Up in Flames
Up in Flames uses the classic trope of a hunky fireman falling for his sister’s best friend, with a charity auction and a puppy thrown into the mix to keep things interesting. It’s the second in the Flirting with Fire series and is easy to jump into, though unfortunately I didn’t fall for the characters quite as much as they fall for each other.
Reece Jenkins is a firefighter in Portland, Oregon, and enjoys his life exactly the way it is. He loves his job, loves his family, loves his friends… and doesn’t want anything to upset this careful balance. He’s not looking for a girlfriend after his last major relationship ended badly (his fiancée left him while he was training on a hotshot fire crew), and he’s particularly disinclined to start anything with Sloane Garcia, his sister’s best friend. About a year ago Sloane made a drunken pass at Reece, and he turned her down, bluntly, not wanting to ruin the dynamic of their shared friendship group. He’s known Sloane for so long that she’s as much his friend as his sister’s, and Reece wasn’t ready to change that, despite having carried a torch for her for some time. Even though it’s been frosty between them since, Reece still has no regrets over his decision.
Sloane, understandably, does not feel so satisfied with the outcome of that conversation. Reece’s reaction to her invitation left her feeling ugly and undesirable, and she’s struggled with how to handle that hurt ever since. When the town’s annual charity fireman auction comes around, she thinks it might be a bit of sweet revenge to bid on Reece. Anyone who ‘buys’ a fireman at the auction has one month to give the fireman four tasks to complete, which generally end up being household chores or other small favors. Sloane bids on Reece without a clue as to what jobs she’ll give him, just knowing it will be satisfying to have Reece at her mercy.
Because Reece is on thin ice with his boss and doesn’t want to make the situation any worse, he only quietly protests when Sloane wins him and uses her favors to make him do things like foster a dog or fix her shower. And even though he claims not to like it, it’s easy to see Reece falling in love – with Sloane and the dog.
While both Sloane and Reece are nice characters, neither one of them inspired a deep love in me. Reece in particular seems thoughtless at times – the book begins with him running into a dangerous situation on a work call in a risky act that breaks protocol. His approach to his relationship with Sloane feels a bit illogical, too. He turned her down before the book began because he didn’t want to make things awkward or complicated, but the way their whole friendship group tiptoes around them belies his success in that endeavor. Then, even as they resume their friendship and seem to be inching toward something more, he resists sleeping with her. Reece claims this is because he’s gun-shy about relationships and isn’t ready to take that step with Sloane. I accepted that reasoning until they finally did jump into bed with no hesitation or doubts on Reece’s part, while the only impetus was a buildup of sexual tension. This tendency for Reece’s actions to be at odds with his professed intentions left me feeling that he was a bit thoughtless and inconsistent as a character.
The other thing that bothered me about this story was the plotline featuring Reece’s boss. Chief Richards is on the cusp of retirement, but still has the energy to needlessly make trouble. While I certainly understood his upset with the bad call Reece makes at the beginning of the book, I couldn’t see any other reason for him to have such a problem with Reece. He goes out of his way to make sure Reece is following through on the tasks he owes Sloane (something he doesn’t do for any other firefighter at the auction), harasses Reece about minor paperwork issues, and in general seems to have a dislike of Reece that is very disproportionate to any mistakes he makes. Yet after all this hatred, Chief Richards is easily cowed by a lecture from Sloane and a show of solidarity by Reece’s teammates when, at the end of the book, he tries to have Reece transferred to a different fire station. Pages of malice have worked him up enough to make this drastic move, and then he backs down almost immediately to allow Reece and Sloane their happily-ever-after. (Talk about a dissatisfying villain.)
Taking these problems as a whole, I would say that characters’ professed motivations did not always line up with their actions in Up in Flames. While it had some good moments, this flaw, in Reece and Chief Richards in particular, stopped me from really loving the book.