Home > Muffin Top (The Hartigans #2)

Muffin Top (The Hartigans #2)
Author: Avery Flynn

Chapter One

Nothing good ever happened when the captain asked Frankie Hartigan to come into his cramped office at the back of the firehouse and close the door.

Frankie ran the last few calls through his head. It had to be about the asshole with the Jag. They’d had a warehouse fire down by the docks, and this knucklehead had parked right in front of the hydrant. Really, the guys didn’t have a choice but to bust the car’s windows and run the line to the hydrant through there. The rich dipshit had pitched a royal fit, right up until Frankie had come over, straightened his entire six-foot-six-inch frame, and asked him if there was a problem. There hadn’t been. Shocker.

“Have a seat, Hartigan,” the captain said as he sat down behind a desk overloaded with paperwork and manuals and—rumor had it—a computer untouched by human hands.

Frankie looked around. Captain O’Neil’s office always needed its own Hoarders episode, but today it looked worse than usual. There was shit everywhere. The two chairs in front of the desk were filled with half-empty boxes, old standard operating procedure manuals were stacked four feet high against the wall, and the coveted firefighters-vs-cops rivalry trophy from last year’s charity hockey game had the place of honor on top of the tower. Even if Frankie wanted to sit down, there wasn’t a place to do it. So he did what he always did when he got brought in for a good reaming out: he stayed standing.

“I’m good.”

The older man sat there, staring at Frankie from under two bushy gray eyebrows so fluffy they looked like they were about to take flight. “Is there anything you’d like to tell me before I start, Hartigan?”

Frankie did the walk down memory lane again and came up with only one possibility. He’d been a fucking angel lately. At thirty-three, he really must be mellowing with age. “Is this about the dipshit with the Jag?”

“Oh, you mean the one who plays golf with the mayor? The one who needs two new windows and a fresh detail?” O’Neil gave him a hard, steely glare that lasted for all of thirty seconds. “That little prick got exactly what he deserved, which is what I told the fire commissioner when he called to take a chunk out of my well-endowed ass.”

“Well, that’s the only thing I can think of.” And if it wasn’t that, then why in the hell was he in what amounted to the principal’s office at Waterbury Firehouse No. 6?

“Good,” O’Neil said with an ornery chuckle. “You never know what someone will confess to when you start off that way.”

“You’re a piece of work, Captain.”

“I’m an old relic, but I’m here and I’m not going anywhere, even if they are making me archive or dump most of this stuff.” He waved a huge bear paw of a hand at the mess.

Frankie looked around. “Yeah, I thought it looked like more than normal.”

“Well, you won’t be seeing it after today.”

That yanked his attention back to the man behind the desk. “Are you going somewhere?”

“Nope.” The captain’s face lost all signs of humor. “You are.”

For the briefest of seconds, Frankie wished he had taken the offer of a chair. Then, the familiar sizzle of the Hartigan obstinate Irish temper sparked to life.

He crossed his arms and glared at the captain. “Are you shit-canning me?”

“Nothing of the sort. It has recently come to my attention, thanks to all of my spring-cleaning efforts, that you haven’t taken leave of absence in—I don’t even know how long—which is totally against regulations. I can’t believe human resources and professional standards haven’t ganged up on your oversized Irish ass already about it. The department has gone all-in on the mental wellness aspect of firefighting safety, and that includes taking your required leave to mentally refresh yourself.”

Frankie threw up his arms in frustration, wishing like hell that the captain’s office was big enough to pace in. Just the idea of mentally refreshing himself was like a fart in a flower shop. “That’s a bunch of touchy-feely bullshit.”

“Agreed, but you have three weeks built up, and you’re taking it all as of now.” The captain fished around on his desk for a minute and then pulled out a sheet of paper, handing it over. “And here’s the letter from up the food chain ordering you to take three weeks immediately.”

Frankie looked down at the sheet of paper like it was a warm, flat beer in August. Like it was a death sentence.

“This sucks.” The sheer boredom of sitting on his ass for three weeks was going to kill him. He was already to the point where he took extra shifts just to avoid having too many days off in the month to sit around the house he shared with his twin, Finian, and do the same shit he’d been doing since they got the place a decade ago. It wasn’t that he needed the money—although, come on, everyone had too many bills to pay—but the firehouse was his life. The adrenaline. The camaraderie. The going out and saving shit. It’s what a guy like him was made for. “What in the hell am I supposed to do for three weeks?”

The captain shrugged. “Get drunk. Get laid. Get a hobby. I don’t fucking care. Just get out of my office and don’t let me see that freckled mug of yours again for three weeks, Hartigan.”

For once in his life, Frankie had no words. His eyebrows met his hairline and stayed there as shock washed through his body. All he could picture was the absolute misery of the next three weeks he’d spend learning origami or underwater basket weaving or some other dumb shit just to keep himself from going nuts.

Yeah, that was not gonna happen.

Marino’s wasn’t a nasty dive bar or an outlaw biker bar or the kind of bar where, when Frankie walked in, all the seedy patrons stopped what they were doing and started picturing the best way to dispose of his body. Those places would have been more welcoming. Instead, it was a cop bar.

And why would a self-respecting firefighter go into such a place of ill repute? Because his poor, confused baby brother was one of Waterbury’s finest, complete with detective shield and annoying habit of always following the rules. Ford did, however, have the night off and a willingness to play wingman as Frankie checked through the captain’s proffered to-do list—with “get drunk” being at the top.

“Can you believe this crap?” he asked, taking a drink from his first draft beer. “Three weeks.”

Ford was watching the dartboard in the back, since he was up soon, but he glanced away long enough to roll his eyes at Frankie. “If you’d just taken your leave each year like you’re supposed to, you wouldn’t be in this spot.”

Frankie flipped him the bird. “Wait, not only do I have to drink away my sorrows in this place, but you’re going to tell me I told you so, too?”

“What else are younger brothers for?”

“I should have called Finn.” His fraternal twin, younger by six minutes and forty-two seconds, as their mom reminded them every birthday, would have commiserated properly with Frankie in a real bar.

“Finn is in Vegas because he”—Ford shot him a shit-eating grin that made it look like he was as much of a troublemaker as the rest of the Hartigans—“wait for it.” He paused, held up a finger, and took a drink of his beer, soaking the moment for all it was worth. “Took his leave like he was supposed to.”

“I swear you were switched at birth,” Frankie grumbled. “Somewhere out there is a changeling Hartigan who doesn’t get a hard-on for following procedure.”

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