For fans of Katherine Center’s THINGS YOU SAVE IN A FIRE and Jill Santopolo’s THE LIGHT WE LOST, THE SECOND FIRST CHANCE is a deeply emotional romance about two neighboring families, the Voras and the Desais, who experience a devastating fire and the fallout it creates in their lives–particularly for Dhillon Vora and Riya Desai, who struggle to admit their feelings for one another.
On one terrible night, everything changed.
Riya Desai has struggled to move beyond the devastating fire that claimed the life of her brother, Samir, and set her on a path she never anticipated. Determined to keep other families from experiencing the loss that hers did, she’s become a firefighter herself, but it hasn’t been an easy road. The other firefighters are her fire hall are overwhelmingly white–and entirely male. As a rookie and as the only woman at the station, she has to keep proving herself, over and over, in a way her male colleagues never have to. Oh, and her other problem? Her family thinks she’s a paramedic–they have no idea she’s a firefighter, and she knows they won’t be happy about her running into fires instead of away from them.
Dhillon Vora is a healer. After the fire that killed his father, he becomes a vet, his faithful dog Lucky–who survived the fire at the Voras’ and Desais’ townhouses–behind his side. On a visit to the fire hall across from his clinic, he is dumbfounded to find the girl next door, Riya Desai. Riya has become a firefighter? Dhillon is livid. And–though he can’t really admit it–kind of impressed. Even though he knows, deep down, that he’s never stopped loving Riya, he isn’t sure he’s ready to have her in his life again. Especially if he has to worry constantly about her safety.
THE SECOND FIRST CHANCE is not only a deeply moving tale of two people learning to love each other again, but an uplifting story of two families overcoming tragedy with hope, love, and the unbreakable bonds that keep us shining together even through our darkest hours.
A dark brown Lab-pit mix puppy raised its head to look at Dhillon as he entered the exam room. Dhillon’s joy was instant, which was why he loved his job. His nurse, Shelly, was right behind him with the brief introduction.
“Dr. Vora, this is Scout. She is being brought in by today Firefighter Ian Walsh. Scout was found abandoned at one of their scenes and is currently under the care of the Howard County Fire Department.”
It was at the word firefighter that Dhillon tensed. He made eye contact with the man and extended his hand, anxiety flooding through his system, increasing his heart rate and beading sweat on his upper lip.
Shelly threw him a worried look. He ignored her.
“Good morning. I’m Dr. Vora.” Dhillon found his voice but focused on the leashed puppy as the man’s walkie-talkie emitted an irritating squeal. “Everything okay?” Dhillon nodded at the walkie-talkie. “We can reschedule if you have to go.”
The Lab-pit puppy twitched her ears and raised her head at the squawk. Shelly made a cooing sound and went over to pet their patient. Any remaining anxiety Dhillon might have had melted away as he took in the befuddled pup. The firefighter didn’t even look at the puppy.
“Nah. It’s all good. I’m supposed to get the pup tended to, so let’s just do it.” The firefighter shook his hand.
Dhillon nodded to Shelly as she moved from the dog’s side to the computer so she could enter the information they had so far. He got down on the ground where the puppy had lain down. fallen asleep. “She looks like my Lucky.”
“You mean that older dog out front? With the scarring?”
“Mmm-hmm.” Dhillon picked up Scout and let her climb into his lap. He played with her a moment. He held a small treat out and watched her track it as he moved it from side to side. She lifted her mouth to grab it, but Dhillon made her wait another second before letting her have the treat and a scratch cuddle under her chin. Best part of being a veterinarian. He glanced at Walsh, who watched him with a scowl. “Lucky was caught in a house fire.” Dhillon tried to keep his voice neutral. It wasn’t this man’s fault that Lucky was burned. He stood, bringing Scout with him.
Her coat looked almost pure black, and her big brown eyes reminded Dhillon of Lucky’s when he’d been a puppy. For a moment, Dhillon was dragged back to the day he brought Lucky home from the SPCA. Best day of his life. Well, maybe second best.
“The vet at the time was the previous owner of this practice. He did excellent work. Shelly here used to work with him. That scarring barely reflects how bad his injuries were.”
Dhillon laid Scout on the rickety old exam table which stood in the middle of the room. Nice shiny coat, alert and playful. “How old is she?”
“Uh…maybe ten weeks. I’m not entirely sure. We just got her. Our station’s new recruit found her on scene, no collar, nothing. She hasn’t even been chipped yet, as far as we know. We’re keeping her at the firehouse for now until we find her a home.” Ian shook his head and pursed his lips.
“Why not take her to the SPCA? They can help find her a home.”
Ian shook his head. “Our new recruit insists that’s not necessary. She thinks someone’s going to claim the little thing.” He shrugged. “My experience says not likely.”
Dhillon turned to Scout, the sight of the puppy putting a grin on his face again. “I know someone who’d say the same thing.” Or used to know, anyway. Sadness flitted through him for an instant before it was replaced with resignation. He’d given up his chance to keep knowing her long ago.
Dhillon scratched the puppy’s belly. “I can chip her today.” He held out a small treat and softly said, “Sit.” Scout flipped over and sat on the table. He rewarded her with the treat.
He looked in Scout’s ears and checked her teeth and paws, dictating his assessment to Shelly as he went along. The puppy looked cared for, healthy. Maybe three months old. Obviously, the guys at the firehouse had cared for her. “Does she eat well?”
Ian shrugged. “We have her dog food, but a lot of the guys spoil her, slipping her a bit of meatball, steak, hot dog. Not me, though. You can believe that.”
“Can any of you take her home?”
Ian shook his head. “But there’s always someone at the station because we do twenty-four- and forty-eight-hour shifts. She works out with us. The new recruit is teaching her to sit, stay, come. Even to go fetch gear. Like that’s practical.” Ian shrugged, as if taking care of a dog was really not his idea of firefighter work. “You know anyone who would want her?”
Dhillon had a thought flash through his mind. Nah. She was likely too busy, and honestly, she might even have a dog already for all he knew. Running into her occasionally outside the house didn’t really give him much information about her life. “No. But I can keep an eye out.” He continued with his examination, prepping Scout’s shots as Shelly held her.
“Are you Indian?” Ian asked.
Dhillon sighed, knowing the reason for this question. Ian knew someone who was Indian. “Yes. Well, my parents are from India, but I was born here.” Dhillon barely afforded Ian a glance. He approached Scout and administered the shot. Scout gave a small yelp.
“It’s okay, sweetie,” Dhillon cooed softly. “Just one more.”
“Just asking because the new recruit—who’s all about this dog—she’s Indian.”
She? Dhillon snapped his attention back to Ian and could not refrain from raising an eyebrow. Interesting. An Indian woman firefighter? Didn’t see that every day.
“Maybe you know her?”
Dhillon did his best to not roll his eyes as he focused on administering the second shot, but a sigh escaped all the same, as did a small hmph from Shelly. Just because he and this firefighter were both Indian didn’t mean they knew each other. “I doubt it.” He ran a gentle hand over Scout’s head and body as if to soothe away her discomfort.
If someone he knew was a firefighter—male or female—he’d already know.
Scout turned a full circle, sniffing, then promptly peed on the table.
Ian scowled at the puppy and stepped back. Shelly made a move to grab the paper towels, but Dhillon was closer. He shared a look with Shelly as he cleaned up the mess. “Potty training can take some time. Helps if she has a crate, where she feels safe.”
Ian shook his head and put out his hands. “I saw a crate in the bunk area. Desai would know.”
Dhillon’s heart skipped a beat. “Desai?” It couldn’t be. Desai was a common-enough Indian last name. Could be anybody.
He stared at Ian, who continued, completely unaware of Dhillon’s rising panic, as blood pounded through his body, his heart rate increased. “The new recruit. Who wanted this dog. The Indian girl. Riya Desai.”
Of all the names Ian could have said, that was the absolute last one he wanted to hear.
It couldn’t be her. The Riya he knew would never run into a fire. As far as he knew, she had the same reaction to anything fire-related that he did: panic and anxiety.
But then again, he didn’t really know anything about her, did he? They never really talked anymore, outside of uncomfortable pleasantries when they were forced together. Riya avoided him, and he avoided Riya.
Dhillon’s heart hammered in his chest, and the blood drained from his head. He fought to maintain professional composure as he continued his examination of Scout. “It’s a common name.” Dhillon tried to sound casual, as if he really believed his own words. He needed to believe them.
“Brown skin, dark brown eyes.”
Really? That was his description? Dhillon took a breath so he wouldn’t lay into this guy. He fought fires, after all. Saved people.
“She’s a paramedic, too. Which helps because we have to do EMT training.”
Dhillon’s stomach plummeted, and his head spun. It was his Riya. Dhillon clenched his jaw. Well, it was the Riya Desai that he knew.
She’d never been his.
He should have picked up on it when Ian said she was teaching Scout to get gear. It was exactly what she had taught Lucky to do when they were young teenagers. Go get their backpacks or books or whatever they had forgotten. Lucky would do it, too. For her. Even though Lucky was really his dog.
What the fuck was she doing going into fires? She’d never bring back what they’d lost.
Ian was still talking. “Between you and me? She’s hot. She has the sexiest mole just below her ear, and she is stacked.” Ian put his hands in front of his chest to indicate large breasts, and Dhillon saw red.
“You know, I actually do know her.” He stared Ian down. “She grew up next door to me. So you’ll want to shut up now.” He didn’t usually talk to patients this way, but this guy was asking for it, and technically Scout was his patient. And she seemed fine with it.
“Oh, dude, sorry. I didn’t know she’d be like a sister to you.”
“She’s not a sister to me. Just a neighbor.” Dhillon had spent too much time imagining kissing that mole to look at Riya like a sister. “Either way, isn’t she your colleague? Maybe show a little respect?”
Ian waved him off. “Whatever, she won’t last long. Doubt if she can do the job.”
Oh, she could do the job. Riya and Dhillon may not be best friends anymore, but one thing he did know was that Riya Desai was fantastic at whatever she put her mind to. If she was the rookie in the department, that meant she’d made it through the academy. Since she made it through the academy, Dhillon knew she had put her mind to becoming a firefighter a long time ago.
Dhillon finished up with little Scout and—reluctantly—handed her back to Ian. “Scout will need another set of shots in one month.” His mouth moved as if by rote as he doled out instructions, but his mind was spinning.
What the fuck had Riya gotten herself into now?
Mona is obsessed with everything romantic, so she writes romantic stories by night, even though she’s an optometrist by day. If she’s not writing, she’s making chocolate truffles, riding her bike, or reading, and is just as likely to be drinking wine or gin & tonic with friends and family. She’s blessed with an amazing daughter and loving son who have both gone to college. Mona lives in Maryland with her romance-loving husband.