate breakfast, she scanned this week's flyers from local hardware stores and big-box DIY places and wondered, not for the first time, if she'd made a terrible mistake. When she'd found out her grandmother had left her a little money, her parents had both encouraged her to buy her own place. "You know renting is throwing money down the drain," her mom had insisted.

"We've always made money on our houses," her father, the accountant, had added.

But her father was handy. And lived far away in California. The two of them had bonded not over carpentry but over scuba diving, a passion that had led to her current career.

It wasn't that she didn't want a house. She did, of course, and she believed her parents and her financial advisor and the real-estate agent when they'd said that it was a good long-term investment. She imagined what her three-bedroom home could look like and knew it could be warm and beautiful. Even the neglected garden could shine with some love and attention.

If she knew the first thing about gardening.

When the doorbell rang later that day, she was almost ready to shove the For Sale sign back in front of the house.

She opened t...

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