not even when they come from the stubborn, sexy daughter of the man who’s not only his boss, but his mentor. Determined to show Zoe that not every risk ends in catastrophe, Alex challenges her both in the kitchen and out. One reckless step leads to another, but will falling for each other be a risk worth taking, or will it just get them burned?
Recalibrating her thoughts back to the task at hand, she pushed past the twin swinging doors leading from the back of the kitchen into the bare-bones dining room. Pale, earlymorning daylight filtered in through the oversized windows at the front of the long, rectangular space, offering just enough visibility for her to make her way behind the dinged up cafeteria-style counter set up along the rear wall. Not wanting to add injury to the insult she’d already racked up this morning, Zoe hit the panel of light switches by the commercial grade coffeemaker. She turned to grab the filters from the adjacent storage drawer and let the rhythm and the smells and the simplicity of the food soothe her like they always did.
But she wasn’t alone in the dining room.
Zoe’s heartbeat locked in her throat as she registered the man sitting at one of the tables closest to the counter, although sitting was actually pretty generous. His long, jeans-clad legs were kicked out in front of him, crossed one over the other at the ankles of his heavy-soled brown leather work boots. His chin lay tucked against the chest of his navy blue jacket, just enough for his fashionably tousled blond hair to obscure his face, and the soft sound rising up from his chest doubled the shock pumping through her veins.
Her party crasher was snoring.
“Okay, Sleeping Beauty. Time to rise and shine.” Zoe barked the words in her best drill-sergeant voice, although she kept her Danskos planted firmly on the business side of the counter. This guy was pretty horizontal for someone with bad intentions—not to mention far more well-kept than their average residents—but she was still on this side of the shelter all by herself. Looks could be deceptive as hell, and despite the security measures she and Tina had been scraping to put into place, Hope House wasn’t exactly in a pristine neighborhood. No way was she taking any chances by sounding too mousy or getting too close. “I don’t know how you got in here, but breakfast doesn’t start until seven. You’ll have to wait back in the residence until then.”
He woke up all at once, perfectly upright and focused with just two blinks, and holy cheese on a cracker, he was gorgeous. “I’m not here for breakfast. I’m—”
“Alex?” Recognition slammed into her senses, working on a five-second delay with her mouth. But this had to be a mistake. No way could Alex Donovan, the cockiest and most reckless firefighter in her father’s entire house, be standing here in front of her with shoulders twice as broad as the last time she’d seen him and a smile so sexy, the damn thing should come with a sternly worded warning label.
“I’m sorry,” he said, his Caribbean blue eyes tapering in confusion as they took a slow trip from her face to her feet and then back up again. “Do I know you?”
Zoe’s cheeks went hot, although whether it was from the way Alex was focused on her so intently or the fact that she was forgettable enough to go unrecognized, she couldn’t be sure.
“Zoe.” She paused, waiting out his continued lack of a light bulb moment for another few seconds before adding, “Westin.”
Alex’s eyes went as round and dark as ripe blueberries in August, and ding, ding, ding. They had a winner. “Holy shit. I mean—” He straightened, tugging a hand through his sun-kissed hair as his grin turned decidedly sheepish. “Your father mentioned you’d moved back to town, but I didn’t realize you were . . . jeez, didn’t you just graduate from college?”
Zoe’s defenses prickled to life. “Five years ago.” Two months before the last time she’d seen him, to be exact. Come to think of it, Alex had treated her like a little girl that day, too.
Right. Because just what her blush needed was more fuel.
“Oh. I guess time really flies, huh?” He tried on another smile, this one all sweet talk, and God, some things never changed. “Anyway, you might be able to help me out. I guess I’m looking for your boss.”
Alex pointed toward the painted cinder block wall that the soup kitchen shared with the shelter. “The only door that was open when I got here was the one to the shelter. The lady behind the desk walked me through the security doors and told me to wait here for the director of the soup kitchen. It’s kind of a long story, but I got stuck with this stupid community service assignment because of an even
more stupid work thing, and this was the first available placement. To be honest, I just want to get it over with.” He tipped his head at her, sliding his hands into the pockets of his jeans like no great shakes. “What’d you do to land here, anyway?”
Oh, you’ve got to be kidding me. Of all the possible community service assignments in the galaxy, this one took the freaking crown. She might not have clapped eyes on Alex Donovan since she’d made a colossal idiot out of herself in front of him at the Fairview Fire Department annual barbecue five years ago, but clearly, he hadn’t broken the firefighter mold, and she’d been around Station Eight enough to know his reputation by heart. Alex flew by the seat of his bunker pants twenty-four/seven, taking unnecessary risks the way most people took Motrin.
Not happening in her soup kitchen. She might be understaffed, but she wasn’t overstupid.
“The way I landed here was simple, actually,” Zoe said, knotting her arms over her chest tight enough to test the seams of her T-shirt. “I interviewed for the position as director and I got the job.”
The silence extended between them for a beat, then two, before . . . “Wait. You’re the director of the soup kitchen? As in, you run the whole program? I thought you went to some five-star culinary school.” Alex stared at her over the glass and stainless steel food service counter, and at least she’d found the antidote to his smirk.
“Surprise. But don’t worry. You won’t be stuck with this stupid community service assignment for long.”
Her pulse kicked into motion along with her feet, and she angled herself toward the darkly shadowed hallway leading to the pass-through to the shelter. With any luck, Tina would get to work early and could send his arrogant ass packing before Zoe served her first cup of coffee.
“Zoe, wait.” Alex’s long legs ate up the space between them before she could even make it halfway to the dining room door. “I think we got off on the wrong foot here.”
She gave him a tight smile without breaking stride. “At least being a firefighter has kept your observational skills sharp.”
His shoulders snapped into an unyielding knot, his stare flashing cool blue as he kept up with her, step for step. “You want to know what else I picked up with my keen observational skills? You’re in here by yourself, Gorgeous. And that tells me that like it or not, you need all the help you can get to run this place.”
Zoe’s gut took a downhill slide toward her hips, and she froze mid-pace on the threshold of the shadow-lined hallway. “Help from someone who isn’t serious about being here isn’t going to help at all.”
“Oh, I’m absolutely serious,” Alex said, triggering a borderline unladylike snort from her lips.
“You fell asleep on the job before you even started, then you called your assignment in the program I started from scratch ‘stupid.’ As far as I’m concerned, that makes you about as serious as a tabloid headline, no matter how shortstaffed I happen to be.”
One corner of his mouth lifted upward, disappearing briefly beneath his golden brown stubble before he folded his lips back to neutral-expression territory. “Look, you and I might not see eye to eye on the value of community service, but I can promise you this. I’m as determined to do my job as you are to do yours. The city sent me here for a reason. I can’t go back to Station Eight until I do my time, and you need a volunteer. So are we going to help each other out here, or what?”
Zoe opened her mouth, her own personal version of or what preloaded and ready to launch from her tongue. But if there was one rule she lived by above everything else, it was not putting what mattered most at risk, and what mattered most was feeding the residents at Hope House. As much as she knew firefighters—especially ones like Alex Donovan—were nothing but a great, big recipe for disaster, Zoe needed him.
And that meant she had no choice but to spend the next four weeks with the arrogant, impulsive firefighter in her kitchen and under her skin.
Reckless is a lovers with a past story–kind of–Zoe’s known Alex for ages as a member of her father’s fire station, and she’s had a crush on him almost as long; before going off to college several years ago, she shored up with some liquid courage at a barbecue and tried to convince Alex to kiss her.
He said no–she’s the captain’s daughter–and she’s figured ever since that he wasn’t interested and tried to put him out of her mind. Then he gets assigned to her soup kitchen for his community service…and, well, you see where this is going.
I really liked Alex and Zoe together–they have real chemistry, and Alex did a great job of opening Zoe up to taking risks with her life. What she didn’t realize, however, is that she already was a risk taker–what other kind of person would leave a prestigious position at a fancy restaurant in D.C. to start a soup kitchen in her hometown practically on a shoestring budget? She also equated Alex with reckless risk-taking, when for the most part (initial firefighting scene that got him the community service aside) he took far more precautions than she gave him credit for. Having lost his parents early on, his big focus was living life to the fullest, something he tried to get Zoe to embrace.
Reckless lost at least a part of a star toward the end, when Zoe went a bit off the rails–up until that point, it was going to get at least a four and a half. It also seemed a bit unrealistic that Zoe would have met with her dad weekly for breakfast but never once discussed exactly how he felt about her taking the new job until the end of the book. Fortunately, Zoe finally has the needed conversation with her dad, and he helps her to get her head out of her butt so she can go get her HEA.
Reckless introduces a whole cast of characters at Station Eight; I can’t wait to see them all in future books!
Rating: 4 stars / A-
I received a complimentary copy in exchange for an honest review.
found practicing obscene amounts of yoga, whipping up anything from enchiladas to éclairs in her kitchen, or curled up with her nose in a book. Kimberly is a 2011 RWA Golden Heart® finalist who lives (and writes!) by the mantra that food is love. She resides in northern Virginia with her wildly patient husband and their three daughters.