When Reena Hale is 11 years old, she watches her family's Baltimore pizzeria go up in flames. Thanks to a local arson detective, John Minger, and the girl's keen memory, police determine that a neighborhood crook whose young son had recently attacked Reena was out for revenge, and soon cops publicly haul the dirt bag off to jail. The large and loving Hale family bands together and rebuilds; Reena grows up curious about the origins of fire. She attends college and, after her boyfriend dies in an accident, joins the police force and learns the inner workings of the fire department.
Eventually, she teams with Minger to solve the city's suspicious fires. Meanwhile, over the years, a shady character has been hiding in the shadows, waiting for the right moment to violently sabotage Reena's relationships usually with the help of explosives. Somehow Reena doesn't put together that all of her boyfriends have been in the path of catastrophic occasionally deadly events, so her stalker hits the phone lines to clue her in with dirty messages that become more and more intimate.
When Reena launches a torrid love affair with her new neighbor, whose truck soon explodes, she begins to get it. Fearing for her family's safety, Reena reopens past cases and learns that her troubles started when she was a child. The tale builds to a breathless climax as she literally races to beat out the flames of one fire before determining where the next one will be set. Roberts does it again with this fast-paced romantic mystery that's both steamy and thrilling, despite its somewhat obvious nature. There was a problem adding your email address.
Annoyed with herself, she rubbed her hands over her face. Philosophizing was foolish and useless. Murder had been done by human force. And it was human force that would dispense justice. That was, after all, the ultimate balance of good and evil. Death surrounded her. She faced it daily, dreamed of it nightly.
Lived with it always. She knew its sounds, its scents, even its texture. She could look it in its dark and clever eye without a flinch. Death was a tricky foe, she knew.
One flinch, one blink, and it could shift, it could change. It could win. When she looked death in the eye, it was with the cold steel of the warrior. Frank Wojinski had been a good cop, solid. Some would have said plodding. It was a rare thing in for a man to bypass body sculpting and enhancements.
Now, in his clear-sided view casket with its single spray of mournful lilies, he resembled a peacefully sleeping monk from an earlier time. He was more likely to pass around the latest snapshot or hologram of his children and grandchildren. He liked to tell bad jokes, talk sports, and had a weakness for soydogs with spiced pickle relish. A family man, she thought, one who left behind great grief. He had died with half his life still ahead of him, died alone, when the heart everyone had thought so huge and so strong had just stopped.
Eve turned, laid a hand on the arm of the man who stepped up beside her. With one hand he raked through his wiry red hair. I could handle line of duty.
But to just stop. To just check out in his easy chair watching arena ball on the screen. Looked after me when I was a rookie. Never let me down. She was accustomed to Feeney being tough and strong. The delicacy of his grief worried her. She led him through the mourners. The viewing room was packed with cops as well as family. And where there were cops and death, there was coffee. Or what passed for it at such places. She poured a cup, handed it to him. He was a sturdy, compact man who wore his grief as openly as he wore his rumpled coat. She kept a hand on his shoulder as she scanned the overcrowded, overwarm room.
When a fellow officer went down in the line of duty, cops could be angry, they could be focused, fix their target. But when death snuck in and crooked a capricious finger, there was no one to blame.
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And no one to punish. It was helplessness she felt in the room and that she felt in herself. The funeral director, spiffy in his traditional black suit and as waxy-faced as one of his own clients, worked the room with patting hands and sober eyes. It was hard for him, but Feeney nodded, set the untouched coffee aside.
It surprised and pleased her, and it simultaneously added to her sorrow. Feeney looked at her. Her hair was the same shade, cut short and badly in need of some shaping. She was tall and lean and tough-bodied. He remembered it had been less than a month since he had come across her, battered and bloodied. But her weapon had been firm in her hand.
So do I. They slipped through the crowd jammed together in a room oppressed with dark simulated wood, heavy red draperies, and the funereal smell of too many flowers crammed into too small a space. Eve wondered why viewings of the dead were always accompanied by flowers and draping sheets of red. What ancient ceremony did it spring from, and why did the human race continue to cling to it?
The dead were beyond caring. She held there a moment, her eyes closed, her face pale and quiet. She was a slim, soft-spoken woman who Eve had always thought of as delicate. Grief was in his throat, choking him. Swallowing it only lodged it cold and heavy in his gut. Commander Whitney and his wife are here, and Chief Tibble. And so many others. He mattered, Frank mattered. She smiled again, patted his hand. Lieutenant Dallas, my daughter Brenda. Short, with rounded curves, Eve noted as they clasped hands. Dark hair and eyes, a bit heavy in the chin.
Took after her father. There were five of them, the youngest a boy of about eight with a pug nose dashed with freckles.
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He eyed Eve consideringly. Flustered, Eve tugged her jacket over her side arm. A slim blonde in black stepped forward. Her eyes were a soft, dreamy blue, her mouth full and lush and unpainted. She wore her hair loose so that it rained straight and glossy over the shoulders of her flowing black dress. A thin silver chain fell to her waist. At the end of it was a black stone ringed in silver. She flicked a cool glance over her shoulder toward a boy of about sixteen. But her hands kept fluttering back to the black stone, like elegant birds guarding a nest.
My grandfather spoke of you, Lieutenant Dallas. Eve arched a brow. Not just grief, she deduced, but nerves. It was easy enough to recognize. The girl was after something, she mused. But what? My grandfather used to say that once you had a grip on an investigation, you never let go. He was the best. She started to step back, but Alice laid a hand on her arm, leaned close. The hand, Eve noted, trembled slightly.
Thank you for coming. Eve inclined her head and slipped back into the crowd. Casually, she reached a hand into the pocket of her jacket and fingered the thin slip of paper Alice had pushed inside. It took her another thirty minutes to get away. She waited until she was outside and in her vehicle before she took the note out and read it. In lieu of a signature, there was a symbol, a dark line running in an expanding circle to form a sort of maze.
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Nearly as intrigued as she was annoyed, Eve stuffed the note back in her pocket and started home. Because she was a cop, she saw the figure draped in black, hardly more than a shadow in the shadows. And because she was a cop, she knew he was watching her. Whenever Roarke was away, Eve preferred to pretend the house was empty. The house was huge, a labyrinth of rooms, which made it a simple matter to avoid one another. She stepped into the wide foyer, tossed her scarred leather jacket over the carved newel post because she knew it would make Summerset grind his teeth.
He detested having anything mar the elegance of the house. Particularly her. She took the stairs, but rather than go to the master bedroom, she veered off to her office suite. If Roarke had to spend another night off planet as expected, she preferred to spend hers in her relaxation chair rather than their bed.
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Eve ordered up a sandwich—real Virginia ham on rye—and coffee that jumped with genuine caffeine. When the AutoChef delivered, she inhaled the scents slowly, greedily. She took the first bite with her eyes closed to better enjoy the miracle. There were definite advantages to being married to a man who could afford real meat instead of its by-products and simulations.
To satisfy her curiosity, she went to her desk and engaged her computer. She swallowed ham, chased it with coffee. Subject Alice Lingstrom. DOB June 10, First child and only daughter of Jan Lingstrom and Brenda Wojinski, divorced. Education, high school graduate, valedictorian. Two semesters of college: Harvard. Major, anthropology. Minor, mythology. Third semester deferred. Marital status, single. Spirit Quest. Wiccan shop and consultation center, owned by Isis Paige and Charles Forte. Three years in Tenth Street location. Annual gross income one hundred twenty-five thousand dollars.
Licensed priestess, herbalist, and registered hypnotherapist on site. What kind of scam is this? The best way to find out, she decided, was to show up at the Aquarian Club in a bit over twenty-four hours. She left the note on the desk. She walked to the adjoining bath and began to strip. Eve kicked her jeans aside, leaned over to stretch out the kinks of a long day. And wondered what she would do with the long night ahead. She had nothing hot to work on.
Her last homicide had been so open and shut that she and her aide had put it to bed in under eight hours. It might be interesting to experience how a cop took out an enemy during the early days of the Urban Wars. She stepped into the shower. She wished she had a murder to sink her teeth into. Something that would focus her mind and drain her system. And damn it, that was pathetic. She was lonely, she realized. The demands of both their businesses absorbed much time and attention.
Their relationship worked—and that continued to surprise her—because they were both independent people. Christ, she missed him outrageously. Disgusted with herself, she ducked her head under the spray and let it pound on her brain. When hands slipped around her waist, then slid up to cup her breasts, she barely jolted.
But her heart leaped. She knew his touch, the feel of those long, slim fingers, the texture of those wide palms. She tipped her head back, inviting a mouth to the curve of her shoulder. Teeth nipped into flesh and made her chuckle. Thumbs brushed over her soapy nipples and made her moan. Thought about this, just this: touching and tasting and hearing that quick catch in her breath as he did. And here she was, naked and wet and already quivering for him.
He braced her in the corner, gripped her hips, and slowly lifted her off her feet. Her heart was thundering. He was inches away from driving into her, filling her, destroying her. In a flash, she wrapped her legs around his waist, took a firm hold of his wet mane of hair. He closed his mouth over hers again so that her shallow breaths shuddered through him.
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The ride was slow and slippery, and more tender than either had expected. Climax came on a long, quiet sigh. Her lips curved against his. She could see him now, those stunning blue eyes, the face that was both saint and sinner, the mouth of a doomed poet. His hair was streaming with water, black and sleek, just touching broad shoulders roped with subtle and surprisingly tough muscle. Looking at him after these brief, periodic absences always made something unexpected lurch through her.
She doubted she would ever get used to the fact that he not only wanted her but loved her. She was smiling still as she combed her fingers through his thick, black hair. He ordered the jets off, then took a towel to wrap around her when she would have used the drying tube. She leaned against him a moment, just to feel the familiar lines of his body against hers.
It made her smirk as he turned to get robes. He might have had the music of Ireland in his voice, but she seriously doubted if any of his business friends or foes would consider Roarke a sentimental man. We had a john get a bit overenthusiastic with a licensed companion.