Secrets We Keep

By: Barbara Freethy

The Callaway Cousins #6




One


Being back in the firehouse after eight months of travel should have made Hunter Callaway feel good—normal. This was his life, the life he'd led since he'd entered the family firefighting business when he was twenty-three years old. That had been seven years ago. Sometimes, it felt like yesterday. Sometimes, it felt like a lifetime.

But he didn't feel content, not quite sure he was happy to be back, or that he was making the right choice in returning. He still felt restless, a feeling he hadn't been able to shake no matter how many miles he'd put on his motorcycle, no matter how many cities or countries he'd driven through.

Maybe he just didn't want to be a firefighter anymore.

It was a thought that had gone around in his head for months, but he didn't know if it was just the job or if it was more than that. There was something missing inside of himself—a big hole he didn't know how to fill, and it had been there before he'd almost lost his life.

"Well, look who's here—as if we didn't have enough Callaways already," Gary Parker said, slapping him on the back as he gave him a teasing smile. A stocky man with graying black hair and friendly eyes, Gary was a forty-year-old firefighter, who'd mentored more than a few Callaways over the years. "You filling in for MacKinney?"

"Yes, and it's nice to see you, too, Gary," he drawled.

"So, where have you been, Hunter? You come back with a bride, a treasure, a new tattoo?"

"None of the above."

"Well, that's disappointing. Surely, you've got a story or two?"

"A few."

Gary gave him a speculative look. "Dylan said you were looking for something. Did you find it?"

He shrugged. "I had a good time. I needed a break."

"That high-rise fire last year took it out of you, didn't it?"

"It wasn't just that." He knew that most of his fellow firefighters thought that falling three stories down an elevator shaft, breaking his foot, and cracking a few ribs had been the trigger for his sudden hiatus, that he hadn't just needed to heal his wounds but also to get his nerve back.

He didn't think it was about nerve. He wasn't afraid to fight fire; he just wasn't sure he wanted to.

Luckily, he didn't have to comment further as his brother, Dylan, entered the breakroom. Four years older than him, Dylan had dark-brown hair and blue eyes, very much like his own, and most of the Callaway clan, for that matter. As the oldest in the family, Dylan could be a know-it-all but also a protector. Right now, he was in watchful big brother mode.

Out of his five siblings, he and Dylan had always had the most in common, probably because they'd both chosen to become firefighters, following in his father's footsteps as well as his uncle and grandfather and a few cousins.

"How are you doing?" Dylan asked as Gary left them alone to grab breakfast.

"Fine," he said, sensing another interrogation coming his way.

"No first day jitters?"

"I've done this job for seven years. I can barely remember my first day."

"But this is your first day back in eight months. And you've never worked out of this firehouse."

"And yet it feels like every other shift to me," he retorted, although, that wasn't quite true. He was actually happy to be assigned temporary duty in a new firehouse. He would miss his old crew, but he had his older brother here, and his cousin, Burke, who was the battalion chief at the station. Plus, the temporary gig made him feel like he still had a choice as to whether or not he wanted to go for a more permanent position.

"You talk to Burke yet?" Dylan asked.

"He's tied up in his office. He gave me a wave. I'm sure we'll catch up at some point. How are you doing? How's Tori? The two of you still honeymooning?"

"You know it," Dylan said with a smug smile.

As he could have predicted, his brother was instantly distracted by the thought of his beautiful wife of four months.

"I never really thought I was cut out for marriage," Dylan continued. "But I was wrong. I can't imagine a life that would be better than the one I'm living with Tori."

He saw genuine happiness in his brother's eyes. "I'm glad. Is she still wielding her pen like a sword?" His sister-in-law was a reporter for the Bay Area Examiner, determined to do her best to put light into every dark corner.

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