The Fire Within
Anyone who read Shay’s original America’s Bravest trilogy remembers being left hanging by the final scene in Code of Honor, when the heroine’s sister ran off after New Year’s Eve kiss with the man she’s been butting heads the entire book. For all of you who’ve been waiting for Delaney Shaw and Reed Macauley’s story, here it is.
Reed goes after Delaney and they spend a glorious night together. Unfortunately, the morning after is spoiled when Reed hurts Delaney while in the throes of a nightmare. He pushes her away and tries to push her out of his life. A practicing psychologist, and not one to give up easily, Delaney quickly figures he is suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) as a result of something that happened when he was a firefighter.
Reed doesn’t want to let Delaney get too close, but soon circumstances intervene. As department psychologist for the Rockford Fire Department, Reed puts together a program to help firefighters and their families deal with the stress of their jobs, and he has to help with the repercussions for one family of a firefighter who died on the job. Delaney is called on to consult; she is one of the best child psychologists in town and has prior experience with firefighter’s kids. Despite Reed’s best intentions, he soon realizes he’s fighting a losing battle to keep away from the woman he loves.
There is a lot going on in The Fire Within, and sometimes the romance suffers for it. While we are given an interesting and enlightening education on the affect job stress has on firefighters and their families, a run down of PTSD symptoms, a view of the effects of loss and grief on one family and on the entire fire department, and of course cameos by all the leads in previous books, we watch the actual romance shuffled to the back burner. At the same time, it’s a credit to Shay’s strength as a writer that despite an overload of topics in a short space we are still able to feel for each and every character and root for Reed and Delaney to find happily ever after.
Reed Macauley is a classic tortured hero. A kind, decent and gentle man, Reed has cut himself off from the rest of the world and any form of emotional involvement because it causes flashbacks in which he often lashes out or hurts people physically. His worries are based in fact and not hypothetical. He hurt his ex-wife and there are times he hurts Delaney. Therefore the reader is lenient when he goes through his “I’m not good enough for you” stage and pushes Delaney into another man’s arms. This does go a little too far, though, and towards the end I wanted him to get over it. But Reed’s concerns are just and his hurt so real that only someone cold-hearted couldn’t empathize with him.
Throughout the story, it’s Delaney who shines though. She doesn’t back down when the going gets rough, but at the same she refuses to beat her head against a brick wall. She lets Reed know she’s there for him and willing to help, but when he doesn’t accept her help she won’t pine away for him. She’s a strong and caring woman who balances career and social life successfully. Delaney knows right away that Reed is the only man she’ll ever love. Because of her childhood isn’t willing to give up all she is for any man, and it scares her how much she feels for Reed; but unlike him she has faith in love, and isn’t willing to let a little worry get in her way.
We are graced with some great cameos by the characters from the earlier books, and it’s nice to see they’re still working on issues from their stories. Alex still has problems with Francey being a firefighter; Beth keeps getting on Dylan for his hero tendencies; Jake is still the only person that can quiet Beth and Dylan’s son; and Chelsea still has issues with domestic violence. The cameos were occasionally a little convenient, but it was like a visit with old friends, where any excuse to see them will do.
Overall, I really enjoyed The Fire Within, despite the fact it occasionally borders on a lecture or a having “very special episode” feel to it. Fortunately, all quibbles are overcome by a moving tale of love and healing and friendship, which is the heart of this story.