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Once You're Mine

Once You're Mine

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"ONCE YOU'RE MINE is a perfect blend of intrigue, suspense, action and smoldering romance and author Barbara Freethy has outdone herself once again!" RJ

Firefighter Dylan Callaway is no coward when it comes to running into burning buildings but running into love with a beautiful and seriously annoying brunette is another story.

Dylan first met Tori Hayden in high school when she was the irritating little sister of one of his best friends. Ten years later, Tori is a determined news reporter, who believes Dylan holds the key to solving a mysterious fire that may be part of a cover-up for murder.

Tori would have rather worked with anyone other than the ruggedly sexy Dylan, who had been the star of many of her teenaged fantasies, but she needs help to get to the truth and to get justice for someone she loved.

Sparks fly as Dylan and Tori put out one fire only to start another one—one that might consume them both.


"ONCE YOU'RE MINE is intriguing and very action packed. It deals with deception, intrigue, arson, murder, big business, and love, of course. It is well-written and definitely keeps you on your toes and into the book." Pam

"I have LOVED the Callaway’s since I read the first book…and I love the Callaway cousins just as much. This whole extended family is a loving, caring, let’s pull together family. If everyone was this way, the world would work much more smoothly! I love romance and suspense and this story has more than a little of both! ONCE YOU'RE MINE is a great story and a must read in my opinion." Perrin

"Tori and Dylan’s story in ONCE YOU'RE MINE drew me in from the very beginning. It started off with a bang making it hard to put the book down. The plot was fast paced and kept me guessing. I couldn’t quite believe how it turned out in the end which I loved. 5 Stars!" Alicia



Tori Hayden had had the prickly feeling at the back of her neck since she'd returned to San Francisco three weeks earlier after a decade of being away from the city where she'd grown up. Since she'd taken a reporting job at the Bay Area Examiner, a digital and print newspaper known for in-depth stories on local and state issues, she'd felt as if someone was watching her every time she left her apartment or the office, but she couldn't imagine why. 

Her current assignment reporting on the homeless population and the efforts being made to help the thousands of people sleeping under freeway overpasses and in front of buildings had taken her into some dicey areas, and she'd rattled a few city officials with her probing questions, but why would anyone be following her? It didn't make sense. 

She flung a quick look over her shoulder, seeing nothing out of the ordinary. She'd just left a meeting at City Hall, and the neighborhood wasn't the best, but it was three o'clock on a Wednesday afternoon and there were plenty of people around. Shaking her head at her always overactive imagination, she saw a coffee house up ahead and decided a shot of caffeine would probably help clear her tired brain. 

She was almost to the door when her phone buzzed. Pulling it out of her bag, she saw her brother's number and smiled. Despite the four-year age difference between them, she'd always been close to her big brother, Scott. Even when they'd been living thousands of miles apart from each other, they'd kept in touch. Now, with his wedding rapidly approaching, he seemed to find her to be his best resource for help and sanity. 

She sat down at an outside table and answered the phone. "What has Mom done now?" 

"She rearranged the seating chart and Monica's mother is going nuts, which means Monica is upset—"

"Which means you have to make her feel better," she finished. 

"Exactly," Scott replied, tension in his voice. "I keep telling myself it's three more days, and then we're off to the honeymoon. But right now Saturday feels a million years from now. I thought we were past all the problems, but our mother and Monica's mother might be two of the most stubborn people on the face of the earth." 

"I don't know Monica's mom, but I've had a lot of experience with ours."

"You need to talk to her, Tori."

"Me? She's not going to listen to me. If anyone can get through to her, it's you. Or maybe ask Ray to intervene. He seems able to calm her down."

"Ray is spending a lot of time golfing these days," Scott returned. "Our stepfather knows the best way to deal with her is to leave the house." 

She'd noticed Ray's absences since she'd moved back to town and wondered if her mom and stepfather were as happy as they'd once been. But that was a discussion for another day. "Fine, I will call her and see if I can find out what the problem is."

"The problem is that she wants to have her own table at the reception, and Monica's mother thinks the parents should sit together. I told Mom she needs to suck it up and do what Monica's mom wants because they're paying, and she got offended."

"I can't imagine why that would upset her," she said dryly.

"Well, it's the truth. Sorry, but I'm out of patience, and I do actually have a job to do besides all this wedding planning."

She knew her brother's work as an environmental lawyer was very important to him and also kept him quite busy. "I understand. I'll talk to her. But maybe if the parents aren't getting along, it would be better to have them sit separately."

"Monica and her mom say it's traditional for the parents to be together, and they don't like bucking tradition. So you have to find a way to convince Mom that she can sit with them for the hour it takes to have dinner."

"I'll give it my best shot. In return, I would appreciate it if you didn't stick me at the lonely singles table."  

"I have no idea where you're sitting, and at this point I don't really care." 

"Thanks for nothing."

"So how are things with you?" Scott asked, sounding more relaxed now that she'd agreed to help him. "Is San Francisco starting to feel like home again?"

"Not really, but I'm living in a part of the city I never spent much time in when we were growing up. Childhood memories for me are all from the neighborhoods around the Great Highway and Ocean Beach, and the cute restaurants in the Avenues. Now I'm in Hayes Valley, which is charming but crowded, and it feels very urban. However, I am extremely happy to have found a one-bedroom apartment that doesn't completely blow my budget. It's small, but I love not having roommates. Plus, I can walk to work."

"You're not walking through the greatest area," Scott said, a warning note in his voice. "The Examiner offices aren't in the best location."

She smiled at his protective words. Since their father had died when they were teenagers, Scott had always watched out for her. "It's not that bad." She wasn't going to tell him about the weird feeling she got when she was walking around the city. 

"Just be careful. You often take too many risks, Tori. You're a lot like Dad. Sometimes, I wish you hadn't decided to follow in his footsteps and be a hotshot reporter."  

"Dad didn't die while covering a story; he just had an accident," she reminded him.

"I know. I've been thinking about Dad a lot lately."

"Probably because of the wedding. It's only natural that you'd miss him more at this moment." 

"I guess. He'll be out of my mind for years at a time, and then suddenly I feel his presence all around me."

She licked her lips, wondering if the prickly feeling had something to do with her father, but she'd never really believed her dad was watching over her the way Scott did. 

"You used to feel that way when we were kids," she said. "I never felt his presence, but you did. Especially at your baseball games—remember?"

"Yeah, because baseball was what we did together. It's strange to think he died seventeen years ago. It's a long time." 

"Most of our lives." She'd been twelve when their father had passed away, and some days the memories were hard to hang on to, but other times she could see her father in her head as clearly as she could see her own reflection. 

"I have to run. I have a meeting," Scott said, bringing her back to the conversation at hand. "Talk to Mom."

"I will. But whatever happens with the seating, it's going to be fine; the wedding will be perfect."

"After all this stress, it better be."  

As her brother hung up, she put her phone in her bag. That's when she saw a man across the street. He stood under the doorway of a building, and he wore bulky clothes, a big coat over a sweater, baggy pants, and a baseball cap on his head. When he caught her looking back at him, he suddenly jerked, turned away, and headed down the block.

A shiver ran down her spine. She told herself the man was probably harmless. He could be homeless. His clothes were too heavy for a warm May day. Had she run into him at one of the homeless encampments she'd recently visited, one of which was only a few blocks from here? 

She'd tried talking to people there, hoping to get personal stories for her articles, but most people had shied away from conversation. Had someone perhaps had a change of mind but then bailed out at the last second? Was this man the reason why she'd had the tingly feeling at the back of her neck? Had he been watching for a while? 

As questions ran through her head, she got up and crossed the street, impulsively deciding to see where the man was going. He'd already turned the corner, so she quickened her pace, hoping he wouldn't just disappear. 

She didn't really know why she was following him, except that she couldn't seem to make herself stop. She told herself at any moment she could turn around and go back to her office, but at the moment she was curious as to where he was going. Her curiosity had always driven her—sometimes into trouble, but equally as often into an important story. 

She came around the corner and saw him two blocks ahead of her. He was going up the steps to a three-story building. As she drew closer, she realized it was a residence hotel, but like the other run-down structures on the block, it had definitely seen better days. 

She hesitated at the bottom of the steps, then went up to the front door. It was partly ajar. 

Whatever security lock had been on that door was long gone. She tentatively pushed it open and stepped inside. She was immediately overwhelmed by a thick stench of rotting garbage.  

Taking a few steps toward an elevator and a dirty stairwell, she saw a sign tacked on the wall from the Board of Health condemning the building as unfit to live in. 

Based on that notice, the building should be empty. Glancing down the hall, she could see that some of the doors to what had once been rooms were missing or hanging off their hinges. 

Where had the man gone? Was he a squatter? Was he staying here until they tore the building down? 

It wasn't uncommon for the homeless population to take advantages of buildings like this to take shelter in as long as they could. It was just another part of the problem. 

She was impulsive and somewhat fearless, but she also had enough sense to know when to back off. It was too dangerous to follow him farther into the building, when she had no idea who else was inside. 

Turning around, she moved toward the door. But she'd barely taken a step when she heard a loud bang. Her heart stopped. She glanced over her shoulder. Was that a gunshot?

She'd barely formed that thought when a rocketing blast knocked her off her feet, throwing her out the door and down the steps in a blazing fire of heat, plaster, and glass. 

* * *

It was only a little after three o'clock, but it had already been a long, busy shift at Fire Station 36 near the San Francisco Civic Center.

Dylan Callaway hopped off the truck as they returned to the firehouse from a motor vehicle accident that thankfully had resulted in no fatalities. He hoped that the rest of the afternoon and evening would be less eventful. But quiet days seemed to be rare this month, with more than the usual number of suspicious fires, motor vehicle and workplace accidents. 

"Looking forward to your chili tonight," his cousin Burke told him as they made their way into the common room with the rest of the crew. Like himself and most of the Callaway men, Burke had dark hair and blue eyes. They were close enough in looks that some people thought they were brothers instead of cousins.  

"We'll see if I get time to make it," he returned. "It's been one call after another today." 

"You're making your chili tonight, aren't you, Callaway?" Pete Holden asked, as he flopped down on the couch. "I've been looking forward to it all shift." Pete was a blond-haired, brown-eyed, thirty-year-old firefighter who'd transferred to the station a few months earlier and had brought an easygoing energy to the house. But one thing he hadn't brought was any skill at cooking. 

"Yes, but one of these days you're going to have to step up and make us a meal," Dylan said dryly. "No free rides around here." 

Pete laughed. "I'll order in pizzas next shift."

As Dylan headed into the kitchen, Burke followed him. He was a little surprised since Burke's job as battalion chief often kept him busy in his office in between calls. 

Burke was two years older than him and was the oldest of his generation of Callaway cousins, many of whom had followed the family tradition of firefighting. They'd been working together the past five years, except for a few months when Burke had been rehabbing his hand after an injury. Dylan had nothing but respect for his cousin, who had been a super-achiever since birth.

While Dylan hadn't risen to Burke's level yet, he wasn't far behind. He also felt a connection to Burke because, like his cousin, he was the oldest in his family of six siblings, and he often felt the pressure to set the bar high for everyone who came after him. 

"I hear Ian just got engaged," Burke said, referring to one of his brothers.

"Yes, things are moving very fast for him." He was still surprised that his super smart, genius of a brother, had found love before he had. 

"Have you met his fiancée?"

"I have. Grace is wonderful. She's a teacher, very creative, quite different from Ian, who has always been about science and logic and reason. But they complement each other."

"That's what it takes sometimes. Maddie and I are opposites, but we balance each other out."

That was true. The free-spirited Maddie had definitely softened Burke's rougher edges. "How's her restaurant going?"

"Very well. It's booked almost every weekend."

"She's a great chef."

"She is." Burke smiled. "But it makes her a little crazy that you still make a better chili than she does. She really wants the recipe."

He laughed. Maddie had tried to pin him down more than a few times. He didn't make a lot of things well, but he did make one mean, spicy chili that got better every year. "Chef's secret." 

"She doesn't like that answer."

"I know she doesn't, but that's the way it is."

"Well, don't count on her giving up trying to get it out of you. She can be stubborn."

"So can I." 

"We should go out one night. Are you still seeing that blonde from the fire a few months back—"

He shook his head, cutting off Burke's question. "Nope. Nothing going on there." For a few weeks, he'd dated a woman he'd rescued during a car accident, and it had been a very bad idea. He'd known better, but he'd done it anyway. He wouldn't do that again. 

"Too bad."

"Not really." Opening the refrigerator door, he was about to start pulling out ingredients when the alarm bells went off in the house, followed by the dispatcher relating the details of their next call. 

He immediately closed the refrigerator door, and went into action. The chili would have to wait. It was back to business. 

The fire was only two miles from the station house, and the billowing black smoke was not a welcome sight. As they pulled up in front of a three-story structure, he saw flames shooting out of the windows on the upper floor. 

The dispatcher had told them the building was condemned and should be empty, but from his experience, abandoned buildings were often havens for the homeless. Hopefully, no one had been caught inside. 

A crowd was gathering along the sidewalk as they pulled up. As he jumped off the truck, a dark-haired woman came running toward them. Her long hair was covered with ash and pieces of drywall, and there were cuts on her face. But it wasn't her injuries that surprised him; it was her very familiar dark-blue eyes. 

"Tori?" he asked in amazement. He hadn't seen his friend Scott's little sister in probably a decade. 

"Dylan?" she said, her shocked gaze turning even more confused. 

"Are you all right? Were you inside?" 

"Something blew up," she said, waving her hand at the fire.

"Is anyone else in the building?" 

"There was a man—I don't know if he got out." 

He looked past Tori to Burke, who'd heard everything she had to say. 

"You and Holden, check it out," Burke said, then continued his instructions to the rest of the crew.  

"Dee," he said, motioning for the paramedic, who'd just arrived. "Can you check her out?"

As Tori was attended to, he and Pete headed into the building. 

The fire was intense, getting hotter by the second. He and Pete went room to room, calling out for victims. They'd only had a chance to clear the first floor before Burke ordered them back outside. 

He'd barely made it to the street when the building was rocked by another blast and a raging wave of fire. His lips drew into a tight line as he contemplated the odds of anyone surviving the explosion. If someone was inside, they probably weren't coming out. He hoped that Tori was wrong, that whoever she'd seen in the building had gotten out. 

For the next hour, his crew, along with firefighters from three other stations, attacked the blaze from every angle, eventually able to contain it and put it out. 

When the fire had subsided, he and Pete went back inside to check for bodies. They went through each room, and in the back room on the third floor, they found a man buried beneath the debris from the ceiling and the roof, his body burned beyond recognition. 

His stomach rolled with anger and frustration. Dying from fire was one of the most brutal ways to go. "Damn," he muttered, wishing they'd been able to get him out. 

After reporting the deceased to Burke, they finished checking the rest of the building, but thankfully found no more victims. 

At the bottom of the stairs, near the back door, he found a billfold that was partially burned, but there was an ID inside—maybe it belonged to the man upstairs. 

Once they had determined there was only one victim, they bagged the body and took it outside. He ran a hand through his hair as he watched the ambulance drive away. 

"You did what you could," Burke told him.

"It wasn't good enough." 

"Unfortunately, some days it's not."

"Yeah." He glanced down the sidewalk and saw Tori. "I need a minute. That's Scott's sister."

"What was she doing in that building?" Burke asked. 

"No idea. I'd like to find out."

"Go ahead. We've got this under control."

As he walked down the street, he could hardly believe that the woman in the figure-hugging gray skirt, cream-colored top and high heels was Tori. In his head, she was still twelve and annoying as hell as she followed him and Scott around, driving them crazy with her incessant questions. Back then she'd had a silver grill of braces on her teeth, and big black glasses framing her eyes. 

There was no sign of the braces or the glasses now, and she'd filled out her skinny frame with some nice female curves. Her dark hair was long, thick, and flowing around her shoulders, although right now it was tangled and chalky with ash from the fire. Even with cuts on her face, there was no denying her beauty or the irresistible pull of her dark-blue eyes. 

He frowned at the direction of his thoughts. This was Scott's little sister. He needed to remember that. 

"You okay?" he asked her.

She nodded, but he could see the tension in her gaze.

"Yes," she said, folding her arms across her chest. "I saw you bring out…a body. That was a body, right?"

He could hear the tremor in her voice and knew she wasn't as calm as she was pretending to be. "Yes."

"It was a man—an older man?"

"I don't know. It was a bad fire."

She stared back at him in confusion and then his words slowly registered. 

"You mean you couldn't see his face." She shuddered.


"The explosion threw me out the front door and down the steps. I couldn't go back inside and look for him."

His gaze narrowed at her words. "What were you doing in there? The building is supposed to be abandoned." 

A somewhat guilty gleam flashed through her gaze. "I followed him inside. I didn't realize the building had been condemned until I saw the sign on the interior wall."

"You followed him? Did you know him?"

"No, but he was watching me, and there was something about him that made me curious."

His brows drew together as he tried to make sense of what she was saying. "You followed a random stranger who was watching you? Why the hell would you do that?" 

She frowned at his sharp tone. "I'm a reporter. I was following a hunch, but when I got inside the building, I had a bad feeling, so I turned to leave. Then something blew up."

"You were lucky you made it outside, Tori."

"I know," she said, blowing out a breath. "I can't believe he's dead. It happened so fast."

Her words reminded him of the billfold he'd found. He pulled it out of his pocket. "I did find this by the back stairwell." The address had been burned away, the man's face and name were smudged but somewhat visible. "Neil Hawkins. Is this the man you saw?" 

She stared at the ID, her eyes widening again. She put a hand on his arm, as if she were about to collapse. 

"What's wrong? Do you recognize him?" 

She swallowed hard, still staring at the photo. "It can't be."

"Can't be who?"

She lifted her gaze to his, and the pain in her blue eyes made his gut clench. 

"What's wrong?" he asked. 

"My father," she whispered. "That man looks like my father."

The Callaways are a family born to serve and protect, many as firefighters. Set primarily in San Francisco, the series features a blended family, with each member in the family getting their own book.

Each book stands alone with a complete story. No cliffhangers! But reading the entire series will give readers a chance to spend more time with this

amazing family!

The books feature romance, mystery and family drama with popular storylines featuring alpha heroes, firefighter romance, girl next door, love at first

sight, enemies to lovers, opposites attract, grumpy sunshine, meet cute, and second chance at love.

I love to write complex books that provide reading pleasure, a mystery to unravel, characters to fall in love with, and a story that will keep readers turning the pages. Start reading the Callaways today!

Don't Miss Any of the Callaway Novels:

  • On A Night Like This (#1)
  • So This Is Love (#2)
  • Falling For A Stranger (#3)
  • Between Now And Forever (#4)
  • Nobody But You (#5) A Callaway Wedding Novella)
  • All A Heart Needs (#6)
  • That Summer Night (#7)
  • When Shadows Fall (#8)
  • Somewhere Only We Know (#9)

Callaway Cousins

  • If I Didn't Know Better (#1)
  • Tender Is The Night (#2)
  • Take Me Home (#3) (Callaway Novella)
  • Closer To You (#4)
  • Once You're Mine (#5)
  • Can't Let Go (#6)
  • Secrets We Keep (#7)

Callaway Series Box Sets

  • Callaways Box Set, Books 1-3
  • Callaways Box Set, Books 4-6
  • Callaways Box Set, Books 7-9
  • Callaways Complete Box Set, Books 1-8
  • Callaway Cousins Box Set, Books 1-4
  • Callaway Cousins Box Set, Books 5-7