by Catherine Maiorisi
Officer Quincy Adams is a hero. She pulled eleven people from burning cars and risked her own life to save the twelfth—a woman trapped in a car that could explode at any moment. But the event begins to trigger flashbacks to another time. Another tragedy. Trying to avoid the depression that she’s certain is just around the corner, Quincy heads to the local lesbian bar in search of light and life.
Lindy James is a loner. She’s only at the bar to celebrate her best friend’s birthday. But something about the bedraggled woman, whose image is breaking news on the TV, touches her heart and she agrees to drive the stranger home.
But Quincy doesn’t want to be alone and Lindy agrees to stay as long as Quincy doesn’t expect sex or ask personal questions. One night turns into three intimate but sexless nights. Then Monday morning Quincy asks Lindy for a date. And Lindy flees.
Thrown together by a devastating accident, but kept apart by fears from the past—will Quincy and Lindy take a chance on love?
FROM THE AUTHOR
"Taking a Chance on Love is different from my other published books in ways.
My NYPD Detective Chiara Corelli mysteries and my three previous romances, Matters of the Heart, No One But You, and Ready for Love, are all set in New York City where I live but Taking a Chance on Love is set in Hackensack, New Jersey, the town where I grew up in a working-class family.
The main characters in all my previous books were wealthy or super comfortable but in Taking a Chance on Love, Quincy is a police officer and Lindy works for a trucking company. Neither has a lot of money.
And, the story of Quincy and Lindy is told in two books. Taking a Chance on Love is a standalone contemporary romance that starts with them meeting and goes on to their happily-ever-after. The Disappearance of Lindy James (coming in 2021) picks up six years after Quincy and Lindy’s happily-ever-after and is general fiction, though they do make it to another HEA.
So why is this book different than the others? I didn’t plan to write about everyday characters working and living in a suburban town or to write a general fiction book. But then, I don’t plan anything when I write. I’m a pantser. That is, I write from the seat of my pants or, as I prefer to say, from my imagination gone wild.
I don’t plan ahead or outline. I plunge into writing with whatever bit inspired me to start the story. In Taking a Chance on Love that bit of story was the image of a woman reading to her two daughters while her wife paced outside the room. Then my imagination took over and filled in the characters’ names, that Quincy was a police officer, that her wife was agitated, that the apartment was small and it was in a complex of older buildings in Hackensack that I knew well.
My subconscious surprised me. I hope Taking a Chance on Love surprises you."
Phoebe M. - Taking A Chance On Love is a slow-burn romance that allows its characters to grow into themselves before getting into a relationship. The chemistry is there right from the start. Yet Quincy and Lindy realize that they need to work on themselves individually to be able to be in an adult relationship. There is a great supporting cast of characters and I can already see potential spin-offs of this book.
Kat W. - What a wonderful and moving story. First part of the book will make you cry and feel sorry for Quincy. Second part of the book will make you feel sad for Lindy but for the rest of the book you will most definitely enjoy their journey of love, happiness and shot at life together. I truly enjoyed this one.
Having completed the paperwork required at the end of her shift, Officer J. Quincy Adams stepped out into the muffled quiet of the snowy night. She tilted her face toward the gray sky, enjoying the crisp air and the feel of the icy snow on her face after the stifling heat of the station house.
The storm had surprised everyone, especially the forecasters who had predicted typical early October weather, mild during the day and cooler in the evening. But the pleasant fall morning had turned rainy, windy, and colder as the day went on, and an hour into Quincy’s four to twelve a.m. shift a wet, heavy snow started falling so fast it almost seemed as if it was being shoveled from above. She hadn’t dressed for snow, but it didn’t matter much during the early part of her shift because other than stopping to pick up coffee and dinner, she hadn’t left the patrol car. But as the temperature dropped and the snow piled up she’d been in and out of the car dealing with multiple fender benders, stuck cars, and frazzled drivers. By the end of her shift at midnight her uniform was damp and she was cold. Now she was looking forward to a hot shower, a glass of brandy, and snuggling under her afghan with a book.
Judging by the mound of snow topping her Subaru, about a foot and a half had fallen during her shift and the storm showed no sign of letting up. The lanes between the rows of cars in the lot had been plowed, but at least four inches had fallen since and the wind was whipping it into drifts. She hunched her shoulders, stuffed her hands in her pockets, and moved to the rear of her car. The trunk opened in response to the unlock button on the fob, but the weight of the snow kept it from rising more than a couple of inches. Using her arm, she brushed off the snow and pushed it higher. She happily pulled on the pair of gloves she hadn’t remembered leaving in the trunk, then grabbed the shovel and the snow brush/ice scraper combination. An icy gust of wind blew snow in her face and on her unprotected neck. She shivered. Damn, she couldn’t wait to get home and warm up.
Quincy cleared the windows and the roof, then shoveled enough snow from the front and sides of the car to ensure an easy exit from the parking space. Stamping her feet, she slid behind the wheel and turned the heater on high to warm up the car and herself. Since it was early October she hadn’t gotten around to stowing a down jacket, a scarf, a hat, and snow boots in the trunk as she usually did in the winter. And given today’s weather prediction she’d gone with silk thermals, her cotton uniform shirt, woolen uniform pants and jacket and her normal work shoes. She grimaced. Note to self: keep a warm jacket, a woolen hat, a scarf, and boots in the car even in fall. Now her feet were soaked and she was shivering.
A plow went by. She hoped they were keeping up with clearing the streets since she hadn’t gotten around to putting her snow tires on yet. It would be slow going, but a lot easier if the plow had done its job. At least the Subaru had all-wheel drive.
It was twelve thirty on a Friday night but, thankfully, there weren’t many cars on the road. As she drove slowly toward her apartment, the police scanner crackled, jerking her from thoughts of the shot of brandy and hot shower waiting for her at home. “Pileup at the Hudson Street exit of Route 80 West. All available cars needed immediately.” The dispatcher repeated the message several times.
Quincy debated with herself. She was off duty, but she was less than ten minutes away from the accident, and a night like tonight always meant lots of emergencies requiring police assistance. She sighed. At Essex Street she turned left toward Hudson Street instead of right to go to her apartment. If they didn’t need her at the scene, she’d go home.
Abandoned cars made it slow going on Hudson. At the scene, there was no place to park so she pulled over at the mouth of the exit lane. It was eerie. No lights. No police or fire emergency vehicles. Could she be the first responder on the scene? Through the blowing snow she caught glimpses of what looked like a jumble of vehicles, so she grabbed two emergency flares from the trunk, lit them and dropped them behind her car to ensure a driver blinded by the snow didn’t attempt to turn into the lane.
If she grabbed the first aid kit in the back of the SUV, she might be able to help a few, but if she didn’t light more flares to warn approaching traffic, additional people might die. Including her.
Wishing she was as compulsive about keeping the proper clothing in her car as she was about keeping a box of flares in case of an accident, Quincy pulled on her gloves, lifted out the box with the remaining flares, tossed the first aid kit in, and closed the trunk. Slipping, sliding, and flopping twice, she trudged along the exit lane toward the highway. She cursed. Now even the seat of her pants was soaked. She was not dressed for this weather. She’d leave as soon as reinforcements arrived.
Most of the cars she passed as she made her way toward the highway were jammed into each other, but they and their passengers didn’t seem badly damaged. She let them know that help was on the way and told them to stay put.
Route 80, like most highways in this area wasn’t elevated. Exit lanes were mostly level, but the slight incline on this one was making the going slow. Finally nearing the highway, she looked up. Was that the flicker of flames, or was the gusting wind playing tricks on her eyes? She sniffed. Smoke. Definitely flames.
Breathing hard and sweating from the exertion, she made it the last few yards. And gasped. She’d stepped into hell. Cars. Trucks. Twenty? Thirty? Hard to count. Stacked on each other across three lanes. The flickering flames, the snow blowing in her face, the smoke and the steam made it difficult to see more than a few feet ahead. Her eyes watered, her nostrils flared, and her throat burned from the acrid black smoke and the smell of gasoline.
The wind shifted and cars and trucks piled in random stacks facing all directions, some smoking, some in flames, came into focus. It was clear some vehicles had been hit multiple times at high speeds. Bodies were strewn over snow turned red by blood; some draped over shattered windshields, hanging half in and half out. Others still inside cars were suspended upside down or plastered against their seats by air bags.
Depending on the direction of the fierce winds, the scene alternated between an eerie world silenced by the heavily falling snow and the world of the accident—the hip-hop music blaring from a car whose driver was slumped over the windshield, the agonized screams of the injured, and the panicked pleas for help all around her.
Quincy swiveled her head toward the screams, not knowing where in the piles of metal they were coming from, not knowing who to help first. After a moment of panic, her training kicked in. She took a breath, performed a mental triage. First place the warning flares, then get people out of the burning vehicles before they exploded, and if help hadn’t arrived by then, use the first aid kit to tend to the injured. She couldn’t do anything about the spilled gas except hope that the snow would keep it from spreading and bursting into flames.
As quickly as she could, she trudged through the deep snow to the last cars, placed lit flares behind them and along the lane next to the accident to keep cars from adding to the pileup. Then she ran to the burning cars, dropped the box with the remaining flares and the first aid kid, and started pulling people out. The extractions from the first four cars in flames went smoothly. She was tall and she worked out, so she was able to carry or drag people far enough away from the fires to be safe, reassure those who were conscious that help was on the way, and leave them in the snow.
Sweating and breathing heavily she approached the last of the burning cars, a large SUV. A quick evaluation of the situation told her the driver, a woman, trapped behind the wheel wasn’t getting out. The woman knew it too. Her eyes flicked to the rearview mirror and the flames licking at the back of her SUV, then bounced back to Quincy leaning in through the shattered window in her smashed-in door. She grabbed Quincy’s arm and struggled to speak through her sobs. “Please get my children and my husband away from the car before it explodes.”
Husband? Children? She’d noticed the empty passenger seat and when she’d glanced at the rear of the vehicle it appeared empty as well so she’d assumed the woman was alone. Was the woman hallucinating? Or had Quincy been misled by the tinted windows and the black smoke filling the car?
She tried the rear door on the driver side, but it had been crushed; she couldn’t open it. She ran around to the passenger side of the vehicle and pulled that door open. In the smoke-filled interior she could make out two car seats with children and a man slumped behind the driver, presumably the husband. The smoke was getting thicker, more acrid by the second. She had to get them out of there immediately.
She quickly unhooked the outside car seat and placed it in the snow toward the front of the car. The child was breathing. Then she leaned in. She couldn’t see where the rear-facing car seat was attached. She crawled in and felt around until she found the latch and was able to unhook it. She backed out, pulling the car seat with her. Outside in the fresh air she put her ear to the baby’s mouth. It was breathing. She carried the car seat to the front of the car and returned for the man. She crawled across the bench seat and unhooked his seat belt. As she began to pull him out, coughing from the third row of seats got her attention. She blinked and squinted into the thick smoke. Damn! She’d almost missed two children strapped into booster seats.
She did another quick triage. The children were in immediate danger from the deadly smoke. She left their father, took a minute to figure out how to move the second row seat to get access to the rear, and pulled the closest child out and laid him on the ground near the other two. She reached into the car again, eyes burning, throat raw, and freed the second, a girl. Out in the fresh air, the girl gasped and coughed. Quincy leaned her against her brother so she was semi-sitting to ensure she could breathe easily.
She stopped to take a breath, then stuck her head back in to be sure she’d gotten all the children. She crawled in again and glanced at the rearview mirror. The driver was watching, tears streaming down her face. Quincy thought the husband might be dead, but when she touched his carotid she felt a pulse. She gave the woman a thumbs-up, wrapped her arms around the man’s shoulders, and pulled him across the seat, grunting when his foot caught on the seat belt. She crawled over him to free it.
It seemed to take hours, but finally she had him on the ground outside the car. She held her face to the snow, trying to clear the smoke from her eyes and nose and throat, then, one by one, she carried the children to the area where she’d moved the people from the other cars, far enough from the burning vehicles to be safe if they exploded. After she dragged the man to his children and checked the children, she ran back to the woman and gripped her hand. “They’re all breathing.” They both turned toward the whoosh as a nearby vehicle went up in flames but didn’t explode.
“Thank you.” The woman’s eyes were wide with fear. “Make sure my husband gets this if he lives. Otherwise, give it to my parents for the children.” Her shaking hands were filled with earrings, a necklace, a bracelet, and several rings, all diamonds it looked like, and a wallet. “And,” a sob escaped, “tell them I love them.”
Quincy hesitated, then removed her gloves and shoved the jewelry and the wallet into the pockets of her pants.
The woman touched her face. “Go or you’ll—”
“I’m Quincy. What’s your name?” Her gaze went to the flames shooting up the back of the car. Weakened by the terror in the woman’s eyes but fueled by her own terror at the thought of leaving her to burn alive, she knew she had to try to save her.
“Er…Grace.” The woman’s teeth were chattering. “Run, Quincy, run.”
“No, I…wait, maybe I can…” She smiled at the woman. “Don’t go anywhere without me.”
“You’re crazy,” the woman screamed. “Save yourself, Quincy.”
Quincy dashed to the rear of the car and started frantically flinging snow on the fire with her hands, digging like a dog in the dirt in time to the rap music still blasting from one of the vehicles. She looked up and met Grace’s panic-filled eyes in the rearview mirror. She nodded, then focused again on the snow. The intense heat of the flames was somewhat tempered by the snow blowing in her face, but the wind was also blowing the smoke in her eyes and the flames toward the gas tank. The smoke stung her eyes and tears blurred her vision. She stripped off her jacket so she could dig faster, then used her shirtsleeve to dry her eyes. She couldn’t let Grace die. Despite her terror, her first thoughts were for the safety of her children and husband. Someone as brave as Grace deserved to live.
As soon as she’d cleared an area she moved to a fresh pile of snow. She lost track of time. Sweat stung her eyes. Her nose and throat were raw and burning. She was coughing and gasping for breath. Her nose was running. She couldn’t feel her hands, but the sand was flying so she must be moving it. Saving Jen, throwing the sand on the flames was all she could think about. She heard her name from far away, but she couldn’t stop; she had to save Jen. She swiped at the hand grasping her arm trying to pull her away. “Let me go. I have to save Jen.”
“Quincy, Quincy.” Louder. “Officer Quincy Adams, I order you to stop. Now.”
She hesitated. Strong arms wrapped around her chest, pulled her to a standing position, then encircled her waist. Panting, Quincy looked over her shoulder as Chief of Police Connie Trubeck dragged her away from the car.
She blinked, forced herself to focus. Snow. Not sand. Not Afghanistan. She started to shake. Her teeth were chattering. “G-G-Grace?” She tried to drag the chief toward the car, but she was depleted and the chief restrained her.
“The fire is out. The fire department is bringing the Jaws of Life up to extract her.” Chief Trubeck spoke into her ear. “You saved this one, Quincy. Now let it go and breathe. Just breathe.”
Quincy’s eyes went to the rear of the car. No fire. She took a deep breath, then another. Her chest burned and she coughed. The chief held her. Suddenly, it was quiet. Someone had turned off the music.
Chief Trubeck tightened her hold on Quincy, trying to warm her. “I can’t leave, but you’re not exactly dressed for this weather. Let’s get you checked out by the EMTs and unless they think you need to go to the hospital, I want you to go home, have a drink, and warm up.”
Quincy glanced down, suddenly aware of the cold again. Her thermal underwear felt icy against her skin, and her pants and shirt were not only soaked but also streaked with blood and soot. Her gloves were stiff. Her hands and feet were frozen. Her eyes went back to Grace’s car, now surrounded by emergency workers.
“They’ll take care of her, Quince.” Chief Trubeck took the jacket one of Quincy’s fellow officers had retrieved from the snow. It was soaked, stiff. “You did an amazing job tonight, Quincy. You saved a lot of lives and what you did for that woman was beyond heroic.” The chief waved an EMT over. “Get Quincy a blanket.”
Quincy shivered. “Come with me.” She led the chief to the area where she’d deposited the people she’d pulled from burning vehicles. “This is Grace’s husband and four children. They need to stay together.”
The chief was puzzled. “Who is Grace?”
Quincy accepted the blanket the EMT wrapped around her. “The woman in the car.” She pointed to the car surrounded by emergency workers.
Chief Trubeck nodded. “I’ll make sure they’re taken care of and not separated, but you need to get checked.” She looked around for help.
Quincy coughed and shivered again. “I’m just cold, Connie. The EMTs should focus on those who really need them.”
“Then you need to go home. Come.” The chief held her arm as they marched through the snow, stopped every few feet by police, fire, and EMS personnel as well as those accident victims who had stood back in fear while she fought desperately to save a woman in a vehicle they’d expected to explode momentarily. Quincy fell to her knees as they slogged through the knee-deep snow. “Sorry, Chief. I’m not sure I can make it. Maybe if I sit for a while.”
“You’re cold as it is.” She looked around. “Hey, Jonas, get over here and give me a hand with Adams.”
One on each side of her, they helped her stand, then, shouldering her weight, they moved slowly toward her car. Quincy was mortified, but there was no way she could hold herself erect, forget walking down the now-packed exit lane. At last they reached her car. Miraculously, it was only parked in by one ambulance. She’d left her door unlocked and her keys in the ignition, so the chief opened her door and helped her get in. Breathing as if she’d just run twenty miles, she closed her eyes and put her head back.
Chief Trubeck dismissed Jonas, hung Quincy’s jacket over the passenger seat, then slid in. She turned the key and put the heater on high before helping Quincy remove her frozen gloves. She pulled some tissues out of the box on the backseat and dabbed at Quincy’s face. “You’ll need soap and water to get the soot and blood off your face, but at least it’s dry.” She dumped the damp tissues in the trash bag attached to the knob of the radio.
A police car pulled over and several officers started up the ramp. The chief leaned out. “Simpson.” The officer turned. “Chief?”
The chief got out of the car. “I have to get back to direct the operation. Stay with Adams a few minutes until she warms up enough to drive home, then come up and help.”
“Yes, ma’am.” Tyra Simpson slid in beside Quincy. “Shit, Adams, are you all right?”
“Yeah, just…cold and exhausted. I was the first on the scene.”
An EMT knocked on the passenger window. “She should probably use this for a few minutes. It will help her breathe. And here’s another blanket. Use it to warm up her hands and feet.”
Simpson helped Quincy tuck the blanket around her legs and feet, put the oxygen tank between them, and slipped the mask on her. “Give me your right hand and put your left in your armpit.”
Quincy did as she was told. Simpson took Quincy’s right hand between hers and held it under her jacket, then rubbed it. After a while Quincy flexed her fingers. “It’s better. Work on the other hand a few minutes, then I want to go home.”
Simpson did the same with Quincy’s other hand. When she’d warmed both hands, Simpson pulled Quincy’s jacket from behind her. “Jeez, this is too wet to put on. Keep the blanket around your shoulders, but get out of those wet pants as soon as you get home.”
“Will do, ‘Mom.’” Quincy removed the oxygen mask. She tossed the blanket that was around her legs into the backseat.
“Yeah, well, if you catch pneumonia, I’ll have to do double shifts.” Simpson took the mask and the tank and got out. “Take care.” She shut the car door, waved, then handed the oxygen mask and tank to the EMT at the ambulance before going up to assist in the rescue operation.
Alone, Quincy observed, as if from a distance, the EMTs loading bleeding and broken bodies into an ambulance parked nearby. At one point the EMTs carried a stretcher with a woman close to her car and mimicked opening the window.
The woman’s face had abrasions and was streaked with smoke and raw from the snow blasting around them. She removed the oxygen mask. Her voice was raspy. “Thank you, Officer Adams. I would sure as hell have died from the smoke in that car if you hadn’t taken me out of it.” She reached for Quincy, but grimaced.
The EMT put a gentle hand on the woman’s chest. “Careful, hon, your shoulder might be broken.”
The woman started to cry. “You saved me and my daughter and my granddaughter. I’ll say a prayer for you every day.”
Quincy swallowed the urge to join her sobs. “Thank you, Mrs…?”
“DiLeo. Maisie DiLeo.” The woman fell back, obviously exhausted.
Quincy reached for the woman’s good hand. “I hope you and your family members are not too badly injured.” She nodded at the EMTs and watched them carry the stretcher to the ambulance blocking her car. A few minutes later lights flashing, siren blasting, the ambulance pulled away.
Her hands were still swollen and cold, but she thought she’d be okay driving. She shifted out of park and headed home. As she drove, images of a Humvee in flames seared her eyelids, the smell of burning flesh filled her nostrils, and familiar feelings of despair and hopelessness and loss filled her, making it difficult to breathe or drive or care about doing either.
She caught herself. No. She couldn’t be alone tonight with the memories and the horrible pictures etched in her brain. She needed life and laughter. And she knew where to find it on a Friday night. She turned the car toward Maggie’s Bar.
Though Lindy hadn’t intended to go to the gathering of friends celebrating Babs’ birthday, Babs was her best friend and she’d begged her to stop by at least for a little while. If they’d been at home, she probably would have chosen not to venture out in this surprise snowstorm. But she’d joined Babs and Dani for a celebratory birthday dinner beforehand, and the diner was just up the highway from Maggie’s Bar. What the hell. She had her own car so she could leave whenever she felt like.
The snow had accumulated quickly while they were in the restaurant and though it was clear the plows had been through earlier, it didn’t look like they’d hit this part of Route 4 in a while. Driving was tricky, but she drove slowly, patting herself on the back for purchasing the set of secondhand snow tires from Ed, a guy she and Babs worked with who was trading in his car for a newer, bigger model.
Once she parked in Maggie’s lot, she spent a few minutes with her face to the sky, enjoying the feel of the snow. It had been eight years since she’d moved to New Jersey from Atlanta, and though she wasn’t crazy about the cold winters, the sight of snow still thrilled her. She’d never told anyone, not even Babs, of her childish desire to roll in the snow, to build a snowman, and to have a snowball fight. She sighed. No fun doing those things alone. But she’d made her choice. She pushed the sadness away. She was there to celebrate Babs’ birthday and standing in the parking lot feeling sorry for herself wasn’t the way to do that. Up and at ’em. She walked into Maggie’s.
While Babs was her only close friend, she knew all the women gathered to celebrate Babs’ birthday. The ones who belonged to Babs’ circle of close friends had become her friends, or what passed as friends for her, when she moved in with Babs. The others, who she considered acquaintances, were part of Babs’ and Dani’s extended circle. She’d been at Maggie’s with all the women at one time or another so she received a warm welcome, especially from those whose partners didn’t like to dance. Like the song said, she could dance all night. And she planned to. She danced with everyone who was willing, some two or three times. As these evenings go, she was having a great time.
Mainly she danced alone, though, with her eyes closed, just her and the music. As she swayed and twirled and swooped and dipped, her body became one with the music. She’d forgotten how much she enjoyed letting her body float free, how much she loved experiencing her sexuality on her terms, without anyone making demands. It was the only time she felt truly happy, truly joyful. She really should come to Maggie’s more often.
Unfortunately, many women standing on the sidelines took her solo dancing as an invitation. They seemed to think she was dancing for them, to attract them. And that couldn’t have been further from the truth. She really just wanted to exist in her own happy bubble. She tried to be gentle when she said no, but there were a few instances where the women got angry. Luckily, Maggie, the owner of the bar, wouldn’t tolerate any roughness so the offenders were either ushered out or they apologized and left her alone.
She took a break to cool off and sat at the table sipping her seltzer. Someone said it was still snowing. That meant the roads would be worse than when she came and getting worse by the hour. It was almost one a.m. A few more dances and she would head home. Alone. Just the way she liked.