Dancing With Fire

Dancing With Fire

Susan Kearney

February 2013 $14.95
ISBN: 978-1-61194-255-2

In a battle against a ruthless enemy, all they have is each other.

Our PriceUS$14.95
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Kaylin Danner gave up everything when her mother died. Her dancing career. Her life. Her future. With her dance studio, she helps pay the bills and raise her younger sisters. When an explosion kills her father, Kaylin is suspicious of foul play. Suddenly, strangers begin asking about her father’s business secrets, their home is invaded, and the family attacked. And now Kaylin has her hands full holding the family together. Who can she turn to? Who can she trust?

Sawyer Scott was her dad’s partner. He wants to carry on their research, research which could change the world, literally. But Kaylin fears continuing her father's work increases the danger to her family. As they both grieve, Sawyer shows Kaylin how dependable, thoughtful, and protective he really is. Resisting the brilliant and sexy scientist is difficult. And although Kaylin tells herself she can face the hard times alone, she slowly lets down her guard. Yet even as she falls into a working partnership with Sawyer, Kaylin questions her own judgment.

Is trusting Sawyer a good decision? Will finding the missing formula lead them to her father's killer? Can she stop dancing with fire long enough to save her family and herself?

Kearney, a native of New Jersey, writes full time and has sold books to the industry’s top publishing houses – Grand Central, Tor, Simon & Schuster, Harlequin, Berkley, Leisure, Red Sage, and Kensington. As an award winning author, Kearney earned a Business Degree from the University of Michigan. Kearney’s knowledge and experience span the romance genre, and her fifty plus books include contemporary, romantic suspense, historical, futuristic, science fiction, and paranormal novels. She resides in a suburb of Tampa – with her husband, kids, and Boston terrier. Currently, she’s plotting her way through her 54th work of fiction.

Visit Susan at www.SusanKearney.com.


"An exciting romantic suspense novel.The chemistry between Kaylin and Sawyer is almost as combustible at the missing fuel formula." -- Rosemary Smith, Netgalley

"The fast-paced story line never slows down… Kearney turns up the Florida summer heat with this exhilarating, fiery tale." -- Harriet Klausner, The Mystery Gazette




DAMN, the woman had moves.

Stunned and awed, Sawyer Scott peered through the sheer curtains into Kaylin Danner’s dance studio. Ignoring the hot Florida sunshine baking his neck while he stood on the sidewalk, he watched, riveted by Kaylin’s shapely silhouette, a Kaylin he’d never seen before.

The conservative, practical, proper ballet teacher he might have imagined in pink toe shoes and a sleek leotard had been replaced by a Kaylin in black, a Kaylin who was innovative, wild, and uninhibited, a side of her that Sawyer barely recognized. Beyond the pink door of the dance studio, this new Kaylin was dancing to the radical music of Goldfrapp. Sawyer would have given up dinners for a week to watch her dance all evening. In fact, Kaylin’s erotic and undulating movements had so seduced him that he’d almost forgotten he’d come to her school about business.

And forgetting business wasn’t like him at all. During the last ten years while Sawyer had earned doctorates in chemical engineering and physics at MIT, he’d rarely been distracted from his goal of running a manufacturing plant with Kaylin’s father, Dr. Henry Danner. Set on having the satisfaction of being an innovator and entrepreneur, he’d turned down a big offer from a petrochemical company to work with Henry. And they’d made remarkable progress.

In fact, they were on the verge of a breakthrough. Sawyer had never regretted his decision, a decision that meant he’d been doing little more than studying, researching, and dreaming about oil. Yet now, seeing his business partner’s daughter dance, he had no doubt Kaylin would be invading his future thoughts as easily as she’d distracted him from his present objective.

Sawyer had no idea what kind of dance Kaylin was performing but was fairly certain it wasn’t the classical ballet she taught the neighborhood children. No way. These moves were as complex as they were mesmerizing. And so out of character for Kaylin that the surprise had stopped his forward momentum.

But he wasn’t here to watch a private performance or to enroll as a student in her class. He was here on business. Sawyer forced his hand to knock on the door. But Kaylin didn’t stop dancing.

"Probably can’t hear over the drumbeat,” he muttered. A drumbeat that echoed from his ears to his toes.

Taking a deep breath, Sawyer opened the door and stepped from warm and humid to hot and steamy. Kaylin wore a black sports bra and matching yoga pants that sat low on her hips and flared wide at the ankles. Her feet were bare, her hair in a messy knot at the back of her head. However, her clothing, or lack of it, had nothing to do with his breath whistling out of his lungs. Instead of precise spins and regulated moves that he would have expected of the Kaylin he thought he knew, this Kaylin’s body ebbed and flowed like a wave, the rhythm provocative, the beat primal. The effect she had on him was druglike, tantalizing, like a whitecap swelling, breaking, sweeping him under.

From outside the studio, the full impact of her skill hadn’t been as apparent. Her stomach muscles, emphasized by a slick gleam of sweat, shimmered and flexed as she spun a complete rotation. As she twirled, she caught sight of him and went still. If he hadn’t been watching closely, he wouldn’t have seen her bristle, her nostrils flare, her lips tighten, her eyes narrow—just a bit. Then she flicked off the music, picked up a towel and draped it around her graceful neck, and raised an imperious eyebrow.

Dabbing her face with the towel, she shot him a you-better-have-a- damn-good-reason-for-invading-my-space look. "Yes?”

"That dance... wow.” He could tell by her expression she wasn’t sure whether to take his words as a compliment. She bit her lower lip, the confidence and sensuality of the dance hidden, replaced by invisible armor she’d wrapped around her taut frame. She appeared as unhappy as he’d be if a stranger intruded on one of his experiments.

Uncertain if he’d offended her, he combed his fingers through his hair. "Sorry. I didn’t mean to come in uninvited. I knocked. You didn’t hear. Those moves you do... that’s not classical ballet, is it?”

Kaylin chuckled, her green eyes brightening, her lips breaking into a wide and playful grin. In that one moment, her barriers shredded, and her inner self shone through. "That was tribal fusion belly dance. An experiment.”

"If you want my opinion,” and he wasn’t sure she did, "your experiment’s an unqualified success.”

"Thanks, but as you aren’t a dance critic... what are you doing here?”

She hadn’t taken long to redirect his personal comments. She did it smoothly, giving him a gentle brush-off. He had to give her credit. Kaylin Danner was outwardly consistent. Her tribal dancing—a wild aberration in her normally staid character—had shocked and intrigued him. To his frustration, the Kaylin he’d occasionally seen around her father’s business had returned, the one who was a master at keeping Sawyer at an emotional distance. "I’m looking for your father.”

She frowned. "Isn’t he at the lab?”

Twenty-five years ago, Henry Danner had built his lab, a nine-thousand-square-foot steel building, on the one-acre lot next door to the house he’d inherited from his grandparents. Back then, the zoning laws had permitted industrial building in the area, allowing Henry to construct his lab in the middle of the neighborhood, and it had since been grandfathered in. Henry could work on his inventions literally in his own backyard. Although Kaylin’s studio shared land with her family’s home and stood about a hundred yards behind her father’s laboratory, Sawyer hadn’t been here before.

Since Henry had made Sawyer a partner in an exciting new business, they’d stayed busy at the lab. Lately, their results had been encouraging, and Sawyer had just returned to Tampa after an interesting consultation with researchers at the University of Michigan. With technology growing exponentially, Sawyer and Henry couldn’t afford not to stay apprised of the latest developments.

"Your father didn’t answer the phone or my knock.” Sawyer pulled a key from his pocket and held it up. "My key didn’t work, and he didn’t answer his cell phone. I heard your music and thought you might know where he is. So I came over. Why’d he change the locks?”

"He upgraded security.” Kaylin went from uptight to thoughtful. "You were gone last week, right?”

"Yeah. Why the upgrade?” Sawyer was surprised she’d noticed his absence. Kaylin didn’t come over to the lab much, if ever. She preferred her dancing. According to Henry, she’d been all set to head for New York and ply her talents on Broadway four years ago. Then her mother, Danielle, had died, and Kaylin had given up a serious boyfriend and her dreams. She’d stayed home to help raise her younger sisters and undoubtedly pick up the slack. Henry, who would be the first to admit he was a better inventor than businessman, needed Kaylin’s help to pay the bills. Though with Sawyer on board, that was about to change.

Still, he understood why Kaylin was so prickly. As much as he admired her loyalty to her family, he thought it a shame that she’d given up her ambitions to stay home and teach ballet to five-year-olds. Anyone who could move like she did should be sharing her talent with the world.

"Would you like a glass of water?” Kaylin asked, then headed toward an alcove she used as her studio’s office.

The apricot-painted walls showed off framed pictures of her students as well as posters of famous ballet stars from the New York City and Moscow Ballet companies. A pair of threadbare toe shoes hung from ribbons on a hook, signed by some ballerina whose name he couldn’t read. She opened the mini-fridge beside her desk, removed a pitcher of water, poured two glasses, and handed him one.

She sighed. "Dad told me this morning he has the biodiesel formula all worked out. He was waiting for you to return to fire up the plant’s reactor. But when I walked my students to their parents’ cars, I heard the generator go on. I assumed you were with him. You think he started without you?”

"I doubt it. It takes both of us to make fuel. He was probably just warming up the power.” However, the generator hadn’t been on when Sawyer had discovered his key didn’t work. He hoped the power wasn’t on the fritz.

Kaylin’s shoulders slumped as she let down her guard again, allowing him to see her concern. "Dad’s been working too hard. Sometimes to relax, he sits by my mother’s rose bushes. Did you check out the backyard?”

Kaylin stood and pulled open the sheer curtains so they could both look out the window. Sawyer’s gaze swept over the lot that Kaylin’s students’ parents used for parking. Spiked grass with Mexican heather, blooming yellow, pink, and orange zinnias, roses, and variegated ginger decorated the yard. Her students and their parents were long gone. And Henry wasn’t there.

His gaze shifted to the Danners’ back porch, a cozy deck with a potted pink grapefruit tree and hanging baskets of white and pink orchids. Their mutt, Randy, lay curled and lazy on a lounger, sunbathing in a beam of Florida sunlight that filtered between palm fronds. The grass needed mowing, and the orange trees required pruning, but the ferns beneath the moss-laden granddaddy oaks shone green and healthy. A swift perusal of the fading olive-colored paint along with the curling shingles and sagging shutters of the family’s two-story home reminded Sawyer that the house needed repairs to squeak through another hurricane season. He didn’t see Henry anywhere.

Kaylin went to her big yellow purse on a hook by her desk. "Let’s see if he’s in the lab.” She pulled a key from her purse, but it snagged on a piece of paper. An airline ticket fell to the floor.

"Going somewhere?” he asked.

"Maybe.” A muscle in her jaw tightened, and she picked up the ticket and replaced it in her purse.

"Maybe?” His eyebrows rose in surprise. "But you’ve already bought the ticket.”

Kaylin helped support the family with her dance studio. She was practical, full of common sense, and managed the family checkbook like a seasoned accountant and financial planner. And she never, ever went anywhere. Not to the beach with friends. Not over to Disney or Universal Studios for a day trip. Certainly not anywhere that required air travel. It was so atypical for her to buy an airline ticket, never mind one that she wasn’t certain she’d use, that she’d piqued Sawyer’s curiosity. And from the flush of color in her cheeks, she didn’t want to talk about it.

"I haven’t—”

One moment she was placing her purse strap onto her shoulder, the next a thunderous roar rocked them. The glass panes of her studio’s windows shattered. Sawyer yanked her to the floor with him and caught a glimpse outside. A fiery inferno.

"Oh God,” he breathed.

The lab had exploded.




KAYLIN AND SAWYER shoved up from the floor and dashed out of the studio. Her view of the hellish flames was up-close and perfect. Just like her fear.


Oh, God.

Dad had started up his lab, and something had gone terribly wrong. Rectangular, made of gray and rusted metal, the entire building had burst into flames. The red-hot metal walls flickered with orange fire, and the roaring flames devoured the two-story flat roof. Even from here, the heat beat on her face.

The fuel—Dad’s biodiesel—must be burning, the black smoke curling into an ugly death plume. As Kaylin stared in growing horror, a second explosion rocked the building, spitting flames thirty feet into the sky.

"Call for help,” Sawyer told her, his face drawn and hardened, his jaw set as if clenching his teeth. "I’ll check the back of the building.”

As Sawyer sprinted around the lab, she prayed the other side wasn’t on fire, too. Hands shaking, she reached into her purse, plucked out her phone, and dialed 9-1-1. On autopilot, she gave her name and address. "Hurry. Please hurry.”

No one could survive that inferno. Yet, Dad might not have been inside. After all, Sawyer had been at the lab before he’d come to her studio, and no one had answered his knock. Her father could have gone to buy more caustic soda, used in the biodiesel production process, or to see his attorney. Or maybe he’d had a dental appointment he’d forgotten to mention.

Kaylin looked right and left and didn’t see her father in the backyard. Not on the back deck. Not beside her mother’s rose bushes.

Don’t panic.

She had to hold herself together. For her sisters. Perhaps Dad had stepped out to get the mail. Or returned to the house for a file or a wrench. Or gone to his car to run an errand.

Randy scampered by on his short little legs and started barking at the fire from the relative safety of the back porch. A neighbor shrieked for her children to come inside. Even from her studio, the air reeked with the stench of burning fuel, causing Kaylin’s eyes to water.

Her sixteen-year-old sister, Lia, sprinted across the yard with Billy, her best friend, in tow. Lia had lost her usual flirty and sassy expression. She now wore a wide-eyed look of horror. Billy hung back, and his normal teenage cockiness had vanished. And when, for a moment, Billy and Kaylin locked gazes, she could have sworn he looked guilty as hell. When he took off running toward the house, her suspicions spiked.

But then Lia was tugging Kaylin toward the lab with surprising strength. "We have to get Dad out. He was in there.”

Please, no. "Are you sure?”

"Billy and I were just there, talking to Dad. He got a phone call, and then his line went dead. We left. We have to get him out.”

No way would she let her sister walk into that blaze. "Sawyer’s checking the lab.” Kaylin tugged Lia back toward the house, a relatively easy task since her sister’s initial strength seemed to have vanished. "If Dad’s phone went dead, maybe he went to the house for his spare battery or to recharge it on the cigarette lighter in his car.”

Kaylin and Lia raced across the yard to their home. Together they searched the downstairs, kitchen, office, and dining and living areas, shouting for their father. And all the while she wondered if the explosion had been sabotage. After two hard-looking men had paid them a visit last week, they’d had a break-in. Afterward, her father had changed the locks.

Now, she wondered if those men had threatened him. Had they returned and blown up the lab? Or was the fire an accident?

"He’s not answering,” Lia half yelled, half sobbed.

He’d have to have been deaf not to have heard them. "Maybe he’s on the phone with 9-1-1.” Kaylin sprinted upstairs, Lia on her heels. But again, they didn’t find him. Kaylin spun around, grabbed Lia’s hand, and clenched it tight. "Let’s check the garage and his car.”

Panic urging her onward, Kaylin opened the door that led from the house to the garage. She flipped on the light. Dad’s ancient Oldsmobile sat parked on the right. She held her breath, hoping he’d pop up from under the dash with his lopsided grin.

Lia’s voice trembled. "He’s not here, either.”

"Let’s go back outside. Maybe he’s with a neighbor. Or he’s searching for us while we’re looking for him.”

"I’m scared. I’m so scared, Kaylin.”

"We’ll find him.” Kaylin wrapped her arm around her sister’s thin shoulders. She was scared, too. But she had to clamp down and lock out the terror. It was her job to take care of Lia and Becca. After Mama’s liver had shut down and she’d died, she’d left Kaylin her love of dance, her roses, and her job. So Kaylin couldn’t give in to her own fear. She had to be the adult, even when inside she was crying.

They hurried outside. The flames had grown higher, the heat more intense. Neighbors congregated down the block, holding their children tight, fear reflected on their faces. Kaylin didn’t see her father or Sawyer anywhere.

Sixty feet away, the flames consumed the lab, the heat forcing them to retreat. Neighbors on the far side of the block gawked from their yards as if the Danners were a Florida side show attraction. Kaylin heard the squeal of car tires, the driver clearly eager to avoid the flames near the street. Even Randy had the sense to stay back from the fire and sat cowering by the studio door, whining uneasily.

Kaylin led her sister away from the house—even as she prayed that, too, wouldn’t also go up in flames. She began to advance around the backyard when her sister planted her feet and stopped.

"Look!” Lia pointed to a man running like an Olympic sprinter straight toward the flames. "It’s Sawyer.”

Her father’s partner bolted across the side yard. With a crowbar in hand that he must have fetched from his vehicle, he ran, no hesitancy in his stride. But a black cotton T-shirt and hip-hugging jeans were no protection from the heat or the flames. Eyes narrowed in determination, lips tight with resolve, Sawyer’s tan face was red—too red from his proximity to the fire. Sparks landed on him, but he didn’t so much as bat them away. Arms pumping, biceps bulging, he raced straight for the burning lab’s side door.

"Sawyer, stop!” No one could enter that building. No way. Kaylin’s throat tightened with fear. Either Sawyer hadn’t heard her or had paid no mind. He was about twenty feet from the burning lab when a third explosion blasted open the door, ripping it from its hinges and knocking him off his feet. The crowbar flew from his hand.

The force of the blast slammed him to the ground, and the industrial-sized door missed crushing him by only a few inches. Flat on his back, he didn’t move. Blood trickled down his forehead and into his dark hair.

Lia gasped, hid her eyes against Kaylin’s chest, and wailed. "He’s dead. Oh, God, he’s dead.”

Praying Lia was wrong, Kaylin stepped away from her sister. "Stay here.”

Ducking to keep stray embers from her eyes, Kaylin sprinted to Sawyer. She drew hot air into her lungs and tried not to wince at the increasing heat. He sprawled on his back, one arm flung over his eyes. Blood trickled from his sliced scalp, seeping over his temple and ear, and she hoped that meant his heart still beat.

When sparks threatened to ignite his clothing, she grabbed the towel that was still around her neck and used it to flick embers and ashes from his legs and chest. Flames danced up his shoulder and she smothered them with the towel.

"Sawyer. Get up.” She grabbed his calloused hand, surprised at the warmth and size of it. Kaylin tugged, but the guy didn’t budge. Not an inch. This man was fit. And muscles were heavy. Too heavy for her to pull him to safety.

Something burning drifted onto his jeans and began to smoke. She snapped the towel at it, but wasn’t quick enough. The flames caught. What did they teach kids in school? Stop, drop, and roll.

He was already down. "Sawyer,” she screamed and shoved him onto his side. "Roll.”

He moaned, opened eyes that were clear and blue and stared straight at the burning building. By his sad gaze, she could have sworn he’d awakened clear-headed and immediately recalled what had happened at the lab. The explosion. Her father still missing.

"You’re on fire. Burning up. Roll,” she ordered, shoving him with a strength that came from years of dance training.

He tightened his fingers on hers, pulled her down. "You’re burning, too.”

He kept his wits, rolling in the grass with her in his arms. They both swatted the flames with their hands. Randy kept barking. Lia shouted for help, her voice surprisingly shrill and loud. But working together, Sawyer and Kaylin finally beat the fire on their clothing into submission.

For one long second, he lay on top of her, his chest against hers. Their gazes locked, and she couldn’t look away. She couldn’t read his expression. Couldn’t guess his thoughts.

Then he rolled aside and helped her to her feet. He now possessed several charred holes in his jeans, and his ripped shirt looked like he’d gone through a shredder, but the flesh beneath didn’t appear to have blistered.

"You okay?” Breathing evenly, he stood, towering over her, his broad shoulders slumped, head bowed.

She blurted the first thought in her mind. "That was crazy. For you to try...”

"I had to.” His massive hands closed into fists.

He’d had to try. Something about the rawness in his voice at that moment cut through her fear and touched her heart. Kaylin had always kept Sawyer at a distance. For one, he was too damn good-looking. For another, she wanted nothing to do with a dreamer like her father. And lastly, she didn’t intend to put down one more root that might keep her from leaving town.

Still, she didn’t hate him, either. Her father had told her his history. After losing his own parents in a car accident, he’d grown up with his grandmother, without a father figure. Sawyer and her father had bonded, the two of them working in the lab, fishing, bowling, fixing cars, and drinking beer. Even when he’d been away at college, he’d returned and worked with her dad during the summer. No doubt her father had wanted a son—and Sawyer had needed a father. Case closed.

They’d fit. Not by blood, but by common interests. And mutual respect. Enough for Sawyer to risk his life on the chance her father was still inside the lab.

Fire engines with alarms wailing roared down the street, arriving with sheriff’s cruisers, their red and blue lights flashing. Deputies made the neighbors move back.

Lia, her round green eyes dilated with shock, ran over and hugged Kaylin. "Hold me. Please. Dad’s gone. He’s not in the house. Or your studio or across the street. Hold me and don’t let go.”

Her little sister had always been on the delicate side, like their mother, and with her blond curls blackened and streaked from the ashes, her frail bones trembling, Kaylin feared Lia was about to collapse. All three of them backed away from the heat toward the curb, with Kaylin supporting Lia. "We’re okay. I’m all right. Sawyer has a cut on his head, but he’s fine, too.”

As she embraced her sister, she couldn’t help thinking that if her father had been out of the lab, like Sawyer, they would have found him by now, too. Between the smoke, the oncoming sirens, and the stench, her hopes of finding her father alive dwindled, especially as she stared at the ruined lab.

Sawyer raised his head, and he was anything but defeated. His blue irises burned with sorrow and fury, and in that moment, if his rage had been a hurricane, the storm would have taken out the state of Florida. The force of his rage was almost palpable, and she took a step back. Then another. She knew the moment his anger and helpless frustration turned to something else. She could almost smell his determination to find out what had happened, a consuming intensity that canceled out the reek of the fire.

Kaylin didn’t know Sawyer well, but he wouldn’t have headed into that inferno unless he believed her father had been inside the deadly fire. Despite her terrible fear for her father, she’d never forget that Sawyer had risked his life to try to save him. Still, that didn’t mean her father had been inside. A tiny part of her refused to give up hope. Maybe there was a safe pocket inside the building that had protected him from the fire. They might yet find her father safe.



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