Slow Burn – Bella Winters

I was looking at a full house. I had to be careful here, though. Max was bluffing. I was about ninety five percent sure. But what if I was wrong this time? I would end up losing my shirt if I wasn’t careful. A bead of sweat developed on my head and slowly began to trickle down my temple. I knew that Max and Richie were both watching me like hawks, both of them waiting for me to show them a tell, but I wasn’t about to let them get into my head that easily. No way, this was it. I was going to take them both to the cleaners. I glanced down at my hand again and tried to remain completely emotionless and steady. I had a full house. It was the best hand I’d had the entire game. It wasn’t totally unbeatable though. That was the gamble you took when you placed so much in the hands of fate, and no other time did the hands of fate show their true colors than during a game of poker. Max was definitely nervous.

His leg kept bouncing up and down on his heels. He always did this, but when he was nervous he tried not to do it, so his leg would jerk a few times and then stop. Of course this would happen repeatedly. He was becoming overly conscientious of his own body and movements. That was the biggest tell of all. I knew he had nothing. I was going to take him out and wipe him clean. Richie, I wasn’t as sure about. He never showed emotion—period. He never laughed, never smiled, never got mad, and hardly ever spoke much.

But he was a nice enough sort of guy. He was one of us. He liked to be included in the group, as long as we pretended he wasn’t really there. Right now, it was coming down to the wire. I had no idea what he had and he didn’t know what I was carrying. We had been sparring back and forth hand after hand now for the past hour, but this was getting very thick. One of us was going to crack and break at any moment now. I could feel it. “Well, do you call?” I asked. Richie looked at me.

Then back to his cards. Then he glanced at me again as he threw his chips in. “I call.” I smiled as I laid the full house on him. “Read it and weep,” I said. The other guys hooted and high fived me. Richie still sat emotionless. “That’s a great hand. But it’s not great enough.” He laid four fives on the table.

Four of a kind. That is one of the only two hands that can beat a full house. My heart sank. I ran my hands through my hair and groaned silently. Shit. That had not worked out the way I wanted it to. The rest of the guys started cheering and clapping, now giving high fives to Richie. He accepted the applause good naturedly in his typical low key way. The guy had beat me. My hat was off to him.

He’d played a hell of a hand. “Well done,” I said shaking his hand. “Now, I expect that six pack of beer to be in my truck tomorrow morning at start of shift,” Richie said with a slight smile. I laughed. “Will do. If I don’t drink them all tonight, that is,” I laughed. Richie raised an eyebrow. “Just make sure there is a six pack where it is supposed to be tomorrow morning.” I stood up and joined the guys in a mini celebration as we all congratulated Richie on his winning hand. No matter who won, we were all very supportive.

We had to be. We were a brotherhood. Firefighters are like family. They have to be. We knew that every single day there was a chance that one of us would not make it back home safely. We were all out there putting our lives on the line to help people. It was what we were called to do and none of us could ever imagine doing anything else with our lives, but our safety depended on caring about each other as a family unit. “Guys! Training in five minutes,” Chief Walker’s voice boomed throughout the room. He shook his head as he watched us enjoying some down time and then walked away. Training.

Oh, right. I’d forgotten all about that. We hadn’t been called out on an actual call for a few days. It was nice to have that break every now and then. But we did have to endure some harsh training fairly regularly to make sure we stayed as sharp in our skills as we possibly could. I grabbed a bottle of water and headed towards the training room. Rumor had it that there was a new training officer. We’d lost our last one to retirement and I was interested to see who might think they could step into our unit and try to lead us. It would be difficult for them. Several of the guys liked to give new officers a hard time, especially if they came from another unit.

That’s how tightly knit we all were. We didn’t really like the idea of an outsider coming into our house and telling us what was what, even if that was their job. We all lined up in the training room and waited to see what was going to happen. I bit my lip a bit nervously. I was a little bit antsy. I tended to get that way when I was cooped up inside for too long and with no calls coming in, sitting around and playing cards or watching movies was about the only thing we had to do. Training would provide a welcome relief to that, but only for a few minutes. After that it would become physical drudgery. “So, you in for basketball this weekend, Gary?” Max asked me. “Um, yeah.

That sounds fun,” I said. Playing basketball with the guys on the weekend was something we did in the early morning to relieve stress and get some exercise that didn’t involve lifting heavy things. It was a great bonding activity that I looked forward to every weekend. I also had my softball league and I did some martial arts a few nights a week as well. And lately, I’d gotten back into songwriting and singing at open mic bars occasionally. It was something I did a lot of in my early twenties, but then I’d gotten away from it. Now, since turning thirty earlier in the year, I found that I had a lot to say through my music. The door opened and in walked a beautiful woman. She was about five feet eight inches tall with a slender, but athletic and curvy build to her. She had a sweet smile, amazing blue eyes that bore right into you just enough to give your heart a few squeezes and make it stop for a moment, and she had the kind of strong walk that told you she was not one to mess with.

Yeah, it was safe to say I fell in love with this woman right from the start. “Hello, everyone,” the woman spoke. “My name is Shelly Henry. I’ll be your new chief training officer. I’m sure I’ll get to know you all very well in time, but right now we have a lot to cover, so let’s get started.” I saw a few of the guys glancing at each other and smiling their approval at how beautiful our new trainer was. Of course none of them would ever dare to step out of line, or even so much as ask her for a cup of coffee, given the company’s strict policy against fraternization. We all hated it, but I understood the logic behind it. We were supposed to care about each other as family, but there was a line to be drawn. We never put each other ahead of the victims.

Every company was different. Some had the same exact motto. They believed the first priority is your own safety and the safety of your crew. I believed this was important, but to me the safety of the innocent victims was always the most important thing. We made a choice to do whatever it took to save lives, even if that meant sacrificing ourselves. We made that choice when we signed up for this. So, the company rule stood firm. If any members of the company were caught to be engaging in any romantic behavior, it was terms for immediate termination. There was a zero tolerance policy on this. You would never be given a second chance.

You would be shown the door so fast you wouldn’t know what hit you. None of us wanted to risk that. But as I watched Shelly speak, I couldn’t help but feel an overwhelming attraction to her. She was so beautiful, so confident, but behind all that, I could see a sweet vulnerability to her that drew me in. I wanted to be a part of her world. I had to know what made her tick. “Let me ask you,” Shelly spoke. “What is the best way to hoist someone onto your back to carry them down out of a building? Let’s say you are on the second floor, and you find someone who is downed. They need drastic medical attention right away or they will die. You are alone.

How do you get them on your back?” Max raised his hand. Shelly pointed to him. “You squat down, you drape their arms over your shoulders and then stand up. But as you stand up, you thrust your hips backward and tuck your chin. This will send them sliding onto your upper back. Then you can stand up and bring them along.” Shelly nodded. “Ok, that will work. But does anyone know an easier way?” We looked at each other in silence. We’d all been taught that way, but was there an easier way? If so, we were all ears.

“Ok,” Shelly continued. “Suppose you are by yourself and you have to carry someone who is much heavier than you? What is the best way? What would you do?” I wished I had a better answer, but so far we’d only learned the basic ways of carrying someone, and occasionally it was difficult and slower then we needed it to be. In that situation, time was of the essence. We had to get this person to safety and ourselves to safety right now. “Ok, I need a volunteer,” Shelly said. She started looking around the room. Eventually, her gaze landed on me and she smiled. “You there. Yeah, you look like a big, strapping guy. Would you help me demonstrate?” I nodded and stepped forward.

I was one of the bigger men in the unit at six feet three, and two hundred pounds. As I stepped forward and stood beside Shelly, I could feel my attraction growing more pronounced. Her sweet perfume wafted up from her soft, shapely body to my nostrils and filled my head with all sorts of naughty thoughts. She was wearing her uniform top buttoned down a bit, and from the angle right beside her I could see her cleavage perfectly. It took all my strength to not stare at it while she spoke and demonstrated. “Ok, what is your name?” Shelly asked. “Gary Tenny,” I said. “Gary, if you would lie down on the floor and pretend to be unconscious for me.” I did as she suggested. “Ok, so Gary here is downed.

I don’t know how badly hurt he is, but I have to get him to safety. I don’t have time to muscle his weight onto my back and just hope that I make it out with him on time and that my legs don’t give out. So, first what I need to do, is bring his legs in together so that he has both knees up towards the sky. Next, it is very important that I stand on his feet, otherwise he will just flop around when I do the next movement. Everyone with me?” I heard everyone murmuring in agreement that they were in fact following. “Ok, next, I’m going to grab Gary’s left arm. I’m going to pull it straight up and this will get his momentum going. As he pulls forward and his legs bounce off the balls of his feet, I’m going to reach all the way through his legs with my left arm and squat under him as he moves forward.” I felt myself being pulled up and then hoisted upwards. When Shelly put her hand between my legs, I shivered as her arm pushed between my inner thighs.

She was so close to my special places. I wished we were alone and that she was touching me exactly where and how I wanted to be touched. “Now, as I stand up, I’m going to push my shoulder firmly into the crotch and then reach around his leg to grab his wrist and bring his arm inside.” As her shoulder pressed into my groin, I felt so much elation I thought I would moan in exquisite pleasure. But somehow, I kept myself together. Wow… this was interesting. “Now, I have my right hand free for whatever else I may need it for and I can run out of the building to get us both to safety. Now, everyone got that?” Shelly sat me down on the ground and helped me to my feet. Everyone was murmuring that they understood. “Good.

Pair up and take turns. We are going to practice this for the next ten minutes.” “Thanks for helping me,” Shelly said as everyone paired up. “No problem,” I said. “You’ve been with the company a while?” “Over eight years,” I said. “How about you?” “I’ve been a firefighter for seven years,” Shelly replied. “I’ve been a trainer for two.” “Which do you prefer? Here or in the field?” I asked. “I’m not sure. I kind of go back and forth on that,” she said.

“Well, you’d better partner with someone. I’ve got to make a call.” Shelly pulled her phone out of her pocket and stepped out of the room. I paired up with Max and we started to practice the drill. “So, what were you two talking about?” “Ah, nothing,” I said. “I just asked her a few basic questions and asked her if she was glad to be here.” Max nodded. “Sure, you did.” I smirked at him. “What is that supposed to mean?” “It means that you had better get any thoughts of dating this girl out of your mind right now.

” I laughed and quickly looked around to make sure that no one could hear us. Max laid down on the ground. I bent over and proceeded with the moves that Shelly had just taught us. As I hoisted Max onto my shoulders, I was amazed at how easy this was. Shelly’s technique was brilliant. “I have no such thoughts,” I said before letting Max back down to his feet. I laid down on the ground and he proceeded the technique on me. “I know you, my friend. You have that crazy eye about you. It’s the same look you had when you met Paula.

And you see how that ended.” “That was different and she didn’t work here. Besides, we broke up six months ago. That’s history. We both moved on.” Max shook his head. “No, she moved on. You have been pining and stewing about your apartment ever since. You don’t date. And when you are out with us, all I see is girls hitting on you and getting the cold shoulder as you ignore their beautiful charms.

What is wrong with you? Are you turning over a vow of celibacy or something?” I laughed. “No. I’m not celibate. I’m just not looking for one night stands, or easy hookups. I want more in life. I’m not a kid anymore. People change. I thought that the thing with Paula was real and it ended badly. Oh, well. Life goes on.

” “Well, how do you know what any of these women might have to offer you if you don’t put yourself out there? And don’t give me the age thing again. We are the same age. I’m not feeling that pull any more than you are.” “You’ve been with the same woman for five years,” I reminded him. “You are set. Consider yourself lucky.” “I am,” Max said. “When is your luck coming?” “I do consider myself lucky,” I said. “But I’m lucky that I’ve had a lot of time to throw myself into my passions. I’m doing a lot of great things.

I don’t need a woman in my life. And I’m not going to risk my career I’ve busted my ass for by trying to do something crazy.” “That’s good to know,” Max said. “You had me worried for a second.” We continued practicing the routine for several more minutes. When Shelly came back in, she sent us through several rounds of squatting routines until our legs were so sore we could hardly stand up. This girl was brutally tough. Standing was becoming something of an issue for me and we were just getting started. As we went through the exercises, I found that I tried to work just a little bit harder when Shelly was close to me. It was bit juvenile, but a part of me wanted to impress her with my abilities.

I’ve always been in shape, ever since high school, but this was a workout that I had not expected and it was even harder than the grueling weight workout I’d already put myself through that morning. Maybe Max was right. I was developing something for this woman. The spark that I hadn’t felt in a long time for anyone was finally there. And it was the worst place that it could have happened. No, this was wrong. I had to be very careful here. I needed to remind myself of what might happen if I even gave any serious thought to pursuing this woman. Even if there was a mutual spark between us, I wasn’t going to let this flourish knowing what it would mean for both of our careers. No, I would have to keep it well hidden and do my best to ignore those feelings I was now having for her.

She was perfect. I could have watched her all day. I loved the sweet sound of her voice, the smooth, confident manner that she explained things, and the way her body moved gently through the air as if she were walking through some sort of invisible water fall. When we finished the training class, my shift was over. I left the room and said goodbye to some of the fellas before heading home. But as I walked out of the training room, I noticed something peculiar. Shelly was looking at me. It was only for a moment and then she was gone, busy with something else. But I could have sworn that she was staring right at me with a little smile on her beautiful face. Wow… was this attraction mutual? From that look, I would have said yes, but I still didn’t have enough to go on.

I wasn’t sure if the look really happened the way I hoped it did, of if she just happened to glance in my general direction. I wanted so badly for it to be real. That would at least lend validation to my own lust. And that’s what it really was. It was lust. I knew almost nothing about Shelly, but I wanted her badly. I was lusting after her with an animal instinct that was persistent and fully engaged. It was hard to ignore. I wondered what was really going on in that beautiful mind of hers. As I tried to go on about my day, my mind kept going back to Shelly.

What did this mean? Was it some fleeting attraction that would end at some point in the near future? Or was this something that I was never going to be able to outrun and would literally have to live with for several years? As I sat down in my easy chair with a cold beer ready to kick back to catch a ball game, I found myself wondering what I was doing even having those kinds of thoughts. It was dangerous territory to tread in and the payoff just wasn’t worth it. I would have to make sure that I didn’t allow these feelings to grow and turn into something. That, I knew, was going to be much harder than I thought.

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