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Up in Flames [Secure]
by Rita Herron

Category: Romance
Description: A COLD CASE HEATING UP.... Southern summers were notoriously hot. But when a series of deadly fires blazed through the city, Detective Bradford Walsh really felt the heat. With temperatures rising, he had to catch the arsonist before the city was reduced to a pile of cinders. AND AN ATTRACTION BURNING OUT OF CONTROL. On the hunt for a killer, all roads led to one woman: Rosanna Redhill. The fires seemed to target the elusive beauty, and Bradford had to know why. But he couldn't let Rosanna's smoldering glances distract him from his investigation. Because then he'd have another fire to extinguish ... one that threatened to send them both up in flames.
eBook Publisher: Harlequin/Intrigue,
eBookwise Release Date: December 2007


4 Reader Ratings:
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Available eBook Formats [Secure - What's this?]: OEBFF Format (IMP) [378 KB]

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Chapter One

Twenty-four years later, July 4—Savannah, Georgia

Detective Bradford Walsh was starving. Starved for food.

Starved for a woman.

Starved for a reprieve from the sweltering heat in Savannah, and a break from the recent crime wave terrorizing the citizens.

But as he watched the blazing fire engulfing Cozy's Café on River Street, the possibility of satisfying any of those hungers that night quickly went up in smoke just like the building had minutes ago.

Dammit. How long had it been since he'd had a good meal? A decent night's sleep?

A night of hot sex?

A Fourth of July without trouble?

His partner, Parker Kilpatrick, joined him, soot darkening his jeans and shirt, sweat beading on his forehead. He and Parker had arrived first on the scene and had rushed in to make sure everyone escaped the blaze unharmed. In fact, his captain, Adam Black, knew about Bradford's history and had handpicked him to spearhead investigations into the recent arson crimes in the city.

Bradford was determined to prove that a screwup with his brother hadn't cost him his job.

Which was the only thing he had left since his family relationships disintegrated with his brother's arrest.

Dragging his mind back to the current situation, he assessed the scene. A half-dozen patrons milled around the edge of the sidewalk watching the building deconstruct. Thick plumes of gray smoke curled toward the sky, the orange, red and yellow flames shooting into the darkness. The owner, a pudgy Southern woman named Hazel, flapped her hands around, waving smoke away in between bouts of crying in her coffee-stained apron.

Bradford walked over to her and patted her shoulder. "I'm sorry about your business, ma'am. But at least everyone escaped safely, and you can rebuild."

"We worked so hard to get this place going, to have a clean business. Then my husband died," she said between sobs. "I don't think I can start over by myself."

Compassion for the woman bled through Bradford. "How did the fire get started, ma'am? Was it in the kitchen?"

"No," she cried. "I was in the back, making my peach pies, when I heard someone shout that smoke was coming from the bathroom."

"All right, we'll check it out." He turned to his partner.

"This is the third fire in three weeks in the Savannah area," Parker said.

Bradford nodded. "Any signs of an accelerant?"

"No, but the fire chief just arrived. I'll make sure he checks for arson."

"Tell him to start in the men's room. Someone may have lit a match or dropped a cigarette in the trash." And paper towels would go up in seconds.

"It is a holiday," Parker said. "Maybe some kids starting their fireworks a little early."

Bradford once again scanned the crowd. "Yeah, and the night is still young."

Parker strode toward the fire chief, and Bradford mentally ticked over the facts they had so far on all three fires. The first one was set at a cottage on Tybee Island not far from the one he was renting, and appeared to be accidental, a fluke with old wiring. The second, an abandoned warehouse on the outskirts of town had aroused questions, but there had been no evidence of accelerant present. The firemen had speculated that a homeless person staying inside might have dropped a cigarette butt, and with old paint thinner stored inside, the building had caught fire.

This one—smoke in the bathroom, not the kitchen—could have been accidental, but on the heels of the others, it definitely struck a chord of suspicion.

Could there be a connection?

He scanned the spectators who'd gathered to gawk. An elderly couple walking their Yorkie had stopped to console a young mother. Three teenage girls wearing short shorts huddled next to a couple of gangly boys taking pictures with their cell phones. A teenage prank? No, they looked curious, but not like arsonists or vandals.

Two men in suits stood chatting quietly. A gaggle of tourists with cameras and souvenirs from the gift shops on River Street hovered around, enraptured by the blaze, but no one stuck out as suspicious looking.

The hairs on the back of his neck prickled. An older black woman in voodoo priestess garb watched, her colorful clothing highlighted by the firelight. Beside her stood a nondescript blond man in his early twenties.

A movement to the left caught Bradford's attention, and he spotted a woman with flaming-red curly hair. She was slender, wore a long, flowing skirt, peasant blouse and beads around her neck. A short brunette leaned near her and said something, but they were out of earshot.

Although the redhead looked like some kind of throwback to the seventies, his gaze met hers, and something hot and instant flared inside him. She was so natural, so earthy and untamed-looking, that his baser primal side reacted immediately. Her eyes were the palest green he'd ever seen, and looked almost translucent. For a moment, he felt as if she'd cast some kind of spell on him.

Then she darted away, through the maze of onlookers as if she'd sensed the connection and couldn't get away from him fast enough.

He started to follow her. But heat scalded his neck, wood crackled and the sound of walls crashing shattered the hushed silence. The owner of the café cried out, other onlookers shrieked and he halted. He couldn't go chasing some woman during an investigation, not unless he thought she was a suspect. And he had no reason to think that.

After all, ninety percent of firestarters were men, not women. Bradford had studied the profiles. A large percentage were out to collect insurance money or exact revenge. But there was another percent that had a fixation. To them fire was a living, breathing monster. The obsessive compulsion to watch something burn escalated with each fire set.

Copyright © 2007 by Rita B. Herron.

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