Overview: Xan Ryker lit my heart on fire and then walked away as my entire world was engulfed in flame. I rose from those ashes into a woman who will protect what's hers at any cost.

He was hot, troubled, and forbidden—the trifecta of poor teenage decisions that left me standing at the edge of a river about to lose everything at sixteen.

Ten years later I'm back in Raston, British Columbia with my daughter and find myself face to face with everything I've worked so hard to put behind me.

I thought I'd be ready to face Xan with my chin high and shoulders back, but the second I see him all of the feelings I ran from come rushing back in.

But something else has followed us to Raston, and it might be a fight I can't win on my own.

Briggs Marchand has always been my weakness, my punishment. The one who is forever etched in my past, my present, and now my future.

All I want is to pass my psych eval and get back on my crew. Fighting wildfires is my life, not working construction, and babysitting my five siblings.

But since the Creston Ridge Fire what used to light me up now fills my days with darkness and my nights with memories.

That is until Briggs shows up in town with a nine-year-old daughter and uproots everything I've fought so hard to bury.

But Millie isn't the only thing Briggs brought home with her, and not much time passes between me finding out I have a family and having to fight to protect them.

 

Wildfire Running Wild Book 1 by Allison Martin Book Chapter One

 

Ten years later...
The last time my body ached like this, I was summiting the rocky peak of Copper Mountain with my daughter—not on all fours digging rotted hydrangeas out of a thirty-foot long flower bed.
I stab the trowel into the earth with an exhausted huff and wipe the sweat from my sticky brow, leaving a trail of dirt to flutter down into my eyelashes. This is precisely why I prefer Old Bess—the motorhome I bought when I was twenty. Old Bess is, I’m sure, smaller than the garden that stretches out along the back yard of my childhood home. Sitting back on my heels, I examine my handy work. It appears like I’m in the business of murdering any flower I come in contact with, but in my defense, they were dead to begin with, thanks to my father.
This flower bed, along with the six other gardens and massive greenhouse, belonged to my mother. My father hasn’t watered a single plant in his life, but he’s almost religious about not giving them a single drop since Mom’s death. The ladies from church, those nosy gossips, came to plant the flower gardens for Dad this year to brighten up the place. I’m sure it didn’t take long for them to get tired of Dad’s crusade to destroy all things flora and fauna.
“Je veux qu’ils partent, Brigitte,” he had said, stamping his crutches on the porch steps when I arrived back home a couple days ago. “All of them gone. You can help me, or I will do it myself.”
Coming home to Raston, British Columbia was a predestined event even before my dad was hit by a car during a routine traffic stop outside of town, but that does not mean I'm happy to be back here. Small towns like this are a tiny dot on a map but a big looming black hole on your soul ready to suck you back in at a moment’s notice.
My notice came two weeks ago as I sat on a sunny beach in Manitoba, trying to figure out how my life got so messed up, so quickly.
After the doctor called about Dad's accident, I convinced myself I need this small and hidden existence right now anyway.
I’m getting tired of looking over my shoulder, continually waiting for the moment all my choices catch up with me. What better place to hide than the place you swore never to return to?
My father and I hadn’t spoken in six years, and suddenly he needed me as if fate allowed me this grace. Now I'm back in town not to hide with my tail between my legs but to help my father as a good diligent daughter. No one needs to know the real reason I’m back or the trouble that follows me around like a shadow.
“Are you sure you don’t need anything?” Dad calls from the shaded porch of our three-story farmhouse. An expansive house that’s useless to him now. Not only because Mom died ten years ago and he let the whole place fall to shit but because of the cast that covered his right leg from the tip of his toes to above his knee.
“I’m fine, thanks.”
Tense and awkward are probably great ways to describe my life, but I force a smile across my lips. I will play nice and pretend to care. I’ll behave myself. That’s the mantra I chant as I glance over to my old treehouse at the far end of the expansive yard. In that treehouse is my compass and guiding force.
Small feet dangle from the edge of the tattered treehouse as my daughter lays on her back and watches the wind chimes sing and dance in the breeze that always funnels in from the West Valley. I set up those chimes as a kid, always fascinated by the wind and how it was in constant motion. I went from envying the wind to living like it.
I scoop up a handful of decaying petals and wonder if I could create a line of pendants out of this? Some sort of morbid gothic-inspired limited-edition necklaces or charms?
A small chuckle ripples up my throat at the absurdity. Morbid Goth isn’t exactly the target audience for my jewelry company, Wild & Free Designs...try overworked housewife who is so busy driving her kids to practice she’s forgotten that nature is always the best remedy.
These women don't want my dead mother’s decaying flowers. They want dew drops from Niagara Falls, river stones from Yukon, and wild crocus petals from Saskatchewan. They want to wear a beautiful slice of North America on their body to remind them that they don’t get outside enough.
These sweet women don’t like change, and they aren’t afraid to let me know when they’re unhappy. At slightly under one million followers, the hate mail is frequent enough now that I hired a Virtual Assistant from one of my fan groups to filter my email and moderate my comments. Sometimes these cruel things get through, and I see them because Leslie is only human and can’t be everywhere at once.
It doesn’t feel great to hear you’re a talentless bitch that must be too ugly to show her face online as if my physical appearance should somehow dictate my skill as a jewelry designer. Luckily, I have a whole crew of dedicated crusaders that defend my honour online. Or maybe not. The joy of it all fizzled out a long time ago. I used to spend my nights scrolling Instagram being inspired by my small but loyal following. Then a celebrity decided they liked my work, and everything exploded. I’m still overwhelmed by the demand for my limited-edition pieces.
“Brigitte,” Dad calls from the porch, and I realize that my fist is clenched tight around the dead petals. I loosen my fingers and let the bits fall back to the earth.
“What’s up?” I stand and dust my loose quick-dry pants, the color of a windstorm, and cut like khakis. The sun peeks out over the jagged snow-capped mountains behind the sprawling acreage, and rays of golden warmth hit my skin. For a flash of a second, I feel the peace that used to occupy this space when Dad would read on the porch while Mom tended to her tree nursery, and I climbed the thick branches at the edge of the property. When life was easy, I thought I understood what it meant to be happy. I thought love was simple and kind before I fell for a boy I had no business loving.
Dad speaks a few words into his phone and then hangs up, focusing his attention back on me. “That was Jethro. He’s coming out this afternoon to give me an estimate.”
My thoughts flutter to my feet like the bits of dried flowers that fell from my fingers. “Jethro Ryker?” I ask, taking long strides with my short legs to the steps.
“That’d be the one,” Dad answers going back to reading the news on his tablet.
“Why is he giving you a quote? I thought I was helping you?” My voice raises a few octaves higher, and Dad doesn’t miss it. He pinches his light brows and sets his mouth in a hard line while he studies my growing anxiety.
“How on earth are you going to do all the repairs around here on your own?” Dad gestures to the many things that require a two-person fix right here on the porch. A collapsing eaves trough, a missing step, a paint job that will take me two years to do with a hand roller.
“Isn’t there anyone else in town?” I can’t hide my desperation. I don’t even try. Anyone but a Ryker.
“I’m not happy about it either. I swore to never let a Ryker boy set foot in my driveway after that mess you got yourself into with Alexander.”
Fury replaces my anxiety in a flash, and I point to the treehouse across the windswept grass. “Do you mean that mess? That living, breathing, beautiful mess I call my daughter?”
Dad pauses for a moment, I’m assuming he realizes his colossal fuck up, but his cop face is hard to read.
“I mean, how you trusted a Ryker to do right by you.” His stern words steal my breath and replaces it with fitful memories of the night I was abandoned by the creek in a rainstorm by the boy I loved. The same night my mother hit a moose on the slick winding road between Raston and home.  
“Can’t we get someone else? Someone from Morleau?” I ask.
“You knew this was coming.” My father’s lack of vocabulary infuriates me, but I learned to interpret what he meant in the spaces around his limited words over the years. Of course, I couldn’t come back here and expect not to see Xan.
“I’m not ready.” My voice wobbles. It’s only been two days. I need more days.
“What would make you ready? You needa wear a certain blouse or something?”
Dad’s mocking me, but it’s laced with the harsh truth. I’ll never be ready to face the father of my daughter. Because it’s one thing that he rejected me...that I can live with. What I’ll never forgive is how he rejected her.