“When are they opening their chutes?” Her voice sounded too nervous for her own ears. If she was going to film this documentary on the California Smokejumpers, she needed to put on her warrior girl bra and panties because she was going to need to toughen up. She had a month with a group of firefighters who jumped out of a plane with everything they needed strapped to their persons, and so far, she couldn’t even watch them jump without feeling dizzy.
At her side, Joe, the base camp manager for the team, shot her a wry smile. “They’ll deploy their chutes soon enough.”
Just then, several popped open and the small figures were tugged upward by air currents.
“Wow.” Scarlett smiled from behind her camera as she filmed them floating down, down, like dandelion fluff on the wind.
“Stand back along the edge here,” Joe instructed. “We’ll want to give them a big landing zone, though they’re often pretty accurate.”
“Do any ever land in the trees?” She glanced away from the lens in time to see the forty-something, rugged guy wince.
“Had two landing accidents last year. Not bad, but I’m hoping for a better track record this season. It’s why we’re practicing our jumps so often these days.”
“How do they steer themselves?”
“By moving the lines of their parachutes.”
Her palms began to sweat as a figure loomed closer and closer until his feet hit the ground.
“See how he’s got his knees together and bent? Makes for a softer landing,” Joe said as the guy rolled onto his side and came up grinning. He didn’t hesitate a moment before he started coiling in his parachute. In seconds he had it stuffed away and was pulling objects from his fire suit.
“These men and women need to be ready to hit the ground running.” Joe cupped his hand around his mouth and hollered to the others touching down on earth. “You’ve got only about a minute, jumpers! Haul ass if you don’t want toilet duty when we get back to base!”
Several huffs of laughter sounded, but Scarlett heard the threat in Joe’s tone. The manager was as serious as a heart attack when it came to his crew and running a tight ship. She’d spoken to him at length before persuading him to allow her to make this documentary for her dissertation.
She was a step away from receiving her doctorate in environmental sciences. The step seemed rather big to her, because it meant living, eating, and breathing smokejumpers for the next month. Before now, she’d believed she was prepared.
As the guys strode toward her and Joe, faces fierce with something she recognized as determination, more adrenaline hit her system.
Big guys and roped with muscle, judging by the rolling way they walked. She swallowed hard and forced herself not to take a step back.
She spent her days in the library. For fun she had geek-a-thons of Firefly and Harry Potter. She was far from her element out of doors, surrounded by men who harnessed the power of wildfires.
She glanced up, her gaze traveling what seemed like forever over powerful thighs, a broad chest, and thick shoulders. She stopped breathing altogether. Maybe the last time her heart had knocked, it had finally given out. Because surely she was looking at a god.