Burning Up (Flirting With Fire Book 1)

By: Jennifer Blackwood

To the heroes who run into burning buildings when everyone else is running out

Chapter One

It was a well-known fact that when in search of incontinence products at the grocery store, Erin Jenkins would pick the squeakiest cart known to mankind. First mistake: picking the stray cart pushed off to the side like a dreaded yellow Starburst. But twelve aisles from the front of the store, she’d gone too far. Okay, fine, pure laziness stood between her and going back to the entrance.

The Bluetooth headpiece nestled in her ear beeped, and she clicked the “Call” button.

“What’s the status on the contraband?”

Erin rolled her eyes as her sister’s voice carried through the speaker.

“This isn’t a drug deal, Andie.” Although she’d likely be getting fewer side-eye glances with those types of items in her cart rather than Preparation H. This was Portland, after all. “Do you need something? Or just want a direct play-by-play of my shopping trip?”

“I need something to keep me entertained while I make tea for Mom. She called my steeping skills subpar. Can you believe that?”

Erin side-eyed her headpiece. “How can you screw up Lipton?”

Plates and silverware clanged in the background, and she could picture Andie clattering around in the small galley kitchen, her curls curtaining over her inked shoulders as she searched for more tea products in the lower cabinets. “I’m just that talented.”

“You’re something, all right.” Erin chuckled but then focused back on the job at hand. With her mother out of commission because of her hernia surgery, Erin was tasked with shopping for her grandmother. So that left her rolling her squeaky cart down the incontinence aisle.

Mission: Acquire Depends, bunion   pads, hemorrhoid medication, and age-defying wrinkle cream.

Casualties: Self-pride.

She loved her family. To the point where she slapped a carefully practiced grin on her face to do yearly photos with matching plaid shirts. Yes, they were that family. The type that re-created throwback photos of embarrassing pics that were really better off collecting dust in an album. But there had to be a line drawn somewhere, and a cart full of incontinence products at her old stomping grounds came awfully close.

“Any chance of you picking up some tea on your way home?” Andie asked.

“The odds are about as good as you learning how to brew a good cup before I get back.” She’d drop the groceries off at her grandma’s house, lay low at her mom’s house, and then pray that her purchases lasted until she skipped out of town in six weeks.

“I thought I was your favorite sister.”

“You’re my only sister,” Erin said.

Erin crumpled the grocery list in her palm and shoved it into the side compartment of her purse. Hemorrhoid and age-defying cream, check. Bunion   pads, acquired. All with the stealth and precision of a seasoned FBI operative. She’d managed to strategically drape a cluster of bananas over the items, but that wouldn’t cut it for the jumbo 120-pack of adult diapers she’d soon be rocking in her cart. Maybe she should buy a few new beach towels. That would cover the box.

As she turned down the aisle, her cart decided to act up again, the wheels emitting a high whine. A group of guys in their early twenties breezed past her to the beer section, each giving her an amused smile as she squeaked along. This day could end anytime now.

Squeak, squeak, squeak.

“What the hell is that noise?” her sister said.

On the other end of the line, fine china clinked together, and Erin could picture her sister roughly handling her mother’s tea set. “The slow death of my emotional stability.” Her fingers dug into the cart handle as she took a calm, steadying breath.

“I thought you’d lost that years ago.”

Six weeks. Six excruciating, long weeks and then you’ll be back in San Francisco. That was what she’d written in her teacher planner, and by golly, if it was in there, it was going to happen. She’d used ink and surrounded the words with star stickers: August 1, setting up my classroom. Positive thinking put plans into motion, right?

Then again, no amount of positive thinking would reverse the million-dollar budget cut to the city’s education fund that had left six teachers, including Erin, without jobs this fall. No amount of planner decorating could save her old position. Hopefully one of her interviews would pan out and get her back on track to return to her old apartment in the city.

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