Pure Heat by ML Buchman
These daredevil smokejumpers fight more than fires
The elite experts of Mount Hood Aviation fly into places even the CIA can't penetrate.
She lives to fight fires
Carly Thomas could read burn patterns before she knew the alphabet. A third-generation forest fire specialist who lost both her father and her fiance to the flames, she's learned to live life like she fights fires: with emotions shut down.
But he's lit an inferno she can't quench
Former smokejumper Steve "Merks" Mercer can no longer fight fires up close and personal, but he can still use his intimate knowledge of wildland burns as a spotter and drone specialist. Assigned to copilot a Firehawk with Carly, they take to the skies to battle the worst wildfire in decades and discover a terrorist threat hidden deep in the Oregon wilderness--but it's the heat between them that really sizzles.
Steve is a bit of a jackass the first time the reader is introduced to him and as this is the first time that Carly meets him as well, she is of the same opinion. However, it quickly becomes clear that there are some real depths to Steve beyond the cocky man he first shows everyone. Steve loved being on the front lines fighting wildfires and he worked his ass off to get the lead on a very prestigious team in Sacramento before a freak accident rendered his knee and leg unable to cope with the stress of his former career. He is angry and at times slightly bitter but is still determined to do what he can to be part of fighting fires even when it is both physically and psychologically painful to watch others doing the job he no longer can. Using drones to spot hotspots, create plans to cut off the heads of fires, find evacuation routes for endangered smokejumpers, and more slowly fills the void and Steve finds himself being more and more at peace with his new role and realizes that while he might be physically sidelined, he is in no way useless but rather a very integral part of the coordination efforts that take place to keep everyone safe: firefighters and civilians alike.
Carly loves what she does as an Incident Commander and Fire Behavior Analyst but she has plenty of horrible memories of fires gone wrong as well. She has no intentions of falling for a guy involved in firefighting (or any guy for that matter) and her first impressions of Steve are of a cocky ass, but he quickly throws a wrench in her swift write-off of him when he selflessly bails from a helicopter to help a downed and trapped firefighter cut off from his team. He and the saved fighter, Carly's Uncle TJ, are able to get back in the air just before the fire overtakes the spot where they had been standing. TJ is lucky to get off with only a sprained ankle, but it brings back all the memories of Carly's fiance and father that she tries so hard to shove them down. This doesn't help Steve in his pursuit of her, but he doesn't give up. Before long, Carly is seeing beyond the surface of what Steve shows others to the smart, dedicated firefighter he is and she can't help herself as she starts to fall for him.
Carly and Steve are both damaged people in different ways but their strengths play well together and their weaknesses aren't quite such an issue when they are together. They shore each other up in the best of ways. Their relationship is not smooth although Steve is much more comfortable with it sooner than Carly is--she fights if far longer than he does. Watching them come together was okay but the real strength of this book (for me) lay in the details of fighting the fires themselves. It was simply fascinating. Majors Emily Beale and Mark Henderson make rather significant appearances in this book and it was great to see them in the future (the last ML Buchman book I read was theirs) and with a daughter. There is a secondary storyline featuring some terrorists that I felt could have been left out but it didn't detract from the story, it just didn't really add anything for me either. Again, the fires and how to attack them really stole the spotlight for me and kept the pages turning.
I will happily read the next Firehawks book and due to Kee being a secondary character I will have to go back and pick up her book from the Nightstalkers series as well. This is my third ML Buchman book and while they have had varying levels of "success" for me, I have liked them well enough to keep seeking out his work.