Fire & Icing

by Quinn D.K.

Summary: Cocky firefighter Logan O'Donoghue is a total hothead. And that's precisely why Aiden Kashima, a young culinary student and aspiring pastry chef, can't stand him. But after a devastating fire destroys his apartment, Aiden is forced to temporarily move into Logan's fire station.

The tension and lust between them quickly blazes into a red-hot romance. Aiden may have a talent for baking sweets, but can he tame the daredevil in Logan? They'll both have to learn that love doesn't come with a recipe...

Chapter 1
: Simmer to a Boil

Tuesday, May 24. 4:30 am

I really hate it when books begin with the main character waking up.

It's like, can't the author think of a less cliche way to introduce their story? Reading about someone's morning routine is as interesting as baking plain shortbread (trust me, I've made enough this semester to feed all of Canada. Two Canadas, actually).  So I'm a little embarrassed that this particular chapter of this particular story in my particular life started with me, well... waking up.

In my defense? I woke up because my apartment was on fire.

Suck on that.

It took a moment after I opened my eyes to realize that I was not actually driving a car made of french buttercream down a chocolate chip cookie road. No, I was curled on my bed under a blanket of recipe study sheets, my face mashed into the open pages of my Pastry and Related Theory textbook, my right hand still clutching my much-abused pen with a rictus grip. The building's fire alarm shrieked repeatedly as my room filled with something that looked and smelled suspiciously like smoke.

No wonder I woke up with a headache.

I dashed from my bed over to my roommate Eddie's bedroom, finding nothing but crumpled sheets on an abandoned mattress.

I know this is bad, but I actually grabbed my backpack before getting the hell out of my apartment. The fire safety instructor who visited my fourth grade class to nag at us about proper evacuation procedures would have been appalled. I know! You're supposed to drop everything and just go. But my backpack already had my laptop, phone charger, and wallet nestled safely inside. Just try telling a panicked millennial to leave an essential kit like that behind. They will fight you. (After downloading an app that'll tell them how, first.)

So picture me half-awake in my high school gym t-shirt and plaid pajama pants - barefoot, naturally - negotiating down the treacherously flimsy fire escape in total darkness. For seven whole flights. Even on my most coordinated days I tend to navigate spaces with the grace of a confused, drunken clown. I bumped into a lot of jagged corners as I stumbled down the steps. Something that sounded like fabric ripping almost made me pause but the thundering wail of an approaching fire engine pushed me to keep going.

It wasn't until I reached the street beside a crowd of my nervous, pajama-clad neighbors that I understood the full extent of what was happening. The faint, wispy smoke I woke up to was now gushing from the building's open windows in thick, black geysers. A frightening orange glow emanated from the floor right below mine. It didn't take long for the blaze to spread, licking up walls and blackening ceilings. Fire consumed my apartment's windows next, as swift as it was unstoppable.

Fuck. I was lucky I got out when I did.

I found Eddie by the curb across the street, staring dumbly at the disaster movie unfolding before him. He had his favorite Portland Knights shirt on. Weird, how popular that hockey team became here in Toronto these past couple of months.

"What the hell, man, you got out before waking me up?" I was cranky. You would have been too.

"I didn't think you were home," Eddie yawned. "Thought you were out studying or whatever."

I checked the time on my phone. "You thought I was out studying meringue whipping techniques at 3 a.m.?"

"Hey, listen bud, we've all been wrong before."

I said silent a thank you at the sky for the blessing in disguise this fire represented. I would never again have to come home to Eddie sitting on the floor in his boxers eating the pear ginger custard tart I made for class with his bare hands, or listen to him fuck his overly-enthusiastic girlfriend, who had the bedroom manner of a pterodactyl. (I showed my female friends a picture of Eddie once. "She's faking it," they said immediately.)

The approaching fire engine parked beside us. By the way, if you've never seen one up close? It's god damn huge. Like a rectangular metal dinosaur painted red.

A handful of men in Toronto's signature firefighter uniforms and helmets spilled out of the vehicle and got to work. I closed my eyes and quietly recited the recipe for Gâteau Basque. If my apartment wasn't capable of being saved, I didn't want to see it put out of its misery.

3 and a quarter cups of all purpose flour. 1 and a half tablespoons of baking powder.

I heard deep, authoritative voices barking orders followed by the metal squeal of a fire hydrant being wrenched open.

2 sticks of room temperature butter. A generous pinch of salt.

Clanking sounds of what I assumed was a hose being fitted over the hydrant's seal.

2 cups of sugar. 3 large egg yolks. Half a teaspoon of pure lemon oil.

I tried to focus on the golden brown top of a finished Gâteau Basque. I remembered the first one I had in class - my lips trembling and eager, my fork tentatively breaking the flaky surface to reveal plump, brandied cherries nestled in a thick pond of velvety pastry cream. Mmm.

1 cup of almond flour. 2 and a quarter cups of milk. 1 vanilla bean, split flat with the seeds scraped.

The hydrant's sudden eruption of water startled me out of my thoughts and forced my eyes open. Two firefighters supported the engine hose as it gushed a massive volley of water at the burning building. My fellow neighbors and I watched with a grim combination of awe and horror.

A small explosion on the fifth floor made someone in the crowd scream. People scattered, and for a moment I couldn't understand why, until I saw a huge chunk of flaming debris dislodge from the building and shoot towards the street like a meteorite.

I faintly heard Eddie's disappearing voice. "DUDE! RuuUUUUUN!"

My feet froze to the ground, my mouth went dry. I couldn't move and no, I couldn't explain it if I tried. My mind was screaming at me to get the hell out of dodge. But my body was throwing some kind of kindergarten tantrum and refused to cooperate. That's when... that's when...



This is what you all came to read, right? You sure as hell aren't poring over these words to find out if I passed my dessert menu management quiz. You want to know how Logan O'Donoghue came into my life.

Or rather, how he tackled his way into my life...

A figure appeared from the fire engine and ran toward me with the ferocity and focus of a quarterback. He was about as big as one, too, with the broadest shoulders and tall, thick legs. His bulky firefighter uniform obscured most of his other features and honestly, it all happened so god damn fast he could have looked like Charlize Theron for all I knew.

"Get DOWN!" the man called with a rough, deep voice. His gloved hands wrapped around my arms and pulled me to the ground as the debris sailed an inch - I swear to god, an inch - over our heads. The broken chunk of fiery bricks and plaster smashed to pieces on the cement road mere feet away.

If you've ever breathed so hard it felt like your heart was going to erupt out of your throat, I empathize. My very first near-death experience wasn't as fun as they made it look in the movies. I was trembling so hard, in fact, I almost didn't realize I was awkwardly pinned to the ground beneath a uniformed man.

He removed his helmet and looked straight down at me. The directness and intensity of his grey eyes stole what little oxygen I had in my lungs. Those eyes were situated on a chiseled face with a solid jaw and a week's worth of dark stubble, which matched the thick head of brown hair matted down from his helmet. A scar creased his left eyebrow and his tanned skin showed signs of sun damage which lent him an odd, roguish quality. This was a guy who wasn't afraid of the outdoors. Handsome, undoubtedly, yet his face had character. Not quite the leading man - more like the leading man's stunt double.

And then he had to go and ruin everything by speaking.

"Gotta say, my boy, you'd be wreckage if I hadn't forced your ass to move."

My eyebrows pinched together. "Excuse me?" Did he just call me boy?

The man pushed off me and got to his feet. He offered me a hand but I rose to stand without it, frowning at my soiled sleeping clothes.

"Thanks," I said, ignoring his earlier words. "You saved my life."

"Don't mention it." His voice matched his appearance, all macho and red-blooded. But beneath it, a sort of... playfulness. It was hard to describe. He had a slight Irish accent that was present but not strong.

"Really. I would've been a smear on the sidewalk."

A new expression shifted his rugged features - a wicked smile. "Well if you're that grateful, why don't I get a hug and a kiss, too?"

Heat ping-ponged through my body. I didn't know whether to be amused or offended. Weren't firefighters supposed to be professional?

"Leave him alone, Logan." Another firefighter with an EMT badge and a medical kit jogged up to us. He pushed that man - that Logan - aside and spoke directly to me, making sure I was okay and uninjured. He invited me to the fire engine to check my vitals and I agreed, grateful for the distraction.

"No one checks vitals better than I do," Logan offered, his voice a low simmer.

"O'Donoghue," the EMT warned. Hmm. Last name? The Irish accent suddenly made sense.

Hearing the seriousness in his voice, Logan nodded and his smile vanished. He doubled back to his fellow fighters to help with crowd control.

"What's his deal?" I muttered to the EMT as we settled onto the back bumper of the engine.

"Don't mind O'Donoghue. Hits on everyone with a hearbeat. He should really be watching himself, chief says he'll get a suspension if he's caught doing it out on a call."

Hits on everyone with a heartbeat? I was being hit on? The heat that had taken over my body simmered into anger.

Unbelievable. I've just lost my apartment and possibly all of my belongings, but thanks bud! It's nice to know you wouldn't kick me out of bed! Urgh. Maybe firefighter training should include drills on how to make a good first impression.

As the EMT took my pulse rate, I watched Logan out of the corner of my eye. He moved with the uncomplicated confidence of a star athlete and had the machismo of one, too. I briefly wondered what it felt like to have that ease of being. While I wouldn't consider myself short at 5-foot-10, I am on the scrawny side, and rather young looking for my wise old age of 26 ("You're half-Asian. You're gonna look like a teenager until you hit 50," I'm told. Often). With my boyish appearance and total lack of coordination even when sober, I've often struggled to be taken seriously. Whoever this Logan was, he didn't seem like the type who ever had to struggle or prove anything.

After confirming that my respiration rate and everything else was normal, the EMT dismissed me. I walked back into the crowd and followed their glances up to the blackened brick exterior of what I used to call home. The fire had been tamed but it was a scorched husk of a building now. Nothing I'd call liveable.

My heavy shoulders fell as I went down a mental list of everyone I knew who wouldn't kill me for waking them up at 3 a.m. to let me crash at their place. My parents were a no go as they live in Vancouver. It was hard enough for them to let their only son travel all the way to Toronto to follow his dreams of graduating culinary school and maybe - hopefully - one day owning a cupcake bakery. They're inclined to worry, so I didn't think telling them I was now technically homeless would have been very productive. What could they even do about it?

I scrolled down the list of contacts in my phone and when I looked up again, Logan was standing in front of me. I think I actually managed to yelp, which is not a pleasant thing to hear come out of your own mouth.

"Hey. Wanted to apologize," Logan said. The soot smearing his face only highlighted the silver of his fierce eyes. "You were in a state of shock and I was being, you know. Inappropriate."

Vindication made me stand a little taller. "I appreciate you saying that."

Logan leaned in closer, halving the distance between us. His rugged scent made the thin hairs on the nape of my neck stand at attention. The only time men ever stood this close was to kiss me goodnight.

"And I just wanted to tell you," he whispered, his breath hot on my ear. I swear if his lips were any nearer I'd have been able to feel his stubble against my neck. "I think you've lost the back of your PJs."

"What are you talking about?" I frowned and reached over to the seat of my pajama pants, feeling only the thin cotton of my underwear. Exposed for the whole world to see.

Shit! That sound of ripping fabric on the fire escape. That was me.

My face went as red as the fire engine.

That grin returned to Logan's face. "Don't move, my boy. I got you." He quickly shucked off his blocky uniform jacket. Beneath, he wore a thinner one - a rain jacket with reflector stripes and the Toronto Fire Department logo on it. Logan removed it and, uh...

Sigh. Again.

Although I could tell that Logan had a pretty good physique even with all that unwieldy protection on him, I still wasn't prepared for how he looked in a simple navy blue t-shirt. His broad shoulders matched his broader chest and the shirt's material strained pleasantly over the twin curves of his pecs. His Captain America arms were strong, solid, and furry with dark hair. As Logan handed me the rain jacket, his t-shirt rode up on his stomach ever so slightly, teasing a glimpse of his flat, rippled stomach and the treasure trail that led below his belt.

Now, let me get this out of the way. I'm not the type of gay dude who turns into butter the moment he's confronted with a man in uniform. My dating habits skew towards more artistic, sensitive men. Writers, singers, musicians - guys who really couldn't be bothered with the gym. The man standing before me was... an exception. Not the rule. Okay?

I swallowed hard and accepted the jacket. I wrapped it around me and tried very hard to ignore that it was still warm with Logan's body heat. He watched me very carefully as he zipped himself back into his protective coat. I knew he could sense my awkwardness.

"Thanks," I said for the second time that night.

"Don't mention it." He was also a repeat offender.

Brilliant conversationalists we weren't.

A convoy of police and ambulance vehicles arrived some time later. The fire crew and my bleary-eyed neighbors gave statements. Eddie mumbled something about heading to his girlfriend's and disappeared shortly after.

I caught Logan's eye as he and the rest of the fire crew started packing their gear back onto the engine.

"You got somewhere to be, right?" He worked a stick of gum into the corner of his mouth. "Doesn't look like you're getting your bed back tonight."

I wanted to thank him for the intelligent observation but held my tongue in place. "I'm crashing with a friend," I said. It was a half lie, I didn't know which friend yet.

"Good," Logan nodded. That was all he said before he hopped back onto the truck. We held each other's gazes and for just a tiny fraction of a microsecond, I felt how loaded the moment was, felt a measure of comfort from the way that man looked at me, this... solid, attractive, rugged-

Then he grinned and winked.

It was the cheesiest, smarmiest thing and it drove me nuts. I watched him go until the truck disappeared around a corner, unable to decide if I had just encountered a decent, good ol' Irish boy (he did save my life and give me his jacket), or a transparently cocky son of a bitch. Perhaps, more realistically, Logan was both.

Pfft. Men.

I stared up at the fire-ruined husk of my former apartment building and tightened the rain jacket around my exposed, underwear-clad butt.

My name is Aiden Kashima. As you can see, my life is going just fine.

End of Chapter 1
To Be Continued

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